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. 130-143.
Novels of Massuccio Salernitano.
It has been asserted by some critics that Massuccio could have been no other than the Massuccio Guardato alluded to by Mazzella in his description of Naples, and of the same opinion is Nicodemi of Toppi. However this may be, nearly all his stories are of an historical character, founded upon incidents either of a domestic or public nature, which circumstance, added to their mode of relation, conveys a strong impression of their reality and truth. Though their style is extremely awkward and perplexed, there is a sincerity and earnestness of manner which seem to place the author above the charge of imitation, and inspire a stronger feeling than usually results from a mere fictitious narrative. We have, moreover, the solemn but somewhat whimsical assurance of their veracity in the author’s own words, taking “Heaven to witness that the whole of them are a faithful narrative of events occurring during his own times.” This, however, ought to be taken with some grains of allowance, as it cannot be supposed to include the framework and the more ornamental portions of the novels, which it always lies within the discretion of the novelist to manage so as best to awaken the interest or surprise of his readers. However much in this respect may be granted to the dramatic art and ingenuity with which Massuccio arranges his stories, he cannot boast the additional merit of a pure and easy style, possessed by so many of his predecessors. His language is sometimes indeed strangely diffuse and involved, and written nearly in a pure Neapolitan dialect, by no means to be help up as a model. Yet he assumes in the person of Mercury the merit of having always imitated the beautiful and ornamental manner of the great poet and orator Boccaccio. We are informed by Doni that, probably with this view, he commented upon the whole of the first day of the “Decameron.” Had he flourished at an earlier period, he would doubtless have acquired a still higher character as a novelist than he now enjoys. He occasionally indulges a strong vein of ridicule in his incidents and descriptions at the expense of the ecclesiastics; and in this portion of his stories are contained some of the author’s happiest efforts. His title to originality has never been disputed, and the commendation bestowed upon him by Doni in his “Librerie” appears, as far as we can judge, to have been well merited: “Hail then to the name of Salernitano, who, scorning to borrow even a single word from Boccaccio, has produced a work which he may justly regard as his own.” The character of originality, however, will scarcely extend to the plot of his “Mariotto and Giannozza,” forming the thirty-second novel of his series, which 135 must evidently have been taken from the old traditionary tale, traced as far back as Xenophon Ephesius, and both versified and dramatised long before the time of Massuccio. Yet he has the merit of having produced a beautiful novel out of the naked materials afforded him by the annals of his country, and he has the additional merit of having furnished a model for the more finished productions of Luigi da Porto and of our own Shakespeare. It is for this reason that the translator has not ventured to omit either of the Italian novels, though relating precisely to the same subject; that of Massuccio being the prototype of nearly all the succeeding imitations in different countries, and the other, from the pen of Da Porto, being entitled to insertion from the superior manner in which it is told. This last, imitated from Massuccio, was again copied by Bandello, and from him it was inserted in Belleforest’s collection of tragic tales, and in this country in Paynter’s “Palace of Pleasure.”
As the origin, then, of so many other productions, and the ultimate source from which Shakespeare drew his “Romeo and Juliet,” it would scarcely have been justifiable to have passed over the novel of Massuccio in a selection like the present. It is most probable that Shakespeare only obtained access to the work through the medium of some metrical histories, often wretched and corrupt versions of the Italian novels. The incidents of the story in the English drama, when compared with the original, do not appear to have been much improved upon, an observation which will apply to all the plots of Shakespeare drawn from Italian sources; and it is only to the magical charm of his language and sentiments, and to his power of swaying the passions at his will, that we are to ascribe his superiority.
* Il Novellino: nel quale al contengono cinquanta Novelle in cinque parti divise: 1492.
Among others residing near him who most amused themselves with observing the daily proofs of his folly during the progress of the siege, 136 was a gentleman of the name of Loisi Pagano, whose great penetration and pleasing manners winning poor Giacomo’s entire confidence, the latter often entertained him with the history of this his cruel passion. Perceiving the extravagant turn it had taken, Loisi began to think how he might employ the enamoured wight’s folly to some useful purpose in chastising the conceit of a certain upstart in Salerno who took the name of Messer Angelo, and who, though only a farrier, had assumed the profession of a physician, trafficking in different parts of Italy, whence he returned home with the spoil of his dead patients. Conversing one day with Giacomo on the same eternal subject, he addressed the lover as follows: “You must surely, my dear friend, care very little about the sufferings you talk of, when you might so easily put an end to them. You know Messer Angelo is one of the greatest conjurors in the world, and I can give you a proof of it, inasmuch as I have happily consulted him on many occasions, and never been deceived. He is, moreover, your relation on the mother’s side. Why not hasten to him, and prevail upon him with a little pleasing flattery to exercise his art in your favour, by which you will infallibly arrive at the object of your wishes? Or if he should think of imposing upon you, as he has most probably done upon many others, you can give him such a lesson in return as will teach him how to behave to gentlemen in future, and remember you ever after.” Great was the joy and gratitude evinced by Giacomo on hearing these words, and flattering himself with the happiest results, he promised to do everything required of him. His friend Loisi then excusing himself, lost no time in finding Messer Angelo, to whom he communicated his plan with no slight pleasure, thinking of the sport they were about to have. Little did Messer Angelo suppose, as he stood laughing, with what satisfaction Loisi was anticipating his chastisement, while he made poor Giacomo his dupe, and arranged measures before parting for executing their roguish scheme.
Not long afterwards the lover despatched a messenger for Messer Angelo, and told him in a lamentable voice his grand secret, already known to everybody in the place, how sadly he pined in love, concluding, with many sighs: “You know, my good uncle, a friend in need is a friend indeed; and I have been informed that you are a great magician, whose infinite skill, if you please, can easily deliver me from all my pains; and so I beseech you, in the name of Heaven, that you will take pity on me, that I may obtain the dear object of my wishes, and owe my life and everything I have to you alone.” With a cheerful countenance, Messer Angelo replied he should be happy to do anything in his power to serve him, and, among other things, at last addressed him thus: “But, my dear Giacomo, I am somewhat fearful of the result, as my plan would require, on your part, the utmost resolution and courage.” “Only tell me what it is,” cried the lover, “for I declare I am ready to descend into the infernal regions if necessary; such is the strength of my love.” “Nay,” answered he, “it is worse than that; for the truth is, you will have to hold a dialogue, face to face, with a ferocious demon called Barabas, the only one whom I have it at present in my power to summon for my commands.” 137 “Well,” continued Giacomo, “I will, if you please, speak to Satan himself, who is greater, you know; that is, if it be necessary.” “Heaven grant you courage!” cried the conjuror; “but how are we to get the proper implements for the work? We must have a sword that has despatched a man, in the first place.” “Oh, I can get one of my brother’s that has killed ten in its time,” cried Giacomo. “Well, that is the most important,” replied Messer Angelo; “we can easily provide the rest. However, let there be in readiness when I ask for them a black and well-fed wether lamb and four fat capons, and check your impatience till the moon is in her wane. Leave the rest to me, for I promise you, you shall have the lady in your own hands, for better or worse, whichever you please.”
Overjoyed with such an offer, Giacomo vowed to have everything in readiness as the necromancer had pointed out; who then repaired to Loisi, informing him of what had been fixed upon, in order to obviate any mistake that might arise. Often did they amuse themselves, before proceeding to work, with the simplicity of Giacomo, who hardly ever ceased for three days to tease the conjuror to commence the ceremonies. “Well, for my part, I am quite ready now,” exclaimed Angelo, “but have you prepared what I enjoined you?” “To be sure I have,” returned Giacomo, “and think myself very lucky too, for I have got the finest capons you ever saw from my lady cousin; and, better still, I can show you a young wether as fat as a bull, jet black, with four great horns, enough to frighten you to look at.” Quite delighted, Messer Angelo observed, “Indeed, cousin, I hardly know you; love has so sharpened all your faculties at once. No one else could possibly have got together all the things requisite so very soon; but to-night shall reward you: I will put everything in order, and call for you when I set out.”
Angelo then returned to Loisi, to tell him where he was to expect them, as all was fixed. It was no sooner night than the conjuror adjourned to the house of the lover, saying, “Would you like to come? It is quite time.” He was answered in the affirmative; and seizing the homicidal sword, and placing the fat lamb on his shoulder, and a capon under each arm, he conducted the devoted lover into the midst of some awful ruins, where Loisi lay concealed accompanied by several friends, in order not to engross the whole scene to himself. Here Messer Angelo, turning towards Giacomo, said, “Take notice, my friend, we are now advanced too far to think of retreating without the most imminent risk; so look you do not flinch, and above all, beware how you call on the Lord or the Virgin: aye, or confess yourself either, for we should all sink down together into the bottomless pit. But if you should feel some qualms of fear (and how can you help it?), address yourself to the Redeemer, for you will want one, and we may perhaps escape the wiles of the wicked one.” This our hero promised to do if possible, and the great necromancer then proceeded: “You must repeat after me exactly what I say; and when we have conjured him up, Barabas will give a loud cry, saying, ‘Now, give me my supper,’ and then throw the capons at him to stop his mouth, and send the wether after them when the great horned beast roars out.” This the 138 lover promised manfully to perform, and the order being given, out sprung the murderous sword, drawing a vast circle on the ground, and strange hieroglyphics within, while strong sulphurous perfumes rose on all sides, and incantations dire, and contortions of hands and eyes were seen. “Put your left leg into the circle this moment, Giacomo, and tell me whether you would rather see him in all his horrors face to face, or hear him speak from the old castle window yonder.” The poor lover, whose simplicity had brought him with such vast courage into the dilemma, hearing such an awful commencement, began to tremble, saying, “It would perhaps be enough at first to hear him speak;” advancing his foot at the same time into the circle, and, against the agreement, recommending himself to every saint in heaven. His master, perceiving that he already thought himself transported into the other world, ordered him three times to pronounce the name of Barabas: the first only of which he effectually did. Loisi, in the disguise of the wicked one, then threw up a blaze of fire with a noise like thunder, enough to frighten the stoutest heart. Whether Giacomo wished himself at home again there is little need to inquire; but, encouraged by the conjuror, he called out a second time, when a greater conflagration than before met his view. Though his master failed not to observe the poor lover half dead with fear, he still urged him on, saying, “Fear nothing; the monster is well bound; he can do you no harm; so call him lustily for the third time,” which, with the utmost exertion, he did; but in so faint a voice that it was scarcely heard. Loisi, on this, having sent up a third fiery signal, uttered a terrible yell, that nearly put an end to the poor lover’s life. But the master, reminding him that the demon was bound, bade Giacomo stand firm and repeat the invocation exactly as he told him. When he tried to speak, his heart beat so violently that he could scarcely support himself; and Messer Angelo, fearing lest he had already carried things too far, began to lecture Barabas for being so very outrageous. But Loisi and his companions, almost dead with laughter, perceiving that the conjuror did not proceed, fearful of losing their sport, called out fiercely for the fat lamb and everything they had. Then Messer Angelo, turning to the trembling lover, cried, “Throw him everything you have, and fly for your life, without ever looking behind you.” No sooner did Giacomo, who truly felt as if he were got into the wrong world, hear these joyous words, than flinging capons, lamb, and everything else into the demon’s den, he took to his legs at a speed that defied all pursuit.
After he had arrived with some difficulty home, Messer Angelo soon joined him, saying, “Well, what think you of my necromantic art? Come, speak; be of good cheer; we shall finish the business next time.” “Say no more about it,” cried Giacomo faintly; “I would not go back with you for worlds; so find some other way of conjuring the lady for me, and I shall be eternally obliged to you.” “Well, be it so,” returned Angelo; “I am determined you shall succeed, and will do everything in my power to serve you.” On which he left him to repose. Loisi, in the meanwhile, having taken the animals offered to him by way of oblation, dismissed his companions 139 and betook himself to rest. The next day he resolved to give a splendid feast, with the help of these and other good things, in honour of Giacomo and the friends who had witnessed the preceding scene. The dinner-hour being arrived, not a guest could refrain from laughter when Giacomo with great solemnity entered the room. Whispers, peals of laughter, and “Barabas, Barabas! make way for Barabas!” were echoed from side to side. Giacomo soon found he was the sole object of their merriment; on which Loisi, who had laid the whole scheme, saw that the time was come to execute his design of turning the tables upon the conjuror himself, and correcting him for many of his old faults. With this view, taking Giacomo aside after dinner, he acquainted him in a friendly way with everything that Angelo had done to make him ridiculous in their eyes. Giacomo, bearing in mind Loisi’s words, set off with the most deadly intentions to find the hated necromancer. Without saying a word, he seized him up by the hair of his head, and throwing him down, began to punish him with a degree of severity which it was extremely difficult for the conjuror to bear. Leaving him for some moments senseless upon the ground, our hero in his passion seized upon a huge stone near him, which would for ever had terminated the conjuror’s career, had not his friends approached to deliver him out of the lover’s hands.
Recovering him from his rage, and aware of all the follies of which he had been guilty, Giacomo, overcome with shame, retired to his own house, which he only left again to depart also from the city. Having disposed of his little property, he purchased for himself a steed and arms, and setting out for the seat of war, had the good fortune, aided by prudence and valour, to arrive at wealth and honour, esteemed by his comrades and commanders, For the whole of which he may be said to have been indebted to love and Messer Angelo; the latter of whom having received his just deserts at the hands of Giacomo, it only remains for us to admire the very mysterious and miraculous powers of the blind archer-boy, who, with a little assistance from Fortune, can confer so much happiness on those who enjoy his smiles.
The court of Sienna, after instituting the strictest search, condemned the offender to perpetual banishment. The alarm, the grief, the tears of these young and inexperienced beings, thus rudely awakened out of their dreams of life’s sweetest joys, can be conceived only by those, who, with similar feelings, have bade each other an eternal farewell, but cannot be described. Long and bitter was their parting; entranced in sorrow, they lay sobbing in each other’s arms; they struggled to part, but they caught each other’s eyes, and again rushed back to embrace; when the fair bride bowed her head upon her lover’s breast, and became lost even to her despair. Their grief having exhausted itself, he flattered her with hopes of returning to his country and his love; that though he left Italy, he should find a home in Alexandria with his uncle, a wealthy and reputable merchant, whence he assured her he would write to her, and adopt such measures that they should not long remain divided; and thus, still shedding tears, they tore themselves away from each other. Immediately before he left his native shore, Mariotto took his brother aside, and acquainting him with the whole affair, earnestly recommended his forsaken bride to his care, entreating to hear of her from him as often as possible, with the minutest accounts of everything that might befall her; after which he went on board and the ship set sail. Being received by his uncle with the most kind and joyous welcome, the exile soon made him acquainted with the history of his unhappy adventures. Listening with the utmost commiseration to the poor youth’s story, the merchant, instead of vainly reproaching him for his past errors, with equal gentleness and prudence endeavoured to console and flatter him with hopes of future reconciliation with the families he had offended, though he did not pretend to disguise his fears on the delicacy of the situation, and the necessity for the strictest caution in his proceedings. He then intrusted to him some of his mercantile affairs, entertaining him in his own house, though not without much secret suffering on the part of the young man, and many bitter tears shed by him when alone, in spite of the letters he from time to time received from his deserted bride or from his brother, the only happiness he now possessed. In the meanwhile, however, the father of Giannozza had been frequently solicited to bestow his daughter’s hand on various suitors for her love; and though numbers had been refused, such flattering proposals were at length made, that the poor girl had no longer any colour of excuse. In this wretched state of torture and suspense, death itself seemed to be far preferable to the life she endured; and 141 finding at last that there appeared no hope of her dear husband’s return, and that to divulge the real truth would only be the ruin of both, a thought struck her, and she resolved, at every hazard both of life and reputation, however, dreadful, to rescue herself from her impending fate. Inspired with a noble resolution, she signified her obedience to her father’s pleasure. She then despatched a message for the monk who had been the cause of all their sorrow in first uniting their hands, and secretly revealing her intentions, she besought his assistance in promoting her fixed resolve. He listened to her with surprise, and, as is usual with his order, evinced some degree of timidity and indecision; nor was it until he had swallowed a cordial to restore his flagging spirits, and beheld the glittering bait, that he could be persuaded to enter into her views. When he had heard the extremity to which she was reduced, the friar, as time pressed, hastened in obedience to her orders to prepare a certain drug, the power of which, when mixed with water, was sufficient to produce a sleep deep and inanimate as death, which would continue during three days, and this he immediately despatched to the courageous and devoted wife. As soon as she had received it, she sat down and wrote to her husband a full account of her intentions with regard to the manner in which she thus fearfully proposed, with the aid of the friar, to rejoin him. Then joyfully seizing the cup, she drank off the whole, and shortly feeling a deep stupor stealing over her, she fell half unconsciously on her bed, as if she had breathed her last.
Her maidens coming into her chamber, with wild cries announced some fearful event, when her father, followed by some of his guests, burst into the room, and beheld his only and cherished child lifeless before his eyes. In vain were the physicians called in: after fruitless efforts to restore her, it was agreed by all that she had fallen a victim to a sudden spasmodic affection of the stomach. She remained the whole of that day and the ensuing night in the same state, without showing the least sign of life. The next, to the infinite grief of her parents and friends, no less than of numbers of the Siennese people, she was interred with the most splendid rites and ceremonies in a grand vault in the Church of St. Augustine. But about the hour of midnight she was removed from this living tomb by the venerable friar and one of his companions, and laid, according to the concerted plan, in his own chamber. The hour being come when the heavy drug was to lose its influence, she was with some difficulty restored by the trembling friar to life, and awakening as from a dream, in three days she was enabled to set out on her meditated journey to meet one for whom she had perilled so much. In the disguise of a monk she reached the port of Pisa, whence a convoy of ships was about to sail which touched at Alexandria, and here she embarked. But driven back by contrary winds and other casualties, the vessels were compelled to seek port and to refit, being in this manner detained many months at sea. Gargano, the brother of the youthful husband, had in the meanwhile written to him, according to his promise, a particular account of everything relating to his beloved wife, and from this source had the unfortunate Mariotto received the overwhelming tidings of her sudden 142 death. The minutest incidents were mentioned of the time and manner of her interment, and how her aged father, in a short time, had followed her to the tomb. Unhappily, these letters were received before those sent by his dear Giannozza, unfolding her secret intentions, arrived: as if Fortune had now utterly abandoned those on whom she for a moment smiled, these happy tidings fell a prey to corsairs, while the contrary ones reached their destination, overwhelming the young lover with unequalled sorrow and despair. In vain did his uncle offer him every consolation, in vain did he himself attempt to struggle with his grief; and he at length resolved to visit the grave and weep over the memory of his beloved, till despair, or the more friendly laws which he had offended, should terminate his wretched days. In this way, and this way only, could he now flatter himself with rejoining her whom alone he had loved on earth — her, who had sacrificed all her noblest prospects for the sake of calling him her own.
Thus resolved, he only awaited the sailing of the Venetian galleys for the west, in which, unknown to his kind relation, he had engaged his passage, and weighing anchor, after a short voyage to Naples, he fearlessly, or rather with the hope of death, advanced into the Tuscan territories, and in the disguise of a pilgrim soon entered Sienna. Here, without acquainting any of his friends with his arrival, he sought at a seasonable hour the spot where rested, as he believed, the remains of her he loved, and there weeping long and bitterly over her tomb, willing would he have laid himself by her side, to have slumbered with her in death, to whom in life, though his own, he was forbidden thus near to lie. This feeling being ever present to him, he resolved at last to indulge it. Concealing himself one evening in the church, where he had deposited implements for his purpose, he issued forth at night to open for himself a way into the vault. As he was on the point of entering, the watchman in his morning rounds hearing some disturbance, approached the spot, and perceiving him thus employed, gave the alarm, which soon brought numbers of the priests, as well as laymen, half undressed, together. Opening the gates, they discovered the wretched husband within the vault, nor was it long before he was recognised for Mariotto Magnanelli. Being secured, reports of his arrival quickly spread abroad, which, reaching the Senate, the public magistrate was immediately directed to take measures that the laws applying to the culprit should be put into force. He was accordingly conducted as a prisoner before the Podesta, and the torture being directed to applied to enforce a true confession, the unfortunate youth gave an exact account of his unhappy adventures, which, although they awakened, especially among the women, universal compassion and regret for his unequalled fidelity and attachment, many offering themselves to suffer in his place, were nevertheless not permitted to interfere with the course of justice. He was accordingly sentenced to death, and notwithstanding the intercession of his friends and relatives, was shortly after conducted to execution.
In the meanwhile his unhappy bride, undergoing extreme toil and suffering, at length succeeded in reaching Alexandria, and immediately went to the house of her dear husband’s uncle; and having revealed 143 to him her sad story, was received with the utmost tenderness and compassion. But what was the anguish of her feelings, when, instead of embracing the beloved object for whose sake she had supported herself through such trying scenes, she learned that, receiving false accounts of her death, her husband had secretly left the place, and nothing had been heard of him. She had borne toil and anguish, but every other grief had been light to this, this last of ills, which she could never have foreseen, and the shock of which it must be left to the feeling mind to imagine, since to express it is impossible.
Restored once more to herself, she received the kindness lavished upon her with showers of tears, and consented, thus weeping abundantly, to be accompanied back by the good merchant, without loss of time to Sienna; clinging to one desperate hope of being reunited to her lover, either living or in the grave. Resuming, then, once more the pilgrim’s cowl and staff, this widowed and devoted bride again committed herself with the merchant to the dangerous seas; and now, alas! favouring breezes bore her onwards towards the Tuscan shores. They landed at Piombino, and thence hastened to a villa belonging to Ser Niccolo, the merchant, not far from Sienna. The first answer they received to their hasty inquiries was, that Mariotto had suffered the sentence of the law only three days before their arrival. However much thy had feared, still they were far from being prepared to meet such a confirmation of the calamity, and they were both too greatly afflicted any longer to console each other. The deep and incessant sobs of the unhappy lady would have melted the sternest heart; but it at length became necessary to resolve upon some step, and after affording her every consolation in his power, the kind-hearted merchant, with the advice of his friends, and the consent of the unhappy widow, removed her into a neighbouring monastery, where all the tenderness and attentions which her birth and station required were richly supplied. But never did she again look up amidst her sorrow: there she continued to weep over her loss and the misfortunes she had endured; and receiving the consolation and caresses of the abbess, who had been informed of her sad story, in silent grief she daily faded away, and often calling piteously upon her dear husband’s name, she not long afterwards expired.
Novels of Massuccio Continued