Petrarch's Eight Years in Milan

By Ernest Hatch Wilkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Petrarch in Search of a Harbor

Petrarch was a man of many desires, which differed greatly in character, scope, and intensity, and were at times in conflict; but his dominant desire, at least after about 1340, was the desire for personal freedom--freedom to study and to write, freedom from obligations of any sort that would interfere seriously with his study and his writing. This desire is by no means to be dismissed as selfish: among the strands of which it was woven there was, to be sure, the desire for self-fulfillment--a desire which in Petrarch's case took the form of a craving for lasting fame--but his desire to study and to write was in its essence a desire to learn and to communicate what he had learned: he studied and wrote non sibi, sed amicis, sed omnibus, sed etiam posteritati.

For the enjoyment and the effective use of his personal freedom he needed a quiet abiding-place, a "harbor"--to use a favorite figure of his own. Vaucluse, the dearest spot on earth to him, was in itself just such a harbor as his heart desired; but it was so close to Avignon, to him the most hated spot on earth, that its usual peacefulness was all too often shattered.


Last Months in Provence

By the summer of 1352--having been in Provence for a year --Petrarch had made up his mind to return to Italy; but he did not know where, in Italy, he could find a harbor. He owned a house in Parma, and held the archdeaconate of the cathedral there; but the Bishop of Parma was hostile to him. He had been happy in Padua, where Jacopo da Carrara had given him a canonry, and where he had found a dear friend in Bishop Ildebrandino Conti; but Jacopo had been assassinated, and--

-3-

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