Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE POPE had sent me all those precious stones, except the diamond, which was pawned to certain Genoese bankers for some pressing need he had of money. The rest were in my custody, together with a model of the diamond. I had five excellent journeymen, and in addition to the great piece, I was engaged on several jobs; so that my shop contained property of much value in jewels, gems, and gold and silver. I kept a shaggy dog, very big and handsome, which Duke Alessandro gave me; the beast was capital as a retriever, since he brought me every sort of birds and game I shot, but he also served most admirably for a watchdog. It happened, as was natural at the age of twenty-nine, that I had taken into my service a girl of great beauty and grace, whom I used as a model in my art, and who was also complaisant of her personal favours to me. Such being the case, I occupied an apartment far away from my workmens rooms, as well as from the shop; and this communicated by a little dark passage with the maids bedroom. I used frequently to pass the night with her; and though I sleep as lightly as ever yet did man upon this earth, yet, after indulgence in sexual pleasure, my slumber is sometimes very deep and heavy.
So it chanced one night: for I must say that a thief, under the pretext of being a goldsmith, had spied on me, and cast his eyes upon the precious stones, and made a plan to steal them. Well, then, this fellow broke into the shop, where he found a quantity of little things in gold and silver. He was engaged in bursting open certain boxes to get at the jewels he had noticed, when my dog jumped upon him, and put him to much trouble to defend himself with his sword. The dog, unable to grapple with an armed man, ran several times through the house, and rushed into the rooms of the journeymen, which had been left open because of the great heat. When he found they paid no heed to his loud barking, he dragged their bed-clothes off; and when they still heard nothing, he pulled first one and then another by the arm till he roused them, and, barking furiously, ran before to show them where he wanted them to go. At last it became clear that they refused to follow; for the traitors, cross at being disturbed, threw stones and sticks at him; and this they could well do, for I had ordered them to keep all night a lamp alight there; and in the end they shut their rooms tight; so the dog, abandoning all hope of aid from such rascals, set out alone again on his adventure. He ran down, and not finding the thief in the shop, flew after him. When he got at him, he tore the cape off his back. It would have gone hard with the fellow had he not called for help to certain tailors, praying them for Gods sake to save him from a mad dog; and they, believing what he said, jumped out and drove the dog off with much trouble.
After sunrise my workmen went into the shop, and saw that it had been broken open and all the boxes smashed. They began to scream at the top of their voices: Ah, woe is me! Ah, woe is me! The clamour woke me, and I rushed out in a panic. Appearing thus before them, they cried out: Alas to us! for we have been robbed by some one, who has broken and borne everything away! These words wrought so forcibly upon my mind that I dared not go to my big chest and look if it still held the jewels of the Pope. So intense was the anxiety, that I seemed to lose my eyesight, and told them they themselves must unlock the chest, and see how many of the Popes gems were missing. The fellow were all of them in their shirts; and when, on opening the chest, they saw the precious stones and my work with them, they took heart of joy and shouted: There is no harm done; your piece and all the stones are here; but the thief has left us naked to the shirt, because last night, by reason of the burning heat, we took our clothes off in the shop and left them here. Recovering my senses, I thanked God, and said: Go and get yourselves new suits of clothes; I will pay when I hear at leisure how the whole thing happened. What caused me the most pain, and made me lose my senses, and take frightso contrary to my real naturewas the dread lest peradventure folk should fancy I had trumped a story of the robber up to steal the jewels. It had already been paid to Pope Clement by one of his most trusted servants, and by others, that is, by Francesco del Nero, Zana de Biliotti his accountant, the Bishop of Vasona, and several such men:1 Why, most blessed Father, do you confide gems of that vast value to a young fellow, who is all fire, more passionate for arms than for his art, and not yet thirty years of age? The Pope asked in answer if any one of them knew that I had done aught to justify such suspicions. Whereto Francesco del Nero, his treasurer, replied:2 No, most blessed Father, because he has not as yet had an opportunity. Whereto the Pope rejoined: I regard him as a thoroughly honest man; and if I saw with my own eyes some crime he had committed, I should not believe it. This was the man who3 caused me the greatest torment, and who suddenly came up before my mind.
After telling the young men to provide themselves with fresh clothes, I took my piece, together with the gems, setting them as well as I could in their proper places, and went off at once with them to the Pope. Francesco del Nero had already told him something of the trouble in my shop, and had put suspicions in his head. So then, taking the thing rather ill than otherwise, he shot a furious glance upon me, and cried haughtily: What have you come to do here? What is up? Here are all your precious stones, and not one of them is missing. At this the Popes face cleared, and he said: So then, youre welcome. I showed him the piece, and while he was inspecting it, I related to him the whole story of the thief and of my agony, and what had been my greatest trouble in the matter. During this speech, he oftentimes turned round to look me sharply in the eyes; and Francesco del Nero being also in the presence, this seemed to make him half sorry that he had not guessed the truth. At last, breaking into laughter at the long tale I was telling, he sent me off with these words: Go, and take heed to be an honest man, as indeed I know that you are.
Note 1. Of these people, we can trace the Bishop of Vasona. He was Girolamo Schio or Schedo, a native of Vicenza, the confidential agent and confessor of Clement VII., who obtained the See of Vaison in the county of Avignon in 1523, and died at Rome in 1533. His successor in the bishopric was Tomaso Cortesi, the Datary, mentioned above. [back]
Note 2. Varchi gives a very ugly account of this man, Francesco del Nero, who was nicknamed the Crà del Piccadiglio, in his History of Florence, book iii. In the whole city of Florence there never was born, in my belief, a man of such irreligion or of such sordid avarice. Giovio confirms the statement. [back]
Note 3. Questo fu quello che. This may be neuter: This was the circumstance which. [back]