Signor Formica, by E. T. A. Hoffmann


Salvator Rosa leaves Rome and goes to Florence. Conclusion of the history.

Everything here below beneath the sun is subject to continual change; and perhaps there is nothing which can be called more inconstant than human opinion, which turns round in an everlasting circle like the wheel of fortune. He who reaps great praise today is overwhelmed with biting censure tomorrow; today we trample under foot the man who tomorrow will be raised far above us.

Of all those who in Rome had ridiculed and mocked at old Pasquale Capuzzi, with his sordid avarice, his foolish amorousness, his insane jealousy, who did not wish poor tormented Marianna her liberty? But now that Antonio had successfully carried off his mistress, all their ridicule and mockery was suddenly changed into pity for the old fool, whom they saw wandering about the streets of Rome with his head hanging on his breast, utterly disconsolate. Misfortunes seldom come singly; and so it happened that Signor Pasquale, soon after Marianna had been taken from him, lost his best bosom-friends also. Little Pitichinaccio choked himself in foolishly trying to swallow an almond-kernel in the middle of a cadenza; but a sudden stop was put to the life of the illustrious Pyramid Doctor Signor Splendiano Accoramboni by a slip of the pen, for which he had only himself to blame. Michele’s drubbing made such work with him that he fell into a fever. He determined to make use of a remedy which he claimed to have discovered, so, calling for pen and ink, he wrote down a prescription in which, by employing a wrong sign, he increased the quantity of a powerful substance to a dangerous extent. But scarcely had he swallowed the medicine than he sank back on the pillows and died, establishing, however, by his own death in the most splendid and satisfactory manner the efficacy of the last tincture which he ever prescribed.

As already remarked, all those whose laughter had been the loudest, and who had repeatedly wished Antonio success in his schemes, had now nothing but pity for the old gentleman; and the bitterest blame was heaped, not so much upon Antonio, as upon Salvator Rosa, whom, to be sure, they regarded as the instigator of the whole plan.

Salvator’s enemies, of whom he had a goodly number, exerted all their efforts to fan the flame. “See you,” they said, “he was one of Masaniello’s doughty partisans, and is ready to turn his hand to any deed of mischief, to any disreputable enterprise; we shall be the next to suffer from his presence in the city; he is a dangerous man.”

And the jealous faction who had leagued together against Salvator did actually succeed in stemming the tide of his prosperous career. He sent forth from his studio one picture after the other, all bold in conception, and splendidly executed; but the so-called critics shrugged their shoulders, now pointing out that the hills were too blue, the trees too green, the figures now too long, now too broad, finding fault everywhere where there was no fault to be found, and seeking to detract from his hard-earned reputation in all the ways they could think of. Especially bitter in their persecution of him were the Academicians of St. Luke, who could not forget how he took them in about the surgeon; they even went beyond the limits of their own profession, and decried the clever stanzas which Salvator at that time wrote, hinting very plainly that he did not cultivate his fruit on his own garden soil, but plundered that of his neighbours. For these reasons, therefore, Salvator could not manage to surround himself with the splendour which he had lived amidst formerly in Rome. Instead of being visited by the most eminent of the Romans in a large studio, he had to remain with Dame Caterina and his green fig-tree; but amid these poor surroundings he frequently found both consolation and tranquillity of mind.

Salvator took the malicious machinations of his enemies to heart more than he ought to have done; he even began to feel that an insidious disease, resulting from chagrin and dejection, was gnawing at his vitals. In this unhappy frame of mind he designed and executed two large pictures which excited quite an uproar in Rome. Of these one represented the transitoriness of all earthly things, and in the principal figure, that of a wanton female bearing all the indications of her degrading calling about her, was recognised the mistress of one of the cardinals; the other portrayed the Goddess of Fortune dispensing her rich gifts. But cardinals’ hats, bishops’ mitres, gold medals, decorations of orders, were falling upon bleating sheep, braying asses, and other such like contemptible animals, whilst well-made men in ragged clothes were vainly straining their eyes upwards to get even the smallest gift. Salvator had given free rein to his embittered mood, and the animals’ heads bore the closest resemblance to the features of various eminent persons. It is easy to imagine, therefore, how the tide of hatred against him rose, and that he was more bitterly persecuted than ever.

Dame Caterina warned him, with tears in her eyes, that as soon as it began to be dark she had observed suspicious characters lurking about the house and apparently dogging his every footstep. Salvator saw that it was time to leave Rome; and Dame Caterina and her beloved daughters were the only people whom it caused him pain to part from. In response to the repeated invitations of the Duke of Tuscany,1 he went to Florence; and here at length he was richly indemnified for all the mortification and worry which he had had to struggle against in Rome, and here all the honour and all the fame which he so truly deserved were freely conferred upon him. The Duke’s presents and the high prices which he received for his pictures soon enabled him to remove into a large house and to furnish it in the most magnificent style. There he was wont to gather round him the most illustrious authors and scholars of the day, amongst whom it will be sufficient to mention Evangelista Toricelli,2 Valerio Chimentelli, Battista Ricciardi, Andrea Cavalcanti, Pietro Salvati, Filippo Apolloni, Volumnio Bandelli, Francesco Rovai. They formed an association for the prosecution of artistic and scientific pursuits, whilst Salvator was able to contribute an element of whimsicality to the meetings, which had a singular effect in animating and enlivening the mind. The banqueting-hall was like a beautiful grove with fragrant bushes and flowers and splashing fountains; and the dishes even, which were served up by pages in eccentric costumes, were very wonderful to look at, as if they came from some distant land of magic. These meetings of writers and savans in Salvator Rosa’s house were called at that time the Accademia de’ Percossi.

Though Salvator’s mind was in this way devoted to science and art, yet his real true nature came to life again when he was with his friend Antonio Scacciati, who, along with his lovely Marianna, led the pleasant sans souci life of an artist. They often recalled poor old Signor Pasquale whom they had deceived, and all that had taken place in Nicolo Musso’s theatre. Antonio asked Salvator how he had contrived to enlist in his cause the active interest not only of Musso but of the excellent Formica, and of Agli too. Salvator replied that it had been very easy, for Formica was his most intimate friend in Rome, so that it had been a work of both pleasure and love to him to arrange everything on the stage in accordance with the instructions Salvator gave him. Antonio protested that, though still he could not help laughing over the scene which had paved the way to his happiness, he yet wished with all his heart to be reconciled to the old gentleman, even if he should never touch a penny of Marianna’s fortune, which the old gentleman had confiscated; the practice of his art brought him in a sufficient income. Marianna too was often unable to restrain her tears when she thought that her father’s brother might go down to his grave without having forgiven her the trick which she had played upon him; and so Pasquale’s hatred overshadowed like a dark cloud the brightness of their happiness. Salvator comforted them both — Antonio and Marianna — by saying that time had adjusted still worse difficulties, and that chance would perhaps bring the old gentleman near them in some less dangerous way than if they had remained in Rome, or were to return there now.

We shall see that a prophetic spirit spoke in Salvator.

A considerable time elapsed, when one day Antonio burst into Salvator’s studio breathless and pale as death. “Salvator!” he cried, “Salvator, my friend, my protector! I am lost if you do not help me. Pasquale Capuzzi is here; he has procured a warrant for my arrest for the seduction of his niece.”

“But what can Signor Pasquale do against you now?” asked Salvator. “Have you not been united to Marianna by the Church?”

“Oh!” replied Antonio, giving way completely to despair, “the blessing of the Church herself cannot save me from ruin. Heaven knows by what means the old man has been able to approach the Pope’s nephew.3 At any rate the Pope’s nephew has taken the old man under his protection, and has infused into him the hope that the Holy Father will declare my marriage with Marianna to be null and void; nay, yet further, that he will grant him (the old man) dispensation to marry his niece.”

“Stop!” cried Salvator, “now I see it all; now I see it all. What threatens to be your ruin, Antonio, is this man’s hatred against me. For I must tell you that this nephew of the Pope’s, a proud, coarse, boorish clown, was amongst the animals in my picture to whom the Goddess of Fortune is dispensing her gifts. That it was I who helped you to win your Marianna, though indirectly, is well known, not only to this man, but to all Rome — which is quite reason enough to persecute you since they cannot do anything to me. And so, Antonio, having brought this misfortune upon you, I must make every effort to assist you, and all the more that you are my dearest and most intimate friend. But, by the saints! I don’t see in what way I can frustrate your enemies’ little game”——

Therewith Salvator, who had continued to paint at a picture all the time, laid aside brush, palette, and maulstick, and, rising up from his easel, began to pace the room backwards and forwards, his arms crossed over his breast, Antonio meanwhile being quite wrapt up in his own thoughts, and with his eyes fixed unchangeably upon the floor.

At length Salvator paused before him and said with a smile, “See here, Antonio, I cannot do anything myself against your powerful enemies, but I know one who can help you, and who will help you, and that is — Signor Formica.”

“Oh!” said Antonio, “don’t jest with an unhappy man, whom nothing can save.”

“What! you are despairing again?” exclaimed Salvator, who was now all at once in the merriest humour, and he laughed aloud. “I tell you, Antonio, my friend Formica shall help you in Florence as he helped you in Rome. Go away quietly home and comfort your Marianna, and calmly wait and see how things will turn out. I trust you will be ready at the shortest notice to do what Signor Formica, who is really here in Florence at the present time, shall require of you.” This Antonio promised most faithfully, and hope revived in him again, and confidence.

Signor Pasquale Capuzzi was not a little astonished at receiving a formal invitation from the Accademia de’ Percossi. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “Florence is the place then where a man’s merits are recognised, where Pasquale Capuzzi di Senigaglia, a man gifted with the most excellent talents, is known and valued.” Thus the thought of his knowledge and his art, and the honour that was shown him on their account, overcame the repugnance which he would otherwise have felt against a society at the head of which stood Salvator Rosa. His Spanish gala-dress was more carefully brushed than ever; his conical hat was equipped with a new feather; his shoes were provided with new ribbons; and so Signor Pasquale appeared at Salvator’s as brilliant as a rose-chafer,4 and his face all sunshine. The magnificence which he saw on all sides of him, even Salvator himself, who had received him dressed in the richest apparel, inspired him with deep respect, and, after the manner of little souls, who, though at first proud and puffed up, at once grovel in the dust whenever they come into contact with what they feel to be superior to themselves, Pasquale’s behaviour towards Salvator, whom he would gladly have done a mischief to in Rome, was nothing but humility and submissive deference.

So much attention was paid to Signor Pasquale from all sides, his judgment was appealed to so unconditionally, and so much was said about his services to art, that he felt new life infused into his veins; and an unusual spirit was awakened within him, so that his utterances on many points were more sensible than might have been expected. If it be added that never in his life before had he been so splendidly entertained, and never had he drunk such inspiriting wine, it will readily be conceived that his pleasure was intensified from moment to moment, and that he forgot all the wrong which had been done him at Rome as well as the unpleasant business which had brought him to Florence. Often after their banquets the Academicians were wont to amuse themselves with short impromptu dramatic representations, and so this evening the distinguished playwright and poet Filippo Apolloni called upon those who generally took part in them to bring the festivities to a fitting conclusion with one of their usual performances. Salvator at once withdrew to make all the necessary preparations.

Not long afterwards the bushes at the farther end of the banqueting-hall began to move, the branches with their foliage were parted, and a little theatre provided with seats for the spectators became visible.

“By the saints!” exclaimed Pasquale Capuzzi, terrified, “where am I? Surely that’s Nicolo Musso’s theatre.”

Without heeding his exclamation, Evangelista Toricelli and Andrea Cavalcanti — both of them grave, respectable, venerable men — took him by the arm and led him to a seat immediately in front of the stage, taking their places on each side of him.

This was no sooner done than there appeared on the boards — Formica in the character of Pasquarello.

“You reprobate, Formica!” shouted Pasquale, leaping to his feet and shaking his doubled fist at the stage. Toricelli and Cavalcanti’s stern, reproving glances bade him sit still and keep quiet.

Pasquarello wept and sobbed, and cursed his destiny, which brought him nothing but grief and heart-breaking, declared he didn’t know how he should ever set about it if he wanted to laugh again, and concluded by saying that if he could look upon blood without fainting, he should certainly cut his throat, or should throw himself in the Tiber if he could only let that cursed swimming alone when he got into the water.

Doctor Gratiano now joined him, and inquired what was the cause of his trouble.

Whereupon Pasquarello asked him whether he did not know anything about what had taken place in the house of his master, Signor Pasquale Capuzzi di Senigaglia, whether he did not know that an infamous scoundrel had carried off pretty Marianna, his master’s niece?

“Ah!” murmured Capuzzi, “I see you want to make your excuses to me, Formica; you wish for my pardon — well, we shall see.”

Doctor Gratiano expressed his sympathy, and observed that the scoundrel must have gone to work very cunningly to have eluded all the inquiries which had been instituted by Capuzzi.

“Ho! ho!” rejoined Pasquarello. “The Doctor need not imagine that the scoundrel, Antonio Scacciati, had succeeded in escaping the sharpness of Signor Pasquale Capuzzi, supported as he was, moreover, by powerful friends. Antonio had been arrested, his marriage with Marianna annulled, and Marianna herself had again come into Capuzzi’s power.

“Has he got her again?” shouted Capuzzi, beside himself; “has he got her again, good Pasquale? Has he got his little darling, his Marianna? Is the knave Antonio arrested? Heaven bless you, Formica!”

“You take a too keen interest in the play, Signor Pasquale,” said Cavalcanti, quite seriously. “Pray permit the actors to proceed with their parts without interrupting them in this disturbing fashion.”

Ashamed of himself, Signor Pasquale resumed his seat, for he had again risen to his feet.

Doctor Gratiano asked what had taken place then.

A wedding, continued Pasquarello, a wedding had taken place. Marianna had repented of what she had done; Signor Pasquale had obtained the desired dispensation from the Holy Father, and had married his niece.

“Yes, yes,” murmured Pasquale Capuzzi to himself, whilst his eyes sparkled with delight, “yes, yes, my dear, good Formica; he will marry his sweet Marianna, the happy Pasquale. He knew that the dear little darling had always loved him, and that it was only Satan who had led her astray.”

“Why then, everything is all right,” said Doctor Gratiano, “and there’s no cause for lamentation.”

Pasquarello began, however, to weep and sob more violently than before, till at length, as if overcome by the terrible nature of his pain, he fainted away. Doctor Gratiano ran backwards and forwards in great distress, was so sorry he had no smelling-bottle with him, felt in all his pockets, and at last produced a roasted chestnut, and put it under the insensible Pasquarello’s nose. He at once recovered, sneezing violently, and begging him to attribute his faintness to his weak nerves, he related how that, immediately after the marriage, Marianna had been afflicted with the saddest melancholy, continually calling upon Antonio, and treating the old gentleman with contempt and aversion. But the old fellow, quite infatuated by his passion and jealousy, had not ceased to torment the poor girl with his folly in the most abominable way. And here Pasquarello mentioned a host of mad tricks which Pasquale had done, and which were really current in Rome about him. Signor Capuzzi sat on thorns; he murmured at intervals, “Curse you, Formica! You are lying! What evil spirit is in you?” He was only prevented from bursting out into a violent passion by Toricelli and Cavalcanti, who sat watching him with an earnest gaze.

Pasquarello concluded his narration by telling that Marianna had at length succumbed to her unsatisfied longing for her lover, her great distress of mind, and the innumerable tortures which were inflicted upon her by the execrable old fellow, and had died in the flower of her youth.

At this moment was heard a mournful De profundis sung by hollow, husky voices, and men clad in long black robes appeared on the stage, bearing an open coffin, within which was seen the corpse of lovely Marianna wrapped in white shrouds. Behind it came Signor Pasquale Capuzzi in the deepest mourning, feebly staggering along and wailing aloud, beating his breast, and crying in a voice of despair, “O Marianna! Marianna!”

So soon as the real Capuzzi caught sight of his niece’s corpse he broke out into loud lamentations, and both Capuzzis, the one on the stage and the one off, gave vent to their grief in the most heartrending wails and groans, “O Marianna! O Marianna! O unhappy me! Alas! Alas for me!”

Let the reader picture to himself the open coffin with the corpse of the lovely child, surrounded by the hired mourners singing their dismal De profundis in hoarse voices, and then the comical masks of Pasquarello and Dr. Gratiano, who were expressing their grief in the most ridiculous gestures, and lastly the two Capuzzis, wailing and screeching in despair. Indeed, all who were witnesses of the extraordinary spectacle could not help feeling, even in the midst of the unrestrained laughter they had burst out into at sight of the wonderful old gentleman, that their hearts were chilled by a most uncomfortable feeling of awe.

Now the stage grew dark, and it thundered and lightened, and there rose up from below a pale ghostly figure, which bore most unmistakably the features of Capuzzi’s dead brother, Pietro of Senigaglia, Marianna’s father.

“O you infamous brother, Pasquale! what have you done with my daughter? what have you done with my daughter?” wailed the figure, in a dreadful and hollow voice. “Despair, you atrocious murderer of my child. You shall find your reward in hell.”

Capuzzi on the stage dropped on the floor as if struck by lightning, and at the same moment the real Capuzzi reeled from his seat unconscious. The bushes rustled together again, and the stage was gone, and also Marianna and Capuzzi and the ghastly spectre Pietro. Signor Pasquale Capuzzi lay in such a dead faint that it cost a good deal of trouble to revive him.

At length he came to himself with a deep sigh, and, stretching out both hands before him as if to ward off the horror that had seized him, he cried in a husky voice, “Leave me alone, Pietro.” Then a torrent of tears ran down his cheeks, and he sobbed and cried, “Oh! Marianna, my darling child — my — my Marianna.” “But recollect yourself,” said now Cavalcanti, “recollect yourself, Signor Pasquale, it was only on the stage that you saw your niece dead. She is alive; she is here to crave pardon for the thoughtless step which love and also your own inconsiderate conduct drove her to take.”

And Marianna, and behind her Antonio Scacciati, now ran forward from the back part of the hall and threw themselves at the old gentleman’s feet — for he had meanwhile been placed in an easy chair. Marianna, looking most charming and beautiful, kissed his hands and bathed them with scalding tears, beseeching him to pardon both her and Antonio, to whom she had been united by the blessing of the Church.

Suddenly the hot blood surged into the old man’s pallid face, fury flashed from his eyes, and he cried in a half-choked voice, “Oh! you abominable scoundrel! You poisonous serpent whom I nourished in my bosom!” Then old Toricelli, with grave and thoughtful dignity, put himself in front of Capuzzi, and told him that he (Capuzzi) had seen a representation of the fate that would inevitably and irremediably overtake him if he had the hardihood to carry out his wicked purpose against Antonio and Marianna’s peace and happiness. He depicted in startling colours the folly and madness of amorous old men, who call down upon their own heads the most ruinous mischief which Heaven can inflict upon a man, since all the love which might have fallen to their share is lost, and instead hatred and contempt shoot their fatal darts at them from every side.

At intervals lovely Marianna cried in a tone that went to everybody’s heart, “O my uncle, I will love and honour you as my own father; you will kill me by a cruel death if you rob me of my Antonio.” And all the eminent men by whom the old gentleman was surrounded cried with one accord that it would not be possible for a man like Signor Pasquale Capuzzi di Senigaglia, a patron of art and himself an artist, not to forgive the young people, and assume the part of father to the most lovely of ladies, not possible that he could refuse to accept with joy as his son-inlaw such an artist as Antonio Scacciati, who was highly esteemed throughout all Italy and richly crowned with fame and honour.

Then it was patent to see that a violent struggle went on within the old gentleman. He sighed, moaned, clasped his hands before his face, and, whilst Toricelli was continuing to speak in a most impressive manner, and Marianna was appealing to him in the most touching accents, and the rest were extolling Antonio all they knew how, he kept looking down — now upon his niece, now upon Antonio, whose splendid clothes and rich chains of honour bore testimony to the truth of what was said about the artistic fame he had earned.

Gone was all rage out of Capuzzi’s countenance; he sprang up with radiant eyes, and pressed Marianna to his heart, saying, “Yes, I forgive you, my dear child; I forgive you, Antonio. Far be it from me to disturb your happiness. You are right, my worthy Signor Toricelli; Formica has shown me in the tableau on the stage all the mischief and ruin that would have befallen me had I carried out my insane design. I am cured, quite cured of my folly. But where is Signor Formica, where is my good physician? let me thank him a thousand times for my cure; it is he alone who has accomplished it. The terror that he has caused me to feel has brought about a complete revolution within me.”

Pasquarello stepped forward. Antonio threw himself upon his neck, crying, “O Signor Formica, you to whom I owe my life, my all — oh! take off this disfiguring mask, that I may see your face, that Formica may not be any longer a mystery to me.”

Pasquarello took off his cap and his artificial mask, which looked like a natural face, since it offered not the slightest hindrance to the play of countenance, and this Formica, this Pasquarello, was transformed into — Salvator Rosa.5

“Salvator!” exclaimed Marianna, Antonio, and Capuzzi, utterly astounded.

“Yes,” said that wonderful man, “it is Salvator Rosa, whom the Romans would not recognise as painter and poet, but who in the character of Formica drew from them, without their being aware of it, almost every evening for more than a year, in Nicolo Musso’s wretched little theatre, the most noisy and most demonstrative storms of applause, from whose mouth they willingly took all the scorn, and all the satiric mockery of what is bad, which they would on no account listen to and see in Salvator’s poems and pictures. It is Salvator Formica who has helped you, dear Antonio.”

“Salvator,” began old Capuzzi, “Salvator Rosa, albeit I have always regarded you as my worst enemy, yet I have always prized your artistic skill very highly, and now I love you as the worthiest friend I have, and beg you to accept my friendship in return.”

“Tell me,” replied Salvator, “tell me, my worthy Signor Pasquale, what service I can render you, and accept my assurances beforehand, that I will leave no stone unturned to accomplish whatever you may ask of me.”

And now the genial smile which had not been seen upon Capuzzi’s face since Marianna had been carried off, began to steal back again. Taking Salvator’s hand he lisped in a low voice, “My dear Signor Salvator, you possess an unlimited influence over good Antonio; beseech him in my name to permit me to spend the short rest of my days with him, and my dear daughter Marianna, and to accept at my hands the inheritance left her by her mother, as well as the good dowry which I was thinking of adding to it. And he must not look jealous if I occasionally kiss the dear sweet child’s little white hand; and ask him — every Sunday at least when I go to Mass, to trim up my rough moustache, for there’s nobody in all the wide world understands it so well as he does.”

It cost Salvator an effort to repress his laughter at the strange old man; but before he could make any reply, Antonio and Marianna, embracing the old gentleman, assured him that they should not believe he was fully reconciled to them, and should not be really happy, until he came to live with them as their dear father, never to leave them again. Antonio added that not only on Sunday, but every other day, he would trim Capuzzi’s moustache as elegantly as he knew how, and accordingly the old gentleman was perfectly radiant with delight. Meanwhile a splendid supper had been prepared, to which the entire company now turned in the best of spirits.

In taking my leave of you, beloved reader, I wish with all my heart that, whilst you have been reading the story of the wonderful Signor Formica, you have derived as much pure pleasure from it as Salvator and all his friends felt on sitting down to their supper.

1 This was Ferdinand II., a member of the illustrious Florentine family of the Medici. He upheld the family tradition by his liberal patronage of science and letters.

2 Evangelista Torricelli, the successor of the great Galileo in the chair of philosophy and mathematics at Florence, is inseparably associated with the discovery that water in a suction-pump will only rise to the height of about thirty-two feet. This paved the way to his invention of the barometer in 1643.

Other members of the Accademia de’ Percossi were Dati, Lippi, Viviani, Bandinelli, &c.

3 An allusion to the well-known nepotism of the Popes. The man here mentioned is one of the Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII.

4 Cetonia aurata, L., called also the gold-chafer; it is coloured green and gold.

5 The painter Salvator Rosa did really play at Rome the rôle of Pasquarello here attributed to him; but it was on the occasion of his second visit to the Eternal City about 1639. On the other hand, it was after 1647 (the year of Masaniello’s revolt at Naples) that Salvator again came to Rome (the third visit), where he stayed until he was obliged to flee farther, namely, to Florence, in consequence of the two pictures already mentioned. It seems evident therefore that Hoffmann has not troubled himself about his dates, or strict historical fidelity, but seems rather to have combined the incidents of the painter’s two visits to Rome — i.e., his second and his third visit.

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