The Da Vinci Notebooks at sacred-texts.com
Just as Michaelangelo's occasional poems reflect his private life as well as the general disposition of his mind, we may find in the writings collected in this section, the transcript of Leonardo's fanciful nature, and we should probably not be far wrong in assuming, that he himself had recited these fables in the company of his friends or at the court festivals of princes and patrons. Era tanto piacevole nella conversazione-- so relates Vasari--che tirava a se gli animi delle genti. And Paulus Jovius says in his short biography of the artist: Fuit ingenio valde comi, nitido, liberali, vultu autem longe venustissimo, et cum elegantiae omnis deliciarumque maxime theatralium mirificus inventor ac arbiter esset, ad lyramque scito caneret, cunctis per omnem aetatem principibus mire placuit. There can be no doubt that the fables are the original offspring of Leonardo's brain, and not borrowed from any foreign source; indeed the schemes and plans for the composition of fables collected in division V seem to afford an external proof of this, if the fables themselves did not render it self-evident. Several of them-- for instance No. l279--are so strikingly characteristic of Leonardo's views of natural science that we cannot do them justice till we are acquainted with his theories on such subjects; and this is equally true of the 'Prophecies'.
I have prefixed to these quaint writings the 'Studies on the life and habits of animals' which are singular from their peculiar aphoristic style, and I have transcribed them in exactly the order in which they are written in MS. H. This is one of the very rare instances in which one subject is treated in a consecutive series of notes, all in one MS., and Leonardo has also departed from his ordinary habits, by occasionally not completing the text on the page it is begun. These brief notes of a somewhat mysterious bearing have been placed here, simply because they may possibly have been intended to serve as hints for fables or allegories. They can scarcely be regarded as preparatory for a natural history, rather they would seem to be extracts. On the one hand the names
of some of the animals seem to prove that Leonardo could not here be recording observations of his own; on the other hand the notes on their habits and life appear to me to dwell precisely on what must have interested him most--so far as it is possible to form any complete estimate of his nature and tastes.
In No. 1293 lines 1-10, we have a sketch of a scheme for grouping the Prophecies. I have not however availed myself of it as a clue to their arrangement here because, in the first place, the texts are not so numerous as to render the suggested classification useful to the reader, and, also, because in reading the long series, as they occur in the original, we may follow the author's mind; and here and there it is not difficult to see how one theme suggested another. I have however regarded Leonardo's scheme for the classification of the Prophecies as available for that of the Fables and Jests, and have adhered to it as far as possible.
Among the humourous writings I might perhaps have included the 'Rebusses', of which there are several in the collection of Leonardo's drawings at Windsor; it seems to me not likely that many or all of them could be solved at the present day and the MSS. throw no light on them. Nor should I be justified if I intended to include in the literary works the well-known caricatures of human faces attributed to Leonardo-- of which, however, it may be incidentally observed, the greater number are in my opinion undoubtedly spurious. Two only have necessarily been given owing to their presence in text, which it was desired to reproduce: Vol. I page 326, and Pl. CXXII. It can scarcely be doubted that some satirical intention is conveyed by the drawing on Pl. LXIV (text No. 688).
My reason for not presenting Leonardo to the reader as a poet is the fact that the maxims and morals in verse which have been ascribed to him, are not to be found in the manuscripts, and Prof. Uzielli has already proved that they cannot be by him. Hence it would seem that only a few short verses can be attributed to him with any certainty.