[Sidenote: Niccolo Machiavelli.]
Such is the account that Niccolo Machiavelli renders of himself when after imprisonment, torture, and disgrace, at the age of forty-four, he first turned to serious writing. For the first twenty-six or indeed twenty-nine of those years we have not one line from his pen or one word of vaguest information about him. Throughout all his works written for publication, there is little news about himself. Montaigne could properly write, ’Ainsi, lecteur, je suis moy-mesme la matiere de mon livre.’ But the matter of Machiavelli was far other: ’Io ho espresso quanto io so, e quanto io ho imparato per una lunga pratica e continua lezione delle cose del mondo.’
[Sidenote: The Man.]
Machiavelli was born on the 3rd of May 1469. The period of his life almost exactly coincides with that of Cardinal Wolsey. He came of the old and noble Tuscan stock of Montespertoli, who were men of their hands in the eleventh century. He carried their coat, but the property had been wasted and divided. His forefathers had held office of high distinction, but had fallen away as the new wealth of the bankers and traders increased in Florence. He himself inherited a small property in San Casciano and its neighbourhood, which assured him a sufficient, if somewhat lean, independence. Of his education we know little enough. He was well acquainted with Latin, and knew, perhaps, Greek enough to serve his turn. ‘Rather not without letters than lettered,’ Varchi describes him. That he was not loaded down with learned reading proved probably a great advantage. The coming of the French, and the expulsion of the Medici, the proclamation of the Republic (1494), and later the burning of Savonarola convulsed Florence and threw open many public offices. It has been suggested, but without much foundation, that some clerical work was found for Machiavelli in 1494 or even earlier. It is certain that on July 14, 1498, he was appointed Chancellor and Secretary to the Dieci di Liberta e Pace, an office which he held till the close of his political life at fall of the Republic in 1512.
[Sidenote: Official Life.]
The functions of his Council were extremely varied, and in the hands of their Secretary became yet more diversified. They represented in some sense the Ministry for Home, Military, and especially for Foreign Affairs. It is impossible to give any full account of Machiavelli’s official duties. He wrote many thousands of despatches and official letters, which are still preserved. He was on constant errands of State through the Florentine dominions. But his diplomatic missions and what he learned by them make the main interest of his office. His first adventure of importance was to the Court of Caterina Sforza, the Lady of Forli, in which matter that astute Countess entirely bested the teacher of all diplomatists to be. In 1500 he smelt powder at the siege at Pisa, and was sent to France to allay