The Life of a Day.
'This brings me to dinner-time, when I join my family and eat the poor produce of my farm. After dinner I go back to the inn, where I generally find the host and a butcher, a miller, and a pair of bakers. With these companions I play the fool all day at cards or backgammon: a thousand squabbles, a thousand insults and abusive dialogues take place, while we haggle over a farthing, and shout loud enough to be heard from San Casciano.
'But when evening falls I go home and enter my writing-room. On the threshold I put off my country habits, filthy with mud and mire, and array myself in royal courtly garments. Thus worthily attired, I make my entrance into the ancient courts of the men of old, where they receive me with love, and where I feed upon that food which only is my own and for which I was born. I feel no shame in conversing with them and asking them the reason of their actions.
'They, moved by their humanity, make answer. For four hours' space I feel no annoyance, forget all care; poverty cannot frighten, nor death appal me. I am carried away to their society. And since Dante says "that there is no science unless we retain what we have learned" I have set down what I have gained from their discourse, and composed a treatise, De Principalibus, in which I enter as deeply as I can into the science of the subject, with reasonings on the nature of principality, its several species, and how they are acquired, how maintained, how lost. If you ever liked any of my scribblings, this ought to suit your taste. To a prince, and especially to a new prince, it ought to prove acceptable. Therefore I am dedicating it to the Magnificence of Giuliano.'
Such is the account that Niccolò Machiavelli renders of himself when after imprisonment, torture, and disgrace, at the age of forty-four, he first turned to serious writing. For the first twenty-six or indeed twenty-nine of those years we have not one line from his pen or one word of vaguest information about him. Throughout all his works written for publication, there is little news about himself. Montaigne could properly write, 'Ainsi, lecteur, je suis moy-mesme la matière de mon livre.' But the matter of Machiavelli was far other: 'Io ho espresso quanto io so, e quanto io ho imparato per una lunga pratica e continua lezione delle cose del mondo.'
Machiavelli was born on the 3rd of May 1469. The period of his life almost exactly coincides with that of Cardinal Wolsey. He came of the old and noble Tuscan stock of Montespertoli, who were men of their hands in the eleventh century. He carried their coat, but the property had been wasted and divided. His forefathers had held office of high distinction, but had fallen away as the new wealth of the bankers and traders increased in Florence. He himself inherited a small property in San Casciano and its neighbourhood, which assured him a sufficient, if somewhat lean, independence. Of his education we know little enough. He was well acquainted with Latin, and knew, perhaps, Greek enough to serve his turn. 'Rather not without letters than lettered,' Varchi describes him. That he was not loaded down with learned reading proved probably a great advantage. The coming of the French, and the expulsion of the Medici, the proclamation of the Republic (1494), and later the burning of Savonarola convulsed Florence and threw open many public offices. It has been suggested, but without much foundation, that some clerical work was found for Machiavelli in 1494 or even earlier. It is certain that on July 14, 1498, he was appointed Chancellor and Secretary to the Dieci di Libertà e Pace, an office which he held till the close of his political life at fall of the Republic in 1512.
The functions of his Council were extremely varied, and in the hands of their Secretary became yet more diversified. They represented in some sense the Ministry for Home, Military, and especially for Foreign Affairs. It is impossible to give any full account of Machiavelli's official duties. He wrote many thousands of despatches and official letters, which are still preserved. He was on constant errands of State through the Florentine dominions. But his diplomatic missions and what he learned by them make the main interest of his office. His first adventure of importance was to the Court of Caterina Sforza, the Lady of Forlì, in which matter that astute Countess entirely bested the teacher of all diplomatists to be. In 1500 he smelt powder at the siege at Pisa, and was sent to France to allay the irritations of Louis XII. Many similar and lesser missions follow. The results are in no case of great importance, but the opportunities to the Secretary of learning men and things, intrigue and policy, the Court and the gutter were invaluable. At the camp of Cæsar Borgia, in 1502, he found in his host that fantastic hero whom he incarnated in The Prince, and he was practically an eye-witness of the amazing masterpiece, the Massacre of Sinigaglia. The next year he is sent to Rome with a watching brief at the election of Julius II., and in 1506 is again sent to negotiate with the Pope. An embassy to the Emperor Maximilian, a second mission to the French King at Blois, in which he persuades Louis XII. to postpone the threatened General Council of the Church (1511), and constant expeditions to report upon and set in order unrestful towns and provinces did not fulfil his activity. His pen was never idle. Reports, despatches, elaborate monographs on France, Germany, or wherever he might be, and personal letters innumerable, and even yet unpublished, ceased not night nor day. Detail, wit, character-drawing, satire, sorrow, bitterness, all take their turn. But this was only a fraction of his work. By duty and by expediency he was bound to follow closely the internal politics of Florence where his enemies and rivals abounded. And in all these years he was pushing forward and carrying through with unceasing and unspeakable vigour the great military dream of his life, the foundation of a National Militia and the extinction of Mercenary Companies. But the fabric he had fancied and thought to have built proved unsubstantial. The spoilt half-mutinous levies whom he had spent years in odious and unwilling training failed him at the crowning moment in strength and spirit: and the fall of the Republic implied the fall of Machiavelli and the close of his official life. He struggled hard to save himself, but the wealthy classes were against him, perhaps afraid of him, and on them the Medici relied. For a year he was forbidden to leave Florentine territory, and for a while was excluded from the Palazzo. Later his name was found in a list of Anti-Medicean conspirators. He was arrested and decorously tortured with six turns of the rack, and then liberated for want of evidence.