Son of an exiled Florentine clerk, Petrarch was born in Arezzo, Italy, but was raised at the court of the Pope in Avignon in southern France. He studied the classics in France and continued his education at the University of Bologna in Italy. Less than a year after his return to Avignon in , Petrarch fell in love with the woman he referred to as Laura in his most famous poetry. Although he never revealed her true name, nor, apparently, ever expressed his love to her directly, he made her immortal with his Canzoniere date unknown , or songbook, a collection of lyric poems and sonnets that rank among the most beautiful written in Italian, or in any other language.
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Wikimedia Commons frontmatter. Petrarca, the profile portrait see introduction note 3. Most modern writers on Petrarch agree in stating that of all his works the Dialogues which he calls Secretum meum are the one which throws most light upon the man himself. Yet no English translation has hitherto been published. A French version by M. Victor Develay was issued a few years ago, and received the recognition of the French Academy; and, considering the great importance of Petrarch in the history of the Renaissance, not merely in Italy but in Europe, it is time that a similar opportunity of knowing him more fully was offered to English readers; for there are signs on both sides of the Atlantic that the number of those interested in him is steadily growing.
The reason for this is undoubtedly the fact that, as the whole work of Petrarch comes to be better known, interest in him as a man increases.
Sidney Lee has lately reminded us of his wide range and predominating influence in the matter of the sonnet in France and in Elizabethan England, as well as in his own country; and yet that influence was very far indeed from revealing all that Petrarch was. It was largely an influence of style, a triumph of the perfection of form, and his imitators did not trouble much about the precise nature of the sentiment and spirit informing the style.
When this came to be weighed in the balances of a later day, the tendency of English feeling was to regard his sentiment as a trifle too serious and weak. The love-making of the Cavaliers brought in a robuster tone. When once the question was raised, "Why so pale and wan, fond lover? But eclipses are transient events, and when literary England felt once more the attraction of Italy in the end of the eighteenth century it was not only Dante who began to resume his sway and to provoke translation, but Petrarch also.
Then attention was turned chiefly to his Italian poetry, but also in some degree to the general body of his Latin works and to his Letters, of which it is reported that Fox was among the first to perceive the high value. In England the pioneers in this direction were Mrs. Then came a volume of Essays on Petrarch Murray by the Italian exile Ugo Foscolo, and a little later a second Life of the Poet by no less a person than Thomas Campbell, also in two volumes.
Then for a while there was a pause, and the main drift of such attention in England as could be spared for things Italian in mid-Victorian days was concentrated on the greater luminary of the Divine Comedy and the exciting political events of the sixties; though some attention was drawn to things connected with Petrarch by Lytton's novel of Rienzi , which was first published in and had a considerable vogue. Meanwhile in Italy itself his fame was well served by the excellent collection and reprint of his Latin letters by Fracasetti in three vols.
Henri Cochin, elucidating what is known of Petrarch's brother Gherardo and some of his many friends. Amongst ourselves in late years, following the labours of J. Symonds in his history of the Renaissance, we have Henry Reeve's small but well-planned volume in the "Foreign Classics for English Readers," and, more recently still, Mr. It is significant that both the last writers single out the Secretum for its psychological interest, the former stating that "to those who feel the charm of Petrarch's nature and the intense humanity of his character, these three Dialogues are the most fascinating of all his writings"; and the latter "that this conflict of the dual self is of quite peculiar interest.
Jerrold indeed goes so far as to say that Petrarch "plunges into the most scathing self-examination that any man ever made. Whether the book was intended for the public we may well doubt, both from the words of the preface and from the fact that it does not appear to have been published till after the author's death.
But however this may be, it remains one of the world's great monuments of self-revelation and ranks with the Confessions of S. Augustine "—a verdict which to some critics will seem to have a touch of overstatement, though hardly beyond the opinion of Petrarch's French students, and not altogether unpardonable in so enthusiastic an admirer of her subject, and a verdict which at least would not have been displeasing to Petrarch himself.
Among the many points of human interest to be found in the Dialogues not the least is the one connected with Accidie, a theme which has of itself attracted special study in the present day, particularly since attention was called to it by the late Bishop of Oxford in his well-known introduction to the Spirit of Discipline. It is the remarking on this note of self-will, this voluptas dolendi, that M.
The fundamental question raised by these Dialogues is the question of what was the real nature and character of Petrarch, and wherein lay the secret of his extraordinary charm and influence among his contemporaries, and especially among contemporary men?
It is difficult to convey in few words how great an impression the study of his Latin works makes in regard to this influence in his own lifetime. Of course, a reader is soon aware of the trait of personal vanity in Petrarch and of certain unconscious littlenesses, as in the matter of his appreciation of Dante; but the strange thing is how little this interfered with the regard and admiration extended to him by many sorts and conditions of men.
In the ordinary intercourse of life one is apt to think such a trait fatal to anything like respect, and it must always detract somewhat from the full stature of any mind, but in the case of Petrarch it seems evident that he was one to whom much was forgiven, and that the reason is to be found in the presence in him of so rich an assemblage of other and better qualities that this one hardly counted at all, or was looked on with kindly amusement by friends large-hearted enough to think it nothing compared with what was good and admirable in his mind.
We may take it for granted that, as he hints in his "Letter to Posterity," he started with the advantage of a good presence and a sufficient care of his own person and appearance in younger days; and it is evident that he had by nature a certain engaging frankness and impulsiveness, which nevertheless were not inconsistent with the contrasted qualities of gravity and dignity, learned at first from his father and mother and their friends, and cultivated by his study of the Law and afterwards by his attendance on the Papal court at Avignon.
One can discern this in his Letters and see it reflected in those that were written to him or about him. But beyond these introductory qualities, as they may be called, there were other deeper traits, of rarer kind, that must be noted before one can understand the position he attained and has held so long.
Studying his work from the cool distance of six centuries, one is inclined to judge that the most fundamental quality of his nature was his love of literature, and that every other trait took a subordinate place to this.
It is perhaps doubtful whether this or the life of personal affection, or even of devotion in a monastery, would have gained the upper hand if the circumstances of his life had been different in the matter of his love for Laura; but taking into consideration that she was separated from him apparently by temperament and circumstance, the one course that remained open to him without let or hindrance was the life of literature in the sense of devotion to the great writers of the Past and the practice of the art of writing for himself.
He loved this for its own sake, and at the same time he was quickened by the sense of a new learning, which, since his time and largely by the impetus he gave it, has taken form and outline in a wonderful way, but was then only like the first streak of dawn upon the sky. Petrarch was not the first man to find a certain contradiction between his desires and the possibilities of life around him, and to pass many years under the pain of contrary attractions that could not all be followed to fulfilment This conflict is what gives interest to the Secretum.
Some have thought, and the idea was expressed by one of his correspondents, that his love for Laura was very much of a literary pose.
Yet that such a view is an insufficient account of it seems pretty clearly established by the work here translated. It is, indeed, plain that his feelings ran a course, and not a smooth one, and did not continue in one stay; he came to see the whole matter in a changed light, and yet not wholly changed; his relation was transfigured, not abandoned, and after the death of Laura, which took place when he was forty-four, it continued as a memory from which the pain had faded away and only what was uplifting remained.
That which persisted unchanged all through his life and seems most to have had the colour and substance of a passion was the love of Letters. To this his friendship, his very real patriotism, and must we not add? But the mention of this last factor in the life of Petrarch leads one to express the opinion that this has not yet been quite sufficiently reckoned with.
That it should not have been thought worthy of such reckoning has probably arisen from the one ugly fact in his life which he himself does not conceal, and indeed expressly refers to in his "Letter to Posterity," in the following words:—. This I can safely affirm that, although I was hurried away to them by the fervour of my age and temperament, their vileness I have always inwardly execrated. As soon as I approached my fortieth year I repelled these weaknesses entirely from my thoughts and my remembrance, as if I had never known them.
And this I count among my earliest happy recollections, thanking God, who has freed me, while yet my powers were unimpaired and strong, from this so vile and always hateful servitude. Now, although Petrarch did not, as some other men have done, including his own brother, express his repentance by retiring to a monastery, yet there is evidence enough that the change of will here referred to, and professed in the Secretum , was real, and that the older he grew the more he lifted up his heart.
Among other signs of this there is the curious little group of what he calls Penitential Psalms, which were translated into English by George Chapman, into whose translation of Homer Keats looked and was inspired. In his Will also there are not a few passages through which one hears a note of genuine penitence. Petrarch must have fully weighed in his own case the pros and cons for such retirement. His treatise De Otio Religiosorum shows that he understood what good side that kind of life has, and his whole attitude towards his brother—generous, and attached, almost to the point of romance—reveals how he could admire it.
But in his own case he felt that it would cramp his faculties too much to be endurable, and hinder more than it would help the kind of work to which he had put his hand. There was also another influence that told strongly on this father of Humanism. He whose nature was so full of unsatisfied natural affection had begun in his latter years to find some rest and blessing in the love and tendance of a daughter, the light of whose care and companionship for him shines through his declining days like the rays of the sun in the evening after a dark and troubled day.
But if we are right in judging that the love of Letters was the dominant factor in the life of Petrarch, it was but the main thread in a singularly complex nature. Not much less in substance and strength was his genius for friendship. Indeed, his study of the writers of past ages partook of the nature of friendship, just as his friendship with living men had a deep literary tinge. He loved books and he loved men, and he loved them in the same way.
This is by no means a frequent combination in the degree in which it was shown in Petrarch. More often the book-lover becomes a recluse, and the lover of his fellow-men loses his ardour for study. But not even the love of books and of men took up all the activities of this rich nature. He was also a keen traveller and among the first to write of natural scenery in the modern spirit.
He had that in him which, in spite of his love for reading and writing, sent him forth into other lands and made him eager to see men and cities.
Yet the love of the country in him prevailed over the love of cities. His many references to his life at Vaucluse, though to readers of to-day they may seem sometimes affected, yet show only a superficial affectation, a mere mode, which does not seriously lessen the impression of his simple taste and his genuine delight in his garden and his fishing, and his talk with the charming old farmer-man and that sun-burnt wife for whom he had such an unbounded respect.
In the two recent lives of Petrarch in English a reader may make closer acquaintance with this side of his character, and will find much that falls in with modern feeling as to simplicity of living and the joys of escaping from "the man-stifled town. What the Secretum gives us is the picture of Petrarch as he was in the crisis of his middle years. It was written in or about the year when he was thirty-eight, and in these Dialogues we find him looking back over his youth and early life—the sap and vigour of his mind as strong as ever, the recollection of many sensations green and still powerful—but finding that the sheer march of time and experience of manhood are forcing him now to see things with more mature vision.
The interest of the Secretum is heightened by remembering the time of life in which it was composed. Such is the tone that seems to pervade the Dialogues between S.
Augustine and Petrarch. In the preface he looks forward to cherishing the little book himself in future years, like some flower that keeps alive remembrance of past days and yet is not cherished for memory only, but to guard the resolution which has been taken to go forward and not back, and, as his French translator suggests, "Is it to be wondered at that these pages, written with such abandon , in which he has laid bare his whole soul, should have been his own favourite work?
It was the book he kept at his bedside, his faithful counsellor and friend, and to which he turned ever and again with pleasure in the hours of remembering the time past. It is not necessary to tell over again the story of Petrarch's lifelong devotion to the study of S. Augustine's Confessions, or to dwell on the obvious reasons for that devotion. Every man loves the book which tells the history of conflicts like his own, and which has helped to give him courage in his warfare and its sorrows and joys.
Many of the letters of Petrarch's later years show how wistfully he waited for that day. But they also show how gallant a heart he kept, and how faithful to those friends that remained, including the one so lovable and generous and true, Giovanni Boccaccio, who survived him little more than a year.
Petrarch passed the end of his life in a modest house which he built in one of the loveliest parts of Italy, that to English readers will be for ever dear because of the haunting music that Shelley wove around its name. These were days of calm, and the book of the Secret ends with the expression of hope for a deeper calm still.
In due time it came, but, as the English Poet sang, after more than six centuries—. The love from Petrarch's urn Yet amid yon hills doth burn,. Fisher Unwin, publisher of Mr. Mills' book on Petrarch, is from Lombardo's copy of the De viris illustribus, finished about five years after the death of Petrarch, and is believed to be an authentic picture of him in later life. Often have I wondered with much curiosity as to our coming into this world and what will follow our departure.
When I was ruminating lately on this matter, not in any dream as one in sickness and slumber, but wide awake and with all my wits about me, I was greatly astonished to behold a very beautiful Lady, shining with an indescribable light about her. She seemed as one whose beauty is not known, as it might be, to mankind. I could not tell how she came there, but from her raiment and appearance I judged her a fair Virgin, and her eyes, like the sun, seemed to send forth rays of such light that they made me lower my own before her, so that I was afraid to look up.
When she saw this she said, Fear not; and let not the strangeness of my presence affright you in any wise. I saw your steps had gone astray; and I had compassion on you and have come down from above to bring you timely succour. Hitherto your eyes have been darkened and you have looked too much, yes, far too much, upon the things of earth. If these so much delight you, what shall be your rapture when you lift your gaze to things eternal!
When I heard her thus speak, though my fear still clung about me with trembling voice I made reply in Virgil's words—. I am that Lady, she answered, whom you have depicted in your poem Africa with rare art and skill, and for whom, like another Amphion of Thebes, you have with poetic hands built a fair and glorious Palace in the far West on Atlas's lofty peak.
Be not afraid, then, to listen and to look upon the face of her who, as your finely-wrought allegory proves, has been well-known to you from of old. Scarcely had she uttered these words when, as I pondered all these things in my mind, it occurred to me this could be none other than Truth herself who thus spoke.
My Secret Book by Francesco Petrarca. The complete review 's Review :. Francesco Petrarca's -- Petrarch's -- My Secret Book was probably composed between and and was not meant for publication: "you will shun the company of men and be content to remain at my side", the poet writes to and of the book in his introductory Proem. This might seem to suggest that Petrarch wants to hide something sensational -- but My Secret Book is hardly salacious. Instead, it is an imagined dialogue between Petrarch and St. Augustine -- with Truth hovering by their sides, passing: "silent judgment on every word" -- extending over three days a "triduano colloquio".
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Secretum by Francesco Petrarca
Secretum De secreto conflictu curarum mearum , translated as The Secret or My Secret Book is a trilogy of dialogues in Latin written by Petrarch sometime from to , in which he examines his faith with the help of Saint Augustine , and "in the presence of The Lady Truth". Secretum was not circulated until some time after Petrarch's death, and was probably meant to be a means of self-examination more than a work to be published and read by others. The dialogue opens with Augustine chastising Petrarch for ignoring his own mortality and his fate in the afterlife by not devoting himself fully to God. Petrarch concedes that this lack of piety is the source of his unhappiness, but he insists that he cannot overcome it.
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