Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
By Pasquale Villari (1827–1917)
From ‘Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola’: Translation of Linda Villari

SAVONAROLA was of middle height, of dark complexion, of a sanguineo-bilious temperament, and of a most high-strung nervous system. His dark gray eyes were very bright, and often flashed fire beneath his black brows; he had an aquiline nose and a large mouth. His thick lips were compressed in a manner denoting a stubborn firmness of purpose; his forehead, already marked with deep furrows, indicated a mind continually absorbed in meditation of serious things. But although his countenance had no beauty of line, it expressed a severe nobility of character, while a certain melancholy smile indued his harsh features with so benevolent a charm as to inspire confidence at first sight. His manners were simple, if uncultured; his language rough and unadorned. But on occasion his homely words were animated by a potent fervor that convinced and subdued all his hearers.  1
  While in the monastery of St. Dominic he led a silent life, and became increasingly absorbed in spiritual contemplation. He was so worn by fasting and penance that when pacing the cloisters, he seemed more like a spectre than a living man. The hardest tests of the novitiate seemed light to him, and his superiors were frequently obliged to curb his zeal. Even on days not appointed for abstinence he scarcely ate enough to support life. His bed was a grating with a sack of straw on it and one blanket; his clothing of the coarsest kind, but strictly clean; in modesty, humility, and obedience he surpassed all the rest of the brethren. The fervor of his devotion excited the wonder of the superiors, and his brother monks often believed him to be rapt in a holy trance. The cloister walls seemed to have had the effect of restoring his peace of mind by separating him from the world, and to have purified him of all desires save for prayer and obedience….  2
  In the year 1481, serious alarms of war were threatening Ferrara from all sides. Already many of the inhabitants had fled, and before long the university in which the Dominicans taught theology was closed. Thereupon, either from economy or as a measure of precaution, the superior of the order dispatched the greater part of his monks elsewhere. Savonarola was directed to go to Florence; he thus bade a last farewell to his family, friends, and native town,—for he was destined never to see them again….  3
  On this, his first arrival in Florence, in 1481, he entered the monastery of St. Mark, where the brightest and also the saddest years of his life were to be passed. And inasmuch as the name of Savonarola is always associated with that of St. Mark, it will be well to say a few words on the convent’s history.  4
  At the beginning of the fifteenth century it was a poor, half-ruined building, inhabited by a few monks of the order of St. Sylvester, whose scandalous life occasioned numerous complaints to be laid before the Court of Rome. Finally, Cosimo the Elder obtained the papal permission to remove these monks elsewhere, and granted the house to the reformed Dominicans of the Lombard congregation. Then, deciding to rebuild it, he charged the celebrated architect, Michelozzo Michelozzi, with the work; and six years later, in 1443, the monastery was finished at a cost of 36,000 florins. Cosimo was never sparing of expense for churches, monasteries, and other public works fitted to spread the fame of his munificence and increase his popularity. While the convent was in course of erection, he had been very generous in helping the Dominicans; and now that the work was so successfully completed, he was not satisfied until he could endow them with a valuable library. This, however, was a difficult undertaking and one of considerable expense; since it was a question of collecting manuscripts, which just then commanded exorbitant prices. But the opportune decease of Niccolò Niccoli, the greatest manuscript-collector in Europe, enabled Cosimo to fulfill his purpose. Niccoli had been one of the most learned men of his day, and spent his whole life and fortune in acquiring a store of codices that was the admiration of all Italy. He had bequeathed this treasure to Florence; but having also left many debts behind him, his testamentary dispositions had not been carried out. Accordingly Cosimo paid off the debts; and reserving a few of the more precious codices for himself, intrusted the rest of the collection to the monastery of St. Mark. This was the first public library established in Italy; and the monks kept it in such excellent order as to prove themselves worthy of the charge. St. Mark’s became almost a centre of erudition; and being joined to the congregation of the Lombard Dominicans, the more learned brothers of the order resorted to Florence, and increased the new convent’s renown. The most distinguished men of the time frequently came to St. Mark’s to enjoy conversation with the friars. It was during these years that Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, better known as Fra Beato Angelico, was employed in covering the convent walls with his incomparable works. But above all their treasures of art and learning, the brethren chiefly gloried in their spiritual father and founder, St. Antonine….  5
  During his first days in Florence, Savonarola was accordingly half intoxicated with delight. He was charmed by the smiling landscape, the soft lines of the Tuscan hills, the elegance of the Tuscan speech. Even before reaching the town, the gentle manner of the country-folk he met on the way had predisposed him to expect happiness in this fairest of Italian cities, where art and nature contend for the palm of beauty. To his deeply religious mind, Florentine art seemed the expression of a divine harmony, a proof of the omnipotence of genius when inspired by faith. The paintings of Fra Angelico appeared to have filled the cloisters of St. Mark with a company of angels; and as he gazed upon them, the friar felt transported into a blessed sphere like unto the world of his dreams. The sacred memories of Antonine; the saint’s deeds of charity, still enduring and still venerated by the brotherhood; the friars themselves, so superior in culture and refinement to any that he had yet known,—all combined to make him believe his lot cast among real brethren of the soul. His heart expanded with ingenuous hopes; he forgot all past disappointments, and did not anticipate the still sadder trials awaiting him when he should have been long enough in Florence to understand better the nature of its inhabitants….  6
  At the time of Savonarola’s coming, Lorenzo the Magnificent had reigned in Florence for many years, and was then at the height of his power and fame. Under his rule all things wore an air of prosperity and well-being. The factions which had so frequently distracted the city had long been extinguished; all refusing to bend beneath the Medicean yoke were either imprisoned, exiled, or dead: and general tranquillity reigned. Continually occupied with festivities, dances, and tournaments, the Florentines, once so jealous of their rights, seemed now to have forgotten the very name of freedom.  7
  After the first few days in Florence, Savonarola was again oppressed by a feeling of isolation. Intimacy with the inhabitants quickly betrayed the confirmed skepticism and flippancy hidden beneath their great intellectual culture. The general absence of principle and faith once more threw him back upon himself; and his disgust was all the greater in consequence of the lofty hopes with which he had entered Florence. Even among the brethren of St. Mark’s there was no real religious feeling; for although the name of St. Antonine was so often on their lips, it was uttered in a vainglorious rather than a loving spirit. But above all, his indignation was aroused by the much-vaunted studies of the Florentines. It was a new and horrible experience to him to hear them wrangling over the precepts of Plato and Aristotle, without caring or even perceiving that from party spirit, and in the heat of discussion, they were denying the most essential principles of the Christian faith. Accordingly he began from that moment to regard all these men of letters, erudites, and philosophers, with a sort of angry contempt; and this feeling increased in strength to the point of often leading him to disparage the very philosophy in which, by many years of strenuous labor, he was himself so thoroughly versed.  8
  But in no case would it have been possible for him to have long retained the sympathy of the Florentines, inasmuch as they were held apart from the newly arrived friar by an irreconcilable diversity of temperament. Everything in Savonarola came from the heart; even his intellect was ruled by its generous impulse: but his manners and speech were rough and unadorned. He spoke with a harsh accent, expressed himself in a homely way, and made use of lively and almost violent gesticulations. Now, the Florentines preferred preachers of scholarly refinement of gesture, expression, and style, able to give an unmistakable imitation of some ancient writers and copious quotations from others: as to the gist of the sermon, they cared little about it; often indeed conferring most praise on the speaker who allowed them to see that he had little belief in religion. Savonarola, on the contrary, thundered forth furious diatribes against the vices of mankind, and the scanty faith of clergy and laity; he spoke disparagingly of poets and philosophers, condemned the strange craze for ancient authors, and quoting from no book save the Bible, based all his sermons on its texts. Now, there were few Florentines who read the Bible at all; since, finding its Latin incorrect, they were afraid of corrupting their style.  9
  Having entered the convent of St. Mark towards the end of 1481, the following year Savonarola was charged by the friar with the instruction of the novices, and applied himself to the task with his accustomed zeal. Continually dominated by the same mystic enthusiasm, he constantly exhorted his pupils to study the Scriptures; and often appeared among them with tear-swollen eyes, and wrought almost to ecstasy by prolonged vigils and fervid meditation….  10
  He retained his modest post of lecturer to the novices, up to the Lent of 1486, when he was sent to preach in various cities of Lombardy, and especially in Brescia. Here, with the Book of Revelation for his theme, he found it easier to stir the sympathies of his hearers. His words were fervent, his tone commanding, and he spoke with a voice of thunder; reproving the people for their sins, denouncing the whole of Italy, and threatening all with the terrors of God’s wrath. He described the forms of the twenty-four elders, and represented one of them as rising to announce the future calamities of the Brescians. Their city, he declared, would fall a prey to raging foes; they would see rivers of blood in the streets; wives would be torn from their husbands, virgins ravished, children murdered before their mothers’ eyes: all would be terror and fire and bloodshed. His sermon ended with a general exhortation to repentance, inasmuch as the Lord would have mercy on the just. The mystic image of the elder made a deep impression upon the people. The preacher’s voice seemed really to resound from the other world; and his threatening predictions awakened much alarm. During the sack of Brescia in 1512 by the ferocious soldiery of Gaston de Foix,—when, it is said, about six thousand persons were put to the sword,—the inhabitants remembered the elder of the Apocalypse and the Ferrarese preacher’s words.  11
  The great success of these Lenten sermons at last made the name of Savonarola known to all Italy, and decided the course of his life; for henceforward he no longer doubted his mission. Yet such was the goodness and candor of his nature, that self-confidence only made him more modest and humble. His ardor for prayer, his faith and devout exultation, rose to so great a height, that as his companion, Fra Sabastiano of Brescia, says, Savonarola, when engaged in prayer, frequently fell into a trance; after celebrating mass, was so transported with holy fervor as to be obliged to retire to some solitary place; and a halo of light was often seen to encircle his head.  12
  Savonarola remained in Lombardy until the January of 1489, and during that period wrote to his mother from Pavia a long and most affectionate letter. In this he begs her to forgive him if he has nothing but prayers to offer to his family, since his religious profession precludes him from helping them in other ways; but he adds that in his heart he still shares their sorrows and their joys. “I have renounced this world, and have become a laborer in my Master’s vineyard in many cities, not only to save my own soul, but the souls of other men. If the Lord has intrusted the talent to me, I must needs use it as he wills; and seeing that he hath chosen me for this sacred office, rest ye content that I fulfill it far from my native place, for I bear better fruit than I could have borne at Ferrara. There it would be with me as it was with Christ, when his countrymen said, ‘Is not this man a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter?’ But out of my own place this has never been said to me; rather, when I have to depart, men and women shed tears, and hold my words in much esteem. I thought to have written only a few lines; but love hath caused my pen to run on, and I have opened my heart to you far more than was my purpose. Know, then, that this heart of mine is more than ever bent on devoting soul and body, and all the knowledge granted to me by God, to his service and my neighbors’ salvation; and since this work was not to be done in my own land, I am fain to perform it elsewhere. Encourage all to righteous living. I depart for Genoa this day.”  13
  Of Savonarola’s preachings in Genoa nothing is known to us. But we know that in the summer of 1489 he was suddenly recalled by his superiors to Florence, and strangely enough, at the express desire of Lorenzo de’ Medici. The prince made the request in order to gratify his favorite friend, Pico della Mirandola, who had earnestly pressed him to do so….  14
  In the Lent of 1491 Savonarola preached in the Duomo, and his voice echoed for the first time within the walls of Santa Maria del Fiore. From that moment he would seem to have become paramount in the pulpit, and master of the people; who flocked to hear him in increasing numbers, and with redoubled enthusiasm. The friar’s imagery enchanted the popular fancy; his threats of coming chastisement had a magical effect upon the minds of all, for it truly seemed that all were already oppressed by evil presentiments. His recently published writings likewise assured his influence over distinguished men who had hitherto stood hesitatingly aloof; but this did not prevent him from condemning, in the plainest and most decided terms, the skepticism and corruption of the most celebrated literati of the time.  15
  All this naturally caused much annoyance to Lorenzo de’ Medici, and roused the hostility of his friends…. He was already styled a tyrant by many, and universally charged with having corrupted the magistrates, and appropriated public and private funds. Therefore it was plain that the friar had dared to make allusion to him. Nevertheless this audacity served to increase Savonarola’s fame, and in the July of 1491 he was elected Prior of St. Mark’s. This new office, while raising him to a more prominent position, also gave him greater independence. He at once refused to conform to an abuse that had been introduced in the convent: namely, that the new prior must go to pay his respects, and as it were do homage, to the Magnificent. “I consider that my election is owed to God alone,” he said, “and to him alone will I vow obedience.” Lorenzo was deeply offended by this, and exclaimed, “You see! a stranger has come into my house, yet he will not stoop to pay me a visit.” Nevertheless, being reluctant to wage war with the prior of a convent, or attach too much importance to a monk, he sought to win him over by kindness. He went several times to hear mass in St. Mark’s, and afterwards walked in the garden; but Savonarola could not be persuaded to leave his studies in order to bear him company. When the friars ran to tell him of Lorenzo’s presence, he replied, “If he does not ask for me, let him go or stay at his pleasure.” He was very severe in his judgment of Lorenzo’s character; and knowing the harm wrought on public morals by the prince, had no wish to approach a tyrant whom he regarded not only as the foe and destroyer of freedom, but as the chief obstacle to the restoration of Christian life among the people. Lorenzo then began to send rich gifts and generous alms to the convent. But this naturally increased Savonarola’s previous contempt for his character. And he alluded to the circumstance in the pulpit, when saying that a faithful dog does not leave off barking in his master’s defense, because a bone is thrown to him. Nevertheless, soon after this he found a large sum of money in gold in the convent alms-box; and persuaded that Lorenzo was the donor, immediately sent it all to the congregation of the good men of St. Martin for distribution among the poor, saying that silver and copper sufficed for the needs of his brethren. Thus, as Burlamacchi remarks, “Lorenzo was at last convinced that this was not the right soil in which to plant vines.”  16
  But Lorenzo refused to be checked by this rebuff; and presently sent five of the weightiest citizens in Florence to Savonarola, in order to persuade him to change his behavior and manner of preaching, by pointing out the dangers he was incurring for himself and his convent. But Savonarola soon cut short their homily by saying, “I know that you have not come of your own will, but at that of Lorenzo. Bid him to do penance for his sins; for the Lord is no respecter of persons, and spares not the princes of the earth.” And when the five citizens hinted that he might be sent into exile, he added, “I fear not sentences of banishment, for this city of yours is like a mustard-seed on the earth. But the new doctrine shall triumph, and the old shall fall. Although I be a stranger, and Lorenzo a citizen, and indeed the first in the city, I shall stay, while he will depart.” He then spoke in such wise on the state of Florence and Italy, that his hearers were amazed by his knowledge of public affairs. It was then that he predicted before many witnesses, in the sacristy of St. Mark, that great changes would befall Italy, and that the Magnificent, the Pope, and the King of Naples were all near unto death….  17
  Lorenzo de’ Medici had retired to his pleasant country-house at Careggi. He was wasting away from severe internal disease, and by the beginning of April 1492 all hope of his recovery was at an end…. As his last moments drew near, all his sins rose before him in increasing magnitude, became more and more threatening. The last offices of religion were powerless to conquer his terrors; for having lost all faith in mankind, he could not believe in his confessor’s sincerity. Accustomed to see his slightest wish obeyed and all the world bow to his will, he could not realize that any one would dare to deny him absolution. Accordingly the blessing of the Church was powerless to lighten the weight burdening his conscience, and he was more and more cruelly tortured by remorse. “No one has ever dared to refuse me anything,” he thought to himself; and thus the idea that had once been his chief pride became his worst torment.  18
  Suddenly, however, he thought of Savonarola’s stern face; here, he remembered, was a man who had been equally unmoved by his threats and his blandishments, and thereupon he exclaimed, “I know no honest friar save this one;” and expressed his desire to confess to Savonarola. A messenger was instantly dispatched to St. Mark’s. The prior was so astounded by the strange and unexpected summons that he almost refused to believe it, and answered that it seemed useless for him to go to Careggi, since no words of his would be acceptable to Lorenzo. But on learning the sick man’s desperate condition and earnest desire to confess to him, he set forth without delay.  19
  On that day Lorenzo had thoroughly realized that his end was at hand. He had sent for his son Piero, and given him his final counsels and last farewells. His friends were dismissed during this interview: but when they were allowed to return to the room, and had persuaded Piero to go back home, as his presence agitated his father too much, Lorenzo expressed a wish to see Pico della Mirandola once more; and the latter immediately came to him. The sweet aspect of the kindly, gentle young man seemed to have a soothing effect upon him; for he said, “I should have been very sorry to die without first being cheered a little by thy presence.” And thereupon his face grew calm, his discourse almost cheerful; and he began to laugh and jest with his friend. Pico had scarcely left the room before Savonarola entered it, and respectfully approached the bed of the dying prince. Lorenzo explained that there were three sins on his conscience which he was specially anxious to confess, in order to be absolved from them: the sack of Volterra; the robbery of the Monte delle Fanciulle, whereby so many girls had been driven to a life of shame; and the bloody reprisals following the conspiracy of the Pazzi. In speaking of these things, even before beginning his private confession, the Magnificent again fell into great agitation; and Savonarola sought to calm him by repeating, “God is good, God is merciful—” “But,” he added, directly Lorenzo had ceased speaking, “three things are needful.” “What things, Father?” replied Lorenzo. Savonarola’s face grew stern, and extending the fingers of his right hand, he began thus: “First, a great and living faith in God’s mercy.”—“I have the fullest faith in it.”—“Secondly, you must restore all your ill-gotten wealth, or at least charge your sons to restore it in your name.” At this the Magnificent seemed to be struck with surprise and grief; nevertheless, making an effort, he gave a nod of assent. Savonarola then stood up; and whereas the dying prince lay cowering with fear in his bed, he seemed to soar above his real stature as he said, “Lastly, you must restore liberty to the people of Florence.” His face was solemn; his voice almost terrible; his eyes, as if seeking to divine the answer, were intently fixed on those of Lorenzo, who, collecting all his remaining strength, angrily turned his back on him without uttering a word. Accordingly Savonarola left his presence without granting him absolution, and without having received any actual and detailed confession. The Magnificent remained torn by remorse, and soon after breathed his last, on April 8th, 1492.  20
  Through the influence of Savonarola the aspect of the city was completely changed. The women threw aside their jewels and finery, dressed plainly, bore themselves demurely; licentious young Florentines were transformed, as by magic, into sober, religious men; pious hymns took the place of Lorenzo’s carnival songs. The townsfolk passed their leisure hours seated quietly in their shops, reading either the Bible or Savonarola’s works. All prayed frequently, flocked to the churches, and gave largely to the poor. Most wonderful of all, bankers and tradesmen were impelled by scruples of conscience to restore ill-gotten gains, amounting to many thousand florins. All men were wonder-struck by this singular and almost miraculous change…. Many new converts asked leave to join the Tuscan congregation; and the number of brethren wearing the robe of St. Mark was incredibly multiplied….  21
  The mode of these men’s conversion is likewise worthy of special remark; since it proves that Savonarola, instead of encouraging sudden resolves and fits of enthusiasm, always proceeded with the utmost caution. We find an example of this in the account given by the Florentine Bettuccio, more generally known as Fra Benedetto, of his own conversion. He was the son of a goldsmith, exercising the then profitable art of miniature painting; was in the prime of youth, of a joyous temperament, full of dash and courage, prompt to quarrel, a singer, musician, and poet, fond of good living, and entirely devoted to pleasure. Consequently he was a favorite guest in the gayest society, and led a life of frivolous gallantry….  22
  Such was the life led by Bettuccio, the miniature-painter, when Savonarola began to be renowned, and all Florence flocked to his sermons. Bettuccio, however, refused to follow the herd; for he was on the side of the Arrabbiati, and joined in their scoffs against the Piagnoni. But one day when in the house of a noble and beautiful matron, the latter spoke of Savonarola’s sermons in the warmest terms. He laughed at the time; but on another day he was induced by the lady’s persuasions to accompany her to the Duomo. He describes his deep confusion on entering the church, and finding himself among so great a company of believers, who stared at him with astonishment. At first he longed to escape, but somewhat reluctantly decided to remain. And as soon as Savonarola mounted the pulpit, everything seemed changed to him. Having once fixed his eyes on the preacher, he was unable to withdraw them; his attention was powerfully arrested, his mind impressed: and then he says, “At last I knew myself to be as one dead rather than living.” When the sermon was over, he wandered forth into lonely places; “and for the first time I turned my mind to my inner self.” After long meditation he went home, and became a changed man. He threw aside his songs and musical instruments, forsook his companions, and discarded his scented attire….  23
  From that day he was one of the most assiduous of Savonarola’s hearers, frequented the convent of St. Mark, repeated prayers and litanies, and even beheld strange visions and heard heavenly voices in the air. “I had a hard struggle with my companions,” he tells us, “who went about making mock of me; and a still harder struggle with my own passions, which, breaking loose again from time to time, assailed me very fiercely.” At last, when he felt sure of himself, he sought the austere prior of St. Mark’s and cast himself at his feet. His voice trembled, he could scarcely utter a word in the presence of him to whom he owed his regeneration; nevertheless he stammered forth his desire to join the brotherhood. Savonarola reasoned with him on the danger of precipitate resolves, the difficulties of the monastic life; and concluded by counseling him to make a better trial of himself by leading a Christian life in the world, before crossing the convent threshold. The advice proved to be needed; for Bettuccio had again to fight against the violence of his passions, and was not always victorious in the struggle. After doing severe penance for these fresh lapses, and when assured by long trial of having really mastered the flesh, he returned to Savonarola in a calmer frame of mind. But the latter, who had kept him carefully in sight, would not yet allow him to assume the monastic robe, sending him instead to minister to the sick and bury the dead….  24
  From time to time he was summoned to the friar’s cell, to receive advice and hear lectures on the monastic life; finally, on the 7th of November, 1495, he put on the robe, and on the 13th of November of the following year took the full vows, and assumed the name of Fra Benedetto.  25
  This was how Savonarola gained one of the most faithful of his followers, one of the most steadfast in the hour of peril, and who preserved to the last an increasing admiration and almost worship for his master. The friar was equally cautious in his advice to others, and never pressed any one to join the brotherhood. His only concern was for the improvement of manners, the diffusion of morality, and the regeneration of the true doctrines of Christ, to which men’s souls appeared dead. It was to this end that he now specially dedicated his whole time and strength, his entire heart and soul. When preaching on the holy life and Christian virtue, his soul almost seemed to shine forth from his eyes, and his spiritual energy to be transfused by his voice into the people, who daily and visibly improved under his beneficent influence. Contemporary writers never cease expressing their wonder at this quasi-miracle: some are edified by the triumph thus achieved by religion, others regret the days of joyous ballads and carnival songs; but all are equally emphatic as to the change in public manners, and acknowledge that it was solely the work of Fra Girolamo Savonarola….  26
  The Carnival of 1496 was now at hand; and the friar being silenced, the Arrabbiati were preparing to celebrate it in the old Medicean style, in order to vent the unbridled passions and filthy lusts, which as they thought had too long been repressed. And thereupon the friar determined to thwart them even in this matter.  27
  But it proved a harder task than might have been expected. The Florentines had always been given to carnival festivities; and under the Medici, had indulged in these pleasures to an unlimited and almost incredible extent. During this holiday period the whole city was a scene of wild revelry; drunkenness and debauchery prevailed, and public decorum was cast to the winds. Savonarola’s sermons had undoubtedly wrought a great change; but certain carnival customs were so deeply rooted that neither new doctrines, altered laws, nor the severe prohibitions of the magistrates had availed to extirpate them. And as was only natural, the boys of Florence took special delight in these revels. They were accustomed, during those days, to continually stop people in the streets by barring the road with long poles, and refusing to remove them until they had extorted enough money to pay for their mad feastings by night. After these carousals they made bonfires in the squares, round which they danced and sang, and finally pelted one another with stones in so brutal a fashion that no year passed without some of the combatants being left dead on the ground. This “mad and bestial game of stones,” as the chroniclers style it, was frequently forbidden, and the players threatened with the severest penalties; but none of these measures had the slightest effect. All the leading citizens, the Eight, even the Signory itself, had exhausted their efforts in vain. By nightfall the boys were so excited with the revels of the day that no penalty availed to keep them in check. At last Savonarola undertook the task. After the brilliant results achieved during the past years in the reformation of politics and morals, and being prevented by the changed condition of affairs from continuing those important crusades, he planned a third and simpler reform, that he styled “the reform of the children.”  28
  Foreseeing that it would be extremely difficult to entirely abolish the old customs, he decided to transform them by substituting religious for carnival gayeties. Accordingly, at the same street corners where the children formerly assembled to demand money for their banquets, he caused small altars to be erected, before which they were to take their stand and beg contributions; not, however, for purposes of self-indulgence, but for alms to the poor. Sing as much as ye will, he said to the boys, but sing hymns and sacred lauds instead of indecent songs. He wrote some hymns for them himself,—thus returning to the poetical pursuits which he had so long forsaken,—and commissioned the poet Girolamo Benivieni to compose other verses of the same sort. Then, that all might be conducted with due decorum, he charged Fra Domenico to collect all the children, and choose some leaders from among them, and several of the latter waited on the Signory to explain the proposed reform. Having obtained the sanction of the government, the boys of Florence, exulting in their novel importance, eagerly undertook their appointed work. The city was by no means quiet even in this carnival, nor was it possible to walk the streets without molestation; but although the children were as importunate as of old, it was now for the charitable aim prescribed by Savonarola. And thus, in the year 1496, the game of stones was suppressed for the first time; there was no more gluttonous feasting, and three hundred ducats were collected for the poor. Then, on the last day of carnival, a grand procession was arranged, in which, attracted by the novelty of the thing, the whole population took part. The children went through the city singing hymns and entering all the principal churches; after which they handed over the sums collected to the “good men of St. Martin,” for distribution among the “modest poor” [poveri vergognosi]. Some objections were raised by those who always murmured against every good work that proceeded from Savonarola; but the greater part of the citizens, and all worthy men, declared that the friar had again achieved a task in which every one else in Florence had failed….  29
  It was one of those moments in which the popular aspect seems to undergo a magical change. Savonarola’s adherents had either disappeared or were in hiding; all Florence now seemed against him….  30
  The morning of the 8th of April, Palm Sunday, 1498, passed quietly; but it was easy for an observant eye to discern that this tranquillity was only the sullen calm that precedes a storm, and that it was a marvel no startling event had yet occurred. Savonarola preached in St. Mark’s, but his sermon was very short and sad; he offered his body as a sacrifice to God, and declared his readiness to face death for the good of his flock. Mournfully, but with much composure, he took leave of his people; and in giving them his benediction, seemed to feel that he was addressing them for the last time…. The friar’s adherents then hurried to their homes to procure arms; while a portion of their adversaries held the corners of the streets, and all the rest marched through the city, crying “To St. Mark’s, to St. Mark’s, fire in hand!” They assembled on the Piazza of the Signory; and when their numbers had sufficiently increased, moved in the direction of the convent, brandishing their weapons and uttering fierce cries. On the way they caught sight of a certain man, named Pecori, who was quietly walking to the church of the Santissima Annunziata, singing psalms as he went; and immediately some of them rushed after him, crying, “Does the hypocrite still dare to mumble!” And overtaking him on the steps of the Innocenti, they slew him on the spot. A poor spectacles-maker, hearing the great noise in the street, came out with his slippers in his hand; and while trying to persuade the people to be quiet, was killed by a sword-thrust in his head. Others shared the same fate; and in this way, infuriated by the taste of blood, the mob poured into the Square of St. Mark. Finding the church thronged with the people who had attended vespers, and were still engaged in prayer, they hurled a dense shower of stones through the door; whereat a general panic ensued, the women shrieked loudly, and all took to flight. In a moment the church was emptied; its doors, as well as those of the convent, were locked and barred; and no one remained within save the citizens who were bent on defending St. Mark’s.  31
  Although barely thirty in number, these comprised some of the most devoted of Savonarola’s adherents; the men who had escorted him to the pulpit, and were ever prepared to risk their life in his service. For some days past they had known that the convent was in danger; and accordingly eight or ten of them had always come to guard it by night. Without the knowledge of Savonarola or Fra Domenico, whom they knew to be averse to all deeds of violence, they had, by the suggestion of Fra Silvestro and Fra Francesco de’ Medici, secretly deposited a store of arms in a cell beneath the cloister. Here were some twelve breastplates, and as many helmets; eighteen halberds, five or six crossbows, shields of different kinds, four or five harquebusses, a barrel of powder, and leaden bullets, and even, as it would seem, two small mortars. Francesco Davanzati, who had furnished almost all these weapons, and was then in the convent, brought out and distributed them to those best able to use them. Assisted by Baldo Inghirlami, he directed the defense for some time; placing guards at the weakest points, and giving the necessary orders. About sixteen of the friars took arms, and foremost among them were Fra Luca, son of Andrea della Robbia, and our Fra Benedetto. It was a strange sight to see some of these men, with breastplates over their Dominican robes and helmets on their heads, brandishing enormous halberds, and speeding through the cloister with shouts of “Viva Cristo!” to call their companions to arms.  32
  Savonarola was deeply grieved by this, and Fra Domenico went about imploring all to cast aside their weapons. “They must not stain their hands in blood; they must not disobey the precepts of the gospel, nor their superior’s commands.” So he cried, but all was in vain; for at that moment the furious yells outside rose to a deafening pitch, and more determined attacks were made on the gates. It was then that Savonarola resolved to end the fruitless and painful struggle by the sacrifice of his own safety; so, assuming his priest’s vestments, and taking a cross in his hand, he said to his companions, “Suffer me to go forth, since through me orta est hæc tempestas” (this storm has risen); and wished to surrender himself to his enemies at once. But he was met by universal cries of despair; friars and laymen pressed round him with tears and supplications. “No! do not leave us! you will be torn to pieces; and what would become of us without you?” When he saw his most trusted friends barring the way before him, he turned about and bade all follow him to the church. First of all he carried the Host in procession through the cloisters; then led the way to the choir, and reminded them that prayer was the only weapon to be employed by ministers of religion: whereupon all fell on their knees before the consecrated wafer, and intoned the chant—‘Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine’ (O Lord, save thy people). Some had rested their weapons against the wall, others still grasped them, and only a few remained on guard at the main entrances.  33
  It was now about the twenty-second hour (i.e., two hours before sundown); the throng on the Piazza had increased, the assailants were encouraged by meeting with no resistance, and the Signory’s guards were coming to their aid. At this moment the mace-bearers appeared, to proclaim the Signory’s decree that all in the convent were to lay down their arms; and that Savonarola was sentenced to exile, and ordered to quit the Florentine territory within twelve hours’ time. Most of those who heard this announcement regarded it as a device of the enemy. It was difficult to credit that the Signory could order the attacked, who were making scarcely any defense, to lay down their arms, while the assailants, who were the sole authors of the disturbance, and in far greater numbers, were not only left unmolested, but supplied with reinforcements! Nevertheless, the proclamation decided several to obtain safe-conducts and hurry away….  34
  Meanwhile night was falling, and the siege of the convent was being carried on with desperate ferocity. Some fired the gates; while others had successfully scaled the walls on the Sapienza side, and made their way into the cloisters. After sacking the infirmary and the cells, they all penetrated to the sacristy, sword in hand, and broke open the door leading to the choir. When the friars, who were kneeling there in prayer, found themselves thus suddenly attacked, they were naturally stirred to self-defense. Seizing the burning torches, and crucifixes of metal and wood, they belabored their assailants with so much energy that the latter fled in dismay, believing for a moment that a band of angels had come to the defense of the convent.  35
  Then the other monks, who had laid down their arms at Savonarola’s behest, again resumed the defense; and there was more skirmishing in the cloisters and corridors. At the same time the great bell of the convent, called the Piagnona, tolled forth the alarm; both besiegers and besieged fought with greater fury; all was clamor and confusion, cries of despair, and clashing of steel. This was the moment when Baldo Inghirlami and Francesco Davanzati dealt such vigorous blows, and that Fra Luca d’Andrea della Robbia chased the foes through the cloisters, sword in hand. Fra Benedetto and a few others mounted on the roof, and repeatedly drove back the enemy with a furious hail of stones and tiles. Several of the monks fired their muskets with good effect inside the church; and a certain Fra Enrico, a young, fair-haired, handsome German, particularly distinguished himself by his prowess. At the first beginning of the struggle he had courageously sallied out into the midst of the mob, and possessed himself of the weapon he wielded so valiantly; accompanying each stroke with the cry, ‘Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine.’  36
  At this juncture the victory was decidedly with St. Mark’s, and its defenders were exulting in their success; when a fresh edict of the Signory was proclaimed, declaring all rebels who did not forsake the convent within an hour. Thereupon several more demanded safe-conducts and departed, thus further diminishing the too scanty garrison. And there being no longer any doubt as to the Signory’s intention of crushing St. Mark’s, even the remnant of the defenders lost hope and courage, and were already beginning to give way. Savonarola and many of his brethren still remained in the choir, offering up prayers, which were interrupted from time to time by the cries of the injured or the piteous wail of the dying. Among the latter was a youth of the Panciatichi House, who was borne, fatally wounded, to the steps of the high altar; and there, amid volleys of harquebuss shots, received the communion from Fra Domenico, and joyfully drew his last breath in the friar’s arms, after kissing the crucifix and exclaiming, “Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum!” (Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!)  37
  Night had now come; and the monks, exhausted with hunger and agitation, devoured some dry figs one of their companions had brought. Suddenly the defense was resumed; louder cries were heard, and fresh volleys of shot. In the pulpit from which Savonarola had so frequently inculcated the doctrine of peace, Fra Enrico, the German, had now taken his stand, and was firing his harquebuss with fatal effect. The smoke became so dense that it was necessary to break the windows in order to escape suffocation; and thereupon long tongues of flame poured into the church from the burning doors. The German and another defender retreated into the choir, and clambering upon the high altar, planted their harquebusses beside the great crucifix, and continued their fire.  38
  Savonarola was overwhelmed with grief by this waste of life in his cause, but was powerless to prevent it. No attention being paid to his protests, he again raised the Host, and commanded his friars to follow him. Traversing the dormitory, he had conducted nearly all to the Greek library, when he caught sight of Fra Benedetto rushing down-stairs, maddened with fury and fully armed, to confront the assailants at close quarters. Laying his hand on his disciple’s shoulder, he gave him a severe glance, and said in a tone of earnest reproof, “Fra Benedetto, throw down those weapons and take up the cross: I never intended my brethren to shed blood.” And the monk humbled himself at his master’s feet, laid aside his arms, and followed him to the library with the rest.  39
  A final and still more threatening decree was now issued by the Signory, against all who continued to resist; commanding Savonarola, Fra Domenico, and Fra Silvestro to present themselves at the palace without delay, and giving their word that no harm should be offered them. Fra Domenico insisted on seeing the order in writing; and the heralds, not having it with them, went back to fetch it. Meanwhile Savonarola had deposited the sacrament in the hall of the library beneath the noble arches of Michelozzi’s vault; and collecting the friars around him, addressed them for the last time in these memorable words: “My beloved children, in the presence of God, in the presence of the consecrated wafer, with our enemies already in the convent, I confirm the truth of my doctrines. All that I have said hath come to me from God, and he is my witness in heaven that I speak no lie. I had not foreseen that all the city would so quickly turn against me; nevertheless, may the Lord’s will be done. My last exhortation to ye is this: let faith, prayer, and patience be your weapons. I leave ye with anguish and grief, to give myself into my enemies’ hands. I know not whether they will take my life; but certain am I that, once dead, I shall be able to succor ye in heaven far better than it hath been granted me to help ye on earth. Take comfort, embrace the cross, and by it shall ye find the way of salvation.”  40
  The invaders were now masters of almost the whole of the convent; and Gioacchino della Vecchia, captain of the palace guard, threatened to knock down the walls with his guns unless the orders of the Signory were obeyed. Fra Malatesta Sacramoro, the very man who a few days before had offered to walk through the fire, now played the part of Judas. He treated with the Compagnacci, and persuaded them to present a written order, for which they sent an urgent request to the Signory; while Savonarola again confessed to Fra Domenico, and took the sacrament from his hands, in preparation for their common surrender. As for their companion, Fra Silvestro, he had hidden himself; and in the confusion was nowhere to be found.  41
  Just then a singular incident occurred. One of Savonarola’s disciples—a certain Girolamo Gini, who had long yearned to assume the Dominican robe—had come to vespers that day, and from the beginning of the riot energetically helped in the defense of the convent. When Savonarola ordered all to lay down their arms, this worthy artisan instantly obeyed; but nevertheless could not refrain from rushing through the cloisters and showing himself to the assailants,—in his desire, as he confessed at his examination, to face death for the love of Jesus Christ. Having been wounded, he now appeared in the Greek library, with blood streaming from his head; and kneeling at his master’s feet, humbly prayed to be invested with the habit. And his request was granted on the spot.  42
  Savonarola was urged by some of his friends to consent to be lowered from the walls and seek safety in flight; since, if he once set foot in the palace, there was little chance of his ever leaving it alive. He hesitated, and seemed on the point of adopting this sole means of escape; when Fra Malatesta turned on him and said, “Should not the shepherd lay down his life for his lambs?” These words appeared to touch him deeply; and he accordingly made no reply, but after kissing his brethren and folding them to his heart,—this very Malatesta first of all,—he deliberately gave himself up, together with his trusty and inseparable Fra Domenico, into the hands of the mace-bearers, who had returned from the Signory at that instant.  43

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