When it can be shown that every other of those conquerors who cut heroic figures in history were purest altruists, it will be time to damn Cesare Borgia for his egotism.
What Villari says, for the purpose of adding rhetorical force to his " brigand chief " that Cesare was no statesman and no soldier is entirely of a piece with the rest of the chapter in which it occurs 1 a chapter rich in sweeping inaccuracies concerning Cesare. But it is staggering to find the statement in such a place, amid Macchiavelli's letters on Cesare, breathing an obvious and profound admiration of the duke's talents as a politician and a soldier an admiration which later is to go perilously near to worship. To Macchiavelli, Cesare is the incarnation of a hazy ideal, as is abundantly shown in The Prince. For Villari to reconcile all this with his own views must seem impossible. And impossible it is ; yet Villari achieves it, with an audacity that leaves you breathless.
No he practically tells you this Macchiavelli, who daily saw and spoke with Cesare for two months (and during a critical time, which is when men best reveal their natures), this acute Florentine the acutest man of his age, perhaps who studied and analysed Cesare, and sent his Government the results of his analyses, and was inspired by them later to write The Prince this man did not know Cesare Borgia. He wrote, not about Cesare himself, but about a creation of his own intellect.
That is what Villari pretends. Macchiavelli, the representative of a power unfriendly at heart under the mask of the expedient friendliness, his mind already poisoned by all the rumours current throughout Italy, comes on this mission to Valentinois. Florence, fearing and hating Valentinois as she does, would doubtless take pleasure in detractory advices. Other ambassadors particularly those of Venice pander to their Governments' wishes in this respect, conscious that there is a sycophancy in slander contrasted with which the ordinary sycophancy of flattery is as water to wine; they diligently send home every scrap of indecent or scandalous rumour they can pick up in the Roman ante chambers, however unlikely, uncorroborated, or unconcerning the business of an ambassador.
1 In his Niccold Machiavellu
But Macchiavelli, in Cesare Borgia's presence, is overawed by his greatness, his force and his intellect, and these attributes engage him in his dispatches. These same dispatches are a stumbling block to all who prefer to tread the beaten, sensational track, and to see in Cesare Borgia a villain of melodrama, a monster of crime, brutal, and, consequently, of no intellectual force. But Villari contrives to step more or less neatly, if fatuously, over that formidable obstacle, by telling you that Macchiavelli presents to you not really Cesare Borgia, but a creation of his own intellect, which he had come to admire. It is a simple, elementary expedient by means of which every piece of historical evidence ever penned may be destroyed including all that which defames the House of Borgia.
Macchiavelli arrived at Imola on the evening of October 7, 1502, and, all travel stained as he was, repaired straight to the duke, as if the message with which he was charged was one that would not brook a moment's delay in its deliverance. Actually, however, he had nothing to offer Cesare but the empty expressions of Florence's friendship and the hopes she founded upon Cesare's reciprocation. The crafty young Florentine he was thirty three at the time was sent to temporize and to avoid committing himself or his Government.
Valentinois listened to the specious compliments, and replied by similar protestations and by reminding Florence how he had curbed the hand of those very condottieri who had now rebelled against him as a consequence. He showed himself calm and tranquil at the loss of Urbino, telling Macchiavelli that he " had not forgotten the way to reconquer it," when it should suit him. Of the revolted condottieri he contemptuously said that he accounted them fools for not having known how to choose a more favourable moment in which to harm him, and that they would presently find such a fire burning under their feet as would call for more water to quench it than such men as these disposed of.
Meanwhile, the success of those rustics of Urbino who had risen, and the ease of their victories, had fired others of the territory to follow their example. Fos sombrone and Pergola were the next to rebel and to put the Borgia garrisons to the sword; but, in their reckless audacity, they chose their moment ill, for Michele da Corella was at hand with his lances, and, although his orders had been to repair straight to Pesaro, he ventured to depart from them to the extent of turning aside to punish the insurgence of those towns by launching his men at arms upon them and subjecting them to an appalling and pitiless sack.
When Cesare heard the news of it and the details of the horrors that had been perpetrated, he turned, smiling cruelly, to Macchiavelli, who was with him, and, " The constellations this year seem unfavourable to rebels," he observed.
A battle of wits was toward between the Florentines' Secretary of State and the Duke of Valentinois, each mistrustful of the other. In the end Cesare, a little out of patience at so much inconclusiveness, though outwardly preserving his immutable serenity, sought to come to grips by demanding that Florence should declare whether he was to account her his friend or not. But this was precisely what Macchiavelli's instructions forbade him from declaring. He answered that he must first write to the Signory, and begged the duke to tell him what terms he proposed should form the treaty. But there it was the duke's turn to fence and to avoid a direct answer, desiring that Florence should open the negotiations and that from her should come the first proposal.
He reminded Macchiavelli that Florence would do well to come to a decision before the Orsini sought to patch up a peace with him, since, once that was done, there would be fresh difficulties, owing, of course, to Orsini's enmity to the existing Florentine Government. And of such a peace there was now every indication, Paolo Orsini having at last sent Cesare proposals for rejoining him, subject to his abandoning the Bologna enterprise (in which, the Orsini argued, they could not bear a hand without breaking faith with Bentivogli) and turning against Florence. Vitelli, at the same time, announced himself ready to return to Cesare's service, but first he required some " honest security."