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TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE. - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 1 (Life of Machiavelli, History of Florence) 
The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, tr. from the Italian, by Christian E. Detmold (Boston, J. R. Osgood and company, 1882). Vol. 1. History of Florence.
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In offering the present translation of Machiavelli’s principal historical, political, and diplomatic writings, my original object was simply to afford to the general reader the opportunity of judging for himself of the character of the man, and of those of his works upon which his reputation for good or for evil mainly depends. I had no intention of entering the lists of the detractors and defenders of Machiavelli, or of adding to the number of his commentators. Enough of these have written in almost every European tongue, making volumes sufficient nearly to constitute a respectable library by themselves.
Nevertheless, as certain views and conclusions touching the more prominent of the seeming contradictions in Machiavelli’s writings suggested themselves to me whilst engaged in this translation, I venture briefly to present them, although they may differ materially from those taken by leading critics and commentators. No writer perhaps has been more variously judged than Machiavelli; regarded by some as the very embodiment of the spirit of evil, especially by the earlier critics; and by others looked upon as a pure, unflinching patriot, misunderstood and misinterpreted. The manifest contradictions, real or apparent, in his writings, have naturally given rise to widely differing commentaries, aiming less to explain and reconcile these contradictions to each other, than to make the favorable or unfavorable estimate of the author prevail. None of Machiavelli’s writings, except his treatise “On the Art of War,” were printed during his lifetime. A few years after his death, however, the “Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius,” the Florentine History, and “The Prince,” were printed at Rome with the authorization of Pope Clement VII. But disregarding this previous papal permission, Pope Paul IV. ordered these works to be placed in the Index Expurgatorius, which order was confirmed by the Council of Trent in 1564. Eight years later, the commission on the Index proposed to the descendants of Machiavelli to publish an expurgated edition of his works, on condition that the author’s name should be suppressed. This offer, however, was indignantly rejected by his grandsons, Giuliano de’ Ricci, son of the daughter, and Niccolo Machiavelli, son of one of the sons; and thus for centuries his writings remained utterly discredited in Italy.
Bayle in his Dictionary observes that “Machiavellism” and the art of “governing tyrannically by violence and fraud are terms of the same significance”; thus creating the word “Machiavellism,” which has been generally adopted in European languages. Later, no less a personage than Frederick the Great, while Crown Prince of Prussia, published his “Anti Machiavelli,” which, it is said, he somewhat regretted after having become king; and of which a Frenchman said, with as much wit perhaps as truth, that “the greatest homage which any prince had ever paid to the doctrines of Machiavelli was to have refuted him, so that he might follow his precepts with the greater impunity.”
The writings and reputation of Machiavelli became early known in England. Lord Bacon refers to him several times in his Essays, but makes no unfavorable reflections upon him. Shakespeare mentions him three times, and of course takes the then prevailing popular view of his character. First, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III. Sc. 1, the host of the Garter inn exclaims: “Peace, I say! hear mine host of the Garter. Am I politic? am I subtle? am I a Machiavel?” Secondly, in the First Part of King Henry VI., Act V. Sc. 4, when the captive Maid of Orleans pleads for her life on the ground of being with child, and says, “It was Alençon that enjoyed my love,” the Duke of York exclaims, “Alençon! that notorious Machiavel!” And thirdly, in the Third Part of King Henry VI., Act III. Sc. 2, when Richard, Duke of Gloster, resolves to make himself king of England, he ends his long soliloquy, in which he recounts his various qualifications for deceit and murder, by the following climax: —
Upon one point the modern reviewers and commentators of Machiavelli are pretty much agreed; namely, that his morality must be judged of by that prevailing at the time of his writing, and that the principles of conduct laid down by him in “The Prince” are more the reflex of the perversity of the period in which he lived, than that of his own mind. It was the period of the Renaissance, a time of great interest and great troubles for Italy, and perhaps the most interesting period that any people ever passed through; and fruitful of the most important events, discoveries, and progress in nearly all human achievements. It was marked at the same time by contradictions similar to those noted in Machiavelli, — with the developments of human genius at their highest, and that of the moral sense, if not at its lowest, yet at a very low point. It was then that Alexander VI., the father of Cesare and Lucretia Borgia, was Pope, and shocked the world by his gross sensuality and licentiousness; and was succeeded in the Pontificate, after a brief interval of less than a month, by Julius II., who was more soldier than priest, and exceeded even the Borgia in the display of craft and violence in his efforts to recover and enlarge the possessions and temporal power of the Church.
In dedicating his little volume of “The Prince” to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Machiavelli makes no pretence of offering a moral treatise; but simply, as the result of his reading and personal experience, a collection of the actions of great men, by which they succeeded in acquiring and preserving states. It is by the example of these that he attempts to instruct the Magnificent Lorenzo as to the qualities and conduct necessary for a prince to achieve similar success.
Modern English writers have judged Machiavelli differently, and some of them, perhaps, have gone to the other extreme; as may possibly be said of Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto IV. St. 54, 55): —
Prominent, however, amongst modern reviews of Machiavelli stands Macaulay’s masterly, brilliant, though not always just essay, which appeared in the Edinburgh Review, March, 1827. This came like a revelation upon the reading public, and certainly did more than any other literary production to spread a more correct knowledge and juster views of Machiavelli in England and America.
I abstain from referring to the many most interesting and instructive works on Machiavelli, in Italian, French, and German, that have appeared within the last thirty years; but should be unjust were I not to mention specially that very able and exhaustive work, “Niccolo Machiavelli and his Times,” by Professor Pasquale Villari of Florence. Two volumes of this have appeared simultaneously in Italian and in English (1877, 1881), and the third is looked for with eager interest.
The great experience in public affairs which Machiavelli had acquired during his many years’ employment in the service of the state at home and in his various missions abroad, coupled with his natural gifts of quick perception and keen penetration, soon taught him that the constant resort to dissembling and treachery by the rulers and governments of the different states of Italy in their dealings with each other, as well as with their more powerful neighbors north of the Alps, was the consequence of their own weakness and fear. This weakness was the natural result of the subdivision of Italy into so many small principalities, forever warring against each other by means of mercenary soldiers of fortune.
Several of the more important of these principalities had in turn invoked the aid of their powerful Transalpine neighbors, France, Germany, and Spain, who in their turn had invaded, pillaged, and devastated Italy from one end to the other. The woes inflicted upon Italy by these foreign invasions were the cause of intense grief and mortification to Machiavelli; who, enthusiastic admirer of the ancient Romans that he was, could never forget the power wielded by Rome of old, when, exercising the concentrated sovereignty of all Italy, and with armies of her own, she had made herself the mistress of the world. He witnessed with shame and humiliation the degeneracy and helplessness of his country, and clearly saw the causes of it. It was this that made him the unceasing advocate of the union of all Italy, of the establishment of national armies, instead of the uncertain employment of the venal Condottieri, and of the expulsion of the detested foreigners from the soil of Italy. Machiavelli was a sincere republican and a true lover of liberty; but for the sake of a united Italy, with well-trained national armies, strong enough to protect her against the periodical inundations of Northern barbarians, he was willing to give up his cherished republican form of government, and accept the one man power of a prince, though he was a Medici. Thence that passionately eloquent appeal to Lorenzo de’ Medici, to play the part of the long hoped for deliverer, with which Machiavelli thus closes his much debated treatise of “The Prince”: —
“You must not, then, allow this opportunity to pass, so that Italy, after waiting so long, may at last see her deliverer appear. Nor can I possibly express with what affection he would be received in all those provinces that have suffered so long from this inundation of foreign foes! — with what thirst for vengeance, with what persistent faith, with what devotion, and with what tears! What door would be closed to him? Who would refuse him obedience? What envy would dare oppose him? What Italian would refuse him homage? This barbarous dominion of the foreigner offends the very nostrils of everybody.
“Let your illustrious house, then, assume this task with that courage and hopefulness which every just enterprise inspires; so that under your banner our country may recover its ancient fame, and under your auspices may be verified the words of Petrarca: —
In fact, Machiavelli felt with regard to the union of Italy very much as President Lincoln did during the Secession war, when he said, with reference to the United States, “My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or to destroy slavery.”
During his several missions to France Machiavelli had clearly observed that the power of France was the result of the unity of territory and of the government. This had been the work of Louis XI., who was indeed the recognized founder of the French monarchy. And the means which he had employed for the attainment of that end were precisely those which Machiavelli recommends for a similar purpose in his treatise of “The Prince”; namely, disregard of pledges, dissembling, perfidy, and violence. In fact, Louis XI. had anticipated these precepts, even to the extermination of a number of the great houses of France which, by their claims to sovereignty over any portion of the soil, could imperil in the slightest degree the absolute control of the king over the entire kingdom.
None of the states of Italy had at that time any regular armies of their own; thus their wars against each other were carried on, as already said, by hired soldiers of fortune, who, for stipulated sums of money, and for a fixed period of time, furnished a certain number of men, generally mounted. These captains, by an understanding amongst themselves, avoided killing or wounding each other’s men, so that the battles of those days were rarely bloody. Military valor seems to have died out amongst the Italians, and cunning and perfidy had taken its place. It was a period of personal government, when despotism had supplanted the ancient liberties, which the people had not the courage to maintain or recover.
Machiavelli had also noticed, during his missions to France, the organization of the army, due to the efforts of Charles VII.; and made it the subject of especial notice in his despatches to the Florentine government. He succeeded subsequently in inducing the government of Florence to authorize the establishment of a national militia, and was himself employed to enlist and enroll the men of the Florentine dominion for that purpose. In this laborious duty he displayed the same zeal and devotion to his country, that he did in all his other public employments. Still later in life, after he had tasted the bitterness of degradation from office and the proverbial ingratitude of governments, he wrote and published his seven books on “The Art of War,” a highly interesting and admirably written dissertation in the shape of a dialogue; but not comprised in this translation.
The famous eighteenth chapter of “The Prince” — “In what Manner Princes should keep their Faith” — has earned for Machiavelli the odious reputation of having originated and recommended a system of fraud and perfidy as one of the essential arts and practices of princes and governments in all public affairs. I think the unprejudiced reader will have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that, like other wrongs imputed to Machiavelli, the charge is unjust. The chapter in question opens as follows: “It must be evident to every one that it is more praiseworthy for a prince always to maintain good faith, and practise integrity rather than craft and deceit. And yet the experience of our own times has shown that those princes have achieved great things who made small account of good faith, and who understood by cunning to circumvent the intelligence of others; and that in the end they got the better of those whose actions were dictated by loyalty and good faith,” etc.
Proceeding then to indulge in a fanciful and far-fetched allegory to sustain his argument, Machiavelli goes on to say: “A sagacious prince then cannot and should not fulfil his pledges when their observance is contrary to his interest, and when the causes that induced him to pledge his faith no longer exist. If men were all good, then indeed this precept would be bad; but as men are naturally bad, and will not observe their faith towards you, you must, in the same way, not observe yours to them.”
In all this, Machiavelli merely states, with his accustomed unhesitating honesty, the practices of nearly all the sovereigns and governments of Europe at that time, — not only in Italy, but in Spain by Ferdinand the Catholic, by Henry VII. in England, and above all by Louis XI. in France, who did not hesitate to teach his son that “a prince who did not know how to dissemble was unfit to govern.” In truth, this was the period of which it has been well said by one of the historians of France, “The princes of this century placed success before honor.”
To show further that Machiavelli, so far from being the originator of so vicious and reprehensible a practice, merely indicated it as one of the means generally employed by princes, and that it was sanctioned even in advance by the highest authority of the Church, the Popes themselves, I quote the following: “In virtue of the papal bulls of the latter part of the fifteenth century,* the sovereigns of France had special immunities in all matters of conscience; for the king’s confessor had the power to absolve the king and his wife, his brothers, and his children, from the greatest sins, and even crimes, without being obliged to resort to pontifical authority. The king was free to choose his own confessor, and to change him at pleasure, if he found him too strict. The confessor had also power to release the king from his vows and oaths; and thus the king was raised by the Holy See above all the obligations of duty, law, and right.”*
Another circumstance that has brought severe censure upon Machiavelli is his having held up Cesare Borgia as an example in “The Prince.” But here he has also been misunderstood and misinterpreted; for after having pointed out wherein Cesare Borgia acted judiciously, and wherein he was at fault, Machiavelli says: “Whoever, then, in a newly acquired state, finds it necessary to secure himself against his enemies, to gain friends, to conquer by force or by cunning, to make himself feared or beloved by the people, to be followed and revered by the soldiery, to destroy all who could or might injure him, to substitute a new for the old order of things, to be severe and yet gracious, magnanimous, and liberal, to disband a disloyal army and create a new one, to preserve the friendship of kings and princes, so that they may bestow benefits upon him with grace, and fear to injure him, — such a one, I say, cannot find more recent examples than those presented by the conduct of the Duke Valentino.” (Chapter VII.)
Machiavelli thus states most carefully in detail the particular cases in which the conduct of Cesare Borgia might serve as an example, but he does not by any means hold him up as a commendable model of general excellence. In fact, although Machiavelli cites many precedents in support of his theories, yet he never justifies crime. On the contrary, he almost invariably condemns it. For instance, in speaking of Agathocles the Sicilian, whom he cites as having achieved the sovereignty of Syracuse “by a thousand efforts and dangers,” and maintained it “with great courage, and even temerity,” he adds: “Yet we cannot call it valor to massacre one’s fellow-citizens, to betray one’s friends, and to be devoid of good faith, mercy, and religion; such means may enable a man to achieve empire, but not glory.”
In the “Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius”† Machiavelli speaks of stratagems, and of deceiving the enemy in time of war, as being laudable and honorable. But he is very careful to draw a distinction thus: “But I will say this, that I do not confound such deceit with perfidy, which breaks pledged faith and treaties; for although states and kingdoms may at times be won by perfidy, yet will it ever bring dishonor with it.”
As a further proof of the injustice of the aspersions of Machiavelli, I have included in these volumes a translation of a little book bearing the title of “Thoughts of a Statesman”; being a collection of maxims selected from the works of Machiavelli, and first published at Rome in 1771, and reprinted in the Italia edition of his works (1813).
In conclusion, I think it can with truth be said of Machiavelli, that he has been more abused than known, and that had he been better known he would have been less abused. For the reader of his works would have become satisfied that Machiavelli was neither devil nor saint, but simply a most gifted, honest man and patriot, who was not afraid to write, in the most terse and lucid manner, what he honestly thought calculated to advance the interests of his country, which he had so much at heart. If by the present translation I succeed in causing a more accurate acquaintance with the works of this remarkable man, I shall feel doubly rewarded, having already had ample compensation in the work itself, which, during several years of compulsory inactivity from impaired health, has afforded me constant, agreeable, and most instructive occupation.
c. e. detmold.
Paris, March, 1882.
[* ]Long prior, therefore, to Machiavelli’s writing “The Prince,” which was not until 1516, the early part of the sixteenth century.
[* ]See “Privilèges accordés à la Couronne de France par le Saint Siége,” 1852, Imprimerie Impériale.
[† ]Book III. Chap. XL. See Vol. II. p. 419.