Politian, Letter to Paolo Cortesi
I am sending back the letters collected by your diligence, in reading which (if I may speak freely) I am ashamed to have wasted some good hours. For, excepting just a few of them, they are hardly worth being said to have been read by a learned person or collected by you. I won’t explain which I approve and which I find fault with. I do not wish for anyone to be satisfied with himself or displeased with himself in these because of me. Yet, there is something in the style in which I must dissent from you. For, you are not (as far as I can tell) accustomed to approve of anyone unless they copy out Cicero’s path. But to me, the face of the bull or the lion seems far nobler than that of the ape, which is yet closer to that of the human. Nor, as Seneca has suggested, are those who are thought to have held the chief place of eloquence similar to each other. Quintilian mocks those who think that they are the brothers of Cicero because they close every period with these words: esse videatur. Horace inveighs against imitators who do nothing but imitate. In my opinion, those who only compose from imitation seem similar to parrots or magpies, which repeat things which they do not understand. The things which those authors write lack strength and vitality; they lack action, emotion, talent; their writings lie down, sleep, and snore. Nothing in them is true, solid, or effective. Someone tells me, You don’t express Cicero. So what? I’m not Cicero. Nevertheless, as I think, I express myself.
Remitto epistolas diligentia tua collectas, in quibus legendis, ut libere dicam, pudet bonas horas male collocasse. Nam praeter omnino paucas, minime dignae sunt quae vel a docto aliquo lectae vel a te collectae dicantur. Quas probem, quas rursus improbem, non explico. Nolo sibi quisquam vel placeat in his, auctore me, vel displiceat. Est in quo tamen a te dissentiam de stylo nonnihil. Non enim probare soles, ut accepi, nisi qui lineamenta Ciceronis effingat. Mihi vero longe honestior tauri facies aut item leonis quam simiae videtur, quae tamen homini similior est. Nec ii, qui principatum tenuisse creduntur eloquentiae, similes inter se, quod Seneca prodidit. Ridentur a Quintiliano qui se germanos Ciceronis putabant esse, quod his verbis periodum clauderent: esse videatur. Inclamat Horatius imitatores, ac nihil aliud quam imitatores. Mihi certe quicumque tantum componunt ex imitatione, similes esse vel psittaco vel picae videntur, proferentibus quae nec intelligunt. Carent enim quae scribunt isti viribus et vita; carent actu, carent affectu, carent indole, iacent, dormiunt, stertunt. Nihil ibi verum, nihil solidum, nihil efficax. Non exprimis, inquit aliquis, Ciceronem. Quid tum? non enim sum Cicero; me tamen, ut opinor, exprimo.