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(With a Portrait.) GIOVANNI (JOHN) Boccaccio is a famous name, and therefore to be noted in association with other names, also eminent, and yet more worthy. To describe Boccaccio is, in effect, to exhibit the taste and moral condition of Italy in the fourteenth century, inasmuch as no writer can become a favourite with a people whom he does not resemble; and it may be desirable to spend a few lines in enabling the reader to form some idea of a person whose name yet lingers in the echoes of literary fame.
He was born at Certaldo, in Tuscany, in the year 1313, His father was a poor peasant, or small farmer, burdened, moreover, with a numerous family; but, being persuaded that Giovanni was a clever boy, and likely to rise above the level of his birth, obtained employment for him in the office of a Florentine merchant. The merchant liked him $0 well as to take him to Paris, and employ him in his office there ; but, after six years' occupation, the young poet
grew tired of keeping accounts, and at length became of so little use, that his master dismissed him, and sent him back to his country, There, by some effort of parental kindness, he was enabled to devote himself to study, instead
Vol. XVIII. Second Series.
of rustic labours; but the subject chosen for his mastery was canon law, out of which his friends thought it likely he might some day make a fortune ; but, finding it not less dry than arithmetic, he once more lost patience, threw aside canons and decretals, and craved for permission to feed upon poetry and philosophy.
How to live upon poetry and philosophy was more than his father and friends could comprehend; but, in spite of orders, reproofs, and exhortations, he declared himself incapable of condescending to the vulgarities of law, despised the bait of wealth which was thought the peculiar privilege of lawyers, and felt no motive to perseverance even in the suggestion that he might be one day able to assist his father in old age. However, as no one would help him to escape from the constraint of legal study, he was obliged to endure the companionship of Gratian until his father's death, when he found means to indulge his poetic passion, left the law, and put himself under the instruction of Petrarch, to learn the art of poetry. At least we must acknowledge that he was wise enough to know, that although a man be born a poet, he needs education, and that the mere poetic frenzy, without a discipline of language, is not enough for one that would attain to eminence. His father, it seems, although only ranking as a peasant, possessed a little estate, which the restless youth inherited. That patrimony he sold, and lived upon the proceeds while studying philosophy and numbers, trusting that, hereafter, an admiring public would buy his writings, and render the inheritance, then exhausted, quite unnecessary for his subsistence.
So long as the money lasted, he lived genteelly. From one Andalus de Nigro, a native of Genoa, he learned the superstitious composite of material and visionary which then passed for astronomy, but is more correctly to be called astrology. Greek he acquired, at least in part, from one Leontius Pylatus, who made his acquaintance at Florence, when on his way from Venice to “declining Babylon, that is to say, to Rome. This man was a native of Thessalonica, of horrid aspect, of most ugly countenance, with a long black beard, and uncombed head of hair, but reputed to be very learned in Greek. While entertained by young Boccaccio, he read Homer to him, and translated the same orally, leaving his pupil to make the best use possible of those lections.
He went to Naples, after Pylatus left him, and obtained the honour of royal patronage from King Robert; fell in love with an illegitimate daughter of His Majesty; and revelled, no doubt, in the follies of that ever-licentious court. How he lived is not a question to be easily answered, except by saying, in general terms, that he sought patronage for the sake of the alms consequent; and, in an age when Princes, and persons who imitated Princes, kept artists, poets, wits, and buffoons in their palaces, for the sake of amusement or ostentation, it was not thought discreditable thus to live upon the bounty of others. There is rather a long catalogue of his writings, and it would appear that he applied himself closely to the exhaustive occupation of making books. Perhaps this, combined with irregularity of living, spoiled his constitution, and made him nervous and dyspeptic. The writings of Boccaccio, both in prose and verse, were elegant for their time, although inferior to those of his master, Petrarch; but they fully partook of the licentiousness everywhere prevalent, and contributed not a little to make it yet more shameless. In common with all wits, he delighted in lashing Priests and Monks ; and found nothing more easy than to select subjects of sarcasm and ridicule among men who were generally ignorant, idle, and immoral.
Boccaccio delighted to exhibit the immorality of the Clergy in the broadest and most gross pictures, using a refined style of language, that made his ridicule more cutting to them, and his descriptions more corrupting to his readers. For the sake of exposing the sins of the Monks, which were, after all, too flagrant to need exposure, some Protestants committed the mistake of republishing the writings of this poet, especially his Decameron, or Decades, consisting of a hundred facetious novels. They were circulated for two centuries without hinderance; but, in the early part of the Reformation, when they had been made