Home  »  Autobiography  »  XCIII

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


I WENT on working at my book, and when I had finished it I took it to the Pope, who was in good truth unable to refrain from commending it greatly. I begged him to send me with it to the Emperor, as he had promised. He replied that he would do what he thought fit, and that I had performed my part of the business. So he gave orders that I should be well paid. These two pieces of work, on which I had spent upwards of two months, brought me in five hundred crowns: for the diamond I was paid one hundred and fifty crowns and no more; the rest was given me for the cover of the book, which, however, was worth more than a thousand, being enriched with multitudes of figures, arabesques, enamellings, and jewels. I took what I could get and made my mind up to leave Rome without permission. The Pope meanwhile sent my book to the Emperor by the hand of his grandson Signor Sforza. Upon accepting it, the Emperor expressed great satisfaction, and immediately asked for me. Young Signor Sforza, who had received his instructions, said that I had been prevented by illness from coming. All this was reported to me.

My preparations for the journey into France were made; and I wished to go alone, but was unable on account of a lad in my service called Ascanio. He was of very tender age, and the most admirable servant in the world. When I took him he had left a former master, named Francesco, a Spaniard and a goldsmith. I did not much like to take him, lest I should get into a quarrel with the Spaniard, and said to Ascanio: “I do not want to have you, for fear of offending your master.” He contrived that his master should write me a note informing me that I was free to take him. So he had been with me some months; and since he came to us both thin and pale of face, we called him “the little old man;” indeed I almost thought he was one, partly because he was so good a servant, and partly because he was so clever that it seemed unlikely he should have such talent at thirteen years, which he affirmed his age to be. Now to go back to the point from which I started, he improved in person during those few months, and gaining in flesh, became the handsomest youth in Rome. Being the excellent servant which I have described, and showing marvellous aptitude for our art, I felt a warm and fatherly affection for him, and kept him clothed as if he had been my own son. When the boy perceived the improvement he had made, he esteemed it a good piece of luck that he had come into my hands; and he used frequently to go and thank his former master, who had been the cause of his prosperity. Now this man had a handsome young woman to wife, who said to him: “Surgetto” (that was what they called him when he lived with them), “what have you been doing to become so handsome?” Ascanio answered: “Madonna Francesca, it is my master who has made me so handsome, and far more good to boot.” In her petty spiteful way she took it very ill that Ascanio should speak so; and having no reputation for chastity, she contrived to caress the lad more perhaps than was quite seemly, which made me notice that he began to visit her more frequently than his wont had been.

One day Ascanio took to beating one of our little shopboys, who, when I came home from out of doors, complained to me with tears that Ascanio had knocked him about without any cause. Hearing this, I said to Ascanio: “With cause or without cause, see you never strike any one of my family, or else I’ll make you feel how I can strike myself.” He bandied words with me, which made me jump on him and give him the severest drubbing with both fists and feet that he had ever felt. As soon as he escaped my clutches, he ran away without cape or cap, and for two days I did not know where he was, and took no care to find him. After that time a Spanish gentleman, called Don Diego, came to speak to me. He was the most generous man in the world. I had made, and was making, some things for him, which had brought us well acquainted. He told me that Ascanio had gone back to his old master, and asked me, if I thought it proper, to send him the cape and cap which I had given him. Thereupon I said that Francesco had behaved badly, and like a low-bred fellow; for if he had told me, when Ascanio first came back to him, that he was in his house, I should very willingly have given him leave; but now that he had kept him two days without informing me, I was resolved he should not have him; and let him take care that I do not set eyes upon the lad in his house. This message was reported by Don Diego, but it only made Francesco laugh. The next morning I saw Ascanio working at some trifles in wire at his master’s side. As I was passing he bowed to me, and his master almost laughed me in the face. He sent again to ask through Don Diego whether I would not give Ascanio back the clothes he had received from me; but if not, he did not mind, and Ascanio should not want for clothes. When I heard this, I turned to Don Diego and said: “Don Diego, sir, in all your dealings you are the most liberal and worthy man I ever knew, but that Francesco is quite the opposite of you; he is nothing better than a worthless and dishonoured renegade. Tell him from me that if he does not bring Ascanio here himself to my shop before the bell for vespers, I will assuredly kill him; and tell Ascanio that if he does not quit that house at the hour appointed for his master, I will treat him much in the same way.” Don Diego made no answer, but went and inspired such terror in Francesco that he knew not what to do with himself. Ascanio meanwhile had gone to find his father, who had come to Rome from Tagliacozzo, his birthplace; and this man also, when he heard about the row, advised Francesco to bring Ascanio back to me. Francesco said to Ascanio: “Go on your own account, and your father shall go with you.” Don Diego put in: “Francesco, I foresee that something very serious will happen; you know better than I do what a man Benvenuto is; take the lad back courageously, and I will come with you.” I had prepared myself, and was pacing up and down the shop waiting for the bell to vespers; my mind was made up to do one of the bloodiest deeds which I had ever attempted in my life. Just then arrived Don Diego, Francesco, Ascanio, and his father, whom I did not know. When Ascanio entered, I gazed at the whole company with eyes of rage, and Francesco, pale as death, began as follows: “See here, I have brought back Ascanio, whom I kept with me, not thinking that I should offend you.” Ascanio added humbly: “Master, pardon me; I am at your disposal here, to do whatever you shall order.” Then I said: “Have you come to work out the time you promised me?” He answered yes, and that he meant never to leave me. Then I turned and told the shopboy he had beaten to hand him the bundle of clothes, and said to him: “Here are all the clothes I gave you; take with them your discharge, and go where you like.” Don Diego stood astonished at this, which was quite the contrary of what he had expected; while Ascanio with his father besought me to pardon and take him back. On my asking who it was who spoke for him, he said it was his father; to whom, after many entreaties, I replied: “Because you are his father, for your sake I will take him back.”