Some have narrowed their minds, and so fettered them with the chains of antiquity that not only do they refuse to speak save as the ancients spake, but they refuse to think save as the ancients thought. God speaks to us, too, and the best thoughts are those now being vouchsafed to us. We will excel the ancients!
The wise ones say with a sigh, Genius does not reproduce itself. But let us take heart and remember that mediocrity does not always do so, either. Men of genius have often been the sons of commonplace parents–no hovel is safe from it.
The father of Girolamo Savonarola was a trifler, a spendthrift and a profligate. Yet he proved a potent teacher for his son, pressing his lessons home by the law of antithesis. The sons of dissipated fathers are often temperance fanatics.
The character of Savonarola’s mother can be best gauged by the letters written to her by her son. Many of these have come down to us, and they breathe a love that is very gentle, very tender and yet very profound. That this woman had an intellect which went to the heart of things is shown in these letters: we write for those who understand, and the person to whom a letter is written gives the key that calls forth its quality. Great love-letters are written only to great women.
But the best teacher young Girolamo had was Doctor Michael Savonarola, his grandfather, who was a physician of Padua, and a man of much wisdom and common-sense, besides. Between the old man and his grandchild there was a very tender sentiment, that soon formed itself into an abiding bond. Together they rambled along the banks of the Po, climbed the hills in springtime looking for the first flowers, made collections of butterflies, and caught the sunlight in their hearts as it streamed across the valleys as the shadows lengthened. On these solitary little journeys they usually carried a copy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and seated on a rock the old man would read to the boy lying on the grass at his feet. In a year or two the boy did the reading, and would expound the words of the Saint as he went along.
The old grandfather was all bound up in this slim, delicate youngster, with the olive complexion and sober ways. There were brothers and sisters at home–big and strong–but this boy was different. He was not handsome enough to be much of a favorite with girls, nor strong enough to win the boys, and so he and the grandfather were chums together.
This thought of aloofness, of being peculiar, was first fostered in the lad’s mind by the old man. It wasn’t exactly a healthy condition. The old man taught the boy to play the flute, and together they constructed a set of pipes–the pipes o’ Pan–and out along the river they would play, when they grew tired of reading, and listen for the echo that came across the water.
“There are voices calling to me,” said the boy looking up at the old man, one day, as they rested by the bank.
“Yes, I believe it–you must listen for the Voice,” said the old man.
And so the idea became rooted in the lad’s mind that he was in touch with another world, and was a being set apart.
“Lord, teach me the way my soul should walk!” was his prayer. Doubt and distrust filled his mind, and his nights were filled with fear. This child without sin believed himself to be a sinner.
But this feeling was all forgotten when another companion came to join them in their walks. This was a girl about the same age as Girolamo. She was the child of a neighbor–one of the Strozzi family. The Strozzi belonged to the nobility, and the Savonarolas were only peasants, yet with children there is no caste. So this trinity of boy, girl and grandfather was very happy. The old man taught his pupils to observe the birds and bees, to make tracings of the flowers, and to listen to the notes he played on the pipes, so as to call them all by name. And then there was always the Saint Thomas Aquinas to fall back upon should outward nature fail.