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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. 232-237.


Pietro Fortini.




ONE of the most lively, and, we are concerned to add, one of the most exceptionable authors of Italian tales who flourished during the sixteenth century, was Pietro Fortini. A solitary specimen is with some difficulty here presented to the reader. It is impossible to regret the comparative rarity and obscurity of the remainder. From the critical observations of Signor Gaetano Poggiali, we learn that few notices relating to the life and writings of this novelist have survived to us; nor will this prove any great additional source of regret. The cause of this had been referred by the same writer to the want of a due appreciation of the value of literary memorials by the city of Sienna, — a neglect which has since very amply and laudably supplied by Ugurgieri, Pecci, and Gigli, and in particular, by Benvoglienti, whose persevering researches have often been rewarded with success. In the present instance, however, the year of Fortini’s birth still remains uncertain, though it is probable that he wrote during the earlier half of the sixteenth century; and from the entry of a date remaining in the convent of St. Dominic, his decease seems to have occurred in the year 1562. He was descended from a good family of some repute and influence at Sienna, and was in easy circumstances, as would appear from his frequent residence at one of his villas near that city, named Monaciano, yet in possession of some of the author’s descendants. Judging, however, from one of his letters addressed to Braccioni, as well as from one of his novels, and from some poetical pieces interspersed throughout his Novelliere, the tranquillity of his life was destined to suffer interruption; an event of which the particulars are unknown, but which was most probably connected with those revolutionary movements which preceded the downfall of his native state.

It was during his residence in the country that his fictitious productions seem to have been composed, whether in honourable banishment, or remaining at his villa out of choice, does not clearly appear. Though they are mentioned as racconti di fatti accaduti più che favolosi, related in turn by five young ladies and two gentlemen, yet we would hope, for the credit of the age, of the relaters, and of the hearers, that they were rather fabulous than true. The style, if not very pure, is extremely lively and pleasing, and each novel is closed with poetical pieces of more than common merit. They were published at Sienna, but the date of the first editions does not appear.


*   “Le Giornate delle Novelle de’ Novizi, divise in otto Giornate,” &c.; and, “Le Piacevoli ed Amorose Notti dei Novizi,” &c.




IN the noble city of Spoleti, in Umbria, there resided, not many years ago, a young man of the name of Anton Luigi Migliorelli, nobly born, but of a strange and whimsical disposition. Being also of a sanguine temperament, combined with too little judgment, he had the misfortune to imagine himself in love with a very beautiful and accomplished young lady, sprung from one of the first families in Spoleti, whose name was Fiordespina. What rendered the affair worse, she had already bestowed her hand in marriage upon another, a wealthy citizen of good descent, called Filolauro, from which his lady most generally went by the name of Fiordespina Lauri. In point of manly beauty and accomplishments, Filolauro was in no way unworthy of possessing so charming a companion; nor do I believe that throughout all Italy there was a similar instance of conjugal union, happiness, and fidelity. Such, indeed, were the mutual sacrifices, the devotion, and tenderness which they invariably displayed, as to afford a perfect pattern of the respective characters and the conduct to be observed in so intimate a union. Their happiness seemed as if it were too exquisite and unalloyed to last; and the secret fiend that was about to invade the Eden of their love and repose was already at work, inspiring the soul of Anton Luigi with thoughts equally dangerous to their safety and their honour. Ardently bent upon the pursuit of every object in which he engaged, and having frequent opportunities of enjoying the society and observing the charms and accomplishments of the lovely Fiordespina, he grew so deeply enamoured of them, that in a short time he felt himself unable to control the expression of his feelings.

Yet, after having adopted every expedient in his power, all the arts and flatteries of which he was the master, he had the mortification to find that he not only made no progress in her good opinion, but that she did not even deign to notice his numerous efforts to conciliate and please her. Equally piqued and impassioned, he vowed to be revenged upon her supposed pride and indifference; while he was compelled at the same time to conceal his attentions as much as possible, as the manners of the people of Spoleti were far more strict in this respect than those of many other places, persons of both sexes being in the habit of revenging themselves upon very slight provocation, and even of bearing arms, when occasion required, in open field against their enemies. And there is no point upon which they are more eager to proceed to extremities than in regard to the honour of their women, so that they will scarcely permit the breath of heaven to play upon the faces of their married dames of rank, while the husbands, on the other hand, are not permitted to show the least regard for single ladies. Thus our unfortunate lover found himself rather awkwardly situated, his feelings being about as unpleasant as those of a culprit preparing for his final journey, since his beloved Fiordespina paid no more attention to him than if there had been no such person in the world, a behaviour which he felt far more difficult to bear than if she had honoured him with her resentment, or even her aversion and contempt.


In this dilemma he believed the wisest as well as the shortest way would be to put a period to his existence; but always when he was on the point of executing his threat, the idea that he was for ever leaving the beautiful Fiordespina flashed across his mind, and he relinquished it. Still he conceived it quite incumbent upon him either to die like a true lover or win the lady’s regard, and with this magnanimous resolution he watched his first opportunity of obtaining a final interview with the lady. Happening to hear that Filolauro was about to accompany a party of young men on an excursion of pleasure into the country, he had no sooner watched the servant who followed him fairly out of sight, than he hastened to his house, but had the mortification to perceive the beloved object in company with two of her youthful companions. Upon this his exasperation was such as to mount to a degree of frenzy, and being in a most favourable mood for listening to the counsels of our great adversary, who is never known to neglect such happy opportunities of adding to the number of his subjects, he resolved in one way or other to bring the matter to a conclusion, whether it were by dagger, rope, or poison, that very evening. With this view he continued to keep watch until after Filolauro’s return, who, being accustomed to walk out with his friends, sometimes as far as the Borgo San Maffio, when the evening was fine, upon this occasion did not take leave of them until near midnight. His beautiful wife, whose thoughts were ever with him in his absence, anxious at the lateness of the hour, was now eagerly looking out for him, after having prepared what viands she imagined would prove most agreeable on his return. Filolauro had just reached the piazza near the fort, close to his own house, when he was met by Antonio Luigi full of the most desperate designs, who, drawing his sword, cried out in great fury, “At last, villain, thou art dead!” at the same moment wounding him severely. “Ah! traitor,” exclaimed the other, “this to me!” and rushing upon him, he closed with him before he could make his escape. The noble lady, overhearing some disturbance, and recognising her consort’s voice, with the courage that distinguished the ladies of Spoleti, instantly seized her husband’s javelin that lay at hand, and rushed to the door. There she indeed beheld him struggling in the grasp of his assassin, while his blood stained the ground upon which they fought; and sufficiently distinguishing the combatants by the light of the moon, with the strength of an Amazon, she passed the weapon through the body of Anton Luigi at a single blow. He instantly fell dead at her feet, while she, crying out to her husband that he was only wounded, besought him to take refuge in the house. By the time she had assisted him back and restored the javelin to its place, a numerous crowd was collecting upon the spot, some of whom, observing the way they took, followed them into the house, where they found the lady attempting to staunch her husband’s wounds, at the same time trying to encourage him and calling out for assistance. Discovering no weapon but the sword lying by the side of the deceased, they were unable to account for what they saw; and having borne the body of Anton Luigi into an adjoining church, and procured surgical aid for the wounded man, the people gradually dispersed.


On the following morning, the governor, hearing of the homicide, and no one being accused of it, thought it somewhat strange, and instituted a more strict inquiry. Being a native of Lucca, of severe character, and not very kindly disposed towards the ladies of Spoleti, he despatched his officers at once to the residence of the fair Fiordespina, with orders to seize her, together with her husband, the last of whom, wounded as he was, they threw into a dungeon. His unhappy wife was next conducted bound into the hall allotted for the execution of assassins, where, the evidence of some persons in the crowd being taken, she was actually condemned by her merciless judge to suffer the torture of the question. But rather than accuse either her husband or herself of having committed such an act, which she had reasons for knowing that her inexorable judge would never admit to have been done in self-defence, she chose to submit, with the fortitude of a martyr, to everything that his cruelty could devise. Moved with pity at her sufferings, several of the spectators voluntarily came forward to prove that no weapon except that of the deceased had been found upon the spot, and that it was hardly likely that a single woman could have deprived a soldier of his own sword and of his life.

To this the savage tyrant only replied that such was more probably the case than that so noble a youth should have destroyed himself; and upon this he commanded the executioners to proceed. When, however, the populace, who believed her to be innocent, heard her renewed cries, there ran a confused murmur among the crowd, that, gradually assuming a louder and more angry tone, reminded the cruel governor that he had to deal with the proud and daring natives of Spoleti. Finding his victim resolutely bent against confession, he began to take the alarm, and ordering her to be set free, he consoled himself with the hope of inflicting still heavier punishment upon her husband. For this purpose he had him brought forth, and condemned to suffer yet more terrific pains than had been inflicted upon his wife. The moment, however, she beheld him in the presence of their ferocious tormentor, she was unable to bear the very idea, much less the sight, of the most beloved object on earth sharing with her the same fate. Although instant death became the penalty of her confession, yet, in order to spare him the suffering she had herself so nobly borne, she thus addressed the governor: “Unbind that gentleman, signor. Never let it be said that a savage and merciless tyrant, such as thou art, had it in his power to inflict his savage torments upon the limbs of my honoured lord. No, it was I who did the deed. Hear me, I say! I alone smote the assassin of my husband dead at my feet. Oh! ye just heavens, ye noble people of Spoleti, be near me; aid me in my utter woe; let him not deprive me of the only object that is dear to these eyes!” At once surprised and grieved to hear her declare herself guilty of an act by a confession which the severest tortures had failed to wring from her, the spectators, as well as the governor himself, struck with the excessive proof of affection which it displayed, were inclined to consider it as little less than miraculous. What must have been the excess of tenderness and attachment that could excite the soul of a delicate woman to such an unexampled degree of heroism 237 and magnanimity to confess, out of pity and affection for her husband, what she would otherwise have concealed under the infliction of torture and of death itself! To such an appeal even the heart of the governor, callous and ferocious as he was, could no longer be insensible. Taken by surprise, astonished at the grandeur and beauty of sentiment it displayed, and of which he had formed no previous idea, after remaining lost in doubt and wonder for some moments, his aspect assumed a perfectly opposite expression, and in milder tones than he had ever before perhaps uttered, he commanded the officers to unbind her husband. He next sent for the father of the deceased, requesting to know what course he wished to be pursued. The poor old man, thus unhappily deprived of his son, yet aware that no cause of enmity had subsisted between the families, nobly came forward to state everything he knew relating to the unfortunate passion of his son, and boldly taxed the governor with the most culpable conduct in having omitted to receive his evidence until he had unjustly condemned the innocent to suffer. At the same time he tenderly embraced the unhappy prisoners, and weeping over the guilty conduct of his son, appealed to the feelings of the spectators, conjuring him to join in soliciting a free pardon, if pardon could be called, where no offence had been committed, at the hands of the governor. The relenting feelings of the later at length yielded to the energy and truth of the old man’s appeal; for, having liberated the captives, he descended from his judgment-seat, and, struggling with contending emotions, turned away from the spectators, and soon disappeared.


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