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


WHEN I saw how rigorously this affair was prosecuted, I began to think of my own concerns, and said: “Supposing another of these storms should rise, and the man should lose confidence in me, I should then be under no obligation to him, and might wish to use my wits a little, which would certainly work their end better than those of that rascally friar.” So I began to have new sheets of a coarse fabric brought me, and did not send the dirty ones away. When my servants asked for them, I bade them hold their tongues, saying I had given the sheets to some of those poor soldiers; and if the matter came to knowledge, the wretched fellows ran risk of the galleys. This made my young men and attendants, especially Felice, keep the secret of the sheets in all loyalty. I meanwhile set myself to emptying a straw mattress, the stuffing of which I burned, having a chimney in my prison. Out of the sheets I cut strips, the third of a cubit in breadth; and when I had made enough in my opinion to clear the great height of the central keep of Sant’ Angelo, I told my servants that I had given away what I wanted; they must now bring me others of a finer fabric, and I would always send back the dirty ones. This affair was presently forgotten.

Now my workpeople and serving-men were obliged to close my shop at the order of the Cardinals Santi Quattro and Cornaro, who told me openly that the Pope would not hear of setting me at large, and that the great favours shown me by King Francis had done far more harm that good. It seems that the last words spoken from the King by Monsignor di Morluc had been to this effect, namely, that the Pope ought to hand me over to the ordinary judges of the court; if I had done wrong, he could chastise me; but otherwise, it was but reason that he should set me at liberty. This message so irritated the Pope that he made his mind up to keep me a prisoner for life. At the same time, the castellan most certainly did his utmost to assist me.

When my enemies perceived that my shop was closed, they lost no opportunity of taunting and reviling those servants and friends of mine who came to visit me in prison. It happened on one occasion that Ascanio, who came twice a day to visit me, asked to have a jacket cut out for him from a blue silk vest of mine I never used. I had only worn it once, on the occasion when I walked in procession. I replied that these were not the times nor was I in the place to wear such clothes. The young man took my refusal of this miserable vest so ill that he told me he wanted to go home to Tagliacozzo. All in a rage, I answered that he could not please me better than by taking himself off; and he swore with passion that he would never show his face to me again. When these words passed between us, we were walking round the keep of the castle. It happened that the castellan was also taking the air there; so just when we met his lordship Ascanio said: “I am going away; farewell for ever!” I added: “For ever, is my wish too; and thus in sooth shall it be. I shall tell the sentinels not to let you pass again!” Then, turning to the castellan, I begged him with all my heart to order the guards to keep Ascanio out, adding: “This little peasant comes here to add to my great trouble; I entreat you, therefore, my lord, not to let him enter any more.” The castellan was much grieved, because he knew him to be a lad of marvellous talents; he was, moreover, so fair a person that every one who once set eyes on him seemed bound to love him beyond measure.

The boy went away weeping. That day he had with him a small scimitar, which it was at times his wont to carry hidden beneath his clothes. Leaving the castle then, and having his face wet with tears, he chanced to meet two of my chief enemies, Jeronimo the Perugian, and a certain Michele, goldsmiths both of them. Michele, being Jeronimo’s friend and Ascanio’s enemy, called out: “What is Ascanio crying for? Perhaps his father is dead; I mean that father in the castle!” Ascanio answered on the instant: “He is alive, but you shall die this minute.” Then, raising his hand, he struck two blows with the scimitar, both at the fellow’s head; the first felled him to earth, the second lopped three fingers off his right hand, though it was aimed at his head. He lay there like a dead man. The matter was at once reported to the Pope, who cried in a great fury: “Since the King wants him to be tried, go and give him three days to prepare his defence!” So they came, and executed the commission which the Pope had given them.

The excellent castellan went off upon the spot to his Holiness, and informed him that I was no accomplice in the matter, and that I had sent Ascanio about his business. So ably did he plead my cause that he saved my life from this impending tempest. Ascanio meanwhile escaped to Tagliacozzo, to his home there, whence he wrote begging a thousand times my pardon, and acknowledging his wrong in adding troubles to my grave disaster; but protesting that if through God’s grace I came out from the prison, he meant never to abandon me. I let him understand that he must mind his art, and that if God set me a large again I would certainly recall him.