Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE CROWD that was left behind began to disperse, and to branch off to the right and left along the different streets. One went home to attend to his business; another departed that he might breathe the fresh air in a little liberty, after so many hours of crowded confinement; while a third set off in search of acquaintances, with whom he might have a little chat about the doings of the day. The same dispersion was going on at the other end of the street, where the crowd was sufficiently thinned to allow the troop of Spaniards to advance, and approach the superintendents house, without having to fight their way. Around this, the dregs, so to say, of the insurgents were still congregateda handful of rascals who, discontented with so quiet and imperfect a termination to such great preparations, grumbled, cursed, and consulted, to encourage themselves in seeking if something further might not be undertaken; and, by way of experiment, began beating and pounding at the unfortunate door, which had been again barred and propped up within. On the arrival of the troop, these, without previous consultation, but with a unanimous resolution, moved off, and departed by the opposite side, leaving the post free to the soldiers, who took possession of it, and encamped as a guard to the house and street. But the neighbouring streets and squares were still full of scattered groups: where two or three were standing, three, four, twenty others would stop; some would depart, others arrive: it was like those little straggling clouds that sometimes remain scattered and shifting over the azure sky after a storm, and make one say, on looking upwards, The weather is not settled yet. There was heard a confused and varying sound of voices: one was relating with much energy the particular incidents he had witnessed; another recounted what he himself had done; another congratulated his neighbours on this peaceable termination, applauded Ferrer, and prognosticated dire evils about to fall on the superintendent; others laughed at the idea, and asserted that no harm would be done him, because a wolf does not prey upon a wolf; while others more angrily murmured because things had not been managed properlysaid that it was all a hoax, and that they were fools to have made such a hubbub, only to allow themselves, after all, to be cozened in this manner.
Meanwhile, the sun had set, and twilight spread its uniform sombreness over all objects. Many, wearied with the exertions of the day, and tired of gossiping in the dark, returned to their respective homes. Our youth, after having assisted the progress of the carriage so long as there was need of assistance, and having followed it even between the two files of soldiers, as in triumph, was satisfied when he saw it rolling along, uninterruptedly, out of danger; and accompanying the crowd a little way, he soon deserted it by the first outlet, that he might breathe a little fresh air in quiet. After taking a few steps at large, in the midst of much agitation from so many new scenes, so many passions, and so many recent and confused remembrances, he began to feel his need both of food and rest; and kept looking up from side to side, in hopes of seeing a sign of some inn, since it was too late to go to the convent. As he thus proceeded, gazing upwards, he suddenly lit upon a group of gossips; and stopping to listen, he heard them, as they talked, making conjectures, proposals, and designs for the morrow. After listening a moment or two, he could not resist putting in his word, thinking that he who had done so much might, without presumption, join a little in the conversation. Persuaded, from what he had seen during the day, that to accomplish anything, it was only necessary to suggest it to the populace, My good sirs, cried he, by way of exordium: may I, too, give my poor opinion? My poor opinion is this: that there are other iniquities besides this of bread. Now weve seen plain enough to-day that we can get justice by making ourselves felt. Then let us proceed until all these grievances are cured, that the world may move forward in a little more Christian fashion. Isnt it true, gentlemen, that theres a set of tyrants who set at nought the Ten Commandments, and search out poor people, (who dont trouble their heads about them), just to do them every mischief they can; and yet theyre always in the right? Nay, when theyve been acting the rascal more than usual, then hold their heads higher than at other times? Yes, and even Milan has its share of them.
So I say, rejoined Renzo: the accounts of them have already reached our ears. And, besides, the thing speaks for itself. Let us suppose, for instance, that one of those I am talking about should have one foot outside and one in Milan: if hes a devil there, he wont be an angel here, I fancy. Yet just tell me, sirs, whether youve ever seen one of these men behind the grating! And the worst of it is (and this I can affirm with certainty), there are proclamations in plenty published, to punish them; and those not proclamations without meaning, but well drawn out; you cant find anything better done: there are all sorts of villanies clearly mentioned, exactly as they happen, and to each one its proper punishment. It says: Whoever it may be, ignoble or plebeians, and what not besides. Now, just go and ask doctors, scribes, and pharisees, to see justice done to you, as the proclamation warrants, and they will give you as much ear as the Pope does to vagabonds: its enough to make any honest fellow turn desperate. It is plain enough, then, that the king, and those who command under him, are desirous that knaves should be duly punished; but nothing is done because there is some league between them. We, therefore, ought to break it; we should go to-morrow morning to Ferrer, who is a worthy man, and a tractable signor; we saw to-day how glad he was to be amongst the poor people, and how he tried to hear what was said to him, and answered with such condescension. We should go to Ferrer, and tell him how things stand; and I, for my part, can tell him some fine doings; for I saw with my own eyes a proclamation with ever so many arms at the top, which had been made by three of the rulers, for there was the name of each of them printed plain below, and one of these names was Ferrer, seen by me with my own eyes: now, this edict exactly suited my case; and a doctor, to whom I applied for justice, according to the intention of these three gentlemen, among whom was Ferrer himself, this signor doctor, who had himself shown me the proclamation, and a fine one it is, aha! thought that I was talking to him like a madman! Im sure that when this worthy old fellow hears some of these fine doings, for he cannot know all, particularly those in the country, he wont be willing to let the world go on this way, but will find some remedy for it. And besides, they who make the proclamations ought to wish that they should be obeyed; for it is an insult to count as nothing an edict with their name fixed to it. And if the powerful ones wont lower their heads, and will still play the fool, we are ready to make them, as weve done to-day. I dont say that he should go about in his carriage, to carry off every powerful and overbearing rascal: eh, eh! it would require Noahs ark for that. But he ought to command all those whose business it is, not only in Milan, but everywhere, to do things as the proclamations require; and draw up an indictment against all those who have committed these iniquities; and where it says, prison,to prison; where it says, galleys,to the galleys; and bid the podestà do his duty; if he wont, send him about his business, and put a better man in his place; and then besides, as I said, we should be ready to lend a hand. And he ought to order the lawyers to listen to the poor, and to talk reasonably. Dont I say right, my good sirs?
Renzo had talked so earnestly, that from the beginning a great part of the assemblage had stopped all other conversation, and had turned to listen to him; and, up to a certain point, all had continued his auditors. A confused clamour of applause, of Bravo; certainly, he is right; it is too true! followed his harangue. Critics, however, were not wanting. Oh, yes, said one, listen to a mountaineer: they are all advocates; and he went away. Now, muttered another, every ragamuffin must put in his word; and what with having too many irons in the fire, we shant have bread sold cheap, which is what weve made this stir for. Renzo, however, heard nothing but compliments, one taking him by this hand, another by that. I will see you to-morrow.Where?At the square of the Cathedral.Very well.Very well.And something will be done.And something will be done.
I am at your service, my brave fellow, said one who had listened attentively to his harangue, and had not yet said a word. I know an inn that will just suit you; and I will introduce you to the landlord, who is my friend, and a very worthy man.
Not a word, not a word, said he: one hand washes the other, and both the face. It is not ones duty to serve ones neighbour? And as he walked, he kept making of Renzo, in the course of conversation, first one and then another inquiry. Not out of curiosity about your doings; but you seem tired: where do you come from?
Eh! my dear fellow, I was obliged to speak rather carefully, that I might not publish my affairs to the world; but its enough; some day it will be known, and then But I see a sign of an inn here; and, to say the truth, I am not inclined to go any further.
Very well, replied the youth: Im not a gentleman, accustomed to down, though: something good to supply the garrison, and a straw mattress, are enough for me: and what I most want is to find both directly. Here we are, fortunately, And he entered a shabby-looking doorway, over which hung the sign of The Full Moon.
I accept your kind offer, replied he: and he advanced, as being better acquainted with the place, before Renzo, through a little court, approached a glass door, lifted up the latch, and, opening it, entered with his companion into the kitchen.
Two lights illuminated the apartment, suspended from two hooks fixed in the beam of the ceiling. Many persons, all of whom were engaged, were lounging on benches which stretched along both sides of a narrow, dirty table, occupying almost the whole of one side of the room: here and there a cloth was spread, and a few dishes set out; at intervals, cards were played, and dice cast, and gathered up; and everywhere were bottles and glasses. On the wet table were to be seen berlinghe, reali, and parpagliole,1 which, could they have spoken, would probably have said: This morning we were in a bakers till, or in the pockets of some of the spectators of the tumult; for every one, intent on watching how public matters went, forgot to look after their own private interests. The clamour was great. A boy was going backwards and forwards in haste and bustle, waiting upon this table and sundry chess-boards: the host was sitting upon a small bench under the chimney-piece, occupied, apparently, in making and un-making certain figures in the ashes with the tongs; but, in reality, intent on all that was going on around him. He rose at the sound of the latch, and advanced towards the new comers. When he saw the guide.Cursed fellow! thought he:you are always coming to plague me, when I least want you!Then, hastily glancing at Renzo, he again said to himself:I dont know you; but, coming with such a hunter, you must be either a dog or a hare; when you have said two words, I shall know which.However, nothing of this mute soliloquy appeared in the landlords countenance, which was as immovable as a picture: a round and shining face, with a thick reddish beard, and two bright and staring eyes.
First of all, a good flask of wine, said Renzo, and then something to eat. So saying, he sat down on a bench towards the end of the table, and uttered a sonorous Ah! which seemed to say: it does one good to sit down after having been so long standing and working so hard. But immediately the recollection of the bench and the table at which he had last sat with Lucia and Agnese, rushed to his mind, and forced from him a sigh. He shook his head to drive away the thought, and then saw the host coming with the wine. His companion had sat down opposite to Renzo, who poured him out a glass, and pushed it towards him, saying: To moisten your lips. And filling the other glass, he emptied it at one draught.
And he retreated to the fire-place. But resumed he, turning again towards Renzo: we have no bread to-day.As to bread, said Renzo, in a loud voice and laughing, Providence has provided that. And drawing from his pocket the third and last loaf which he had picked up under the Cross of San Dionigi, he raised it in the air, exclaiming: Behold the bread of Providence! Many turned on hearing this exclamation; and, seeing such a trophy in the air, somebody called out: Hurrah for bread at a low price!
But, added he, immediately, I should not like these gentlemen to think ill of me. I have not, as they say, stolen it: I found it on the ground; and if I could find its owner, I am ready to pay him for it.
They think Im joking; but its just so, said Renzo, to his guide, and, turning the loaf over in his hand, he added: See how theyve crushed it; it looks like a cake: but there were plenty close by it! if any of them had had very tender bones theyd have come badly off. Then, biting off and devouring three or four mouthfuls, he swallowed another glass of wine, and added, This bread wont go down alone. I never had so dry a throat. A great shouting there was!
Without making any reply, the landlord laid the paper on the table, and put the inkstand by the paper: then stooping forward, he rested his left arm on the table and his right elbow, and holding the pen in the air, with his face raised towards Renzo, said to him: Will you be good enough to tell me your name, surname, and country?
I do my duty, said the host, looking towards the guide; we are obliged to give an account and relation of every one that comes to sleep in our house: name and surname, and of what nation he is, on what business he comes, if he has any arms with him how long he intends to stay in this city They are the very words of the proclamation.
Before replying, Renzo swallowed another glass; it was the third, and from this time forward, I fear we shall not be able to count them. He then said, Ah! ah! you have the proclamation! And I pride myself upon being a doctor of law; so I know well enough what importance is attached to edicts.
I speak in earnest, said the landlord, keeping his eye on Renzos mute companion; and going again to the counter, he drew out a large sheet, an exact copy of the proclamation, and came to display it before Renzos eyes.
Ah! see! exclaimed the youth, raising the re-filled glass in one hand, and quickly emptying it, while he stretched out the other, and pointed with his finger towards the unfolded proclamation; Look at that fine sheet, like a missal. Im delighted to see it. I know those arms; and I know what that heretical face means, with the noose round its neck. (At the head of the edicts the arms of the governor were usually placed; and in those of Don Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova appeared a Moorish king, chained by the throat.)
That face means: Command who can, and obey who will. When that face shall have sent to the galleys Signor don never mind, I know who; as another parchment says, like this; when it has provided that an honest youth may marry an honest girl who is willing to be married to him, then I will tell my name to this face, and will give it a kiss into the bargain. I may have very good reasons for not telling my name. Oh, truly! And if a rascal, who had under his command a handful more of rascals; for if he were alone Here he finished his sentence with a gesture: If a rascal wanted to know where I am, to do me an ill turn, I ask if that face would move itself to help me. Im to tell my business! This is something new. Supposing I had come to Milan to confess, I should wish to confess to a Capuchin Father, I beg to say, and not to a landlord.
The host was silent, and looked towards the guide, who gave no token of noticing what passed. Renzo, we grieve to say, swallowed another glass, and continued: I will give you a reason, my dear landlord, which will satisfy you. If those proclamations which speak in favour of good Christians are worth nothing, those which speak against them are worth still less. So carry away all these bothering things, and bring us instead another flask; for this is broken. So saying, he tapped it lightly with his knuckles, and added: Listen, how it sounds like a cracked bottle.
I have done my duty, said the host, in a loud voice; and added, to himself:Now I have my shoulders against the wall.He then removed the pen, ink, and paper, and took the empty flagon to give it to the boy.
Bring the same sort of wine, said Renzo; for I find it a worthy fellow, and will send it to sleep with the other, without asking its name or surname, and what is its business, and if it intends to stay any time in the city.
Some more of the same sort, said the landlord, to the boy, giving him the flask; and he returned to his seat under the chimney-piece.More simple than a hare!thought he, figuring away in the cinders:and into what hands hast thou fallen! Thou great ass! If thou wilt drown, drown; but the landlord of the Full Moon isnt obliged to go shares in thy folly!
Renzo returned thanks to his guide, and to all the rest who had taken his part. Brave friends, said he, now I see clearly that honest fellows give each other a hand, and support each other. Then waving his hand in the air, over the table, and again assuming the air of a speaker, Isnt it an admirable thing, exclaimed he, that all our rulers will have pen, ink, and paper, intruding everywhere? Always a pen in the hand! They must have a mighty passion for wielding the pen!
Oh, said Renzo, this man is a poet. You have some poets here, then: they are springing up everywhere. I have a little turn that way myself; and sometimes I make some fine verses but thats when things go smoothly.
To understand this nonsense of poor Renzos, the reader must know that, amongst the lower orders in Milan, and still more in the country, the term poet did not signify, as among all educated people, a sacred genius, an inhabitant of Pindus, a votary of the Muses; it rather meant a humorous and even giddy-headed person, who in conversation and behaviour had more repartee and novelty than sense. So daring are these mischief-makers among the vulgar, in destroying the meaning of words, and making them express things the most foreign and contrary to their legitimate signification! For what, I should like to know, has a poet to do with a giddy brain?
But Ill tell you the true reason, added Renzo; It is because they hold the pen in their own hand: and so the words that they utter fly away and disappear; the words that a poor lad speaks, are carefully noted, and very soon they fly through the air with his pen, and are down upon paper to be made use of at a proper time and place. Theyve also another trick, that when they would bother a poor fellow who doesnt know letters, but who has a little I know what and to illustrate his meaning he began tapping, and almost battering his forehead with his forefinger, no sooner do they perceive that he begins to understand the puzzle, than, forsooth, they must throw in a little Latin, to make him lose the thread, to prevent his defending himself, and to perplex his brain. Well, well! it is our business to do away with these practices! To-day everything has been done reasonably, in our own tongue, and without pen, ink and paper: and to-morrow, if people will but govern themselves, we will do still better; without touching a hair of their heads, though; everything must be done in a fair way.
In the mean time some of the company had returned to their gaming, others to eating, and many to shouting; some went away, and others arrived in their place; the landlord busied himself in attending upon all; but these things have nothing to do with our story.
The unknown guide was impatient to take his departure; yet, though he had not, to all appearance, any business at the house, he would not go away till he had chatted a little with Renzo, individually. He, therefore, turned to him, and renewed the conversation about bread; and after a few of those expressions which had been, for some time, in everybodys mouth, he began to give his own opinion. Eh! if I were ruling, said he, I would find a way of making things right.
See how I would do. First, I would fix a moderate price, that everybody could reach. Then I would distribute bread according to the number of mouths: for there are some inconsiderate gluttons who would have all to themselves, and strive who can get the most, buying at a high price, and thus there isnt bread enough for the poor people. Therefore, distribute bread. And how should that be done? See: give a note to every family, in proportion to the number of mouths, to go and get bread at the bakehouses. To me, for example, they should give a note of this kind:Ambrogio Fusella, by trade a sword-cutler, with a wife and four children, all of an age to eat bread (note that well): let them have so much bread; and pay so many pence. But to do things justly it must always be in proportion to the number of mouths. You, we will suppose, ought to have a note for your name?
Lorenzo Tramaglino, said the youth; who, delighted with the plan, never recollected that it was entirely founded on paper, pen and ink, and that to put it in execution the first thing must be to get everybodys name.
Just another little dropanother little drop, cried Renzo, hastily filling his glass; and, rising quickly, he seized the skirt of his doublet, and tried to force him to sit down again. Another little drop; dont do me this insult.
But his friend disengaged himself with a sudden jerk, and leaving Renzo to indulge in importunity and reproaches as he pleased, again said: Good night, and went away. Renzo shouted after him when he had even reached the street, and then sank back upon his seat. He eyed the glass that he had just filled; and seeing the boy passing the table, he detained him with a beckon of his hand, as if he had some business to communicate to him; he then pointed to the glass, and, with a slow and grave enunciation, and pronouncing the words in a peculiar manner, said: See, I had prepared it for that worthy gentleman: do you see? full to the brim, fit for a friend; but he wouldnt have it; people have very odd ideas, sometimes. I couldnt do otherwise; I let him see my kind intentions. Now, then, since the thing is done, I musnt let it go to waste. So saying, he took it, and emptied it at a draught.
Nothing less than our love of truthfulness would induce us to prosecute a faithful account which does so little credit to so important a person, we may almost say, to the principal hero, of our story. From this same motive of impartiality, however, we must also state, that this was the first time that such a thing happened to Renzo; and it is just because he was not accustomed to such excesses that his first attempt succeeded so fatally. The few glasses that he had swallowed one after another, at first, contrary to his usual habits, partly to cool his parched throat, partly from a sort of excitement of mind which gave him no liberty to do anything in moderation, quickly went to his head; a more practised drinker would probably never have felt them. Our anonymous author here makes an observation which we repeat for the benefit of those of our readers who know how to value it. Temperate and honest habits, says he, bring with them this advantage; that the more they are established and rooted in a man, so much the more easily, when he acts contrary to them, does he immediately feel the injury or inconvenience, or, to say the least, the disagreeability of such an action: so that he has something to remember for a time; and thus even a slight fault serves him for a lesson.
However this may be, certain it is that when these first fumes had mounted to Renzos brain, wine and words continued to flow, one down, the other up, without measure or reason: and at the point where we have left him, he had got quite beyond his powers of self-government. He felt a great desire to talk: auditors, or at least men present whom he could imagine such, were not wanting; and for some time also words had readily occurred to him, and he had been able to arrange them in some sort of order. But by degrees his power of connecting sentences began woefully to fail. The thought that had presented itself vividly and definitively to his mind, suddenly clouded over and vanished; while the word he wanted and waited for, was, when it occurred to him, inapplicable and unseasonable. In this perplexity, by one of those false instincts that so often ruin men, he would again have recourse to the flagon; but any one with a grain of sense will be able to imagine of what use the flagon was to him then.
We will only relate some of the many words he uttered in this disastrous evening; the others which we omit would be too unsuitable; for they not only had no meaning, but made no show of having anya necessary requisite in a printed book.
Ah, host, host, resumed he, following him with his eye round the table, or under the chimney-piece; sometimes gazing at him where he was not, and talking all the time in the midst of the uproar of the party: What a landlord you are! I cannot swallow this this trick about the name, surname, and business. To a youth like me! You have not behaved well. What satisfaction now, what advantage, what pleasure to put upon paper a poor youth? Dont I speak sense, gentlemen? Landlords ought to stand by good youths Listen, listen, landlord; I will compare you because Do you laugh, eh! I am a little too far gone, I know but the reasons I would give are right enough. Just tell me, now, who is it that keeps up your trade? Poor fellows, isnt it? See if any of these gentlemen of the proclamations ever come here to wet their lips.
Ah! cried Renzo. That was the poet who spoke then. Then you also understand my reason. Answer me, then, landlord; and Ferrer, who is the best of all, has he ever come here to drink a toast, or to spend a quarter of a farthing? And that dog of a villain, Don Ill hold my tongue, because Im a careful fellow. Ferrer and Father Cr-r-r I know, they are two worthy men; but there are so few worthy men in the world. The old are worse than the young; and the young worse again than the old. However, I am glad there has been no murdering; fye; cruelties that should be left for the hangmans hands. Bread; oh yes! I got some great pushes, but I gave some away too. Room! plenty! long live! However, even Ferrer some few words in Latin siés baraòs trapolorum Cursed trick! Long live! justice! bread! Ah, these are fair words! There we wanted these comrades when that cursed ton, ton, ton, broke forth, and then again ton, ton, ton. We did not flee then, do you see, to keep that signor curate there I know what Im thinking about!
At these words he bent down his head, and remained some time as if absorbed in some idea; he then heaved a deep sigh, and raised a face with two piteous-looking eyes, and such an expression of disagreeable and stupid grief, that woe to him if the object of it could have seen him at that moment. But the wicked men around him, who had already begun to divert themselves with the impassioned and confused eloquence of Renzo, now hastened to ridicule his countenance tinctured with remorse; the nearest to him said to the others: Look at him; and all turned towards the poor fellow, so that he became the laughing-stock of the unruly company. Not that all of them were in their perfect senses, or in their ordinary senses, whatever they might be; but, to say the truth, none of them had gone so far as poor Renzo: and still more, he was a countryman. They began, first one and then another, to provoke him with foolish and unmannerly questions, and jesting ceremonies. One moment he would seem to be offended, the next, would take the treatment in joke; now, without taking notice of all these voices, he would talk of something quite different, now replying, now interrogating, but always by starts and blunders. Fortunately, in all this extravagance, he had preserved a kind of instinctive carefulness not to mention the names of persons, so that even that which was most likely to be firmly fixed in his memory was not once uttered; for deeply it would have grieved us if that name for which even we entertain a degree of respect and affection, had been bandied about, and become the sport of these abandoned wretches.