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Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Autobiography.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


THIS man had been arrested as a Lutheran. He was an excellent companion; but, from the point of view of his religion, I found him the biggest scoundrel in the world, to whom all kinds of vices were acceptable. His fine intellectual qualities won my admiration; but I hated his dirty vices, and frankly taxed him with them. This friar kept perpetually reminding me that I was in no wise bound to observe faith with the castellan, since I had become a prisoner. I replied to these arguments that he might be speaking the truth as a friar, but that as a man he spoke the contrary; for every one who called himself a man, and not a monk, was bound to keep his word under all circumstances in which he chanced to be. I therefore, being a man, and not a monk, was not going to break the simple and loyal word which I had given. Seeing then that he could not sap my honour by the subtle and ingenious sophistries he so eloquently developed, the friar hit upon another way of tempting me. He allowed some days to pass, during which he read me the sermons of Fra Jerolimo Savonarola; and these he expounded with such lucidity and learning that his comment was even finer than the text. I remained in ecstasies of admiration; and there was nothing in the world I would not have done for him, except, as I have said, to break my promised word. When he saw the effect his talents had produced upon my mind, he thought of yet another method. Cautiously he began to ask what means I should have taken, supposing my jailers had locked me up, in order to set the dungeon doors open and effect my flight. I then, who wanted to display the sharpness of my own wits to so ingenious a man, replied that I was quite sure of being able to open the most baffling locks and bars, far more those of our prison, to do which would be the same to me as eating a bit of new cheese. In order then to gain my secret, the friar now made light of these assertions, averring that persons who have gained some credit by their abilities, are wont to talk big of things which, if they had to put their boasts in action, would speedily discredit them, and much to their dishonour. Himself had heard me speak so far from the truth, that he was inclined to think I should, when pushed to proof, end in a dishonourable failure. Upon this, feeling myself stung to the quick by that devil of a friar, I responded that I always made a practice of promising in words less than I could perform in deeds; what I had said about the keys was the merest trifle; in a few words I could make him understand that the matter was as I had told it; then, all too heedlessly, I demonstrated the facility with which my assertions could be carried into act. He affected to pay little attention; but all the same he learned my lesson well by heart with keen intelligence.

As I have said above, the worthy castellan let me roam at pleasure over the whole fortress. Not even at night did he lock me in, as was the custom with the other prisoners. Moreover, he allowed me to employ myself as I liked best, with gold or silver or with wax according to my whim. So then, I laboured several weeks at the bason ordered by Cardinal Ferrara, but the irksomeness of my imprisonment bred in me a disgust for such employment, and I took to modelling in wax some little figures of my fancy, for mere recreation. Of the wax which I used, the friar stole a piece; and with this he proceeded to get false keys made, upon the method I had heedlessly revealed to him. He had chosen for his accomplice a registrar named Luigi, a Paduan, who was in the castellan’s service. When the keys were ordered, the locksmith revealed their plot; and the castellan who came at times to see me in my chamber, noticing the wax which I was using, recognised it at once and exclaimed: “It is true that this poor fellow Benvenuto has suffered a most grievous wrong; yet he ought not to have dealt thus with me, for I have ever strained my sense of right to show him kindness. Now I shall keep him straitly under lock and key, and shall take good care to do him no more service.” Accordingly, he had me shut up with disagreeable circumstances, among the worst of which were the words flung at me by some of his devoted servants, who were indeed extremely fond of me, but now, on this occasion, cast in my teeth all the kind offices the castellan had done me; they came, in fact, to calling me ungrateful, light, and disloyal. One of them in particular used those injurious terms more insolently than was decent; whereupon I, being convinced of my innocence, retorted hotly that I had never broken faith, and would maintain these words at the peril of my life, and that if he or any of his fellows abused me so unjustly, I would fling the lie back in his throat. The man, intolerant of my rebuke, rushed to the castellan’s room, and brought me the wax with the model of the keys. No sooner had I seen the wax than I told him that both he and I were in the right; but I begged him to procure for me an audience with the castellan, for I meant to explain frankly how the matter stood, which was of far more consequence than they imagined. The castellan sent for me at once, and I told him the whole course of events. This made him arrest the friar, who betrayed the registrar, and the alter ran a risk of being hanged. However, the castellan hushed the affair up, although it had reached the Pope’s ears; he saved his registrar from the gallows, and gave me the same freedom as I had before.