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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571)

A Lawsuit and Some Domestic Vicissitudes

From The “Autobiography

AFTER I had got rid of my Frenchman, I found myself obliged to proceed in the same manner with another tradesman, but did not demolish the house. I only caused the goods to be thrown out of the window….

The second person whom I had driven out of the precincts of my castle commenced a lawsuit against me at Paris, affirming that I had robbed him of several of his effects at the time that I dislodged him. This suit occasioned me a great deal of trouble, and took up so much of my time that I was frequently upon the point of forming a desperate resolution to quit the kingdom. It is customary in France to make the most of a suit which they commence with a foreigner, or with any other person who is not used to law transactions; as soon as they have any advantage in the process, they find means to sell it to certain persons who make a trade of buying lawsuits. There is another villainous practise which is general with the Normans; I mean that of bearing false witness; so that those who purchase the suit immediately instruct five or six of these witnesses, as there happens to be occasion. By such means, if their adversary cannot produce an equal number to contradict and destroy their evidence, and happens to be ignorant of the custom of the country, he is sure to have a decree given against him.

Both these accidents having happened to me, I thought the proceeding highly dishonorable. I therefore made my appearance in the great hall of the Court of Justice at Paris in order to plead my own cause, where I saw the king’s lieutenant for civil affairs seated upon a grand tribunal. This man was tall, corpulent, and had a most austere countenance. On one side he was surrounded by a multitude of people, and on the other with numbers of attorneys and counselors, all ranged in order upon the right and left; others came, one by one, and severally opened their causes before the judge. I observed that the counselors, who stood on one side, sometimes spoke all together. To my great surprise, this extraordinary magistrate, with the true countenance of a Plato, seemed by his attitude to listen now to one, now to another, and constantly answered with the utmost propriety. As I always took great pleasure in seeing and contemplating the efforts of genius, of what nature soever, this appeared to me so wonderful that I would not have missed seeing it for any consideration. As the hall was of a prodigious extent, and filled with a great multitude of persons, particular care was taken that none should enter but such as came about business; so the door was kept locked, and the avenues were guarded by doorkeepers. These men, in opposing those who were for forcing in, sometimes made such a noise that the judge reprimanded them very severely. I stooped down several times to observe what passed. The words which I heard the judge utter, upon seeing two gentlemen who wanted to hear the trial, and whom the porter was endeavoring to keep out, were these, “Be quiet, be quiet, Satan, get hence, and leave off disturbing us!” The terms in French were, Paix, paix, Satan, allez, paix! As I had by this time thoroughly learned the French language, upon hearing these words I recollected what Dante said, when he and his master, Vergil, entered the gates of hell; for Dante and Giotto, the painter, were together in France, and visited Paris with particular attention, where the Court of Justice may be considered as hell. Hence it is that Dante, who was likewise perfect master of the French, made use of that expression; and I have often been surprised that it was never understood in that sense; so that I cannot help thinking that the commentators on this author have often made him say things which he never so much as dreamed of.

To return to my suit. I found that when verdicts were given against me, and there was no redress to be expected from the law, I must have recourse to a long sword, which I had by me, for I was always particularly careful to be provided with good arms. The first I attacked was the person who commenced that unjust and vexatious suit; and one evening I gave him so many wounds upon the legs and arms, taking care, however, not to kill him, that I deprived him of the use of both his legs. I then fell upon the other, who had bought the cause, and treated him in such a manner as quickly caused a stop to be put to the proceedings. For this, and every other success, I returned thanks to the Supreme Being, and began to conceive hopes that I should be for some time unmolested. I earnestly entreated my young journeymen, especially the Italians, to be attentive to their business, and to work hard for a time, till I could finish the works I had undertaken. For I proposed to return to Italy as soon as ever they were completed, not being able any longer to bear the villainy of the French; at the same time seriously considering that, if the monarch should once happen to be angry with me, I might probably meet with severe treatment for having revenged myself in the manner I had done.

These Italian journeymen were as follows:

The first and highest in my favor was Ascanio, born in the kingdom of Naples, at a place called Tagliacozzo. The second was Paolo, a Roman, a person of mean birth, who did not so much as know his own father. These two I had brought from Rome, where they had lived with me. The third was likewise a Roman, who came from Italy on purpose to enter into my service. His name was also Paolo, and he was son to a poor Roman gentleman of the Maccherani family. This young man had made but little proficiency in the business, but he was brave, and an excellent swordsman. The fourth journeyman was a native of Ferrara, whose name was Bartolomeo Chioccia. The fifth was a Florentine, named Paolo Micceri, who had a brother, surnamed Gatta, a very able clerk, but guilty of extravagance when he managed the business for Tommasso Guadagni, a rich merchant. He afterward kept my books, which contained my accounts with his most Christian Majesty, and others by whom I was employed.

Paolo Micceri, having learned his brother’s method of bookkeeping, continued to follow it, and I allowed him a good salary. He appeared to me to be a very pious youth, and discovered a great turn to devotion, sometimes singing psalms, sometimes telling his beads, so that I conceived great hopes from such an appearance of virtue. I therefore called him aside and spoke to him thus:

“My dear friend Paolo, you see how happily you are settled with me, and may remember you were before out of business. You are a Florentine, which makes me confide in you; and what gives me high satisfaction is to see you so pious, and so regular in all acts of religion. I therefore, putting more trust in you than in the others, make it my request to you that you would give your attention to two things, in which I am in a particular manner concerned. One is, that you would carefully watch over my property, and be always upon your guard to prevent anybody from meddling with it, as likewise that you avoid touching it yourself. At the same time you see the poor girl Caterina, whom I keep in the house chiefly on account of my business, and without whom it would be impossible for me to conduct it. Now I have particular reasons for wishing that she should be extremely circumspect in her conduct; therefore I desire you to watch her attentively, and inform me of any improprieties you may observe. I have no desire to provide for other people’s children, nor would I tamely put up with such a thing. Were I to detect so scandalous an outrage, I would sacrifice both to my insulted honor. Therefore be prudent, and obey my injunctions; let me know if you observe anything wrong, and I will dismiss both her and her mother with disgrace.”

This traitor crossed himself from head to foot, and made the most solemn asseverations that such an idea as that of injuring so great a benefactor in the smallest particular could never enter his mind. His appeals to all that was sacred, and apparent devotion to me, completely imposed upon me.

Two days afterward my countryman Maltio de Nasaro invited me and all my establishment to partake of his hospitality at his country house. When I proposed to take Paolo with me to enjoy himself, he observed how dangerous it would be to leave the house unprotected, and such gold, silver, and jewels lying all about, and that there were thieves on the lookout day and night. “Go, then, and enjoy yourself, dear master,” he added, “and I will keep watch.” So, taking Ascanio and Chioccia with me, I set out and spent the greater part of the day with infinite satisfaction. But toward evening I began to feel uncomfortable and out of humor. The words used by Paolo kept recurring to my mind. I could not master my uneasiness, and at last I took horse, and with two of my attendants returned to my castle. I had very nearly taken the villain by surprise; for as I entered the court I heard the wretch of a mother crying:

“Paolo! Caterina! here is the master!”

Soon they both appeared, terror and confusion depicted in every feature, scarcely knowing what they said or did, and evidently guilty. Overpowered by momentary rage, I seized my sword, resolved to kill them upon the spot. One fled, the other fell at my feet beseeching mercy, a movement that allowed me time to recover my reason. I determined then to turn them both out of the place. Turning to Paolo, I exclaimed:

“Thou basest of wretches, had my eyes been a little sharper, I would have passed the weapon through thy craven heart. Now thank thy stars, and get up and away.” And with every opprobrious epithet, cuffs, and kicks, I chased both mother and daughter out of my castle.

In conjunction with a low attorney, a Norman, these wretches entered into a foul conspiracy against me, which caused me the greatest uneasiness, and compelled me to seek redress in a court of justice. Thus, the more I sought for peace to pursue my occupations, the more I encountered tribulation, as if Fortune were bent on finding new modes of persecuting me. I began to think of adopting one of two alternatives, either to quit France altogether or to exhaust her full vengeance, and see what strange destiny Heaven had yet in store for me. I persevered, and, having threatened to appeal to the king, my enemies took the alarm, and I came off victorious out of this fresh sea of troubles. By meeting it manfully I cleared my character and saved five hundred crowns, the forfeit of my non-appearance in the court. So, returning thanks to God, I returned joyfully to my castle, with my young assistants, who had appeared in my behalf.