Lorenzo - Il Magnifico
Strange to say, this romantic attachment stirred the jealousy of a very prominent citizen, no less a personage than Messer Francesco de' Pazzi. He and his brothers declined the invitation to the Giostra, and abstained from participation in the general festivities. It was a case of race rivalry and of personal jealousy, but it meant much in the relations of the two families.
The efforts which Lorenzo continually made "to gain a firm footing in Florence" - as Francesco de' Guicciardini has recorded - quite naturally were productive of opposition and animosity. The men who had placed him in power were again in two camps - those who were content with the status quo, and those who were not. The latter made less and less effort to conceal their real sentiments, and at length set about to question Lorenzo's motives, and defeat his projects. He was a beau-ideal citizen, for, with all his love of show and circumstance, even in the fulness of his dignity and dominion, he knew how to retain and exhibit certain homely and simple traits, which were quite after the Florentine manner.
He met criticisms and oppositions with the very characteristic statement: "I will," said he, "allow no man to put his foot on my throat!" This threat - for so it was accounted by those who wished to discredit him - was like a red gauntlet thrown down, and, later on, a hand - if not a foot - and a dagger, were at Lorenzo's throat!
The overstrain of desire, the feverishness of acquisitiveness, and the lust for power, often in their intensity defeat the purpose sought. The personality of Lorenzo waxed greater and mightier day by day in the nervously articulated constitution of Florence. The greatest genius of his age, he was not only the master of the Government, but the acknowledged chief of the Platonic Academy, the first of living poets, a most distinguished classical scholar, and the greatest benefactor the city had ever known. Everything was within his grasp and everyone had to bow to his will; his aim was to be autocratic Prince of Tuscany.
It was the mark of a "perfect gentleman" to unbend to plainer folk, and to mingle with them in moments of relaxation. As a youth he had, with Giuliano, frequented the village fairs in the Mugello, for amusement and good fellowship: indeed they brought him inspiration and popularity as well. When in residence in the Medici Palace he was wont to take his walks abroad quite freely, and to sit and chat with the habitues of the osterie by the Porta San Gallo, and other similar taverns.
Florentine of the Florentines, he loved tricks and jokes, and was never tired of making fun at the expense of others: be it said, too, he knew how to take as well as give. An amusing story is told of him: being at Pisa, he chanced to see among the students of the University - which, by the way, he was instrumental in re-establishing and re-endowing - a youth who squinted. He remarked with a laugh: "That lad should easily be the head of his class!" When questioned as to his meaning, he replied jocosely: "Because he will read at the same time both pages of his book, and so will learn double!"
Entering thus unostentatiously into the lives and habits of his fellow-citizens, it was perfectly natural that he should gain their esteem, friendship, and loyal support. He soon became out and away the most popular man in Florence, notwithstanding the unworthy sneer of that ill-conditioned and self-opinionated monk, Girolamo Savonarola. "Lorenzo," he muttered, "occupies the people with feasts and shows in order that they may think more of their own amusement than of his ambitions."
Lorenzo was under no delusion with respect to the permanence, in a more or less subjective degree, of the spirit of revolt which had rendered his father's succession to the Headship of the Republic difficult. The very men who had, for their own ends, misguided Piero, of course were no longer powerful - such at least of them as were still alive were in banishment; but their sons and their adjoints were ready enough to question his authority.
Swiftly enough, Lorenzo took the measures of these men, and prepared to counteract their opposition. Naturally he sought the counsel of Domina Lucrezia, than whom nobody understood better the men of Florence, their manners and their moods. Long and serious were the deliberations of mother and son. With her pregnant assistance he roughed out a scheme, so warily conceived and so faithfully elaborated, that, on its presentation to the Lords of the Signory, it was accepted almost unanimously.
This measure touched citizens in their tenderest spot, - pride and love of display, - for it proclaimed the appointment of the leading Signori as ambassadors to foreign courts and communes. The one great absorbing ambition of all prominent Florentines was, through all their history, to head a foreign mission, with all its honours and emoluments.
With infinite grace and persuasiveness Lorenzo put before the Council the advisability of the despatch of envoys, incidentally to announce his succession to the Headship of the State, but principally to proclaim the grandeur, the wealth, and the power, of the great Tuscan Republic. It was a master-stroke thus to appeal to the patriotism, no less than to the egotism, of their Excellencies, and, at the same time, to confirm his own supremacy!