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Niccolo Machiavelli Letter To Francesco Vettori 10 December 1513 Italian English

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Premise (Not reproduced if this snippet is included)For the happy few: the most astounding letter ever written - not on the whole, but for a very famous passage that it contains, suddenly peaking as a stealthy prepared epiphany, that makes of it one of the most surprising documents ever found in epistolary literature.  
 
As if he could speak with the dead: that's how deep his intelligence could go when applying to a topic! You can sense it did. It may give you a shiver.  
 
Now, you have never read a book, until you have read it in that way; and you have never known an author, until you haven't "met" in that fashion.
Niccolo' Machiavelli *  
Lettera A Francesco Vettori 10 Decembris 1513  
 
English Version Versione italiana originale  

Versione Italiana Originale

Magnifico ambasciatore. Tarde non furon mai grazie divine. Dico questo, perché mi pareva haver perduta no, ma smarrita la grazia vostra, sendo stato voi assai tempo senza scrivermi; ed ero dubbio donde potessi nascere la cagione. E di tutte quelle mi venivono nella mente tenevo poco conto, salvo che di quella quando io dubitavo non vi havessi ritirato da scrivermi, perché vi fussi suto scritto che io non fussi buon massaio delle vostre lettere; e io sapevo che, da Filippo e Pagolo in fuora, altri per mio conto non le haveva viste. Hònne rihaùto per l'ultima vostra de' 23 del passato, dove io resto contentissimo vedere quanto ordinatamente e quietamente voi esercitate cotesto ufizio publico; e io vi conforto a seguire così, perché chi lascia i sua comodi per li comodi d'altri, e' perde e' sua, e di quelli non li è saputo grado. E poiché la fortuna vuol fare ogni cosa, ella si vuole lasciarla fare, stare quieto e non le dare briga, e aspettar tempo che la lasci fare qualche cosa agl'huomini; e all'hora starà bene a voi durare più fatica, vegliar più le cose, e a me partirmi di villa e dire: eccomi. Non posso pertanto, volendo rendere pari grazie, dirvi in questa mia lettera altro che qual sia la vita mia; e se voi giudicate che sia a barattarla con la vostra, io sarò contento mutarla.  
 
Io mi sto in villa; e poi che seguirono quelli miei ultimi casi, non sono stato, ad accozzarli tutti, venti dí a Firenze. Ho insino a qui uccellato a' tordi di mia mano. Levavomi innanzi dí, impaniavo, andavone oltre con un fascio di gabbie addosso, che parevo el Geta quando e' tornava dal porto con i libri di Amphitrione; pigliavo el meno dua, el più sei tordi. E cosí stetti tutto settembre. Di poi questo badalucco, ancoraché dispettoso e strano, è mancato con mio dispiacere: e quale la vita mia vi dirò. Io mi lievo la mattina con el sole, e vòmmene in un mio bosco che io fo tagliare, dove sto dua ore a rivedere l'opere del giorno passato, e a passar tempo con quegli tagliatori, che hanno sempre qualche sciagura alle mani o fra loro o co' vicini. E circa questo bosco io vi harei a dire mille belle cose che mi sono intervenute, e con Frosino da Panzano e con altri che voleano di queste legne. E Frosino in spezie mandò per certe cataste senza dirmi nulla; e al pagamento, mi voleva rattenere dieci lire, che dice aveva havere da me quattro anni sono, che mi vinse a cricca in casa Antonio Guicciardini. Io cominciai a fare el diavolo, volevo accusare el vetturale, che vi era ito per esse, per ladro. Tandem Giovanni Machiavelli vi entrò di mezzo, e ci pose d'accordo. Batista Guicciardini, Filippo Ginori, Tommaso del Bene e certi altri cittadini, quando quella tramontana soffiava, ognuno me ne prese una catasta. Io promessi a tutti; e manda'ne una a Tommaso, la quale tornò a Firenze per metà, perché a rizzarla vi era lui, la moglie, la fante, i figlioli, che pareva el Gaburra quando el giovedí con quelli suoi garzoni bastona un bue. Dimodoché, veduto in chi era guadagno, ho detto agli altri che io non ho più legne; e tutti ne hanno fatto capo grosso, e in specie Batista, che connumera questa tra le altre sciagure di Prato.  
 
Partitomi del bosco, io me ne vo ad una fonte, e di quivi in un mio uccellare. Ho un libro sotto, o Dante o Petrarca, o uno di questi poeti minori, come Tibullo, Ovidio e simili: leggo quelle loro amorose passioni, e quelli loro amori ricordomi de' mia: gòdomi un pezzo in questo pensiero. Transferiscomi poi in sulla strada, nell'hosteria; parlo con quelli che passono, dimando delle nuove de' paesi loro; intendo varie cose, e noto varii gusti e diverse fantasie d'huomini. Viene in questo mentre l'hora del desinare, dove con la mia brigata mi mangio di quelli cibi che questa povera villa e paululo patrimonio comporta. Mangiato che ho, ritorno nell'hosteria: quivi è l'hoste, per l'ordinario, un beccaio, un mugnaio, dua fornaciai. Con questi io m'ingaglioffo per tutto dí giuocando a cricca, a trich-trach, e poi dove nascono mille contese e infiniti dispetti di parole iniuriose; e il più delle volte si combatte un quattrino, e siamo sentiti non di manco gridare da San Casciano. Cosí, rinvolto in tra questi pidocchi, traggo el cervello di muffa, e sfogo questa malignità di questa mia sorta, sendo contento mi calpesti per questa via, per vedere se la se ne vergognassi.  
 
Venuta la sera, mi ritorno a casa ed entro nel mio scrittoio; e in sull'uscio mi spoglio quella veste cotidiana, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni reali e curiali; e rivestito condecentemente, entro nelle antique corti delli antiqui huomini, dove, da loro ricevuto amorevolmente, mi pasco di quel cibo che solum è mio e ch'io nacqui per lui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro e domandarli della ragione delle loro azioni; e quelli per loro humanità mi rispondono; e non sento per quattro hore di tempo alcuna noia, sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte: tutto mi transferisco in loro.  
E perché Dante dice che non fa scienza sanza lo ritenere lo havere inteso - io ho notato quello di che per la loro conversazione ho fatto capitale, e composto uno opuscolo De principatibus; dove io mi profondo quanto io posso nelle cogitazioni di questo subietto, disputando che cosa è principato, di quale spezie sono, come e' si acquistono, come e' si mantengono, perché e' si perdono. E se vi piacque mai alcuno mio ghiribizzo, questo non vi doverrebbe dispiacere; e a un principe, e massime a un principe nuovo, doverrebbe essere accetto: però io lo indirizzo alla Magnificentia di Giuliano. Filippo Casavecchia l'ha visto; vi potrà ragguagliare in parte e della cosa in sé e de' ragionamenti ho hauto seco, ancora che tutta volta io l'ingrasso e ripulisco.  
 
Voi vorresti, magnifico ambasciatore, che io lasciassi questa vita, e venissi a godere con voi la vostra. Io lo farò in ogni modo; ma quello che mi tenta hora è certe mie faccende, che fra sei settimane l'harò fatte. Quello che mi fa star dubbio è, che sono costí quelli Soderini, e quali sarei forzato, venendo costí, visitarli e parlar loro. Dubiterei che alla tornata mia io non credessi scavalcare a casa, e scavalcassi nel Bargiello; perché, ancora che questo stato habbia grandissimi fondamenti e gran securità, tamen egli è nuovo, e per questo sospettoso; né manca di saccenti, che per parere, come Pagolo Bertini, metterebbono altri a scotto, e lascierebbono el pensiero a me. Pregovi mi solviate questa paura, e poi verrò in fra el tempo detto a trovarvi a ogni modo.  
 
Io ho ragionato con Filippo di questo mio opuscolo, se gli era ben darlo o non lo dare; e, sendo ben darlo, se gli era bene che io lo portassi, o che io ve lo mandassi. Il non lo dare mi faceva dubitare che da Giuliano e' non fussi, non che altro, letto; e che questo Ardinghelli si facessi onore di questa ultima mia fatica. El darlo mi faceva la necessità che mi caccia, perché io mi logoro, e lungo tempo non posso stare cosí che io non diventi per povertà contennendo. Appresso al desiderio harei che questi signori Medici mi cominciassino adoperare, se dovessino cominciare a farmi voltolare un sasso; perché, se poi io non me gli guadagnassi, io mi dorrei di me; e per questa cosa, quando la fussi letta, si vedrebbe che quindici anni, che io sono stato a studio all'arte dello stato, non gli ho né dormiti né giuocati; e doverrebbe ciascheduno haver caro servirsi di uno che alle spese di altri fussi pieno di esperienza. E della fede mia non si doverrebbe dubitare, perché, havendo sempre observato la fede, io non debbo imparare hora a romperla; e chi è stato fedele e buono quarantatré anni, che io ho, non debbe poter mutare natura; e della fede e bontà mia ne è testimonio la povertà mia. Desidererei adunque che voi ancora mi scrivessi quello che sopra questa materia vi paia. E a voi mi raccomando. Sis felix.  
Die 10 Decembris 1513.  
NICCOLÒ MACHIAVEGLI in Firenze

English Version

Magnificent Ambassador. "Divine favors were never late." I say this because it seemed to me that I had lost - no, rather, strayed from - your favor; it has been a long time since you wrote me, and I was unclear about what the reason might be. And I paid little attention to all those reasons that came to mind except for one: I was afraid that you might have ceased writing to me because someone had written you that I was not a good steward of your letters, I knew that, except for Filippo and Paolo, no one else had seen them through my doing. I am reassured by your recent letter of the 23rd of last month, from which I am extremely pleased to see how methodically and calmly you fulfill your public duties. I exhort you to continue in this manner, because whoever forgoes his own interests for those of others sacrifices his own and gets no gratitude from them. And since Fortune is eager to shape everything, she wants people to let her do so, to be still, not to trouble her, and to await the moment when she will let men do something. That will be the moment for you to persevere more unfailingly, to be more alert about matters, and for me to leave my farm and announce, "Here I am." Since I want to repay you in the same coin, therefore, I can tell you nothing else in this letter except what my life is like. If you decide you would like to swap it for yours, I shall be happy to make the exchange.  
 
I am living on my farm, and since my latest disasters, I have not spent a total of twenty days in Florence. Until now, I have been catching thrushes with my own hands. I would get up before daybreak, prepare the birdlime, and go out with such a bundle of birdcages on my back that I looked like Geta when he came back from the harbor with Amphitryon's books. I would catch at least two, at most six, thrushes. And thus I passed the entire month of November. Eventually this diversion, albeit contemptible and foreign to me, petered out - to my regret. I shall tell you about my life. I get up in the morning with the sun and go into one of my woods that I am having cut down; there I spend a couple of hours inspecting the work of the previous day and kill some time with the woodsmen who always have some dispute on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbors. I could tell you a thousand good stories about these woods and my experiences with them, and about Frosino da Panzano and other men who wanted some of this firewood. In particular, Frosino sent for some loads of wood without saying a word to me; when it came time to settle, he wanted to withhold ten lire that he said he had won off me four years ago when he had beaten me at cricca at Antonio Guicciardini's house. I started to raise hell; I was going to call the wagoner who had come for the wood a thief, but Giovanni Machiavelli eventually stepped in and got us to agree. Once the north wind started blowing, Battista Guicciardini, Filippo Ginori, Tomaso del Bene, and some other citizens all ordered a load from me. I promised some to each one; I sent Tommaso a load, which turned into half a load in Florence because he, his wife, his children, and the servants were all there to stack it - they looked like Gaburra on Thursdays when he and his crew flay an ox. Consequently, once I realized who was profiting, I told the others that I had no more wood; all of them were angry about it, especially Battista, who includes this among the other calamities of Prato.  
 
Upon leaving the woods, I go to a spring; from there, to one of the places where I hang my birdnets. I have a book under my arm: Dante, Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, Ovid, or some such. I read about their amorous passions and their loves, remember my own, and these reflections make me happy for a while. Then I make my way along the road toward the inn, I chat with passersby, I ask news of their regions, I learn about various matters, I observe mankind: the variety of its tastes, the diversity of its fancies. By then it is time to eat; with my household I eat what food this poor farm and my minuscule patrimony yield. When I have finished eating, I return to the inn, where there usually are the innkeeper, a butcher, a miller, and a couple of kilnworkers. I slum around with them for the rest of the day playing cricca and backgammon: these games lead to thousands of squabbles and endless abuses and vituperations. More often than not we are wrangling over a penny; be that as it may, people can hear us yelling even in San Casciano. Thus, having been cooped up among these lice, I get the mold out of my brain and let out the malice of my fate, content to be ridden over roughshod in this fashion if only to discover whether or not my fate is ashamed of treating me so.  
 
When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered with mud and dirt, and put on the garments of court and palace. Fitted out appropriately, I step inside the venerable courts of the ancients, where, solicitously received by them, I nourish myself on that food that alone is mine and for which I was born; where I am unashamed to converse with them and to question them about the motives for their actions, and they, out of their human kindness, answer me. And for four hours at a time I feel no boredom, I forget all my troubles, I do not dread poverty, and I am not terrified by death. I absorb myself into them completely. And because Dante says that no one understands anything unless he retains what he has understood, I have jotted down what I have profited from in their conversation and composed a short study, De principatibus, in which I delve as deeply as I can into the ideas concerning this topic, discussing the definition of a princedom, the categories of princedoms, how they are acquired, how they are retained, and why they are lost. And if ever any whimsy of mine has given you pleasure, this one should not displease you. It ought to be welcomed by a prince, and especially by a new prince; therefore I am dedicating it to His Magnificence Giuliano. Filippo da Casavecchia has seen it. He will be able to give you some account of both the work itself and the discussions I have had with him about it, although I am continually fattening and currying it.  
 
Magnificent Ambassador, you would like me to abandon this life and come and enjoy yours with you. I shall do so in any case, but I am kept here by certain commitments that I shall attend to within six weeks.What makes me hesitate is that those Soderinis are in Rome; were I to come there, I would be obliged to visit and to talk with them. I am afraid upon my return that I might not count on dismounting at home but rather that I should dismount at the Bargello. For although this regime has extremely strong foundiations and great security, it is still new and, consequently, suspicious. There are plenty of rogues like Paolo Bertini who, in order to be impressive, would order a meal for others and leave the tab for me to pick up. I beg you to make this fear evaporate, and then, come what may, I shall come and see you in any case at the time mentioned.  
 
I have discussed this little study of mine with Filippo and whether or not it would be a good idea to present it, and if it were a good idea, whether I should take it myself or should send it to you. Against presenting it would be my suspicion that he might not even read it and that that person Ardinghelli might take the credit for this most recent of my endeavors. In favor of presenting it would be the necessity that hounds me, because I am wasting away and cannot continue on like this much longer without becoming contemptible because of my poverty. Besides, there is my desire that these Medici princes should begin to engage my services, even if they should start out by having me roll along a stone. For then, if I could not win them over, I should have only myself to blame. And through this study of mine, were it to be read, it would be evident that during the fifteen years I have been studying the art of the state I have neither slept nor fooled around, and anybody ought to be happy to utilize someone who has had so much experience at the expense of others. There should be no doubt about my word; for, since I have always kept it, I should not start learning how to break it now. Whoever has been honest and faithful for forty-three years, as I have, is unable to change his nature; my poverty is a witness to my loyalty and honesty.  
 
So I should like you, too, to write me what your opinion is about all this. I commend myself to you. Be happy.  
 
10 December 1513.  
Niccolò Machiavelli, in Florence.
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