Giordano Bruno - J. Lewis McIntyre - ebook

The first part of the present work "The Life of Bruno" is based upon the documents published by Berti, Dufour, and others, and on the personal references in Bruno's own works. I have tried to throw some light on Bruno's life in England, on his relations with the French Ambassador, Mauvissière, and on his share in some of the literary movements of the time. I have, however, been no more successful than others in finding any documents referring directly to Bruno's visit to England.In the second part—The Philosophy of Bruno—I have sought to give not a systematic outline of Bruno's philosophy as a whole under the various familiar headings, which would prove an almost impossible task, but a sketch, as nearly as possible in Bruno's own words, of the problems which interested this mind of the sixteenth century, and of the solutions offered.

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Giordano Bruno

J. Lewis McIntyre

© David De Angelis 2017 - All rights reserved


This volume attempts to do justice to a philosopher who has hardly received in England the consideration he deserves. Apart from theLife of Giordano Bruno, by I. Frith (Mrs. Oppenheim), in the English and ForeignPhilosophical Library, 1887, there has been no complete work in our language upon the poet, teacher, and martyr of Nola, while his philosophy has been treated only in occasional articles and reviews. Yet he is recognised by the more liberal-minded among Italians as the greatest and most daring thinker their country has produced. The pathos of his life and death has perhaps caused his image to stand out more strongly in the minds of his countrymen than that of any other of their leaders of thought. A movement of popular enthusiasm, begun in 1876, resulted, on 9th June 1889, in the unveiling of a statue in Rome in the Campo dei Fiori, the place on which Bruno was burned. Both in France and in Germany he has been recognised as the prophet, if not as the actualfounder, of modern philosophy, and as one of the earliest apostles of freedom of thought and of speech in modern times.

Thefirst partof the present work—theLife ofBruno—is based upon the documents published by Berti, Dufour, and others, and on thepersonal references in Bruno’s own works. I have tried to throw some light on Bruno’s life in England, on his relations with the French Ambassador, Mauvissière, and on his share in some of the literary movements of the time. I have, however, been no more successful than others in finding any documents referring directly to Bruno’s visit to England.

In thesecond part—The Philosophy of Bruno—I have sought to give not a systematic outline of Bruno’s philosophy as a whole under the various familiar headings, which would prove an almost impossible task, but a sketch, as nearly as possible in Bruno’s own words, of the problems which interested this mind of the sixteenth century, and of the solutions offered. Thefirst chapterpoints out the sources from which Bruno derived the materials of his thinking. The succeeding chapters are devoted to some of the main works of Bruno,—theCausa(Chapter II.),InfinitoandDe Immenso(Chapters III. andIV.),De Minimo(Chapter V.),Spaccio(Chapter VI.), andHeroici Furori(Chapter VII.),—and contain as little as possible of either criticism or comment, except in so far as these are implied in the selection and arrangement of the material. I have adopted this method partly because Bruno’s works are still comparatively unknownto the English reader, and partly because his style, full as it is of obscurities, redundances, repetitions, lends itself to selection, but not easily to compact exposition. Several phases of Bruno’s activity I have left almost untouched—his poetry, his mathematical theories, his art of memory. Theeighth chapterturns upon his philosophy of religion, about which there has been much controversy; while thelastattempts to bring him into relation and comparison with some of the philosophers who succeeded him. I subjoin alist of works and articleswhich are of importance for the study of Bruno. Throughout I have referred for Bruno’s works to the recent Italian edition of the Latin works, issued at the public expense, 1879 to 1891 (three volumes in eight parts, with introductions, etc.), and to Lagarde’s edition of the Italian works—Gotha, 1888. Of the latter there are two volumes, but the paging is continuous from one to the other, page 401 beginning the second volume.





Birth and Family.In 1548, at a stormy period of the history of Italy, Bruno was born in the township of Nola, lying within the kingdom of Naples, which at that time was under Spanish rule. His father, Giovanni, was a soldier, probably of good family, and in deference, it may be supposed, to the King of Spain, the son was named Filippo; the more famous name of Giordano was only assumed when he entered a religious order. Through his mother, Fraulissa Savolina, a German or Saxon origin has been claimed for Bruno; there were several inhabitants of Teutonic name in the village of his birth—suggesting a settlement ofLandknechts,—and the name, Fraulissa, has a German ring;[1]but Bruno himself nowhere in the addresses or works published in Germany makes any hint of his own connection with the race, while the name was probably a generic term for the wife of a soldier, borrowed from the Swiss or German men-at-arms.[2]

Nola.Their home was on the lower slopes of Mount Cicala, which rises above Nola, and amid its laughing gardens Bruno first imbibed a love of nature, which marked him out from so many of his contemporaries. The soil of Nola is among the most fertile of all Italy, and the pleasant plain in which it lies is ringed with hills which lie shadowy under the clear sky; most prominent and most mysterious is Vesuvius, a few miles to the south. But the charms of naturalbeauty in Nola were surpassed by those of picturesque antiquity: the half-mythical Pelasgians founded it before the walls of Rome were begun; they were followed by the Chalcidians of Cuma, from whom the Nolans inherited a Greek spirit, calm yet quick, eager in the pursuit of wisdom and in the love of beauty, which down even to the 16th century distinguished them above other Italians. There followed a chequered history in which the Samnites, the early Romans, Hannibal, Sulla, and Spartacus, played successiveparts. Nola was the death-place of Augustus, and to that fact owed its greatness in Imperial times, when its two great amphitheatres and multitude of beautiful temples topped a great city, shut in by massive walls, with twelve gates that opened to all parts of Italy. Evil times were to come; Alaric, the Saracens, Manfred, and others had their will of Nola, andearthquakes, flood, and plague reduced it by the end of the 15th century to one tenth of its former self. It had its own martyrs, for the old faithand for the new; one of the latter, Pomponio Algerio, suffered during Bruno’s lifetime a fate that foreshadowed his own; accused while a student at Padua of contempt for the Christian religion, he was imprisoned in Padua, Venice, and Rome, and finally burnt at the stake. Its sons never lost their love for the mother-town; Bruno speaks of it always with affection, as to him “the garden of Italy”; of a nephew of Ambrogio Leone, the historian of its antiquities, we are told that, on returning to Nola after a few days’ absence, seeming ill with longing, he threw himself on the earth and kissed it with unspeakable joy.[3]Perhaps the suggestion of Bartholmèss is not groundless, that the volcanic soil and air of Nola influenced the character of the people as of the wine. “Hence the delicacy of their senses, vivacity of gesture, mobility of humour, and passionate ardour of spirit.”[4]

Childhood of Bruno.Of the childhood of Bruno little is to be learned. Cicala, his home, he describes as a “little village of four orfive cottages not too magnificent.”[5]In all probability his upbringing was simple, his surroundings homely. We need not go further, and suppose that his surroundings were not only homely, but degraded and vicious.[6]His father, although a soldier by profession, seems to have been a man of some culture; at least he was a friend of the poet Tansillo, who excited the admiration of the young Bruno, and first turned his mind towards the Muses. Tansillo’s poetry, following the taste of the age, was not too refined, but its passion called forth a ready reflection in the ardent nature of the lad. It was perhaps the only door to the higher artistic life of the time which was open to Bruno; the neighbours, if we may judge from satiric references in the Italian Dialogues, were of a rough homely type. Bruno tells, for example,[7]how Scipio Savolino (perhaps his uncle) used to confess all his sins to Don Paulino, Curé of S. Primma that is in a village near Nola (Cicala), on a Holy Friday, of which “though they were many and great,” his boon companion the Curé absolved him without difficulty. Once was enough, however, for in the following years, without many words or circumstances, Scipio would say to Don Paulino, “Father mine, the sins of a year ago to-day, you know them”; and Don Paulino would reply, “Son, thou knowest the absolution of a year ago to-day—go in peace and sin no more!”

One incident of Bruno’s childhood, which has been thought a promise of extraordinary powers, he himself relates in theSigillusSigillorum. Describing the different causes of “concentration,”[8](Contractio), he instances fear among them:—“I myself, when still in swaddling clothes, was once left alone, and saw a great and aged serpent, which had come out of a hole in the wall of the house; I called my father, who was in the next room; he ran with others of the household, sought for a stick, growled at the presence of the serpent, uttering words of vehement anger, while the others expressed their fear for me,—and I understood their words no less clearly, I believe, than I should understand them now. After several years, waking up as if from a dream, I recalled all this to their memory, nothing being further from the minds of my parents; they were greatly astonished.”[9]As well they might be! It is hardly right, however, to see in the story evidence of marvellous faculty showing itself in infancy, beyond that of an impressionable and tenacious mind. No doubt the drama had been repeated many times by the parents for behoof of visitors.[10]

Superstitious beliefs abounded among Bruno’s fellow-countrymen; many of them clung to him through life, were moulded by him into a place in his philosophy, and bore fruit in his later teaching and practice of natural magic. Thus we are told how the spirits of the earth and of the waters may at times, when the air is pure and calm, become visible to the eye. He himself had seen them on Beech Hill, and on Laurel Hill, and they frequently appeared to the inhabitants of these places, sometimes playing tricks upon them, stealing and hiding their cattle, but afterwards returning the property to their stalls. Other spirits were seen about Nola by the temple of Portus in a solitary place, and even under a certain rock at the roots of Mount Cicala, formerly a cemetery for the plague-stricken; he and many others had suffered the experience when passing at night of being struck with a multitude of stones, which rebounded from the head and other parts of the body with great force, in quick succession, but did no injury either to him or to any of the others.[11]It was at Nola that Bruno saw what seemed a ball or beam of fire, but was “really” one of the living beings that inhabit the ethereal space; “as it came moving swiftly in a straight line, it almost touched theroofs of the houses and would have struck the face of Mount Cicala, but it sprang up into the air and passed over.”[12]To understand the mind of Bruno, it is necessary to remember the atmosphere of superstition in which he lived as a child.

Unity of Nature.One lesson from nature was early implanted which gave body and form to Bruno’s later views: he had seen from Cicala, the fair mount, how Vesuvius looked dark, rugged, bare, barren, and repellent; but when later he stood on the slopes of Vesuvius itself,he discovered that it was a perfect garden, rich in all the fairest forms and colours, and luxurious bounty of fruits, while now it was his own beloved hill, Cicala, that gloomed dim and formless in the distance. He learnt once for all that the divine majesty of nature is everywhere the same, that distance alters the look but never the nature or substance of things, that the earth is everywhere full of life,—and beyond the earth the whole universe, he inferred, must be the same.[13]


Naples.When about eleven years of age, Bruno passed from Nola to Naples in order to receive the higher education of the day—Humanity, Logic, and Dialectic,—attending both public and private courses; and in his fifteenth year1563.(1562 or 1563) he took the habit of St. Dominic, and entered the monastery of that order in Naples. Of his earlier teachers he mentions only two,—“il Sarnese,” who is probably Vincenzo Colle da Sarno, a writer of repute, and Fra Theophilo da Vairano, a favourite exponent of Aristotle, who was afterwards called to lecture in Rome. Much ingenuity has been exercised in attempting to find a reason for Bruno’s choice of a religious life; but the Church was almost theonlycareer open to a clever and studious boy, whose parents were neither rich nor powerful.The Dominicans.The Dominican Order into which he was taken, although the narrowest, and the most bigoted,[14]was all-powerful in the kingdom, and directed the machinery of the Inquisition. Naples was governed by Spain with a firm hand, and the Dominicanwas the chosen order of Spain. Just at this time there were riots against the Inquisition, to which an end was put by the beheading and burning of two of the ringleaders.[15]The Waldensianpersecution was then fiercer and more brutal than it had ever been; on a day of 1561 eighty-eight victims were butchered with the same knife, their bodies quartered, and distributed along the road to Calabria.[16]Plague, famine, earthquake, the Turks, and the Brigands, under “King” Marconi, swelled the wave of disasterthat had come upon the kingdom of Naples. Little wonder then that one whose aim was a life of learning should seek it under the mantle of the strong Dominican order.

The Cloister.The cloister stood above Naples, amidst beautiful gardens, and had been thehome of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose gentle spirit still breathed within its walls. In its church, amid the masterpieces of Giovanni Merliano of Nola, “the Buonarotti of Naples,” stood the image of Christ which had spoken with the Angelic Doctor, and had approved his works. Long afterwards, at his trial, Bruno spoke of having the works of St. Thomas always by him, “continually reading, studying and re-studying them, and holding them dear.” On his entry into the order, Bruno laid down, as was customary, the name Filippo, and took that of Giordano, by which, except for a short period, he was thenceforth known.1572.After his year’s probation he took the vows before Ambrosio Pasqua, the Prior, and in due course, probably about 1572, became priest, his first mass being said in Campagna.[17]

Processes for heresy.It was the age of the counter-reformation which had been inaugurated by Loyola, its course set by the decision of the Council of Trent “to erase with fire and sword the least traces of heresy,” and Bruno early began to feel his fetters, and to suffer from their weight. During his noviciate even, a writing had been drawn up against him, because he had given away some images of the saints, retaining for himself only a crucifix, and again because he had advised afellow-novice, who was readingThe Seven Delights of the Madonnato throw it aside and take ratherThe Lives of the Fathersor some such book. But the writing was merely intended to terrify him, and the same day was torn up by the Prior.[18]1576.In 1576,however, the suspicions of his superiors took a more active turn, and a process was instituted in which the matter of the noviciate was supported by charges of later date, of which Bruno never learned the details. He believed the chief count was an apology for the Arian heresy made by him in the course of a private conversation, and rather on the ground of its scholastically correct form than on that of its truth.[19]Rome.In any case Bruno left Naples while the process was pending, and came to Rome, wherehe put up in the cloister of Minerva. His accusers did not leave him in peace, however: a third process was threatened at Rome with 130 articles;[20]and, on learning from a friendly source that some works of St. Chrysostom and St. Hieronymus, with a commentary of the arch-heretic Erasmus, had been discovered—he had, as he supposed, safely disposed of them before leaving Naples,—Bruno yielded to discretion, abandoned his monkly habit, and escaped from Rome. From this time began a life of restless wanderingthroughout Europe which ended only after sixteen years, when he fell into the power of the Inquisition at Venice.


Noli.Bruno, who resumed for the time his baptismal name of Filippo, journeyed first to the picturesque little town of Noli, in the Gulf of Genoa, whither a more famous exile, Dante,had also come.1576?There he lived for four or five months, teaching grammar to boys, and “the Sphere”—that is, astronomy and cosmography, with a dash of metaphysics,—to certain gentlemen.Savona. Turin. Venice.Thence he came to Savona, to Turin,[21]and to Venice. In Venice six weeks were spent, probably in the vain attempt to find work—the printing offices and the schools were closed on account of the plague which was carrying off thousands of the inhabitants;but the time was utilised in printing the first of his books—no longer extant—on theSigns of the Times,[22]written, like so many other works of other people, to put together a few “danari.” It was shown to a reverend Father Remigio of Florence, thereforewas probably orthodox, or its unorthodoxy was veiled. This work may have been the first of Bruno’s writings on the art of memory or on Lully’s art of knowing. Another work belonging to this early period was theArk of Noah. It was probably written beforehe left Naples, and was dedicated to Pope Pius V., but is not known to have been published: its title is that of a mystical writing of Hugo of St. Victor, but according to the account in theCena,[23]it was an allegorical and probably satirical work, somewhat after the fashion of Bruno’sCabala:—The animals had assembled to settle a disputed question of rank, and the ass was in great danger of losing his pre-eminent post,—in the poop of the Ark,—because his power lay in hoofs rather than in horns; when weconsider Bruno’s frequent and bitter invocations of Asinity, we can hardly avoid seeing in the work an allusion to the credulity and ignorance of the monkhood.

Padua.“From Venice,”[24]Bruno tells us, “I went to Padua, where I found some fathers of the order of St. Dominic, whom I knew; they persuaded me to resume the habit, even though I should not wish to return to the order, as it was more convenient for travel: with this idea I went to Bergamo, and had a robe made of cheap white cloth, placing over itthescapularwhich I kept when I left Rome.”Brescia.On his way to Bergamo he seems to have touched at Brescia and Milan, at the former place curing, “with vinegar and polypod,” a monk who claimed to have the spirit of prophecy.[25]Milan.At Milan he firstheard of his future patron and friend, Sir Philip Sidney.[26]Bergamo.From Bergamo he was making for Lyons, but atChambéry.Chambéry was warned that he would meet with little sympathy there, and turned accordingly towardsGeneva.Geneva, the home of exiledreformers of all nationalities, but especially of Italians. It is uncertain how the time was distributed among these places,—possibly Bruno spent a winter, as Berti suggests, at Chambéry, having crossed the Alps the previous autumn;—whatiscertain is, that he arrived at Geneva in April orMay 1579.May of 1579. Under the date May 22, of that year, in the book of the Rector of the Academy at Geneva, is inscribed the namePhilippus Brunus, in his own hand. On his arrival at the hostelry in Geneva, he was called upon by a distinguished exile and reformer, the Marquis of Vico, a Neapolitan. To the court at Venice, Bruno gave the following account of this visit and of his life in Geneva:—“He asked me who I was, and whether I had come to stay thereand to profess the religion of the city, to which, after I had given an account of myself and of my reasons for abandoning the Order, I said that I had no intention of professing the religion of the city, not knowing what it was, and that therefore I wished rather to remain living in freedom and security, than in any other manner. I was persuaded, in any case, to lay aside the habit I wore; so I had made for myself from the cloth a pair of trews and otherthings, while the Marquis himself, with other Italians, gave me a sword, hat, cape, and other necessaries of clothing, and enabled me to support myself so far by correcting proofs. I stayed about two months, and attended at times the preachings and discussions, both of Italians and Frenchmen who lectured and preached in the city; among others, I heard several times Nicolo Balbani of Lucca, who read on the epistles of St. Paul, and preached the Gospels; but having been told that I could not remain there long if I did not make up my mind to adopt the religionof the city, for if not I should receive no assistance, I resolved to leave.”[27]Did Bruno adopt Calvinism?When the inscription of Bruno’s name in the book of the Rector of the Academy was found, a doubt appeared to be thrown upon the truth or franknessof this evidence about himself. The regulations of 1559 had made it necessary for intending members to accept and sign the Calvinist confession of faith; but from 1576 onward, it was only required that they should belong to the community, a condition Brunofulfilled by attending the ministrations of Nicolo Balbani at the Italian Church; this would account also for his name being in the list of the Protestant refugees. The real cause of his departure from Geneva has, however, been revealed by the documents which Dufour published in 1884.[28]Freedom of speech.On Thursday August 6, 1579, “one Philippe Jordan called Brunus, an Italian,” was brought before the Council, for having “caused to be printed certain replies and invectives against M. de la Faye, enumerating twenty errors made by the latter in one of his lectures.”De la Faye.De la Faye was then Professor of Philosophy in the Academy, of which in 1580 he became Rector, resigning that post for the theological chair a few years later. His one title to fameis, that he was the biographer of Béza, and he was in no sense a strong man; all the more bitter and intense was his anger at the intruding Italian who criticised his views, and—a far graver crime—disparaged his learning. Bruno, heard before a body of councillors, and having confessed his fault, was to be set free on giving thanks to God and an apology to M. de la Faye, admitting his fault before the Consistory (the governing body of the Church in Geneva), and tearing up the defamatory libel.[29]But when he did appear, on August 13, the philosopher adopted a different tone:—“Philippe Brun appeared before the Consistory—to admit his fault, in so far as he had erred in doctrine, and called the ministers of the Church of Geneva ‘pedagogues,’ asserting that heneither would excuse nor condemn himself in that, for it had not been reported truly, although he understood that one, Anthony de la Faye, had made such a report. Inquired whom he had called pedagogues, he replied with many excuses and assertions that he had been persecuted, making many conjectures and numerous other accusations.”——Finally, “it was decided that he be duly admonished, that he have to admit his fault, and that, should he refuse to do so, he be forbidden communion, and sent back again to the Council, who are prayed not to endure such a person, a disturber of the school; and in the meantime he shall have to admit his fault. He replied that he repented of having committed the fault, for which he would make amends by a better conversation, and further confessed that he had uttered calumny against De la Faye. The admonitions and exclusions from the communion were carried out, and he was sent back with admonitions.”[30]Apparently these steps were effective; the required apology was made, and on August 27 Bruno was absolved from the form of excommunication passed upon him. No doubt, however, life in Geneva was made less easy for him, and he left soon after. The sentence of excommunication passed by the Consistory—the only one within its power—does notprove that Bruno was a full memberof the Protestant community, nor that he partook of the communion, which at his trial in Venice he absolutely denied ever having done; but formal excommunication must have entailed many unpleasantnesses, so that his appeal for remission is quite comprehensible. His unfortunate experiences in Geneva account, however, for the extreme dislike of Calvinism which his writings express. Of the two reformed schools, Lutheranism was by far the more tolerant, and gave him, later, the more cordial welcome. Calvin, we must remember, whose spirit continued in Theodore Béza, had written a pamphlet on Servetus, a “faithful exposition of the errors of Michael Servetus, a short refutation of the same, in which it is shown to be lawful to coerce heretics by the sword.” It was more probably, however, Bruno’s attitude towards the Aristotelian philosophy which brought him into conflict with the authorities: Geneva was as thoroughly convinced of the all-wisdom of Aristotle as Rome.[31]Béza hadwritten to Ramus that they had decided once for all,ne tantillum ab Aristotelis sententiâ deflectere, and Arminius, when a youth of twenty-two, was expelled from Geneva for teaching the Dialectic of Ramus.


Lyons.After a short stay in Lyons, where “he could not make enough to keep him alive,”Toulouse.Bruno passed to Toulouse, which boasted then of one of the most flourishing universities in the world. In his account of his life before the Venetian tribunal, he gives two years and a half to Toulouse,1579–81but he must have left it before the end of 1581, so that his actual stay was only two years. While he was holding private classes on the Sphere, and other philosophical subjects, a chair at the University fell vacant. Bruno was persuaded to become a candidate; to that end he took a Doctorate (in Theology), and was allowed to compete. By the free election of the students, as the custom was, he was chosen for the chair, and thereafter for two sessions lectured on Aristotle’sDe Animaand on other matters.Part of these lectures is perhaps given to us in the works published afterwards at Paris. It was fortunate that the University did not require of its ordinary professors that they should attend mass, as was the case, for example, at the Sorbonne. Bruno could not have done so owing to his excommunication, but that he was unconscious of any want of sympathy towards the Catholic Church is shown by his visit in Toulouse to the confessional of a Jesuit.

The city was not generally favourable to heretics, and in1616 Lucilio Vanini was burnt there for his opinions. A cancelled phrase in the evidence suggests that Bruno’s departure from Toulouse was owing to disputes and difficulties regarding his doctrine, but his alleged reason was the civil war that was then raging in the south of France, with Henry of Navarre in the field. While at Toulouse, Bruno seems to have completed a work in more than one volume, theClavis Magna, or “Great Key,” a general, and as Bruno thought, a final textbook on the art of memory:—“Allthe ideas of the older writers on this subject (so far as we are able to make out from the books that have come to our hands), their doctrines and methods, have their fitting place in our invention, which is a superlatively pregnant one, and has appropriated to it the book of the Great Key.”[32]One volume only, it appears, was published by Bruno, and that in England, theSigillus Sigillorum.

To Paris Bruno came about the close of 1581, and almost at once sprang into fame. A course of thirty lectures on “The thirty divine attributes” (as given by Thomas Aquinas) brought him the offer of an ordinary professorship, but this he could not take, being unable to attend mass. However, his fame reached the ears of the king, Henry the Third, who summoned him to his presence, to know among other things “whether the memory Bruno had, and the art of memory he professed, were natural or due to magic.” Bruno proved to him that a powerful memory was a natural product, and dedicated to him a book on the Art of Memory. HenryIII. was the son of an Italian mother, and had a keen, if uncritical and dilettante, love of learning. At the time Bruno arrived in Paris philosophy was one of the king’s chief hobbies, and the fact had a great influence on Bruno’s future.Works publishedin Paris.During his stay in Paris Bruno published several works, of which the first perhaps was the “Shadows of Ideas”De Umbris.(De Umbris Idearum), 1582, dedicated to Henry III., along with which, but without a separate frontispiece, was theArt of MemoryArs Memoriæ.(Ars Memoriæ Jordani Bruni); there followed “The Incantation of Circe”Cantus Circæus.(Cantus Circæus), 1582, dedicated to Prince Henry of Angoulême, and edited by Regnault. TheDe Umbrisgives the metaphysical basis of the art of memory, theArs Memoriæa psychological analysis of the faculty, and an account of the theory of the art itself, while theCantus Circæusoffers first a practical application, and secondly a more elementary account of the theory and practice of the system. Obscuritywas, in those days of pedantry, one of the safest ways of securing a hearing: there is nothing of value in Bruno’s art except the philosophy by which he sought to support it—a renovated Neoplatonism. It has been pointed out, however, “that the art was a convenient means of introducing Bruno to strange universities, gaining him favour with the great, or helping him out of pressing money troubles. It was his exoteric philosophy with which he could carefully drape his philosophy of religion hostile to the Church, and ride as a hobby horse in his unfruitful humours.”[33]There can be no question of Bruno’s own belief in it; it was not, for example, a cipher language by which he covered his real thoughts: the Copernican theory is not, as Berti says, absent from the Parisian writings, rather it is forced obtrusively into them.[34]

De Compendiosâ Architecturâ, etc.In Paris was published also the “Compendious Architecture” (De Compendiosâ Architecturâ et Complemento Artis Lullii), 1582, dedicated to Giovanni Moro, the Venetian Ambassador in Paris. It is the earliest of the Lullian works in which Bruno expounds or comments upon the art of Raymond Lully, a logical calculus and mnemonic scheme in one, that attracted many imitators up to and after Bruno’s time.Il Candelaio.In the same year appeared a work of a very different stamp,Il Candelaio, or “The Torchbearer,” “a comedy by Bruno of Nola,Academico di nulla academia, detto il fastidito: In tristitia hilaris, hilaritate tristis.” It is a satire upon some of the chief vices of the age—in the forefront pedantry, superstition, and sordid love. Without great dramatic power—the characters are personified types, not individuals—it has been judged to be second to none of the comedies of the time, in spirit, wit, and pert comedy. It certainly excels in many respects theCortegianaof Aretino, to which it is similar in character. It is equally realistic in the sense that it “calls a spade a spade,” and does not shrink from representing vice as speaking in its own language. Bruno is not, however, to be blamed for an obscenity which wasde rigueurin the literature of the time. But although the humour is broad and occasionally amusing, there is no grace, no lighter touch; the picture is alldark. The attack upon the pedant,however, strikes a keynote of Bruno’s life; in him he saw the greatest enemy his teaching had to face, and therefore he struck at him whenever the opportunity offered.

The University.Owing perhaps to some of these works,Bruno was granted an Extraordinary Readership at the university. There were, however, two universities in Paris, and it is uncertain at which Bruno taught: they were the Sorbonne, catholic and conservative, the censorship of which must have passed his Parisian works, and the College of France—following the liberal policy of its founder, Francis II., declaring war against pedantry in general, and the Jesuit Society in particular.[35]As has been said, Bruno was at this time eager to be taken back into the fold of the Church, and turned to the Jesuits for assistance, so that the latter college could hardly have been his habitation; on the other hand, his revolutionary teaching could not fail in the end to excite the indignation of the Sorbonne pupils: Aristotle was, here as elsewhere, “divine.” Yet when Bruno returned to Paris in 1585, and when he was on the eve of a second departure, he recalled with pleasure the humanity and kindness shown to him by rectors and professors on his first visit. They had honouredhim by “the continued presence of the more learned at his lectures both public and private, so that any title rather than that of stranger was befitting him with this kindly parent of letters.”[36]And Nostitz, one of Bruno’s pupils, remembered with admiration, thirty-three years later, the skill and versatility of his teacher: “He was able to discourse impromptu on any subject suggested, to speak without preparation extensively and eloquently, and he attracted many pupils and admirers in Paris.”[37]

ButBruno’s evil genius would not allow him rest; whether on account, as he himself says, of “tumults,”—which may mean either the civil war[38]or an active resistance to his own teaching on the part of the youth of Paris,—or because of the attraction of a less bigoted country, he was drawn in 1583 to exchange Paris for London.


England, 1583.England under Elizabeth was renowned for its tolerance; all manner of religious refugees found there a place of safety: to Italians its welcome was particularly cordial,their language was the favoured one of the court, and Elizabeth herself eagerly saw and spoke with them in their own tongue. Florio—an Italian in spite of having had London for his birthplace, the friend of Shakespeare, of Spenser and Ben Jonson—was constantly at court; two of Elizabeth’s physicians were Italian, as were several of the teachers of the universities. Perhaps the happiest days of Bruno’s troubled life were spent here; he had access to the most brilliant literary society of the time; he was able to speak, write, and publish in his own tongue, and in consequence gave all the most polished and brilliant of his works to the world during this period.

Oxford, 1583.In April, May, and June of 1583 Bruno was in Oxford, although the university and college records make no mention of his name.The University and Aristotle.He must have known itas a stronghold of Aristotelianism; on its statutes stood “that Bachelors and Masters who did not follow Aristotle faithfully were liable to a fine of five shillingsfor every point of divergence, and for every fault committed against the Logic of the Organon”; and that this was no dead law had been proved a few years before when one Barebones was degraded and expelled because of an attack on Aristotle from the standpoint of Ramus. The only living subject of teaching was theology, there was no real science, and no real scholarship. This peaceful school was not likely to be gratified by the letter which Bruno wrote asking permission to lecture at Oxford; it is printed intheExplicatio Triginta Sigillorum:[39]“To the most excellent the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, its most famous Doctors and celebrated Masters—Salutation from Philotheus Jordanus Brunus of Nola, Doctor of a more scientific theology, professor of a purer and less harmful learning, known in the chief universities of Europe, a philosopher approved and honourably received, a stranger with none but the uncivilised and ignoble, a wakener of sleeping minds, tamer of presumptuous and obstinate ignorance, who in all respects professes a general love of man, and cares not for the Italian more than for the Briton, male more than female, the mitre more than the crown, the toga more than the coat of mail, the cowled more than the uncowled; but loves himwho in intercourse is the more peaceable, polite, friendly and useful—(Brunus) whom only propagators of folly and hypocrites detest, whom the honourable and studious love, whom noble minds applaud.” The epistle which so begins is the preface to a work on the art of discovering, arranging, and remembering facts of knowledge, by which Bruno hoped to commend himself to the English, as he had succeeded in commending himself to the French universities. He attempted to disarm prejudice by sheltering under the twofold truth—“if this writing appears to conflict with the common and approved faith, understand that it is put forward by menot as absolutely true, but as more consonant with our senses and our reason, or at least less dissonant than the other side of theantithesis. And remember, that we are not so much eager to show our own knowledge, as moved by the desire of showing the weakness of the common philosophy, which thrusts forward what is mere opinion as if demonstratively proved, and of making it clear by our discussion (if the gods grant it) how much in harmony with regulated sense, in consonance with the truth of the substance of things, is that which the garrulous multitude of plebeian philosophers ridicule as foreign to sense.”

He was coldly received, however; in common-sense England his new art could evoke no enthusiasm, and his real and vital doctrines met with nothing but opposition at the old university—“the widow of true science,” Bruno calls it.Alasco of Poland.From the 10th to the 13th June the Polish prince, Alasco, was in Oxford, and disputations were held in his honour as well as banquets. Among others, Bruno disputed publicly in presence of the prince and some of the English nobility.[40]Alasco appears to have caused some excitement to the Elizabethan court. According to Mr. Faunt (of the secretary’s office) he had been General in more than forty fought battles, spoke Latin and Italian well, and was of great revenues. Mauvissière grumbled in a letter to the French king, that the Palatine Lasqueand a Scottish ambassador seemed to be governing the court.[41]The real object of the visit was apparently political, to prevent the traffic in arms between England and Muscovy.[42]Whether Alasco succeeded in this design or not, he seems to have found life in England too fast for his purse—“A learned man of graceful figure, with a very long beard, in decorousand beautiful attire, who was received kindly by the Queen, with great honour and praise by the nobles, by the university of Oxford with erudite delectations (oblectationibus) and varied spectacles; but after four months, being harassed for debt, he withdrew secretly.”[43]The arrival of this tragic-comic figure in Oxford appears to have gratified the city and university; he was most hospitably received, and put up at Christ Church. On the following day there was a dinner at All Souls, at which “he was solemnlie satisfied with scholarlie exercises and courtlie fare.” That evening was performed a “pleasant comedie,” theRivales, and on the following night a “statelie tragedie,”Dido,[44]and there were in the intervals shows, disputations in philosophy, physics, and divinity, in all of which, we are glad to know, “these learned opponents, respondents, and moderators, acquitted themselves like themselves, sharplie and soundlie.”The disputation.Let us hope that Bruno too, who took part in one of these disputations, made this impression. According to his own account the protagonist put forward by the university could not reply to one of his arguments, andwas left fifteen times by as many syllogisms, “like a hen in the stubble,” resorting accordingly to incivility and abuse, in face of the patience and humanity of the Neapolitan “reared under a kinder sky.” The result was unfortunate for Bruno; it put an end to the public lectures, which he was giving at the time, on the Immortality of the Soul and on the “Five-fold Sphere.”TheCena.The same month he returned to London, and shortly after published theCena(Ash-Wednesday Supper), in which he ridiculed the Oxford Doctors.Inter alia, he thought they knew a good deal more of beer than of Greek.[45]TheCausa.The impression this attack produced in his London circle was apparently not that which he desired, for in the following dialogue, theCausa, he was much more judicious.[46]He admitted much in the university that was well instituted from the beginning: “the fine arrangement of studies, the gravity of the ceremonies, careful ordering of the exercises, seemliness of the habits worn, and many other circumstances that made for the requirements and adornment of a university; without doubt every one must admit it to be the first in Europe, and consequently in all the world—nay, more, in gentleness of spirit and acuteness of mind, such as are naturally brought outin both parts of Britain, it equals perhaps the most excellent of the universities. Nor is it to be forgotten that before speculative philosophy was taught in any other part of Europe it flourished here, and through its princes in metaphysics (although barbarians in speech and of the profession of the cowl) the splendour of one of the noblest and rarest spheres of philosophy, in our times almost extinct, was diffused to all other academies in civilised countries.” What Bruno condemned in Oxford was the undue attention it gave to language and words, to the ability to speak in Ciceronian Latin and in eloquent-phrase, neglecting the realities of which the words were signs. As for the knowledge of Aristotle and of philosophy generally that was demanded for the degree of Master or Doctor, Bruno suggests an evasion that probably had its origin in the undergraduate wit of the time. The statute read “nisi potaverit e fonte Aristotelis,” but there were three springs in the town, theFons Aristotelis,Fons Pythagorae,Fons Platonis, and “as the water for the beer and cider was taken from these springs, one could not be three days in Oxford without imbibing not merely of the spring of Aristotle, but of those of Pythagoras and of Plato as well.” Doctors were easily created and doctorates easily bought. There were of course exceptions, men renowned for eloquence and doctrine like TobiasMatthew[47]and Culpepper,[48]but as a rule the nobility and best men generally refused to avail themselves of the “honour,” and preferred the substance of learning to its shadow.


London.It was after his return from Oxford that the pleasant and busy life in London literary societybegan—the period of Bruno’s greatest productiveness. In the house of the enlightened and cultured Mauvissière he found, for the first time since leaving Nola, a home.[49]Bruno’s position in London has given rise to great difference of opinion; none of theordinary contemporary records make mention of him, or the slightest allusion to his presence in England. At his trial he professed to have brought letters to the French Ambassador from the King of France, to have stayed at the house of the former continuously, to have gone constantly to the Court with the Ambassador, and to have known Elizabeth; and in his works he claims intimacy with Sidney and Greville. It was consequently thought that he moved in the highest English society of the time, and from theCenathat he belonged to a literary coterie, or club, of which Sidney, Greville, Dyer, Temple, and others were members. Lagarde, believing Bruno (but on ludicrous grounds)[50]to have sprung from the lowest of Italian society, could hardly accept this familiar legend of Bruno-biographies, and more recently, theQuarterly Reviewhas questioned both the friendship with Sidney and Greville, and the existence of the supposed Society. As to the last, there was certainly at one time a literary society, Sidney’sAreopagus, to which Spenser belonged in 1579, but which concerned itself chiefly with artificial rules of versification, and the merits of various metres; the habit of meeting may have very well persisted for a few years, after the first flush of enthusiasm had passed, and the Ash Wednesday supper may have represented one of these meetings to which Bruno—the defender of the Copernican theory—may have been invited as Protagonist. As for Bruno’s position, it must have been that of a secretary or tutor, perhaps both, in Mauvissière’s employment. The French Ambassador was constantly in want of funds, and could not very well afford to support any casual stranger whom the King of France recommended to him. In November 1584 he complained of absolute penury, of being unable to obtain money due to him from the King of France (the King paid him by occasional doles only), of being hard pressed by London and Italian bankers, while his wife was in ill health. He was not greatly respected either by the Court, who, with good grounds, believed him to have no influence with the French King, or by Mary of Scotland and the English Catholics, partly because of his supposed Huguenot leanings, and partly because of their distrust of Henry III., or by the French King himself. Mauvissière had been sent to England as one who could be trusted not to err by way of undue zeal. Henry had no desire to see the unfortunate Queen of Scots liberated, although he put out all his diplomatic power to save her life; thestatus quoin England suited his policy only too well; there was no need for active interference. It was Mary of Guise that spurred on Mauvissière to act as energetically as he did for Queen Mary. We may assume then that Bruno, when Oxford rejected him, entered the French Embassy as anunofficial secretary. The words he employed at the Venetian inquiry quite harmonise with this supposition: “In his house I stayed as his gentleman, nothing more,” not as friend or guest, but as “hisgentleman.”[51]That he went constantly to Court with theAmbassador, and wasintroduced to Queen Elizabeth, would be natural in the case of a secretary—it would be curious in the case of a mere guest, or of any servant lower than a secretary. Finally, in theInfinito[52]the grateful remark that Mauvissière entertained Bruno within his family, “not as one who was of service to him (Mauvissière), but as one whom he could serve on the many occasions in which aid was required by the Nolan,” obviously suggests that serviceswererendered by Bruno to the Ambassador.A man who was prepared to make a living by teaching children as readily as by lecturing to students, by setting books in print as readily as by writing them, was not likely to be an expensive secretary, and it must have been pleasant to Bruno to escape from the turmoil of scholastic strife and its bitter antagonisms to the quiet haven of the Embassy. His host was a well-meaning, kindly, but unfortunate man, unequal to the great issues that were being decided around him. Although it was a Catholic family, and mass was frequently said in the house, Bruno’s religious freedom was respected. He attended neither mass nor any of the preachings, on account of his excommunication. If one may judge from Bruno’s enthusiasm, the wife and daughter of Mauvissière must have been charming companions, the one “endowed with no mean beauty of form, both veiling and clothing the spirit within, and also with the threefold blessing of a discreet judgment, a pleasing modesty, and a kind courtesy, holding in an indissoluble tie themind of her consort, and captivating all who come to know her”; the other, “who has scarcely seen six summers, and from her speech you could not tell whether she be of Italy, of France, or of England; from her musical play, whether she is of corporeal or incorporeal substance; from the ripe sweetness of her manners, whether she is descended from heaven or risen from earth.”[53]For Mauvissière himself, to whom the three most important of the Italian dialogues are dedicated, no words that Bruno can invent are too high praise. In the dedication of theCausa, after comparing his persevering zeal and delicate diplomatic powers to the dropping of water upon hard stone, and his steadfast support of Bruno in face of detractions of the ignorant and the mercenary, ofsophists, hypocrites, barbarians, and plebeians, to the strength of the rock against seething waves, the philosopher adds, “I, whom the foolish hate, the ignoble despise, whom the wise love, the learned admire, the great honour—I, for the great favours enjoyed from you, food and shelter, freedom, safety, harbourage, who through you have escaped so terrible and fierce a storm, to you consecrate this anchor, these shrouds and slackened sails, this merchandise so dear to me, more precious still to the futureworld, to the end that through your favour they may not fall a prey to the ocean of injustice, turbulence, and hostility.” The merchandise of which Bruno thought so highly was the Dialogue itself; we must of course allow for the grandiloquence of the dedications of the time, and of Bruno’s especially, but a real gratitude shines through the words.

Queen Elizabeth.His account of the Queen must be taken much less seriously, although his praise of her formed one of the many counts against him in Venice. “Thatmost singular and rare of ladies, who from this cold clime, near to the Arctic parallel, sheds a bright light upon all the terrestrial globe. Elizabeth, a Queen in title and in dignity, inferior to no King in all the world. For her judgment, counsel, and government, not easily second to any other that bears a sceptre in the earth. In her familiarity with the arts, knowledge of the sciences, understanding and practice of all languages spoken in Europe by the people or by the learned, I leave the whole worldto judge what rank she should hold among princes.”[54]In a satirical passage of theCausa, where Bruno is proving that all vices, defects, crimes are masculine, all virtues, excellences, goodnesses, feminine, Elizabeth is given as a crowning example:—“than whom no man is more worthy in the whole kingdom, among the nobles no one more heroic, among the long robed no one more learned, among the councillors no one more wise.”[55]Exaggerated as the language is, it is not more so than was common with the writers who adorned Elizabeth’s Court; and it was one of his errors which Bruno could easily regret before his judges. “In my book on ‘the Cause, Principle, and One,’ I praise the Queen of England and call her ‘divine,’ not as a term of worship, but as an epithet such as the ancients used to apply to their princes, and in England where I then was, and where I composed this book, the title ‘divine’ is usually given to the Queen. I was the more inclined to call her so, that she knew me, as I went continually with the Ambassador to Court; but I know I erred in praising this lady, she being a heretic, and in calling her ‘divine.’”Mendoça.Through Mauvissière, Bruno made acquaintance with Bernardino di Mendoça, Spanish Ambassador to England from 1578 to 1584, a much stronger man as well as a more unscrupulous servant of his king than Mauvissière could be. Bruno says definitely that Mendoça was known by him at the English Court. So well was he known that Bruno approached the Ambassador in Paris on the delicate subject ofhis own relations with the Catholic Church, and was introduced by him to the Papal Nuncio. There is absolutely no reason for doubting these statements, and if true, they are quite compatible with acquaintance, if not friendship, between Bruno and Sir Philip Sidney, or the others whom he mentions. Mendoça was not, however apersona grataat Court: he was a thorough-going supporter of the Scottish Queen, and seems to have had a finger in almost every conspiracy that was planned or formed by the English Catholics. He became unbearable to Queen Elizabeth; his recall was demanded and refused; but in January of 1584 he was compelled to leave England, and a formal rupture with Spain was the consequence, which became actual war four years afterwards. Philip of Spain did not desert his champion, in whom he had the highest confidence. In October of 1584 Mendoça became Ambassador to France, and there in 1855 Bruno renewed acquaintance with him.

Sidney.Like all his contemporaries, Bruno came under the spell of Sir Philip Sidney’s charm. He had already heard in Milan and in France of that “most illustrious and excellent cavalier, one of the rarest and brightest spirits in the world.” To Sir Philip are dedicated the two chief ethical writings of Bruno, theSpaccio, and theHeroici Furori, with the expressed assurance that the author is not presenting a lyre to a deaf man, nor a mirror to a blind. “The Italian reasons with one who can understand his speech; his verses are under the censure and the protection of a poet. Philosophy displays her form unveiled to so clear an eye as yours. The way of heroism is pointed out to a heroic and generous spirit.” Sidneywas one of the first to take an interest in the Italian on his arrival in England, and when theSpacciowas published,on the eve, as Bruno thought, of his departure from England towards the close of 1584,[56]Bruno could not turn his back upon Sidney’s “beautiful, fortunate, and chivalrous country, without saluting him with a mark of recognition, along with the generous and humane spirit, Sir Fulke Greville.”Greville.There was some disagreement, however, between Greville and Bruno, “the invidious Erinnys of vile, malignant, ignoble, interested persons, had spread its poison” between them, in Bruno’s emphatic words. What the ground of division was we do not know; possibly the tone in which theCenaspoke of Oxford men, and of English scholars generally, had offended Greville, and this may have called out the partial retractation in theCausa. As is well known the friendshipof the two men, Sidney and Greville (with whom Edward Dyer was closely associated), was of the noblest type. Greville died in 1628 in the fulness of years and of honours, but had retained the impress of his young friendship fresh to the end.[57]It may beadded that he became an intimate of Francis Bacon, who may through him have been introduced to Bruno’s works.Spenser.It must have been in some such way also that Spenser knew of Bruno, as it is probable that the Cantos on Mutability (first published posthumously in 1609, but written probably after his visit to England in 1596) were “suggested” by Bruno’sSpaccio.[58]The “new poet” certainly could not have met Bruno, for he was in Ireland continuously, as secretary, from 1580 till 1589, when he came overto publish the first three books of theFaerie Queen.

Bacon.It is possible, on the other hand, that Bruno met Bacon, who was a rising young barrister and member of Parliament when he arrived in England, and had already achieved some fame as a critic ofAristotle. The idea, however, that he knew and influenced Shakespeare, is entirely fanciful. Richard Field, a friend of Shakespeare, had come to London in 1579, and served his apprenticeship with Thomas Vautrollier;Shakespeare.and Field was Shakespeare’sfirst publisher, having set up for himself by 1587. It has been suggested that before this time Shakespeare worked in Vautrollier’s printing office. On the other hand, it has been universally received that Vautrollier was Bruno’s publisher in England, andBruno usually corrected his own proofs. Hence the two may have met, Shakespeare and Bruno, in a grimy printer’s den. The idea is charming, but it has to yield before the light of fact. Shakespeare did not come to London until 1586, and there is no proof that he worked with Vautrollier. Bruno had left England by the end of 1585, and there is no proof that Vautrollier was his printer. The suggested analogies between one or two ideas in Hamlet and Bruno’s conceptions of transmigration, of the relativity of evil, and the rest, are of the shallowest.[59]Thomas Vautrollier, a French printer who came to London some years before, and set up a press in Blackfriars, was said (by Thomas Baker) to have gained an undesired notoriety as Bruno’s printer, and to have beencompelled to leave England for a period, which he spent in Edinburgh, to the advantage of Scottish printing. TheTriginta Sigilliand all the Italian Dialogues of Bruno were certainly published in England, although Venice or Paris was set down as their place of publication. According to Bruno, this was “that they might sell more easily, and have the greater success, for if they had been marked as printed in England, they would have sold with greater difficulty in those parts.” It is doubtful, however, whether Vautrollier was really the printer; in any case it was not on that account that he went to Edinburgh.[60]