Story type: Essay
It is a duty incumbent upon upright and credible men of all ranks, who have performed anything noble or praiseworthy, to truthfully record, in their own writing, the principal events of their lives.
“The man who is thoroughly interested in himself is interesting to other people,” Wendell Phillips once said.
Good healthy egotism in literature is the red corpuscle that makes the thing live. Cupid naked and unashamed is always beautiful; we turn away only when some very proper person perceives he is naked and attempts to better the situation by supplying him a coat of mud. The Diary of Marie Bashkirtseff, wherein are many morbid musings and information as to the development of her mind and anatomy, is intensely interesting; Amiel’s Journal holds us with a tireless grasp; the Confessions of Saint Augustine can never die; Jean Jacques Rousseau’s book was the favorite of such a trinity of opposites as Emerson, George Eliot and Walt Whitman; Pepys’ Diary is so dull it is entertaining; and the Memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini have made a mediocre man immortal.
Cellini had an intense personality; he was skilful as a workman; he told the truth as he saw it, and if he ever prevaricated it was simply by failing to mention certain things that he considered were no credit to anybody. But his friendships were shallow; those he respected most, say Michelangelo and Raphael, treated him as Prince Henry finally did Falstaff, never allowing him to come within half a mile of their person on penalty. He was intimate with so many women that he apologized for not remembering them; he had no interest in his children, and most of his plans and purposes were of a pattypan order. Yet he wrote two valuable treatises: one on the art of the goldsmith and the other on the casting of bronze; there is also an essay on architecture that contains some good ideas; and courtier that he was, of course wrote some poetry, which is not so bad as it might be. But the book upon which his reputation rests is the “Memoirs,” and a great book it is. All these things seem to show that a man can be a great author and yet have a small soul. Haven’t we overrated this precious gift of authorship just a trifle?
Taine said that educated Englishmen all write alike–they are all equally stupid. And John Addington Symonds, an educated Englishman, and the best translator of Cellini, wrote, “Happily Cellini was unspoiled by literary training.” Goethe translated Cellini’s book into German and paid the doughty Italian the compliment of saying that he did the task out of pure enjoyment, and incidentally to improve his literary style.
Cellini is not exactly like us, and when we read his book we all give thanks that we are not like him, but every trait that he had large, we have in little. Cellini was sincere; he never doubted his own infallibility, but he points out untiringly the fallibilities in various popes and everybody else. When Cellini goes out and kills a man before breakfast, he absolves himself by showing that the man richly deserved his fate. The braggart and bully are really cowards at the last. A man who is wholly brave would not think to brag of it. He would be as brave in his calm moments as in moments of frenzy–take old John Brown, for instance. But when Cellini had a job on hand he first worked himself into a torrent of righteous wrath. He poses as the injured one, the victim of double, deep-dyed conspiracies, and so he goes through life afraid of every one, and is one of whom all men are afraid.
Every artist has occasional attacks of Artistic Jealousy, and happy is the man who contents himself with the varioloid variety. Cellini had three kinds: acute, virulent and chronic.
Berloiz has worked the man up into a strong and sinewy drama, several others have done the same, but it will require the combined skill of Rostand, Mansfield and Samuel Eberly Gross to ever do the character justice.
John Morley says, “There is nothing worse than mettle in a blind horse.” So one might say there is nothing worse than sincerity in a superstitious person. Benvenuto Cellini is the true type of a literary and artistic Bad Man. Had he lived in Colorado in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, the Vigilance Committee would have used him to start a graveyard.
But he is so open, so simple, so candid, that we laugh at his lapses, admire his high resolves, sigh at his follies, sympathize with his spasms of repentance, and smile a misty smile at one who is humorous without meaning to be, who was deeply religious but never pious, who was highly conscientious, undoubtedly artistic, and who blundered through life, always in a turmoil, hopelessly entangled in the web of Fate, committing every crime, justifying himself in everything, and finally passing out peacefully, sincerely believing that he had lived a Christian life.
Benvenuto Cellini was born in Florence, in the year Fifteen Hundred, the day after the feast-day of All Souls, at four-thirty precisely in the afternoon.
The name Benvenuto means welcome: the world welcomed Benvenuto from the first. When five years of age he seized upon a live scorpion that he found in the yard and carried it into the house. His father seeing the deadly creature in his hand sought to get him to throw it away, but he only clung the tighter to the plaything. The parent then grabbed a pair of shears and cut off the tail, mouth and claws of the scorpion, much to the wrath of the child.
Shortly after this he was seated by his father’s side looking into a brazier of coals. All at once they saw a salamander in the fire, wiggling about in playful mood, literally making its bed in hell. Many men go through life without seeing a single salamander; neither Darwin, Spencer, Huxley nor Wallace ever saw one; they are so rare that occasionally there be men who deny their existence, for we are very apt to deny the existence of anything we have not seen. In truth, Benvenuto never saw but this one salamander, but this one was enough: coupled with the incident of the scorpion it was an augury that the boy would have a great career, be in many a hot position, and march through life triumphant and unscathed–God takes care of His own.
The father of Benvenuto was a designer, a goldsmith and an engineer, and he might have succeeded in a masterly way in these sublime arts had he not early in life acquired the habit of the flute. He played the flute all day long, and often played the flute in the morning and the fife at night. As it was the flute that had won him his gracious wife, he thanked God for the gift and continued to play as long as he had breath.
Now, it was his ambition that his son should play the flute, too, as all fond fathers regard themselves as a worthy pattern on which their children should model their manners and morals. But Benvenuto despised the damnable invention of a flute–it was only blowing one’s breath through a horn and making a noise–yet to please his father he mastered the instrument, and actuated by filial piety he occasionally played in a way that caused his father and mother to weep with joy. But the boy’s bent was for drawing and modeling in wax. All of his spare time was spent in this work, and so great was his skill that when he was sixteen he was known throughout all Florence. About this time his brother, two years younger than himself, had the misfortune one day to be set upon by a gang of miscreants, and was nigh being killed when Benvenuto ran to his rescue and seizing his sword laid around him lustily. The miscreants were just making off when a party of gendarmes appeared and arrested all concerned. The rogues were duly tried and sentenced to banishment from the city.
Benvenuto and his brother were also banished.
Shortly after this Benvenuto found himself at Pisa on the road to Rome. He was footsore, penniless, and as he stood gazing into the window of a goldsmith the proprietor came out and asked him his business. He replied, “Sir, I am a designer and goldsmith of no mean ability.”
Straightway the man, seeing the lad was likely and honest, set him to work. The motto of the boy at this time was supplied by his father. It ran thus: In whatsoever house you be, steal not and live honestlee.
Seeing this motto, the proprietor straightway trusted him with all the precious jewels in the store. He remained a year at Pisa, and was very happy and contented in his work, for never once did he have to play the flute, nor did he hear one played. Nearly every week came loving letters from his father begging him to come home, and admonishing him not to omit practise on the flute.
At the end of a year he got a touch of fever and concluded to go home, as Florence was much more healthful than Pisa.
Arriving home his father embraced him with tears of unfeigned joy. His changed and manly appearance pleased his family greatly. And straightway when their tears were dried and welcomes said, his father placed a flute in his hands and begged him to play in order that he might see if his playing had kept pace with his growth and skill in other ways.
The young man set the instrument to his lips and played an original selection in a way that made his father shout with joy, “Genius is indispensable, but practise alone makes perfect!”
Michelangelo was born twenty-five years before Cellini; their homes were not far apart. In the Gardens of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Michelangelo had received that strong impetus toward the beautiful that was to last him throughout his long and arduous life.
When Cellini was eighteen the Master was at Rome, doing the work of the Pope, the pride of all artistic Florence, and toward the Eternal City Cellini looked longingly. He haunted the galleries and gardens where broken fragments of antique and modern marbles were to be seen, and stood long before the “Pieta” of Michelangelo in the Church of Santa Croce, wondering if he could ever do as well.
About this time he tells us that he copied that famous cartoon of Michelangelo’s, “Soldiers Bathing in the Arno,” made in competition with Leonardo for the decoration of the Palazzo Vecchio, which he declares marks the highest pitch of power attained by the Master. While at this work there appeared in Florence one Pietro Torrigiano, who had been an exile in England for over twenty years. The visitor held Cellini’s drawing in his hand, studied it carefully and remarked: “I know this man Michelangelo Buonarrotti–we used to draw and work together under the tutorship of Masaccio. One day Buonarrotti annoyed me and I dealt him such a blow on the nose that I felt the flesh, cartilage and bone go down under my knuckles like a biscuit. It was a mark he will carry to his grave.”
These words were truth, save that Michelangelo was struck with a mallet and not the man’s hand. And it was for the blow that Torrigiano had to flee, and seemingly, with the years, he had gotten it into his head that he left Florence of his own accord, and his crime was a thing of which to boast. Voltaire once said that beyond doubt the soldier who thrust the spear into the side of the Savior went away and boasted of the deed. Torrigiano’s name is forever linked with that of Michelangelo. Thus much for the pride of little men who make a virtue of a vice.
But the boast of Torrigiano caused Cellini to grow faint and sick, then to burn with hate. He snatched the drawing from the other’s hand, and might have deprived Torrigiano of all the nose he possessed, had not better counsel prevailed. Ever after Cellini avoided the man–for the man’s own good.
That art was a passion to this stripling is plain. It was his meat and drink–with fighting for dessert. One of his near companions was Francisco, grandson of Fra Lippo Lippi, and another chum was Tasso, at this time a youth of nineteen–his own age. Tasso became a great artist. Vasari tells of him at length, and sketches his career while in the employ of Cosimo de Medici.
One day Benvenuto and Tasso were walking after their work was done, and discussing as usual the wonderful genius of Michelangelo. They agreed that some day they must go to him at Rome. They were near the gate of the city that led out on the direct road to the Eternal City. They passed out of the gate still talking earnestly.
“Why, we are on the way now,” said Tasso.
“And to turn back is an ill omen–we will go on!” answered Benvenuto.
So they kept on, each one saying, “And what will our folks say tonight?”
By night they had traveled twenty miles. They stopped at an inn, and in the morning Tasso was so lame he declared he could not proceed. Benvenuto insisted, and even threatened.
They trudged forward, and in a week the spire of Saint Peter’s (the wondrous dome was yet to be) lifted itself out of the fog, and they stood speechless and uncovered, each devoutly crossing himself.
Benvenuto had a trade, and as skilled men are always needed he got work at once. Tasso filled in the time carving wood. They did not see Michelangelo–that worthy was too busy to receive callers, or indulge the society of adventurous youths. Cellini does not say much about this, but skips two years in a page, takes part in a riot and flees back to Florence. He enters into earnest details of how ‘leven rogues in buckram suits reviled him as he passed a certain shop. One of them upset a handcart of brick upon him. He dealt the miscreant a blow on the ear. The police here appeared and as usual arrested the innocent Happy Hooligan of the affair. Being taken before the Magistrates he was accused of striking a free citizen. Cellini insisted he had only boxed the man’s ears, but many witnesses in chorus averred that he had struck the citizen in the face with his clenched fist. “I only boxed his ears,” exclaimed Cellini above the din. The Magistrates all burst out laughing, and adjourned for dinner, warning Cellini to remain where he was until they came back –hoping he would run away.
He sat there thinking over his sad lot, when a sudden impulse seizing him he darted out of the palace, and ran swiftly for the house of his enemies. He drew his knife, and rushing in among them where they were at dinner, upset the table and yelled, “Send for a confessor, for none of you will ever need a doctor when I get through with you!”
Several women fainted, the men sprang through windows, and the chief rogue got a slash that went straight for his heart. He fell down, and Cellini thinking the man was dead started for the street. At the door he was greeted by all those who had jumped through the windows, reinforced by others. They were armed with shovels, tongs, skillets, clubs, sticks and knives. He laid about him right and left, but the missiles descended in such showers that he lost his knife and cap, first sending to the earth a full dozen of the rogues.
Running to the house of a priest Cellini begged to confess the murder, and told of how he had acted only in self-defense. Being shrived, for a consideration, he awaited the coming of the constabulary. But they did not come, for the man who thought he had been stabbed got only a slash through his jacket, and no one was seriously hurt, except one of the men who jumped through a window and sprained his ankle. But so unjust were the Magistrates that Cellini had to flee from the city or he would have been sentenced to the army and sent God knows where, to fight the Moors.
Max Nordau has a certain amount of basis for his proposition that genius and madness are near allied, but it will hardly do, however, to assume that they are the same thing. Cellini at times showed a fine flaring up of talent that might be called genius–he could do exquisite work–yet there were other times when he certainly was “queer.” These queer periods might account for his occasional fusing of memory and imagination, and the lapses of recollection entirely concerning things he did not wish to remember. The Memoirs were begun when he was fifty-eight and finished when he was sixty-three: thus many years had elapsed between the doing and the recording. The Constable Bourbon was killed at the siege of Rome: Cellini was present at the siege and killed several men: therefore what more probable than that Cellini killed the Constable? Cellini calmly records that it was he who did the deed. He also tells that he killed William, Prince of Orange; in fact, he killed at least one man a day for many weeks. At this distance of time we should be quite willing to take his word for it, just as we would, most certainly, if he had told us these things face to face.
In one incidental paragraph he records that he christened a son, and adds: “So far as I can remember this was my first child.” He drops the record there, never once alluding to the child’s mother, nor what became of the child, which if it lived was a man grown at the time Cellini was writing.
His intense hatred toward all who were in direct competition with him, his references to them as cheese-mites, beasts, buzzards and brigands, his fears of poison, and suspicions that they had “curdled his bronze”; his visitations by spirits and angels, mark him as a man who trod the borderland of sanity. If he did not like a woman or she did not like him–the same thing–she was a troll, wench, scullion, punk, trollop or hussy. He had such a beautiful vocabulary of names for folks he did not admire, that the translator is constantly put to straits to produce a product that will not be excluded from the mails.
If you want to know how things were done when knighthood was in flower, you can find out here. Or should you be possessed of literary longing and have a desire to produce some such cheerful message for humanity as “A Gentleman of France,” “Monsieur Beaucaire,” or “Under the Red Robe,” you can sink your shaft in Cellini’s book and mine enough incidents in an hour to make a volume, with a by-product of slag for several Penny Shockers.
Yet Cellini has corroborated history on many points, and backed up the gossipy Vasari in a valuable way. It is very doubtful whether either of these gentlemen had ever the felicity of reading the other’s book, unless there be books in Elysium–as Charles Lamb thought there were–but sure it is that they render sidelights on the times that are much to our profit. Vasari and Cellini had been close friends in youth, working and studying together. Vasari was a poor artist and a commonplace architect, but he seemed to have social qualities that bridged the gulf where his talent broke off short. In the Palazzo Vecchio are several large specimens of his work that must have been once esteemed for their own sake. Now their chief value lies in the fact that they are a Hop-Smith production, having been painted by a pleasing writer and a charming gentleman, and so we point them out with forefinger and bated breath.
Cellini’s hate of Vasari proves, also, that the Gossipy One stood well with the reigning powers, otherwise Benvenuto would not have thought to condemn his work and allude to the man as a dough-face, trickster, lickspittle, slanderer, vulture, vagrom, villain, vilifier and gnat’s hind-foot. Cellini threatened to kill the man several times: he denounced him in public and used to call after him on the street, referring to him cheerfully as a deep-dyed rogue. Had either of these men killed the other, it would have been a loss to letters; but certain it is that Vasari was much more of a gentleman than Cellini. That Vasari was judicial in his estimates of men is shown by his references to Cellini, whom he speaks of as “A skilled artist, of active, alert and industrious habits, who produced many valuable works of art, but who unfortunately was possessed of a most unpleasant temper.”
Men are so fallible in their estimates of contemporaries that one man’s statement that another is a rogue does not in the slightest change our views of that man. What we are, that we see: the epithets a man applies to another usually fit himself better, and this is the thought in mind when we read what Cellini says of Vasari and Bandinelli. These men were commonplace artists, but pretty good men; Cellini was a better artist than either, but not a desirable tenant for the upper flat in your house if you chanced to reside below.
Cellini was landed behind grated bars many times, but usually managed to speedily escape. However, in his thirty-eighth year, he found himself in a dungeon of Sant’ Angelo, that grim fortress that he had fought so vigorously to defend.
More than one homicide the Recording Angel had marked up against him, but men took small note of these things, and even Pope Paul had personally blessed him and granted him absolution for all the murders he had committed or might commit–this in consideration of his distinguished services in defense of the Vatican.
The charge against him now was the very humdrum one of stealing treasure that he was supposed to guard. That he was innocent there is no doubt: whatever the man was, he was no thief. The charge against him was a trumped-up one to get him out of the way. He was painfully in evidence–he talked like a windmill, and in his swaggering he had become inconvenient, if not dangerous, to some who were close to political greatness. No one caring for the job of killing him, they locked him up, for the good of himself and society. It probably was the intention to keep him under key for only a few weeks, until his choler would subside; but he was so saucy, and sent out such a stream of threats to all concerned, that things reached a point where it was unsafe to liberate him.
So he was kept in the Castle for over two years, during which time he once escaped, broke his leg in the effort, was recaptured and brought back.
A prison is not wholly bad–men in prison often have time to study and think, where before such things were impossible. At least they are free from intrusion. Cellini became deeply religious–he read his Bible and the lives of the saints. Ministering angels came to him, and spirits appeared and whispered words of comfort. The man became softened and subdued. He wrote poetry, and recorded his thoughts on many things. In the meantime, his accuser having died, he was given his liberty. He was a better and a wiser man when he came out than when he went in, although one fails to find that he was exactly grateful to his captors.
In prison he planned various statues of a religious order. It was in prison, too, that he thought out the Perseus and Medusa. In prison, works like the Pieta were his ambition, but when freedom came the Perseus was uppermost in his mind. Every great work of art is an evolution–the man sees it first as a mere germ–it grows, enlarges, evolves. The Perseus of Cellini was a thought that took years to germinate. The bloody nature of the man and his love of form united, and the world has this wonderful work of art that stands today exactly where its creator placed it, in the Loggia de’ Lanzia–that beautiful out-of-door hall on the Piazza Signora at Florence. The naked man, wearing his proud helmet, one foot on the writhing body of the wretched woman, sword in right hand and in the left the dripping head, is a terrible picture. Yet so exquisite is the workmanship that our horror soon evaporates into admiration, and we gaze in wonder. Probably the history of no great work of art has ever been more painstakingly presented than the story of the making of this statue by Cellini. Again and again he was on the point of smashing the clay to chaos, but each time his hand was stayed. Months passed, years went by, and innumerable difficulties were in the way of its completion. Finally he figured out a method to cast it in bronze. And of its final casting no better taste of the man’s quality can be given than to let him tell the story himself. Says Cellini:
I felt convinced that when my Perseus was accomplished, all my trials would be turned to high felicity and glorious well-being.
Accordingly I strengthened my heart, and with all the forces of my body and my purse, employing what little money still remained to me, I set to work. First I provided myself with several loads of pine- wood from the forests of Serristori. While these were on their way, I clothed my Perseus with the clay which I had prepared many months beforehand, in order that it might be duly seasoned. After making its clay tunic (for that is the term used in this art) and properly arming and fencing it with iron girders, I began to draw the wax out by means of slow fire. This melted and issued through numerous air- vents I had made; for the more there are of these, the better will the mold fill. When I had finished drawing off the wax, I constructed a funnel-shaped furnace all round the model of my Perseus. It was built of bricks, so interlaced, the one above the other, that numerous apertures were left for the fire to exhale at. Then I began to lay on wood by degrees, and kept it burning two whole days and nights.
At length, when all the wax was gone and the mold was well baked, I set to work at digging the pit in which to sink it. This I performed with scrupulous regard to all the rules of art. When I had finished that part of my work, I raised the mold by windlasses and stout ropes to a perpendicular position, and suspending it with greatest care one cubit above the level of the furnace, so that it hung exactly above the middle of the pit, I next lowered it gently down into the very bottom of the furnace, and had it firmly placed with every possible precaution for its safety. When this delicate operation was accomplished, I began to bank it up with the earth I had excavated; and ever as the earth grew higher, I introduced its proper air-vents, which were little tubes of earthenware, such as folks use for drains and such-like purposes. At length, I felt sure that it was admirably fixed, and that the filling-in of the pit and the placing of the air-vents had been properly performed. I also could see that my work-people understood my method, which differed very considerably from that of all other masters in the trade. Feeling confident, then, that I could rely upon them, I next turned to my furnace, which I had filled with numerous pigs of copper and other bronze stuff. The pieces were piled according to the laws of art, that is to say, so resting one upon another that the flames could play freely through them, in order that the metal might heat and liquefy the sooner. At last I called out heartily to set the furnace going. The logs of pine were heaped in, and, what with the unctuous resin of the wood and the good draft I had given, my furnace worked so well that I was obliged to rush from side to side to keep it from going too fast. The labor was more than I could stand; yet I forced myself to strain every nerve and muscle. To increase my anxieties, the workshop took fire, and we were afraid lest the roof should fall upon our heads; while from the garden such a storm of wind and rain kept blowing in, that it perceptibly cooled the furnace.
Battling thus with all these untoward circumstances for several hours, and exerting myself beyond even the measure of my powerful constitution, I could at last bear up no longer, and a sudden fever, of the utmost possible intensity, attacked me. I felt absolutely obliged to go and fling myself upon my bed. Sorely against my will having to drag myself away from the spot, I turned to my assistants, about ten or more in all, what with master-founders, hand-workers, country fellows, and my own special journeymen, among whom was Bernardino Mannellini, my apprentice through several years. To him in particular I spoke: “Look, my dear Bernardino, that you observe the rules which I have taught you; do your best with all dispatch, for the metal will soon be fused. You can not go wrong; these honest men will get the channels ready; you will easily be able to drive back the two plugs with this pair of iron crooks; and I am sure that mold will fill miraculously. I feel more ill that I ever did in all my life, and verily believe that it will kill me before a few hours are over.” Thus with despair at heart, I left them, and betook myself to bed.
No sooner had I got to bed, than I ordered my serving-maids to carry food and wine for all the men into the workshop; at the same time I cried, “I shall not be alive tomorrow!” They tried to encourage me, arguing that my illness would pass over, since it came from excessive fatigue. In this way I spent two hours battling with the fever, which steadily increased, and calling out continually, “I feel that I am dying.”
My housekeeper, who was named Mona Fiore da Castel del Rio, a very notable manager and no less warmhearted, kept chiding me for my discouragement; but, on the other hand, she paid me every kind attention which was possible. However, the sight of my physical pain and moral dejection so affected her, that, in spite of that brave heart of hers, she could not refrain from shedding tears; and yet, so far as she was able, she took good care I should not see them. While I was thus terribly afflicted, I beheld the figure of a man enter my chamber, twisted in his body into the form of a capital S. He raised a lamentable, doleful voice, like one who announces his last hour to men condemned to die upon the scaffold, and spoke these words: “O Benvenuto! your statue is spoiled, and there is no hope whatever of saving it!” No sooner had I heard the shriek of that wretch than I gave a howl which might have been heard in hell. Jumping from my bed, I seized my clothes and began to dress. The maids, and my lad, and every one who came around to help me, got kicks or blows of the fist, while I kept crying out in lamentation: “Ah! traitors! enviers! This is an act of treason, done by malice prepense! But I swear by God that I will sift it to the bottom, and before I die will leave such witness to the world of what I can do as shall make a score of mortals marvel.”
When I got my clothes on, I strode with soul bent on mischief toward the workshop; there I beheld the men, whom I had left erewhile in such high spirits, standing stupefied and downcast. I began at once and spoke: “Up with you! Attend to me! Since you have not been able or willing to obey the directions I gave you, obey me now that I am with you to conduct my work in person. Let no one contradict me, for in cases like this we need the aid of hand and hearing, not of advice.”
When I had uttered these words, a certain Maestro Alessandro broke silence and said, “Look you, Benvenuto, you are going to attempt an enterprise which the laws of art do not sanction, and which can not succeed.” I turned upon him with such fury that he and all the rest of them exclaimed with one voice: “Oh then! Give orders! We will obey your least commands, so long as life is left to us.” I believe they spoke thus feelingly because they thought I must fall shortly dead upon the ground. I went immediately to inspect the furnace, and found that the metal was all curdled; an accident which we expressed by being “caked.” I told two of the hands to cross the road, and fetch from the house of the butcher Capretta a load of young oak- wood, which had lain dry for above a year. So soon as the first armfuls arrived, I began to fill the grate beneath the furnace. Now oak-wood of that kind heats more powerfully than any other sort of tree; and for this reason, where a slow fire is wanted, as in the case of gun-foundry, alder or pine is preferred. Accordingly, when the logs took fire, oh! how the cake began to stir beneath that awful heat, to glow and sparkle in a blaze! At the same time I kept stirring up the channels, and sent men upon the roof to stop the conflagration, which had gathered force from the increased combustion in the furnace; also I caused boards, carpets, and other hangings to be set up against the garden, in order to protect us from the violence of the rain.
When I had thus provided against these several disasters, I roared out first to one man and then to another: “Bring this thing here! Take that thing there!” At this crisis, when the whole gang saw the cake was on the point of melting, they did my bidding, each fellow working with the strength of three. I then ordered half a pig of pewter to be brought, which weighed about sixty pounds, and flung it into the middle of the cake inside the furnace. By this means, and by piling on wood and stirring now with pokers and now with iron rods, the curdling mass rapidly began to liquefy. Then, knowing I had brought the dead to life again, against the firm opinion of those ignoramuses, I felt such vigor fill my veins that all those pains of fever, all those fears of death, were quite forgotten.
All of a sudden an explosion took place, attended by a tremendous flash of flame, as though a thunderbolt had formed and been discharged amongst us. Unwonted and appalling terror astonished every one, and me more even than the rest. When the din was over and the dazzling light extinguished, we began to look each other in the face. Then I discovered that the cap of the furnace had blown up, and the bronze was bubbling over from its source beneath. So I had the mouths of my mold immediately opened, and at the same time drove in the two plugs which kept back the molten metal.
But I noticed that it did not flow as rapidly as usual, the reason being probably that the fierce heat of the fire we kindled had consumed its base alloy. Accordingly I sent for all my pewter platters, porringers and dishes, to the number of some two hundred pieces, and had a portion of them cast, one by one, into the channels, the rest into the furnace. This expedient succeeded, and every one could now perceive that my bronze was in most perfect liquefaction, and my mold was filling; whereupon they all with heartiness and happy cheer assisted and obeyed my bidding, while I, now here, now there, gave orders, helped with my own hands, and cried aloud: “O God! Thou that by Thy immeasurable power didst rise from the dead, and in Thy glory didst ascend to heaven!” … even thus in a moment my mold was filled; and seeing my work finished, I fell upon my knees, and with all my heart gave thanks to God. After all was over, I turned to a plate of salad on a bench there, and ate with hearty appetite, and drank together with the whole crew. Afterwards I retired to bed, healthy and happy, for it was now two hours before morning, and slept as sweetly as though I had never felt the touch of illness. My good housekeeper, without my giving any orders, had prepared a fat capon for my repast. So that, when I rose, about the hour for breaking fast, she presented herself with a smiling countenance, and said: “Oh! is that the man who felt that he was dying? Upon my word, I think the blows and kicks you dealt us last night, when you were so enraged, and had that demon in your body as it seemed, must have frightened away your mortal fever!”
All my poor household, relieved in like measure from anxiety and overwhelming labor, went at once to buy earthen vessels in order to replace the pewter I had cast away. Then we dined together joyfully; nay, I can not remember a day in my whole life when I dined with greater gladness or a better appetite.
Though forms may change, nothing dies. Everything is in circulation. Men, as well as planets, have their orbits. Some have a wider swing than others, but just wait and they will come back. Not only do chickens come home to roost, but so does everything else. The place of Cellini’s birth was also the place of his death. The limit of his stay in one place, at one time, it seems, was about two years. The man was a sort of human anachronism–he had in his heart all the beauty and passion of the Renaissance, and carried, too, the savagery and density of the Dark Ages. That his skill as a designer and artificer in the fine metals saved him from death again and again, there is no doubt. Princes, cardinals, popes, dukes and priests protected him simply because he could serve them. He designed altars, caskets, bracelets, vases, girdles, clasps, medals, rings, coins, buttons, seals–a tiara for the Pope, a diadem for an Emperor. With minute and exquisite things he was at his best. The final proof that he was human and his name frailty lies in the fact that he was a busybody.
As he worked he always knew what others about him were doing. If they were poor workmen, he encouraged them in a friendly way; if they were beyond him and out of his class, like Michelangelo, he was subservient; but if they were on his plane he hated them with a hatred that was passing speech.
There was usually art and a woman hopelessly mixed in his melees. In his migrations he swung between Florence, Pisa, Mantua and Rome, and clear to France when necessary. When he arrived in a town he would soon become a favorite with other skilled workers. Naturally he would be introduced to their lady friends. These ladies were usually “complaisant,” to use his own phrase. Soon he would be on very good terms with one or more of them; then would come jealousies; he would tire of the lady, or she of him more probably; then, if she took up with a goldsmith, Benvenuto would hate the pair with a beautiful hatred. He would be sure that they were plotting to undo him: he would listen to their remarks, lie in wait for them, watch their actions, quietly question their friends. Then suddenly some dark night he would spring upon them from behind a corner and cry, “You are all dead folk!” And sometimes they were.
Then Cellini would fly without leaving orders where to forward his mail. Getting into another principality, he was comparatively safe– the place he left was glad to get rid of him, and the new princeling who had taken him up was pleased to secure his skill. Under the new environment, with all troubles behind, he would begin a clean balance-sheet, full of zest and animation.
The human heart does not change. Every employing printer, lithographer and newspaper-publisher knows this erratic, brilliant, artistic and troublesome man. He does good service for just so long, then the environment begins to pall upon him: he grows restless, suspicious, uncertain. He is looking for a chance to bolt. Strong drink comes in to hasten the ruction. There is a strike, a fight, an explosion, and our artistic tramp finds himself on the sidewalk.
He goes away damning everybody. In two years, or less, he comes back, penitent. Old scores are forgotten, several of the enemy are dead, others have passed on into circulation, and the artistic roustabout is given a desk or a case.
Cellini’s book is immensely interesting for various reasons, not the least of which is that he pictures, indirectly, that restlessness and nostalgia which only the grave can cure. And at the last our condemnation is swallowed up in pity, and we can only think kindly of one who was his own worst enemy, who succeeded in a few things, and like the rest of us, failed in many.
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