This infatuation for antiquity may seem bizarre, but it did not exclude intense interest on the part of the Renaissance man for the world about him, his town, his country, and remote as well as neighboring nations. Petrarch likes to speak of the marvels of India and Ceylon. There were drops of gypsy blood in his veins, but he was afraid of stealing time from his beloved books, and remains an excellent example of the “far-gone” fireside traveler, who in his study roamed through distant parts, spared the inclemency of the weather and the incommodities and dangers of the road.

Montaigne, who loved “rain and mud like a duck,” was of stronger fiber. “Nature,” he says, “has placed us in the world free and unbound; we imprison ourselves in certain straits.” “Travel is, in my opinion, a very profitable exercise; the soul is then continually employed in observing new and unknown things, and I do not know, as I have often remarked, a better school wherein to model life than by incessantly exposing to it the diversity of so many other lives, fancies and usances, and by making it relish so perpetual a variety of forms of human nature.”

From one source or another, then, the Renaissance men acquired an immense number of facts, and were able to retain them; for much is said about their inexhaustible memory. The important thing to know is what they did with them. Was their passion for facts that of a miser for his gold, of a savage for shiny, many-colored beads?

A fact is a delightful, wholesome thing. To the everlasting credit of the Renaissance men they appreciated its value, and worked hard to acquire it, thus grappling with reality. No longer would they merely scan the surface of things; they would pierce, as Dante said, to the very marrow with the eyes of the mind. Two or more centuries later than Dante, Machiavelli complained that his contemporaries loved antiquity, but failed to profit by the lessons which are implicit in its history. But Machiavelli was not entirely just. The Renaissance men were tender gardeners, and in their loving care every fact, every theory, every suggestion burgeoned, flowered, and bore fruit.

Some of them, it is true, recognized limitations to the versatility characteristic of the spirit of the age. Pier Paolo Vergerio, after reviewing the principal branches of study, states that a liberal education does not presuppose acquaintance with them all; “for a thorough mastery of even one of them might fairly be the achievement of a lifetime. Most of us, too, must learn to be content with modest capacity as with modest fortune. Perhaps we do wisely to pursue that study which we find most suited to our intelligence and our tastes, though it is true we cannot rightly understand one subject unless we can perceive its relation to the rest.” These words might well have been written to-day. Very probably they were equally apposite in the Renaissance; yet they seem cautious, almost overtimorous, in a period when so many men were not only accomplished scholars, authors of repute, capable public servants or statesmen, connoisseurs of the fine arts, painters, sculptors, and architects themselves. There seems to have been nothing that they could not do if they wished.

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