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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. 594-596.


Luigi Sanvitale.





HE who, nursed in the bosom of ease and uninterrupted prosperity, has been accustomed from his infancy to the indulgence of all his fondest wishes can form no just idea of the real evils of life. The prejudices that he acquires by degrees become fixed and inveterate; he is apt to imagine himself not only superior, but almost of a different nature and composition to the bulk of mankind, whom he is inclined to rank little higher than the brutes, while he himself arrogates the right of tyrannising over his dependants and inferiors.

In the Roman annals has been preserved the name of Vedio Pollione, a rich patrician, and a striking example of the character above alluded to. Indeed, to so great an extreme did he carry his luxurious taste in regard to the delicacies of his table, that he kept a private fishpond of lampreys, which he was accustomed to feed with human blood, to give them a more poignant relish. To this character of a complete gourmand he added the most refined cruelty, inventing new kinds of chastisement for his slaves, which he took pleasure in applying on the slightest occasions of offence; yet, notwithstanding the ferocity of his character, it could not be denied that he displayed the utmost courtesy and refinement of manners in public, insomuch as to attract the particular notice and esteem of the Emperor Augustus. On one occasion he fixed to take supper with Pollio at his own house on a certain day. We may easily imagine the extraordinary display of luxury and delicacy of every kind to greet the eyes of the imperial guest. The flesh of every animal, most judiciously and exquisitely disguised, was laid under contribution; fish of the greatest rarity and most delicious taste, the finest fruits the seasons of every country could afford, were all presented in plate and vases of the richest material and workmanship. The feast in fact was glorious, and went off with the most charming conviviality and success, until the rarest wines began to be more freely circulated, and the joy and satisfaction of the Emperor was at its height; even the slaves seemed to catch the enlivening influence as they offered their best services with steady foot and light hand. All indeed, except one unfortunate, who happened to be carrying a fine crystal vase, when unluckily his foot slipped, and it fell with a crash to the ground. With the most careless air, Pollio, turning his head, ordered him to be thrown 596 into the fishpond, to give a higher relish to the lampreys. But the poor slave, terrified at the idea of so shocking a fate, ran and threw himself at the Emperor’s feet, beseeching that he would obtain for him some other kind of death. Not a little surprised at both the novelty and severity of the sentence, the monarch told the slave to rise, adding “Go, offer up thy thanks to Jupiter Omnipotent, who brought me hither to sup with thy master to-night: thou art a lucky slave!” Then turning towards Pollio with a reproving countenance, he gave orders that all the fine crystals should be thrown into the pond, instead of the poor slave’s carcase, and thus gave his courtier a lesson in humanity at the expense of his taste for fish.


*  The above story is announced as having been borrowed from Seneca, “De Ira,” lib. iii.



IN the city of Placenza there occurred a singular circumstance not very long ago, the relation of which cannot fail to give pleasure to benevolent minds. A young cavalier happened one evening to be going to join a party of friends, when a poor man in wretched attire crossed the path, and in a quick bold tone asked him for his money. The cavalier, by no means an Orlando Furioso in point of courage, presented him, as he was requested, with his purse; which the thief opened and counted out six pieces, instantly returning to him the rest. The next minute he disappeared. Convinced by the singularity of the act that he must be some indigent wretch, the cavalier, without the least desire to molest him, resolved to keep him in sight if possible, and was lucky enough to see him dart, at no great distance, into a miserable little hovel. He then advanced and knocked at the door, where the robber directly after appeared. What was his surprise and terror to behold the man he had just robbed! Throwing himself at his feet, he implored his mercy in the name of his destitute and suffering family, whose wretchedness had driven him to such an act. “Good man,” said the cavalier, “do not distress yourself. I did not follow you to do you any sort of harm: it was only curiosity that led me to watch you; I wished to know your motive. Let me see those for whom you ventured your life.” He was shown a miserable group; a few tattered rags, a little straw, a mother’s pallid and careworn looks, and wild, half-famished children, crying and calling for bread, made up the woful picture. The cavalier turned his head aside; he could not restrain his tears; then addressing the father of the family, he said, “I came to bring you the purse; relieve your poor children;” and he darted from the spot.


  This incident is stated to have really occurred, as it is here related, to a gentleman who acted thus generously in return.


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