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 Eighth:
Sixth Fable:
A History of Two Physicians

A history of two physicians, of whom the one had great reputation and great riches, but little learning, while the other, though very poor, was indeed a man of parts.

IN these days, gracious ladies, higher honours are bestowed upon mere favourites, upon noble birth, and upon wealth, than upon science, which, although it may be concealed under the external seeming of mean and humble condition, nevertheless shines by its own virtue, and spreads light around like the rays of the sun. And this truth will be made manifest to you if you will, of your courtesy, incline your ears to this brief tale of mine.

There lived once upon a time in the city of Antenorea a certain physician, who was held in high honour and was at the same time a very rich man, but he was little versed in the art of medicine. Now one day it happened that this man was called to attend a gentleman, one of the chief men of the city, together with another physician residing in the place, who in learning and in the practice of his art was excellently skilled, but none of the rewards of fortune were his. One day, when they went together to pay a visit to the sick man, the first-named physician, richly habited like a great noble, felt the pulse of the patient and declared that he was suffering from a very violent fever, the St. Anthony's fire; whereupon the poor doctor, without letting himself be seen by anyone, looked under the bed, and lying there he saw by chance some apple peelings, and from the presence of these he rightly judged that the sick man had surfeited himself with apples the night before. Then, after he had felt the gentleman's pulse, he said to him: 'Brother of mine, I perceive that last night you must have eaten of apples, forasmuch as you have now a grave fever upon you.' And as the sick man could not deny this speech, seeing that it was the truth, he confessed that he had done as the poor physician had said. After they had pre scribed fit remedies for the distemper, the two physicians took their departure.

It came to pass that as they were walking along together the physician who was a man of repute and high standing was greatly inflamed in his heart with envy, and besought insistently of his colleague, the man of low estate and fortune, that he would make known to him what were the symptoms through which he was able to determine that the sick man had been eating apples, promising at the same time to reward him by a generous payment for his own benefit. The poor physician, when he saw how great was the ignorance of the other, answered him in these words, scheming the while how he might bring him to shame: 'Whenever it shall next happen to you that you are summoned to work a cure upon any sick man, be sure that, as soon as ever you enter the room, you cast your eye under the bed, and whatever in .the way of eatables you may see there rest assured that the sick man will have been eating of these. This which I tell you is a noteworthy experiment of the great commentator.' And when he had received from the rich physician a sum of money for his information he went his way.

The next morning it chanced that the rich physician, who bore so high a reputation, was summoned to prescribe a remedy for a certain man who, although he was a peasant, was well to do, and had everything handsome about him. When he went into the bedchamber the first thing the physician saw lying under the bed was the skin of a donkey, and having asked of the sick man certain questions and felt his pulse, he found him suffering from a violent fever, wherefore he said to him: 'I see plainly, my good brother, that last night you indulged in a great debauch and ate freely of donkey's flesh, and on this account you have run very close to the term of your days.' The peasant, when he listened to these foolish and extravagant words, answered with a laugh: 'Sir, I beg that your excellency will pardon me when I tell you that I never tasted donkey's flesh in all my life, and for the last ten days I have set eyes on no ass but yourself.' And with these words he bade this grave and learned philosopher go about his business, and sent to find another physician who might be more skilled in his art. And thus it appears, as I remarked at the beginning of my tale, that men put a higher value upon riches than upon skill or learning. And if I have been more brief in my story than is seemly, I beg you will par don me, for I see that the hour is now late, and that you, by the nodding of your heads, have seemed to confirm every statement I have made.

As soon as Madonna Veronica had brought her short story to an end, the Signora, who, like the rest, was nearly asleep, gave the word to her to bring the night's entertainment to an end with some graceful and modest enigma, be cause the cock had already announced by his crowing the dawning of the day; whereupon Madonna Veronica, without demur, thus gave her enigma:

"Fresh and rosy from your birth,
Honour of heaven and crown of earth,
Strong you are for good or ill,
The round world with your fame you fill.
Should you plead the cause of right,
Then darkness flies before the light.
But if evil be your view,
Rack and ruin dire ensue
The massy globe of sea and land
Your hostile touch shall not withstand.

This enigma of mine signifies nothing else than the human tongue, which may be good and also bad. It is red in colour, and it is the honour of heaven, seeing that with it we praise and render thanks to God for all the benefits He grants to us. In like manner it is the crown and the glory of the world when man puts it to a good and beneficent use, but when he employs it in the contrary sense there is no state, however powerful it may be, which the evil tongue may not destroy and overwhelm. And of this truth I could bring forward examples out of number if the short space of time that yet remains to us, and your weary souls, did not prevent me." And having made a due salutation she sat down.

When this enigma was finished it was received by the company with no scant praise. Then the Signora commanded that the torches should be lighted, and that all should return to their homes, at the same time laying strict command upon them that, on the following evening, they should return, well prepared with a stock of fables, to the accustomed meeting-place, and this command they all promised with one voice to obey.

THE END OF THE EIGHTH NIGHT.

Next: Night the Ninth: Proem

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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