Banned Satire

[This is taken From P.H. Ditchfield's Books Fatal to Their Authors.]

 Roger Rabutin de Bussy—M. Dassy—Trajan Boccalini—Pierre Billard—Pietro Aretino—Felix Hemmerlin—John Giovanni Cinelli—
Nicholas Francus—Lorenzo Valla—Ferrante Pallavicino—Francois Gacon—Daniel Defoe—Du Rosoi—Caspar Scioppius. 

To “sit in the seat of the scorner” has often proved a dangerous position, as the writers of satires and lampoons have found to their cost, although their sharp weapons have often done good service in checking the onward progress of Vice and Folly. All authors have not shown the poet’s wisdom who declared:--

“Satire’s my weapon, but I’m too discreet
To run amuck, and tilt at all I meet.”

Nor have all the victims of satire the calmness and self-possession of the philosopher who said: “If evil be said of thee, and it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.” It would have been well for those who indulged in this style of writing, if all the victims of their pens had been of the same mind as Frederick the Great, who said that time and experience had taught him to be a good post-horse, going through his appointed daily stage, and caring nothing for the curs that barked at him along the road.

Foremost among the writers of satire stands Count Roger Rabutin de Bussy, whose mind was jocose, his wit keen, and his sarcasm severe. He was born in 1618, and educated at a college of Jesuits, where he manifested an extraordinary avidity for letters and precocious talents. The glory of war fired his early zeal, and for sixteen years he followed the pursuit of arms. Then literature claimed him as her slave. His first book, Les amours du Palais Royal, excited the displeasure of King Louis XIV., and prepared the way for his downfall. In his Histoire amoureuse des Gaules (Paris, 1665, 1 vol., in-12) he satirised the lax manners of the French Court during the minority of the King, and had the courage to narrate the intrigue which Louis carried on with La Valliere. He spares few of the ladies of the Court, and lashes them all with his satire, amongst others Mesdames d’Olonne and de Chatillon. Unhappily for the Count, he showed the book, when it was yet in MS., to the Marchioness de Beaume, his intimate friend. But the best of friends sometimes quarrel, and unfortunately the Count and the good lady quarrelled while yet the MS. was in her possession. A grand opportunity for revenge thus presented itself. She showed to the ladies of the Court the severe verses which the Count had written; and his victims were so enraged that they carried their complaints to the King, who had already felt the weight of the author’s blows in some verses beginning:--

“Que Deodatus est heureux
De baiser ce bec amoureux,
Qui, d’une oreille a l’autre va.
Alleluia,” etc.

This aroused the anger of the self-willed monarch, who ordered the author to be sent to the Bastille, and then to be banished from the kingdom for ever. Bussy passed sixteen years in exile, and occupied his enforced leisure by writing his memoirs, Les memoires de Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussi (Paris, 1697), in which he lauded himself amazingly, and a history of the reign of Louis XIV., which abounded in base flattery of the “Great Monarch.” Bussy earned the title of the French Petronius, by lashing with his satirical pen the debaucheries of Louis and his Court after the same manner in which the Roman philosopher ridiculed the depravity of Nero and his satellites. His style was always elegant, and his satire, seemingly so playful and facetious, stung his victims and cut them to the quick. This was a somewhat dangerous gift to the man who wielded the whip when the Grand Monarch felt the lash twisting around his royal person. Therefore poor Bussy was compelled to end his days in exile.

A book fatal to its author, M. Dassy, a Parisian lawyer, was one which bore the title Consultation pour le Baron et la Baronne de Bagge (Paris, 1777, in-4). It attacked M. Titon de Villotran, counsellor of the Grand Chamber, who caused its author to be arrested. The book created some excitement, and contained some severe criticisms on the magistrates and the ecclesiastical authorities as well as on the aggrieved Villotran.  Parliament confirmed the order for Dassy’s arrest, but he contrived to effect his escape to Holland. He was a rich man, who did much to relieve and assist the poor, while he delighted to attack and satirise the prosperous and the great.

The Italian satirist Trajan Boccalini, born at Loretto in 1556, was also one upon whom Court favour shone. He was surrounded by a host of friends and admirers, and was appointed Governor of the States of the Church. He was one of the wittiest and most versatile of authors, and would have risen to positions of greater dignity, if only his pen had been a little less active and his satire less severe. He wrote a book entitled Ragguagli di Parnasso (1612), which was most successful. In this work he represents Apollo as judge of Parnassus, who cites before him kings, authors, warriors, statesmen, and other mighty personages, minutely examines their faults and crimes, and passes judgment upon them. Inasmuch as these people whom Apollo condemned were his contemporaries, it may be imagined that the book created no small stir, and aroused the wrath of the victims of his satire. Boccalini was compelled to leave Rome and seek safety in Venice. He also wrote a bitter satire upon the Spanish misrule in Italy, entitled Pietra del paragone politico (1615). In this book he showed that the power of the King of Spain in Italy was not so great as men imagined, and that it would be easy to remove the Spanish yoke from their necks. In Venice he imagined himself safe; but his powerful foes hired assassins to “remove” the obnoxious author. He was seized one day by four strong men, cast upon a couch, and beaten to death with bags filled with sand. The elegance of his style, his witticisms and fine Satire, have earned for Boccalini the title of the Italian Lucian.

To scoff at the powerful Jesuits was not always a safe pastime, as Pierre Billard discovered, who, on account of his work entitled La Bete a sept tetes, was sent to the Bastille, and subsequently to the prisons of Saint-Lazare and Saint-Victor. The Society objected to be compared to the Seven-headed Beast, and were powerful enough to ruin their bold assailant, who died at Charenton in 1726.

Another Italian satirist, Pietro Aretino, acquired great fame, but not of a creditable kind. Born at Arezzo in 1492, he followed the trade of a bookbinder; but not confining his labour to the external adornment of books, he acquired some knowledge of letters. He began his career by writing a satirical sonnet against indulgences, and was compelled to fly from his native place and wander through Italy. At Rome he found a temporary resting-place, where he was employed by Popes Leo X. and Clement VII.  Then he wrote sixteen gross sonnets on the sixteen obscene pictures of Giulio Romano [Footnote: These were published under the title of La corona de i cazzi, cioe, sonetti lussuriosi del Pietro Aretino. Stamp.  senza Luogo ne anno, in-16. The engravings in this edition, the work of Marc Antonio of Bolgna, were no less scandalous than the sonnets, and the engraver was ordered to be arrested by Pope Clement VII., and only escaped punishment by flight.], which were so intolerable that he was again forced to fly and seek an asylum at Milan under the protection of the “black band” led by the famous Captain Giovanni de Medici. On the death of this leader he repaired to Venice, where he lived by his pen. He began a series of satires on princes and leading men, and earned the title of flagellum principum. Aretino adopted the iniquitous plan of demanding gifts from those he proposed to attack, in order that by these bribes they might appease the libeller and avert his onslaught. Others employed him to libel their enemies. Thus the satirist throve and waxed rich and prosperous. His book entitled Capricium was a rude and obscene collection of satires on great men. His prolific pen poured forth Dialogues, Sonnets, Comedies, and mingled with a mass of discreditable and licentious works we find several books on morality and theology. These he wrote, not from any sense of piety and devotion, but simply for gain, while his immoral life was a strange contrast to his teaching. He published a Paraphrase on the seven Penitential Psalms (Venice, 1534), and a work entitled De humanitate sive incarnatione Christi (Venice, 1535), calling himself Aretino the divine, and by favour of Pope Julius III. he nearly obtained a Cardinal’s hat.  Concerning his Paraphrase a French poet wrote:--

Si ce livre unit le destin
De David et de l’Aretin,
Dans leur merveilleuse science,
Lecteur n’en sois pas empeche
Qui paraphrase le peche
Paraphrase la penitence

Utterly venal and unscrupulous, we find him at one time enjoying the patronage of Francis I. of France, and then abusing that monarch and basking in the favour of the Emperor Charles V., who paid him more lavishly. His death took place at Venice in 1557. Some say that he, the flagellum of princes, was beaten to death by command of the princes of Italy; others narrate that he who laughed at others all his life died through laughter. His risible faculties being on one occasion so violently excited by certain obscene jests, he fell from his seat, and struck his head with such violence against the ground that he died.

The town of Zuerich was startled in the fifteenth century by finding itself the object of the keen satire of one of its canons, Felix Hemmerlin, who wrote a book entitled Clarissimi viri jurumque Doctoris Felicis Malleoli Hemmerlini variae oblectationis Opuscula et Tractatus (Basileae, 1494, folio). The clergy, both regular and secular, were also subjected to his criticism. The book is divided into two parts; the first is a dialogue de Nobilitate et Rusticitate, and the second is a treatise against the mendicant friars, monks, Beghards, and Beguines. The town of Zuerich was very indignant at this bold attack, and deprived the poor author of his benefices and of his liberty.

Italian air seems to have favoured satire, but Italian susceptibility was somewhat fatal to the satirists. Giovanni Cinelli, born in 1625, taught medicine at Florence and was illustrious for his literary productions. He allied himself with Antonio Magliabecchi, who afforded him opportunities of research in the library of the Grand Duke. He began the great work entitled Bibliotheca volans, the fourth section of which brought grievous trouble upon its author. It was all caused by an unfortunate note which attacked the doctor of the Grand Duke. This doctor was highly indignant, and reported Cinelli to the Tribunal. The book was publicly burnt by the hangman, and Cinelli was confined in prison ninety-*three days and then driven into exile. His misfortunes roused his anger, and he published at his retreat at Venice a bitter satire on men of all ranks entitled Giusticazione di Giovanni Cinelli (1683), exciting much hostility against him. He died at the age of seventy years in the Castle of San Lorenzo, A.D. 1705, and his Bibliotheca volans was continued and completed by Sancassani under the fictitious name of Philoponis.

Nicholas Francus, an Italian poet of the sixteenth century, was a graceful writer and very skilled in the Latin, Greek, and Etruscan languages, but incurred a grievous fate on account of his severe satire on Pope Pius IV.  The stern persecutor of Carranza, the powerful Archbishop of Toledo, was not a person to be attacked with impunity. The cause of the poet’s resentment against the Pope was the prohibition of a certain work, entitled Priapeia, which Francus had commenced, describing the feasts of Priapus. Pius IV. refused to allow the poet to complete his book, and ordered that which he had already written to be burned. This was too much for the equanimity of the poet, whose eye was with fine frenzy rolling, and he began to assail the Pope with all manner of abuse. For some time the punishment for his rash writing was postponed, on account of the protection of a powerful Cardinal; but on the death of Pius IV. Francus sharpened his pen afresh, and sorely wounded the memory of his deceased foe. In one of his satires the words of St. John’s Gospel, verbum caro factum est, were inserted; and the charge of profanity was brought against him. At length Pius V. condemned him to death. Some historians narrate that the poor poet was hung on a beam attached to the famous statue of the Gladiator in front of the Palace of the Orsini, called the Pasquin, to which the deriders and enemies of the Pope were accustomed to affix their epigrams and pamphlets. These were called Pasquinades, from the curious method adopted for their publication. Others declare that he suffered punishment in a funereal chamber draped with black; while another authority declares that the poet, the victim of his own satires, was hung on a fork-shaped gibbet, not on account of his abuse of Pius IV., but through the hatred of Pius V., which some personal quarrel had excited.  This conjecture is, however, probably false.

Francus was a true poet, endowed with a vivid imagination and with a delicate and subtle wit. He scorned the coarse invective in which the satirists of his day used to delight. He had many enemies on account of his plain-spoken words and keen criticisms. The problem which perplexed the Patriarch Job—the happiness of prosperous vice, the misery of persecuted virtue—tormented his mind and called forth his embittered words. He inveighed against the reprobates and fools, the crowds of monsignors who were as vain of their effeminacy as the Scipios of their deeds of valour; he combated abuses, and with indignant pen heaped scorn upon the fashionable vices of the age. The Pope and his Cardinals, stung by his shafts of satire, cruelly avenged themselves upon the unhappy poet, and, as we have said, doomed him to death in the year 1569. His Dialogues were printed in Venice by Zuliani in 1593, under the title Dialoghi piacevolissimi di Nicolo Franco da Benevento; and there is a French translation, made by Gabriel Chapins, published at Lyons in 1579, entitled Dix plaisans Dialogues du sieur Nicolo Franco.

Lorenzo Valla, born at Rome in 1406, was one of the greatest scholars of his age, and contributed more than any other man to the revival of the love of Latin literature in the fifteenth century. His works are voluminous. He translated into Latin Herodotus (Paris, 1510), Thucydides (Lyons, 1543), The Iliad (Venice, 1502), Fables of Aesop (Venice, 1519); and wrote Elegantiae Sermonis Latini, a history of Ferdinand Aragon (Paris, 1521), and many other works, which are the monuments of his learning and industry. But Valla raised against him many enemies by the severity of his satire on almost all the learned men of his time. He spared no one, and least of all the clerics, who sought his destruction. A friend advised him that, unless he was weary of life, he ought to avoid heaping his satirical abuse on the Roman priests and bishops. He published a work on the pretended Donation of Constantine to the Papal See, and for this and other writings pronounced heretical by the Inquisition he was cast into prison, and would have suffered death by fire had not his powerful friend Alphonso V., King of Aragon, rescued him from the merciless Holy Office. Valla was compelled publicly to renounce his heretical opinions, and then, within the walls of a monastery, his hands having been bound, he was beaten with rods. It is unnecessary to follow the fortunes of Valla further. He was engaged in a long controversy with the learned men of his time, especially with the facetious Poggio, whose wit was keener though his language was not so forcible. Erasmus in his Second Epistle defends Valla in his attacks upon the clergy, and asks, “Did he speak falsely, because he spoke the truth too severely?” Valla died at Naples in 1465. The following epigram testifies to the correctness of his Latinity and the severity of his criticisms:--

Nunc postquam manes defunctus Valla petivit,
Non audet Pluto verba latina loqui.
Jupiter hunc coeli dignatus honore fuisset,
Censorem lingua sed timet esse suae.

Raphael Maffei, surnamed Volaterranus, the compiler of the Commentarii urbani (1506), a huge encyclopaedia published in thirty-eight books, composed the following witty stanza on the death of Valla:--

Tandem Valla silet solitus qui parcere nulli est
Si quaeris quid agat? nunc quoque mordet humum.

Our list of Italian satirists closes with Ferrante Pallavicino, a witty Canon, born at Plaisance in 1618, who ventured to write satirical poems on the famous nepotist, Pope Urban VIII., and all his family, the Barberini.  Some of his poems were entitled Il corriero sualigiato, Il divortio celeste, La baccinata, which were published in a collection of his complete works at Venice in 1655. His selected works were published at Geneva in 1660. He made a playful allusion to the Barberini on the title-page of his work, where there appeared a crucifix surrounded by burning thorns and bees, with the verse of the Psalmist Circumdederunt me sicut apes, et exarserunt sicut ignis in spinis, alluding to the bees which that family bear on their arms. Pallavicino lived in safety for some time at Venice, braving the anger of his enemies. Unfortunately he wished to retire to France, and during his journey passed through the territory of the Pope. He was accompanied by a Frenchman, one Charles Morfu, who pretended great friendship for him, admired his works, and scoffed at the Barberini with jests as keen as the Canon’s own satires. But the Frenchman betrayed him to his foes, and poor Pallavicino paid the penalty of his rashness by a cruel death in the Papal Palace at Avignon at the early age of twenty-nine years. His strictures on Urban and his family were well deserved. The Pope heaped riches and favours on his relations. He made three of his nephews cardinals, and the fourth was appointed General of the Papal troops. So odious did the family make themselves by their exactions that on the death of Urban they were forced to leave Rome and take refuge in France. Pallavicino had certainly fitting subjects for his satirical verses.

Francois Gacon, a French poet and satirist of the eighteenth century, suffered imprisonment on account of his poems, entitled Le Poete sans fard, ou Discours satyriques sur toutes sortes de sujets (Paris, 2 vols., in-12). His satire was very biting and not a little scurrilous, and was famous for the quantity rather than the quality of his poetical effusions.  We give the following example of his skill, in which he discourses upon the different effects which age produces on wine and women:--

Une beaute, quand elle avance en age,
A ses amans inspire du degout;
Mais, pour le vin, il a cet avantage,
Plus il vieillit, plus il flatte le gout.” 

The literary world of Paris in 1708 was very much disturbed by certain satirical verses which seemed to come from an unknown hand and empty cafes as if with the magic of a bomb. The Cafe de la Laurent was the famous resort of the writers of the time, where Rousseau and Lamothe reigned as chiefs of the literary Parnassus amid a throng of poets, politicians, and wits. Some malcontent poet thought fit to disturb the harmony of this brilliant company by publishing some very satirical couplets directed against the frequenters of the cafe. This so enraged the company that they deserted the unfortunate cafe, and selected another for their rendezvous.  But other verses, still more severe, followed them. Jean Baptist Rousseau was suspected as their author; he denied the supposition and accused Saurin; but Rousseau was found to be guilty and was banished from the kingdom for ever, as the author and distributer of “certain impure and satirical verses.”

Amongst satirical writers who have suffered hard fates we must mention the illustrious author of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe. A strong partisan of the Nonconformist cause during the controversial struggle between Church and Dissent in the reign of Queen Anne, he published a pamphlet entitled The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702), in which he ironically advised their entire extermination. This pleased certain of the Church Party who had not learned the duty of charity towards the opinions of others, nor the advantages of Religious Liberty. Nor were they singular in this respect, as the Dissenting Party had plainly shown when the power was in their hands. Happily wiser counsels prevail now. When Defoe’s jest was discovered, and his opponents found that the book was “writ sarcastic,” they caused the unhappy author to be severely punished.  Parliament condemned his book to the flames, and its author to the pillory and to prison. On his release he wrote other political pamphlets, which involved him in new troubles; and, disgusted with politics, he turned his versatile talents to other literary work, and produced his immortal book Robinson Crusoe, which has been translated into all languages, and is known and read by every one.

Young’s Night Thoughts might not be considered a suitable form of poem for parody, but this M. Durosoi, or Du Rosoi, accomplished in his Les Jours d’Ariste (1770), and was sent to the Bastille for his pains. The cause of his condemnation was that he had published this work without permission, and also perhaps on account of certain political allusions contained in his second work, Le Nouvel Ami des Hommes, published in the same year. But a worse fate awaited Du Rosoi on account of his writings.  In the dangerous years of 1791 and 1792 he edited La Gazette de Paris, which procured greater celebrity for him, and brought about his death.  When the fatal tenth of August came, the Editor was not to be found in Paris. However, ultimately he was secured and condemned to death by the tribunal extraordinary appointed by the Legislative Assembly to judge the enemies of the new government. He died with great bravery at the hands of the revolutionary assassins, after telling his judges that as a friend of the King he was accounted worthy to die on that day, the Feast of Saint Louis.

All the venom of satirical writers seems to have been collected by that strange author Gaspar Scioppius, who had such a singular lust for powerful invective that he cared not whom he attacked, and made himself abhorred by all. This Attila of authors was born in Germany in 1576, went to Rome, abjured Protestantism, and was raised to high honours by Pope Clement VIII.  In return for these favours he wrote several treatises in support of the Papal claims, amongst others Ecclesiasticus, which was directed against James I. of England. Concerning this book Casaubon wrote in his Epistle CLV.: “Know concerning Scioppius that some of his works have been burned not only here at London by the command of our most wise King, but also at Paris by the hand of the hangsman. I have written a letter, which I will send to you, if I am able, against that beast.” He poured the vials of his wrath upon the Jesuits, declaring in his Relatio ad reges et principes de stratagematibus Societatis Jesu (1635) that there was no truth to be found in Italy, and that this was owing entirely to the Jesuits, who “keep back the truth in injustice, who, rejecting the cup of Christ, drink the cup of devils full of all abominations.” This roused their wrath, and by their designs our author was imprisoned at Venice.  There he would have been slain, if he had not enjoyed the protection of a powerful Venetian. He boasted that his writings had had such an effect on two of his literary opponents, Casaubon and Scaliger, as to cause them to die from vexation and disappointment. He made himself so many powerful enemies that towards the end of his life he knew not where to find a secure retreat. This “public pest of letters and society,” as the Jesuits delighted to call him, died at Padua in 1649 hated by all, both Catholics and Protestants. He wrote one hundred and four works, of which the most admired is his Elementa philosophiae moralis stoicae (Mayence, 1606).





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