[Click on the footnote number and you will jump down to the note. Click again on that number and you will jump back up to where you were in the text.]
From The Life of Poggio Bracciolini, by The Rev. Wm. Shepherd, LL. D.; Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman; Liverpool; 1837; pp. i-ix.[i]
THE services rendered to the cause of literature by Poggio Bracciolini, have been noticed with due applause by Mr. Roscoe in his celebrated Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici. From the perusal of that elegant publication, I was led to imagine, that the history of Poggio must contain a rich fund of information respecting the revival of letters. A cursory examination of the Basil edition of his works convinced me that I was not mistaken; and I felt a wish to direct the attention of the public to the merits of an author, whose productions had afforded me no small degree of pleasure. Being apprized that Monsieur L’Enfant had given an account of the life and writings of Poggio, in two 12mo. volumes, entitled, “Poggiana,” I at first bounded my views to a translation of that work. Upon ii perusing it, however, I found it so ill arranged, and in many particulars so erroneous, that I was persuaded it would be a much more pleasant task to compose a new Life of Poggio, than to correct the mistakes which deform the Poggiana. In this idea I was fully confirmed by the perusal of Recanati’s Osservazioni Critiche, in which Monsieur L’Enfant is convicted of no less than one hundred and twenty-nine capital errors.
I next turned my thoughts to the translation of the Life of Poggio, written by Recanati, and prefixed by him to his edition of Poggio’s History of Florence. But finding this biographical memoir, though scrupulously accurate, too concise to be generally interesting, and totally destitute of those minute particularities which alone can give a clear and correct idea of individual character, I was persuaded that the labours of Recanati by no means superseded any further attempts to elucidate the history of Poggio. I therefore undertook the task of giving a detailed account of the life and writings of that eminent reviver of literature; and being convinced, from a perusal of his epistolary correspondence, that his connexions with the most accomplished scholars of his age would iii impose upon his biographer the duty of giving some account of his learned contemporaries, whilst his situation in the Roman chancery in some degree implicated him in the political changes which, in his days, distracted Italy, I carefully examined such books as were likely to illustrate the literary, civil, and ecclesiastical history of the period of which I had to treat. From these books I have selected whatever appeared to be relevant to my subject; and I have also introduced into my narrative, such extracts from the writings of Poggio as tend to illustrate, not only his own character, but also that of the times in which he lived.
I now submit the result of my inquiries to the public inspection, not without experiencing considerable anxiety respecting the fate which awaits my labours; but at the same time, conscious that I have spared no pains in searching for information, and that I have in no instance wilfully deviated from the truth of history. The number and minuteness of my references to authorities will indeed vouch for my industry, and for my willingness to facilitate that examination which may occasionally convict me of error. For errors and inadvertencies I could plead an iv excuse, which would perhaps tend to mitigate the severity of criticism, namely, that the life of Poggio was written during the short intervals of leisure allowed by a laborious occupation. But of this excuse I cannot conscientiously avail myself; for I have long been persuaded that the habits of industry, acquired by the recurrence of daily employment, are much more productive of that exertion of mind which is necessary to the successful study of literary composition, than the dignified, but enervating leisure of the dilettante.[v]
WHEN I first began to collect materials for the writing of the life of Poggio Bracciolini, I was much indebted to the kindness of my late friends Mr. Roscoe and Mr. William Clarke, who liberally allowed me the free use of the scarce books which they possessed, illustrative of the revival of letters in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. From various passages which occur in some of these works, I was convinced that there existed in the public libraries of the city of Florence several manuscripts, from which much information might be gathered respecting the history of the scholar, to whose early exertions for the promotion of sound learning I wished to do justice. In consequence of this persuasion, I felt a strong desire to visit the Tuscan capital, for the purpose of copying and vi analyzing such documents, suitable to my purpose, as I might there discover. But my professional engagements not allowing me to be absent from home for the requisite length of time, I was obliged, however reluctantly, to give up this project as impracticable, and to proceed in my task with the aid of such printed books as were accessible to me. Soon after the publication of the first edition of this work, however, I found that a very interesting portion of the document which I wished to inspect existed in my native country. The late Col. Johnes, of Hafod, having read my Life of Poggio, wrote to me in the spring of the year 18034, to inform me that the had in his library a manuscript volume of Letters written by my hero, which he would with pleasure permit me to examine, on the condition of my coming over to Hafod for that purpose. So frank an invitation I eagerly accepted, and at my earliest leisure I repaired to the Colonel’s romantic residence, where I was received with that elegant hospitality, by the exercise of which Mr. Johnes was distinguished, even in a country where strangers are generally greeted by the resident gentry with a hearty welcome. On a cursory examination of the volume which had thus vii attracted me to the wilds of Cardiganshire, and which was beautifully written on the finest vellum, I found that it contained many letters of Poggio which had not been printed. From these I immediately commenced making extracts of such passages as tended to throw new light on the particulars of Poggio’s history; and this task I resumed at future visits which I paid to Hafod, till, at length, the intercourse between Mr. Johnes and myself ripening into the confidence of intimate friendship, my kind host was pleased to present me with the volume itself, which I keep among the most precious of my few literary treasures, and which I especially value, as the gift of an accomplished and warm hearted man, whose memory I shall gratefully cherish to the close of my mortal existence.
Under the guidance of this manuscript I was enabled to settle various dates of occurrences in the Life of Poggio, which were not supplied by any printed record which had fallen into my hands; and also to collect several traits illustrative of his character, which would naturally be traced in his epistolary correspondence. Other engagements, however, for some time prevented me from arranging these memoranda, which I had viii originally collected with a view to an improved edition of my work. At a certain period, also, I deferred this task, in hopes of profiting by the annotations which I was apprized that the learned Dr. Spiker, librarian to the King of Prussia, had appended to a translation which he had made of my Life of Poggio into the German language. To my great mortification however, the Doctor’s manuscript, which had been put into the hands of a printer at Berlin, was irrecoverably lost in the confusion which followed upon the conquest of Prussia by the Emperor Napoleon after the battle of Jena. The French version of my work by the Compte de Laubepin, which was published at Paris in the year 1819, I found to be faithful, and elegant in its style; but its Appendix threw little new light upon the subject of my lucubrations. My papers relating to Poggio lay, then, undisturbed in my portfolio, till the appearance in the year 1825 of the Cavaliere Tonelli’s translation of my work into Italian once more drew my attention to them, and revived the wish which I had so long ago entertained to publish an improved edition of the Life of Poggio. For the Cavaliere had completely smoothed to me the work of correction. ix Having had access, not only to a manuscript copy of Poggio’s letters deposited in the Riccardi library at Florence, of which the volume given to me by Colonel Johnes is a duplicate, but also to other collections of Poggio’s epistles, which he had discovered in various libraries on the continent of Europe, with the first volume of a selection from which he favoured the literary world in the year 1832, he was enabled to supply my deficiencies, as well as to rectify the mistakes into which I had in some few instances fallen, by relying too much on secondary authorities. This he has done in the notes appended to his translation, which in their substance exemplify the industry in research of a zealous lover of literature; and in their temper and style the urbanity of a gentleman. With such aid to facilitate my labours I experienced little difficulty in preparing for the press this second edition of the Life of Poggio, which I now submit to the public, with that confidence in its accuracy, which is founded upon the circumstance, of its having been improved by the suggestions of a critic, who has acquired a knowledge, at once minute and extensive, of the literary history of the period of which I treat, and whose opinions I cannot but respect, as the result of varied information and of enlightened judgement.