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  • Niccolò Machiavelli

    May 3, 1469 - June 22, 1527
    Part 10 of 11: Final Years

    In the spring of 1526 Machiavelli was employed by Clement VII. to inspect the fortifications of Florence. He presented a report upon the subject, and in the summer of the same year received orders to attend Francesco Guicciardini, the pope's commissary of war in Lombardy. Guicciardini sent him in August to Cremona, to transact business with the Venetian provveditori. Later on in the autumn we find him once more with Guicciardini at Bologna. Thus the two great Italian historians of the 16th century, who had been friends for several years, were brought into relations of close intimacy.

    After another visit to Guicciardini in the spring of 1527, Machiavelli was sent by him to Civita Vecchia. It seemed that he was destined to be associated in the papal service with Clement's viceroy, and that a new period of diplomatic employment was opening for him. But soon after his return to Florence he fell ill. His son Piero said that he took medicine on the 20th of June which disagreed with him; and on the 22nd he died, having received the last offices of the Church.

    There is no foundation for the legend that he expired with profane sarcasms upon his lips. Yet we need not run into the opposite extreme, and try to fancy that Machiavelli, who had professed Paganism in his life, proved himself a believing Christian on his deathbed. That he left an unfavourable opinion among his fellow citizens is very decidedly recorded by the historian Varchi. The Principe, it seems, had already begun to prejudice the world against him; and we can readily believe that Varchi sententiously observes, that "it would have been better for him if nature had given him either a less powerful intellect or a mind of a more genial temper." There is in truth a something crude, unsympathetic, cynical in his mental attitude toward human nature, for which, even after the lapse of more than three centuries, we find it difficult to make allowance. The force of his intellect renders this want of geniality repulsive. We cannot help objecting that one who was so powerful could have been kindlier and sounder if he willed. We therefore do him the injustice of mistaking his infirmity for perversity. He was colour-blind to commonplace morality, and we are angry with him because he merged the hues of ethics in one grey monotone of politics.

    In person Machiavelli was of middle height, black-haired, with rather a small head, very bright eyes and slightly aquiline nose. His thin, close lips often broke into a smile of sarcasm. His activity was almost feverish. When unemployed in work or study he was not averse to the society of boon companions, gave himself readily to transient amours, and corresponded in a tone of cynical bad taste. At the same time he lived on terms of intimacy with worthy men. Varchi says that "in his conversation he was pleasant, obliging to his intimates, the friend of virtuous persons." Those who care to understand the contradictions of which such a character was capable should study his correspondence with Vettori. It would be unfair to charge what is repulsive in their letters wholly on the habits of the times, for wide familiarity with the published correspondence of similar men at the same epoch brings one acquainted with little that is so disagreeable. (J. A. S.)

    Among the many editions of Machiavelli's works the one in 8 vols., dated Italia, 1813, may be mentioned, and the more comprehensive ones published by A. Parenti (Florence, 1843) and by A. Usigli (Florence 1857). P. Fanfani and L. Passerini began another, which promised to be the most complete of all; but only 6 vols. were published (Florence, 1873-1877); the work contains many new and important documents on Machiavelli's life. The best biography is the standard work of Pasquale Villari, La Storia di Niccolò Machiavelli e de' suoi tempi (Florence, 1877-1882; latest ed., 1895 Eng. trans. by Linda Villari, London, 1892); in vol. ii. there is an exhaustive criticism of the various authors who have written on Machiavelli. See also T. Mundt, Niccolò Machiavelli und das System der modernen Politik (3rd ed., Berlin, 1867); E. Feuerlein, "Zur Machiavelli-Frage" in H. von Sybel's Histor. Zeitschrift (Munich, 1868); P. S. Mancini, Prelezioni con un saggio sul Machiavelli; F. Nitti, Machiavelli nella vita e nelle opere (Naples, 1876); O. Tomasini, La Vita e gli scritti di Niccolo Machiavelli (Turin, 1883); L. A. Burd, Il Principe, by Niccolò Machiavelli (Oxford, 1891); Lord Morley, Machiavelli (Romanes lecture, Oxford, 1897). The Cambridge Modern History, vol. i. (Cambridge, 1903), contains an essay on Machiavelli by L. A. Burd, with a very full biography.

    Part 11: Related Articles, Sites, etc.

    In this biography:
    Part 1: Early Years
    Part 2: Marietta Corsini & Cesare Borgia
    Part 3: Outlines for a New Military Organization
    Part 4: New Militia
    Part 5: Principe, Discorsi & Arte della guerra
    Part 6: Machiavelli's Study of Man
    Part 7: Medicean Princes
    Part 8: History of Florence
    Part 9: Mandragola & Clizia
    Part 10: Final Years
    Part 11: Related Articles, Sites, etc.

    This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


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