From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c.1900; first published, c. 1824]; pp. 158-168.
Novels of Sabadino degli Arienti.
There is no mention in contemporary writers of any particulars relating to the life and character of this novelist, but from some of his own productions alluded to by Ghirardacci and by Orlandi, it would appear that, far from having been of obscure descent, he lived on intimate terms with the family of the Bentivoglio, one of the first in the country, to a member of which, Annibale Bentivoglio, he dedicated one of his publications, with expressions of familiar friendship. And if we may judge from some account contained in the twenty-seventh of his novels, some branches of his family ranked among the first merchants of Ferrara, whose liberality, integrity, and loyalty, rendered them an ornament to the city. He was well versed in the antiquities of his native place, and intimate with a gentleman of Verona, called Feliciano, attached to the same pursuits; of whom, on the authority of our novelist, there is a particular account in the Marchese Maffei’s history of that place. He enjoyed, too, the society and correspondence of the celebrated Guarino of Carbone, and of Cornazzano and other illustrious poets and orators of the age.
Besides his novels, Arienti wrote an account of “Illustrious Ladies,” “Delle Donne Clare,” dedicated to Guinipera Sforza Bentivoglio, still 160 preserved in the public archives of Bologna. From the date of its composition in 1484, the period in which this novelist flourished very clearly appears. The exact time, likewise, in which he composed his “Porretane,” is evident from his expressions in what he terms the Licenza of his work, where he says, that having sought refuge in Camurata from the pestilence which occurred in 1478,† and desolated his own district, he devoted himself with infinite pleasure to the invention of these tales. Many of Sabadino’s stories are by no means destitute of intrinsic merit, but they cannot boast of the ornament of a pure and graceful style. His composition, too, much resembles, in its loose and inverted construction, that of Massuccio; the sole distinction being that the peculiarities and even barbarisms of his language are of Bolognese instead of Neapolitan extraction. Independent of this, the chief portion of those stories which are founded upon the historical events of his own times is of very inferior merit, with no sort of interest attaching to their details. The earliest edition of the “Porretane,” in folio, 1483, has been since followed by four or five others, nearly at the same period of time, though at different places, and none later than the middle of the sixteenth century.
A few of the “Porretane” may be considered as possessed of no common degree of dramatic interest, although their general character is of a light and agreeable cast, several of these displaying the common failing of the earlier Italian novelists, derived from ages still more rude and remote, in attempts at jests and witticisms which have little or nothing to recommend them.
* Le Porretane, dove si tratta di settantuna novelle, con moralissimi documenti e dichiarazioni dell’ anima, &c. Bologna, 1483, folio.
† It also raged in Rome, Mantua, and Venice, in the same year.
“Know, then, that in our city, altogether under the authority of the Church, there flourished a certain learned advocate, a member of the great Castello family, Messer Dionisio by name. He was a man of strong sense and great acquirements, and not unfrequently employed in high offices as the first citizen of our republic, whose true freedom and interests he so much promoted. Having occasion to enter into the legal arena with another advocate, whose name I cannot just now recollect, in a cause connected with the noble memory of Madonna Margarita, consort to Messer Pietro de’ Guidori, whose property had been disputed, our friend Messer Dionisio was retained as counsel to Signor Gioanni de’ Bentivoglio. It was tried before our worthy magistrate, Messer Niccoluzzo de’ Piccoluomini of Sienna; and, as it often happens to these gentlemen of the robe when deeply engaged in the interests of their clients, they became so very personal in the cause 161 of their principals, that at length the adversary of our worthy friend, unable to bear his bitter taunts, fairly challenged his honour and veracity, which so incensed our good citizen, Messer Dionisio, that, in a fit of sudden passion, he clenched his fist and smote his learned antagonist very severely on the mouth. The presiding magistrate, greatly scandalised at our friend’s new method of enforcing his arguments, vigorously remonstrated with him, and threatened to enforce the full penalty of the law, assuring him that he dealt too mildly in not committing him on the spot; and he would have executed his menace, had not the high qualities and connections of Messer Dionisio restrained him. He replied to the threats made use of by the judge with the most perfect composure: ‘Most noble prætor, according to the tenor of our civil law, I believe you will only be able to demand about ten pieces from me;’ and, putting his hand into his pocket, he drew forth ten broad gold ducats, saying, ‘Take only what the law allows you, and hand me the remainder back.’ But the judge, seizing in a rage upon the whole, cried, ‘You must apply elsewhere for the remainder!’ which again brought the angry counsellor upon his legs. Turning quickly round upon his adversary, now busily employed in repairing the ruins of his jaws and uttering fierce exclamations for justice, our friend again addressed him: ‘If this be the case, I must have what I have paid for over and above;’ and he struck him a more violent blow than before upon his left cheek. He then addressed the judge: ‘My lord, you have made me pay for more than the amount of both the arguments I have applied in the very face of my learned brother; but keep the money; he is a pitiful advocate, indeed, who would scruple to take advantage of his opponent for the sake of ten ducats. I have had my revenge.’ And turning his back upon the court, he left his brother advocate quite unable to make any reply, and grievously lamenting and appealing to the magistrate for justice. He was at last obliged to be patient, for though somewhat incensed, neither the magistrate nor the audience could refrain from indulging a degree of mirth at the singular arguments of our friend Dionisio. The only sentence obtained that day in court was, ‘Chi ricevette il male se n’ebbe il danno.’ He who received the injury sustained all the loss.”
“From his infant years, the young Malatesta had attached himself to the society of a sweet young girl, daughter of Messer Paolo Galuzzi, a noble cavalier, named Lelia. Their youthful companionship at length ripened into warmer feelings, and her lover soon became an object of idolatry in the eyes of the fair maiden, who, from his fascinating manners and accomplishments, had been already prevailed upon to pledge her troth, on condition of obtaining her parents’ consent, to yield him her willing hand. Enraptured with his success, the glowing youth imagined that every other difficulty must soon give way, and that he might hope soon to enjoy the supreme happiness of possessing the charming and long-loved Lelia for his wife. But his anguish and disappointment were extreme when he found her father persisted in the refusal of his hand and of his visits. Although this was a severe blow, he resolved to die rather than to relinquish the object he had in view. To further his purpose, he had instant recourse to the favourite maid of the beloved girl, vowing to make the prize his own before the father had time to bestow her beauties upon another. Having obtained the confidence of her maid, Lisetta, he scaled the gardens, and approaching the chamber of the lady at the dead of night, with the girl’s assistance he awoke her, and had the delight of beholding at the balcony that form which from a very boy he had always loved. He gazed upon her, while rapture for a moment impeded his utterance; but the next he seized her white hands in his and was at her side. ‘Forgive me, but I come to put an end, my own Lelia, to our long unpitied anguish and deep sufferings. Let our present joy and happiness obliterate them for ever! Only consent to be mine! A priest is ready to bind our hands.’ Mingled emotions of joy and shame shook the bosom of the gentle girl as he spoke, and her tears fell upon his hands as she answered him with a faltering voice, ‘Alas! alas! what can I do? My father! my poor father! Yet he would give me to another.’ Malatesta, whose eyes had been long riveted in silence upon the surpassing grace and loveliness of her charms, thus expressed the emotions of his heart: ‘You are all, my beautiful Lelia, that my fondest hopes and wishes would have you to be; and you know that from the earliest time I can recollect, your goodness, your exceeding beauty, and the sweetness of your voice and language, have made me, far beyond your noble birth, ever desirous of serving and obliging you. Indeed, I am incessantly studying to that end, and though your father thinks me too bold and aspiring, as truly I fear I am, and all unworthy to possess so much excellence, it is still unjust and unwise in him to slight your wishes, and to forbid you to become my own sweet wife. Nor in so acting does he fairly appreciate the value of my ancient name and my possessions, much less the inexpressible love I bear you. You are aware what innumerable suitors have aspired to the bliss of calling you theirs, and yet not one has had the fortune to succeed, as if your father’s displeasure were to become the cause of your unhappiness, consuming the morning of your beauty in solitude, while it had been far more wise and honourable to bestow you in the 163 bloom of your young affections upon him who deserves you best. It is this which has now brought me to your feet, to combat such opinions, in every way so unworthy of your father, who, not satisfied with debarring you from the indulgence of your affections for the object of your regard, would exclude and destroy them altogether. Against all reason, love, and the laws of society, he in fact tells you that you shall not wed. Most meekly, with a full heart, I conjure you not to confirm such ungenerous views: but come with me, my own love, and be the most cherished and honoured creature that ever blessed a husband’s choice. Look up, then, my Lelia; tell me you will be mine, and, believe me, your friends will not only soon be reconciled, but rejoice to hear of the event.’ Deep-drawn sighs, half love, half grief, were for a long time the only answer she could give, till at length a burst of tenderness and sorrow was audible. ‘You have been to me,’ she said, ‘always a companion and friend, whom I loved beyond everything else in the world, and I know the words you speak are as sweet as they ever were, and as true. Take me, then, my lord and husband, for your worth, your virtues, and kind manners have made me, alas! too indifferent to everything else in the world. And now by happy, and doubt no more, dear Malatesta; I will follow you, though death should be my portion, wherever you please, rejoicing in my sufferings, as long as we preserve unshaken our tried and faithful love.’ On these words he instantly led her away, and placing a rich diamond upon her finger, he espoused her before the holy man who had been in readiness to receive them.
“When he had borne her, with the utmost difficulty, from the paternal mansion, and was preparing to enter his own, his fair bride, turning towards the servant who had accompanied them, said, ‘Tell my parents that I am now the wife of the noblest youth our city can boast, Malatesta Carbonese, who ever honoured and loved me.’ Her maid, Lisetta, not without shedding tears at parting, thus replied: ‘Ah! my dear young mistress, beware how you do or say anything that may wound the pride of your family, for I fear, I sadly fear’ —— ‘Fear nothing, but return, and answer only to such questions as may be required of you, if you are fearful of your own safety; nay, do not weep for me, Lisetta, and farewell!’ The grateful and happy lover then conducted his fair bride into her new dwelling, intending on the following day to employ the interest of all his friends to obtain a speedy reconciliation with her family. Early on the following day, Donna Erminia, the young lady’s mother, inquiring for her daughter, was informed by her maid, Lisetta, as she had been directed, that she had become the wedded wife of Malatesta Carbonese on the previous evening. In the utmost anger and alarm the lady immediately ran into her husband’s chamber, crying, ‘O Messer Paolo! we are lost, we are dishonoured! Lelia has eloped this very night with Malatesta Carbonese, into whose house she has been carried.’ In an impulse of rage and grief far exceeding that of his wife, Messer Paolo instantly rose and armed himself, crying in a loud voice for his servants and his sons. Accompanied by these, he hastened to the house of Alberto Carbonese, at a short distance from his own, with purposes of the 164 most deadly revenge. On breaking into the place, the first object they met was a female servant, whom they instantly sacrificed to their fury. But fortunately for Alberto and two of his sons, they had set out two days before for a country-seat at Ronzano, where the estates of the family lay. Finding none of the inmates in the lower rooms, the enraged brothers immediately proceeded to search the chambers, and soon arriving at one which seemed to resist their efforts, they furiously burst it open, and rushed upon the defenceless lovers, who vainly sought to shelter each other from their impending fate. Awed by their sister’s piercing cries, they stood a moment, nor ventured to stab him in her arms. But, binding his throat and face with their fierce hands, they smothered him as he lay on the bridal couch; their equally savage father having dragged the poor girl out of the chamber when the deed was done. He then drew her back by her fair hair into the fatal room, exclaiming: ‘There! go take thy pleasure now, infamous wretch as thou art! thou hast given me a revenge in which I shall always exult.’ They then closed the door and hastened from the house. The weeping Lelia having raised herself with difficulty, in the agony of her despair cast her eyes upon the couch, and beheld the discoloured and deathlike features of her beloved. She threw herself upon the body, unconscious for a long time of her existence, but when she recovered from her swoon, as from a deep slumber in which she had forgotten what had passed, surprise and terror overwhelmed her with redoubled force, and she felt how much easier it would be to die than to recover from another such attack, into which she was very nearly relapsing. Unable longer to contend with her emotions, she again threw her arms around her husband’s neck, and kissing him tenderly, exclaimed, ‘Alas! alas! and hast thou so soon left me? Whither is thy sweet spirit fled? May Heaven’s pity be denied to those who have so basely robbed me of the dear companion of my days! And art thou gone without thy Lelia? O treacherous friends! no longer friends or relations of mine! Speak, speak to me, my love; breathe again the soft words you lately breathed into mine ear, promising me never, never more to part. Oh, dear, unhappy scene of all our bliss and woe! How soon has our supreme delight turned into bitter tears and pain, ourselves preparing the means for our cruel enemies to wreak their sad revenge! Ah! that they had first sacrificed me to their fury, and saved me from what I now feel! Oh, savage father, and more savage brothers! you will live to regret your cruelty when you behold the Lelia once so dear to you stretched lifeless before your eyes. Would to heaven I had never consented, my love, to yield to thy honeyed words! Then I had still gazed on thee, still heard thy voice, nor been the wretch I now am. But why these vain tears and grief? It is very weak, and unworthy to indulge them, when I can follow thee, my husband, and free my burthened spirit from the load it bears. Shall I show myself unequal to the many bright examples of love, even unto death? No, I will die the death he died, cruel as it was. I promised to follow him to the last.’
“Saying these words, she provided herself with the very same means of destruction as had proved fatal to her unfortunate lover, 165 exclaiming, in the agony of her grief, ‘Cruel father, and still more savage brothers! may you live long and wretchedly after my death! May Heaven deal out to you only the pity you have shown!’ And then once more invoking the name of her beloved husband, she launched herself into eternity, and the fair form was soon all that remained of so much loveliness and truth.
“A crowd had gradually assembled round the mansion of Alberto after observing the furious departure of Messer Paolo and his people, and suspecting some fatal occurrence had taken place, no answer being returned to their repeated calls, several individuals made their way into the house. The first object they beheld was the murdered servant; but they were far more horror-struck, on advancing farther, to find the beautiful form of Lelia hanging lifeless on her bridal couch. Exclamations of grief and indignation burst from all around; nor was it long before the grievous tidings reached the ears of the father and friends of the unhappy youth. Hastening back with his other sons to Bologna, such was the impression produced by their representations and appearance, that the whole city rose, and the followers of both powerful families coming to action, Messer Paolo, the young bride’s father, was compelled to save himself, with his son Egano, by flight, while his other two were taken and executed according to the laws, a decree of exile being awarded against the rest of the family.
“The remains of the unhappy lovers, wedded thus in death, were then consigned to the earth, not without the lamentation of the people, in the Church of San Giacomo, where a noble monument was raised to their memory, bearing the following inscription: —
“Not very long ago there were four noble, though somewhat humorous students, residing at our University of Sienna, whose names were Messer Antonio da Clerico, a canonist; Messer Giovanni da Santo Geminiano, a young jurist; Maestro Antonio di Paulo di Val d’Arno d’Arezzo; and Maestro Michel di Cosimo Aretino delli Conti di Palazzolo, who, when young, was surnamed Bacica, now a distinguished civilian in the University of Bologna, full of years and virtue, beloved by the whole people for his kind and charitable actions. But, waiving these last considerations, I proceed to inform you that while remaining in the house of the Master of the Academy of Arts, the youthful pupils became acquainted with a certain disciple of Galen, 166 who, though a mere quack, imagined he was possessed of more learning than Avicenna himself. His name was Niccolo da Massa, to which had been added that of Portantino, from the peculiarity of his ambling gait; and as his residence lay opposite to that of the governor, his singularities attracted the particular attention of the pupils.
“Now it happened that in the month of February, during the salting season, the doctor had purchased a fine pig, which he subsequently had killed, and hung up, as is usual, previous to the operation of salting, for four or five days in his kitchen. The merry scholars, aware of this stage of the proceedings, set their heads to contrive how they might feast at the doctor’s charge. It so fell out that a fellow-student named Messer Pietro di Leri Martini, had lately left the academy, and afterwards died of a fever, and on this fact they resolved to ground the success of their exploit. Introducing themselves secretly into the doctor’s premises, and watching their opportunity, they laid hands upon the pork, a fact which struck the doctor with equal horror and surprise when he beheld his kitchen the next morning emptied of its treasure. After indulging in a variety of imprecations and suspicions, his doubts at last fell upon his young neighbours, the scholars, who had indeed already acquired some little reputation for similar exploits. Believing that he had now discovered the authors of the diabolical theft, he waited on Messer Amadio da Citta di Castello, the presiding magistrate in Sienna, who, having heard his evidence, despatched there several messengers commanding an immediate restoration of the pork to the right owner, unless the young gentlemen wished to be proceeded against criminally. The answer which the magistrate received was, that the scholars were greatly surprised at such a message, and were sorry that they had not so fine a pig in their possession, happening to know nothing about it. But being still persecuted with the complaints of the doctor, the magistrate resolved to investigate the affair thoroughly, sending a warrant to search the scholars’ chambers, and to bring them all before him should the pork be discovered in their possession. Expecting such a visit, the students were not a little puzzled how to proceed, when Messer Antonio da Clerico, who by his singular ingenuity and facetiousness had always shown himself equal to every emergency, encouraged the flagging spirits of his companions, saying: ‘Fear not, my brave boys; fear not the Podesta and his myrmidons: we will be a match for them yet. We will extract a little amusement out of them, too, if you mind what I say. Let us get up a sick couch in the chamber opposite the entrance hall, and fill it with all kinds of the most sickly preparations that can disgust the human nose. And when the officers come, you must all stand at the entrance, buried in profound grief; and when they ask you what is the matter, shake your heads and point to the inner chamber, saying, “Poor fellow! he is dying of the plague.” Now this sick gentleman shall be no other than the pig, and trust me, whoever ventures within sight of him shall wish himself away again as speedily as possible. For you know the whole city is disturbed about the death of our fellow-student, who died only the other day of the plague.’ His companions immediately set up a loud 167 laugh, in token of their approbation, crying, ‘Come, let us go to work, then; we cannot be hanged for it, after all.’ Then preparing a table spread with cushions, they laid the pig upon it at full length, with a nightcap over his head, and stuck out his fore feet with white sleeves, so as to resemble the arms of a human being; while his hind ones were decorated with a pair of slippers. Soon after completing their arrangements, appeared the officers of the police, who, on requiring entrance, were readily admitted by the scholars, some of whom, on advancing farther, they found overwhelmed with sorrow, wringing their hands, and crying out most piteously, ‘Oh, by dear, dear brother!’ at which the officers, apprehending some fatal accident, inquired into the cause of their complaint. The shrewd Maestro Michel on this stepped forward: ‘It is my brother, my poor brother, who is here dying, we are afraid.’ ‘Dying! what is the matter with him?’ ‘They say it is the plague; but I will never desert him!’ On this one of the officers opened the chamber door with some caution, and stumbling on the shocking object which presented itself, drew back in great alarm; for on the left hand was seen Messer Antonio as the priest, administering spiritual consolation with book and crucifix in hand, and wax-lights burning, to the poor scholar, falling apparently a victim to the plague. At this overpowering sight, without saying a word, he ran out of the house, followed by his companions. Returning to the magistrate, he with difficulty made himself understood; expressing the utmost horror of the business on which he had been sent. ‘How,’ cried the magistrate, ‘can it be true?’ ‘True!’ returned the officer; ‘I saw the poor wretch stretched out, dying of the plague, and his brother and all his companions buried in the deepest grief.’ ‘And did you go into the room? did you touch the body?’ inquired the magistrate.’ ‘To be sure I did.’ ‘Then why do you come here? Away with you, you wretches; we shall have the whole city infected;’ and the magistrate drove them away, forbidding them, as they valued their lives, again to enter into his presence.
“The wily Messer Antonio, called the priest, in the meanwhile, observing the rout of these myrmidons of the law, hastily dressed himself amidst the triumph and applauses of his companions, and set out for the house of the Podesta, in order to obviate any disagreeable consequences that might attend the tidings which had just gone forth. He arrived just in time to catch the magistrate as he was proceeding to the grand council to acquaint the members with the fact which had just transpired, and propose means for the safety of the city. To him, then, Messer Antonio related the whole of the affair on the part of the scholars, as it had occurred from the beginning. It was a great relief to the magistrate to hear that there was really no pestilential disorder abroad; and he laughed outright at the humorous way in which Messer Antonio related to him the incidents of the story. “Oh, you collegians!” he cried, “you are true children of perdition! There is nothing of which you are not capable; and woe to the unfortunate wretch that falls into your hands!” As they were now approaching the Palazzo delli Signori, the Podesta resolved, instead of alarming them with tidings of the plague, to amuse them with one 168 of the best stories which he had for some time heard. Such was the pleasure which it afforded, that they obliged its ingenious author to repeat the whole to them again, mingling their mirth with a little seasonable advice, and commanding him to make immediate restitution of the doctor’s pig. But to this, with one voice, the scholars all demurred, beseeching their lordships that they would not please to insist on such hard conditions, inasmuch as it would be throwing a sort of discredit on real learning were they to refuse to permit the scholars to punish so much absurd quackery and ignorance as were manifested by this disciple of Galen; and they trusted that their lordships would not interfere to interrupt the joke in the happiest stage, but would permit them to eat the pig since they had caught it. Grateful for the entertainment afforded them, the council could scarcely prevail upon themselves to treat the ingenious author of the plot with the rigour of the law, although they strongly advised restitution of the pig. But the humorous Antonio conducted his defense in so happy and eloquent a manner that the pork was allowed to remain in the hands of the scholars, and the court adjourned. They immediately proceeded to regale themselves with the spoils they had won. Frequently that night did they drink to the health of Dr. Portantino, who had presented them with a portion of the feast, nor were the wines less relished after they had partaken of roasted pig.