[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 140-151.



[Translated by Thomas Roscoe*]

Some of the situations in this fourteenth-century tale were employed by Shakspere in his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, but it will be found that Falstaff in the clothes-basket is a much different figure from Bucciolo. The general situation of this story was employed by another great dramatic genius, the Frenchman Molière, in one of the classic masterpieces of French drama, his immensely successful comedy, The School for Wives.

THERE were once, two very intimate friends, both of the family of Savelli, in Rome, the name of one of whom was Bucciolo, of the other Pietro Paolo, both of good birth and easy circumstances. Expressing a mutual wish to study for a while together in Bologna, they took leave of their relatives and set out. One of them attached himself to the study of the civil, the other to that of the canon law, and thus they continued to apply themselves for some length of time. But as you are aware that the subject of the Decretals takes a much narrower range than is embraced by the common law, so Bucciolo, who pursued the former, made greater progress than did Pietro Paolo, and having taken a licentiate’s degree, he began to think of returning to Rome.

“You see, my dear fellow student” he observed to his friend Paolo, “I am now a licentiate, and it is time for me to think of moving homewards.”

“Nay, not so,” replied his companion; “I have to entreat you will not think of leaving me here this winter; stay for me till spring, and we can then return together. In the meanwhile you may pursue some other science, so that you need not lose any time.”

To this Bucciolo at length consented, promising to await his relation’s own good time. Having thus resolved, he 141 had immediate recourse to his former tutor, informing him of his determination to bear his friend company a little longer, and entreating to be employed in some pleasant study to beguile the period during which he had to remain. The professor begged him to suggest something he would like, as he should be very happy to assist him in its attainment.

“My worthy tutor,” replied Bucciolo, “I think I should like to learn the way in which one falls in love, and the best manner to begin.”

“Oh, very good,” cried the tutor, laughing, “you could have hit upon nothing better, for you must know that, if that be your object, I am a complete adept in the art. To lose no time, in the first place, go next Sunday morning to the church of the Frati Minori, where all the ladies will be clustered together, and pay proper attention during service, in order to discover if any one of them in particular happens to please you. When you have done this, keep your eye upon her after service, to see the way she takes to her residence, then come back to me. And let this be the first lesson, first part, of that in which it is my intention to instruct you.”

Bucciolo went accordingly, and taking his station the next Sunday in the church as he had been directed, his eyes wandering in every direction except the proper one, were fixed upon all the pretty women in the place, and upon one in particular who pleased him above all the rest. She was far the most attractive and beautiful lady he could find; and on leaving the church Bucciolo took care to obey his master, and follow her until he had made himself acquainted with her residence. Nor was it long before the young lady began to perceive that the student was smitten with her; upon which, Bucciolo, returning to his master, acquainted him with what he had done:

“I have learned as much as you ordered me, and found somebody I like very well.”

“So far so good,” cried the professor, not a little amused at the sort of science to which his pupil thus seriously 142 devoted himself, “so far good; and now mind what I have next to say to you. Tak care to walk two or three times a day very respectfully before her house, casting your eyes about you in such a way that no one catch you staring in her face; but look in a modest and becoming manner, so that she cannot fail to perceive and be struck with it. And then return to me, and this, sir, will be the second lesson in this gay science.”

So the scholar went, and promenaded with great discretion before the lady’s door; who certainly observed that he appeared to be passing to and fro out of respect to one of the inhabitants. This attracted her attention, for which Bucciolo very discreetly expressed his gratitude both by looks and bows, which being as often returned, the scholar began to be aware that the lady liked him. Upon this he immediately went and informed the professor of all that had passed, who replied:

“ Come, you have done very well; I am hitherto quite satisfied. It is now time for you to find some way of speaking to her, which you may do by means of one of those female gipsies who haunt the streets of Bologna crying ladies’ veils, purses, and other rare articles to sell. Send word by her that you are the lady’s most faithful, devoted servant, and that there is no one in the world you so much wish to please. In short, let her urge your suit, and take care to bring the answer to me as soon as you have received it; I will then tell you how you are to proceed.𔄩

Departing in all haste, he soon found a little old peddler woman, quite perfect in her trade, to whom he said he should take it as a particular favor if she would do one thing, for which he would reward her handsomely. Upon this she declared her readiness to serve him in anything he pleased, “For you know,” she continued, “it is my business to get money in every way I can.” Bucciolo gave her two florins, saying:

“I wish you to go as far as the Via Maccarella for me today, where resides a young lady of the name of Giovanna, for whom I have the very highest regard. Pray tell her 143 so, and recommend me to her most affectionately, so as to obtain for me her good graces by every means in your power. I entreat you to have my interest at heart, and to say such pretty things as she cannot refuse to hear.”

“Oh,” said the little old woman, “leave that to me, sir; I will not fail to say a good word for you at the proper time.”

“Delay not,” said Bucciolo, “but go now, and I will wait for you here.”

She set off immediately, taking a basket of her trinkets under her arm. On approaching the place, she saw the lady before the door enjoying the open air, and curtseying to her very low:

“Do I happen to have anything here you would fancy?” she said, displaying her treasures. “Pray, take something, madam, whatever pleases you best.”

Veils, stays, purses, and mirrors were now spread in the most tempting way before her eyes, as the old woman took her station at the lady’s side. Out of all these, her attention appeared to be most attracted by a beautiful purse, which she observed, if she could afford, she should like to buy.

“Nay, madam, do not think anything about the price,” exclaimed the little peddler; “take anything you please, for they are all paid for, I assure you.”

Surprised at hearing this, and observing the very respectful manner of the speaker, the lady replied, “Do you know what are you saying? What do you mean by that?”

The old creature pretending now to be much affected, said: “Well, madam, if it must be so, I will tell you. It is very true that a young gentleman of the name of Bucciolo sent me hither, one who loves you better than all the world besides. There is nothing he would not do to please you, and indeed he appears so very wretched because he cannot speak to you, and he is so very good, that it is quite a pity. I think it will be the death of him; and then he is such a fine, such an elegant young man; the more is the pity.”

On hearing this, the lady, blushing deeply, turned sharply 144 round upon the little old hag, exclaiming, “Oh, you wicked little creature! were it not for the sake of my own reputation, I would give you such a lesson, that you should remember it to the latest day of your life. A pretty story to come before decent people with! Are you not ashamed of yourself to let such words come out of your mouth?” Then seizing an iron bar that lay across the doorway, “Ill betide you, little wretch,” she cried, as she brandished it; “if you ever return this way again, you may depend upon it you will never go back alive!𔄩

The trembling old creature quickly bundling up her pack, ran off in dread of feeling that cruel weapon on her shoulders; nor did she once think of stopping till she had reached the place where Signor Bucciolo stood. He eagerly inquired the news, and in what way she had prospered.

“Oh, very badly, very badly!” answered the little gipsy. “I never was in such a fright in all my life. Why, she will neither see nor listen to you; and if I had not run away, I should have felt the weight of her hand upon my shoulders. For my own part, I shall go there no more,” chinking the two florins; “and I would advise you to look to yourself how you proceed in such affairs in future.”

Poor Bucciolo now became quite disconsolate, and returned in all haste to acquaint the professor with this unlucky result. But the tutor, not a whit cast down, consoled him, saying:

“Do not despair, Bucciolo; a tree is not leveled at a single stroke, you know. I think you must have a repetition of your lesson tonight. So go and walk before her door as usual; notice how she eyes you, and whether she appears angry or not; then come back again to me.”

He proceeded without delay to the lady’s house, who, the moment she perceived him, called her maid, giving her directions as follows:

“Quick, quick! hasten after that young man — that is he; and tell him from me that must come and speak to me this evening without fail; yes, without fail.”

The girl soon came up with Bucciolo: “My lady, sir, my lady 145 Giovanna would be glad of the pleasure of your company this evening; she would be very glad to speak to you.”

Greatly surprised at this, Bucciolo replied, “Tell your lady I shall be most happy to wait upon her.”

Turning round, he set off once more to the professor, and reported the progress of the case. But this time his master looked a little more serious, for, from some trivial circumstances put together, he began to entertain suspicions, as it really turned out, that the lady was no other than his own wife. So he rather anxiously inquired of Bucciolo, whether he intended to accept the invitation.

“To be sure I do,” replied his pupil.

“Then promise,” rejoined the professor, “that you will come here before you set off.”

“Certainly,” said Bucciolo, “I will”; and he took his leave.

Now, our hero was far from suspecting that the lady boasted so near a relationship to his beloved tutor, although the latter began to feel rather uneasy as to the result, feeling certain twinges of jealousy by no means pleasant. For he passed most of his winter evenings at the college, where he gave lectures, and not infrequently remained there for the night.

“I should be sorry,” thought he, ”that this young gentleman were learning these things at my expense; and I must therefore know the real state of the case.”

In the evening his pupil called again, saying, “Worthy sir, I am now ready to go.”

“Well, go,” replied the professor, “but be wise, Signor Bucciolo, be wise: think more than once what you are about.”

“Trust me for that,” replied the scholar, a little piqued; “I shall go well provided, and not walk like a fool into the mouth of danger unarmed.”

And away he went, furnished with a good cuirass, a rapier, and a stiletto in his belt. He was no sooner on his way than the professor slipped out quietly after him, 146 following him close at his heels, and truly he saw him stop at his own door, which, on a pretty smart tap being given, was opened in a moment, and the pupil was admitted by the lady herself. When the professor saw that it was indeed his own wife, he was quite overwhelmed, saying in a faint voice to himself:

“Alas! I fear this young fellow has learned more than he confesses at my expense.”

Making a cruel vow to revenge himself, he ran back to the college, where, arming himself with sword and knife, he hastened back in a terrible passion, with the intention of wreaking his vengeance on poor Bucciolo without delay. Arriving at his own door, he gave a pretty smart knock, which the lady, sitting before the fire with Bucciolo, instantly recognized for her husband’s. So taking hold of Bucciolo, she concealed him in all haste under a heap of damp clothes lying on a table near the window ready for ironing; and this done, she ran to the door, and inquired who was there.

“Open quick,” returned the professor; “you vile woman, you shall soon know who I am.”

On opening the door, she beheld him with a drawn sword, and exclaimed:

“Oh, my dearest life! what means this?”

“You know very well,” said he, “what it means; the villain is now in the house.”

“Good heaven, what is it you say?” cried his wife. “Are you gone out of your wits? Come and search the house, and if you find anybody, I will give you leave to kill me on the spot. What! do you think I should now begin to misconduct myself as I never before did, as none of my family ever did before? Beware lest the evil one should be tempting you, and suddenly depriving you of your senses, drive you to perdition.”

But the professor calling out for candles, began to search the house, from the cellars upwards, among the tubs and casks, in every place but the right one, running his sword through the beds and under the beds, and into every inch 147 of the bedding, leaving no corner or crevice of the whole house untouched. The lady accompanied him with a candle in her hand, frequently interrupting him with:

“Say your beads, say your beads, good sir; it is certain that the evil one is dealing with you; for were I half so bad as you esteem me, I would kill myself with my own hands. But I entreat you not to give way to his evil suggestions; oppose the adversary while you can.”

Hearing these virtuous asseverations of his wife, and not being able to meet with anyone after the strictest search, the professor began to think that he must indeed be possessed, and in a short time, extinguishing the lights, returned to his rooms. The lady, shutting the door upon him, called out to Bucciolo to come from his hiding-place, and stirring the fire, began to prepare a fine capon for supper, with some delicious wines and fruits. And thus they regaled themselves, highly entertained with each other; nor was it their least satisfaction that the professor had just left them, apparently convinced that they had learned nothing at his expense.

Procceding the next morning to college, Bucciolo, without the least suspicion of the truth, informed his master that he had something for his ear which he was sure would make him laugh.

“How, how so?” exclaimed the professor.

“Why,” returned his pupil, “you must know that last night, just at the very time I was in the lady’s house, who should come in but her husband, and in such a rage! He searched the whole house from top to bottom without being able to find me. I lay under a heap of newly washed clothes, which were not half dry. In short, the lady played her part so well that the poor gentleman forthwith took his leave, and we afterwards ate a fine fat capon for supper, and drank such wines, and with such a zest! It was really one of the pleasantest evenings I ever spent in my life. But I think I will go and take a nap, for I have promised to return again this afternoon about the same hour.”

“Then be sure before you go,” said the professor, trembling 148 with suppressed rage, “be sure to tell me when you set off.”

“Oh, certainly,” replied Bucciolo, and away he went.

Such was now the unhappy tutor’s condition as to render him incapable of delivering single lecture during the whole day; and such his extreme vexation and desire to behold the evening that he spent the whole time in arming himself cruelly with rapier, sword, and cuirass, dwelling only upon deeds of blood. At the appointed hour came Bucciolo with the utmost innocence, saying:

“My dear tutor, I am going now.”

“Yes,go,” replied the professor, “ and come back again to-morrow morning, if you can, to tell me how you have fared.”

“I intend to do so,” said Bucciolo, and departed at a brisk pace for the house of the lady.

Armed cap-à-pie, the professor ran out after him, keeping pretty close at his heels, with the intention of catching him just as he entered. But the lady being on the watch, opened the door so quickly for the pupil that she shut it in the master’s face, who began to knock and to call out with a furious noise. Extinguishing the candle in a moment, the lady placed Bucciolo behind the door, and throwing her arms round her husband’s neck as he entered, motioned to her lover, while she thus held his enemy, to make his escape; and he, upon the husband rushing forwards, stepped out from behind the door unperceived. She then began to scream as loud as she could:

“Help! help! the professor is run mad! Will nobody help me?”

For he was in an ungovernable rage, and she clung faster to him than before. The neighbors running to her assistance, and seeing the peaceable professor thus armed with all those deadly weapons, and his wife crying out:

“Help, for the love of heaven; too much study hath driven him mad!”

They really believed such to be the fact. “Come, good master,” they said, “what is all this? Try to compose yourself; 141 nay do not struggle so hard, but let us help you to your couch.”

“How can I rest, think you,” he replied, “while this wicked woman harbours paramours in my house? I saw him come in with my own eyes.”

“Wretch that I am,” cried his wife, “inquire of all my friends and neighbors whether any one of them ever saw anything the least unbecoming in my conduct.”

The whole party, with one voice, entreated the master to lay such thoughts aside, for that there was not a better woman breathing, nor one who set a higher value upon her reputation.

“But how can that be,” said the tutor, “when I saw him enter the house with my own eyes? and he is in it now.”

In the meanwhile the lady’s two brothers arrived, when she began to weep bitterly, exclaiming:

“Oh, my dear brothers! my poor husband is gone mad, quite mad; and he even says there is a man in the house! I believe he would kill me if he could; but you know me too well to listen a moment to such a story;” and she continued to weep.

The brothers forthwith accosted the professor in no very gentle terms: “We are surprised, we are shocked, sir, to find that you dare bestow such epithets on our sister; what can have led you, after living so amicably together, to bring these charges against her now?”

“I can only tell you,” replied the enraged professor, “that there is a man in the house; I saw him.”

“Then come and let us find him; show him to us, for we will sift this matter to the bottom,” retorted the incensed brothers. “Show us the man, and we will then punish her in such a way as will satisfy you.”

One of them taking his sister aside, said, “First tell me, have you really got any one hidden in the house? Tell the truth.”

“Heavens!” cried his sister; “I tell you I would rather suffer death. Should I be the first to bring a scandal on 150 our house? I wonder you are not ashamed to mention such a thing.”

Rejoiced to hear this, the brothers, directed by the professor, immediately commenced a search. Half frantic, he led them directly to the great bundle of linen, which he pierced through and through with his sword, firmly believing he was killing Bucciolo all the while, taunting him at the same time at every blow.

“There! I told you,” cried his wife, “he was quite mad; to think of destroying his own property thus! It is plain he did not help to get them up,” she continued, whimpering; “all my best cloths.”

Having now sought everywhere in vain, one of the brothers observed, “He is indeed mad”; to which the other agreed, while he again attacked the professor in the bitterest terms: “You have carried things too far, sir; your conduct to our sister is shameful, nothing but insanity can excuse it.”

Vexed enough before, the professor upon this flew into a violent passion, and brandished his naked sword in such a way that the others were obliged to use their sticks, which they did so very effectually that after breaking them over his back, they chained him down like a madman upon the floor, declaring he had lost his wits by excessive study; and taking possession of his house, they remained with their sister the whole night. The next morning they sent for a physician, who ordered a couch to be placed as near as possible to the fire; that no one should be allowed to speak or reply to the patient; and that he should be strictly dieted until he recovered his wits; and this regimen was diligently enforced.

A report immediately spread throughout Bologna that the good professor had become insane, which caused very general regret, his friends observing to each other:

“It is indeed a bad business, but I suspected yesterday how it was: he could scarcely get a word out as he was delivering his lecture; did you perceive?”

“Yes, I saw him change color, poor fellow.”


Everywhere, by everybody, it was decided that the professor was mad. In this situation numbers of his scholars went to see him, and among the rest Bucciolo, knowing nothing of what had passed, agreed to accompany them to the college, desirous of acquainting his master with his last night’s exploit. What was his surprise to learn that he had actually taken leave of his senses; and being directed, on leaving the college, to the professor’s house, he was almost panic-struck on approaching the place, beginning to comprehend the whole affair.

Yet in order that no one might be led to suspect the real truth, he walked into the house along with the rest, and on reaching a certain apartment which he knew, he beheld his poor tutor, almost beaten to a mummy, and chained down upon his bed close to the fire. His pupils were standing round condoling with him and lamenting his piteous case. At length it came to Bucciolo’s turn to say something to him, which he did as follows:

“My dear master, I am as truly concerned for you as if you were my own father; and if there is anything in which I can be of use to you, command me as your own son.”

To this the poor professor only replied, “No, Bucciolo; depart in peace, my pupil, depart, for you have learned much, very much, at my expense.”

Here his wife interrupted him: “You see how he wanders; heed not what he says; pay no attention to him, signor.”

Bucciolo, however, prepared to depart, and taking a hasty leave of the professor, he ran to the lodgings of his relation, Pietro Paolo, saying:

“Fare you well! God bless you, my friend! I must away to Rome; for I have lately learned so much at other people’s expense that I am going home”; and he hurried away, and fortunately arrived safely at Rome.

*  Elf.Ed. — Thomas Roscoe is not credited as the translator, but this story is included in his book, The Italian Novelists, also here on Elfinspell. In this series, the spelling is Americanized and there are minor changes in punctuation and format, mostly more paragraphs than in Roscoe’s translation. To see the original version go here. For another translation of this story, by an anonymous translator, go here.

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]
Valid CSS!