It is the cry of a far later day than Machiavelli’s that government should be elevated into a living moral force, capable of inspiring the people with a just recognition of the fundamental principles of society; to this “high argument” “The Prince” contributes but little. Machiavelli always refused to write either of men or of governments otherwise than as he found them, and he writes with such skill and insight that his work is of abiding value. But what invests “The Prince” with more than a merely artistic or historical interest is the incontrovertible truth that it deals with the great principles which still guide nations and rulers in their relationship with each other and their neighbours.
In translating “The Prince” my aim has been to achieve at all costs an exact literal rendering of the original, rather than a fluent paraphrase adapted to the modern notions of style and expression. Machiavelli was no facile phrasemonger; the conditions under which he wrote obliged him to weigh every word; his themes were lofty, his substance grave, his manner nobly plain and serious. “Quis eo fuit unquam in partiundis rebus, in definiendis, in explanandis pressior?” In “The Prince,” it may be truly said, there is reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word. To an Englishman of Shakespeare’s time the translation of such a treatise was in some ways a comparatively easy task, for in those times the genius of the English more nearly resembled that of the Italian language; to the Englishman of to-day it is not so simple. To take a single example: the word “intrattenere,” employed by Machiavelli to indicate the policy adopted by the Roman Senate towards the weaker states of Greece, would by an Elizabethan be correctly rendered “entertain,” and every contemporary reader would understand what was meant by saying that “Rome entertained the Aetolians and the Achaeans without augmenting their power.” But to-day such a phrase would seem obsolete and ambiguous, if not unmeaning: we are compelled to say that “Rome maintained friendly relations with the Aetolians,” etc., using four words to do the work of one. I have tried to preserve the pithy brevity of the Italian so far as was consistent with an absolute fidelity to the sense. If the result be an occasional asperity I can only hope that the reader, in his eagerness to reach the author’s meaning, may overlook the roughness of the road that leads him to it.
The following is a list of the works of Machiavelli: