From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 190), original translation, c. 1824]; pp. 377-329.
“Though occasionally rude and inverted in point of style, they are by no means wanting in spirit, and in those sallies of caustic wit and humour,” observes the Italian editor, “which give so high a relish to works of a similar kind.” Previous to the late collection, Doni had already been admitted into the ranks of approved novelists by Count Borromeo and the classic Poggiali, though he is seldom to be met with in the numerous selections, entitled “Novellieri,” from the fictitious productions of some of his more popular countrymen. This, in some measure, probably arose from the same whimsical genius that seems to have influenced all his actions, many humorous traits of which are recounted, and which led him to entertain little anxiety as to the fate of his own productions. To the long list of these contained in the Borromean catalogue, and the notices of him by Poggiali, Tiraboschi, and other writers, there is added a still more voluminous account, accompanied by critical and historical remarks, in the collection of tales before referred to. As these are, however, of far too extensive a nature to admit of further commentary here, we must confine our attention to the more popular traits of his life and character, which have been treated by some of his biographers with the same humour and eccentricity which marked the style and manners of the original. Tiraboschi affords several examples of his peculiarities, though far inferior in point of singularity of language to the pen of a still more modern writer, Signor Capugnano, who has prefixed a very amusing account of the author’s life to the recent publication of his novels.
It may not prove unentertaining, perhaps, to the English reader to 380 extract a few specimens of this very whimsical account of a whimsical genius, taking care not to deprive either the author or his biographer of any portion of their burlesque humour. In this respect they will be found to be congenial spirits, the biographer vieing with his subject in the singularity of his manner of treating it. “Doni,” observes Signor Capugnano, “was born in Florence, about the year 1513, and he had no sooner cast his side teeth, than he selected for the scene of his labours, both night and day, some apartments that look out upon the left side of the Annunziata. There he was to be seen, arrayed in his long dark cloak, sometimes studious and alone, and sometimes in the company of those who had so high a conceit of him as to think him capable of instructing Cardinal d’Arezzo himself, no long since deceased. Imagining, however, in a few years, that his gown† sat somewhat uneasy, and looked somewhat lugubrious, besides being so long as to prevent him from picking his way through life’s dirty paths without fear of soiling himself, he threw it off altogether, and taking a few free bounds into the air, declared that he would no longer serve anybody, but in future live only according to his own laws. Then, in order that he might avoid the inquiries of every fool of an acquaintance to know the motives and reasons of his proceedings, he set off for Venice, resolving to settle there upon his own estate, which he held under the crown of his hat. His pen was put into immediate requisition, being the only means, as he believed, of obtaining an introduction into the great audience-room of the world, ‘e per godere quest ’aria e quest ’acqua.’ But soon finding that ‘faggots are not to be bound with a sausage,’ he withdrew to the pleasant hills of Monselice, surrounded with a delightful view of the castle, and more useful gardens, besides a vast rocky tower erected some ages before the grandfather of the famous Ezelino made his appearance in the world.” — Vita del Doni, pp. 2, 3.
Here the biographer proceeds to relate his study of astronomy and philosophy, with pursuits and inquiries of a still more free and liberal cast, which seem to have awakened the jealousy of the Inquisition: ‘Uscì un tuono che gli scosse tutte le ossa, e gli gelò il sangue nelle vene.” There came a sound that shook him to his very bones, and congealed the blood in his veins; and he sought refuge for a period near Ancona, whence he did not again depart until the season became more mild. He then returned to his residence at Monselice, where he closed his career at no very advanced age, in the year 1574, lamented and esteemed for his convivial disposition, his learning, and his wit.
* Edizione di soli esemplari ottanta, con particolare cura eseguita, per i Dilettanti delle Antiche Novelle Italiane. Edited by Bartolommeo Gamba: 1815.
† He is said by Tiraboschi to have assumed the ecclesiastical habit, which he afterwards laid aside.
Far and wide, throughout all cities and nations, spread these happy tidings of a royal tournament and the marriage of Queen Pilessa’s beauteous daughter. What magnificent trains of lords and dukes, counts and marquises, of all ages and nations, were seen gathering towards the happy spot! Long they fought, and fell, and conquered; after which, at the trumpet’s sound, were exhibited to view in the midst of all the lizard’s lungs, and proclamation was made with a loud voice that whatsoever prince or lord should declare to what animal these relics had belonged should be entitled to the princess and half the kingdom as her dower. Upon this, the name of every kind of creature in the world but the right one was quickly pronounced, until it came to the turn of the Duke of Milesi, who, enjoying the good graces of Donna Spira, had fixed his eye boldly upon her beautiful charge. The nurse at length hit upon the following ingenious method, as she thought, of acquainting him with the real nature of the poor lizard’s lungs. She cast her eye upon one of the ugliest hunchbacks that was ever seen, as the least suspicious person she could employ, and beckoning him, she said, “If you will promise to be secret, I will make you one of the richest hunchbacks that was ever known; you have only to be wise and keep silence.” On receiving his promise, she gave him a purse of ducats, saying, “Hasten to the Duke of Milesi, and whisper him, on the part of the young lady, that the lungs belonged to a lizard.” Upon which, repeating his oath of secrecy, the ugly hunchback left the nurse; and standing for some time apart, he considered whether it would be most prudent to inform the Duke or avail himself of the information on his own account. At length he determined that it would be better to possess half the kingdom for himself than the favour of the reigning prince; and so taking Fortune by the forelock, he ventured upon the following bold manœuvre. 382 Making his way before the queen, he thus addressed her: “Knowing that your royal blood was ever faithful to its engagements, and relying upon the honour of your crown, I appear here to say to what creature these precious relics belonged, and claim in return your daughter and half of the kingdom.” “Certainly, it is so,” replied the queen; while all the barons and courtiers burst into a loud laugh as he pronounced them to be the lungs of a lizard. “Nay, let those laugh who win,” cried the hunchback; “for I myself once brought up a lizard that grew as large as my back, until putting it one night to bed without its nightcap on, it caught such a bad cold, that before I had time to have it properly cured, it absolutely died of suffocation.” The whole company upon this laughed still louder, saying, “Good! very good! was ever anything like it?” But the little hunchback continued, “It is, however, as I say; because, on dissecting my lizard, I found its lungs were made exactly the same as these.” The queen replied, “Since Fortune has so far favoured you, I am bound to observe my engagement; and now truly the hand of my daughter with half of the kingdom is your own.”
Mr. Hunchback was accordingly arrayed like a courtier, and exalted above all the barons of the land: there was no denying that he was the fair princess’s future spouse. Sad, however, was the envy and heart-burning of the suitors to behold such a monster so well versed in the anatomy of lizards and entitled to the fair princess’s hand. Truly they would have laid foul hands upon him and eaten him up alive, could they have found the opportunity, but he kept close to his princess’s side. But what was the indignation of her nurse, when, expecting to behold the handsome Duke, she saw this little wretch elevated in his place! Casting upon him the eye of a basilisk, though she ventured not to break out into open abuse, she muttered to herself, “Oh, villain of a hunchback! by the holy cross of our Lord I will make thee pay dearly for this!” Then, full of the most desperate thoughts, she proceeded to consult with her unhappy charge, who also viewed him with evident reluctance, and listened but too willingly to every possible means of despatching him in preference to receiving him as her lord. But the glorious tidings having already gone abroad, there came a number of fresh hunchbacks, flocking to the royal festival of their companion, who performed a variety of admirable tricks, to the astonishment of all the court. This added not a little to the influence of the new prince, who seemed greatly pleased at the praises which they on all sides elicited. But to cut short the scene, which he thought began to trench a little upon his dignity, when the presumptuous hunchbacks approached him familiarly to receive their reward, their royal brother gave each of them a kick upon their humps, and ordered them to be taken down into the kitchen.
Now this unkind usage of his old friends was extremely grating to the gentle feelings of his princess; she therefore gave secret orders that these very facetious hunchbacks should be invited for another day, in order to receive the due recompense of their humorous tricks. In the meantime, under various pretexts, she contrived to keep her royal consort at a distance until the day appointed for the return of the hunchbacks 383 arrived. They were directly introduced into the princess’s chamber, where she opened upon their astonished eyes a variety of trunks filled with costly apparel; but, just as she was in the act of presenting some to them, the footsteps of her crooked spouse were heard actually ascending the staircase. There was no alternative but to thrust the little crooked fellows into the trunks, which was no sooner done than the royal hunchback stepped into the chamber. All was still as death; for had they made the least noise they would infallibly have been hanged, to satisfy the foolish jealousy of his highness. He remained with the princess some time, which placed the lives of his trembling subjects in the utmost jeopardy, as they were already beginning to gasp for breath. Still he stayed and stayed; and when at length, on his taking his leave, the princess hastened to open the trunks, what was her surprise and sorrow on finding that all her amusing guests were quite dead! After breathing harder and harder, they had gone into convulsions, and their feeble kicks had scarcely reached the ears of the royal spouses. Closing the trunks, however, she resolved to make the best of a bad business; and consulting with her nurse, they forthwith confided the whole affair to a faithful courtier, presenting him at the same time with a sum of money. With this he directly proceeded to purchase three large bags, exactly alike; and calling a stout porter, he gave them to him, saying, “Follow me;” and marched back as fast as he could, straight into the palace. They first took one of the little deceased, and squeezing him till he came within the dimensions of the bag, the princess, addressing the porter, said, “Do you mark me? Carry this sack away, and throw it, just as it is, into the river. Here are ten ducats: but take heed how you open it, and when you come back, you shall have twenty more.” So the porter threw the burden on his shoulder, saying, “I wish I had more such jobs as these; “and after pitching it into the river, he hastened back as fast as he could. In the chamber he found the same identical burden lying there which he thought he had just disposed of, the second hunchback having assumed the place of the first. Testifying no little surprise, the lady said to him, “Do not be alarmed; but truly he is a sly villain, as you see, and delights to plague people. He will be sure to come back again if you do not throw him far enough, and sink him in the river; this time you must take better care.” Perfectly satisfied with the ducats, the man took up his burden, and again launched it into the deepest part of the river he could find, and staying to watch it fairly sink, he exclaimed in a joyful tone, “I think you are fairly gone at last;” for the night was now setting in, and he did not much relish another journey along the banks of the river. Taking a light, however, he returned into the chamber, and beheld a third sack ready prepared for him; and seizing it in no little anger, he bore it away. But as soon as he had made his way through the crowd, he determined at all hazards to know with what kind of a devil he had to deal; and opening the bag, he found an ugly little hunchback in it. “Oh, thou cursed beast!” he cried, “I will try to end thee now;” and taking out a huge knife, he severed the head from the body. Then thrusting it into the sack, filled with stones and iron, he once more committed him 384 to the river, and made his way back to the palace. Now it so chanced that just at the entrance he met with the royal hunchback himself, returning doubtless from some mischievous expedition, and making the best of his way to pay another visit to his beloved princess. The porter had no sooner set his eyes upon him than he exclaimed in the utmost indignation, “Ah! villain hunchback! are you here before me again?” and seizing him with all the glorious strength of a porter by the beard, he bound him in a moment quite fast, and thrusting him into the sack, he said, “Three times you have made me return, and yet you are at it again; but we shall see who has the best of it.” In this way he carried the royal hunchback along, who in vain asserted his title to majesty, and that he was just going on a visit to his queen, and endeavoured to bribe his treacherous subject at any price. It was all in vain: he was thrown headlong into the river, while the porter proceeded back, not without some apprehension that he should have another journey. On mounting the staircase, however, and proceeding into the chamber, he had the satisfaction of beholding his labours completed, for no more hunchbacks were to be seen. “Yes, you have done,” said the princess: “I do not think he will come back any more now. Here, take all these ducats, and fare you well!” The porter replied, “But he has returned a good many times, though; for I met him just now coming in at the gate; so I bound him fast and put him into the sack in spite of him, and threw him again into the river. To be sure, he offered me a deal of money to let him go, and threatened and swore, and said he was the king; but it was all of no use: he was obliged to be drowned. So I think I have earned my wages well by four such journeys as these.”
Upon hearing these tidings, the princess and her maids of honour were quite overjoyed; and lavishing the most liberal favours upon the porter for his lucky blunder, they bribed him to keep the matter secret. Thus by a single blunder the porter became a rich man, the lady was freed from an ugly brute of a husband, and the Duke of Milesi made happy in possessing the charms of the beautiful princess. Let the fate of the royal hunchback be a lesson, then, for those who are inclined, by fraudulent means, to advance themselves at the expense of others.
A certain legate of his Holiness in Venice was in the habit of familiar intercourse with this windy patrician, for the very sufficient reason that he had, a long time ago, been enlisted in the service of his most reverend patrons at Rome. Now, in illo tempore, about the same time, I say, came his very Holiness himself to hold a papal interview with the Duke of Ferrara in the noble state of Lombardy. His residence was engaged for him, the houses were marked with chalk, and all the monasteries of the city were almost bursting with pious people, who, longing to have a sight of the Pope, like good children, put everything in order at a few days’ warning, to receive their holy father. The good legate had not intended to be present at this solemn proceeding, but somehow a whim took him, when he heard of the Duke’s grand preparations to receive his master, to have a servant’s share in them. Besides, he was always on the look out for occasions in which to do honour to the Holy See and to his friends and patrons, for his faith in whom “he was always ready to give a reason.” In this humour, he observed to his friend Benetto, “Now, if I thought I could obtain any lodging in Ferrara, I would 388 instantly spur away, and arrive in time to make my solemn entry along with his Holiness.” “Would you so?” cried his vainglorious companion; “why did not you mention this before? for I do assure you, most reverend father in God, I have a palace there which is quite at your service.” “Indeed,” returned the legate; ‘I had no idea of that; but, such being the case, I shall consider myself extremely fortunate.” “Then I hope,” said this prince of liars, “that your Excellency will not scruple to honour my palace with your presence, for there is only one gentleman who has now apartments in it; but I have expressly reserved for my own use the rooms on the ground floor. You will also find, I trust, a good sample of wine, which I beg you will not spare.” “But perhaps,” said the legate, “your lodger may be some distinguished prelate — some friend of yours, who may be occupying the whole suite of rooms.” Our magnificent boaster, with an air of well-affected surprise, answered, “He dare as soon eat his fingers off as occupy a square foot of deal board without my permission; for I assure you were he to come into my rooms below, I should very quickly eject him out of those above stairs, and he knows that well.”
Now who would have believed that a Pope’s legate could be so far deceived by his supreme effrontery of face as to give credit to this boasting beast of an impostor? Yet such was the fact; for he made preparations to set out, packing up his pious paraphernalia, hiring his gondolas for his domestics, and then setting off post at great expense and inconvenience to Francolino, and thence proceeding by forced stages, they shortly arrived at Ferrara. During the way the legate’s false friend had kept up a continued volley of flattery and folly, declaring that it appeared to him a thousand years until he had the pleasure of beholding a Pope’s nuncio in his palace and of honouring him to the utmost stretch of his great authority in Ferrara. In return the legate thanked him, promising to find an occasion to show his gratitude. So far, however, from possessing a palace, this vile Benedetto Franchini was not even worth a common stall in Ferrara, commanding just as much property and influence there as I do myself. He had, however, contrived to worm himself into the favour of a gentleman, whose son, a young man of about thirty, having acquired great influence over him, had the full command of his father’s house in town, the identical palace fixed upon by our hero. On this occasion the young gentleman had been at the trouble of furnishing it in the best style for the reception of some Venetian ladies and their friends, whose arrival he was expecting with the utmost joy and ardour. Four of his servants were in waiting on the lower floor, prepared to receive his visitors, while he himself went to take a ride in the city. The domestics were accordingly on the watch, as good servants ought to be, on the tiptoe of expectation. When, hark the sound of wheels! a grand equipage stopped at the door, and out stepped our two gentlemen, assisted by their retinue, from their carriage; but, to the surprise and disappointment of our lacqueys, always a gallant race of men, they were accompanied by no ladies. What could be the meaning of this? Fortune, however, too soon unravelled the mystery, to the confusion of our unlucky and vainglorious hero. She availed herself of this occasion 388 to proclaim him the king of fools, as far as his name and exploits extended. But, in the meantime, he advanced to welcome his reverend friend on arriving at his palace, inquiring what he thought of it, whether the rooms were such as he liked, and suited to his convenience? “Truly it is a noble palace!” exclaimed the legate, as he paced the magnificent suite of rooms, “and I thank you.” “Such as it is,” returned his false host, “it is quite at your Excellency’s service; only take the trouble of ordering everything just as if you were in your own house.” Then proceeding towards the door to watch the arrival of the real master, he said within himself, “Now, what shall I say when this troublesome fellow comes? I will tell him it is by the Duke’s express orders that we have taken possession here, and that he must seek other lodgings as long as the festival lasts. Yes, I think that will do!” Just as he had resolved upon this modest proposal, about the hour of supper, there came riding up the young lord of the mansion, who, the moment he saw the equipages at the door, with a lover’s eagerness gave spurs to his horse, wondering how the ladies could have escaped him, and thinking every moment an age until he had saluted his love. He threw himself from his horse, and bounded at a single step into the house, when, instead of the fair girl, he encountered our hero on the threshold, who with the utmost effrontery offered him his hand, saying, “How rejoiced I am to see you here! I am a particular friend of your father’s, who is under some obligation to me. I have, therefore, made free to bring hither the Pope’s ambassador at Venice, a very distinguished prelate, whose patronage you may thus enjoy. I have only, however, put him into possession of these four apartments on the lower floor for a few days; and if you please I will assist you in finding another abode, while we inform your intended guests that we act by the Duke’s orders, and whatever are his Excellency’s commands we must take them patiently.”
On hearing this presumptuous blockhead’s demands, the young lover, greatly shocked at his disappointment, had yet sufficient sense to see through the trick, and resolved rather to perish than to break his engagement to the friends of his beloved. Had it even been the Pope or the Emperor, he could not have controlled his passion, as he exclaimed, “Away, thou villain, rogue, impostor, beast as thou art! Tell me not of the Pope or the Pope’s ambassador; the house is mine, sir; these apartments are intended for two young ladies and other noble Venetians, and for no one else; so quick, begone, you wretch! Go, or be kicked out, whichever you like best.” Hearing high words, the legate made his appearance, dreading lest anything might happen to his honourable friend and worthy host, Franchino, and he was followed by all the domestics. As soon as our young lover set his eyes upon the good bishop in his canonicals, he addressed him as follows: “I am concerned that your lordship should have been made the dupe of this worthless fellow’s base and cowardly imposture, in thus bringing you to a stranger’s residence. But this mansion is my father’s, and has already been offered to a number of Venetian ladies and gentlemen, whom I am every moment expecting to see. Had I been aware, however, of the honour intended me, there is no one I should 389 have been more proud to accommodate than yourself, and I trust you will consent to remain here for the evening. But not so this prince of imposters, for he must decamp; and I will take upon me to provide your Excellency with a suitable residence to-morrow.”
The illustrious prelate endeavoured to express how greatly he was shocked at what had occurred, but was hardly able to open his mouth, so much had he been taken by surprise. “Pardon me, my dear young signor; upon my word, it is the most unlucky, the strangest thing I ever knew; and I do assure you, young man, as I value his Holiness’s blessing, that I should not have stirred out of Venice, much less have got into such a dreadful bustle as there is in Ferrara, had not this child of Satan assured me before he set out that the palace was his own, and that everything was at my disposal. But truly I will find my way back again to-night, before you shall have the least trouble on my account;” and saying this, he turned round very fiercely upon his deceitful friend, who, in dread of receiving his immediate malediction, took to his heels and disappeared.
The young lover being as good as his word, and wishing to get his Holiness’s nuncio quietly out of the way, went and took some rooms for him in a neighbouring convent, where he was duly received and honoured by the whole fraternity. From this incident the good bishop and the young lover were led into a very agreeable acquaintance, which they owed entirely to the absurd impertinence of the eminent ass who had brought them together, and whom they resolved to seize an occasion of requiting, in such a way as to give him no inclination to repeat similar experiments. It is pleasant to see a conceited blockhead thus taken in his own snares, and I have always a singular satisfaction in putting him upon record, by way of amusement, as well as example.
But the consequences to himself were infinitely more fatal than he could have apprehended; for his unworthy opponent, learning that he was about to take a journey from Rome to Naples, had the baseness, impelled by jealousy and revenge, to lie In wait for him, accompanied by forty or fifty ruffians, in a solitary part of the road. There, when the brave cavalier made his appearance, accompanied only by a few friends and attendants, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a band of armed banditti, led by his enemy, to whom he immediately addressed himself with the confidence of one who was incapable of suspecting the meditated treachery, while his followers, alarmed at the disproportionate numbers, drew in their horses’ heads, awaiting with anxiety the result. The false traitor riding up to his brave enemy, called upon him to yield or that he was a dead man; to which he replied by clapping his hand upon his sword, but he was soon overpowered by numbers and disarmed. “You are now in my power,” exclaimed his exulting and cowardly foe, “and if you do not here consent to what I shall propose, I will despatch you upon the spot along with all your friends. But if you accede to my proposal, you shall all go free.” “Let me hear what it is you require,” said the other. “It is this: that you subscribed this paper with your own hand; nothing more,” said the villain, “I assure you.” Now the writing was to the following tenor: “I do hereby certify and make known, of my own free and uninfluenced will, that all the feats of arms which I have hitherto achieved, whether in jousts and tournaments, single battle, or in the field, were performed by aid of diabolical arts and enchantments, and in no way by my own valour. No one need be surprised at this who reflects upon the thousand infernal acts daily brought about at the instigation of the devil. I do, moreover, here make confession that I am a most disloyal traitor, a heretic, and an atheist; in proof whereof I do under my own hand, and in the presence of the following witnesses, subscribe my name to the above true and faithful declaration.”
To this vile forgery the unhappy cavalier, as well to save the lives of his friends as his own, was induced in a fatal moment to subscribe his name, in the belief that the vengeance of his implacable foe would thus be satisfied. For could he have believed it possible that further treachery was intended against him, he would have died, along with his friends, a thousand deaths, sooner than have consented to such an act of dishonour, without the hope of ever clearing his fame. But the moment this unmanly villain had obtained the signature of his name, turning towards the unfortunate gentleman, he said: “It would not have half satiated my vengeance to have deprived you of your life, for I have long hated you, and I have now succeeded in robbing you of your life, your honour, and your soul itself.” Them, while offering up the most piteous prayers for mercy, he basely assassinated the 391 wretched cavalier upon the spot; and, glutted with vengeance and blood, afterwards permitted the rest of the party to retire uninjured, who were the means of handing down his infamy to the execrations of the world.
This new invention he supported by a thousand other spiritual fabrications of the same kind, studying the most successful impostures of his predecessors, and persuading the good people, like a rogue as he was, to erect him a convent for his new disorder of monks, quite worthy of their great superior, whose creed was principally to lighten the pockets of their congregation and of simple wayfaring travellers, by virtue of the miracles and relics which they exhibited to view.
Thus, in a short time, from a death-dealing doctor he became a little spiritual despot, reconciling it better to his conscience to tyrannise over the minds than to torture the bodies of his patients; until Fortune, who can ill support the sight even of a good man in prosperity, lent him a few such smart kicks in the exercise of his new functions from one who had detected his imposture, as to lead him to conclude he had gone somewhat too far, though he found it too late to retrace his steps. In short, after having shorn his flock as close as any shepherd well could, he was himself overreached, exposed, and compelled to take to flight, by some superior master in the same art, whose subtlety exceeded even his own. For though he fought hard to maintain his spiritual government and again to recover his lost ground, it was all in vain; no new relics, no fresh miracles could avail him; the charm of his reputation was flown, and a still more successful candidate was now elected to the throne.
Under these circumstances he took to an ambulatory mode of warfare, proceeding from monastery to monastery, husbanding his relics and miracles in a most surprising manner, and exhibiting them only as necessity seemed to require. In the course of these his travels, the last and greatest of his impostures is well deserving of record, even among those preserved in the catalogue of San Ciappelletto. It happened that in journeying one day towards Nizza, he was taken seriously unwell; so much so as to be obliged to seek refuge in a neighbouring convent, belonging to the friars of I know not what disorder, 392 where he was glad to be able to repose. Here, as long as he had money enough to make himself comfortable, his residence was highly agreeable to the holy fathers, although the fame of his wicked impostures had reached the place before him; but the moment his resources began to fail, there was a marked change for the worse in their conduct towards our San Giovanni. Their whispers became louder, they began to consult the reputation of their monastery, and the patient could scarcely rest in his bed for their importunities to get rid of him and to send him to the hospital; for as to themselves, they declared that they were heartily tired of him. In this way they went on day after day, worse and worse, as well as the patient, who by his condition seemed resolved to have the benefit of dying in their hands. There was, indeed, only about another hour’s life in him, when they came to the resolution of removing him; upon which, in order better to defeat their plan, he died in half an hour, congratulating himself that he had thus succeeded in laying his bones with them, like a pious monk, even against their will. The whole fraternity, not a little perplexed how to act, and desirous of obviating the scandal which might attach to them of having received so notorious a delinquent under their protection, resolved to put the best face they could upon the matter, to give him all due funereal honours in a public and pompous display, to pronounce an oration, and clear his memory from the vile imputations cast upon it; and if all this proved not enough to absolved them in the eyes of the people, to canonise him by the name of “San Giovanni the younger” without delay. For this purpose, the most specious and oratorical monk of the brotherhood was fixed upon to deliver the oration, who went through the whole service with so much credit both to himself and to the deceased saint, that the people, not satisfied with giving mere empty applauses, immediately began a collection beyond expectation of the most sanguine of the order. Our hero, then, was unanimously made a saint n a style that would have excited the envy of his predecessor, San Ciappelletto, and proceeded to work various miracles accordingly. But for my own part, I do not give the least faith to these saints who excite the wonder and applause of the vulgar, confining it only to such as are duly approved and beatified by the Holy Church of the faithful at Rome.
After perpetrating the deed, the assassin hearing the proclamation everywhere bruited in his ears, and believing it impossible long to elude the vigilance of his pursuers, torn at the same time by the agonies of remorse and guilt, came to a resolution rather of dying by the hand of him whom he had so deeply injured than awaiting the more tardy and ignominious course of justice. For, having satiated his revenge, the idea of what he had once been and of his lost fame and honour, rushed with an overwhelming sense of despair across his mind, and he felt a dark and fearful satisfaction in yielding himself up to the sword of his deeply injured adversary. With this view he secretly issued from his retreat under cover of the night, and having before daybreak reached the residence of him whom he deemed his executioner, he presented himself in his astonished presence with the fatal poniard in his hand, kneeling and baring his bosom as he offered it to the grasp of his foe.
Impelled by a sudden feeling of revenge, and viewing the assassin in his power, the cavalier was in the act of plunging the steel into his breast, but restraining his passion, and conceiving it dishonourable to take so inglorious an advantage, he flung it from him and turned his face away. At length commanding his emotion, he declared that he would never stain his hands with the blood of a defenceless man, much less of an unarmed knight, be his offences what they would; and with singular greatness and generosity of soul proceeded to assure the assassin of his safety as long as he remained with him. Witnessing the terrors of remorse and guilt which seemed to sting him to the quick, and leaving his further punishment to Heaven, his generous foe attended him the ensuing night on horseback beyond the confines of the kingdom. Yet, on his return, unable to forget the sad source of his resentment, he hastened to the court of Portugal, and on obtaining an audience of his majesty, said that he had heard of his enemy’s escape from the country, and that he was now probably beyond the reach of justice, glorying in his iniquity. It was therefore incumbent upon him to adopt some other means of redressing the wrongs he had suffered, and his majesty would oblige him by granting a safe-conduct to his foe to re-enter the kingdom, so that he might meet him in single battle. “There is only one condition,” continued the knight, “I would beseech your majesty to grant; that if I should be so unfortunate as to fall beneath his arm, your majesty will please to absolve him from all his offences, and permit him to go free; and if, as I firmly trust, I should come off victorious, that his fate shall rest in my hands.” The king with some difficulty being prevailed upon to grant these terms, the noble cavalier immediately dispatched messengers bearing at once 394 a safe-conduct and a public defiance to his enemy to meet him in the field and yield him satisfaction in single combat, according to the laws of honour, before the king and court. Willing to afford his enemy the revenge he sought, the assassin, to the astonishment of the people, made his appearance on the appointed day in the lists, clothed in complete armour, and accepted the challenge proposed. On the heralds sounding a charge, they both engaged with apparently equal fury, but the injured knight shortly wounded his antagonist several in several places, and stretched him on the field weltering in his blood. Instead, however, of despatching him, as every one expected, on the spot, he raised him up, and calling for surgical assistance, had him conveyed to a place of safety. His wounds proving not to be mortal, the noble cavalier on his recovery accompanied him into the presence of the king, and declared publicly before the whole court that he granted him his liberty and his life, entreating at the same time the royal pardon for him, and permission to reside in any part of his majesty’s dominions.
In admiration of his unequalled magnanimity, the king readily conceded what he wished; while the unhappy object of their favour, overwhelmed with feelings of remorse and shame, humbled himself before his generous conqueror, and ever afterwards evinced sentiments of the utmost gratitude and respect to the noble cavalier, being at once the most faithful friend and follower he ever had.
Here her unhappy situation could not long be concealed from her mother, whose mingled grief and passion on learning the fatal truth were such as only a mother can fully appreciate, but which it is impossible to convey in words. Drowned in tears of anguish, her daughter in vain attempted to inspire her with the hopes she herself felt to excuse the conduct and assert the honourable intentions of her lover. The mother soon saw the full extent of her poor girl’s misfortune, the long tissue of premeditated cruelty and deceit to which she had fallen a prey; and the hand which had been suddenly raised as if to strike her to the earth only clasped her neck in the fulness of maternal sorrow and affection. But their unhappiness did not rest here; the tongue of scandal soon became busy with their good name, the which had lately ranked among the best and purest, and the mother, goaded with redoubled anguish, now insisted upon their appealing to the Duke Alexander for redress, not the least distinguished among the Medici for his love of justice throughout Florence. With patient attention the Duke listened to her unhappy story, and told her to wipe away her tears, for that, as far as depended upon him, she should no longer have occasion to weep. Then taking her mother aside, he said, “I wish you to be civil to these gentlemen: invite them to your house; let your daughter entertain them like other company, and contrive that they shall sup together. Moreover, observe my commands in everything I shall direct, and despair not, for we will secure the future happiness of your daughter. But breathe not a word of what I say to you; if you have the weakness, like most women, to talk of your own affairs, and let my name appear in this, ill betide the fortunes of your family, for you will forfeit my favour and the dowry which it is my intention to bestow upon your daughter, and remain in greater disgrace than before! Be secret, therefore, and let me hear from you on the occasion I have mentioned.”
In obedience to the Duke’s wishes, the lady put the whole affair into train; and one day as the fair girl sat binding her hair upon the sunny side of a gentle hill, lying beyond her flower-garden, she perceived the two cavaliers approaching her. They saw and accosted her, while her mother received them with cheerful looks at the door, and inviting them in, proceeded to regale them in the best style she could. In the meantime she informed the Duke of their arrival, who, accompanied by a few select officers, directly set off, and joined the lady at her house. Soon after alighting, he took occasion to entreat the lady to show him through her mansion. This she was apparently compelled to do; and when they approached the apartment where the party were supping together, she affected to turn his Excellency aside, observing aloud, “There is nothing further worthy of your Excellency’s 397 notice; a mere lumber-room.” “But I will see it, nevertheless,” interrupted his grace, “I will see it;” and suddenly opening the door, he beheld his two courtiers, with the lovely girl seated between them, enjoying themselves in the best style, and imagining in their conceit that they were now equally acceptable to both the ladies of the house. “Good night, my lords,” cried the Duke; “I wish you joy! you seem extremely comfortable here.” They both directly rose in the utmost confusion at the sight of the Duke, while the timid girl, unable to contend with her feelings, burst into a flood of tears. “Weep not,” said the Duke to her in a gentle tone; “good girls are always to be found at home; they do not run after courtiers to other people’s houses; you confer honour upon your household by staying where you are.” Though there was a tone of irony in this, followed by some severe yet well-meant reflections and advice, he mingled with them so much gentleness and pity that she thanked him even in her tears. He then declared that he had come for the sole purpose of bestowing her hand in marriage, and of conferring on her a dowry of five hundred crowns. Turning next towards one of his first officers, he continued, “Would you deign to accept this gentleman as your husband? Does he please you?” Drooping her fair head, unable for some minutes to reply, she could only at length sob out, “No, no husband but he who promised to take me as his wedded wife.” “What!” said the Duke, “are you then already married?” “This, my lord, is the gentleman who gave me his vows and swore to make me his wife.” The Duke then turning round upon the courtier, with a noble and determined air, “If this be the truth,” he continued, “How happens it that I find the lady in this house, and in company with this other gentleman at table? Wherefore does she not sit at your table? What am I to think of this?” “He is my friend,” said the guilty courtier; “he will witness for me” —— but he stammered out only some unmeaning words, and stood covered with confusion as the Duke proceeded: “And had you both forgotten that there was yet such a governor as Alexander de’ Medici alive? that there was yet justice in the land? Speak, fair lady; which of these gentlemen do you fix upon as your lawful husband?” “No other, so please your Excellency,” she replied, “but he who has often promised to make me his.” “It is enough,” continued the Duke; “what you ask is only just; and to show you that justice is one of the virtues that I love, receive this ring, signor, and espouse the young woman before my eyes. And you,” he observed, addressing the courtier’s companion, “will be kind enough to add to the lady’s dowry the sum of five hundred crowns, the same amount that I have myself given her.” Then, having been witness to the marriage, he departed with the whole of his train, including the bridegroom’s false friend, leaving the happy young bride and her husband in their mother’s house.