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


I MUST beg your attention now, most gracious reader, for a very terrible event which happened.

I used the utmost diligence and industry to complete my statue, and went to spend my evenings in the Duke’s wardrobe, assisting there the goldsmiths who were working for his Excellency. Indeed, they laboured mainly on designs which I had given them. Noticing that the Duke took pleasure in seeing me at work and talking with me, I took it into my head to go there sometimes also by day. It happened upon one of those days that his Excellency came as usual to the room where I was occupied, and more particularly because he heard of my arrival. His Excellency entered at once into conversation, raising several interesting topics, upon which I gave my views so much to his entertainment that he showed more cheerfulness than I had ever seen in him before. All of a sudden, one of his secretaries appeared, and whispered something of importance in his ear; whereupon the Duke rose, and retired with the official into another chamber. Now the Duchess had sent to see what his Excellency was doing, and her page brought back this answer: “The Duke is talking and laughing with Benvenuto, and is in excellent good-humour.” When the Duchess heard this, she came immediately to the wardrobe, and not finding the Duke there, took a seat beside us. After watching us at work a while, she turned to me with the utmost graciousness, and showed me a necklace of large and really very fine pearls. On being asked by her what I thought of them, I said it was in truth a very handsome ornament. Then she spoke as follows: “I should like the Duke to buy them for me; so I beg you, my dear Benvenuto, to praise them to him as highly as you can.” At these words I disclosed my mind to the Duchess with all the respect I could, and answered: “My lady, I thought this necklace of pearls belonged already to your most illus trious Excellency. Now that I am aware you have not yet acquired them, it is right, nay, more, it is my duty to utter what I might otherwise have refrained from saying, namely, that my mature professional experience enables me to detect very grave faults in the pearls, and for this reason I could never advise your Excellency to purchase them.” She replied: “The merchant offers them for six thousand crowns; and were it not for some of those trifling defects you speak of, the rope would be worth over twelve thousand.” To this I replied, that “even were the necklace of quite flawless quality, I could not advise any one to bid up to five thousand crowns for it; for pearls are not gems; pearls are but fishes’ bones, which in the course of time must lose their freshness. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, on the contrary, never grow old; these four are precious stones, and these it is quite right to purchase.” When I had thus spoken, the Duchess showed some signs of irritation, and exclaimed: “I have a mind to possess these pearls; so, prithee, take them to the Duke, and praise them up to the skies; even if you have to use some words beyond the bounds of truth, speak them to do me service; it will be well for you!”

I have always been the greatest friend of truth and foe of lies: yet compelled by necessity, unwilling to lose the favour of so great a princess, I took those confounded pearls sorely against my inclination, and went with them over to the other room, whither the Duke had withdrawn. No sooner did he set eyes upon me than he cried: “O Benvenuto! what are you about here?” I uncovered the pearls and said: “My lord, I am come to show you a most splendid necklace of pearls, of the rarest quality, and truly worthy of your Excellency; I do not believe it would be possible to put together eighty pearls which could show better than these do in a necklace. My counsel therefore is, that you should buy them, for they are in good sooth miraculous.” He responded on the instant: “I do not choose to buy them; they are not pearls of the quality and goodness you affirm; I have seen the necklace, and they do not please me.” Then I added: “Pardon me, prince! These pearls exceed in rarity and beauty any which were ever brought together for a necklace.” The Duchess had risen, and was standing behind a door listening to all I said. Well, when I had praised the pearls a thousandfold more warmly than I have described above, the Duke turned towards me with a kindly look, and said. “O my dear Benvenuto, I know that you have an excellent judgment in these matters. If the pearls are as rare as you certify, I should not hesitate about their purchase, partly to gratify the Duchess, and partly to possess them, seeing I have always need of such things, not so much for her Grace, as for the various uses of my sons and daughters.” When I heard him speak thus, having once begun to tell fibs, I stuck to them with even greater boldness; I gave all the colour of truth I could to my lies, confiding in the promise of the Duchess to help me at the time of need. More than two hundred crowns were to be my commission on the bargain, and the Duchess had intimated that I should receive so much; but I was firmly resolved not to touch a farthing, in order to secure my credit, and convince the Duke I was not prompted by avarice. Once more his Excellency began to address me with the greatest courtesy: “I know that you are consummate judge of these things; therefore, if you are the honest man I always thought you, tell me now the truth.” Thereat I flushed up to my eyes, which at the same time filled with tears, and said to him: “My lord, if I tell your most illustrious Excellency the truth, I shall make a mortal foe of the Duchess; this will oblige me to depart from Florence, and my enemies will begin at once to pour contempt upon my Perseus, which I have announced as a masterpiece to the most noble school of your illustrious Excellency. Such being the case, I recommend myself to your most illustrious Excellency.”