Our Little Florentine Cousin of Long Ago - C. V. Winlow

The story of Filippo, a young boy who lived in Florence during the time of Lorenzo d' Medici and becomes unwittingly involved in political conspiracies of the age.

Show All     Download:     PDF       EPUB

[Front Cover] from Our Little Florentine Cousin by C. V. Winlow
Florentine Boy
[Title Page] from Our Little Florentine Cousin by C. V. Winlow


Dear Children:

This is the story of Filippo and his friend Giovanni, of their good times and their many adventures, of a plot, a maiden in distress, a great artist, a fogy but a fine old teacher, an uncrowned Prince, an alchemist, and the great gay festival of St. John the Baptist. But before we begin, you may like to hear a bit about the city where your Cousin Filippo lived four hundred and fifty years ago.

Of course you know the most interestingly shaped country on your map of Europe. Look at it—the boot-shaped kingdom—and you will see, about midway down on the western side, the part called Tuscany. Look at this, and you will find that the biggest dot marks Florence, the City of Flowers. This was Filippo's home.

We have many cities in America that are a very great deal bigger than present-day Florence both in area and in population. But this Italian city, at a time when it was still much smaller in both these ways than now, was for several centuries one of the greatest states of Europe!

How is that? you ask. Can a city be a state? And if it can, how can it be called great? Well, you know the boy who asked: "How tall was Alexander, Pa, that men should call him great?"—Greatness is not dependent on size. Florence, with only about 90,000 inhabitants, was a center of art, and learning, and literature, renowned for its statesmanship, and wealth, and beauty. All the Old World knew and had dealings with her and her citizens.

And it is perfectly true that she was a city-state, although she included in her national boundaries much of the rest of Tuscany—cities, towns, and countryside—which she governed somewhat as we do our territories of Hawaii, Alaska, etc. She was not an exception among her sister lands. The present Kingdom of Italy was at the time a whole handful—or rather boot-full—of larger and smaller principalities and republics.

Fiorenza (Florence) was of the latter. Florentines were mightily attached to their liberty and had no wish to bow down to Prince or Duke. To be a citizen of Florence, they said, is to be equal to a noble of any other nation. But only certain classes of the inhabitants had the rights of citizenship, and the population outside the ruling city had little voice in their government. In point of fact, beginning with 1434, the whole Republic of Florence was in reality being cleverly ruled by a single man and his descendants, the famous Medici, whose name (later as Grand-Dukes of Tuscany) was to be associated with Fiorenza for three hundred years.

However, every inhabitant of Florence could well hold himself proudly. It was their city that was forming the written language of all Italy. In the fifteenth century, when the boys you are going to read about had their exciting life, Florence had already, among her two thousand men of letters, produced the "divine poet" Dante—one of the world's greatest authors—as well as the poet Petrarch and the scholar and story-writer Boccaccio. These three continue to this day the greatest literary names of Italy.

In art Florence was equally unexcelled. Italians were pre-eminent among all peoples as artists, and Florentines among Italians. Although her Leonardo da Vinci was still only a young man and her Michelangelo a babe, Florence was already the mother of a host of names almost as brilliant in painting and sculpture. In architecture she had some of the most admired buildings in Europe, such as Giotto's bell-tower, the "Lily of Florence blossoming in stone," and the imposing cathedral with its mighty dome. In all the lesser decorative arts her sons also took first rank, in the making of gorgeous raiment, in the designing of jewelry, and in working in metals, terra-cotta, and enamel.

In finance, Florence's gold coin set the international standard. Her merchants and bankers shipped to all countries, the latter lending vast sums of money, the former selling their costly and rare luxuries, especially the beautiful woolen and silk cloths for which the city was famed, made with exclusive Florentine dyes and designs.

One young Florentine of Filippo's day every single one of us has said the name of many, many times. Can you guess who? It is the navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Our New World is called after him: AMERICA—Amerigo. So you see that you already know at least one Long-Ago Florentine very well, and when you read of Filippo and Giovanni and their adventures, you will come to know others.


[Contents] from Our Little Florentine Cousin by C. V. Winlow
[Illustrations] from Our Little Florentine Cousin by C. V. Winlow