Reference > Quotations > S. Austin Allibone, comp. > Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay
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S. Austin Allibone, comp.  Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay.  1880.
 
Italy
 
  A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see. The grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great empires of the world: the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. All our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Boswell’s Johnson, year 1776.    
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  Italy is still the privileged land of nature and humanity; and the manly pith of its great ages is neither degenerated nor dried up. Involved, by the irresistible fall of the old world, in the decay of the universal empire she had founded, no nation upon earth has withstood so long a deposition without debasement and dissolution. Her glory, her religion, her genius, her name, her language, her monuments and her arts, have continued to reign after the fall of her fortune. She alone has not had an age of civil darkness after her age of military dominion. She has subjected the barbarians who conquered her, to her worship, her laws, and her civilization. While profaning, they submitted to her: though conquerors, they humbly besought her for laws, manners, and religion. Nearly the whole continent is nothing but an intellectual, moral, and religious colony of this mother country of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The middle ages parcelled her out without dissolving her: her fragments, cut up into little principalities or small republics, still preserved the palpitations, the vigour, the movement, and the energy of great nationalities. She had anarchies, convulsions, virtues, crimes, and heroisms, mighty as her ruins. Her regeneration under the Popes, under the Medici, under her house of Ferrara, under her Venetian aristocracies, under her democracies of Genoa, under her theocracies of Rome, under her commercial principality of Florence, and under Paladins of Naples and Sicily, was the regeneration of Europe. In rekindling herself she lit up the whole world. War, policy, literature, commerce, arts, navigation, manufactures, diplomacy, all emanated from Italy. Her names resemble those eternal dynasties on which the supremacy, in every region of the human mind, has been devolved by nature, and of which such men as Sixtus V., Leo X., Cosmo, Tasso, Dante, Machiavel, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Petrarch, Galileo, Doria, and Christopher Columbus, transmit to each other, even at this day, the sceptre that no other nation could snatch from their privileged race.
Alphonse Lamartine: Hist. of the Rest. of Monarchy in France, vol. iii., book 38, xxiv.    
  2
 
  Thus liberty, partially indeed and transiently, revisited Italy; and with liberty came commerce and empire, science and taste, all the comforts and all the ornaments of life. The Crusades, from which the inhabitants of other countries gained nothing but relics and wounds, brought to the rising commonwealths of the Adriatic and Tyrrhene seas a large increase of wealth, dominion, and knowledge. The moral and the geographical position of those commonwealths enabled them to profit alike by the barbarism of the West and by the civilization of the East. Italian ships covered every sea. Italian factories rose on every shore. The tables of Italian money-changers were set in every city. Manufactures flourished. Banks were established. The operations of the commercial machine were facilitated by many useful and beautiful inventions. We doubt whether any country of Europe, our own excepted, have at the present time reached so high a point of wealth and civilization as some parts of Italy had attained four hundred years ago.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Machiavelli, March, 1827.    
  3
 
  The character of the Italian statesman seems, at first sight, a collection of contradictions, a phantom as monstrous as the portress of hell in Milton, half divinity, half snake, majestic and beautiful above, grovelling and poisonous below. We see a man whose thoughts and words have no connection with each other, who never hesitates at an oath when he wishes to seduce, who never wants a pretext when he is inclined to betray. His cruelties spring, not from the heat of blood, or the insanity of uncontrolled power, but from deep and cool meditation. His passions, like well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong fury never forget the discipline to which they have been accustomed. His whole soul is occupied with vast and complicated schemes of ambition; yet his aspect and language exhibit nothing but philosophical moderation. Hatred and revenge eat into his heart; yet every look is a cordial smile, every gesture a familiar caress. He never excites the suspicion of his adversaries by petty provocations. His purpose is disclosed only when it is accomplished. His face is unruffled, his speech is courteous, till vigilance is laid asleep, till a vital point is exposed, till a sure aim is taken; and then he strikes for the first and last time. Military courage, the boast of the sottish German, of the frivolous and prating Frenchman, of the romantic and arrogant Spaniard, he neither possesses nor values. He shuns danger, not because he is insensible to shame, but because, in the society in which he lives, timidity ceases to be shameful. To do an injury openly is, in his estimation, as wicked as to do it secretly, and far less profitable. With him the most honourable means are those which are the surest, the speediest, and the darkest. He cannot comprehend how a man should scruple to deceive those whom he does not scruple to destroy. He would think it madness to declare open hostilities against rivals whom he might stab in a friendly embrace or poison in a consecrated wafer.  4
  Yet this man, black with the vices which we consider as most loathsome, traitor, hypocrite, coward, assassin, was by no means destitute even of those virtues which we generally consider as indicating superior elevation of character. In civil courage, in perseverance, in presence of mind, those barbarous warriors, who were foremost in the battle or the breach, were far his inferiors. Even the dangers which he avoided with a caution almost pusillanimous never confused his perceptions, never paralyzed his inventive faculties, never wrung out one secret from his smooth tongue and his inscrutable brow. Though a dangerous enemy, and a still more dangerous accomplice, he could be a just and beneficent ruler. With so much unfairness in his policy, there was an extraordinary degree of fairness in his intellect. Indifferent to truth in the transactions of life, he was honestly devoted to truth in the researches of speculation. Wanton cruelty was not in his nature. On the contrary, where no political object was at stake, his disposition was soft and humane. The susceptibility of his nerves and the activity of his imagination inclined him to sympathize with the feelings of others, and to delight in the charities and courtesies of social life. Perpetually descending to actions which might seem to mark a mind diseased through all its faculties, he had nevertheless an exquisite sensibility both for the natural and the moral sublime, for every graceful and every lofty conception. Habits of petty intrigue and dissimulation might have rendered him incapable of great general views, but that the expanding effect of his philosophical studies counteracted the narrowing tendency. He had the keenest enjoyment of wit, eloquence, and poetry. The fine arts profited alike by the severity of his judgment and by the liberality of his patronage. The portraits of some of the remarkable Italians of those times are perfectly in harmony with this description. Ample and majestic foreheads, brows strong and dark, but not frowning, eyes of which the calm full gaze, while it expresses nothing, seems to discern everything, cheeks pale with thought and sedentary habits, lips formed with feminine delicacy but compressed with more than masculine decision, mark out men at once enterprising and timid, men equally skilled in detecting the purposes of others and in concealing their own, men who must have been formidable enemies and unsafe allies, but men, at the same time, whoso tempers were mild and equable, and who possessed an amplitude and subtlety of intellect which would have rendered them eminent either in active or in contemplative life, and fitted them either to govern or to instruct mankind.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Machiavelli, March, 1827.    
  5
 
  Many noble monuments which have since been destroyed still retained their pristine magnificence; and travellers, to whom Livy and Sallust were unintelligible, might gain from the Roman aqueducts and temples some faint notion of Roman history. The dome of Agrippa, still glittering with bronze, the mausoleum of Adrian, not yet deprived of its columns and statues, the Flavian amphitheatre, not yet degraded into a quarry, told to the rude English pilgrim some part of the story of that great civilized world which had passed away. The islanders returned with awe deeply impressed on their half-opened minds, and told the wondering inhabitants of the hovels of London and York that, near the grave of Saint Peter, a mighty race, now extinct, had piled up buildings which would never be dissolved till the judgment day. Learning followed in the train of Christianity. The poetry and eloquence of the Augustan age was assiduously studied in Mercian and Northumbrian monasteries. The names of Bede and Alcuin were justly celebrated throughout Europe. Such was the state of our country when, in the ninth century, began the last great migration of the northern barbarians.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hist. of Eng., i., ch. i.    
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