Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

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Night the Thirteenth:
Tenth Fable:
Cesare the Judge

Cesare, a Neapolitan, after a long course of study at Bologna, takes his degree as doctor, and having returned to his home, files for reference all the judgments he has heard, in order the better to give his own decisions.

THERE are three things, gracious ladies, which may be said to lay waste the world and to turn everything upside down. These three are money, hatred, and favouritism, and the truth of this saying you will readily understand if you will give a kindly hearing to the fable I am about to tell you.

Lodovico Mota (as indeed you may have heard before) was a far-seeing and wise man, and one of the foremost citizens of Naples, and, being unmarried, he took to wife the daughter of Alessandro di Alessandri, who likewise dwelt in the city, and by her he had an only son, to whom he gave the name of Cesare. When the child was old enough to receive instruction his father put him under the charge of a teacher to learn the rudiments of letters, and next sent him to Bologna to study the civil and the canon law. Here he abode some long time, getting however very little profit from his sojourn, although his father, who was keenly set on making his son a learned man, bought for him all the books of the jurisconsults of the canon law, and the works of all the learned men who had ever written on the one and on the other faculty, deeming that his son would be able to outstrip all the other pleaders of Naples, and nurturing the belief that he would, on this account, be in touch with the best clients and concerned in all the important cases be fore the courts. But Cesare, though he was a youth who had studied much, was wanting in the essential groundwork of legal science, and bare of all knowledge of letters; consequently he understood not the things he read, and such facts as he had got by heart he would mouth out with great show of impudence, in preposterous fashion, and without any due ordering. So he would let one argument of his contradict another, thus showing his ignorance; forasmuch as he would constantly be wrangling with his mates, taking the truth for falsehood and falsehood for the truth. And like an inflated windbag he would go into the schools with his ears closed, and there build castles in the air. Because ignorant people are never weary of repeating the saying that it is an unseemly and disgraceful thing on the part of those who are possessed of great riches to spend their time in study; so Cesare, who in sooth was well-to-do, got little or no profit from prosecuting the study of the civil and canon law.

On this account, being willing and ready to let his own ignorance come in to competition with the learning of those others who had not wasted their oil and their time, but had studied long arid diligently, he resolved with arrant presumption to offer himself for advancement to the grade of doctor. Where fore, having presented himself before the senate with this purpose in his mind) and having taken up all the points of dispute which were proposed, he was set to show his acquirements publicly in the presence of a crowd of people. He began to exhibit black for white, and green for black, thinking that, as he was blind himself, all the others around must be blind likewise ; nevertheless, either by good fortune, or by the power of money, or by favouritism and friend ship, his claim was allowed, and he was made a doctor. Afterwards, accompanied by a vast crowd of persons of quality, he made a progress through the city to the music of pipes and trumpets) and returned to his house clad in robes of silk and purple, so that one would have taken him for an ambassador rather than for a doctor of laws.

On a certain day this worthy master, dressed in his purple robe and velvet stole, prepared certain strips of paper and strung them together after the fashion of a notary's file, and then placed them altogether in a vase. While he was thus engaged, his father by chance came to him and asked him what he was minded to do with the papers he was preparing. Whereupon Cesare thus made reply: 'It is written, my father, in the books of the civil law that all decisions ought to be looked upon as be longing to the category of fortuitous chances. Now I, who have studied the inmost spirit, and not merely the letter of the law, have made up these files at hazard, upon which I have noted down divers decisions, which, with God's good will, I will deliver without any trouble to myself to the litigants before me when by your aid and patronage I shall sit as a judge in the high court. Does it not seem to you, O my father! that I have in very subtle wise investigated and solved this question?' The father, when he listened to these words, was as a man half dead with grief; and having turned his back upon his useless lout of a son, left him in his ignorance to do the best he might.

Cateruzza's diverting story was received by the honourable company with the utmost pleasure, and after they had spent some minutes over discussing the same, the Signora directed her to let follow her enigma, and she, without waiting for further command, gave it in the following words:

I trust I may not you offend
In asking you, my worthy friend,
Whether a certain thing you have
Which lately in your charge I gave,
Which straight you took and folded tight
Between your left leg and your right.
This I must know and know straightway,
For much I grieve when 'tis away.
Good friend, your wrath I understand.
Fear not, for you shall hold in hand
This thing which lies upon my thigh,
Sways up and down, now low, now high,
And galls me sore, and hangs behind
So take it when you are inclined.

When Cateruzza had finished, the listeners looked one at the other, hardly knowing what to say. Whereupon she, perceiving that not one of them under stood the meaning of the riddle she had propounded, spake thus: Ladies and gentlemen, stand no longer in suspense, for I will straightway tell you the meaning of my enigma, although I find my self scarcely equal to the task. There was once a young man who lent to his friend his horse to ride out to his country house, which horse the friend sold. As the latter was on his way back, he was espied by the young man, who asked him what had become of the horse, and finding no sign of it, was greatly perturbed in mind. Whereupon his friend bade him take comfort, forasmuch as he had the money for which he had sold the horse safe in his purse, which galled him somewhat by hanging down behind him." After Cateruzza with her subtle wit had thus revealed the meaning of her enigma, the Signora turned her glance towards the Trevisan, and in modest wise made a sign to him that he should forthwith let follow a story in due order. And he, without any wilful demur, began to speak in the following terms.

Next: Night the Thirteenth: Eleventh Fable

Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.

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