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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 91-101.



Born at Casatico, near Mantua, 1478, and educated at Milan. Was one of the most distinguished diplomats of his time, taking service first under Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan, later with the dukes of Urbino, and in 1524 was sent to Spain, to arrange a dispute between Clement VII. and Charles V. His mission was unsuccessful; but he remained in Spain, was made bishop of Avila, and died at Toledo in 1529.


Letters Not Beneath the Notice of a Courtier.

But besides goodnesse the true and prinicipall ornament of the minde in every man (I believe) are letters, although ye Frenchmen know onely the nobleness of armes, and passe for nothing beside: so that they not only doe not set by letters, but they rather abhorre them, and all learned men they doe count very rascalles, and they think it a great villany when any one of them is called a clarke.

Then answered the Lord Magnifico, you say very true, this error in deed hath longe raigned among the Frenchmen. But if Monseigneur de Angoulesme have so good luck that he may (as men hope) succeede in the Crowne, the glory of arms in France doth not so florish nor is had in such estimation, as letters will be, I believe.

For it is not long sins I was in France, and saw this Prince in the Court there, who seemed unto mee beside the handsomnesse of person and bewtie of visage, to have in his countenance so great a maiestie, accompanied nevertheless with a certaine lovely courtesie, that the realme of France shoulde ever seme unto him a small matter.

I understood afterwarde by many gentlemen both French and Italian, very much of the most noble conditions, of the greatness of courage, prowesse and liberalitie that was in him: and among other things, it was tolde me, that hee 92 highly loved and esteemed letters, and had in very great reputation all learned men, and blamed the Frenchmen themselves that their mindes were so far wide from this profession, especially having at their doores so noble an universitie as Paris is, where all the world resorteth.

Then spake the Count: It is a great wonder that in these tender yeares, onely by the provocation of nature, contrarie to the manner of the countrie, he hath given him self to so good a way. And because subiectes follow alwaies the conditions of the higher powers, it is possible that it may come to passe (as you say) that ye Frenchmen will yet esteeme letters to be of that dignitie that they are in deede. The which (if they will give eare thereto) they may some bee perswaded.

Forsomuch as men ought to covet of nature nothing so much, and nothing is more proper for them, than knowledge: which thing it were a great folly to say or to holde opinion that it is not alwaies good.

And in case I might commune with them, or with other that were of a contrary opinion to me, I would doe my diligence to shew them, now much letters (which undoubtedlye have beene granted of God unto men for a soveraigne gift) are profitable and necessarie for our life and estimation. Neither should I want the examples of so many excellent captaines of old time, which all ioyned the ornament of letters with prowesse of armes.

For (as you know) Alexander had Homer in such reverence, that he laide his Ilias alwaies under his beds heade: and he applied diligently not these studies onely, but also the Speculations of Philosophy under the discipline of Aristotle.

Alcibiades increased his good conditions and made them greater with letters, and with the instructions of Socrates.

Also what diligence Cesar used in studies, those thinges which he had so divinelye writen him selfe, make triall.

It is saide that Scipio Affricanus carried alwaies in his hand the bookes of Xenophon, wherein under the name of Cyrus he instructeth a perfect King.


I coulde recite unto you Lucullus, Sylla, Pompeius, Brutus, and many other Romanes and Grecians, but I woulde doe no more but make mention of Hannibal, which being so excellent a Captaine (yet for all that of a fierce nature and voide of all humanity, an untrue dealer, and a despiser of men and of the Gods) had also understanding in letters, and the knowledge of the greeke tongue.

And if I be nt deceived (I trow) I have redde in my time, that he left a booke behinde him of his own making in the Greeke tongue. But this kinde of talke is more than needeth: for I knowe all you understand how much the Frenchmen be deceived in holding opinion letters to doe any hurt to armes.

You know in great matters and adventures in wars the true provocation is glory: and who so for lucres sake or for any other consideration taketh it in hande (beside that hee never doth any thing worthie prayse) deserveth not the name of a gentleman, but is a most vile marchant.

And every man may conceive it to be true glory, that is stored up in the holy treasure of letters, except such unluckie creatures as have no taste thereof.

What minde is so fainte, so bashfull, and of so base a courage, that in reading the actes and greatnes of Cesar, Alexander, Scipio, Annibal, and so many other, is not incensed with a most fervent longing to be like them: and doth not preferre the getting of that perpetuall fame, before the rotten life that lasteth two days? Which in despite of death maketh him live a great deale more famous than before.

But he that savoureth not the sweetness of letters, can not know how much is the greatness of glory, which is a long while preserved by them, and onely measureth it with the age of one or two men, for further be beareth not in minde. Therefore can he not esteeme this short glory so much as he would doe that, which (in a manner) is everlasting, if by his ill happe hee were not barred from the knowledge of t. And not passing upon it so much, reason perswadeth, and a man may well believe hee will never hazard himselfe so much to come by it, as hee that knoweth it.

I woulde not now some one of the contrarie parte should 94 alledge unto mee the contrarie effects to confute mine opinion with all: and tell mee how the Italians with their knowledge of letters have shewed small prowesse in armes from a certaine time hetherto, the which nevertheless is too true: but in very deed a man may well say that the offence of a few, hath brought (beside the great damage) an everlasting reproach unto all other, and the verie cause of our confusion, and of the neglecting of Vertue in our mindes (if it bee not cleane deade) proceeded of them. But it were a more shamefull matter unto us to publish it, than unto the Frenchmen the ignorance in letters.

Therefore it is better to passe that over with silence that cannot bee rehearsed without Sorrow, and leaving this purpose into the which I am entred against my wil, returne againe unto our Courtier, whom in letters I will have to be more than indifferently well seene, at the least in those studied, which they call Humanitie, and to have not onely the understanding of the Latin tongue, but also of the greek, because of he many and sundrie things, that with great excellencie are written in it.

Let him much exercise him selfe in Poets, and no lesse in Oratours and Historiographers, and also in writing both rime and prose, and especially in this our vulgar tongue. For beside the contentation that hee shall receive therby him selfe, hee shall by this meanes never want pleasant intertainements with women which ordinarily love such matters.

And if by reason either of his other businesses besides, or of his slender studie hee shall not attaine unto that perfection that his writings may bee worthy much commendation, let him bee circumspect in keeping them close, least he make other men laugh at him. Onely hee may shew them to a friende whom he may trust.

For at least wise hee shall receive so much profit, that by that exercise hee shall be able to give his judgment upon other men’s doings. For it happeneth very seldome, that a man not exercised in writing, how learned soever he be, can at any time know perfectly the labour and toile of writers, or tast of the sweetnesse and excellencey of styles, 95 and those inner observations that often times are founde in them of olde time.

And besides that, those studies shal make him copious, and (as Anstippus answered a Tirant) bold to speake upon a good ground with every man.

Notwithstanding I will have our Courtier to keepe fast in his minde one lesson, and that is this, to bee alwaies warie both in this and in everie other point, and rather fearefull than bolde, and beware that hee perswade not himself falsly, to know the thing hee knoweth not in deede.

Because we are of nature all the sort of us much more greedy of praise than is requisite, and better do our eares love the melodie of wordes sounding to our praise, than any other song or sound that is most sweete. And therefore many times like the voyces of marmaidens, they are the cause of drowning of him that doth not well stoppe his eares at such deceitful harmony.

This danger being perceived, there hath beene among the auncient wise men that have written bookes, how a man should knowe a true friend from a flatterer. But what availeth it? If there bee many of them (or rather infinite) that manifestly perceive they are flattered, and yet love him that flattereth them, and hate him that telleth them the troth.

And oftentimes (standing in opinion that he that prayseth them is too scarce in his wordes) they them selves helpe him forwarde, and utter such matters of themselves, that the most impudent flatterer of all is ashamed of.

Let us leave these blind buzzards in their owne errour, and make our Courtier of so good a iudgement, that he will not bee given to understand blace for white, nor presume more of himselfe than what he knoweth very manifestly to be true, and especially in those thinges, which (if yee beare well in minde) the Lorde Cesar rehearsed in his devise of pastimes, that we have many times used for an instrument to make many become foolish. But rather that he may be assured not to fall into any error, where he knoweth those prayses that are given him to be true, let him not so openly 96 consent to them, nor confirme them so without resistance, but rather with modestie (in a manner) deny them cleane, shewing alwaies and counting in effect, armes to bee his principall profession, and all the other good qualieis for an ornament thereof.

And principally among Souldiers, least hee bee like unto them that in learning will seem men of warre, and among men of warre, learned.

The Perfect Courtier.

But to come to some particularitie, I iudge the prinipall and true profession of a Courtier ought to bee in feates of armes, the which above all I will have to practise lively, and to bee knowne among other of his hardines, for his atchieving of enterprises, and for his fidelitie towarde him whom he serveth. And he shall purchase himself a name with these good conditions, in doing the deedes in every time and place, for it is not for him to fainte at any time in this behalfe without a wondrous reproach.

And even as in women honestie once stained doth never returne againe to the former estate: so the fame of a gentleman that carrieth weapon, if it once take a soyle in anye litle point through dastardlinesse or any other reproach, doth evermore continue shamefull in the world and full of ignorance.

Therefore the more excellent our Courtier shall be in this arte, the more shall he be worthie praise: albeit I judge not necessarie in him so perfect a knowledge of things and other qualities that is requisite in a Captaine. But because this is overlarge a scope of matters, we wil holde our selves contented, as wee have saide, with the uprightness of a well meaning mind, and with an invincible courage, and that he alwaies shew himself such a one.

For many times men of courage are sooner knowne in small matters than in great. Often times in dangers that stand them upon, and where many eyes be, ye shall see some that for all their hart is dead in their bodie, yet pricked with shame or with the company, goe forwarde, as it were, blindfield 97 and doe their duetie. And God knoweth both in matters that little touch them, and also where they suppose that without missing they may convey them selves from danger, how they are willing inough to sleepe in a whole skinne.

But such as think themselves neither marked, seene, nor knowne, and yet declare a stoute courage, and suffer not the least thing in the world to passe that may burthen them, they have that courage of spirite which we seeke to have in our Courtier. Yet will wee not have him for all that so lustie to make braverie in wordes, and to bragge that he hath wedded his harnes for a wife, and to threaten with such grimme lookes, as we have seen Berto do often times.

For unto such may wee be said, that a worthie gentle woman in a noble assemblie spake pleasantly unto one, that shall bee nameless for this time, whom she to shew him a good countenance, desired to daunce with her, and hee refusing it, and to heare musicke and many other entertainments offered him, alwaies affirming such trifles not to be his profession, at last the gentle woman demanding him, what is then our profession? he answered with a frowning look, to fight.

Then saide the gentle woman: seeing you are not now at the warre nor in place to fight, I would think it best for you to bee well besmered and set up in an armory with other implements of warre till time were that you should be occupied, least you ware more rustier than you are. Thus with much laughing of the standers by, she left him with a mocke in his foolish presumption.

The ende therefore of a perfect Courtier (whereof hetherto nothing hath beene spoken) I believe is to purchase him, by the meane of the qualities which these Lordes have given him, in such wise the good will and favour of the Prince he is in service withall, that he may breake his minde to him, and alwaies enforme him franckly of the truth of every matter meete for him to understand, without feare or perill to displease him. And when hee knoweth his minde is bent to commit any thing unseemely for him, to be bold to stand 98 with him in it, and to take courage after an honest sorte at the favor which he hath gotten him through his good qualities, to diswade him from every ill purpose, and to set him in the way of vertue. And so shall the Courtier, if he have the goodnesse in him that these Lordes have given him accompanied with readiness of wit, pleasantness, wisedom, knowledge in letters, and so many other thinges, understand how to behave himself readily in all occurrents to drive into his Prince’s heade what honour and profit shall ensue to him and to his by iustice, liberallitie, valiantness of courage, meekeness, and by the other vertues that belong to a good prince, and contrariwise what slander and damage commeth of the vices contrarie to them.

And therefore in mine opinion, as musicke, sportes, pastimes, and other pleasant fashions, are (as a man would say) the floure of courtliness, even so is the training and helping forwarde of the Prince to goodnesse, and the fearing him from evil, the fruite of it.

And because the prayses of well doing consisteth chiefly in two pointes, whereof the one is, in choosing out an end that our purpose is directed unto, that is good in deede, the other, the knowledge to finde out apt and meete means to bring it to the appointed good ende: sure it is that the minde of him which thinketh to worke so, that his Prince shall not bee deceived, nor lead with flatterers, railers, and lyers, but shall know both the good and the bad, and beare love to the one, and hatred to the other, is directed to a verie good end.

Me thinke againe, that the qualities which these Lords have given the Courtier, may bee a good means to compasse it; and that, because among many vices that we see now a dayes in many of our Princes, the greatest are ignorance and selfe liking.

And the roote of these two mischiefes is nothing else but lying, which vice is worthely abhorred of God and man, and more hurtfull to Princes than any other, because they have more scarsitie than of any thing els, of that which they neede to have more plentie of, than of any thing; namely, 99 of such as should tell them the truth, and put them in mind of goodnesse: for enimies be not driven of love to doe these offices, but they delight rather to have them live wickedly and never to amend: on the other side, they dare not rebuke them openly for feare they be punished.


Then saide the Lord Gasper Pallavicin. There are many sortes of musike, as well in the brest as upon instruments, therefore would I gladly learne which is the best, and at what time the Courtier ought to practise it.

Me thinke then answered Sir Fredericke, prick-song is a faire musicke, so it be done upon the booke surely and after a good sorte. But to sing to the lute is much better, because all the sweetnes consisteth in one alone, and a man is much more heedfull and understandeth better the feat, manner and the aire of veyne of it, when the eares are not busied in hearing any moe than one voice: and beside every little error is soone perceived, which happeneth not in singing with company, for one beareth out the other.

But singing to the lute with the dittie (me thinke) is more pleasant than the rest, for it addeth to the wordes such a grace and strength, that it is a great wonder.

Also all Instrumentes with Freats are full of harmony, because the tunes of them are very perfect, and with ease a man may doe many thinges upon them that fill the mind with sweetnesse of musicke.

And the musicke with a sette of Violes doth no lesse delite a man: for it is very sweet and artificiall.

A mans brest giveth a great ornament and grace to all these instruments, in the which I will have it sufficient that our Courtier have an understanding. Yet, the more cunninger he is upon them, the better it is for him, without medling much with the instruments that Minerva and Alcibiades refused, because it seemeth they are noysome.

Now as touching the time and season when these sortes of musicke are to bee practised: I believe at all times when a man is in familiar and loving company, having nothing 100 else adoe. But especially they are meete to be practised in the presence of women, because those sights sweeten the mindes of the hearers, and make them the more apt to bee pierced with the pleasantnesse of musicke, and also they quicken the spirits of the very doers.

I am well pleased (as I have saide) they flee the multitude, and especially the unnoble.

But the seasoning of the whole must be discretion, because in effect it were a matter impossible to imagine all cases that fall. And if the Courtier bee a righteous iudge of him selfe, hee shall apply him selfe well inough to the time, and shall discerne when the hearers minds are disposed to give eare and when they are not. He shall know his age, for (to say the truth) it were no meete matter, but an ill sight to see a man of any estimation being old, hore-headed and toothlesse, full of wrinkles, with a lute in his armes playing upon it, and singing in the midst of a company of women, although he coulde doe it reasonably well. And that because such songes containe in them wordes of love, and in olde men love is a thing to be iested at: although otherwhile he seemeth among other miracles of his to take delite in spite of yeares to set a fire frosen heartes.

Then answered the Lord Julian: doe you not barre poore olde men from this pleasure (Sir Fredericke) for in my time I have knowne men of yeares have very perfect brestes and most nimble fingers for instruments, much more than some yong men.

I goe not about (quoth Sir Fredericke) to barre old men from this pleasure, but I wil barre you and these ladies from laughing at that follie.

And in case olde men will sing to the lute, let them do it secretly, and onely to rid their minds of those troublesome cares and grievous disquieting that our life is full of: and to taste of that excellencie which I believe Pythagoras and Socrates savoured in musicke.

And set case they exercise it not at all: for they have gotten a certaine habite and custome of it, they shall savour it much better in hearing, than he that hath no 101 knowledge in it: For like as the armes of a Smith that is weake in other things, because they are more exercised, bee stronger than an other bodies that is sturdie, but not exercised to worke with his arms: even so the armes that be exercised in musicke, doe much better and sooner discerne it, and with much more pleasure iudge of it, than other, how good and quicke soever they be that have not beene practised in ye variety of pleasant muscike: because those musical tunes pearce not, but without leaving any tast of themselves passe by ye eares not accustomed to here them, although the verie wilde beastes feele some delite in melodie.

This is therefore the pleasure meete for olde men to take in musicke.

The selfe same I say of daunsing, for in deede these exercises ought to be left off before age constraineth us to leave them whether we will or no.

It is better then, answered here M. Morello, halfe chafed, to except all old men, and to say that onely yong men are to be called Courtiers.

Then laughed Sir Fredericke and saide: Note (maister Morello) whether such as delite in these matters, if the bee not yong men, doe not strive to appear young, and therefore dye their haire and make their beard grow twice a weeke, and this proceedeth upon that nature saith to them in secrete, hat these matters are not comely but for yong men.

All these Ladies laughed, because they knewe these wordes touched maister Morello, and he seemed somwhat out of patience at the matter.


*  The Courtier of Count Baldesar Castilio, devided into foure Bookes, verie necessarie and profitable for young Gentlemen and Gentle women abiding in Court, Pallace or Place, done into English by Thomas Hobby, London, Printed by John Wolfe, 1588.

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