Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

ordinary intelligence. In the process of canonisation unfolded by him, the devil's advocate, in short, hardly gets fair play. The contradictions of Bruno's speculative opinions are similarly smoothed down, with the result of affording, as we believe, an essentially misleading impression of their genuine import. Thcugh eminently well-intentioned, the book requires to be taken with a good many grains of salt. Its hero is made to serve as a sort of touchstone of good and evil. By their relations towards him, persons and institutions approve or condemn themselves. Prepossessions bring credulity in their train. Our author, for instance, takes much too seriously the fag-ends of profanity with which Bruno, in his lighter moods, was wont to decorate his productions. Such floating scurrilities were at that period diffused throughout Italy, and might be had for the asking by any writer who chose thus to eke out his wit.

Yet, in spite of these drawbacks, we are still thankful for what Mr. Frith has given us; and in travelling with his escort over the dolorous pilgrimage of the Nolan's' life we shall endeavour to keep on as good terms with him as possible, and pick no quarrels, unless in the interests of truth. It is due to him to say that he has turned fully to account the new materials at his disposal. These are neither scanty nor unimportant. The Venetian archives were first laid under contribution in Signor Berti's valuable Life of • Giordano Bruno,' named among our authorities; further records were appended to his volume on Copernicus, reviewed in these pages in July 1877; while the whole of the disinterred documents, including some protocols from the Vatican, were separately collected by the same author in 1880. Still more recently, M. Dufour, the keeper of the Genevese archives, has divulged some very curious pieces derived thence; so that the obscurity amid which our philosopher long moved has been to a large extent dissipated, and dissipated not by farthing-candle gleams of conjectural interpretation, but by authentic and undeniable sunlight rays of truth.

In one of a little knot of shabby houses forming a kind of suburb to the city' of Nola, and still known as the · Casale

di Santo Paolo,' Giordano Bruno was born in May 1548. His father, Giovanni Bruno, was (perhaps subsequently, for he was then but twenty-three years of age) a soldier by profession. His mother's name, Fraulissa Savolino, suggests a Teutonic origin, and, in point of fact, discharged landsknechts were not unfrequent settlers in the neighbourhood.

It is clear that there was little of gentility in Giordano's early associations. Nola was still a wealthy commercial centre. Lives of refined ease as well as of ostentatious luxury flowed on there generation after generation. Yet, far apart from the simple existence in Santo Paolo, Giordano carried away with him from his home recollections, not of fine folks dwelling in palazzi,' but of one Franzino, a poor melon seller; of 'mastro Danese,' the local tailor; of Paolino, a tavern keeper; of the widow Caterina, who did

charing' (as we should now phrase it) at a few soldi a day; above all, of Monte Cicala, verdant with myrtle and vine, oranges and mulberries, and of Vesuvius, menacingly beautiful in the distance.

At the age of ten young Bruno was sent to Naples to pursue his studies. His uncle was a weaver of velvets there, so that he was not cast friendless on the world ; and he found congenial teachers in two Augustinian friars, who instructed him in all the branches of a polite education as then understood. They certainly met with an apt pupil. Love of knowledge was from first to last his predominant passion. It awakened in him from his tenderest years. It never left him until the darkness covered him up out of sight. He was like one who has seen a vision, and sets out on a lifelong quest. Hence, in all probability, his premature and unfortunate resolution of entering the Dominican order.

The cloister afforded at that time opportunities for the cultivation of learning not readily to be found elsewhere. Unlimited peaceful leisure replaced within its shelter the turbulent ambitions, the absorbing and dreary necessities of the outside world. Towards such a haven studious spirits were naturally attracted, in some cases even in boyhood. Bruno was not yet fifteen when, with the name of Giordano (for he had hitherto borne his baptismal name of Filippo), he assumed the black and white robes at San Domenico in Naples.

• The convent itself, Mr. Frith remarks, “wears an enticing aspect for the lover of study. It stands among palaces upon a hill

, its antique front turned towards the city, and flanked by spacious perfumed gardens with cloisters running round their outer sides. Meditation seems to wait upon the age and silence of the spot, which bears the imprint of ten centuries on its strong walls and solitary cells. Three hundred years before, Aquinas had watched the incomparable aspect of Naples daily brighten and grow dim froin the spot where Bruno now waited on his destiny. The presence of the angelic doctor still lingers in the ancient pile. In his cell, which is now a chapel, he first designed the system of religious

a

a

philosophy which he taught, sitting in a hall on the right of the convent church. The church itself

, one of the most beautiful in Naples, is full of historic tombs, embellished by hands which lend another lustre to immortality ; and above the altar is the crucifix, which it is said held converse with the saint, and manifested its approval of his doctrines. Bruno never lost the reverence for St. Thomas imbibed from the close study of his works here on the spot where they were written. He even pardoned him his Aristotelianism for the sake of the noble reasonableness of the method of its unfolding. Little enough was sacred to him; scoffs and jibes and winged shafts of irony flew from him, right and left, and struck anywhere between Olympus and Hades; but before the Angel of the Schools he was always gravely respectful.

In 1564, after the usual year of probation, he took the VOWS. But already thoughts and passions were seething in him which would have matured better anywhere than beneath a cowl. His orthodoxy soon began to be suspected ; a menaced trial appears, however, to have been a brutum fulmen. A paper setting forth certain acts of indevotion by which he had scandalised the community, drawn up-as he averred long afterwards—merely for purposes of intimidation, was torn the same day. Yet the lesson had its effect. Bruno was rendered, we conclude, more circumspect, for he was admitted to priest's orders at the usual age, in 1572. He sang his first Mass in the convent of San Bartolommeo, at Campagna, a little town nestled at the foot of the Apennines behind Salerno; and, emancipated now from any close control, he travelled from one Dominican convent to another, exploring the treasures of their libraries, while discharging the duties of his sacred office. Nevertheless, he was no longer

no longer a Catholic Christian. Judged by the standard of an ordinary untutored conscience, he was perjured at the instant of being ordained. He distinguished, it is true- and there is some evidence that the distinction was made in good faith-between theological and philosophical convictions; he cultivated, not unsuccessfully, a curious sort of double moral consciousness, with results highly perplexing to the student of his character. The broad fact, however, remains that, by his own account, he had doubted the doctrine of the Trinity from his eighteenth year; while, in the system of thought and being his eager intellect busied itself in preparing the Christian revelation had no place.

a

The kingdom of Naples was just then infected with an epidemic of anti-Trinitarian opinions. Indeed, most of the Italian reformers were of the Socinian type. Melanchthon was dismayed at the prevalence among them of this particular form of heresy, and attributed it to the influence of Platonism. Calvin drew up a confession of faith which the members of the Italian church at Geneva were compelled to sign, by way of attesting and safeguarding their orthodoxy. In this particular, then, Bruno only drifted with a strong current of freethought already flowing.

During ten years, however, he drifted without giving a sign whither-a circumstance truly surprising, regard being had to the hot, outspoken nature of the man. It was not until 1576 that his dangerous secret began to leak out. His expression of Arian views in conversation led, in that year, to the recommencement of proceedings against him, this time of too serious a character to be treated lightly. While they were still pending, the object of them fed to Rome, and took refuge in the convent of the Minerva; then, hearing that the cause was about to be transferred to the papal courts, he cast aside his monk's habit, and took ship for Genoa.

He had now finally broken with his old life; but it had left its mark upon him. From long dissimulation, he had contracted a habit of interior duplicity by which the alternate expression, with apparent sincerity, of views wholly irreconcileable, was made possible to him. He brought away with him, too, a stock of wrath and bitterness keenly effective in the ironical controversies by which he revenged the compulsion to hypocrisy laid upon him by the course he had chosen.

His profession was henceforth, as he described it, of • letters and of every science.' It must be admitted that he was rarely equipped for its pursuit. His thirteen years of seclusion had been turned to the uttermost account for purposes of curious study. He had not only read widely, but he had read with the fervour of one who appropriates what he reads. The process was with him rather a means for the transfusion of thought than for the bare acquisition of knowledge. His memory, besides, was extraordinary. Quotations, allusions, erudite ornaments of all kinds, overflowed from his pen; yet he must often have written with few or no books at hand to refer to. More powerfully than by any other authors, his thoughts had been swayed by Raymond Lully, Cardinal Cusa, and Copernicus; but innumerable other influences had acted upon them with effect.

He was

a

nurtured on Aristotle, St. Thomas, and Albertus Magnus; the dialogues of Plato were familiar to him, most likely in the noble translation of Marsilio Ficino; Plotinus and Proclus, Al Ghazzali and Averroes, with the whole range of Cabalistic and Rabbinical writers, contributed severally to his stock of ideas; Telesius and Porta inspired him with respect for experimental science; Virgil, Lucretius, Lucian, Dante vivified his imagination, and supplied models for imitation or parody. Nor did he neglect recent native literature. He lived and moved in the intellectual atmosphere formed by it; indeed, the vicious peculiarities which at times disfigure his prose style have been traced by Mr. Symonds to his mischievously close study of the works of the illfamed Aretino.*

Bruno, it must be remembered, was a poet before he became a philosopher. His first call was from the Muses. Most of the sonnets and verses subsequently interspersed through his dialogues were probably composed during the monastic phase of his life. His comedy "Il Candelajo' almost certainly was. This in itself is a somewhat startling fact. So choice a flower of licentious literature surely never unfolded, before or since, within the shadow of a cloister. It is enough to say of it that, in barefaced contempt for decorum, whether of expression or situation, it comes well up to the flood-tide mark left in the drama of the Renaissance by the Man

dragola' of Macchiavelli, and the Cortigiana' of Aretino. Undoubtedly it has merit, though by no means of the highest kind. It is spontaneous and racy of the soil—a successful piece of buffoonery carried out with untiring vivacity for the benefit of spectators, whose sense of humour is presumed to be satisfied by witnessing the indefatigable perpetration of practical jokes. It is, in short, a comedy, not of the closet, but of the streets, and of the streets of Naples. Its drollery has the rough Oscan flavour, something of which still survives in the perpetually varied sound of Pulcinella's grotesque experiences. Just such knaveries as are played off, just such cudgellings as are administered in its scenes (only brought within stricter limits of propriety), nightly delight the lively audiences of the San Carlino. And the cudgellings are dealt round in both places with an equal disregard of equity and moral purpose. By far the hardest lot falls to the share of very much the most estimable person in the play. Poor Manfurio's sole, but unpardonable, and by stick or strap incurable

* Renaissance in Italy : Catholic Reaction, pt. ii. p. 197.

« AnteriorContinuar »