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  The Prince

  by Nicolo Machiavelli

  Translated by W. K. Marriott

  Etext prepared by John Bickers,

  and Bonnie Sala, Sterling Editing Services,

  Nicolo Machiavelli, born at Florence on 3rd

  May 1469. From 1494 to 1512 held an official

  post at Florence which included diplomatic

  missions to various European courts.

  Imprisoned in Florence, 1512; later exiled and

  returned to San Casciano. Died at Florence on

  22nd June 1527.


  Nicolo Machiavelli was born at Florence on 3rd May 1469. He was the

  second son of Bernardo di Nicolo Machiavelli, a lawyer of some repute,

  and of Bartolommea di Stefano Nelli, his wife. Both parents were

  members of the old Florentine nobility.

  His life falls naturally into three periods, each of which singularly

  enough constitutes a distinct and important era in the history of

  Florence. His youth was concurrent with the greatness of Florence as

  an Italian power under the guidance of Lorenzo de' Medici, Il

  Magnifico. The downfall of the Medici in Florence occurred in 1494, in

  which year Machiavelli entered the public service. During his official

  career Florence was free under the government of a Republic, which

  lasted until 1512, when the Medici returned to power, and Machiavelli

  lost his office. The Medici again ruled Florence from 1512 until 1527,

  when they were once more driven out. This was the period of

  Machiavelli's literary activity and increasing influence; but he died,

  within a few weeks of the expulsion of the Medici, on 22nd June 1527,

  in his fifty-eighth year, without having regained office.


  Aet. 1-25--1469-94

  Although there is little recorded of the youth of Machiavelli, the

  Florence of those days is so well known that the early environment of

  this representative citizen may be easily imagined. Florence has been

  described as a city with two opposite currents of life, one directed

  by the fervent and austere Savonarola, the other by the splendour-

  loving Lorenzo. Savonarola's influence upon the young Machiavelli must

  have been slight, for although at one time he wielded immense power

  over the fortunes of Florence, he only furnished Machiavelli with a

  subject of a gibe in "The Prince," where he is cited as an example of

  an unarmed prophet who came to a bad end. Whereas the magnificence of

  the Medicean rule during the life of Lorenzo appeared to have

  impressed Machiavelli strongly, for he frequently recurs to it in his

  writings, and it is to Lorenzo's grandson that he dedicates "The


  Machiavelli, in his "History of Florence," gives us a picture of the

  young men among whom his youth was passed. He writes: "They were freer

  than their forefathers in dress and living, and spent more in other

  kinds of excesses, consuming their time and money in idleness, gaming,

  and women; their chief aim was to appear well dressed and to speak

  with wit and acuteness, whilst he who could wound others the most

  cleverly was thought the wisest." In a letter to his son Guido,

  Machiavelli shows why youth should avail itself of its opportunities

  for study, and leads us to infer that his own youth had been so

  occupied. He writes: "I have received your letter, which has given me

  the greatest pleasure, especially because you tell me you are quite

  restored in health, than which I could have no better news; for if God

  grant life to you, and to me, I hope to make a good man of you if you

  are willing to do your share." Then, writing of a new patron, he

  continues: "This will turn out well for you, but it is necessary for

  you to study; since, then, you have no longer the excuse of illness,

  take pains to study letters and music, for you see what honour is done

  to me for the little skill I have. Therefore, my son, if you wish to

  please me, and to bring success and honour to yourself, do right and

  study, because others will help you if you help yourself."


  Aet. 25-43--1494-1512

  The second period of Machiavelli's life was spent in the service of

  the free Republic of Florence, which flourished, as stated above, from

  the expulsion of the Medici in 1494 until their return in 1512. After

  serving four years in one of the public offices he was appointed

  Chancellor and Secretary to the Second Chancery, the Ten of Liberty

  and Peace. Here we are on firm ground when dealing with the events of

  Machiavelli's life, for during this time he took a leading part in the

  affairs of the Republic, and we have its decrees, records, and

  dispatches to guide us, as well as his own writings. A mere

  recapitulation of a few of his transactions with the statesmen and

  soldiers of his time gives a fair indication of his activities, and

  supplies the sources from which he drew the experiences and characters

  which illustrate "The Prince."

  His first mission was in 1499 to Catherina Sforza, "my lady of Forli"

  of "The Prince," from whose conduct and fate he drew the moral that it

  is far better to earn the confidence of the people than to rely on

  fortresses. This is a very noticeable principle in Machiavelli, and is

  urged by him in many ways as a matter of vital importance to princes.

  In 1500 he was sent to France to obtain terms from Louis XII for

  continuing the war against Pisa: this king it was who, in his conduct

  of affairs in Italy, committed the five capital errors in statecraft

  summarized in "The Prince," and was consequently driven out. He, also,

  it was who made the dissolution of his marriage a condition of support

  to Pope Alexander VI; which leads Machiavelli to refer those who urge

  that such promises should be kept to what he has written concerning

  the faith of princes.

  Machiavelli's public life was largely occupied with events arising out

  of the ambitions of Pope Alexander VI and his son, Cesare Borgia, the

  Duke Valentino, and these characters fill a large space of "The

  Prince." Machiavelli never hesitates to cite the actions of the duke

  for the benefit of usurpers who wish to keep the states they have

  seized; he can, indeed, find no precepts to offer so good as the

  pattern of Cesare Borgia's conduct, insomuch that Cesare is acclaimed

  by some critics as the "hero" of "The Prince." Yet in "The Prince" the

  duke is in point of fact cited as a type of the man who rises on the

  fortune of others, and falls with them; who takes every course that

  might be expected from a prudent man but the course which will save

  him; who is prepared for all eventualities but the one which happens;

  and who, when all his abilities fail to carry him through, exclaims

  that it was not his fault, but an extraordinary and unforeseen


  On the death of Pius III, in 1503, Machiavelli was sent to Rome to

/>   watch the election of his successor, and there he saw Cesare Borgia

  cheated into allowing the choice of the College to fall on Giuliano

  delle Rovere (Julius II), who was one of the cardinals that had most

  reason to fear the duke. Machiavelli, when commenting on this

  election, says that he who thinks new favours will cause great

  personages to forget old injuries deceives himself. Julius did not

  rest until he had ruined Cesare.

  It was to Julius II that Machiavelli was sent in 1506, when that

  pontiff was commencing his enterprise against Bologna; which he

  brought to a successful issue, as he did many of his other adventures,

  owing chiefly to his impetuous character. It is in reference to Pope

  Julius that Machiavelli moralizes on the resemblance between Fortune

  and women, and concludes that it is the bold rather than the cautious

  man that will win and hold them both.

  It is impossible to follow here the varying fortunes of the Italian

  states, which in 1507 were controlled by France, Spain, and Germany,

  with results that have lasted to our day; we are concerned with those

  events, and with the three great actors in them, so far only as they

  impinge on the personality of Machiavelli. He had several meetings

  with Louis XII of France, and his estimate of that monarch's character

  has already been alluded to. Machiavelli has painted Ferdinand of

  Aragon as the man who accomplished great things under the cloak of

  religion, but who in reality had no mercy, faith, humanity, or

  integrity; and who, had he allowed himself to be influenced by such

  motives, would have been ruined. The Emperor Maximilian was one of the

  most interesting men of the age, and his character has been drawn by

  many hands; but Machiavelli, who was an envoy at his court in 1507-8,

  reveals the secret of his many failures when he describes him as a

  secretive man, without force of character--ignoring the human agencies

  necessary to carry his schemes into effect, and never insisting on the

  fulfilment of his wishes.

  The remaining years of Machiavelli's official career were filled with

  events arising out of the League of Cambrai, made in 1508 between the

  three great European powers already mentioned and the pope, with the

  object of crushing the Venetian Republic. This result was attained in

  the battle of Vaila, when Venice lost in one day all that she had won

  in eight hundred years. Florence had a difficult part to play during

  these events, complicated as they were by the feud which broke out

  between the pope and the French, because friendship with France had

  dictated the entire policy of the Republic. When, in 1511, Julius II

  finally formed the Holy League against France, and with the assistance

  of the Swiss drove the French out of Italy, Florence lay at the mercy

  of the Pope, and had to submit to his terms, one of which was that the

  Medici should be restored. The return of the Medici to Florence on 1st

  September 1512, and the consequent fall of the Republic, was the

  signal for the dismissal of Machiavelli and his friends, and thus put

  an end to his public career, for, as we have seen, he died without

  regaining office.


  Aet. 43-58--1512-27

  On the return of the Medici, Machiavelli, who for a few weeks had

  vainly hoped to retain his office under the new masters of Florence,

  was dismissed by decree dated 7th November 1512. Shortly after this he

  was accused of complicity in an abortive conspiracy against the

  Medici, imprisoned, and put to the question by torture. The new

  Medicean people, Leo X, procured his release, and he retired to his

  small property at San Casciano, near Florence, where he devoted

  himself to literature. In a letter to Francesco Vettori, dated 13th

  December 1513, he has left a very interesting description of his life

  at this period, which elucidates his methods and his motives in

  writing "The Prince." After describing his daily occupations with his

  family and neighbours, he writes: "The evening being come, I return

  home and go to my study; at the entrance I pull off my peasant-

  clothes, covered with dust and dirt, and put on my noble court dress,

  and thus becomingly re-clothed I pass into the ancient courts of the

  men of old, where, being lovingly received by them, I am fed with that

  food which is mine alone; where I do not hesitate to speak with them,

  and to ask for the reason of their actions, and they in their

  benignity answer me; and for four hours I feel no weariness, I forget

  every trouble, poverty does not dismay, death does not terrify me; I

  am possessed entirely by those great men. And because Dante says:

  Knowledge doth come of learning well retained,

  Unfruitful else,

  I have noted down what I have gained from their conversation, and have

  composed a small work on 'Principalities,' where I pour myself out as

  fully as I can in meditation on the subject, discussing what a

  principality is, what kinds there are, how they can be acquired, how

  they can be kept, why they are lost: and if any of my fancies ever

  pleased you, this ought not to displease you: and to a prince,

  especially to a new one, it should be welcome: therefore I dedicate it

  to his Magnificence Giuliano. Filippo Casavecchio has seen it; he will

  be able to tell you what is in it, and of the discourses I have had

  with him; nevertheless, I am still enriching and polishing it."

  The "little book" suffered many vicissitudes before attaining the form

  in which it has reached us. Various mental influences were at work

  during its composition; its title and patron were changed; and for

  some unknown reason it was finally dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici.

  Although Machiavelli discussed with Casavecchio whether it should be

  sent or presented in person to the patron, there is no evidence that

  Lorenzo ever received or even read it: he certainly never gave

  Machiavelli any employment. Although it was plagiarized during

  Machiavelli's lifetime, "The Prince" was never published by him, and

  its text is still disputable.

  Machiavelli concludes his letter to Vettori thus: "And as to this

  little thing [his book], when it has been read it will be seen that

  during the fifteen years I have given to the study of statecraft I

  have neither slept nor idled; and men ought ever to desire to be

  served by one who has reaped experience at the expense of others. And

  of my loyalty none could doubt, because having always kept faith I

  could not now learn how to break it; for he who has been faithful and

  honest, as I have, cannot change his nature; and my poverty is a

  witness to my honesty."

  Before Machiavelli had got "The Prince" off his hands he commenced his

  "Discourse on the First Decade of Titus Livius," which should be read

  concurrently with "The Prince." These and several minor works occupied

  him until the year 1518, when he accepted a small commission to look

  after the affairs of some Florentine merchants at Genoa. In 1519 the

  Medicean rulers of Florence granted a few political concessions to her

>   citizens, and Machiavelli with others was consulted upon a new

  constitution under which the Great Council was to be restored; but on

  one pretext or another it was not promulgated.

  In 1520 the Florentine merchants again had recourse to Machiavelli to

  settle their difficulties with Lucca, but this year was chiefly

  remarkable for his re-entry into Florentine literary society, where he

  was much sought after, and also for the production of his "Art of

  War." It was in the same year that he received a commission at the

  instance of Cardinal de' Medici to write the "History of Florence," a

  task which occupied him until 1525. His return to popular favour may

  have determined the Medici to give him this employment, for an old

  writer observes that "an able statesman out of work, like a huge

  whale, will endeavour to overturn the ship unless he has an empty cask

  to play with."

  When the "History of Florence" was finished, Machiavelli took it to

  Rome for presentation to his patron, Giuliano de' Medici, who had in

  the meanwhile become pope under the title of Clement VII. It is

  somewhat remarkable that, as, in 1513, Machiavelli had written "The

  Prince" for the instruction of the Medici after they had just regained

  power in Florence, so, in 1525, he dedicated the "History of Florence"

  to the head of the family when its ruin was now at hand. In that year

  the battle of Pavia destroyed the French rule in Italy, and left

  Francis I a prisoner in the hands of his great rival, Charles V. This

  was followed by the sack of Rome, upon the news of which the popular

  party at Florence threw off the yoke of the Medici, who were once more


  Machiavelli was absent from Florence at this time, but hastened his

  return, hoping to secure his former office of secretary to the "Ten of

  Liberty and Peace." Unhappily he was taken ill soon after he reached

  Florence, where he died on 22nd June 1527.


  No one can say where the bones of Machiavelli rest, but modern

  Florence has decreed him a stately cenotaph in Santa Croce, by the

  side of her most famous sons; recognizing that, whatever other nations

  may have found in his works, Italy found in them the idea of her unity

  and the germs of her renaissance among the nations of Europe. Whilst

  it is idle to protest against the world-wide and evil signification of

  his name, it may be pointed out that the harsh construction of his

  doctrine which this sinister reputation implies was unknown to his own

  day, and that the researches of recent times have enabled us to

  interpret him more reasonably. It is due to these inquiries that the

  shape of an "unholy necromancer," which so long haunted men's vision,

  has begun to fade.

  Machiavelli was undoubtedly a man of great observation, acuteness, and

  industry; noting with appreciative eye whatever passed before him, and

  with his supreme literary gift turning it to account in his enforced

  retirement from affairs. He does not present himself, nor is he

  depicted by his contemporaries, as a type of that rare combination,

  the successful statesman and author, for he appears to have been only

  moderately prosperous in his several embassies and political

  employments. He was misled by Catherina Sforza, ignored by Louis XII,

  overawed by Cesare Borgia; several of his embassies were quite barren

  of results; his attempts to fortify Florence failed, and the soldiery

  that he raised astonished everybody by their cowardice. In the conduct

  of his own affairs he was timid and time-serving; he dared not appear

  by the side of Soderini, to whom he owed so much, for fear of

  compromising himself; his connection with the Medici was open to

  suspicion, and Giuliano appears to have recognized his real forte when

  he set him to write the "History of Florence," rather than employ him

  in the state. And it is on the literary side of his character, and

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