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. 614-619.
Would that the following tale might confer any sort of benefit by way of example, by serving to impress this great truth deeply upon their minds, that, constituted as we are, we can encounter no risks in life more imminent than such as result from giving way to our own inclinations and passions.
Constanza Landolfi, a lady possessed of great wealth, and of noble descent, in the city of Turin, was left a widow in the bloom of her youth and beauty. She nevertheless preferred the pleasing task of educating her two young sons to the most splendid offers of any second nuptial engagement. All her most anxious efforts were directed to the formation of their tender minds, and all her hopes of happiness were involved in their success. With the warmest maternal solicitude, she sought to develop their feelings, while she cultivated their minds and instructed them in the elements of human knowledge. Heaven seemed to smile on her labours; her boys became endeared to all around them; and surely from such a beginning she had a right to augur the happiest and most flattering results.
When their more advanced age seemed to require it, Constanza became desirous of adding the advice and instructions of the most distinguished masters to what she had already done. In no branch of liberal art or science did she omit to give them all those advantages 616 that were calculated to render them most happy in themselves, and most useful to their friends and to their country.
Gismondo, the eldest of her sons, rewarded, almost beyond his mother’s hopes, her affectionate care and tenderness. As he became more fully capable of appreciating her motives and the many sacrifices she had so cheerfully made, his filial gratitude and tenderness knew no bounds, and he looked forward to the period of her maternal care, when he should become master of his own actions, rather with a feeling of regret than pleasure. Roberto, some years younger than his brother, with a genius every way superior in the acquisition either of science or of art, was at the same time of a prouder spirit, and far more impatient of restraint, however gently imposed. Perhaps this was the only fault that cast a shade over the many bright and excellent qualities that adorned Roberto’s mind. At the slightest correction he became indignant and ungovernable as a young and fiery steed that champs the bit. Inconstant in his youthful sports, he was no less so in the germs of his unfolding passions. Often, when at a loss to defend himself, he would plead the example of his young contemporaries, who enjoyed more freedom in their education; while his envy would as often manifest itself in words like the following, addressed to his mother: “Why is young ——, also of a rich and noble family, and not older than I, permitted to frequent public places and go wherever he pleases?” To which his mother would prudently return: “Beware, my son, of adducing the example of others for such a purpose; and strive rather to emulate those virtuous youths whose strongest ambition is to meet the wishes of their parents. Cannot you perceive the ridiculous figure which such examples as you mention always make in society in consequence of their premature introduction? Have you never heard how early they become initiated in the ways of vice and folly, and stand on the very brink of ruin? But too swiftly will the term of your education expire, like the beams of a fine summer morning, and vainly shall you sigh for a return.” Roberto, no longer able to resist the truths thus gently enforced, would then yield, and kiss the hand stretched forth in token of forgiveness. Yet few days would elapse before the same scene was repeated: the excellent admonitions of his mother produced no deeper impression upon him than the drops of a passing shower upon the thirsty earth.
The day at length arrived when his brother Gismondo came into possession of his fortune, freed from all restraint, and prepared to act his part on the great theatre of the world. When master of his own actions, he swerved in nothing from his mother’s gentle counsels; he frequented the society she most approved, and in the choice of his friends, as well as in a still more intimate connection, he felt happy in being chiefly influenced by her maternal wishes. And Heaven seemed to shower its choicest blessings on his union with an excellent and lovely woman, who presented him with the most beautiful pledges of their passion. Meanwhile it was not thus that the period of Roberto’s emancipation approached: he was rejoiced beyond measure at the idea of becoming his own master, and looked down with contempt on his brother’s weakness, declaring that he knew not how to avail himself 617 of the riches and advantages he possessed. In truth, he no sooner felt himself at liberty, than, resolving to avoid all kind of maternal influence and superintendence, he divided with his brother the fortune left by their father and quitted his native place. This imprudent determination was a great shock to his mother’s feelings, who left no means untried to dissuade him from it; but tears and prayers were alike unavailing; not even the offer of a splendid and happy alliance had any charms to detain him. The desire of complete freedom, which he ill understood, and the pressing entreaties of treacherous friends, easily triumphed over all his better feelings.
Abandoning then his native country, accompanied by two friends in whom he reposed the most perfect confidence, he converted his whole property into ready money and set out for Rome. There he resided upwards of two years, and occasionally gave notice of his proceedings to his relatives, who had taken care to procure for him the attentions of the most respectable and illustrious families in that city, fondly trusting that their countenance and influence might preserve him from the errors and vices of his age. Often would his excellent mother flatter herself that he would rise superior to his early foibles and extravagance, and return to his native place. But she had soon the grief to hear that he had departed from Rome without leaving any intimation whither he had turned his footsteps. Her regrets and her inquiries were all equally unavailing, and she began to despair of reaping the least reward for the unceasing toils and anxieties of years. The sole comfort and consolation she experienced was in the society and caresses of her dear Gismondo and his children, who promised to be as beautiful and virtuous as their parents: to these, then, all her cares and affection were in a short time transferred.
About this period, a charitable society was formed in the city of Turin, composed of pious ladies, with a view of relieving the wants of the poor and sick who languished in the public hospitals. Of this, Constanza became one of the most zealous members, distributing the most liberal sums out of her private fortune wherever they were most called for. Accompanied by a single domestic, she was in the habit, every morning, of inspecting the different apartments in the hospital, with a truly Christian spirit distributing food, and clothes, and consolation to such as were reduced to the last extremity of wretchedness. It happened one day, that in passing near one of the sick couches, she heard a deep sigh that affected her to the heart. She stopped, and upon hearing it again repeated, softly drew near. Heavens! what a sight did she behold! Her lost son lay stretched on the wretched pallet before her — it was Roberto himself. He raised his feeble arms; his face was deluged with tears; he had not strength even to embrace his mother. “My son, my son!” cried Constanza, in a tone of piercing anguish, “do I find you thus?” He strove a moment to reply, but weakness and surprise quite choked his utterance. Having in some degree succeeded in restoring his strength, the virtuous Constanza ordered him to be removed with the utmost caution to her own residence. There, owing to the assiduous attentions of his mother and the skill of the physicians whom she employed, Roberto so far recovered 618 his exhausted strength in the course of a few days as to be enabled to give some account of the misfortunes he had met with. But first he entreated that the sons of his brother Gismondo might be sent for, and then affectionately pressing the hand of his mother to his lips, he began to relate his unhappy story.
“On my arrival at Rome, with my two friends, of whose perfidy I too late became sensible, I plunged into every species of extravagance and dissipation. To remove every kind of obstacle or annoyance that presented itself in my abandoned career, I transferred the whole economy of my household to the hands of my two friends, reserving only a few bills of exchange which I wished to keep myself. My companions were indefatigable in their attention to my caprices; they omitted nothing that was likely to please me; the most splendid parties, the richest feasts, plays, games, and amusements, were all enjoyed in turn, while I vied with the most fashionable and wealthy in the magnificence of my entertainments.
“Wearied, however, with the expostulations of some of the most distinguished families in the place, who, at the entreaty of my mother, were desirous of snatching me from ruin, I soon resolved to quit Rome. In company with the same friends, and with a numerous procession of coaches and lacqueys, I next arrived at Naples. I engaged one of the most splendid residences I could find, magnificently furnished, where I received a crowd of personages, who seemed to hang only on my smiles, and who yet boasted of their vast wealth and illustrious descent. But worse than all these, a wretched and misguided passion next took possession of my bosom, and I became a victim to the most artful and abandoned of women. Boundless in my extravagance, I poured a profusion of wealth into her lap. The bitterest pangs of rage and jealousy were my reward; she would then attempt to soothe and flatter me, thus subjecting me to every variety of humiliation and suffering. For her sake I engaged in the most absurd and perilous quarrels, and mortally defied a rival to the field. Fortunately, the magistrates of the city here interfered, and prevented the loss perhaps of my worthless existence. Such is the picture of my life during that period; but mine was a career too wild, abandoned, and disorderly, to continue long. My strength began to fail me, a perpetual fever preyed upon my health and spirits, and in a short period I lay stretched upon a sick couch. In about ten days after, my two friends, approaching my bedside, said they came to acquaint me that all the ready money with which I had intrusted them for the management of my affairs was now spent, that further supplies were necessary to obtain the advice and attendance of which I stood in need, as well as to keep up my usual magnificent establishment, which, notwithstanding my decayed health, I insisted should be done.
Without the least suspicion, therefore, I intrusted them with the key of my escrutoire, in order to supply me with all that was become necessary. But what was my confusion and despair when I learned, the ensuing day, that these two perfidious and ungrateful wretches had actually taken ship for England! Reduced and feeble as I was, I started from my couch in an agony of fear, and ran to inspect my 619 papers; but not a remnant of my bills, amounting to above forty thousand francs, was left; bills too which I had deposited in my most secret drawer. Suddenly then I beheld myself standing upon a precipice, and the abyss into which I was destined to fall was yawning for me beneath. In this bitter extremity no other suggestion presented itself more promising than that of applying to the persons upon whom I had lavished so much of my wealth; but they all agreed in alleging various excuses for abandoning me to my fate. To complete my disaster, I was informed that I was in debt for the splendid mansion I occupied, to an extent that would require the whole of my furniture to discharge it. The only being from whom I met with the least sympathy was one of the physicians who attended me. To him I confided the history of my disasters and of my errors: he consoled me, he took me to his own house, and attended me with the utmost care. Oh, may Heaven reward him for all his goodness to me! In a few weeks he restored me to health; and, encouraged by his kindness, I resolved to abandon a place that had proved so fatal to my repose. He furnished me with the means to do this, and with tears of gratitude I bade him farewell. I was fortunate enough to reach Bologna, but there I was seized with a violent fever, which deprived me of a part of the little fund I possessed. Scarcely half recruited, I resumed my journey, for the most part on foot, or in such wretched conveyances as I could command. At length I with difficulty reached my native place, broken in spirit and in health. How could I thus appear in the presence of my dear mother and my brother? No; I came to the resolution of seeking refuge in the hospital, where you, my kindest mother, just now discovered me.”
Roberto’s narrative awakened feelings of the liveliest compassion in all who listened to it. His affectionate mother left no means untried to restore him once more to health. She entreated him to take heart, for that he should share with her more than the fortune he had lost. But Roberto’s spirits had received too severe a shock; his health declined daily and hourly, and the care both of the physicians and of his friends was now alike useless, In a few months after his return he breathed his last, and his end was happier than his life. Heaven was at least kind to him in thus permitting him to breathe his last sigh on the bosom of so excellent and affectionate a mother.