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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. 370-376.


Novels of Francesco Sansovino.




THIS novelist was the son of the distinguished sculptor and architect, Jacopo Sansovino, and was born at Rome in the year 1521. Pope Julius III. is said to have officiated as his sponsor at the sacred font. He was first brought up to the profession of the law; but as he had no inclination for that study, he made but little progress in it, and is supposed to have soon after relinquished it upon his marriage, when he took up his residence in Venice, where he lived till the year 1586. He there produced many of his novels, and devoted himself altogether to literary labours and pursuits. He was a voluminous writer, which, however, by no means atones for the want of genuine merit, a failing of which he has, not without justice, been accused, his tales affording few specimens worthy of selection. Their want of originality is one of the least faults ascribed to them, inasmuch as he has been charged with having mutilated and disguised his borrowed subjects in the most unceremonious manner. The best claim that writers of this description have upon our notice (and it must be allowed there are too many such among the Italian novelists), consists in the copious materials with which they supply the critic, whose delightful task it is to detect, by long and minute labours, a few rare gems sparkling amidst a mass of inferior productions.

The character of Sansovino as a writer has been very fairly appreciated by Apostolo Zeno in his learned annotations to the well-known “Biblioteca Italiana” of Fontanini. He there observes that a great number of the stories inserted in Sansovino’s collection as his own are obviously to be referred to the “Decameron” of Boccaccio; and that he has likewise taken frequent liberties with those of Bandello, without noticing the name of that author; though many other writers are mentioned in the list of authors whom he has adduced as supplying the materials of his work. Still Sansovino is by no means a solitary instance of the predatory genius of the novelists of the sixteenth century, indulged at the expense of the earlier and better writers of Italy. Nor while La Fontaine and other French writers, as well as our English dramatists, drew so largely from the same source, do we see any cogent reason why the Italians themselves should not be allowed to enjoy a reciprocal traffic in their own national productions.




OTTO, the third emperor of that name, on his return from Rome, where he had just been invested with the imperial dignity by the reigning pontiff, Gregory V., touched at Florence on his way to his German dominions. The whole of Tuscany, then under the imperial sway, was committed to the government of Ugone, Marquis of Brandenburg, cousin-german to the Emperor, a man of approved reputation, and esteemed for his love of justice by all ranks of people. Now it happened during the Emperor’s stay that the festival of San Giovanni the Baptist, the tutelary saint of Florence, was everywhere celebrated throughout the city, and the concourse of guests at the palace was likewise very great. Among these, the Emperor was particularly struck with a beautiful young lady, daughter to a gentleman of the name of Berti del Ravignani. She was esteemed the most lovely and accomplished maiden, not only in Florence, but throughout all Tuscany. The eyes of the company were frequently riveted upon her, and those of the Emperor never once wandered from her face. Such was the impression he received, that, unable to detect the least fault in her face or form, and charmed with the sweetness of her manners, he gave way to the most unbounded admiration, in spite of the restraints imposed upon him by his birth and station. The more he gazed, and the more he conversed with her, the deeper sunk the emotions he began to entertain, until, at the close of the festival, on taking his leave of her, he returned to his own palace silent and unhappy, his whole soul absorbed in the recollection of the exquisite charms, both of mind and person, of the lady he had just seen. Such influence over him did this passion at length assume, that so far from being able to extirpate it, he could no longer disguise his feelings; and doubtful only in what manner to proceed, he resolved to consult one of the most prudent gentlemen of his bed-chamber. To him he committed the task of obtaining further particulars concerning the beloved object, giving him at the same time proper instructions by which he might discover her. In this manner he shortly became acquainted with her father’s name and the whole genealogy of her family. The gentlemen was of good extraction, but in somewhat confined circumstances, and by no means of a disposition, either by his industry or his wit, to improve them.

Scorning the idea of acting in any way either artfully or dishonourably, yet being determined to pursue his object, the Emperor resolved to hint the affair to the lady’s father through his confidant, and proceed throughout the whole transaction, both with regard to the father and the daughter, candidly and openly. With this view, having learned that his mission to Messer Berti, owing to the expectations of wealth and influence which it excited in his mind, had met with a favourable reception, the Emperor invited him to his royal table; and lavishing upon him every mark of attention, soon entered into familiar discourse, though without alluding, in the most distant manner, to the subject nearest his heart. Such marks of favour would have been 373 quite sufficient to dazzle the judgment and warp the virtuous feelings of a wiser and better man than poor Berti del Ravignani; and so elevated was he with these sudden glimpses of court favour, that he could not forbear boasting of them, on his return home, to his daughter. He soon afterwards announced, with a very consequential air, that he intended to invite the Emperor and a few friends to dinner; that he was already extremely well disposed towards him; that she must take care to put on her best looks, and it was impossible to say to what height of fortune they might not aspire. Intelligent and virtuous as she was beautiful, the fair Gualdrada on hearing these words, though some suspicions flashed across her mind, disdained to notice them, being determined to rely upon herself and to act as circumstances might require. On the appointed day, therefore, the Emperor attended, with a single gentleman, the summons of Messer Berti to feast with him at his house, where he had the pleasure of being introduced into the society of the beautiful object of all his hopes. Here, while attempting to make himself as agreeable as possible, the Emperor had occasion to observe the nobleness and simplicity of her mind and sentiments, no less than her surpassing beauty and the artless graces of her person. And however desirous of disguising the warmth of his feelings from motives of delicacy, heightened by the high opinion which he began to entertain of her, he nevertheless could not refrain from availing himself of an opportunity of avowing his sentiments, declaring that he had struggled long and painfully with them, and that he could not help telling her so, however fearful he might be of incurring her displeasure. He trusted she would consider that in all countries and all ages, the most cautious as well as the most lofty of human characters had at some period of their lives experienced the same irresistible sentiments which now impelled him, against his better feelings and judgment, to admire, and to avow his admiration and his passion; a passion which, however unjust and ungenerous it was, in vain he attempted to suppress. He urged that so many illustrious instances, both in Greek and Roman history, would in some measure plead his excuse; the Cæsars, the Hannibals, the Massinissas, the Antonys; the last of whom he verily believed had no apology to offer for his weakness at all equal to that which stood arrayed in superior charms before him. “And if you deign not now to listen to me,” continued the Emperor, as he threw himself at the lady’s feet, “I feel that my sceptre and my diadem, with all their pomp, are worthless in my eyes. Take them, or take at least more than they are worth — the heart that is above them all.”

A variety of emotions chased each other over the features of the fair girl as she listened to the words of he Emperor; gratified pride and vanity, terror, shame, and doubt, were all there; but these were again overpowered and absorbed in the more overwhelming sense of love — a love which, although she ventured not to avow it, clung to another object. Releasing her hand, therefore, from that of the Emperor, she made no reply, but turning away, burst into tears. Her royal lover, nearly as much distressed as herself, now entreated her forgiveness, accusing himself of the greatest thoughtlessness and 374 cruelty in having thus inconsiderately tried her feelings, In the most soothing and respectful terms he entreated her to compose her mind, and fully to rely upon his humanity and honour. As there appeared to be some degree of mystery in her manner of receiving him, he said that he should feel highly gratified to be considered worthy of her confidence, however painful the sacrifice he might have to make in consequence, if indeed she could never return his love. Expressing her gratitude for these assurances of kindness and respect, the fair Gualdrada, fearful of offending the Emperor in the avowal she was preparing to make, fell at his feet and besought him to forgive her temerity in venturing to refuse his love. She then confessed that on the same night of the festival in which she had been presented to his imperial highness, Guido, a young cavalier of his court, had also seen and sought her love; that they had since had several interviews, but that neither of them possessing wealth, she had not ventured to make known his offer to her father. Without a moment’s hesitation, the Emperor, thanking her for this proof of confidence, and recovering all his former generosity and magnanimity of feeling, instantly despatched orders for the young cavalier to attend him. On his arrival, presenting the astonished soldier to the weeping and blushing Gualdrada, he observed with his usual mildness: “It is my pleasure, Guido, that you should espouse this lady, the daughter of a noble though impoverished house;” and the next day, holding a splendid festival in honour of their nuptials, he himself presented the hand of the fair Gualdrada to his favourite Guido, and conferred upon him a handsome fortune.



THERE were once two spruce young gentlemen who had more reason to pique themselves upon their good descent than upon the strength of their mental endowments. To use a familiar expression much applied by the good people of Milan, they both belonged to the parish of San Simpliciano, and from a great similarity of disposition, they had contracted so strict an intimacy, that they were seldom to be seen asunder. When they happened to be in other company, they invariably aimed at leading the conversation to points of fashionable interest, in which alone they were calculated to shine, displaying their abilities in criticising the tastes of others and indirectly complimenting each other. Their continued repetition of the same fashionable nonsense, so impertinently introduced upon all occasions, had at length the effect of wearying and disgusting all parties where their presence was tolerated. During fine summer weather they were in the habit of wearing the most costly white silk dresses; their vests were of white velvet, their ruffs of the whitest cambric, their pantaloons and stockings of white silk, and their hats of white velvet with white feathers in them. And yet they had the assurance to appear thus accoutred in public, displaying their feathers with all the vanity of peacocks, as they turned arm in arm along the piazzas, full of their own perfections, 375 and eager to attract the notice of spectators, who failed not indeed to smile as they passed; a circumstance which these young sparks placed entirely to their own credit. So pestiferous did they at length become to society by this display of their vain folly and presumption, that whenever they appeared in a perfectly new suit, their friends invariably avoided them, as they were certain to be regaled with a dissertation upon French tailors and the newest points and lacings then in mode. “Observe these linings! how well they sit upon this waistcoat! how brilliant are these feathers! By Jove! how nobly they wave with the least breath of air. Yet they would not sit well upon any one, let me tell you; there is an art in a man’s wearing a handsome dress by no means common.” And in this way they would run on by the hour together. Among others who had thus suffered under their intolerable rattle was a sensible and spirited young fellow, who had a particular enmity to the race of fops, and made a solemn vow, in a moment of irritation, to hit upon some species of revenge that might tend to remove such a nuisance from society, and perhaps put the authors of it on their good behaviour in future. With this view he conceived a plan which he thought could not fail to produce a happy effect, and only waited for a good opportunity of carrying it into execution.

This soon occurred during the summer season, when our cavaliers were in the habit, as we have said, of assuming their white array, and when they frequented the neighbourhood of our more sensible friend’s residence, in order to make themselves agreeable to a party of ladies who were accustomed to walk near his house. One evening, therefore, he stationed himself at his garden gate, as if enjoying the coolness of the air, expecting these two giddy sparks, who in a short time came fluttering by, having displayed their plumes to the amusement of the ladies, who had now returned home. Stepping suddenly forwards and seizing a hand of each, their friend declared he would make them his prisoners for the rest of the evening; for he had just received some excellent wine, of which he wished to have their opinion. They accepted his challenge, and, with a fashionable roll of their shoulders, accompanied him in, when, finding the servants busily clearing the dining-room, he invited the gentlemen to go and give him their opinion of his selection of wines as they lay in his vaults, where they might also taste it perfectly cool; observing that he often went there when he found every other place in the world too hot for him. Each of them, then, seizing his glass, mightily amused at the idea, they followed their friend into the vaults, a servant preceding them with a torch, while his fellows were laughing heartily at their master’s humour in the room above, one of whom, being intrusted with the secret, had communicated it to all the rest. Several guests in the drawing-room were likewise waiting the event, with no slight mirth exhibited in their countenances. While the glasses were filling, the two coxcombs were busily criticising the various sorts of wines submitted to their taste, and enjoying the coolness as they rambled about the vaults. Now there was a large vessel filled with water lying near for the purpose the host had in view. It was of such respectable dimensions as apparently to defy the exertions of a single person to remove it. Attracting 376 the notice of his guests, the host, as if casually passing, observed, “Large as you seem to think it, there is one of my fellows who can throw it upon his shoulders and carry it upstairs for me whenever I please.” One of our fashionables, who likewise piqued himself upon his bodily prowess, instantly laid hands upon it, but finding it resist his efforts even to stir it, he pretty roundly swore he would wager a dozen of champagne that their host was mistaken. But the fact was again as positively affirmed, till the dispute growing warm on both sides, the young gentleman declared that it would be the fairest way to put it to the proof. “I have no objection,” returned the wily host; “here is the very rascal we were just speaking of; he has shoulders broad enough to bear the world: so take up that huge tub, you rogue, and walk. Show the gentlemen the way upstairs, and take heed you do not let it fall.” Forthwith he pitched it upon his neck; and the master leading the way, the two disciples of San Simpliciano somewhat imprudently followed in his rear. The steps were tolerably steep, and the porter, feigning great difficulty, just as he had reached the top, suddenly tripped, and sent the contents of the vessel back again, flying all abroad on every side. Strange was the confusion, and the sputtering, and the exclamations which the two unfortunate fashionables now made; still more strange was the sprinkling and spoiling of their delicate new garments, which truly cut a woful figure. Instead of a pure white, they now exhibited all the colours in the rainbow, with the addition of black patches, which stuck to their fine ermine, while they sighed and sobbed with the effects of the cold bathing they had just received. The water had been deeply impregnated with ink and assafœtida, and with other nauseous drugs, to such a degree that neither of them was free from the stain for more than a twelvemonth. The porter, however, had the humanity to prevent the tub itself from falling, which would otherwise have totally overwhelmed the dripping sparks, who were by no means made of such stout materials as to withstand the shock it might have occasioned, being of that brittle texture which, like glass, will bear no rough usage, though it can receive a polish. The rogue of a porter instantly took to his heels on viewing the awful ruin he had wrought, while his master, pretending to be in the highest degree offended at his negligence, hastened after him, leaving our poor heroes to digest the venom of his joke as they best could. But not possessing wit enough to see into the jest, they shook hands before they left with the happy and triumphant host, who watched them, along with some of his guests, tripping homewards as fast as they well could, shivering as if in an ague fit, to the infinite amusement of all the passengers.


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