Annals of Public Justice
Il Due Gobbi
After the splendid ceremony of wedding the Adriatic sea, which the chief magistrate of Venice performs by going out in his state-barge and throwing a ring into the waves, a splendid banquet in his palace and general revelry throughout the city, usually occupy the day. On one of these annual occasions, the Doge, having celebrated the allegorical ceremony expressive of his maritime authority, retired to a small supper-table with a few select friends to enjoy an entire release from official cares. And that it might be fully felt by his guests, he deputed his favorite Count Annibal Fiesco to perform the honours of the table, and sat himself among the entertained. The favorite, a nobleman of rich comic humour and grotesque person, compared himself to Sancho Panza in his court of Barataria, and the guests, seizing the licence of the moment, rallied him gaily on his likeness to that merry squire’s exterior.—“Say at once,” rejoined the Count, “that you think me a tolerable Panache.”— The Doge asked an explanation of this sally, and was answered, with great gravity, “Monsignor, the personage I mention is at this time of high importance at the court of France. She is humpbacked, wry-footed, squints prodigiously, takes snuff, scolds every body, and sits at all tables. One gives her a sweet meat, another a box on the ear—she mistakes the offender, tells all the truths she knows, and never fails to make mischief. Therefore she delights all the ladies of the court, and whatever ought not to be told is said to be told by Madame Panache. One of these fair ladies was well received by the royal family of Sweden, but unluckily compared the queen to Madame Panache; and the consequence may be guessed, as the queen was an ugly woman.”
“Had she been an ugly man,” said the Chamberlain, slily glancing at the favorite’s deformed person, “the revenge would have been different. Instead of ruining the lady’s husband, which probably gave her no great concern, I would have sentenced her to wear the hump, and bear the name of Madame Panache. But perhaps she had not wit enough to play a fool’s part well.”
“Every wise man has not quite wit enough for that,” interposed the Doge, seeing some symptoms of Italian anger in his friends’ faces; and casting a glance at the Count, he put on his scarlet cloak, and resumed his place at the head of the table with an air of mild authority which seemed to request forbearance. The favorite obeyed it with ready grace. “Your highness,” said he, “shall see how easily a fool’s part may be played. No man in this city is said to resemble me, except the cobler Antonio; and I will wager my best white horse, that in three days I will wear his clothes, handle his tools, and make his grimaces so well, that he shall not be certain whether he is himself, or I am he. Nay, if your highness chuses to have this carnival of folly complete, I will bring him to confess he is a dead man, and that I am his ghost!”—The Doge staked a hundred ducats on the experiment, and the chamberlain joined in wishing the Count success in the farce of Il Due Gobbi.
An obscure shed, or what in England would be called a cobler’s stall, was the abode in Venice of a celebrated person called Antonio Raffaelle—not the painter whose talents have excited so many imitators, but a little squareheaded humpbacked shoemaker, whose neighbours gave him this eminent surname in derision of his ridiculous ugliness and excessive vanity. Almost all the noted artists in Venice had taken this Æsop’s likeness as an exercise for their skill in caricature, but with infinite delight to Antonio, who imagined himself a second Antinous. One night, after earning a few pieces of coin upon the quay, he returned to his cassino, and was surprised to see a squareheaded humpbacked dwarf seated by his wife’s side, composedly eating macaroni and drinking lemonade. “In the name of St. Mark,” said the high-spirited Italian cobler, “how comes such an ill-favored cicisbeo here in my absence, and how dares he stay when I come home?”
“Signor Gobbo,” replied the dwarf, bowing with great civility and nonchalance, “considering that you have thought fit to counterfeit my hump and my crooked leg, I make no answer to your comment on my ill looks; but I take leave to eat my own macaroni and sit at my own shopboard without offence to any gentleman.”
Antonio Raffaelle answered this harangue with a very scientific blow, which the new cobler returned with such speed, and such sufficient aid from the lady, that his opponent was forced to abandon his household hearth and fight outside. All the lazzaroni of the neighbourhood assembled to see the manual debate; and as poor Raffaelle was completely vanquished, very wisely, and with the usual logic of a mob, concluded him in the wrong, and joined the impostor in driving him out of the street. Antonio was a practical philosopher, and instead of waiting for farther compliments from the victors, went to the nearest officer of police and made his complaint. “This is all very ingenious,” said the magistrate, laughing; “but, my good little Annibal, every body knows the old cobler you pretend to be, and his ugliness is a hundred times more comical than yours. I have known the steeple on his shoulder ever since I was a boy, and wrote my lessons twenty years ago under the inspiration of his genius for lying—Go and add three pounds to that mound on your back and make a better semi-circle of your leg before you come to me again.”
There was no enduring this taunt. Raffaelle ran in a fury of aggrieved honour to Signor Corregiano, an artist who had just finished a sketch of him, and implored his aid to identify an injured man. “Ha, ha!” answered the Signor, uncovering his easel— “that will be no difficult matter. His back serves me as the model of Vespasian’s arch, and I shall send for him to-morrow to finish his profile— I want it for the Princess of Parma’s museum—and here it is, except the nose, which I have not oker enough to finish. My wife’s parrot mistook it for a cockatoo’s beak, and pecked at it.”—If Raffaelle was astonished at the insolent raillery of the painter, he was still more confounded when, in reply to his clamorous complaints, the Signor drily ordered his lacqueys to turn the impostor out of doors. “These rogues think,” said the artist, taking a long whip and bestowing it liberally on his visitor, “that any dwarf may mimic our Raffaelle, but I would have them to know an ugly knave must be a clever one.”
Poor Antonio hardly knew how to believe his own ears, which had been so often feasted with praises of his fine bust and antique proportion. But one person might certainly be found to bear witness of his identity, and he ran like a tortoise in an ague to the confessional of Father Paulo, a rosy Dominican, whose sandals he had often repaired. “For the love of justice and St. Dominick,” said our persecuted cobler, “assist a wronged man to confront his enemies. A caitiff, who calls himself Antonio Raffaelle, has entered my house, seized my stock in trade, eaten up my supper, and seduced my wife—And the neighbours say—“Ah, very true!” answered the priest, resting his hands gravely on his sides—“what the neighbours tell you is nothing more than the precise truth. I owed him two maravedis for mending my shoes last night, but he had such an enormous bale of sins to confess, that I shall deduct the two maravedis as a penance.”—“What, holy father! will you not even pay me for my day’s work?”—“Yours, lazzarone!—I employ for my cobler a dull roguish drone who has more ugliness than Æsop, and more tricks than all Æsop’s birds and beasts; but his face is so strangely like St. Januarius’s phial, that I verily believe it grows red by miracle, and therefore I patronize it.”
Not even Raffaelle’s devout respect for the Catholic church could repress his rage at this accumulation of outrages. He seized on the Dominican’s ample sleeve, which being filled with Naples biscuits and Parmesan cheese, caused an unexpected shower of good things among the ragged groupe whose curiosity brought them to this scene. While the lazzaroni scrambled and the cobler talked, two or three soldiers of the Doge’s guard laid their hands on him, and carried him to the nearest prison, accused by divers witnesses of profaning an ecclesiastic’s person by assault. It was in vain to detail his wrongs, and plead the law of retaliation. The serjeant of the police preferred arguments of another kind, and after making as many indentures on his back as would have served for the plan of a tesselated pavement, the ministers of justice sent him forth to seek his home and property again. Of the latter part, as far as concerned his wife, he had some fears of finding more than was necessary, and could have dispensed very well with any restoration of his living stock. But when he entered the shop, woeful sight!—he beheld new furniture, a new name, a lady, gaily dressed, and the pretended cobler sitting with a large assortment of shoes before him. The outrageous reproaches of Antonio were more like the chattering of a sick ape than the articulations of human speech. He danced, grinned, shrieked, and threw his professional tools in all directions, but especially at the head of his faithless wife, who affected the utmost dismay and astonishment. Officers of justice were sent for again, the neighbours gathered together, the street resounded with shouts, and the Doge, whose carriage was passing through it, stopped to enquire into the cause. He was a man of mirth and good nature; the ridiculous distress of the two coblers caught his fancy, and he ordered the matter to he brought to speedy trial. Antonio Raffaelle bustled through the croud, and called on the Doge to hear him speak on the spot. The state attendants of the equipage would have driven him off, but the Doge laughing heartily invited him to proceed. “Sire, your Excellency knows that merit of all kinds must have enemies, and the highest tree, as our proverb says, has the crows’ nests in it. It is well known to your highness, that no portrait or statue in your gallery has been finished without a comparison with my figure, and this graceless usurper thinks he may rob me of my fame and my patrons because he has a high shoulder and a curved leg. I beseech your excellency only to command that he may meet me face to face in your council room three days hence, and your ten counsellors shall see which of us is the true Raffaelle.”
The Doge burst into a second fit of laughter. His Council of Ten, the most formal and formidable tribunal in Venice, engaged in the trial of two hunchback coblers, struck him as such ludicrous burlesque, that he determined to regale himself with a full surfeit of the comedy. “Well, Antonio!” said the merry chief magistrate, “collect your witnesses, and digest sufficient evidence. If I can find ten idle counsellors keeping carnival, they shall sit as your judges, and I will be umpire between Il Due Gobbi.”
The croud dispersed, the pretended cobler shut himself into his shop in triumph, and the people of the street, with the usual indolence of Italians, forgot the quarrel between the two hunchback Sosias before night. Antonio was not so passive. He purchased a large wide cloak of an Armenian Jew, composed a beard of very respectable length, and covered one eye with a patch of green leather. High-heeled shoes and a large shawl folded into a turban altered his stature considerably, and a gaberdine disguised his distorted shape. Thus attired, and furnished with an assortment of suitable wares, he presented himself at the gate of Count Annibal Fiesco, the Rochester of the Venetian court, and enquired if he was at home. Our Antonio had received a hint from the Doge’s chamberlain, of the wager laid by the Count, and determined to retaliate the sport on him and his confederates.
The servants had no leisure to answer such applicants. They were engaged in discussing the merits of an extraordinary mountebank or itinerant merry-andrew, and disputing which of their own number could perform the cleverest feats. “For my part,” said the major-domo, “I have read of stealing the eggs from a bird’s nest while she sat on them, and as yonder is a magpie sitting in that tree, I will shew how easily that trick my be played by boring a hole under the nest.”—“Ay,” rejoined the page, “but who will play the second part of the same trick, and put the eggs back again without disturbing her?”—“Gentlemen,” interposed the false Armenian, “that is nothing to a feat I have seen among the Saxon gypsies. Let monsignor, who has, as I see, a suit of his lord’s clothes under his arm, tuck them under mine, and carry my box of small wares to the top of that fine tree. I will engage before you all, and without his perceiving it, to draw off his apparel, and put his master’s on his back.” The whole conclave of domestics were enchanted; and the page made haste to fold up his lord’s scarlet cloak, embroidered doublet, and while silk hose, into a bundle of convenient size; and that the metamorphosis might completely exhibit the artist’s skill, another ran to seek Count Annibal’s plumed velvet hat and splendid shoes, which were placed as our Gobbo desired, one on his head, the other in the bundle under his arm. The page with the show-box of trinkets began to mount slowly first, and the mock conjuror, having slung his bundle very carefully, climbed after him, and contrived with great adroitness to perform one half of his task, while the court-yard rang with shouts of laughter. But while the poor page was most inconveniently perched on the top of the tree, his hands encumbered with the show-box, and his face full of rueful grimaces at his dishabille, Antonio suddenly leaped from one of the branches over the wall, and ran off with his bundle, leaving the servants uncertain whether to pursue him or to laugh at their comrade’s ridiculous position. Antonio had no leisure to enjoy that part of the jest. He retreated with his prize to a secret spot, put on the cloak, rich vestment, and other contents of the bundle, and placing his gemmed and feathered hat with a gallant air on his head, he presented himself at the Doge’s palace, and entered his council-chamber. “What, Annibal!—so soon tired of the jest?” said the merry Doge, laughing as he saw him enter—“But you have not yet fulfilled all the conditions of our wager—you promised not only to dislodge the cobler from his stall, cheat his neighbours, and usurp his business, but also to convince him he was dead.”—“That I shall soon do for your highness’s amusement,” replied the counterfeit nobleman, “provided we have the pomp of a formal council, and bring him before us with due judicial ceremony. The rogue has taken possession of his stall again, and it will not be amiss to send for him with a formidable posse of your officers, and cite his wife also. We shall need the evidence of two or three other persons, but they must be summoned at a proper time.”—The Doge renewed his laughter, and bade his favorite follow into his private cabinet. “This will be a more imposing room of inquisition,” said he, taking his chair of state— “You, my chamberlain, and myself, will form a Council of Three, more terrible in Venice than the ten fools of my larger council.”—“That is true,” replied the mock Count, drily, “and three, including your highness, are quite sufficient: but that my task may be properly fulfilled of frightening this cobler to death, your messengers must hint that he is charged with a secret conspiracy, revealed as usual through the lion’s mouth.”—The thought was instantly approved and executed, the Council of Three took their places near their table in official order, and in half an hour the pretended cobler was brought in, handcuffed, and placed before them, attended by Antonio’s wiſe.
Our original Antonio folded his scarlet cloak, and adjusted his brows with a scowl of scorn very well befitting a Venetian judge, and his imitator, not so well understanding this unexpected part of the farce, waited in silence for the result.
“You who call yourself Antonio Raffaelle, cobler and seller of monkies on the Rialto,” said the Doge, in a stern voice, “you who are accused of secret movements against the state, what reason have you for representing yourself as what you are not?”
“Your highness knows very well who I am,” answered the prisoner, with an arch glance which he meant the Doge to interpret—“And you know, moreover, that I am Antonio Raffaelle, the reformer of your servants’ soles, and the model of your sculptor’s bodies.”
“Fellow,” interposed the new judge, availing himself of the Doge’s permission to conclude the comedy as he pleased—“this is too audacious contumely. Every body knows Antonio Raffaelle, commonly called Gobbo the cobler, has been dead and buried three days. Let that woman behind you deny if she dares.”
The hunchback’s wife, not being prepared for this challenge, knew not what to reply. The three inquisitors urged her to confess if this man was her husband, or an impostor, and her prevarications and confusion produced the most ridiculous answers. “I have thought, monsignor,” said Antonio, addressing the Doge with the bow of a man of rank and a well-imitated air of supercilious negligence towards the prisoners—“I have remembered a necessary means of reaching the truth and confronting these accomplices. Let us send for Signor Torregiano and the Dominican Father Paul.”
Both were already in waiting, and made their appearance before the council, more perplexed than alarmed. They had been instructed by the Doge’s merry favorite how to play their parts in tormenting the poor cobler, but had received no intimations how to behave towards him to-night. Therefore when the Doge, with an austere air, enquired if the painter had not been sent for to take a sketch of his features after his death, Torregiano very gravely assented, adding, that he meant to compose a bust of Æsop from the outline. The priest was asked if he had not administered extreme unction and heard his last confession; in which the Dominican, thinking the jest required it, made no hesitation in acquiescing. “And moreover,” said Antonio in a loud voice, “as this Council absolves all priests from the secresy of the confessional, you will acknowledge that he reminded you of the hundred sequins he received from my lord chamberlain for slipping a billet into a dancer’s shoe, for which you gave him absolution, and promised to pay him back the fifty-five you borrowed?”—Paulo, still supposing all this a part of the concerted jest, assented to the charge, and signed his name to the notation made by the Council’s secretary.—“And you, Signor Torregiano,” resumed the hunchbacked judge. “do you not admit, in this august presence, that you promised the dying cobler thirty silver ducats for the use of his skull after his decease, to enrich your art?—And are you not prepared to pay them to this poor woman, whose grief for her husband has disordered her memory?”—The painter could do nothing but assent and lay down the money as required; after which the pretended Count required the presence of the magistrate who presided over the cobler’s district. This civilian, whose conduct to our cobler had been dictated by the Doge’s favorite, came without fear to answer whatever might be proposed; and the Doge, in the grotesque airs of over-acted authority assumed by his friend, saw only a fresh proof of his inventive drollery and mimic talent. The Count himself, in his cobler’s garb, could no way conceive how his patron intended this excess of merriment to end. But when the magistrate was required to give his wife a certificate of her widowhood, and to sign himself an affidavit of the cobler’s death, he began to apprehend some part of the jest would fall heavily on his own shoulders. He was not mistaken. Having asked again and again if he was not ashamed to appear in the cobler’s shape after his death and funeral, and making no reply, the mischievous judge proposed to ascertain whether he was really a corporal mimic, or an apparition of the deceased, by a sound flagellation. Two servants of the Doge applied the test with such force, that the Count, not knowing any better way to end the trial, exclaimed—“I am dead!—I am dead! I confess whatever his highness pleases.”
The Doge clapped his hands with a cry of applause; and the favorite, pulling off his ragged disguise, begged the honest dwarf who personated him to take back his own apparel and give him his. But Antonio, made bold by his success, first claimed the money which the priest and painter had promised to pay; and giving his wife her certificate of widowhood, bade her go in peace, and consider him happily released from her. The Doge, highly amused and astonished to find the real cobler had been sitting by his side, confirmed both the divorce and the payments; and awarded to him the amount of the wager he had laid: declaring his favorite the loser, but himself a winner of one merry day by Il Due Gobbi.