The Betrothed CHAPTER 27

The war that was raging over the succession to the states of the late Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, the second of that name, is a subject that we have already had occasion to mention more than once, but always at moments when we were preoccupied with other matters, so that we have only touched on it in passing. But rather more detailed knowledge of the subject is now necessary for the proper understanding of our story. These are things which are doubtless familiar to readers of history. But as a proper sense of our own quality leads us to think that our present book will only be read by the unlearned, perhaps we had better provide enough information to satisfy those who may need it.

We mentioned that, when Vincenzo Gonzaga died, the first Candidate for the succession was Carlo Gonzaga, the head of a cadet branch of the family, which had moved to France, where he held the duchies of Nevers and Rh̩tel; and that Carlo Gonzaga had taken possession of Mantua. We must now add that he had also occupied Montferrat Рa point which we left out last time in our haste. The court of Madrid wanted to get the new prince out of those two states at all costs, as we also mentioned. But it needed a good reason for getting him out of them, because a war made without good reason would be an unjust war. So it declared its support for the claim to Mantua of another Gonzaga, namely Ferrante, Prince of Guastalla, and for the claims to Montferrat of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, and of Margherita Gonzaga, the Dowager Duchess of Lorraine.

Now Don Gonzalo was of the same family, and bore the same name, as the Great Captain. He had already fought a war in Flanders, and he was very anxious to fight another in Italy. He probably did more than anybody to get this one under way. In the meanwhile, interpreting the intentions and anticipating the orders of Madrid, he had concluded a treaty with the Duke of Savoy for the invasion and partition of Montferrat. He got the Count – Duke to ratify the treaty without difficulty, by persuading him that it would be quite easy to get control of Casale, which was the best-defended point in the zone reserved for the King of Spain. But Don Gonzalo protested in His Majesty’s name that he had no wish to occupy any territory, except to hold it in trust until the Emperor had given his ruling in the matter. Partly because of outside influence, however, and partly for his own reasons, the Emperor had meanwhile refused to sanction the investiture of the new duke, and told him to leave the disputed states in imperial hands for the moment; he himself would hear both sides, and hand the states over to the rightful owner when he had done so. This was something that the Duke of Nevers would not accept.

The duke also had powerful friends on his side – Cardinal Richelieu, the senators of Venice, and the Pope (who was then Urban VIII, as we mentioned before). But Richelieu was then busy with the siege of La Rochelle and with a war against England, and was opposed by the party of the Queen Mother, Marie de’ Medici, who had her own reasons for disliking the House of Nevers; so that he could contribute nothing but promises. The Venetians would not move, nor even declare their support, until a French army arrived in Italy. They helped the duke secretly, as well as they could, making representations of various kinds – protests, suggestions, peaceful or threatening exhortations, according to circumstances – to the Court of Madrid and the Governor of Milan. The Pope recommended Nevers to his friends, interceded on his behalf with his enemies, and put forward proposals of compromise. But he would not hear of putting any troops in the field.

So the two aggressive allies could begin their campaign in safety. The Duke of Savoy, for his part, had entered the territory of Montferrat. Don Gonzalo had enthusiastically formed the siege of Casale; but he did not find the operation as satisfactory as he had imagined; for it must not be thought that war is a bed of roses. The Court did not give him the support he wanted; in fact it left him short of the most basic necessities. His ally gave him more help than he cared for. For the Duke of Savoy not only took his own portion, but began to encroach on that allotted to the King of Spain. Don Gonzalo was furious; but the Duke of Savoy was just as distinguished for skill in negotiation and for changeability in the matter of alliances as for bravery on the field of battle; and Don Gonzalo was afraid that if he made any fuss his ally would call in the French. So he had to shut his eyes to what was going on, swallow his wrath, and say nothing.

Meanwhile his siege was going badly. It was taking too long, and from time to time the besiegers were driven back; both because the defenders were brave, vigilant and determined, and because Don Gonzalo had too few troops. Some historians say that he also made a lot of mistakes. We will not claim to know the truth of this matter; but if it were really so, we would be inclined to regard it as a very good thing, provided that it led to a smaller number of soldiers being killed, mutilated or crippled in that siege – or even, other things being equal, if it merely led to slightly less damage being done to the tiled roofs of Casale. While Don Gonzalo was in these difficulties, he received the news of the riots in Milan, and hastily returned there in person.

Among the things reported to him on arrival were the rebellious and noisy escape of Renzo, and the real and imaginary events that had caused his arrest. Don Gonzalo was also told that he had taken refuge in the territory of Bergamo. This point attracted the Governor’s attention. He knew from other sources that the Venetians had been much encouraged by the riots at Milan; that they had at one time believed that he would have to raise the siege of Casale as a result; and that they still thought he must be bewildered and worried – all the more, because of a second piece of news, welcome to Venice but dreaded by Don Gonzalo, which followed soon after the riots: La Rochelle had surrendered. Very indignant, both as a man and as a politician, that the Venetians should have such an opinion of him, he was on the lookout for any opportunity of giving them proof, by implication, that he had lost nothing of his previous confidence. (By implication, because to say explicitly, ‘I’m not afraid!’ is quite meaningless.)

A good way of furnishing such proof is to show bad temper, to quarrel and to make demands. And so one day, when the Resident of Venice came to see the Governor, to pay his respects and also to judge from his expression and behaviour the state of his inner feelings – this is all worth noting, as an example of the old subtle diplomacy – Don Gonzalo first of all touched lightly on the riots, speaking like a man who has already taken all the necessary steps; but then he went on to make a considerable issue, as you have already heard, of the story of Renzo. The result is also known to you.

Afterwards he did not concern himself any further with an affair of so little weight, which was all over, as far as he was concerned. When the reply reached him, a good deal later on, he was back in camp before Casale, with his mind on other things. He lifted his head and gazed around him, like a silkworm looking for a mulberry leaf; he stood still for a moment, trying to bring his shadowy memory of the facts back to life. He recalled the episode, and a confused idea of the man concerned passed through his mind; then he went on to something else, and thought no more about it.

From the little that Renzo had been able to put together, he had no reason to expect anything like that benevolent indifference – quite the contrary. For some time he had no thought or care for anything but preserving his incognito. It can be imagined how impatient he was to send news of himself to Lucia and Agnese, and to hear news of them; but there were serious difficulties here. One was that it meant trusting his secret to a letter writer; for the poor fellow could not write. He could not even read, in the full sense of the word. The reader may recall that when Dr Quibbler asked him if he could read, he replied that he could. That was not from any wish to boast, or to show off; he could read printed material, given time; but handwriting is another matter. So he had to tell a third party about his affairs, about that vital secret. It was not so easy to find a man who could both wield a pen and keep a confidence in those days; especially in a place where there was no one whom Renzo had known for any length of time.

The second difficulty was to find a messenger – a man who was going to the right place, would agree to take the job on, and would really carry it out – another set of virtues that could not easily be found in a single person.

Finally, after much searching, he found someone to write the letter. But as he did not know whether the women were still at Monza, or where else they might be, he thought it best to enclose the letter for Agnese in another addressed to Father Cristoforo. The letter-writer took on the job of arranging delivery as well. He gave the envelope to a traveller whose journey took him near to Pescarenico. The man left it with an inn-keeper, as near as possible to its destination, asking him most earnestly to forward it. As the letter was addressed to a monastery, it was in fact delivered there, but what happened to it after that has never been discovered.

As Renzo received no reply, he had another letter written, in much the same terms as the first, and enclosed it in a message to some friend or relation of his at Lecco. Another messenger was sought and found, and this time the letter reached its destination. Agnese hurried to Maggianico and got her cousin Alessio to read it and explain it to her. With his help, she concocted a reply, which he wrote out for her. Then they found a way of sending it to Antonio Rivolta at his place of residence – though not as quickly as this brief account might suggest. Renzo received the letter, and had another written in reply. In fact a correspondence began between the two sides. It was neither swift nor regular, it proceeded by fits and starts, with long gaps; but it went forward none the less.

To have an idea of what this correspondence was like, we need to know how that sort of business was transacted in those days – or rather how it is still transacted today, for we doubt if there has been much change.

The peasant who cannot write, and needs something written, turns to someone who has learned to use a pen. He chooses him, as far as he can, among those of his own class; for he is either shy of approaching others, or does not trust them sufficiently. He tells the man what has gone before, with such clarity and logical order as he can muster, and then tells him, in the same style, what he wants to say. The literate friend understands part of what he says, and misunderstands another part; he advises him, suggests a couple of changes, and then says ‘Leave it to me!’ He takes up his pen, and puts the first man’s thoughts in literary form, as best he can; corrects them or improves them, adds emphasis or takes it away, even leaves bits out, as seems best to him. For there’s no getting away from it – a man who knows more than his neighbours does not care to be a passive tool in their hands, and once he has become involved in their affairs, wants to give them a little guidance.

Moreover the literate friend may not always succeed in saying what he means. Sometimes he says something quite different. (We professional writers of books have been known to do the same.)

When such a letter reaches the other correspondent, who is equally ignorant of his ABC, he takes it to another learned man, of the same calibre, who reads it and explains it to him. Then doubts arise over what the letter really means. The interested party, with his knowledge of what has gone before, maintains that certain words must mean one thing; but the man who is doing the reading, from his knowledge of the written language, claims that they must mean something else. In the end the man who cannot write must put himself in the hands of the man who can, and must charge him with the task of replying. The answer will be composed in the same fashion as the first letter, and will be submitted to the same sort of interpretation.

But if the subject of the correspondence happens to be a little delicate; if private matters are involved, which must not be intelligible to a stranger, in case the letter should go astray; if, for those reasons, there is a deliberate attempt not to put things too clearly … why, then the correspondence cannot go on for very long before the two sides are at the same stage of mutual understanding as two medieval scholars might once have been after four hours of argument about the entelechy. (We have not taken a more modern example, for fear of getting a rap over the knuckles.)

Now the case of our two correspondents was exactly like the one we have just described. The first letter written on behalf of Renzo covered a number of subjects. First of all there was an account of his escape – more concise than the one in this book, but also more confused; then a description of his present circumstances, from which neither Agnese nor her interpreter could get any clear or complete picture. Secret warnings, false names, the idea of being in no danger but having to remain in hiding were all unfamiliar concepts to the readers, and expressed in veiled terms in the letter. Then came desperate, passionate inquiries about Lucia, with obscure and sorrowful hints about the rumours that had reached Renzo on this subject. Last came doubtful words of distant hope, plans for the remote future, promises that he would keep faith and appeals to Lucia to do the same, never to lose patience or courage, always to wait for better times to come.

After some time, Agnese found a trustworthy messenger to take a reply to Renzo, together with the fifty scudi that Lucia wanted him to have. When he saw all that money, Renzo did not know what to think. His mind was too full of amazement and suspense to have any room for pleasure, as he ran off to find his literate friend, so that he could have the letter explained to him and get to the bottom of this strange mystery.

In this letter the writer had complained somewhat about the obscurity of the one he was answering, before going on to relate, in almost equally obscure terms, the horrifying story of the person in question (to use his own words), and to explain the matter of the fifty scudi. Then he went on to speak of the vow, with a good deal of circumlocution. Lastly, in much more direct and intelligible terms, came the advice that Renzo should try to find peace of heart and forget the past.

Renzo nearly came to blows with the reader. He trembled, shuddered and raved, both at the things he had understood and the things he had failed to understand. He had the terrible document read over to him three or four times. At one moment he thought he was beginning to understand the situation better; at another, things which had seemed clear the first time became doubtful. In a fever of passion he made his literate friend take pen in hand at once and answer the letter. After the strongest possible expressions of pity and horror at Lucia’s experiences, he went on to say: ‘Now write this: I don’t want to find peace of heart, and I never shall; and they shouldn’t have said that sort of thing to a young man like me; and I won’t use any of that money; I’ll put it away and keep it safely, to go towards the girl’s dowry; for she’s got to marry me; and I don’t want to know about any vows; and I’ve often heard of the Madonna helping folk in trouble and granting people favours, but I’ve never heard of her causing unkindness and broken promises before; and it can’t be right; and with all this money we could set up house here; and if I’m in a bit of trouble at the moment, it’s a storm that’ll pass over before long’ – and more to the same effect.

Agnese duly received that letter, and had another written in reply, and so the correspondence went forward in the manner we have already described.

Then Agnese got a message through to Lucia, though we are not told how, to inform her that a certain friend was alive and well, and had had the news. Lucia felt very relieved, and now asked for nothing further except that he should forget her – or rather, to be quite accurate, that he should try to forget her. For her own part, she made a similar resolution about Renzo a dozen times a day, and employed every possible method to keep it. She worked hard and long, and tried to devote all her thoughts to the business in hand. When Renzo’s image rose before her eyes, she would recite or chant various prayers that she knew by heart. But his image seemed to show a certain cunning; for it did not often come forward openly, but crept in behind some other figure, so that she did not notice it until it had been there for some time.

Lucia often thought about her mother, naturally enough; and the imaginary Renzo would come quietly in and join the party, just as the real one had so often done in the past. Whatever person or scene came to mind, he intruded into all her memories of the past. And when the poor girl let her mind wander to thoughts of the future he appeared again, if only to say: ‘I shan’t be there, anyway.’

But though it was impossible to give up thinking about him altogether, Lucia did her best to think of him less often and less fondly than she wanted to, and managed to do so up to a certain point. She would have had more success if no one had tried to help her; but Donna Prassede was there, all agog to expel Renzo for ever from Lucia’s heart, and unable to think of any better way of doing so than to talk to her about him all the time.

‘Well?’ she would say, ‘You’re not still thinking about him, are you?’

‘I’m not thinking about anyone,’ Lucia would reply.

But Donna Prassede was not satisfied by that sort of answer; she would reply that deeds, not words were needed. She spoke at length about the natural disposition of girls in general.

‘Once they’ve got some ne’er-do-well into their heads, as they generally do,’ she said, ‘there’s no getting him out again. If it’s a proper, sensible engagement, to a decent, steady sort of man, that gets broken off by some accident, they resign themselves to it easily enough. But if it’s some useless young blackguard, they never get over it at all.’ And then she would launch into a diatribe against poor Renzo, who was not there to defend himself – the ruffian who had come down to Milan to plunder and murder. She would also try to get Lucia to admit that he had played various dirty tricks earlier on in his own village.

Lucia’s voice trembled with shame, grief, and as much anger as was consistent with her gentle nature and her humble position, as she assured and promised Donna Prassede that the poor boy had never caused any talk about himself in the village, except in the way of praise.

‘I only wish there were someone from those parts here now, to bear me out!’ she said.

And though she knew very little about what had happened in Milan, she defended him there too, on the strength of what she knew about him and his behaviour ever since childhood. She defended him – or tried to defend him – out of the duty to be charitable, out of love for the truth, and finally, to use the words she employed herself to explain her feelings, out of kindness to her neighbour. From these excuses Donna Prassede drew fresh arguments by which to prove to Lucia that she was still in love with Renzo. And to tell the truth, I would not like to say exactly what the facts of the matter were at that moment. Donna Prassede’s unworthy portrait of the young man brought fresh colour and life, by a process of opposition, to the picture of him which had been formed in Lucia’s mind by so long an acquaintance. The memories that were suppressed by these forcible means came flooding back; Donna Prassede’s aversion and contempt for Renzo recalled many long-standing reasons for respecting him. Her blind and violent hatred against him strengthened the girl’s feelings of pity. With all these emotions, who can say how much there may or may not have been of that other feeling which so easily finds its way after them into all hearts – let alone a heart whose owner was already having difficulty in holding it off? But, however this may be, the conversation could never be a prolonged one on Lucia’s side for the tears always soon came to drown her words.

If Donna Prassede had been induced to treat Lucia in this way by some ingrained feeling of hatred towards her, perhaps the girl’s tears would have touched her and made her stop. As it was all in a good cause, she went inexorably on; for groans, screams and supplications can turn aside the sword of an enemy, but not the scalpel of a surgeon. But when Donna Prassede had done her duty in this respect for the time being, she would pass on from criticism and reproof to exhortation and advice, which she tempered with the odd word of praise, designed to mingle the sweet with the bitter, and so to obtain the best possible effect by working on the girl’s mind from several angles at once. These disputes, which always had very much the same beginning, middle and end, did not leave the good-natured girl with any resentment against her stern monitress, who treated her with great kindness in everything else, and whose good intentions could be seen in this as well. But Lucia was left with a disturbance, an agitation of ideas and emotions, which it took much time and much effort to reduce to the degree of calm she had achieved before.

It was just as well for the girl that she was not the only object of Donna Prassede’s good works. This meant that their disputes could not be all that frequent. For there were the other servants – all disordered minds whose thoughts needed redirecting to a greater or lesser extent; there were plenty of further opportunities to provide the same service out of pure goodness of heart to people towards whom she had no special obligation at all – she sought such opportunities out if they did not occur naturally. And then there were her five daughters. None of them was now living at home, but they gave her even more worry than if they had been. Three of them were nuns, and two were married, which of course meant that Donna Prassede found that she had to superintend three convents and two households. This was a vast and complicated task, made all the more laborious by the attitude of two husbands, backed by their fathers, mothers and brothers, and of three abbesses, flanked by other authorities and by a good number of nuns. None of them wanted to be superintended by Donna Prassede. She had a war on her hands – five wars in fact. It was secret warfare, and conducted with a certain amount of courtesy, but active and unceasing none the less. On all five fronts she came up against constant efforts to avoid her loving care, to shut out her opinions, to elude her requests, and to keep her in the dark as far as possible in every matter. I need not mention the resistance and the difficulties she encountered in the conduct of other affairs which were even less her proper business than these; for it is generally known that doing good to people often involves the use of compulsion. The place where her zeal found its freest expression was her own home. There everyone was completely under her thumb, in every possible way, except for Don Ferrante, with whom things were on a very special footing.

He was a studious man, who had no wish either to command or to obey. He did not mind his wife being the absolute mistress in all household matters, but he was not prepared to be a servant. If she asked him, he would in case of necessity lend her the services of his pen; but that was only because it suited him. He would refuse to do even this when he was not satisfied with what she wanted him to say. ‘You’d better put your own mind to it,’ he’d say in such cases. ‘Do it yourself, since it seems so clear to you.’

For a long time Donna Prassede had unsuccessfully tried to draw him out of his shell, and to persuade him to play a more active part; but now she confined herself to grumbling at him frequently, and calling him lazy, and fixed in his ideas, and a literary man – the last phrase being uttered with mingled annoyance and pride.

Don Ferrante spent long hours in his study, where he had a considerable collection of books – little less than three hundred volumes. They were all carefully chosen, all leading works in their various branches, in every one of which he had some learning. In astrology he was regarded as more than a mere dilettante, and rightly so. For he had not only mastered the vague notions and the widely known vocabulary relating to influences, aspects and conjunctions, which were common knowledge, but could also talk relevantly, and with professorial authority, of the twelve houses into which the heavens are divided, of great circles, of degrees of lucidity and tenebrosity, of altitudes and depressions, of transits and revolutions and, in a word, of all the surest and most recondite principles of the science. For about twenty years he had been supporting Cardan and his system of houses, in long and repeated disputes with another scholar who was passionately attached to the system of Alcabitius – out of mere obstinacy, according to Don Ferrante, who was willing enough to acknowledge the general superiority of the ancients, but was repelled by this refusal to admit that the moderns could be right even in the most obvious cases. Don Ferrante also had more than a common knowledge of the history of the science. When necessary, he could quote the most famous examples of predictions that had come true; and he could also speak with subtlety and learning about other famous predictions that had gone wrong, showing that the fault lay not with astrology, but with those who had not understood its proper use.

Of ancient philosophy he had learned as much as he needed, and was continuing to improve his knowledge by the study of Diogenes Laertius. But beautiful as the old systems are, one cannot adopt all of them at once. A man who wants to be a philosopher must choose one author to follow, and Don Ferrante had chosen Aristotle, who, as he used to say, was neither an ancient nor a modern – he was the philosopher. Don Ferrante also possessed various works of the wisest and subtlest followers of Aristotle among the moderns. But he said that he would not waste time on reading authors who attacked the great man, nor money on buying their books. He made one exception, however, and found space in his library for the twenty-two volumes of Cardan’s famous De subtilitate, and for a couple of other anti-Aristotelian works by the same author, as a tribute to his great worth in astrology. No one could write books like the De restitutione temporum et motuum coelestium or the De duodecim genituris without deserving to be given a hearing even when he went astray, said Don Ferrante; and the great defect of Cardan was an excess of genius. There was no knowing, he would continue, how far Cardan would have gone in philosophy as well, if he had only kept on the right path.

But though other scholars regarded Don Ferrante as a consummate Aristotelian it still seemed to him that he did not know enough. More than once he modestly observed that essence, universals, the soul of the world and the nature of things were not such simple matters as one might suppose.

Of natural philosophy he had made little more than a hobby. He had merely read, rather than studied, the works of Pliny, and even those of Aristotle himself, on this particular subject. But thanks to that reading, together with information picked up incidentally from works of general philosophy, from a passing glance at the Magia naturale of Porta, the three chapters ‘De lapidibus’, ‘De animalibus’, and ‘De plantis’ of Cardan, and the treatise on herbs, plants and animals of Albertus Magnus and various other works of less importance, he was always able to keep up a conversation on the subject of the strange virtues and curious features of many simples; and he could give an exact description of the appearance and habits of sirens and of the single phoenix. He could explain how the salamander can stay in the fire without getting burnt; how that little fish the remora has the strength and the cunning to bring a great ship under full sail to a sudden halt; how dew-drops turn into pearls within the shell of a mollusc; how the chameleon feeds on air; how rock crystal is formed from ice, as it slowly hardens over the centuries; and many other wonderful secrets of nature.

He had gone rather more deeply into the secrets of magic and witchcraft, which, as our anonymous author remarks, is a science at once more fashionable and more necessary, and one of which the effects are of far greater importance, and nearer at hand, so that they can easily be verified. We need hardly add that Don Ferrante’s sole object in undertaking this line of study was to increase his knowledge and learn all about the evil arts of witches, so that he could ward them off and protect himself from them. With the help, above all, of the great Martino Delrio (the leading authority in this field), he could talk most magisterially about the casting of love spells, sleeping spells and injurious spells, with the countless variations of those principal types of witchcraft, which, alas, to quote our anonymous author once more, are still to be seen at work every day with such tragic effects.

Equally wide and deep was Don Ferrante’s knowledge of history, and more particularly universal history, where his favourite authors were Tarcagnota, Dolce, Bugatti, Campana, and Guazzo – those of most reputation, in fact.

But what is history without politics? – Don Ferrante would often ask. It is a guide who walks on and on, without anyone to follow him and learn the road, so that all his efforts are wasted – just as politics without history is like a man who seeks his way across strange country without a guide. So there was a section of his library that was reserved for the political writers. There Bodino, Cavalcanti, Sansovino, Paruta, and Boccalini stood out among many other books of less bulk and secondary importance. But there were two volumes which he esteemed far above all others in this branch; two volumes that he had long put jointly in the first place, without being able to decide which of them deserved to have it for his own. One contained the Prince and the Discourses of the Florentine Secretary1 – a blackguard, of course, said Don Ferrante, but a deep thinker for all that. The other contained the Ragion di stato of the equally celebrated Giovanni Botero – a decent fellow, of course, Don Ferrante would add, but keen-witted for all that.

But just a short while before the time of our story, a book had appeared which settled the question of primacy for ever, for it excelled the works of even those two matadors, to use Don Ferrante’s own words. This was a book which contained every kind of cunning trick in distilled form, so that you could easily recognize them, and also all the virtues, so that you could practise them. It was a short book, but of pure gold; in a word, it was the Statista regnante of Don Valeriano Castiglione, that most famous man, of whom it could be said that the great scholars vied with one another in his praise, and the greatest statesmen vied with each other for his services. Pope Urban VIII honoured him with a magnificent panegyric, as is well known. Cardinal Borghese tried to persuade him to describe the deeds of Pope Paul V, and Don Pedro of Toledo, the Viceroy of Naples, urged him to write of the Italian wars of His Catholic Majesty – and both in vain. King Louis XIII of France, at the suggestion of Cardinal Richelieu, appointed him his historiographer, and the Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy gave him the same honour. Not to prolong this list of splendid recommendations, let us end by saying that the Duchess Christine of Savoy, the daughter of the Most Christian King Henry IV, granted him a diploma in which, among many other distinctions, she felt able to include ‘the certain glory of the fame he has won in Italy of being the greatest writer of our day’.

But though Don Ferrante could claim to be well versed in all the sciences we have mentioned, there was just one in which he both deserved and enjoyed the reputation of a leading authority, and that was the science of the laws of chivalry. Not only did he speak of this subject with perfect knowledge, but he was often asked to intervene in questions of honour, and was never at a loss to give a verdict. He had the works of the most highly esteemed authors in this branch of learning in his library, and, we may add, in his head. He had Paride dal Pozzo, Fausto da Longiano, Urrea, Muzio, Romei and Albergato, together with the first Forno and the second Forno of Torquato Tasso. He also had the last author’s Gerusalemme liberata and Gerusalemme conquistata always by him, and could quote from memory, if necessary, all the passages they contained which had a bearing on questions of chivalry. But the supreme authority, in his view, was our famous Francesco Birago, with whom Don Ferrante sometimes found himself jointly consulted in questions of honour. For his part the author always spoke of Don Ferrante with particular esteem. From the moment that this distinguished writer’s Discorsi cavallereschi were published, Don Ferrante prophesied without any hesitation that the new work would destroy the prestige formerly enjoyed by Olevano, and would remain, together with the other noble issue of the same pen, as a code of ultimate authority for future generations.

Anyone can see how fully that forecast has been proved true, adds our anonymous author, who goes on to discuss the works of pure literature on Don Ferrante’s shelves. But we are beginning to doubt whether the reader really wants to accompany him on this further review of the library. In fact we begin to wonder whether we have not already won the title of servile copyist for ourselves, and a half share of the title of long-winded bore which belongs to our afore-mentioned anonymous friend. For we have naively followed him into matters which are remote from the main thread of our story, and which he probably treated at such length only to show off his own learning and to demonstrate that there was nothing out of date about his views … We will leave in as much as we have already written, so as not to waste the work we have put into it, but we will omit what follows, and get back on to the main road again – all the more so because we have a good, way to travel before we meet any of our characters again, and a still longer way to go before we find them engaged in the matters that must surely interest the reader most, if indeed he is interested at all in what we have to say.

Up to the autumn of the following year, which was 1629, all of them, whether of choice or necessity, remained in much the same state as we have left them. Nothing happened to any of them, and nothing could be done by any of them, which is worth reporting. Autumn came, and this was the time when Agnese and Lucia had planned to meet again. But an event of great public importance swept their plans away and this indeed was one of the least of its effects. Other great events followed, but did not bring any noteworthy changes into the lives of our characters. Last of all, fresh developments of a more extreme, overwhelming, and universal kind reached out towards them, reached down to even the humblest of them in terms of worldly values – just as a great whirlwind, wandering and trampling through the countryside, breaking down or uprooting trees, wrecking roofs, stripping the tops off bell-towers, smashing walls, and strewing wreckage here and there, will also suck up the twigs hidden among the grass, and seek out the light, withered leaves that a lesser wind has blown into a corner, and whirl them away, ‘prisoned in the blowing wind’.

And now, if the private affairs which we still have to relate are to be clearly intelligible, we have no alternative but to preface them with some sort of account of public events, though without going into them very closely.