Authors: W Somerset Maugham
THEN AND NOW
William Somerset Maugham was born in 1874 and lived in Paris until he was ten. He was educated at King's School, Canterbury, and at Heidelberg University. He spent some time at St. Thomas' Hospital with the idea of practising medicine, but the success of his first novel,
Liza of Lambeth,
published in 1897, won him over to letters.
Of Human Bondage,
the first of his masterpieces, came out in 1915, and with the publication in 1919 of
The Moon and Sixpence
his reputation as a novelist was established. At the same time his fame as a successful playwright and short story writer was being consolidated with acclaimed productions of various plays and the publication of
The Trembling of a Leaf,
Little Stories of the South Sea Islands,
in 1921, which was followed by seven more collections. His other works include travel books, essays, criticism and the autobiographical
The Summing Up
A Writer's Notebook.
In 1927 Somerset Maugham settled in the South of France and lived there until his death in 1965.
OTHER WORKS BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
The Moon and Sixpence
Of Human Bondage
The Narrow Corner
The Razor's Edge
Cakes and Ale
The Painted Veil
Up at the Villa
The Casuanna Tree
Liza of Lambeth
Collected Short Stories
Collected Short Stories Vol. 1
Collected Short Stories Vol. 2
Collected Short Stories Vol. 3
Collected Short Stories Vol. 4
Far Eastern Tales
More Far Eastern Tales
On a Chinese Screen
Ten Novels and their Authors
Points of View
The Summing Up
A Writer's Notebook
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
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Published by Vintage 2001
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No one could write a book of this kind out of his head, and I have taken what I wanted where I could find it. My chief source of information has naturally been the works of Machiavelli. I have found much that was
my purpose in Tommasini's biography and something in Villari's, and I have made some use of Woodward's solid
I wish to acknowledge the great debt I owe to Count Carlo Beuf for his lively and accurate life of Caesar, for his kindness in lending me books which otherwise I should never have known about, and for his patience in answering the many questions I put to him.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose.
Biagio Buonaccorsi had had a busy day. He was tired, but being a man of methodical habit before going to bed made a note in his diary. It was brief: 'The City sent a man to Imola to the Duke.' Perhaps because he thought it of no importance he did not mention the man's name: it was Machiavelli. The Duke was Caesar Borgia.
It had been not only a busy day, but a long one, for Biagio had set forth from his house at dawn. With him on a stout pony went his nephew, Piero Giacomini, whom Machiavelli had consented to take with him. It happened to be Piero's eighteenth birthday, October 6th, 1502, and so was a fitting day for him to go out into the world for the first time. He was a well set-up youth, tall for his age and of an agreeable aspect. Under his uncle's guidance, for his mother was a widow, he had received a good education; he could write a good hand and turn a comely phrase, not only in Italian, but in Latin. On the advice of Machiavelli, who passionately admired the ancient Romans, he had acquired more than a cursory knowledge of their history. Machiavelli cherished the conviction that men are always the same and have the same passions, so that when circumstances are similar the same causes must lead to the same effects; and thus, by bearing in mind how the Romans coped with a given situation, men of a later day might conduct themselves with prudence and efficiency. It was the wish both of
Biagio and his sister that Piero should enter the government service, in which Biagio held a modest post under his friend Machiavelli. The mission on which Machia-velli was now going seemed a good opportunity for the boy to learn something of affairs, and Biagio knew that he could not have a better mentor. The matter had been settled on the spur of the moment, for it was only the day before that Machiavelli had been given his letter of credence to the Duke and his safe conduct. Machiavelli was of an amiable disposition, a friend to his friends, and when Biagio asked him to take Piero with him immediately agreed. But the lad's mother, though she saw that it was a chance that could not be missed, was uneasy. He had never been parted from her before and he was young to go out into a hostile world; he was besides a good boy and she was afraid that Machiavelli would corrupt him, for it was notorious that Machiavelli was a gay fellow and a dissolute. He was, moreover, not in the least ashamed of it, and would tell improper stories about his adventures with women of the town and with maid-servants at wayside inns which must bring a blush to a virtuous woman's cheek. And what made it worse was that he told them so amusingly that though outraged you could not keep a straight face. Biagio reasoned with her.
'Dear Francesca, now that Niccolo is married he will abandon his loose habits. Marietta, his wife, is a good woman and she loves him. Why should you think him so foolish as to spend money outside for what he can get at home for nothing?'
'A man who likes women as much as Niccolo will never be content with one,' said she, 'and if she is his wife less than ever.'
Biagio thought there was something in what she said, but he was not prepared to admit it. He shrugged his shoulders.
'Piero is eighteen. If he has not lost his innocence already it is quite time he did. Are you a virgin, nephew?'
'Yes,' answered Piero, with so much candour that anyone might have been forgiven for believing him.
'There is nothing that I do not know about my son. He is incapable of doing anything of which I should disapprove.'
'In that case,' said Biagio, 'there is no reason why you should hesitate to entrust him to a man who can be useful in his career and from whom, if he has sense, he can learn much that will be valuable to him all his life.'
Monna Francesca gave her brother a sour look.
'You are infatuated with the man. You're like putty in his hands. And how does he treat you? He makes use of you; he makes fun of you. Why should he be your superior in the Chancery? Why are you satisfied to be his subordinate?'
Biagio was of about the same age as Machiavelli, who was thirty-three, but because he had married the daughter of Marsilio Ficino, a celebrated scholar patronized by the Medici who then ruled the city, he had entered the government before him. For in those days influence got a man a job as often as merit. Biagio was of the middle size, plump, with a round face, a high colour and an expression of great good nature. He was honest and hard-working, a man without envy who knew his own limitations and was satisfied with his modest position. He liked good living and good company, and since he asked for no more than he could have, might be counted a happy man. He was not brilliant, but neither was he stupid. Had he been so Machiavelli would not have endured his companionship.
'Niccolo has the most brilliant mind of anyone at present in the service of the Signory,' he said now.
'Nonsense,' snapped Monna Francesca.
(The Signory was the City Council of Florence and since the expulsion of the Medici eight years before the chief executive body of the State.)
'He has a knowledge of men and of affairs that men twice his age might envy. Take my word for it, sister, he will go far, and take my word for this too: he is not one to abandon his friends.'
'I wouldn't trust him an inch. He'll cast you aside like an old shoe when he has no further use for you.'
'Are you so bitter because he never made advances to you, sister? Even with a son of eighteen you must be still attractive to men.'
'He knows better than to try his tricks with a decent woman. I know his habits. It's a disgrace that the Sig-nory allows harlots to flaunt themselves in the city to the scandal of respectable people. You like him because ha makes you laugh and tells you dirty stories. You're as bad as he is.'
'You must remember that no one tells a dirty story better.'
'And is it that that makes you think him so wonderfully intelligent?'
Biagio laughed again.
'No, not only. He made a great success of his mission to France and his dispatches were masterly; even the members of the Signory who don't like him personally were obliged to admit it.'
Madonna Francesca shrugged her shoulders crossly. Meanwhile Piero, like the prudent young man he was, held his peace. He looked forward without enthusiasm to the job in the Chancery to which his uncle and his mother had destined him, and the idea of going on a journey was very much to his liking. As he had foreseen, his uncle's worldly wisdom triumphed over his mother's anxious scruples, and so it came to pass that on the following morning Biagio called for him and, Biagio on foot, Piero on his pony, they went the short distance to Machiavelli's house.