The Punishment of Marazzani — I Leave Lugano — Turin — M. Dubois at Parma — Leghorn — The Duke of Orloff — Pisa — Stratico — Sienna — The Marchioness Chigi — My Departure from Sienna With an Englishwoman
These unforeseen, haphazard meetings with old friends have always been the happiest moments of my life.
We all remained for some time dumb with delight. M. de R. was the first to break the silence by giving me a cordial embrace. We burst out into mutual excuses, he for having imagined that there might be other Casanovas in Italy, and I for not having ascertained his name. He made me take pot-luck with him the same day, and we seemed as if we had never parted. The Republic had given him this employ — a very lucrative one — and he was only sorry that it would expire in two years. He told me he was delighted to be able to be of use to me, and begged me to consider he was wholly at my service. He was delighted to hear that I should be engaged in seeing my work through the press for three or four months, and seemed vexed when I told him that I could not accept his hospitality more than once a week as my labours would be incessant.
Madame de R—— could scarcely recover from her surprise. It was nine years since I had seen her at Soleure, and then I thought her beauty must be at its zenith; but I was wrong, she was still more beautiful and I told her so. She shewed me her only child, who had been born four years after my departure. She cherished the child as the apple of her eye, and seemed likely to spoil it; but I heard, a few years ago, that this child is now an amiable and accomplished man.
In a quarter of an hour Madame de R—— informed me of all that had happened at Soleure since my departure. Lebel had gone to Besancon, where he lived happily with his charming wife.
She happened to observe in a casual way that I no longer looked as young as I had done at Soleure, and this made me regulate my conduct in a manner I might not otherwise have done. I did not let her beauty carry me away; I resisted the effect of her charms, and I was content to enjoy her friendship, and to be worthy of the friendship of her good husband.
The work on which I was engaged demanded all my care and attention, and a love affair would have wasted most of my time.
I began work the next morning, and save for an hour’s visit from M. de R—— I wrote on till nightfall. The next day I had the first proof- sheet with which I was well enough pleased.
I spent the whole of the next month in my room, working assiduously, and only going out to mass on feast days, to dine with M. de R— — and to walk with his wife and her child.
At the end of a month my first volume was printed and stitched, and the manuscript of the second volume was ready for the press. Towards the end of October the printer sent in the entire work in three volumes, and in less than a year the edition was sold out.
My object was not so much to make money as to appease the wrath of the Venetian Inquisitors; I had gone all over Europe, and experienced a violent desire to see my native land once more.
Amelot de la Houssaye had written his book from the point of view of an enemy of Venice. His history was rather a satire, containing learned and slanderous observations mingled together. It had been published for seventy years, but hitherto no one had taken the trouble to refute it. If a Venetian had attempted to do so he would not have obtained permission from his Government to print it in the States of Venice, for the State policy is to allow no one to discuss the actions of the authorities, whether in praise or blame; consequently no writer had attempted to refute the French history, as it was well known that the refutation would be visited with punishment and not with reward.
My position was an exceptional one. I had been persecuted by the Venetian Government, so no one could accuse me of being partial; and by my exposing the calumnies of Amelot before all Europe I hoped to gain a reward, which after all would only be an act of justice.
I had been an exile for fourteen years, and I thought the Inquisitors would be glad to repair their injustice on the pretext of rewarding my patriotism.
My readers will see that my hopes were fulfilled, but I had to wait for five more years instead of receiving permission to return at once.
M. de Bragadin was dead, and Dandolo and Barbaro were the only friends I had left at Venice; and with their aid I contrived to subscribe fifty copies of my book in my native town.
Throughout my stay at Lugano I only frequented the house of M. de R— — where I saw the Abbe Riva, a learned and discreet man, to whom I had been commended by M. Querini, his relation. The abbe enjoyed such a reputation for wisdom amongst his fellow-countrymen that he was a kind of arbiter in all disputes, and thus the expenses of the law were saved. It was no wonder that the gentlemen of the long robe hated him most cordially. His nephew, Jean Baptiste Riva, was a friend of the Muses, of Bacchus, and of Venus; he was also a friend of mine, though I could not match him with the bottles. He lent me all the nymphs he had initiated into the mysteries, and they liked him all the better, as I made them some small presents. With him and his two pretty sisters I went to the Borromean Isles. I knew that Count Borromeo, who had honoured me with his friendship at Turin, was there, and from him I felt certain of a warm welcome. One of the two sisters had to pass for Riva’s wife, and the other for his sister-in-law.
Although the count was a ruined man he lived in his isles like a prince.
It would be impossible to describe these Islands of the Blest; they must be seen to be imagined. The inhabitants enjoy an everlasting spring; there is neither heat nor cold.
The count regaled us choicely, and amused the two girls by giving them rods and lines and letting them fish. Although he was ugly, old, and ruined, he still possessed the art of pleasing.
On the way back to Lugano, as I was making place for a carriage in a narrow road, my horse slipped and fell down a slope ten feet high. My head went against a large stone, and I thought my last hour was come as the blood poured out of the wound. However, I was well again in a few days. This was my last ride on horseback.
During my stay at Lugano the inspectors of the Swiss cantons came there in its turn. The people dignified them with the magnificent title of ambassadors, but M. de R—— was content to call them avoyers.
These gentlemen stayed at my inn, and I had my meals with them throughout their stay.
The avoyer of Berne gave me some news of my poor friend M. F——. His charming daughter Sara had become the wife of M, de V— — and was happy.
A few days after these pleasant and cultured men had left, I was startled one morning by the sudden appearance of the wretched Marazzani in my room. I seized him by his collar, threw him out, and before he had time to use his cane or his sword, I had kicked, beaten, and boxed him most soundly. He defended himself to the best of his ability, and the landlord and his men ran up at the noise, and had some difficulty in separating us.
“Don’t let him go!” I cried, “send for the bargello and have him away to prison.”
I dressed myself hastily, and as I was going out to see M. de R— — the bargello met me, and asked me on what charge I gave the man into custody.
“You will hear that at M. de R——‘s, where I shall await you.”
I must now explain my anger. You may remember, reader, that I left the wretched fellow in the prison of Buen Retiro. I heard afterwards that the King of Spain, Jerusalem, and the Canary Islands, had given him a small post in a galley off the coast of Africa.
He had done me no harm, and I pitied him; but not being his intimate friend, and having no power to mitigate the hardship of his lot, I had well-nigh forgotten him.
Eight months after, I met at Barcelona Madame Bellucci, a Venetian dancer, with whom I had had a small intrigue. She gave an exclamation of delight on seeing me, and said she was glad to see me delivered from the hard fate to which a tyrannous Government had condemned me.
“What fate is that?” I asked, “I have seen a good deal of misfortune since I left you.”
“I mean the presidio.”
“But that has never been my lot, thank God! Who told you such a story?”
“A Count Marazzani, who was here three weeks ago, and told me he had been luckier than you, as he had made his escape.”
“He’s a liar and a scoundrel; and if ever I meet him again he shall pay me dearly.”
From that moment I never thought of the rascal without feeling a lively desire to give him a thrashing, but I never thought that chance would bring about so early a meeting.
Under the circumstances I think my behaviour will be thought only natural. I had beaten him, but that was not enough for me. I seemed to have done nothing, and indeed, I had got as good as I gave.
In the mean time he was in prison, and I went to M. de R—— to see what he could do for me.
As soon as M. de R heard my statement he said he could neither keep him in prison nor drive him out of the town unless I laid a plea before him, craving protection against this man, whom I believed to have come to Lugano with the purpose of assassinating me.
“You can make the document more effective,” he added, “by placing your actual grievance in a strong light, and laying stress on his sudden appearance in your room without sending in his name. That’s what you had better do, and it remains to be seen how I shall answer your plea. I shall ask him for his passport and delay the case, and order him to be severely treated; but in the end I shall only be able to drive him out of the town, unless he can find good bail.”
I could ask no more. I sent in my plea, and the next day I had the pleasure of seeing him brought into the court bound hand and foot.
M. de R began to examine him, and Marazzani swore he had no evil intentions in calling on me. As to the calumny, he protested he had only repeated common rumour, and professed his joy at finding it had been mistaken.
This ought to have been enough for me, but I continued obdurate.
M. de R—— said the fact of my being sent to the galleys having been rumoured was no justification for his repeating it.
“And furthermore,” he proceeded, “M. Casanova’s suspicion that you were going to assassinate him is justified by your giving a false name, for the plaintiff maintains that you are not Count Marazzani at all. He offers to furnish surety on this behalf, and if M. Casanova does you wrong, his bail will escheat to you as damages. In the mean time you will remain in prison till we have further information about your real status.”
He was taken back, and as the poor devil had not a penny in his pocket it would have been superfluous to tell the bargedlo to treat him severely.
M. de R wrote to the Swiss agent at Parma to obtain the necessary information; but as the rascal knew this would be against him, he wrote me a humble letter, in which he confessed that he was the son of a poor shopkeeper of Bobbio, and although his name was really Marazzani, he had nothing to do with the Marazzanis of Plaisance. He begged me to set him at liberty.
I shewed the letter to M. de R— — who let him out of prison with orders to leave Lugano in twenty-four hours.
I thought I had been rather too harsh with him, and gave the poor devil some money to take him to Augsburg, and also a letter for M. de Sellentin, who was recruiting there for the Prussian king. We shall hear of Marazzani again.
The Chevalier de Breche came to the Lugano Fair to buy some horses, and stopped a fortnight. I often met him at M. de R——‘s, for whose wife he had a great admiration, and I was sorry to see him go.
I left Lugano myself a few days later, having made up my mind to winter in Turin, where I hoped to see some pleasant society.
Before I left I received a friendly letter from Prince Lubomirski, with a bill for a hundred ducats, in payment of fifty copies of my book. The prince had become lord high marshal on the death of Count Bilinski.
When I got to Turin I found a letter from the noble Venetian M. Girolamo Zulian, the same that had given me an introduction to Mocenigo. His letter contained an enclosure to M. Berlendis, the representative of the Republic at Turin, who thanked me for having enabled him to receive me.
The ambassador, a rich man, and a great lover of the fair sex, kept up a splendid establishment, and this was enough for his Government, for intelligence is not considered a necessary qualification for a Venetian ambassador. Indeed it is a positive disadvantage, and a witty ambassador would no doubt fall into disgrace with the Venetian Senate. However, Berlendis ran no risk whatever on this score; the realm of wit was an unknown land to him.
I got this ambassador to call the attention of his Government to the work I had recently published, and the answer the State Inquisitors gave may astonish my readers, but it did not astonish me. The secretary of the famous and accursed Tribunal wrote to say that he had done well to call the attention of the Inquisitors to this work, as the author’s presumption appeared on the title-page. He added that the work would be examined, and in the mean time the ambassador was instructed to shew me no signal marks of favour lest the Court should suppose he was protecting me as a Venetian.
Nevertheless, it was the same tribunal that had facilitated my access to the ambassador to Madrid — Mocenigo.
I told Berlendis that my visits should be limited in number, and free from all ostentation.
I was much interested in his son’s tutor; he was a priest, a man of letters, and a poet. His name was Andreis, and he is now resident in England, where he enjoys full liberty, the greatest of all blessings.
I spent my time at Turin very pleasantly, in the midst of a small circle of Epicureans; there were the old Chevalier Raiberti, the Comte de la Perouse, a certain Abbe Roubien, a delightful man, the voluptuous Comte de Riva, and the English ambassador. To the amusements which this society afforded I added a course of reading, but no love affairs whatever.
While I was at Turin, a milliner, Perouse’s mistress, feeling herself in ‘articulo mortis’, swallowed the portrait of her lover instead of the Eucharist. This incident made me compose two sonnets, which pleased me a good deal at the time, and with which I am still satisfied. No doubt some will say that every poet is pleased with his own handiwork, but as a matter of fact, the severest critic of a sensible author is himself.
The Russian squadron, under the command of Count Alexis Orloff, was then at Leghorn; this squadron threatened Constantinople, and would probably have taken it if an Englishman had been in command.
As I had known Count Orloff in Russia, I imagined that I might possibly render myself of service to him, and at the same time make my fortune.
The English ambassador having given me a letter for the English consul, I left Turin with very little money in my purse and no letter of credit on any banker.
An Englishman named Acton commended me to an English banker at Leghorn, but this letter did not empower me to draw any supplies.
Acton was just then involved in a curious complication. When he was at Venice he had fallen in love with a pretty woman, either a Greek or a Neapolitan. The husband, by birth a native of Turin, and by profession a good-for-nothing, placed no obstacle in Acton’s way, as the Englishman was generous with his money; but he had a knack of turning up at those moments when his absence would have been most desirable.
The generous but proud and impatient Englishman could not be expected to bear this for long. He consulted with the lady, and determined to shew his teeth. The husband persisted in his untimely visits, and one day Acton said, dryly —
“Do you want a thousand guineas? You can have them if you like, on the condition that your wife travels with me for three years without our having the pleasure of your society.”
The husband thought the bargain a good one, and signed an agreement to that effect.
After the three years were over the husband wrote to his wife, who was at Venice, to return to him, and to Acton to put no obstacle in the way.
The lady replied that she did not want to live with him any more, and Acton explained to the husband that he could not be expected to drive his mistress away against her will. He foresaw, however, that the husband would complain to the English ambassador, and determined to be before- handed with him.
In due course the husband did apply to the English ambassador, requesting him to compel Acton to restore to him his lawful wife. He even asked the Chevalier Raiberti to write to the Commendatore Camarana, the Sardinian ambassador at Venice, to apply pressure on the Venetian Government, and he would doubtless have succeeded if M. Raiberti had done him this favour. However, as it was he did nothing of the sort, and even gave Acton a warm welcome when he came to Turin to look into the matter. He had left his mistress at Venice under the protection of the English consul.
The husband was ashamed to complain publicly, as he would have been confronted with the disgraceful agreement he had signed; but Berlendis maintained that he was in the right, and argued the question in the most amusing manner. On the one hand he urged the sacred and inviolable character of the marriage rite, and on the other he shewed how the wife was bound to submit to her husband in all things. I argued the matter with him myself, shewing him his disgraceful position in defending a man who traded on his wife’s charms, and he was obliged to give in when I assured him that the husband had offered to renew the lease for the same time and on the same terms as before.
Two years later I met Acton at Bologna, and admired the beauty whom he considered and treated as his wife. She held on her knees a fine little Acton.
I left Turin for Parma with a Venetian who, like myself, was an exile from his country. He had turned actor to gain a livelihood; and was going to Parma with two actresses, one of whom was interesting. As soon as I found out who he was, we became friends, and he would have gladly made me a partner in all his amusements, by the way, if I had been in the humour to join him.
This journey to Leghorn was undertaken under the influence of chimercial ideas. I thought I might be useful to Count Orloff, in the conquest he was going to make, as it was said, of Constantinople. I fancied that it had been decreed by fate that without me he could never pass through the Dardanelles. In spite of the wild ideas with which my mind was occupied, I conceived a warm friendship for my travelling companion, whose name was Angelo Bentivoglio. The Government never forgave him a certain crime, which to the philosophic eye appears a mere trifle. In four years later, when I describe my stay at Venice, I shall give some further account of him.
About noon we reached Parma, and I bade adieu to Bentivoglio and his friends. The Court was at Colorno, but having nothing to gain from this mockery of a court, and wishing to leave for Bologna the next morning, I asked Dubois-Chateleraux, Chief of the Mint, and a talented though vain man, to give me some dinner. The reader will remember that I had known him twenty two years before, when I was in love with Henriette. He was delighted to see me, and seemed to set great store by my politeness in giving him the benefit of my short stay at Parma. I told him that Count Orloff was waiting for me at Leghorn, and that I was obliged to travel day and night.
“He will be setting sail before long,” said he; “I have advices from Leghorn to that effect.”
I said in a mysterious tone of voice that he would not sail without me, and I could see that my host treated me with increased respect after this. He wanted to discuss the Russian Expedition, but my air of reserve made him change the conversation.
At dinner we talked a good deal about Henriette, whom he said he had succeeded in finding out; but though he spoke of her with great respect, I took care not to give him any information on the subject. He spent the whole afternoon in uttering complaints against the sovereigns of Europe, the King of Prussia excepted, as he had made him a baron, though I never could make out why.
He cursed the Duke of Parma who persisted in retaining his services, although there was no mint in existence in the duchy, and his talents were consequently wasted there.
I listened to all his complaints, and agreed that Louis XV. had been ungrateful in not conferring the Order of St. Michael on him; that Venice had rewarded his services very shabbily; that Spain was stingy, and Naples devoid of honesty, etc., etc. When he had finished, I asked him if he could give me a bill on a banker for fifty sequins.
He replied in the most friendly manner that he would not give me the trouble of going to a banker for such a wretched sum as that; he would be delighted to oblige me himself.
I took the money promising to repay him at an early date, but I have never been able to do so. I do not know whether he is alive or dead, but if he were to attain the age of Methuselah I should not entertain any hopes of paying him; for I get poorer every day, and feel that my end is not far off.
The next day I was in Bologna, and the day after in Florence, where I met the Chevalier Morosini, nephew of the Venetian procurator, a young man of nineteen, who was travelling with Count Stratico, professor of mathematics at the University of Padua. He gave me a letter for his brother, a Jacobin monk, and professor of literature at Pisa, where I stopped for a couple of hours on purpose to make the celebrated monk’s acquaintance. I found him even greater than his fame, and promised to come again to Pisa, and make a longer stay for the purpose of enjoying his society.
I stopped an hour at the Wells, where I made the acquaintance of the Pretender to the throne of Great Britain, and from there went on to Leghorn, where I found Count Orloff still waiting, but only because contrary winds kept him from sailing.
The English consul, with whom he was staying, introduced me at once to the Russian admiral, who received me with expressions of delight. He told me he would be charmed if I would come on board with him. He told me to have my luggage taken off at once, as he would set sail with the first fair wind. When he was gone the English consul asked me what would be my status with the admiral.
“That’s just what I mean to find out before embarking my effects.”
“You won’t be able to speak to him till to-morrow.” Next morning I called on Count Orloff, and sent him in a short note, asking him to give me a short interview before I embarked my mails.
An officer came out to tell me that the admiral was writing in bed, and hoped I would wait.
I had been waiting a few minutes, when Da Loglio, the Polish agent at Venice and an old friend of mine, came in.
“What are you doing here, my dear Casanova?” said he.
“I am waiting for an interview with the admiral.”
“He is very busy.”
After this, Da Loglio coolly went into the admiral’s room. This was impertinent of him; it was as if he said in so many words that the admiral was too busy to see me, but not too busy to see him.
A moment after, Marquis Manucci came in with his order of St. Anne and his formal air. He congratulated me on my visit to Leghorn, and then said he had read my work on Venice, and had been surprised to find himself in it.
He had some reason for surprise, for there was no connection between him and the subject-matter; but he should have discovered before that the unexpected often happens. He did not give me time to tell him so, but went into the admiral’s room as Da Loglio had done.
I was vexed to see how these gentlemen were admitted while I danced attendance, and the project of sailing with Orloff began to displease me.
In five hours Orloff came out followed by a numerous train. He told me pleasantly that we could have our talk at table or after dinner.
“After dinner, if you please,” I said.
He came in and sat down at two o’clock, and I was among the guests.
Orloff kept on saying, “Eat away, gentlemen, eat away;” and read his correspondence and gave his secretary letters all the time.
After dinner he suddenly glanced up at me, and taking me by the hand led me to the window, and told me to make haste with my luggage, as he should sail before the morning if the wind kept up.
“Quite so; but kindly tell me, count, what is to be my status or employment an board your ship?”
“At present I have no special employ to give you; that will come in time. Come on board as my friend.”
“The offer is an honourable one so far as you are concerned, but all the other officers might treat me with contempt. I should be regarded as a kind of fool, and I should probably kill the first man who dared to insult me. Give me a distinct office, and let me wear your uniform; I will be useful to you. I know the country for which you are bound, I can speak the language, and I am not wanting in courage.”
“My dear sir, I really have no particular office to give you.”
“Then, count, I wish you a pleasant sail; I am going to Rome. I hope you may never repent of not taking me, for without me you will never pass the Dardanelles.”
“Is that a prophecy?”
“It’s an oracle.”
“We will test its veracity, my dear Calchus.”
Such was the short dialogue I had with the worthy count, who, as a matter of fact, did not pass the Dardanelles. Whether he would have succeeded if I had been on board is more than I can say.
Next day I delivered my letters to M. Rivarola and the English banker. The squadron had sailed in the early morning.
The day after I went to Pisa, and spent a pleasant week in the company of Father Stratico, who was made a bishop two or three years after by means of a bold stroke that might have ruined him. He delivered a funeral oration over Father Ricci, the last general of the Jesuits. The Pope, Ganganelli, had the choice of punishing the writer and increasing the odium of many of the faithful, or of rewarding him handsomely. The sovereign pontiff followed the latter course. I saw the bishop some years later, and he told me in confidence that he had only written the oration because he felt certain, from his knowledge of the human heart, that his punishment would be a great reward.
This clever monk initiated me into all the charms of Pisan society. He had organized a little choir of ladies of rank, remarkable for their intelligence and beauty, and had taught them to sing extempore to the guitar. He had had them instructed by the famous Gorilla, who was crowned poetess-laureate at the capitol by night, six years later. She was crowned where our great Italian poets were crowned; and though her merit was no doubt great, it was, nevertheless, more tinsel than gold, and not of that order to place her on a par with Petrarch or Tasso.
She was satirised most bitterly after she had received the bays; and the satirists were even more in the wrong than the profaners of the capitol, for all the pamphlets against her laid stress on the circumstance that chastity, at all events, was not one of her merits. All poetesses, from the days of Homer to our own, have sacrificed on the altar of Venus. No one would have heard of Gorilla if she had not had the sense to choose her lovers from the ranks of literary men; and she would never have been crowned at Rome if she had not succeeded in gaining over Prince Gonzaga Solferino, who married the pretty Mdlle. Rangoni, daughter of the Roman consul, whom I knew at Marseilles, and of whom I have already spoken.
This coronation of Gorilla is a blot on the pontificate of the present Pope, for henceforth no man of genuine merit will accept the honour which was once so carefully guarded by the giants of human intellect.
Two days after the coronation Gorilla and her admirers left Rome, ashamed of what they had done. The Abbe Pizzi, who had been the chief promoter of her apotheosis, was so inundated with pamphlets and satires that for some months he dared not shew his face.
This is a long digression, and I will now return to Father Stratico, who made the time pass so pleasantly for me.
Though he was not a handsome man, he possessed the art of persuasion to perfection; and he succeeded in inducing me to go to Sienna, where he said I should enjoy myself. He gave me a letter of introduction for the Marchioness Chigi, and also one for the Abbe Chiaccheri; and as I had nothing better to do I went to Sienna by the shortest way, not caring to visit Florence.
The Abbe Chiaccheri gave me a warm welcome, and promised to do all he could to amuse me; and he kept his word. He introduced me himself to the Marchioness Chigi, who took me by storm as soon as she had read the letter of the Abbe Stratico, her dear abbe, as she called him, when she read the superscription in his writing.
The marchioness was still handsome, though her beauty had begun to wane; but with her the sweetness, the grace, and the ease of manner supplied the lack of youth. She knew how to make a compliment of the slightest expression, and was totally devoid of any affection of superiority.
“Sit down,” she began. “So you are going to stay a week, I see, from the dear abbe’s letter. That’s a short time for us, but perhaps it may be too long for you. I hope the abbe has not painted us in too rosy colours.”
“He only told me that I was to spend a week here, and that I should find with you all the charms of intellect and sensibility.”
“Stratico should have condemned you to a month without mercy.”
“Why mercy? What hazard do I run?”
“Of being tired to death, or of leaving some small morsel of your heart at Sienna.”
“All that might happen in a week, but I am ready to dare the danger, for Stratico has guarded me from the first by counting on you, and from the second by counting on myself. You will receive my pure and intelligent homage. My heart will go forth from Sienna as free as it came, for I have no hope of victory, and defeat would make me wretched.”
“Is it possible that you are amongst the despairing?”
“Yes, and to that fact I owe my happiness.”
“It would be a pity for you if you found yourself mistaken.”
“Not such a pity as you may think, Madam. ‘Carpe diem’ is my motto. ’Tis likewise the motto of that finished voluptuary, Horace, but I only take it because it suits me. The pleasure which follows desires is the best, for it is the most acute.
“True, but it cannot be calculated on, and defies the philosopher. May God preserve you, madam, from finding out this painful truth by experience! The highest good lies in enjoyment; desire too often remains unsatisfied. If you have not yet found out the truth of Horace’s maxim, I congratulate you.”
The amiable marchioness smiled pleasantly and gave no positive answer.
Chiaccheri now opened his mouth for the first time, and said that the greatest happiness he could wish us was that we should never agree. The marchioness assented, rewarding Chiaccheri with a smile, but I could not do so.
“I had rather contradict you,” I said, “than renounce all hopes of pleasing you. The abbe has thrown the apple of discord between us, but if we continue as we have begun I shall take up my abode at Sienna.”
The marchioness was satisfied with the sample of her wit which she had given me, and began to talk commonplaces, asking me if I should like to see company and enjoy society of the fair sex. She promised to take me everywhere.
“Pray do not take the trouble,” I replied. “I want to leave Sienna with the feeling that you are the only lady to whom I have done homage, and that the Abbe Chiaccheri has been my only guide.”
The marchioness was flattered, and asked the abbe and myself to dine with her on the following day in a delightful house she had at a hundred paces from the town.
The older I grew the more I became attached to the intellectual charms of women. With the sensualist, the contrary takes place; he becomes more material in his old age: requires women well taught in Venus’s shrines, and flies from all mention of philosophy.
As I was leaving her I told the abbe that if I stayed at Sienna I would see no other woman but her, come what might, and he agreed that I was very right.
The abbe shewed me all the objects of interest in Sienna, and introduced me to the literati, who in their turn visited me.
The same day Chiaccheri took me to a house where the learned society assembled. It was the residence of two sisters — the elder extremely ugly and the younger very pretty, but the elder sister was accounted, and very rightly, the Corinna of the place. She asked me to give her a specimen of my skill, promising to return the compliment. I recited the first thing that came into my head, and she replied with a few lines of exquisite beauty. I complimented her, but Chiaccheri (who had been her master) guessed that I did not believe her to be the author, and proposed that we should try bouts rimes. The pretty sister gave out the rhymes, and we all set to work. The ugly sister finished first, and when the verses came to be read, hers were pronounced the best. I was amazed, and made an improvisation on her skill, which I gave her in writing. In five minutes she returned it to me; the rhymes were the same, but the turn of the thought was much more elegant. I was still more surprised, and took the liberty of asking her name, and found her to be the famous “Shepherdess,” Maria Fortuna, of the Academy of Arcadians.
I had read the beautiful stanzas she had written in praise of Metastasio. I told her so, and she brought me the poet’s reply in manuscript.
Full of admiration, I addressed myself to her alone, and all her plainness vanished.
I had had an agreeable conversation with the marchioness in the morning, but in the evening I was literally in an ecstacy.
I kept on talking of Fortuna, and asked the abbe if she could improvise in the manner of Gorilla. He replied that she had wished to do so, but that he had disallowed it, and he easily convinced me that this improvisation would have been the ruin of her fine talent. I also agreed with him when he said that he had warned her against making impromptus too frequently, as such hasty verses are apt to sacrifice wit to rhyme.
The honour in which improvisation was held amongst the Greeks and Romans is due to the fact that Greek and Latin verse is not under the dominion of rhyme. But as it was, the great poets seldom improvised; knowing as they did that such verses were usually feeble and common-place.
Horace often passed a whole night searching for a vigorous and elegantly- turned phrase. When he had succeeded, he wrote the words on the wall and went to sleep. The lines which cost him nothing are generally prosaic; they may easily be picked out in his epistles.
The amiable and learned Abbe Chiaccheri, confessed to me that he was in love with his pupil, despite her ugliness. He added that he had never expected it when he began to teach her to make verses.
“I can’t understand that,” I said, “sublata lucerna’, you know.”
“Not at all,” said he, with a laugh, “I love her for her face, since it is inseperable from my idea of her.”
A Tuscan has certainly more poetic riches at his disposal than any other Italian, and the Siennese dialect is sweeter and more energetic than that of Florence, though the latter claims the title of the classic dialect, on account of its purity. This purity, together with its richness and copiousness of diction it owes to the academy. From the great richness of Italian we can treat a subject with far greater eloquence than a French writer; Italian abounds in synonyms, while French is lamentably deficient in this respect. Voltaire used to laugh at those who said that the French tongue could not be charged with poverty, as it had all that was necessary. A man may have necessaries, and yet be poor. The obstinacy of the French academy in refusing to adopt foreign words skews more pride than wisdom. This exclusiveness cannot last.
As for us we take words from all languages and all sources, provided they suit the genius of our own language. We love to see our riches increase; we even steal from the poor, but to do so is the general characteristic of the rich.
The amiable marchioness gave us a delicious dinner in a house designed by Palladio. Chiaccheri had warned me to say nothing about the Shepherdess Fortuna; but at dinner she told him she was sure he had taken me to her house. He had not the face to deny it, and I did not conceal the pleasure I had received.
“Stratico admires Fortuna,” said the marchioness, “and I confess that her writings have great merit, but it’s a pity one cannot go to the house, except under an incognito.”
“Why not?” I asked, in some astonishment.
“What!” said she to the abbe, “you did not tell him whose house it is?”
“I did not think it necessary, her father and mother rarely shew themselves.”
“Well, it’s of no consequence.”
“But what is her father?” I asked, “the hangman, perhaps?”
“Worse, he’s the ‘bargello’, and you must see that a stranger cannot be received into good society here if he goes to such places as that.”
Chiaccheri looked rather hurt, and I thought it my duty to say that I would not go there again till the eve of my departure.
“I saw her sister once,” said the marchioness; “she is really charmingly pretty, and it’s a great pity that with her beauty and irreproachable morality she should be condemned to marry a man of her father’s class.”
“I once knew a man named Coltellini,” I replied; “he is the son of the bargello of Florence, and is poet-inordinary to the Empress of Russia. I shall try to make a match between him and Fortuna’s sister; he is a young man of the greatest talents.”
The marchioness thought my idea an excellent one, but soon after I heard that Coltellini was dead.
The ‘bargello’ is a cordially-detested person all over Italy, if you except Modena, where the weak nobility make much of the ‘bargello’, and do justice to his excellent table. This is a curious fact, for as a rule these bargellos are spies, liars, traitors, cheats, and misanthropes, for a man despised hates his despisers.
At Sienna I was shewn a Count Piccolomini, a learned and agreeable man. He had a strange whim, however, of spending six months in the year in the strictest seclusion in his own house, never going out and never seeing any company; reading and working the whole time. He certainly did his best to make up for his hibernation during the other six months in the year.
The marchioness promised she would come to Rome in the course of the summer. She had there an intimate friend in Bianconi who had abandoned the practice of medicine, and was now the representative of the Court of Saxony.
On the eve of my departure, the driver who was to take me to Rome came and asked me if I would like to take a travelling companion, and save myself three sequins.
“I don’t want anyone.”
“You are wrong, for she is very beautiful”
“Is she by herself?”
“No, she is with a gentleman on horseback, who wishes to ride all the way to Rome.”
“Then how did the girl come here?”
“On horseback, but she is tired out, and cannot bear it any longer. The gentleman has offered me four sequins to take her to Rome, and as I am a poor man I think you might let me earn the money.”
“I suppose he will follow the carriage?”
“He can go as he likes; that can’t make much difference to either of us.”
“You say she is young and pretty.”
“I have been told so, but I haven’t seen her myself.”
“What sort of a man is her companion?”
“He’s a fine man, but he can speak very little Italian.”
“Has he sold the lady’s horse?”
“No, it was hired. He has only one trunk, which will go behind the carriage.”
“This is all very strange. I shall not give any decision before speaking to this man.”
“I will tell him to wait on you.”
Directly afterwards, a brisk-looking young fellow, carrying himself well enough, and clad in a fancy uniform, came in. He told me the tale I had heard from the coachman, and ended by saying that he was sure I would not refuse to accommodate his wife in my carriage.
“Your wife, sir?”
I saw he was a Frenchman, and I addressed him in French.
“God be praised! You can speak my native tongue. Yes, sir, she is an Englishwoman and my wife. I am sure she will be no trouble to you.”
“Very good. I don’t want to start later than I had arranged. Will she be ready at five o’clock?”
The next morning when I got into my carriage, I found her already there. I paid her some slight compliment, and sat down beside her, and we drove off.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52