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


WHEN we had crossed the mountains of the Simplon, we came to a river near a place called Indevedro. It was broad and very deep, spanned by a long narrow bridge without ramparts. That morning a thick white frost had fallen; and when I reached the bridge, riding before the rest, I recognised how dangerous it was, and bade my servants and young men dismount and lead their horses. So I got across without accident, and rode on talking with one of the Frenchmen, whose condition was that of a gentleman. The other, who was a scrivener, lagged a little way behind, jeering the French gentleman and me because we had been so frightened by nothing at all as to give ourselves the trouble of walking. I turned round, and seeing him upon the middle of the bridge, begged him to come gently, since the place was very dangerous. The fellow, true to his French nature, cried out in French that I was a man of poor spirit, and that there was no danger whatsoever. While he spoke these words and urged his horse forward, the animal suddenly slipped over the bridge, and fell with legs in air close to a huge rock there was there. Now God is very often merciful to madmen; so the two beasts, human and equine, plunged together into a deep wide pool, where both of them went down below the water. On seeing what had happened, I set off running at full speed, scrambled with much difficulty on to the rock, and dangling over from it, seized the skirt of the scrivener’s gown and pulled him up, for he was still submerged beneath the surface. He had drunk his bellyful of water, and was within an ace of being drowned. I then, beholding him out of danger, congratulated the man upon my having been the means of rescuing his life. The fellow to this answered me in French, that I had done nothing; the important things to save were his writings, worth many scores of crowns; and these words he seemed to say in anger, dripping wet and spluttering the while. Thereupon, I turned round to our guides, and ordered them to help the brute, adding that I would see them paid. One of them with great address and trouble set himself to the business, and picked up all the fellow’s writings, so that he lost not one of them: the other guide refused to trouble himself by rendering any assistance.

I ought here to say that we had made a purse up, and that I performed the part of paymaster. So, when we reached the place I mentioned, and had dined, I drew some coins from the common purse and gave them to the guide who helped to draw him from the water. Thereupon the fellow called out that I might pay them out of my own pocket; he had no intention of giving the man more than what had been agreed on for his services as guide. Upon this I retorted with insulting language. Then the other guide, who had done nothing, came up and demanded to be rewarded also. I told him that the one who had borne the cross deserved the recompense. He cried out that he would presently show me a cross which should make me repent. I replied that I would light a candle at that cross, which should, I hoped, make him to be the first to weep his folly. The village we were in lay on the frontier between Venice and the Germans. So the guide ran off to bring the folk together, and came, followed by a crowd, with a boar-spear in his hand. Mounted on my good steed, I lowered the barrel of my arquebuse, and turning to my comrades, cried: “At the first shot I shall bring that fellow down; do you likewise your duty, for these are highway robbers, who have used this little incident to contrive our murder.” The innkeeper at whose house we had dined called one of the leaders, an imposing old man, and begged him to put a stop to the disorder, saying: “This is a most courageous young man; you may cut him to pieces, but he will certainly kill a lot of you, and perhaps will escape your hands after doing all the mischief he is able.” So matters calmed down: and the old man, their leader, said to me: “Go in peace; you would not have much to boast of against us, even if you had a hundred men to back you.” I recognised the truth of his words, and had indeed made up my mind to die among them; therefore, when no further insults were cast at me, I shook my head and exclaimed: “I should certainly have done my utmost to prove I am no statue, but a man of flesh and spirit.” Then we resumed our journey; and that evening, at the first lodging we came to, settled our accounts together. There I parted for ever from that beast of a Frenchman, remaining on very friendly terms with the other, who was a gentleman. Afterwards I reached Ferrara, with my three horses and no other company.

Having dismounted, I went to court in order to pay my reverence to the Duke, and gain permission to depart next morning for Loreto. When I had waited until two hours after nightfall, his Excellency appeared. I kissed his hands; he received me with much courtesy, and ordered that water should be brought for me to wash my hands before eating. To this compliment I made a pleasant answer: “Most excellent lord, it is now more than four months that I have eaten only just enough to keep life together; knowing therefore that I could not enjoy the delicacies of your royal table, I will stay and talk with you while your Excellency is supping; in this way we shall both have more pleasure than if I were to sup with you.” Accordingly, we entered into conversation, and prolonged it for the next three hours. At that time I took my leave, and when I got back to the inn, found a most excellent meal ready; for the Duke had sent me the plates from his own banquet, together with some famous wine. Having now fasted two full hours beyond my usual hour for supping, I fell to with hearty appetite; and this was the first time since four months that I felt the power or will to eat.