The meaning was that, as the renaissance was waning with 'barbarian' armies looting throughout Italy and autocratic, sometimes mentally unstable tyrants supplanting republican governments, all that one could do to uphold humanism and high culture for posterity was to keep practising courtly behaviour and learning on a personal level. To keep a candle burning in the growing darkness, if you will.
Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Solved! He probably was referencing T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land". Thanks!