Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
IF a weed be discovered in a badly cultivated field, a fine root of sorrel, for example, and the spectator wish to ascertain with certainty whether it has sprung up from seed, either ripened in the field itself, or wafted thither by the wind, or dropped there by a bird in its flight, let him think as he will about it, he will never come to a satisfactory conclusion. For the same reason we are unable to decide whether the resolution formed by the Count of making use of the Father provincial to cut in two, as the best and easiest method, this intricate knot, arose from his own unassisted imagination, or from the suggestions of Attilio. Certain it is, that Attilio had not thrown out the hint unintentionally; and however naturally he might expect that the jealous haughtiness of his noble relative would recoil at so open an insinuation, he was determined at any rate to make the idea of such a resource flash before his eyes, and let him know the course which he desired he should pursue. On the other hand, the plan was so exactly consonant with his uncles disposition, and so naturally marked out by circumstances, that one might safely venture the assertion, that he had thought of, and embraced it, without the suggestion of any one. It was a most essential point towards the reputation of power which he had so much at heart, that one of his name, a nephew of his, should not be worsted in a dispute of such notoriety. The satisfaction that his nephew would take for himself, would have been a remedy worse than the disease, a foundation for future troubles, which it was necessary to overthrow at any cost, and without loss of time. Command him at once to quit his palace, and he would not obey; and, even should he submit, it would be a surrendering of the contest, a submission of their house to the superiority of a convent. Commands, legal force, or any terrors of that nature, were of no value against an adversary of such a character as Father Cristoforo: the regular and secular clergy were entirely exempt, not only in their persons, but in their places of abode, from all lay-jurisdiction (as must have been observed even by one who has read no other story than the one before him); otherwise they would often have fared very badly. All that could be attempted against such a rival was his removal, and the only means for obtaining this was the Father provincial, at whose pleasure Father Cristoforo was either stationary, or on the move.
Between this Father provincial and the Count of the Privy-council there existed an acquaintanceship of long standing: they seldom saw each other, but whenever they met, it was with great demonstrations of friendship, and reiterated offers of service. It is sometimes easier to transact business advantageously with a person who presides over many individuals than with only one of those same individuals, who sees but his own motives, feels but his own passions, seeks only his own ends; while the former instantly perceives a hundred relations, contingencies, and interests, a hundred objects to secure or avoid, and can, therefore, be taken on a hundred different sides.
When all had been well arranged in his mind, the Count one day invited the Father provincial to dinner, to meet a circle of guests selected with superlative judgment:an assemblage of men of the highest rank, whose family alone bore a lofty title, and who by their carriage, by a certain native boldness, by a lordly air of disdain, and by talking of great things in familiar terms, succeeded, even without intending it, in impressing, and, on every occasion, keeping up, the idea of their superiority and power; together with a few clients bound to the house by an hereditary devotion, and to its head by the servitude of a whole life; who, beginning with the soup to say yes, with their lips, their eyes, their ears, their head, their whole body, and their whole heart, had made a man, by dessert-time, almost forget how to say no.
At table, the noble host quickly turned the conversation upon Madrid. There are many ways and means of accomplishing ones object, and he tried all. He spoke of the court, the Count-duke, the ministers, and the governors family; of the bull-baits, which he could accurately describe, having been a spectator from a very advantageous post; and of the Escurial, of which he could give a minute account, because of the Count-dukes pages had conducted him through every nook and corner of it. For some time the company continued like an audience, attentive to him alone; but, by degrees, they divided into small groups of talkers, and he then proceeded to relate further anecdotes of the great things he had seen, as in confidence, to the Father provincial, who was seated near him, and who suffered him to talk on without interruption. But at a certain point he gave a turn to the conversation, and, leaving Madrid, proceeded from court to court, and from dignitary to dignitary, till he had brought upon the tapis Cardinal Barberini, a Capuchin, and brother to the then reigning Pope, Urban VIII. The Count was at last obliged to cease talking for a while, and be content to listen, and remember that, after all, there were some people in the world who were not born to live and act only for him. Shortly after leaving the table, he requested the Father provincial to step with him into another apartment.Two men of authority, age, and consummate experience, now found themselves standing opposite to each other. The noble lord requested the reverend Father to take a seat, and, placing himself at his side, began as follows: Considering the friendship that exists between us, I thought I might venture to speak a word to your Reverence on a matter of mutual interest, which it would be better to settle between ourselves, without taking any other courses, which might But, without further preface, I will candidly tell you to what I allude, and I doubt not you will immediately agree with me. Tell me: in your convent of Pescarenico there is a certain Father Cristoforo of ?
Your Paternity will be good enough then, frankly, like a friend, to tell me this person this Father I dont know him personally; I am acquainted with several Capuchin fathers, zealous, prudent, humble men, who are worth their weight in gold: I have been a friend to the order from my boyhood But in every rather numerous family there is always some individual, some wild And this Father Cristoforo, I know by several occurrences that he is a person rather inclined to disputes who has not all the prudence, all the circumspection I dare say he has more than once given your Paternity some anxiety.
I understand; this is a specimen,thought the Provincial in the meantime.It is my fault; I knew that blessed Cristoforo was fitter to go about from pulpit to pulpit, than to be set down for six months in one place, specially in a country convent.
Oh! said he aloud, I am really very sorry to hear that your Highness entertains such an opinion of Father Cristoforo; for, as far as I know, he is a most exemplary monk in the convent, and is held in much esteem also in the neighbourhood.
I understand perfectly; your Reverence ought However, as a sincere friend, I wish to inform you of a thing which it is important for you to know; and even if you are already acquainted with it, I think, without exceeding my duty, I should caution you against the (I only say) possible consequences. Do you know that this Father Cristoforo has taken under his protection a man of that country, a man of whom your Paternity has doubtless heard mention; him who escaped in such disgrace from the hands of justice, after having done things on that terrible day of St. Martin things Lorenzo Tramaglino?
Alas!thought the Provincial, as he replied: This particular is quite new to me, but your Highness is sufficiently aware that it is a part of our office to seek those who have gone astray, to recall them
Yes, yes; but intercourse with offenders of a certain kind! is rather a dangerous thinga very delicate affair And here, instead of puffing out his cheeks and panting, he compressed his lips, and drew in as much air as he was accustomed to send forth with such profound importance. He then resumed: I thought it as well to give you this hint, because if ever his Excellency He may have had some business at Rome I dont know, though and there might come to you from Rome
I am much obliged to your Lordship for this information, but I feel confident, that if they would make inquiries on this subject, they would find that Father Cristoforo has had no intercourse with the person you mention, unless it be to try and set him right again. I know Father Cristoforo well.
It is one of the glories of our habit, Signor Count, that a man who has given ever so much occasion in the world for men to talk about him, becomes a different person when he has assumed this dress. And ever since Father Cristoforo has worn the habit
If you know for certain, interrupted the Provincial, that this friar has been guilty of any fault, (and we are all liable to err), you will do me a favour to inform me of it. I am his superior, though unworthily; but it is, therefore, my duty to correct and reprove.
I will tell you; together with the unpleasing circumstance of the favour this Father displays towards the person I have mentioned, there is another grievous thing, which may But we will settle all this between ourselves at once. This same Father Cristoforo has begun a quarrel with my nephew, Don Rodrigo
It shall be my business to make every inquiry on the subject. As I have often told your Lordship, and as you must know, with your great experience in the world, and your noble judgment, far better than I, we are all human, and liable to err some one way, some another; and if our Father Cristoforo has failed
Your Reverence must perceive that these are matters, as I said, which had better be settled between ourselves, and remain buried with usthings which, if much meddled with, will only be made worse. You know how it often happens; these strifes and disputes frequently originate from a mere bagatelle, and become more and more serious as they are suffered to proceed. It is better to strike at the root before they grow to a head, or become the causes of a hundred other contentions. Suppress it, and cut it short, most reverend Father; suppress, and cut it short. My nephew is young; the monk, from what I hear, has still all the spiritall the inclinations of a young man; and it belongs to us who have some years on our shoulders(too many, are there not, most reverend Father?) it belongs to us, I say, to have judgment for the young, and try to remedy their errors. Fortunately we are still in good time: the matter has made no stir; it is still a case of a good principiis obsta. Let us remove the straw from the flame. A man who has not done well, or who may be a cause of some trouble in one place, sometimes gets on surprisingly in another. Your Paternity, doubtless, knows where to find a convenient post for this friar. This will also meet the other circumstance of his having, perhaps, fallen under the suspicions of one who would be very glad that he should be removed; and thus, by placing him at a little distance, we shall kill two birds with one stone; all will be quietly settled, or rather, there will be no harm done.
The Father provincial had expected this conclusion from the beginning of the interview.Ay, ay!thought he to himself;I see well enough what you would bring me to. Its the usual way; if a poor friar has an encounter with you, or with any one of you, or gives you any offence, right or wrong, the superior must make him march immediately.
When the Count was at last silent, and had puffed forth a long-drawn breath, which was equivalent to a full stop: I understand very well, said the Provincial, what your noble Lordship would say; but before taking a step
It is a step, and it is not a step, most reverend Father. It is a natural thing enougha very common occurrence; and if it does not come to this, and quickly too, I foresee a mountain of disordersan Iliad of woes. A mistake my nephew, I do not believe I am here, for this But, at the point at which matters have now arrived, if we do not put a stop to it between ourselves, without loss of time, by one decided blow, it is not possible that it should remain a secret and then, it is not only my nephew we raise a hornets nest, most reverend Father. You know, we are a powerful familywe have adherents
You understand me: they are all persons who have some blood in their veins, and who count as somebody in the world. Their honour will come in; it will become a common affair; and then even one who is a friend to peace It will be a great grief to me to be obliged to find myself I, who have always had so much kind feeling towards the Capuchin Fathers! You reverend Fathers, to continue to do good, as you have hitherto done, with so much edification among the people, stand in need of peace, should be free from strifes, and in harmony with those who And, besides, you have friends in the world and these affairs of honour, if they go any length, extend themselves, branch out on every side, and draw in half the world. I am in a situation which obliges me to maintain a certain dignity His Excellency my noble colleagues it becomes quite a party matter particularly with that other circumstance You know how these things go.
Certainly, said the Father provincial, Father Cristoforo is a preacher; and I had already some thoughts I have just been asked But at this juncture, and under the present circumstances, it might look like a punishment; and a punishment before having fully ascertained
Between the Signor Count and me things stand in this light, I am aware; but as your Lordship has related the circumstances, it is impossible, I should say, but that something is known in the country around. There are everywhere firebrands, mischief-makers, or, at least, malicious priers, who take a mad delight in seeing the nobility and the religious orders at variance; they observe it immediately, report it, and enlarge upon it Everybody has his dignity to maintain; and I also, as Superior, (though unworthily,) have an express duty The honour of the habit is not my private concern it is a deposit of which Your noble nephew, since he is so high-spirited as your Lordship describes him, might take it as a satisfaction offered to him, and I do not say boast of it, and triumph over him, but ?
Is your Paternity joking with me? My nephew is a gentleman of some consideration in the world that is, according to his rank and the claims he has; but in my presence he is a mere boy, and will do neither more nor less than I bid him. I will go further, and tell you that my nephew shall know nothing about it. Why need we give any account of what we do? It is all transacted between ourselves, as old friends, and never need come to light. Dont give yourself a thought about this. I ought to be accustomed to be silent. And he heaved a deep sigh. As to gossips, resumed he, what do you suppose they can say? The departure of a monk to preach somewhere else, is nothing so very uncommon! And then, we who see we who foresee we who ought we need not give ourselves any concern about gossipings.
At any rate, it would be well to try and prevent them on this occasion, by your noble nephews making some demonstration, giving some open proof of friendship and deference not for our sakes, as individuals, but for the sake of the habit
Certainly, certainly, this is but fair However, there is no need of it; I know that the Capuchins are always received as they ought to be by my nephew. He does so from inclination; it is quite the disposition of the family; and besides, he knows it is gratifying to me. In this instance, however something more marked is only right. Leave me to settle it, most reverend Father; I will order my nephew that is, I must cautiously suggest it to him, lest he should suspect what has passed between us. It would not do, you know, to lay a plaister where there is no wound. And as to what we have determined upon, the quicker the better. If you can find some post at a little distance to obviate every occasion
We have extinguished a spark, said the Count, walking slowly forward; a spark, most reverend Father, which might have been fanned into a wide-spreading and dangerous flame. Between friends, two or three words will often settle great things.
This nobleman employed a studied politeness, great dexterity, and fine words, to accomplish his designs; and they produced corresponding effects. In fact, he succeeded, by the conversation we have related, in making Father Cristoforo go, on foot, from Pescarenico to Rimini, which is a very tolerable distance.
One evening, a Capuchin arrived at Pescarenico, from Milan, with a despatch to the Father-guardian. It contained an order for Father Cristoforo to repair at once to Rimini, where he was appointed to preach the course of Lent Sermons. The letter to the guardian contained instructions to insinuate to the said friar, that he must give up all thoughts of any business he might have in hand in the neighbourhood he was about to leave, and was not to keep up any correspondence there: the bearer would be his companion by the way. The guardian said nothing that evening; but next morning he summoned Father Cristoforo, showed him the command, bade him take his wallet, staff, maniple, and girdle, and, with the Father whom he presented to him as a companion, immediately set off on his journey.
What a blow this would be to the poor friar, the reader must imagine. Renzo, Lucia, Agnese, instantly rushed into his mind; and he exclaimed, so to say, to himself:Oh my God! what will these poor creatures do, when I am no longer here!But instantly raising his eyes to heaven, he reproached himself for want of faith, and for having supposed that he was necessary in anything. He crossed his hands on his breast, in token of obedience, and bowed his head before the guardian, who, taking him aside, told him the rest of the message, adding a few words of advice, and some sensible precepts. Father Cristoforo then went into his cell, took his basket, and placed therein his breviary, his sermons, and the bread of forgiveness, bound round his waist a leathern girdle, took leave of his brethren whom he found in the convent, went to request the guardians blessing, and then, with his companion, took the route which had been prescribed for him.
We have said that Don Rodrigo, more than ever resolved to accomplish his praiseworthy undertaking, had determined to seek the assistance of a very formidable character. Of this personage we can give neither the name, surname, nor title, nor can we even venture a conjecture on any one of them; which is the more remarkable, as we find mention of him in more than one published book of those times. That it is the same personage, the identity of facts leaves no room for doubt; but everywhere a studious endeavour may be traced to conceal his name, as if the mention of it would have ignited the pen, and scorched the writers hand. Francesco Rivola, in his Life of the Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, speaking of this person, says: A nobleman, as powerful by wealth as illustrious by birth, and nothing more. Giuseppe Ripamonti, who, in the fifth book of the fifth decade of his Storia Patria, makes more exclusive mention of him, describes him as one, this person, that person, this man, that personage. I will relate, says he, in his elegant Latin, which we translate as follows,the case of one, who, being among the first of the great men of the city, took up his residence in the country; where, securing himself by the force of crime, he set at nought justice and judges, all magisterial, and even all sovereign power. Situated on the very confines of the state, he led an independent life; a harbourer of outlaws, an outlaw at one time himself, and then safely returned We will extract, in the sequel, some other passages from this writer, which will serve to confirm and elucidate the account of our anonymous author, with whom we are travelling onward.
To do what was forbidden by the public laws, or rendered difficult by an opposing power; to be the arbiter, the judge in other peoples affairs, without further interest in them than the love of command; to be feared by all, and to have the upper hand among those who were accustomed to hold the same station over others: such had ever been the principal objects and desires of this man. From his youth he had always had a mingled feeling of contempt and impatient envy at the sight or report of the power, rencounters, strifes, or oppressive tyranny of others. Young, and living in a city, he omitted no opportunity, nay, even sought for them, of setting himself up against the most renowned of this profession, either entirely to subdue them, to struggle with them, and keep them in awe, or to induce them to solicit his friendship. Superior to most in riches and retinue, and, perhaps, to all in presumption and intrepidity, he compelled many to retire from competition; some he treated with haughtiness or contempt, some he took as friends; not, however, on an equality with himself, but, as alone would satisfy his proud and arrogant mind, as subordinate friends, who would be content to acknowledge their inferiority, and use their hands in his service. In fact, however, he became at length the grand actor, and the instrument of his companions, who never failed to solicit the aid of so powerful an auxiliary in all their undertakings, while for him to draw back, would be to forfeit his reputation, and come short of what he had assumed. He went on thus, till, on his own service and that of others, he had gone to such a length, that neither his name, family, friends, nor even his own audacity, sufficed to secure him against public proclamations and outlawry, and he was compelled to give way and leave the state. I believe it is to this circumstance that a remarkable incident, related by Ripamonti, refers. On one occasion, when obliged to quit the country, the secrecy he used, and the respect and timidity he displayed, were such, that he rode through the city on horseback; followed by a pack of hounds, and accompanied with the sound of the trumpet; and, in passing before the palace of the court, left an insolent message with the guards, for the governor.
During his absence he continued the same practices, not even intermitting his correspondence with those of his friends who remained united to him (to translate literally from Ripamonti), in the secret alliance of atrocious consultations and fatal deeds. It even appears that he engaged the foreign courts in other new and formidable undertakings, of which the above-cited historian speaks with mysterious brevity. Some foreign princes several times availed themselves of his assistance in important murders, and frequently sent him reinforcements of soldiers, from a considerable distance, to act under his orders.
At length (it is not exactly known how long afterwards) either the sentence of banishment against him being withdrawn, by some powerful intercession, or the audacity of the man serving him in place of any other liberation, he resolved to return home, and, in fact, did return; not, however, to Milan, but to a castle on his manor, situated on the confines of the Bergamascan territory, at that time, as most of our readers know, under Venetian government; and here he fixed his abode. This dwelling, we again quote Ripamonti, was as it were, a dispensary of sanguinary mandates: the servants were outlaws and murderers; the very cooks and scullions were not exempt from homicide; the hands of the children were stained with blood. Besides this amiable domestic circle, he had, as the same historian affirms, another set of dependents of a similar character dispersed abroad, and quartered, so to say, at different posts in the two states on the borders of which he lived, who were always ready to execute his orders.
All the tyrannical noblemen, for a considerable distance round, had been obliged, on one occasion or another, to choose between the friendship or the enmity of this super-eminent tyrant. Those, however, who at first attempted to resist him, came off so badly in the contest, that no one was ever induced to make a second trial. Neither was it possible, by maintaining a neutral course, or standing, as the saying is, in their own shoes, to keep themselves independent of him. If a message arrived, intimating that such a person must desist from such an undertaking, or cease to molest such a debtor, or so forth, it was necessary to give a decided answer one way or other. When one party came, with the homage of a vassal, to refer any business to his arbitration, the other party was reduced to the hard alternative of either abiding by his sentence, or publicly declaring hostilities; which was equivalent to being, as the saying is, in the last stage of consumption. Men who were in the wrong had recourse to him that they might be right in effect; many being in the right, yet resorted to him to pre-engage so powerful a patronage, and close the way against their adversaries; thus both bad and good came to be dependent upon him. It sometimes happened that the weak, oppressed, harassed, and tyrannized over by some powerful lord, turned to him for protection; he would then take the part of the oppressed, and force the oppressor to abstain from further injuries, to repair the wrongs he had committed, and even to stoop to apologies; or, in case of his proving stubborn and unbending, he would completely crush his power, constrain him to quit the place where he had exercised such unjust influence, or even make him pay a more expeditious and more terrible penalty. In these cases, his name, usually so dreaded and abhorred, became, for a time, an object of blessing: for (I will not say, this justice, but) this remedy, this recompense of some sort, could not have been expected, under the circumstances of the times, from any other either public or private source. More frequently, and indeed ordinarily, his power and authority ministered to iniquitous desires, atrocious revenge, or outrageous caprice. But the very opposite uses he made of this power produced in the end the self-same effect, that of impressing all minds with a lofty idea of how much he could will and execute in spite of equity or iniquity, those two things which interpose so many impediments to the accomplishment of mans desires, and so often force him to turn back. The fame of ordinary oppressors was for the most part restricted to the limited tract of country where they continually or frequently exercised their oppression: each district had its own tyrant; and these so resembled each other, that there was no reason that people should interfere with those from whom they sustained neither injury nor molestation. But the fame of this man had long been diffused throughout every corner of the Milanese: his life was everywhere the subject of popular stories; and his very name carried with it the idea of something formidable, dark, and fabulous. The suspicions that were everywhere entertained of his confederates and tools of assassination, contributed to keep alive a constant memento of him. They were nothing more than suspicions; since who would have openly acknowledged such a dependence? but every tyrant might be his associate, every robber one of his assassins; and the very uncertainty of the fact rendered the opinion more general, and the terror more profound. At every appearance of an unknown ruffian, more savage-looking than usual; at every enormous crime, the author of which could not be at first pointed out or conjectured, the name of this man was pronounced and whispered about, whom, thanks to the unhappy circumspection, to give it no other epithet, of our authors, we shall be obliged to designate The Unnamed.
The distance between his castle and the palace of Don Rodrigo was not more than seven miles: and no sooner had the latter become a lord and tyrant than he could not help seeing that, at so short a distance from such a personage, it would not be possible to carry on this profession without either coming to blows, or walking hand in hand with him. He had, therefore, offered himself and been accepted, for a friend, in the same way, that is, as the rest: he had rendered him more than one service (the manuscript says nothing further); and had each time been rewarded by promises of requital and assistance in any cases of emergency. He took great pains, however, to conceal such a friendship, or at least of what nature and how strict it was. Don Rodrigo liked well enough to play the tyrant, but not the fierce and savage tyrant: the profession was to him a means, not an end: he wished to live at freedom in the city, to enjoy the conveniences, diversions, and honours of social life; and for this end he was obliged to keep up a certain appearance, make much of his family, cultivate the friendship of persons in place, and keep one hand on the scales of justice, so as on any occasion to make them preponderate in his favour, either removing them altogether from view, or bringing them to bear with double force on the head of some individual, on whom he could thus more easily accomplish his designs than by the arm of private violence. Now, an intimacy, or it would be better to say an alliance, with a person of such notoriety, an open enemy of the public power, would certainly not have advanced his interests in these respects, and particularly with his uncle. However, the slight acquaintance which he was unable to conceal, might pass very well for an indispensable attention towards a man whose enmity was much to be deprecated, and thus it might receive excuse from necessity; since one who assumes the charge of providing for another without the will or the means, in the long run consents that his protégé shall provide for himself up to a certain point in his own affairs; and if he does not expressly give his consent, at least he winks at it.
One morning, Don Rodrigo set off on horseback, in the guise of a hunter, with a small escort of bravoes on foot, Griso at his side, and four others following behind him, and took the road to the castle of the Unnamed.