Front Page Titles (by Subject) VIII.: To Beneditto Bonomattai, a Florentine. - The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2
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VIII.: To Beneditto Bonomattai, a Florentine. - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2 
The Prose Works of John Milton, With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 2.
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ToBeneditto Bonomattai,a Florentine.
I am glad to hear, my dear Bonomattai, that you are preparing new institutes of your native language, and have just brought the work to a conclusion. The way to fame which you have chosen, is the same as that which some persons of the first genius have embraced; and your fellowcitizens seem ardently to expect that you will either illustrate or amplify, or at least polish and methodize, the labours of your predecessors. By such a work you will lay your countrymen under no common obligation, which they will be ungrateful if they do not acknowledge. For I hold him to deserve the highest praise who fixes the principles and forms the manners of a state, and makes the wisdom of his administration conspicuous both at home and abroad. But I assign the second place to him, who endeavours by precepts and by rules to perpetuate that style and idiom of speech and composition, which have flourished in the purest periods of the language, and who, as it were, throws up such a trench around it, that people may be prevented from going beyond the boundary almost by the terrors of a Romulean prohibition. If we compare the benefits which each of these confer, we shall find that the former alone can render the intercourse of the citizens just and conscientious, but that the last gives that gentility, that elegance, that refinement, which are next to be desired. The one inspires lofty courage and intrepid ardour against the invasion of an enemy; the other exerts himself to annihilate that barbarism which commits more extensive ravages on the minds of men, which is the intestine enemy of genius and literature, by the taste which he inspires, and the good authors which he causes to be read. Nor do I think it a matter of little moment whether the language of a people be vitiated or refined, whether the popular idiom be erroneous or correct. This consideration was more than once found salutary at Athens. It is the opinion of Plato, that changes in the dress and habits of the citizens portend great commotions and changes in the state; and I am inclined to believe, that when the language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin or their degradation. For what do terms used without skill or meaning, which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote, but a people listless, supine, and ripe for servitude? On the contrary, we have never heard of any people or state which has not flourished in some degree of prosperity, as long as their language has retained its elegance and its purity. Hence, my Beneditto, you may be induced to proceed in executing a work so useful to your country, and may clearly see what an honourable and permanent claim you will have to the approbation and the gratitude of your fellowcitizens. Thus much I have said, not to make you acquainted with that of which you were ignorant, but because I was persuaded that you are more intent on serving your country than in considering the just title which you have to its remuneration. I will now mention the favourable opportunity which you have, if you wish to embrace it, of obliging foreigners, among whom there is no one at all conspicuous for genius or for elegance, who does not make the Tuscan language his delight, and indeed consider it as an essential part of education, particularly if he be only slightly tinctured with the literature of Greece or of Rome. I, who certainly have not merely wetted the tip of my lips in the stream of those languages, but, in proportion to my years, have swallowed the most copious draughts, can yet sometimes retire with avidity and delight to feast on Dante, Petrarch, and many others; nor has Athens itself been able to confine me to the transparent wave of its Ilissus, nor ancient Rome to the banks of its Tiber, so as to prevent my visiting with delight the stream of the Arno, and the hills of Fæsolæ. A stranger from the shores of the farthest ocean, I have now spent some days among you, and am become quite enamoured of your nation. Consider whether there were sufficient reason for my preference, that you may more readily remember what I so earnestly importune; that you would, for the sake of foreigners, add something to the grammar which you have begun, and indeed almost finished, concerning the right pronunciation of the language, and made as easy as the nature of the subject will admit. The other critics in your language seem to this day to have had no other design than to satisfy their own countrymen, without taking any concern about any body else. Though I think that they would have provided better for their own reputation, and for the glory of the Italian language, if they had delivered their precepts in such a manner as if it was for the interest of all men to learn their language. But, for all them, we might think that you Italians wished to confine your wisdom within the pomærium of the Alps. This praise therefore, which no one has anticipated, will be entirely yours immaculate and pure; nor will it be less so if you will be at the pains to point out who may justly claim the second rank of fame after the renowned chiefs of the Florentine literature; who excels in the dignity of tragedy, or the festivity and elegance of comedy; who has shown acuteness of remark or depth of reflection in his epistles or dialogues; to whom belongs the grandeur of the historic style. Thus it will be easy for the student to choose the best writers in every department; and if he wishes to extend his researches farther, he will know which way to take. Among the ancients you will in this respect find Cicero and Fabius deserving of your imitation; but I know not one of your own countrymen who does. But though I think as often as I have mentioned this subject that your courtesy and benignity have induced you to comply with my request, I am unwilling that those qualities should deprive you of the homage of a more polished and elaborate entreaty. For since your singular modesty is so apt to depreciate your own performances; the dignity of the subject, and my respect for you, will not suffer me to rate them below their worth. And it is certainly just that he who shows the greatest facility in complying with a request should not receive the less honour on account of his compliance. On this occasion I have employed the Latin rather than your own language, that I might in Latin confess my imperfect acquaintance with that language which I wish you by your precepts to embellish and adorn. And I hoped that if I invoked the venerable Latian mother, hoary with years, and crowned with the respect of ages, to plead the cause of her daughter, I should give to my request a force and authority which nothing could resist. Adieu.
Florence, Sept. 10, 1638.