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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 102-109.
If Pope Leo X. had, whenas first Martin Luther began to spread abroad the pestilent venom of his heresies, lent a favorable ear to the Master of the Sacred Palace, it had been an easy matter to quench those nascent flames, which have since waxed to such a height that, except God put hand thereto, they are more like to increase than abate. And certes meknoweth not what spirit was this of Luther’s which so many admire, as if he were a profound dialectitian, an ingenious philosopher and a profound theologian, he having in all his various idle devisings adduced no single plausible argument of his own invention, but having only tricked out anew the false opinions condemned and reproved by so many Councils-general and ultimately by that of Constance. The following he hath cometh from no otherwhat than that he and his followers open the way to a licentious and wanton way of living. In truth, he is to be blamed and there should be no audience given to his fables, which are all void of true foundation. Algates, I cannot deny that the lewd life of many churchmen is a cause of scandal to unstable minds, but it behoveth us not therefor to fall away from the faith of our forefathers. Moreover, those indiscreet and ignorant friars (whom we wot of) should, when they are in the pulpit, take good heed lest they say ought to the people which may give rise to scandal and not (whereas they ought to incite their hearers to devoutness) provoke them to indecent laughter, 103 the which nowadays bringeth the things of the faith into little esteem. I am not presently concerned to speak of the follies which idiots oftentimes say in the pulpit, but will speak of those who follow indiscreetly after certain fables which bring preachments into derision, as it befel Fra Bernardino da Feltro in Pavia, according to that which I heard one day told of Fra Filipo da San Columbano, a minor Brother of the Franciscan Order, who, being in company of certain gentlemen at their place of the Garden in Milan, related the thing for their diversion, as it happened in the days when he was a student of the law at Pavia, and for that it is a thing to be noted, I have chosen to send and give it to you, so that, we being of one blood, you may eke be sharer in my novels. Fare you well.
You must know, sirs, that when I was a student and abode at Pavia to learn the civil law, Fra Bernardino da Feltro, a man of exceeding consideration in our order, preached a whole year long in the Cathedral Church of Pavia to as great a concourse as was ever seen in that city. He had preached the foregone year at Brescia, where he had let publicly burn in the market-place the false tresses which the women wore on their heads, to enhance their native beauty, and other like womanish vanities. Moreover, he let burn all such copies of Martial’s Epigrams as were in the city, and did many other things worthy of memory. Now, being in the pulpit at Pavia on the feast day of our Seraphic Father St. Francis, he entered, in the presence of a great concourse of people, upon discourse of the many virtues of that saint, and having descanted thereon at large and recounted store of miracles by him wroughten in his life and after his death, he bestowed on him all those praises, excellences and dignities which behoved unto the sanctity of so glorious a father, and having, by most effectual arguments, authorities and examples. proved that he was full of all the 104 Christian graces and was altogether serafic and afire with charity, he kindled into an exceeding fervor and said, “What seat now shall we assign thee in heaven, holiest father mine? Where shall we set thee, O vessel full of every grace? What place shall we find apt unto such sanctity? Then, beginning with the virgins, he ascended to the confessors, the martyrs, the apostles, to Saint John Baptist and other prophets and patriarchs, still avouching that St. Francis merited a more honored place than they; after which, raising his voice, he went on to say, “O saint most truly glorious, thou, whom thy most godly gifts and singular merit and the conformity of thy life unto Christ exalt and uplift over all the other saints, what place shall we find sorting with such excellence! Tell me, my brethren, where shall we set him? Tell me, you, gentlemen students, who are of exalted understanding, where shall we place this most holy saint?” Whereupon Messer Paolo Taegio, then a student of laws and nowadays a very famous doctor in Milan, who was seated on a stool over against the pulpit, being weary of the friar’s useless and indiscreet babble and belike misdoubting him he meant to put St. Francis above or at least on a level with the holy Trinity, rose to his feet and uplifting his settle with both hands, said so loudly that he was heard of all the people, “Father mine, for God’s sake, give yourself no more pains to seek a seat for St. Francis; here is my settle; put him thereon and so he may sit down, for I am off.” And so, departing he gave occasion unto all to arise also and depart the church; therefore it behoved the Feltrine come down from the pulpit, without finding a place for his saint, and return, all crestfallen, to San Giacomo. And indeed that which a man saith in the pulpit should be well considered, lest indiscreet preachments bring the word of God into derision.
Albeit we are here in Chierasco in daily expectation of the Emperor’s army, numerous in Italian, German and Spanish 105 footmen, who threaten to send us all underground, there is not withal the least sign of fear to be seen in these our soldiers; nay, meseemeth they await the siege with an inexpressible alegresse, as they were to have double or treble pay, over and above their due wage. I hear from every quarter that all are prepared to give the enemy such an account of their valour and to make such approof of themselves that I cannot believe but we shall abide with the honour of the emprise; more by token that my patron, Signor Cesare Fregoso, although previously sick of a violent fever, leaveth nothing undone that may be to our profit and the enemy’s hurt. Moreover, your coming voluntarily to shut yourself up here, on your way to the court of the Most Christian King, giveth me good augury and maketh me hope from good to better, and so our Lord God grant that it ensue! Now, betaking myself, three days agone, to the bastion over against the San Francisco gate, I found there many good fellows in discourse of the various usances of men of various nations concerning drinking, and among them were many different opinions; but, it having been debated amain of the matter, Ludovico da Sanseverino, who was in command of the bastion, a discreet youth and doughty of his person, recounted a pleasant anecdote to the purpose; which pleasing me, I wrote it down and sent and give it unto you, seeing how much appreciation you still show of my compositions.
Fare you well.
We do but cudgel our brains in vain, comrades mine, an we think to say determinately that such a nation drinketh more than such another, for that of every nation I have seen very great drinkers and have found many Germans and Frenchmen who love water more than wine. True, it seemeth there are some nations who love wine more than others; but in effect all are mighty fain to drink. I warrant me, indeed, I have known Italians so greedy and such 106 drinkers that they would not yield to whatsoever famous winebibber amongst the Albanians or the Germans. And what would you say if I should name to you a Lombard, whom I have seen toast it with Germans at a German Cardinal’s table and overcome them all, and eke carry off the Bacchic palm amongst the Albanians? The French drink often and will have good and costly wines, but water them well and drink little at a time. The Albanians and Germans will have the beaker full, and would fain be winebibbing from morning to night. Nay, the Spaniard, who at home drinketh water, an he drink at another’s expense, will hold the basin to any one’s bard. However, in general, methinketh the Germans of every sort and condition, whether nobles or commons, gentle or simple, love better than any other nation to play at drinking and publicly befuddle themselves at noblemen’s tables, so that needs must one after another be carried home drunken and senseless; nor is this accounted a shame among them. And to this purpose, remembering me of a goodly saying of a German, I will tell you a pleasant anecdote.
After Francesco Sforza, first of that name, Duke of Milan, to maintain peace in Italy, made the famous league and union of all the Italian powers, in the time of Pope Pius the Second, he married Ippolita his daughter to Alfonso of Arragon, firstborn son of King Ferdinand the Old of Naples, where the nuptials were solemnized with all pomp and splendor, as behoved unto two such princes. All the princes of Italy sent ambassadors to honor the nuptials, and Duke Francesco appointed the bride an escort of the most worshipful feudatories and gentlemen of Lombardy. Now, among many other festivities, carousels and sports which were holden, there was ordained a solemn and most magnificent tournament which befell one day of exceeding great heat, for it was then in June. The jousters appeared all arrayed in the richest of accoutrements, with quaint and well-ordered devices, according to each one’s humor, and mounted on fiery and spirited horses. All ran and many lances were broken, to the honor of the jousters and the no small pleasure 107 of the spectators. The jousts ended, there was naught heard but praises of these and those and sayings such as, “Such a lord hath broken so many lances,” “Such a baron hath made so many strokes,” “Such a knight hath done so and so, and such another so and so.” But behold, what time silence was made, to proclaim who had the honours of the tournament, a German in one of the galleries, without waiting for the victory to be declared, fell to crying out and saying, as loudliest he might, “For my part, accursed be that sport and accursed be all the festivals and carrousels whereat folk drink not!” You need not ask if there was matter for laughter, more by token that he fell to crying, “Wine! wine! wine!” wherefore I know not if there was ever a word spoken among such a multitude whereat it was laughed so much as it was for a pretty while at this speech of the German’s.
Louis, Eleventh of the name, King of France, was, according to that which the annals of France relate, sore travailed and harassed what while he lived; for that not only had he war with the Britons, with the Flemings, with the Burgundians and eke with the English who had held possession of France little less than three hundred years, but was, to boot, at daggers drawn with well nigh all the barons of France and with his own brother. And in truth it may be said that he had no greater enemies than those of his own blood, who well-nigh all applied themselves to his destruction and did him all the ill that was possible to them, so that he found strangers better friends than his kinsfolk; insomuch as, he having made over Savona and his claims to the dominion of Genoa to Freancesco Sforza, first of that name, Duke of Milan, the said Duke Francesco, grateful for the favors received from the king, and understanding him to be in danger of losing his crown through the revolt of the most part of the barons and princes of the blood-royal of France, 108 dispatched his first-born son Galeazzo Sforza to his succour with a good army, under the governance of Count Casparo Vimercato, his captain general, by means whereof he defeated his enemies and abode in peace king of all the realm. He had ever been a headstrong man and one who rarely fell in with other’s counsel; and in particular he so fell out with King Charles VII., his father, that he fled from him and retired into Dauphiny, where he abode awhile in his father’s disgrace, to the insupportable oppression of the people of the province; then he took refuge with Philip, Duke of Burgundy, his kinsman, who received him kindly and used him as a brother, studying amain to make peace between him and his father, who required no otherwhat of his son than that he should humble himself and crave his pardon. But Louis was always so stubborn that his heart never suffered him to ask pardon of his old father and to humble himself to him; wherefore matters went on such wise that he abode more than ten years without seeing the latter, and King Charles died, what while his son was yet in Burgundy with Duke Philip.
His father dead, the Dauphin betook himself to France, where he was, according to the ordinance of that kingdom, made king and was, as I have already told you, sore travailed; more by token that in the beginning of his reign he showed himself much harsher than behoved, being morose, misdoubtful and solitary, and eschewing the converse of his princes and barons. The chase being in France a very noble exercise, held in great esteem and practised by all the great, he, when he became king, forbade all manner of hunting, both of beasts and birds, under pain of death against whoso went a-hunting or a-fowling without his leave and license. Moreover, he delighted to have about him men of mean condition and base blood, giving such liberty unto Olivier le Daim his barber, as would have beseemed unto the first prince of the blood royal; nay, by the latter’s counsel and that of others his peers, he dealt cruelly with those of his own blood and put divers princes to death, who, had the king entreated them according to their degree, 109 would maybe have eschewed the errors which they committed. Now Louis living, not as king, but very privately and commonly wearing very mean clothes, with a hat all stuck with cockle-shells and two-penny images of the saints, it chanced one day that, being left with very little company at home, he went down by night to the kitchen, where his victual was in cooking, and saw there a lad with better presence and favor than sorted with the meanness of his occupation, for that he was in act to turn a spit with a roast of wether mutton. The boy’s air and aspect pleased the king, and he said to him, “Tell me, boy, who art thou, and whence thou comest, who is thy father, and what thou gainest by the day at this thy trade?”
The lad, who was newly come into the house, having been taken by the king’s cook to turnspit, and knew no one of the court, seeing him who accosted him in the kitchen clad in russet homespun and with that hat on his head stuck with cockles, took him for some pilgrim coming from Saint James of Galicia and answered him, saying, “I am a poor lad called Etienne,” here he told his native place and the name of his father, “who serve the king in the mean office you see; and yet I gain as much as he.” “How,” rejoined Louis, “thou gainest as much as the king? What gainest thou? And the king, too, what gaineth he?” “The king,” replied the turnspit; “gaineth that which he eateth, drinketh and weareth; and by my faith, I shall get as much of him, even as he hath it from our Lord God Almighty; and when the day of death cometh, though he is a very rich king, and I a very poor lad, he will carry no more with him than I.” This pithy speech much pleased the king and made Etienne’s fortune, for that Louis made him his groom of the chamber and did him great good; and he grew in such favor with Louis that, if the latter, who was choleric and hasty, gave him bytimes some cuff or other he fell a-weeping, the king, who could not brook to see him weep, let him give now a thousand and now two thousand crowns, so he should be comforted, and still hold him dear.
* The novels of Matteo Bandello, Bishop of Agen; now first done into English prose and verse by John Payne. London, 1890: printed for the Villon Society.
[For more of Bandello’s life and other tales by him, see The Italian Novelists on this site, which includes The Mischievous Ape, all translated by Thomas Roscoe. The story was included in at least two anthologies of literature and humor afterwards, without crediting Roscoe. — Elf.Ed.]
[In the Sixth Story, Peltro is used three times instead of Feltro. This appears to be an error by the translator or the printer. Feltro itself is a confusing usage and may either refer to Feltre or to Montefeltro. Both places are listed as possible native towns of Brother Bernardino. Normally, he is called Bernardino da Montefeltro, according to wise and kind Bill Thayer, and it is not usual to shorten it to Feltro. Multilingual (plus kind and wise) Bill found this story by Bandello in Italian and it is written Feltro, and emended to Feltre. — Elf.Ed.]
[For an essay on Louis XI., including discussion of his famous hat, see Louis XI.; The Travestied and the Real, by Reuben Parsons on this site. — Elf.Ed.]