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From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated, <1900>]; pp. 345-351.


Novels of Giovan-Francesco Straparola.






THIS author was born at Caravaggio, and is ranked among the Venetian writers, having chiefly resided and composed his works at Venice. He is to be esteemed rather a useful than a very happy and amusing novelist, inasmuch as he furnished a large collection of stories for the benefit of his successors, many of which are considered curious in illustrating the progress of fiction; “chiefly,” says Mr. Dunlop, “as being the source of those fairy tales which were so prevalent in France in the commencement of the eighteenth century.”

The first portion of his “Piacevoli Notti” * was published in the year 1550 at Venice, and the second part at the same place in 1554. Four more editions afterwards appeared, comprehending the entire work, amounting in the whole to seventy-four tales. In the introduction we are told that a princess and her father, having fallen from their high estate, became attached to a party of private persons, who for their amusement during the summer evenings related stories which are continued through the cool and pleasant hours of an Italian night. In a letter addressed “Alle Piacevoli Donne,” dated the 11th of January 1554, and prefixed to his novels, he informs them that he presents the stories just as he heard them repeated from the lips of some fair friends. He trusts, therefore, that they will not find fault with the simple and familiar style in which they are written, being copied by him just as he found them, and not being of his own composition. He is certainly correct in disclaiming the merit of originality, since many of his tales are borrowed from Apuleius, some from the “Novelle Antiche,” and others from Giovanni Brevio; such as the story of the nuptials of Belphagor, which forms the fourth tale of the second night. Straparola was indisputably a better collector than an author. He has, however, the merit of having supplied Molière with his “Ecole des Femmes;” and, indeed, with several other plots for his inimitable comedies. Together with Boccaccio, he may be considered the great storehouse from which the French dramatists have drawn their subjects, while they affected to despise the authors of them.

Besides this novel, Straparola produced a work entitled “Opera Nuova,” consisting of sonnets and other poems, published at Venice in 1515, though he is not ranked among the Italian poets of Crescimbeni. It is observed by Mr. Dunlop, that he levied his heaviest contributions upon the eighty novels of Jerome Morlini, a work written in Latin 348 and printed at Naples in 1520, 4to, but now almost utterly unknown, from which thirteen are literally translated into the Italian, and many of the rest are clearly imitated.


*  Tredici Piacevoli Notti. Venice, 1554.

  History of Fiction, vol. ii. p. 446.



IN Como, a little city of Lombardy not very far from Milan, there once dwelt a citizen of the name of Andrigetto da Sabbia, whose immense possessions, surpassing those of any other individual, did not, however, prevent him from adding to them by every means in his power. Being perfectly secure against the attacks of conscience in all his dealings, he was never known to suffer remorse for the most unjustifiable actions. He was in the habit of disposing of the produce of his large estates to the poorer citizens and peasantry, instead of selling it to merchants and others who could command ready money; not from any charitable motives, but in order to obtain possession of their little remaining property, still uniting field after field to the great possessions he had already acquired. It happened that so great a scarcity began to prevail in the city and its vicinity, that many persons actually perished of want, while numbers had recourse to our old usurer for assistance, to whom, from the urgent pressure of circumstances, they were compelled to make over, in return for the necessaries of life, such interest as they might possess either in houses or lands. The concourse of people in his neighbourhood was so great as almost to resemble a jubilee or a public fair. Now there was a certain notary, Tonisto Raspante by name, a most notorious and wily practitioner of his art, and more successful than any other of his brethren in emptying the pockets of the poor villagers. He had still, however, so much regard for an ancient law in Como relating to usurious contracts, which required the money lent to be counted in the presence of proper witnesses, as to refuse to draw up such instruments as Andrigetto often directed him to prepare, observing that they were altogether against the form of the statute, and he would not venture to risk the penalty. But such were the overbearing manners of the old miser, and so great was his authority in the city, that sometimes threatening him with ruin, and at other times bribing him to his purpose, he compelled the attorney to obey his commands. The time for confessing himself being at hand, before presenting himself at the confessional, Andrigetto took care to send to the priest an excellent dinner, with as much of the finest cloth as would make a pair of hose for himself and his servant, announcing at the same time his intention to confess on the ensuing day, when he thought that he was sure of meeting with a favourable hearing. The priest undertook with pleasure the task of absolving from his sins so eminent and rich a citizen, and received his penitent with the utmost cordiality. Andrigetto fell on his knees before his spiritual father, accusing himself with very little ceremony of various sins and errors, not forgetting his usurious and illegal contracts, all which he recounted in the most 349 minute manner. The priest, who had sense enough to perceive the enormous nature of his offences, conceiving himself bound to make some representations on the subject, ventured certain gentle hints on the impropriety of their repetition, and in the meanwhile strongly recommending restitution to the injured parties. Instead of taking this in good part, Andrigetto turned very sharply round upon his confessor, observing that he was at a loss to understand what he meant, and that he had better go, and return no more until he had learned how to confess persons in a more rational manner. The priest owing his preferment in a great measure to Andrigetto, and fearful lest he might lose his favour altogether, began to retract as well as he could, gave him absolution, and then imposing as slight a penance as possible, received a florin for his reward, after which Andrigetto took his leave in very excellent spirits.

Not long after this interview, our old usurer, while rejoicing in this absolution from all his sins, fell ill of a mortal distemper, and the physicians shortly despaired of his life. His friends and relatives having gathered round his bed, took the liberty of suggesting that it was now time to think of a sincere confession, to receive his last spiritual consolation, and make a final arrangement of his affairs, like a good Catholic and a Christian. But the old gentleman, who had hitherto devoted all his thoughts and exertions, both day and night, to the hoarding of his wealth, instead of being at all impressed by the awfulness of his situation, only replied with great levity to their arguments, still amusing himself with arranging the most trifling concerns, and evincing not the least uneasiness at his approaching end. After long entreaties and persuasions, he was at last prevailed upon to comply with their request, and agreed to summon to his assistance his old agent, Tonisto Raspante the notary, and Father Neofito, his confessor.

On the arrival of these personages, they addressed the patient with a cheerful countenance, telling him to keep up his spirits, for that with God’s help he would soon be a sound man again. Andrigetto only replied that he feared he was too far gone for that, and that he had perhaps better lose no time in first settling his worldly affairs and then arranging his ghostly concerns with his confessor. But the good priest, exhorting and comforting him to the best of his ability, advised him first of all to place his sole trust in the Lord, humbly submitting himself to His will, as the safest means of obtaining a restoration to health. To this, however, Andrigetto replied only by ordering seven respectable men to be called in as witnesses of his nuncupative last will and testament. These individuals having been successively presented to the patient, and taken their seats, he proceeded to inquire from his friend Tonisto the very lowest charge which he was in the habit of making for penning a will. “According to the strict rules of the profession,” replied Tonisto, “it is only a florin; but in general the amount is decided by the feelings of the testator.” “Well, well, then,” cried the patient, “take two florins, and set down what I tell you.” The notary having invoked the divine name, drew out the preliminaries in the usual manner, bequeathing 350 the body of the testator to the earth and his soul to the hands of God who gave it, with humble thanks for the many favours vouchsafed by Him to His unworthy creature. This exordium being read to Andrigetto, he flew into a violent rage, and commanded the notary to write down nothing but his own words, which he dictated as follows: “I, Andrigetto di Valsabbia, being of sound mind, though infirm of body do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament: I give and bequeath my soul into the hands of the great Satan, the prince of devils.” Hearing these words, the witnesses stood aghast; Raspante’s quill started from the paper, and, in evident horror and perturbation, he stopped. Looking the testator very earnestly in the face, he interposed: “Ah! Messer Andrigetto, these are the words of a madman!” “How!” exclaimed Andrigetto, in a violent passion, “What do you mean? How dare you stop? Write word for word as I direct you, and nothing more, or you shall never be paid for a will of mine: proceed, I tell you!” Struck with the greatest horror and surprise, his friends attempted to remonstrate with him, lamenting that he should make use of language so opposite to his usual good sense, language which only madmen or blasphemers could be capable of using on such a subject and in so awful a situation as his. “Desist, then,” they continued, “for Heaven’s sake, and consult your honour and the safety of your poor soul. Think of the scandal such a proceeding would bring upon your family, if you, who were esteemed so prudent, and so wise, were to make yourself an example of all that is perfidious, ungrateful, and impious towards Heaven.”

But Andrigetto paid no further attention to their reproaches than by observing that his business was with his attorney, and that as he had not yet finished his will, they had better take care what they were about; on which there was soon a respectful silence throughout the room. He then turned towards his attorney, requesting to know, in a voice of suppressed passion, whether he was prepared to go on, as he had already offered to pay double the usual charge for his labours. Apprehensive that Andrigetto might expire before he had made a disposition of his property, the notary promised to do as he was required, more especially when he heard the patient beginning to hiccup with the violence of his emotions; so that he was compelled to make a solemn vow to fulfil his client’s instructions.

“Item,” continued Andrigetto, “I hereby bequeath the wretched soul of my wicked agent, Tonisto Raspante, to the great Satan, in order that it may keep company with mine when it leaves the world, as it shortly must.” “The Lord have mercy on me!” cried the poor attorney, shocked at the deep solemnity with which these last words were uttered; “The Lord have mercy on my soul!” and the pen dropped from his hand. “Recall,” he continued, ‘my honoured patron, recall those wicked words; do anything but destroy my eternal interests, my last, my dearest hopes.” “Go on, you rogue!” cried the testator, “and do not venture to interrupt me again; do not tell me about your soul. You have your pay, and that is enough; so proceed quickly as I shall direct you. I leave my said attorney’s soul to the devil, for this reason, that if he had not consented to draw up 351 so many false and usurious contracts, but had driven me from his presence as soon as I proposed them, I should not now find myself reduced to the sad extremity of leaving both our souls to the king of hell, owing entirely to his shameful cupidity and want of common honesty.” The attorney, though trembling at the name of the king of hell, yet fearful lest his patron might enter into further particulars far from creditable to him, wrote as he was commanded.

“Item,” continued the patient, “I bequeath the soul of Father Neofito, my confessor, into the claws of Lucifer; aye, to thirty thousand pair of devils.” “Stop, Messer Andrigetto, pray stop,” cried the priest; “and do not think of applying those dreadful words to me. You ought to put your trust in the Lord, in the Lord Jesus, whose mercies always abound, who came to save sinners, and is still inviting them, night and day, to repentance. He died for our sins, and for your sins, Messer Andrigetto; you have only to beseech pardon, and all will yet be well. The road is still open to restitution; hasten to make restitution, then; for the Lord does not wish the death of a sinner. You have great wealth; remember the Church; you will have masses said for your soul, and may yet sit in the seats of paradise.” “Oh, thou wicked and most wretched priest!” retorted the patient, “By thy vile avarice and simony thou hast helped thine own soul, as well as mine, into the pit of perdition. And dost thou now think of advising me to repent? Confusion on thy villainy! Write, notary, that I bequeath his soul to the very centre of the place of torments; for had it not been for his bold and shameless conduct in absolving me from my numerous and repeated offences, I should not now find myself in the strange predicament in which I am placed. What! does the rogue think it would be now just to restore my evil-gotten gains, and thus leave my poor family destitute? No, no; I am not quite such a fool as to do that; so please go on. Item, To my dear lady Felicia I leave my pretty farm, situated in the district of Comacchio, in order to supply herself with the elegancies of life, and occasionally treat her lovers as she has been hitherto in the habit of doing, thus preparing the way further to oblige me with her company in the other world, sharing with us the torments of eternity. The remainder of my property, as well personal as real, with all future interest and proceeds accruing thereon, I leave to my two legitimate and beloved sons, Commodo and Torquato, on condition that they give nothing for a single mass to be said for the soul of the deceased, but that they feast, swear, game, and fight, to the best of their ability, in order that they may the sooner waste their substance so wickedly acquired, until, driven to despair, they may as speedily as possible hang themselves. And this I declare to be my last will and testament, as witness all present, not forgetting my attorney.” Having signed this instrument and put his seal to it, Andrigetto turned away his face, and uttering a terrific howl, finally surrendered his impenitent soul to Pluto.


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