Signor Formica, by E. T. A. Hoffmann


Signor Pasquale Capuzzi turns up at Salvator Rosa’s studio. What takes place there. The cunning scheme which Rosa and Scacciati carry out, and the consequences of the same.

Next morning Salvator, having in the meantime inquired into Capuzzi’s habits of life, very greatly surprised Antonio by a description of them, even down to the minutest details.

“Poor Marianna,” said Salvator, “leads a sad life of it with the crazy old fellow. There he sits sighing and ogling the whole day long, and, what is worse still, in order to soften her heart towards him, he sings her all and sundry love ditties that he has ever composed or intends to compose. At the same time he is so monstrously jealous that he will not even permit the poor young girl to have the usual female attendance, for fear of intrigues and amours, which the maid might be induced to engage in. Instead, a hideous little apparition with hollow eyes and pale flabby cheeks appears every morning and evening to perform for sweet Marianna the services of a tiring-maid. And this little apparition is nobody else but that tiny Tomb Thumb of a Pitichinaccio, who has to don female attire. Capuzzi, whenever he leaves home, carefully locks and bolts every door; besides which there is always a confounded fellow keeping watch below, who was formerly a bravo, and then a gendarme, and now lives under Capuzzi’s rooms. It seems, therefore, a matter almost impossible to effect an entrance into his house, but nevertheless I promise you, Antonio, that this very night you shall be in Capuzzi’s own room and shall see your Marianna, though this time it will only be in Capuzzi’s presence.”

“What do you say?” cried Antonio, quite excited; “what do you say? We shall manage it to-night? I thought it was impossible.”

“There, there,” continued Salvator, “keep still, Antonio, and let us quietly consider how we may with safety carry out the plan which I have conceived. But in the first place I must tell you that I have already scraped an acquaintance with Signor Pasquale Capuzzi without knowing it. That wretched spinet, which stands in the comer there, belongs to the old fellow, and he wants me to pay him the preposterous sum of ten ducats1 for it. When I was convalescent I longed for some music, which always comforts me and does me a deal of good, so I begged my landlady to get me some such an instrument as that Dame Caterina soon ascertained that there was an old gentleman living in the Via Ripetta who had a fine spinet to sell I got the instrument brought here. I did not trouble myself either about the price or about the owner. It was only yesterday evening that I learned quite by chance that the gentleman who intended to cheat me with this rickety old thing was Signor Pasquale Capuzzi. Dame Caterina had enlisted the services of an acquaintance living in the same house, and indeed on the same floor as Capuzzi — and now you can easily guess whence I have got all my budget of news.”

“Yes,” replied Antonio, “then the way to get in is found; your landlady”——

“I know very well, Antonio,” said Salvator, cutting him short, “I know what you’re going to say. You think you can find a way to your Marianna through Dame Caterina. But you’ll find that we can’t do anything of that sort; the good dame is far too talkative; she can’t keep the least secret, and so we can’t for a single moment think of employing her in this business. Now just quietly listen to me. Every evening when it’s dark Signor Pasquale, although it’s very hard work for him owing to his being knock-kneed, carries his little friend the eunuch home in his arms, as soon as he has finished his duties as maid. Nothing in the world could induce the timid Pitichinaccio to set foot on the pavement at that time of night. So that when”——

At this moment somebody knocked at Salvator’s door, and to the consternation of both, Signor Pasquale stepped in in all the splendour of his gala attire. On catching sight of Scacciati he stood stock still as if paralysed, and then, opening his eyes wide, he gasped for air as though he had some difficulty in breathing. But Salvator hastily ran to meet him, and took him by both hands, saying, “My dear Signor Pasquale, your presence in my humble dwelling is, I feel, a very great honour. May I presume that it is your love for art which brings you to me? You wish to see the newest things I have done, perchance to give me a commission for some work. Pray in what, my dear Signor Pasquale, can I serve you?”

“I have a word or two to say to you, my dear Signor Salvator,” stammered Capuzzi painfully, “but — alone — when you are alone. With your leave I will withdraw and come again at a more seasonable time.”

“By no means,” said Salvator, holding the old gentleman fast, “by no means, my dear sir. You need not stir a step; you could not have come at a more seasonable time, for, since you are a great admirer of the noble art of painting, and the patron of all good painters, I am sure you will be greatly pleased for me to introduce to you Antonio Scacciati here, the first painter of our time, whose glorious work — the wonderful ‘Magdalene at the Saviour’s Feet’— has excited throughout all Rome the most enthusiastic admiration. You too, I need hardly say, have also formed a high opinion of the work, and must be very anxious to know the great artist himself.”

The old man was seized with a violent trembling; he shook as if he had a shivering fit of the ague, and shot fiery wrathful looks at poor Antonio. He however approached the old gentleman, and, bowing with polished courtesy, assured him that he esteemed himself happy at meeting in such an unexpected way with Signor Pasquale Capuzzi, whose great learning in music as well as in painting was a theme for wonder not only in Rome but throughout all Italy, and he concluded by requesting the honour of his patronage.

This behaviour of Antonio, in pretending to meet the old gentleman for the first time in his life, and in addressing him in such flattering phrases, soon brought him round again. He forced his features into a simpering smile, and, as Salvator now let his hands loose, gave his moustache an elegant upward curl, at the same time stammering out a few unintelligible words. Then, turning to Salvator, he requested payment of the ten ducats for the spinet he had sold him.

“Oh! that trifling little matter we can settle afterwards, my good sir,” was Salvator’s answer. “First have the goodness to look at this sketch of a picture which I have drawn, and drink a glass of good Syracuse whilst you do so.” Salvator meanwhile placed his sketch on the easel and moved up a chair for the old gentleman, and then, when he had taken his seat, he presented him with a large and handsome wine-cup full of good Syracuse — the little pearl-like bubbles rising gaily to the top.

Signor Pasquale was very fond of a glass of good wine — when he had nothing to pay for it; and now he ought to have been in an especially happy frame of mind, for, besides nourishing his heart with the hope of getting ten ducats for a rotten, worn-out spinet, he was sitting before a splendid, boldly-designed picture, the rare beauty of which he was quite capable of estimating at its full worth. And that he was in this happy frame of mind he evidenced in divers way; he simpered most charmingly; he half closed his little eyes; he assiduously stroked his chin and moustache; and lisped time after time, “Splendid! delicious!” but they did not know to which he was referring, the picture or the wine.

When he had thus worked himself round into a quiet cheerful humour, Salvator suddenly began —“They tell me, my dear sir, that you have a most beautiful and amiable niece, named Marianna — is it so? All the young men of the city are so smitten with love that they stupidly do nothing but run up and down the Via Ripetta, almost dislocating their necks in their efforts to look up at your balcony for a sight of your sweet Marianna, to snatch a single glance from her heavenly eyes.”

Suddenly all the charming simpers, all the good humour which had been called up into the old gentleman’s face by the good wine, were gone. Looking gloomily before him, he said sharply, “Ah! that’s an instance of the corruption of our abandoned young men. They fix their infernal eyes, there probate seducers, upon mere children. For I tell you, my good sir, that my niece Marianna is quite a child, quite a child, only just outgrown her nurse’s care.”

Salvator turned the conversation upon something else; the old gentleman recovered himself. But just as he, his face again radiant with sunshine, was on the point of putting the full wine-cup to his lips, Salvator began anew. “But pray tell me, my dear sir, if it is indeed true that your niece, with her sixteen summers, really has such beautiful auburn hair, and eyes so full of heaven’s own loveliness and joy, as has Antonio’s ‘Magdalene?’ It is generally maintained that she has.”

“I don’t know,” replied the old gentleman, still more sharply than before, “I don’t know. But let us leave my niece in peace; rather let us exchange a few instructive words on the noble subject of art, as your fine picture here of itself invites me to do.”

Always when Capuzzi raised the wine-cup to his lips to take a good draught, Salvator began anew to talk about the beautiful Marianna, so that at last the old gentleman leapt from his chair in a perfect passion, banged the cup down upon the table and almost broke it, screaming in a high shrill voice, “By the infernal pit of Pluto! by all the furies! you will turn my wine into poison — into poison I tell you. But I see through you, you and your fine friend Signor Antonio, you think to make sport of me. But you’ll find yourselves deceived Pay me the ten ducats you owe me immediately, and then I will leave you and your associate, that barber-fellow Antonio, to make your way to the devil.”

Salvator shouted, as if mastered by the most violent rage, “What! you have the audacity to treat me in this way in my own house! Do you think I’m going to pay you ten ducats for that rotten box; the woodworms have long ago eaten all the goodness and all the music out of it? Not ten — not five — not three — not one ducat shall you have for it, it’s scarcely worth a farthing. Away with the tumbledown thing!” and he kicked over the little instrument again and again, till the strings were all jarring and jangling together.

“Ha!” screeched Capuzzi, “justice is still to be had in Rome; I will have you arrested, sir — arrested and cast into the deepest dungeon there is,” and off he was rushing out of the room, blustering like a hailstorm. But Salvator took fast hold of him with both hands, and drew him down into the chair again, softly murmuring in his ear, “My dear Signor Pasquale, don’t you perceive that I was only jesting with you? You shall have for your spinet, not ten, but thirty ducats cash down.” And he went on repeating, “thirty bright ducats in ready money,” until Capuzzi said in a faint and feeble voice, “What do you say, my dear sir? Thirty ducats for the spinet without its being repaired?” Then Salvator released his hold of the old gentleman, and asserted on his honour that within an hour the instrument should be worth thirty — nay, forty ducats, and that Signor Pasquale should receive as much for it.

Taking in a fresh supply of breath, and sighing deeply, the old gentleman murmured, “Thirty — forty ducats!” Then he began, “But you have greatly offended me, Signor Salvator”—— “Thirty ducats,” repeated Salvator. Capuzzi simpered, but then began again, “But you have grossly wounded my feelings, Signor Salvator”—— “Thirty ducats,” exclaimed Salvator, cutting him short; and he continued to repeat, “Thirty ducats! thirty ducats!” as long as the old gentleman continued to sulk — till at length Capuzzi said, radiant with delight, “If you will give me thirty — I mean forty ducats for the spinet, all shall be forgiven and forgotten, my dear sir.”

“But,” began Salvator, “before I can fulfil my promise, I still have one little condition to make, which you, my honoured Signor Pasquale Capuzzi di Senigaglia, can easily grant. You are the first musical composer in all Italy, besides being the foremost singer of the day. When I heard in the opera Le Nozze di Teti e Peleo the great scene which that shameless Francesco Cavalli has thievishly taken from your works, I was enraptured. If you would only sing me that aria whilst I put the spinet to rights you would confer upon me a pleasure than which I can conceive of none more enjoyable.”

Puckering up his mouth into the most winning of smiles, and blinking his little grey eyes, the old gentleman replied, “I perceive, my good sir, that you are yourself a clever musician, for you possess taste and know how to value the deserving better than these ungrateful Romans. Listen — listen — to the aria of all arias.”

Therewith he rose to his feet, and, stretching himself up to his full height, spread out his arms and closed both eyes, so that he looked like a cock preparing to crow; and he at once began to screech in such a way that the walls rang again, and Dame Caterina and her two daughters soon came running in, fully under the impression that such lamentable sounds must betoken some accident or other. At sight of the crowing old gentleman they stopped on the threshold utterly astonished; and thus they formed the audience of the incomparable musician Capuzzi.

Meanwhile Salvator, having picked up the spinet and thrown back the lid, had taken his palette in hand, and in bold firm strokes had begun on the lid of the instrument the most remarkable piece of painting that ever was seen. The central idea was a scene from Cavalli’s opera Le Nozze di Teti, but there was a multitude of other personages mixed up with it in the most fantastic way. Amongst them were the recognisable features of Capuzzi, Antonio, Marianna (faithfully reproduced from Antonio’s picture), Salvator himself, Dame Caterina and her two daughters — and even the Pyramid Doctor was not wanting — and all grouped so intelligently, judiciously, and ingeniously, that Antonio could not conceal his astonishment, both at the artist’s intellectual power as well as at his technique.

Meanwhile old Capuzzi had not been content with the aria which Salvator had requested him to give, but, carried away by his musical madness, he went on singing or rather screeching without intermission, working his way through the most awful recitatives from one execrable scene to another. He must have been going on for nearly two hours when he sank back in his chair, breathless, and with his face as red as a cherry. And just at this same time also Salvator had so far worked out his sketch that the figures began to wear a look of vitality, and the whole, viewed at a little distance, had the appearance of a finished work.

“I have kept my word with respect to the spinet, my dear Signer Pasquale,” breathed Salvator in the old man’s ear. He started up as if awakening out of a deep sleep. Immediately his glance fell upon the painted instrument, which stood directly opposite him. Then, opening his eyes wide as if he saw a miracle, and jauntily throwing his conical hat on the top of his wig, he took his crutch-stick under his arm, made one bound to the spinet, tore the lid off the hinges, and holding it above his head, ran like a madman out of the room, down the stairs, and away, away out of the house altogether, followed by the hearty laughter of Dame Caterina and both her daughters.

“The old miser,” said Salvator, “knows very well that he has only to take yon painted lid to Count Colonna or to my friend Rossi and he will at once get forty ducats for it, or even more.”

Salvator and Antonio then both deliberated how they should carry out the plan of attack which was to be made when night came. We shall soon see what the two adventurers resolved upon, and what success they had in their adventure.

As soon as it was dark, Signer Pasquale, after locking and bolting the door of his house, carried the little monster of an eunuch home as usual. The whole way the little wretch was whining and growling, complaining that not only did he sing Capuzzi’s arias till he got catarrh in the throat and burn his fingers cooking the macaroni, but he had now to lend himself to duties which brought him nothing but sharp boxes of the ear and rough kicks, which Marianna lavishly distributed to him as soon as ever he came near her. Old Capuzzi consoled him as well as he could, promising to provide him an ampler supply of sweetmeats than he had hitherto done; indeed, as the little man would nohow cease his growling and querulous complaining, Pasquale even laid himself under the obligation to get a natty abbot’s coat made for the little torment out of an old black plush waistcoat which he (the dwarf) had often set covetous eyes upon. He demanded a wig and a sword as well. Parleying upon these points they arrived at the Via Bergognona, for that was where Pitichinaccio dwelt, only four doors from Salvator.

The old man set the dwarf cautiously down and opened the street door; and then, the dwarf on in front, they both began to climb up the narrow stairs, which were more like a rickety ladder for hens and chickens than steps for respectable people. But they had hardly mounted half way up when a terrible racket began up above, and the coarse voice of some wild drunken fellow was heard cursing and swearing, and demanding to be shown the way out of the damned house. Pitichinaccio squeezed himself close to the wall, and entreated Capuzzi, in the name of all the saints, to go on first. But before Capuzzi had ascended two steps, the fellow who was up above came tumbling headlong downstairs, caught hold of the old man, and whisked him away like a whirlwind out through the open door below into the middle of the street. There they both lay — Capuzzi at bottom and the drunken brute like a heavy sack on top of him. The old gentleman screamed piteously for help; two men came up at once and with considerable difficulty freed him from the heavy weight lying upon him; the other fellow, as soon as he was lifted up, reeled away cursing.

“Good God! what’s happened to you, Signor Pasquale? What are you doing here at this time of night? What big quarrel have you been getting mixed up in in that house there?” thus asked Salvator and Antonio, for that is who the two men were.

“Oh, I shall die!” groaned Capuzzi; “that son of the devil has crushed all my limbs; I can’t move.”

“Let me look,” said Antonio, feeling all over the old gentleman’s body, and suddenly he pinched his right leg so sharply that Capuzzi screamed out aloud.

“By all the saints!” cried Antonio in consternation, “by all the saints! my dear Signer Pasquale, you’ve broken your right leg in the most dangerous place. If you don’t get speedy help you will within a short time be a dead man, or at any rate be lame all your life long.”

A terrible scream escaped the old man’s breast. “Calm yourself, my dear sir,” continued Antonio, “although I’m now a painter, I haven’t altogether forgotten my surgical practice. We will carry you to Salvator’s house and I will at once bind up”——

“My dear Signor Antonio,” whined Capuzzi, “you nourish hostile feelings towards me, I know.” “But,” broke in Salvator, “this is now no longer the time to talk about enmity; you are in danger, and that is enough for honest Antonio to exert all his skill on your behalf. Lay hold, friend Antonio.”

Gently and cautiously they lifted up the old man between them, him screaming with the unspeakable pain caused by his broken leg, and carried him to Salvator’s dwelling.

Dame Caterina said that she had had a foreboding that something was going to happen, and so she had not gone to bed. As soon as she caught sight of the old gentleman and heard what had befallen him, she began to heap reproaches upon him for his bad conduct. “I know,” she said, “I know very well, Signor Pasquale, who you’ve been taking home again. Now that you’ve got your beautiful niece Marianna in the house with you, you think you’ve no further call to have women-folk about you, and you treat that poor Pitichinaccio most shameful and infamous, putting him in petticoats. But look to it. Ogni carne ha il suo osso (Every house has its skeleton). Why if you have a girl about you, don’t you need women-folk? Fate il passo secondo la gamba (Cut your clothes according to your cloth), and don’t you require anything either more or less from your Marianna than what is right. Don’t lock her up as if she were a prisoner, nor make your house a dungeon. Asino punto convien che trotti (If you are in the stream, you had better swim with it); you have a beautiful niece and you must alter your ways to suit her, that is, you must only do what she wants you to do. But you are an ungallant and hard-hearted man, ay, and even in love, and jealous as well, they say, which I hope at your years is not true. Your pardon for telling you it all straight out, but chi ha nel petto fiele non puo sputar miele (when there’s bile in the heart there can’t be honey in the mouth). So now, if you don’t die of your broken leg, which at your great age is not at all unlikely, let this be a warning to you; and leave your niece free to do what she likes, and let her marry the fine young gentleman as I know very well.”

And so the stream went on uninterruptedly, whilst Salvator and Antonio cautiously undressed the old gentleman and put him to bed. Dame Caterina’s words were like knives cutting deeply into his breast; but whenever he attempted to intervene, Antonio signed to him that all speaking was dangerous, and so he had to swallow his bitter gall. At length Salvator sent Dame Caterina away, to fetch some ice-cold water that Antonio wanted.

Salvator and Antonio satisfied themselves that the fellow who had been sent to Pitichinaccio’s house had done his duty well. Notwithstanding the apparently terrible fall, Capuzzi had not received the slightest damage beyond a slight bruise or two. Antonio put the old gentleman’s right foot in splints and bandaged it up so tight that he could not move. Then they wrapped him up in cloths that had been soaked in ice-cold water, as a precaution, they alleged, against inflammation, so that the old gentleman shook as if with the ague.

“My good Signor Antonio,” he groaned feebly, “tell me if it is all over with me. Must I die?”

“Compose yourself,” replied Antonio. “If you will only compose yourself, Signor Pasquale! As you have come through the first dressing with so much nerve and without fainting, I think we may say that the danger is past; but you will require the most attentive nursing. At present we mustn’t let you out of the doctor’s sight.”

“Oh! Antonio,” whined the old gentleman, “you know how I like you, how highly I esteem your talents. Don’t leave me. Give me your dear hand — so! You won’t leave me, will you, my dear good Antonio?”

“Although I am now no longer a surgeon,” said Antonio, “although I’ve quite given up that hated trade, yet I will in your case, Signor Pasquale, make an exception, and will undertake to attend you, for which I shall ask nothing except that you give me your friendship, your confidence again. You were a little hard upon me”——

“Say no more,” lisped the old gentleman, “not another word, my dear Antonio”——

“Your niece will be half dead with anxiety,” said Antonio again, “at your not returning home. You are, considering your condition, brisk and strong enough, and so as soon as day dawns we’ll carry you home to your own house. There I will again look at your bandage, and arrange your bed as it ought to be, and give your niece her instructions, so that you may soon get well again.”

The old gentleman heaved a deep sigh and closed his eyes, remaining some minutes without speaking. Then, stretching out his hand towards Antonio, he drew him down close beside him, and whispered, “It was only a jest that you had with Marianna, was it not, my dear sir? — one of those merry conceits that young folks have”——

“Think no more about that, Signor Pasquale,” replied Antonio. “Your niece did, it is true, strike my fancy; but I have now quite different things in my head, and — to confess honestly to it — I am very pleased that you did return a sharp answer to my foolish suit. I thought I was in love with your Marianna, but what I really saw in her was only a fine model for my ‘Magdalene.’ And this probably explains how it is that, now that my picture is finished, I feel quite indifferent towards her.”

“Antonio,” cried the old man, in a strong voice, “Antonio, you glorious fellow! What comfort you give me — what help — what consolation! Now that you don’t love Marianna I feel as if all my pain had gone.”

“Why, I declare, Signor Pasquale,” said Salvator, “if we didn’t know you to be a grave and sensible man, with a true perception of what is becoming to your years, we might easily believe that you were yourself by some infatuation in love with your niece of sixteen summers.”

Again the old gentleman closed his eyes, and groaned and moaned at the horrible pain, which now returned with redoubled violence.

The first red streaks of morning came shining in through the window. Antonio announced to the old gentleman that it was now time to take him to his own house in the Via Ripetta. Signor Pasquale’s reply was a deep and piteous sigh. Salvator and Antonio lifted him out of bed and wrapped him in a wide mantle which had belonged to Dame Caterina’s husband, and which she lent them for this purpose. The old gentleman implored them by all the saints to take off the villainous cold bandages in which his bald head was swathed, and to give him his wig and plumed hat. And also, if it were possible, Antonio was to put his moustache a little in order, that Marianna might not be too much frightened at sight of him.

Two porters with a litter were standing all ready before the door. Dame Caterina, still storming at the old man, and mixing a great many proverbs in her abuse, carried down the bed, in which they then carefully packed him; and so, accompanied by Salvator and Antonio, he was taken home to his own house.

No sooner did Marianna see her uncle in this wretched plight than she began to scream, whilst a torrent of tears gushed from her eyes; without noticing her lover, who had come along with him, she grasped the old man’s hands and pressed them to her lips, bewailing the terrible accident that had befallen him — so much pity had the good child for the old man who plagued and tormented her with his amorous folly. Yet at this same moment the inherent nature of woman asserted itself in her; for it only required a few significant glances from Salvator to put her in full possession of all the facts of the case. Now, for the first time, she stole a glance at the happy Antonio, blushing hotly as she did so; and a pretty sight it was to see how a roguish smile gradually routed and broke through her tears. Salvator, at any rate, despite the “Magdalene,” had not expected to find the little maiden half so charming, or so sweetly pretty as he now really discovered her to be; and, whilst almost feeling inclined to envy Antonio his good fortune, he felt that it was all the more necessary to get poor Marianna away from her hateful uncle, let the cost be what it might.

Signor Pasquale forgot his trouble in being received so affectionately by his lovely niece, which was indeed more than he deserved. He simpered and pursed up his lips so that his moustache was all of a totter, and groaned and whined, not with pain, but simply and solely with amorous longing.

Antonio arranged his bed professionally, and, after Capuzzi had been laid on it, tightened the bandage still more, at the same time so muffling up his left leg as well that he had to lay there motionless like a log of wood. Salvator withdrew and left the lovers alone with their happiness.

The old gentleman lay buried in cushions; moreover, as an extra precaution, Antonio had bound a thick piece of cloth well steeped in water round his head, so that he might not hear the lovers whispering together. This was the first time they unburdened all their hearts to each other, swearing eternal fidelity in the midst of tears and rapturous kisses. The old gentleman could have no idea of what was going on, for Marianna ceased not, frequently from time to time, to ask him how he felt, and even permitted him to press her little white hand to his lips.

When the morning began to be well advanced, Antonio hastened away to procure, as he said, all the things that the old gentleman required, but in reality to invent some means for putting him, at any rate for some hours, in a still more helpless condition, as well as to consult with Salvator what further steps were then to be taken.

1 The first silver ducat is believed to have been struck in 1140 by Roger II., Norman king of Sicily; and ducats have been struck constantly since the twelfth century, especially at Venice (see Merchant of Venice ). They have varied considerably both in weight and fineness, and consequently in value, at different times and places. Ducats have been struck in both gold and silver. The early Venetian silver ducat was worth about five shillings. The name is said, according to one account, to have been derived from the last word of the Latin legend found on the earliest Venetian gold coins:— Sit tibi, Christe, datus, quem tu regis, ducatus (duchy); according to another account it is taken from “il ducato,” the name generally applied to the duchy of Apulia.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55