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Book No. 94

To first story in the book press: 4055

To last story in the book press: 4141

The Facetious Nights

Straparola Giovanni Francesco

Straparola Giovanni Francesco, The Facetious Nights, translated by W. G. Waters, 1901

The Facetious Nights

by Giovanni Francesco Straparola

translated by W. G. Waters (1901)





Note: This edition of Straparola's tales did not use titles for individual fables. Each title accompanying a fable's number has been assigned by Heidi Anne Heiner and did not appear in the original source material.

The text came from:

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.

The original Facetious Nights was published in Italy in 1550-1553.


Greeting, To all gracious and lovesome ladies.

Dear ladies, there are many envious and spiteful men who are always and everywhere attempting to fix their fearsome fangs in my flesh and to scatter my dismembered body on every side, contending that the diverting stories which I have written and collected in this volume are none of mine, but goods which I have feloniously taken from this man and that. Of a truth I confess they are not mine, and if I said otherwise I should lie, but nevertheless I have faithfully set them down according to the manner in which they were told by the ladies, nobles, learned men and gentlemen who gathered together for recreation. And if now I should let them see the light, it will not be for the sake of gratifying my own pride or to bring me honour or renown, but simply to please all of you, and especially those who may always count on my service, and to whom I owe continual devotion. Take then, dear ladies, with smiling faces the humble gift which your servant proffers, and heed not these snarling whelps, who in their currish fury would hang upon me with their ravenous teeth, but read my book now and then, taking such pleasure in it as time and place will allow, without, however, neglecting Him from whom comes all our weal. May you be happy, ever keeping in mind those who have your names graven on their hearts, amongst whom I do not count myself the least.


This dedication in the edition of 1555 is dated from Venice, September 1st, 1553.]

A Foreward

by W. G. Waters

IT is somewhat strange that Giovanni Francesco Straparola, the author of "Piacevoli Notti," who in his own day was one of the most popular of the Italian novelists, should have been so long neglected. In the first twenty years of its existence the "Notti" was sixteen times reprinted. Of the excellent French translation by Louveau and la Rivey, the first part of which appeared in 1560, nine editions were issued before the end of the century. The distinguishing feature of Straparola is the great variety of subjects treated in the fables. He is well known to every folklorist, seeing that he is regarded as the principal distributor of Oriental legends to the later fabulists and story-tellers of Northern and Western Europe.

One of the chief claims of the" Notti" on the consideration of later times lies in the fact that Straparola was the first writer who gathered together into one collection the stray fairy tales, for the most part brought from the East, which had been made known in the Italian cities - and in Venice more especially- by the mouth of the itinerant story teller. These tales, incorporated in the "Notti" with others of a widely different character, were without doubt the principal source of the numerous French "Contes des Fees" published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Perrault, Madame D'Aulnoy, and Gueulette took from them many of their best fables; and these, having spread in various forms, helped to tinge with a hue of Orientalism the popular tales of all countries - tales which had hitherto been largely the evolution of local myths and traditions.

Straparola turns towards the cheerful side of things, and the lives of the men and women he deals with seem to be less oppressed with the tedium vitae than are the creatures of the Florentine and Sienese and Neapolitan novel-writers.

In the pictures he draws, Straparola illustrates life with a touch of pathos, as in the prologue to the second Night, when he tells of the laughter of the blithe company, ringing so loud and so hearty that it seemed to him as if the sound of their merriment yet lingered in his ears. There was, therefore, good reason why Straparola's imaginary exiles from the turbulent court of Milan should have sought at Murano, under the sheltering wings of St. Mark's Lion, that ease and gaiety which they would have looked for in vain at home; there were also reasons, equally valid, why he should make the genius of the place inspire, with its jocund spirit, the stories, with which the gentle company gathered around the Princess Lucretia wiled away the nights of carnival.

In the fables of adventure, and in every other case where such treatment is possible, Straparola deals largely with the supernatural. All the western versions, except Straparola's, of the story best known to us as "Gilletta of Narbonne" and as "All's Well that Ends Well," are worked out without calling in auxiliaries of any unearthly character.

The interest of the reader is kept alive, by accounts of the trials and dangers-a trifle ludicrous now and again-which heroes and heroines are called to undergo, the taste of the age preferring apparently this stimulant to the intense dramatic power exhibited in the story of Malgherita, and demanding that the ending should be a happy one, for the pair of lovers nearly always marry in the end, and live long and blissful years.

Terminal Essay

by W. G. Waters

The name of Giovanni Francesco Straparola has been handed down to later ages as the author of the "Piacevoli Notti" (Facetious Nights), and on no other account, for the reason that he is one of those fortunate men of letters concerning whom next to nothing is known. He writes himself down as "da Caravaggio;" so it may be reasonably assumed that he first saw the light in that town, but no investigator has yet succeeded in indicating the year of his birth, or in bringing to light any circumstances of his life, other than certain facts connected with the authorship and publication of his works. The ground has been closely searched more than once, and in every case the seekers have come back compelled to admit that they have no story to tell or new fact to add to the scanty stock which has been already garnered. Straparola as a personage still remains the shadow he was when La Monnoie summed up the little that was known about him in the preface to the edition, published in 1725, of the French translation of the "Notti."

He was doubtless baptized by the Christian names given above, but it is scarcely probable that Straparola can ever have been the surname or style of any family in Caravaggio or elsewhere. More likely than not it is an instance of the Italian predilection for nicknaming, - a coined word designed to exhibit and perhaps to hold up to ridicule his undue loquacity; just as the familiar names of Masaccio, and Ghirlandaio, and Guercino, were tacked on to their illustrious wearers on account of some personal peculiarity or former calling. Caravaggio is a small town lying near to Crema, and about half way between Cremona and Bergamo. It enjoyed in the Middle Ages some fame as a place of pilgrimage on account of a spring of healing water which gushed forth on a certain occasion when the Virgin Mary manifested herself. Polidoro Caidara and Michael Angelo Caravaggio were amongst its famous men, and of these it keeps the memory, but Straparola is entirely forgotten. Fontanini, in the "Biblioteca dell' eloquenza Italiana," does not name him at all. Quadrio, Storia e ragione d'ogni poesia," mentions him as the author of the "Piacevoli Notti," and remarks on his borrowings from Morlini. Tiraboschi, in the index to the" Storia della letteratura Italiana," does not even give his name, and Crescimbeni [1] concerns himself only with the enigmas which are to be found at the end of the fables. It is indeed a strange freak of chance that such complete oblivion should have fallen over the individuality of a writer so widely read and appreciated.

The first edition of the first part of the "Piacevoli Notti" was published at Venice in 1550, and of the second part in 1553. It would appear that the author must have been alive in 1557, because, at the end of the second part of the edition of that year, [2] there is a paragraph setting forth the fact that the work was printed and issued "ad instanza dell' autore." Some time before 1553 he seems to have been stung sharply on account of some charges of plagiarism which were brought against him by certain detractors, for in all the un mutilated editions of the "Notti" published after that date there is to be found a short introduction to the second part, in which he somewhat acrimoniously throws back these accusations, and calls upon all "gratiose et amorevole donne" to accept his explanations thereof, admitting at the same time that these stories are not his own, but a faithful transcript of what he heard told by the ten damsels in their pleasant assembly. La Monnoie, in his preface to the French translation (ed. 1726), maintains that this juggling with words can only b held to be an excuse on his part for having borrowed the subject-matter for his fables and worked it into shape after his own taste. "Il declare qu'il ne se les est jamais attribuées, et se contente du merite de les avoir fidelement rappor tees d'après les dix damoiselles. Cela, comme tout bon entendeur le comprend, ne signifie autre chose sinon qu'il avoit tire d'ailleurs la matière de ces Fables, mais qu'il leur avoit donné la forme."

This contention of La Monnoie seems reasonable enough, but Grimm, in the notes to "Kinder und Hausmärchen," has fallen into the strange error of treating Straparola's apology as something grave and seriously meant, and in the same sentence improves on his mistake by asserting that Straparola took all the fairy tales from the mouths of the ten ladies. "Von jenem Schmutz sind die Märchen [3] ziemlich frei, wie sie ohnehin den best Theil des ganzen Werkes ausmachen. Straparola hat sie, wie es in der Vorrede zum zweiten Bande (vor der sechsten Nacht) heisst, aus dem Munde zehnjunger Fräulein aufgenom men und ausdrücklich erklärt, dass sie nicht sein Eigenthum seien."

The most reasonable explanation of this mistake lies in the assumption that Grimm never saw the introduction to the second part at all. Indeed, the fact that he often uses French spelling of the proper names suggests that he may have worked from the French translation. Straparola makes no distinction between fairy tales and others. His words are, "che le piacevoli favole da me scritte, et in questo, et nell' altro volumetto rac coke non siano mie, ma da questo, et quello ladronescamente rubbate. Jo a dir il vero, il confesso, che non sono mie, e se altrimente dicessi, me ne mentirei, ma ben holle fedelmente scritte secondo ii modo che furono da dieci damigelle nel concistorio raccontate."

Besides the "Notti" only one other work of Straparola's is known to exist- a collection of sonnets and other poems published at Venice in 1508, and (ac cording to a citation of Zanetti in the "Novelliero Italiano," t. iii., p. xv.,Ven. 1754, Bindoni) in 1515 as well. [4] A comparison of these dates will serve to show that, as he had already brought out a volume in the first decade of the century, the "Piacevoli Notti" must have been the work of his maturity or even of his old age. With this fact the brief catalogue of the known circum stances of his life comes to an end.

Judging from the rapidity with which the successive editions of the "Notti" were brought forth from the press after the first issue - sixteen appeared in the twenty years between 1550 and 1570- we may with reason assume that it soon took hold of the public favour. [5] Its fame spread early into France, where in 1560 an edition of the first part, translated into French by Jean Louveau, appeared at Lyons, to be followed some thirteen years later by a translation of the second part by Pierre de la Rivey, who thus completed the book. He like wise revised and re-wrote certain portions of Louveau's translation, and in 1725 an edition was produced at Amsterdam, enriched by a preface by La Monnoie, and notes by Lainez. There are evidences that a German translation of the "Notti" was in existence at the beginning of the seventeenth century, for in the introduction to Fischart's "Gargantua" (1608) there is an allusion to the tales of Straparola, brought in by way of an apology for the appearance of the work, the writer maintaining that, if the ears of the ladies are not offended by Boccaccio, Straparola, and other writers of a similar character, there is no reason why they should be offended by Rabelais. The author of the introduction to a fresh edition of the same work (1775) remarks that he knows the tales of Straparola from a later edition published in 1699. Of this translation no copy is known to exist.

In the "Palace of Pleasure" Painter has given only one of the fables, the second Fable [6] of the second Night; and in Roscoe's "Italian Novelists" another one appears, the fourth Fable of the tenth Night. At the end of the last century the first Fable of the first Night was printed separately in London under the title, "Novella cioe copia d'un Caso notabile intervenuto a un gran gentiluomo Genovese." [7] A translation of twenty-four of the fables, prefaced by a lengthy and verbose disquisition on the author, reputed to be from the pen of Mazzuchell appeared at Vienna in 1791; [8] but Brackelmann, in his "Inaugural Dissertation" (Gottingen, 1867), has an examination of the introduction above named, which goes far to prove that Mazzuchelli had little or nothing to do with it. In 1817 Dr. F. W. V. Schmidt published at Berlin a translation into German of eighteen fables Se lected from the "Notti," to which he gave the title "Die Märchen des Straparola." To his work Dr. Schmidt affixed copious notes, compiled with the greatest care and learning, thus opening to his successors a rich and valuable storehouse both of suggestion and of accumulated facts. It is almost certain that he must have worked from one of the many mutilated or expurgated editions of the book) for in the complete work there are several stories unnoticed by him which he would assuredly have included in his volume had he been aware of their existence.

Four of Straparola's fables are slightly altered versions of four of the stories in the "Thousand and One Nights," [9] which, as it will scarcely be necessary to remark, were not translated into any European language till Galland brought out his work at the beginning of the eighteenth century. One of these, the third Fable of the fourth Night, is substantially the same as the story of the Princess Parizade and her envious sisters, given in Galland's translation. To account for this close resemblance we may either assume that Galland may have looked at Straparola's fable, or that Straparola may have listened to it from the mouth of some wandering oriental or of some Venetian traveller recently come back from the East - the tale, as he heard it, having been faith fully taken from the same written page which Galland afterwards translated. An other one, the story of the Three Hunch backs - the third Fable of the fifth Night - has less likeness to the original, and has been imitated by Gueulette in his "Contes Tartares." The treatment of the story of the Princess Parizade by Straparola furnishes an illustration to prove that he was by no means deficient in literary skill and taste. He brings into due prominence the wicked midwife, who is particeps riminis with the queen-mother and the sisters in the attempted murder of the children, and who has on this account full and valid motive for acting as she did, seeing that interest and self-preservation as well would have prompted her to compass their destruction. On the other hand, in the Arabian tale it is hard to understand why the female fakir should have been led to persuade the princess to send her brothers off on their quest. Again, in the fable of Prince Guerrino [10] Straparola has displayed great ingenuity in weaving together a good story out of some half-dozen of the widely-known fairy motives, any one of which might well have been fashioned into a story by itself.

After reading the "Facetious Nights" through one can hardly fail to be struck by the amazing variety of the themes therein handled. Besides the fairy tales- many of them classic - to which allusion has already been made, there is the world-famous story of" Puss in Boots," [11] an original product of Straparola's brain. There are others which may rather be classed as romances of chivalry, in the elaboration of which a generous amount of magic and mystery is employed. The residue is made up of stories of intrigue and buffo tales of popular Italian life, some of which are fulsome in subject and broad in treatment, but with regard to the majority of these one is disposed to be lenient, inasmuch as the fun, though somewhat indelicate, is real fun. When the duped husband, a figure almost as inevitable in the Italian Novella as in the modern French novel, is brought forward, he is not always exhibited as the contemptible creature who seems to have sat for the part in the stories of the better known writers. Indeed, it sometimes happens that he turns the tables on his betrayers; and, although Straparola is laudably free from the vice of preaching, he now and then indulges in a brief homily by way of pointing out the fact that violators of the Decalogue generally come to a bad end, and that his own sympathies are all on the side of good manners. It is true that one misses in the "Notti" those delicious invocations of Boccaccio, commonly to be found at the end of the more piquant stories, in which he piously calls on Heaven to grant to himself and to all Christian men bonnes fortunes equal to those which he has just chronicled.

In the Proem to the work it is set forth how Ottaviano Maria Sforza, the bishop-elect of Lodi - the same probably who died in 1540, after a life full of vicissitude - together with his daughter Lucretia, is compelled by the stress of political events to quit Milan. The Signora Lucretia is described as the wife of Giovanni Francesco Gonzaga, cousin of Federico, Marquis of Mantua, but as no mention of this prince is made it may be assumed that she was already a widow. Seeing that her husband died in 1523, an approximate date may be fixed for the "Piacevoli Notti," but historical accuracy in cases of this sort is not to be expected or desired. After divers wanderings the bishop-elect and his daughter find a pleasant refuge on the island of Murano, where they gather around them a company of congenial spirits, consisting of a group of lovely and accomplished damsels, and divers cavaliers of note. Chief amongst the latter is the learned Pietro Bembo, the renowned humanist and the most distinguished man of letters Venice ever produced. With him came his friend Gregorio Casali, who is described as "Casal Bolognese, a bishop, and like wise ambassador of the King of Eng land." Both Gregorio Casali and his brother Battista were entrusted by Henry VIII with the conduct of affairs of state pending between him and the Pope, and the former certainly visited England more than once. The king showed him many signs of favour during his stay, and when in 1527 Casali found himself shut up in Rome by the beleaguering army of the Constable of Bourbon, he was allowed free exit on the ground of his ambassadorial rank. Bernardo Cappello, another friend of Bembo, is also of the company, and a certain Antonio Molino, a poet of repute, who subsequently tells a fable in the dialect of Bergamo - a feat which leads to a similar display of local knowledge on the part of Signor Benedetto Trivigiano, who discourses in Trevisan. It may be re marked, however, that by far the greater number of the fables are told by the ladies.

But the joyous company assembled in the palace at Murano find divers other forms of recreation beside story telling. They dance and they sing ballads, which are for the most part in praise of the gracious Signora Lucretia, but the chief byplay of the entertainment consists in the setting and solving of riddles. As soon as a fable is brought to an end the narrator is always called upon by the Signora to complete the task by propounding an enigma. This is then duly set forth in puzzling verses, put together as a rule in terms obscure enough to baffle solution, often entirely senseless, and now and again of a character fulsome enough to call down upon the propounder the Signora's rebuke on account of the seeming impropriety of the subject. A certain number of these enigmas are broad examples of the double entendre. The first reading of them makes one agree with the Signora, but when the graceful and modest damsel, who may have been the author, proceeds to give the true explanation of her riddle she never fails to demonstrate clearly to the gentle company that her enigma, from beginning to end, is entirely free from all that is unseemly. In "French and English" Mr. Philip Gilbert Hamerton tells a story illustrating the late survival of this sort of witticism in France. In the early days of Louis Philippe, on one occasion when the court was at Eu, the mayor of the town and certain other local notables were bidden to dejeuner at the chateau, and after banquet the mayor, in accordance with an old French fashion, asked leave to sing a song of his making. This composition had two meanings, one lying on the surface and perfectly innocent, and the other, slightly veiled, which, though not immoral, was prodigiously indecent. When the true nature of the song was realized, there was for a second or two silence and confusion amongst the company; but at last, by good luck, someone laughed. The dangerous point was safely rounded, and the mayor brought his song to an end amidst loud applause.

When he published his translation into French of the second part of the "Notti," Pierre de la Rivey made alterations in almost all the enigmas therein contained, and re-wrote many of those which had already been translated by Louveau, but in neither case did his work tend to improve them.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, there will be found in the "Notti" a smaller proportion of stories objectionable to modern canons of taste than in any of the better known collections of Italian novelle. The judgments which have been dealt out to Straparola on the score of ribaldry by Landau ("Beitrage," p. 130), by the writer of the article in the "Biographie Universelle," and by Grimm in his notes to "Kinder und Hausmärchen," seem to be unduly severe. In certain places he is no doubt somewhat broad, but the number of these fables is not large. If one were to take the trouble to compare the rendering given by Basile in the "Pentamerone," of stories told also by Straparola, with the rendering of the same in the "Notti," the award for propriety of language would assuredly not always be given to the Neapolitan, who, it should be remembered, was writing a book for young children. In few of the collections of a similar character is there to be found so genuine a vein of comedy, and for the sake of this one may perhaps be permitted to beg indulgence for occasional lapses - lapses which are assuredly fewer in number and probably not more lax in character than those of novelists of greater fame. Straparola turns naturally towards the cheerful side of things, the lives of the men and women he deals with seem to be less oppressed with the tedium vitae than are the creatures of the Florentine and Sienese and Neapolitan novel-writers, [12] and the reason of this is not far to seek. Life in Venice, when once the political constitution was firmly and finally fixed on an oligarchic basis, was more stable, more secure, more luxurious than in any of the other ruling cities of Italy. Social and political convulsion of the sort which vexed the neighbouring states was almost unknown, and, though the forces of the Republic might occasionally suffer de feat and disaster in distant seas and in the Levant, life went on peacefully and pleasantly within the shelter of the Lagunes. The religious conscience of the people was easy-going, orthodox, and laudably inclined to listen to the voice of authority; neither disposed to nourish within the hidden canker of heresy, nor to let itself be worked up into ecstatic fever by any sudden conviction of ungodliness such as led to the lighting of the Bonfire of Vanities in Florence. In a society thus constituted it was in evitable that life should be easier, more gladsome, and more secure than in Milan, with the constant struggle of Pope against Emperor, and later on under the turbulent despotism of the Viscontis and Sforzas; or that in Florence, with its constant civil broils and licentious public life, which not even the craft and power of the leaders of the Medici could discipline into public order; or than in Naples, dominated by the Aragonese kings and harried by the greedy mercenaries in the royal employ; or than in Rome itself, vexed continually by intrigue, political and religious, and by the tumults generated by the violence and ambition of the ruling families.

A reflection of the gracious and placid life the Venetians led will be apparent to all who may observe and compare the art of Venice with the art of Milan, or Florence, or Naples. What a contrast is there between that charming idyll which Titian has made of the marriage of St. Catherine, [13] a group full of joy, and beauty, and sunlight, and set in the midst of one of those delightful sub alpine landscapes which he painted with such rare skill and insight, and the many other renderings of the same subject by Lombard or Tuscan masters, who, almost invariably, put on the canvas some foreshadowing of the coming tragedy in the shape of the boding horror of the toothed wheel! The Madonnas of Carpaccio and Bellin are stately ladies, well nourished, and having about them that unmistakable air of distinction which grows up with the daily use and neighbourhood of splendid and luxurious modes of life. There is no doubt a look of gravity and holiness upon their handsome faces, but there is no sign, either in the pose or in the glance of them, that they are conscious of any embarrassment, and it would take a very keen eye to discern a trace of quasi-divinity, or of any trouble aroused by the caress of the mysterious child, or of the burden of that "intolerable honour" which has been thrust upon them un sought-a mood which latter-day preachers have detected in renderings of the same theme conceived and executed in the more emotional atmosphere of the Val d'Arno. Take these Venetian Madonnas out of their pictured environment, and put on them a gala dress and sumptuous jewels, and one will find a bevy of comely dames who might well have kept company with the Signora Lucretia of the " Notti" in the fair gar den at Murano, and listened to some sprightly story from Messer Pietro Bembo or from Messer Antonio Molino; or they might have gone out with the youths and damsels of whom Browning sings,

"Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May?

Balls and masks began at midnight, burning ever to mid-day,

When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?"

In the pictures he draws Straparola ii lustrates a life like this, with now and then a touch of pathos, perhaps undesigned, as in the prologue to the second Night, where lie tells of the laughter of the blithe company, ringing so loud and so hearty that it seemed to him as if the sound of their merriment yet lingered in his ears. [14] There was, therefore, good reason why Straparola's imaginary exiles from the turbulent court of Milan should have sought at Murano, under the sheltering wings of St. Mark's lion, that ease and gaiety which they would have looked for in vain at home; there were also reasons equally valid why he should make the genius of the place inspire with its jocund spirit the stories with which the gentle company gathered around the Signora Lucretia wiled away the nights of carnival. [15] In the whole of the seventy-four fables there are hardly half-a-dozen which can be classed as tragic in tone, but of these one, the story of Malgherita Spolatina, [16] is the finest of the whole collection. It is rarely one meets with anything told with such force and sincerity; yet, in placing before his readers this vivid picture of volcanic passion and studied ruthless revenge, Straparola uses the simplest treatment and succeeds a merveille. The fact that this fable and certain others of more than average merit belong to the category of stories to which no source or origin in other writings has been assigned, raises a regret that Straparola did not trust more to his own inventive powers and draw less freely upon Ser Giovanni and Morlini. Of these creations of his own the story of Flamminio Veraldo [17] is admirably told and strikingly original and dramatic in subject; so is that of Maestro Lattantio, [18] and, for a display of savage cynicism and withering rage, it would be hard to find anything more powerfully portrayed than the death of Andrigetto. [19]

In the fables of adventure, and in every other case where such treatment is possible, Straparola deals largely with the supernatural. All the western versions, except Straparola's, of the story best known to us as "Giletta of Narbonne" and as "All's Well that Ends Well," are worked out without calling in auxiliaries of an unearthly character. [20] Boccaccio and Shakespeare bring together the husband and the forsaken wife by methods which, if somewhat strained, are quite natural; but Straparola at once calls for the witch and the magic horse, and whisks Isabella off to Flanders forthwith. [21] The interest of the reader is kept alive by accounts of the trials and dangers - a trifle bizarre now and again-which heroes and heroines are called to undergo, the taste of the age preferring apparently this stimulant to the intense dramatic power exhibited in the story of Malgherita, and demanding that the ending should be a happy one, for the pair of lovers nearly always marry in the end, and live long and blissful years. [22] In the tales of country life and character the fun is boisterous and even broad, but it is always real fun, and the laugh rings true. Straparola is often as broad as Bandello, but, unlike Bandello, he never smirches his pages merely for the sake of setting forth some story of simple brutality, or of leading up to a climax which is at the same time pain fully shocking and purposeless. Il Lasca in "Le Cene" makes as free use of the beffe and the burle as Straparola, but the last-named showed in the" Notti" that lie v incomparably the better hand in dealing with his material. Il Lasca as a rule sets out his subject on the lines of the broadest farce, but he cannot keep to genuine farce, his natural bent of mind leading him always to elaborate his theme in some unseemly and offensive fashion. Very often he is obscene and savage at the same time, and the abominable practical jokes he makes his characters play the one on the other must surely have outraged even the coarse feeding taste of the age in which he wrote. He delights in working up long stories of lust, and of infidelity, and of vengeance worked on account of these, in a spirit of heart less cruelty which, more often than not, is horrible without being in the least impressive, for the reason that, fine stylist as he was, he lacked the touch of the artist. Masuccio, though his savage indignation against the vices of the priests and monks occasionally became mere brutality, sounded now and then the note of real tragedy, and, inferior as he was to Il Lasca in style, was by far the better story-teller of the two. Both of these would be commonly set down as abler writers than Straparola, yet, by some means or other, the latter could put a touch upon his work which was beyond the power of the others-something which enables one to read the "Notti" without being conscious of that unpleasant after taste which one almost always feels on laying down either "Le Cene" or "Il Novellino."

Straparola's Italian is much more like the Italian of the present day than the English of Sidney or the German of Hans Sachs is like modern English or German, but this is not remarkable, considering how much earlier prose writing as an art came to perfection in Italy than in the rest of Europe. The impression gained by reading his prose is that he cared vastly more for the subject than for treatment. He laid hold of whatever themes promised to suit his purpose best as a story-teller, careless as to whether other craftsmen had used them before or not, and these he set forth in the simplest manner possible, taking little heed of his style or even of his grammar. He hardly ever indulges in a metaphor. One never feels that he has gone searching about fastidiously for some particular turn of phrase or neatly-fitting adjective; on the other hand, one is often obliged to pause in the middle of some long sentence and search for his meaning in the strange mixture of phrases strung together. Per haps this spontaneity, this absence of studied design, may have helped to win for him the wide popularity he enjoyed. His aim was to lead his readers into some enchanted garden of fairyland; to thrill them with the woes and perils of his heroes and heroines ; to shake their sides with laughter over the misadventures of some too amorous monk or lovesick cavalier, rather than to send them into ecstasy over the measured elegance of his phrases. In many of the later editions of the "Notti," the meaning has been further obscured, and the style rendered more rugged than ever, owing to the frequent and clumsy excisions made by the censors of morals. The early exclusion of the fourth Fable of the ninth Night shows that the eye of authority was soon attracted towards the popular novelist of the age. The motive for this activity was nominally the care of public morals, and one of the few extant references to Straparola is with regard to the expurgation of his works. In "Cremona Illustrata," by Franciscus Arisius (Cremona, 1741), we read concerning Caravaggio: "In hoc enim oppido inclyt stirpis Sfortiadum antiquo feudo ortum habuit Jo. Franciscus Straparola cujus liber saepe editus circumfertur italice hoc programmate: 'Le tredici piacevolissime notti overo favole ed enimmi.' Liber vetitus a sacra indicis congregatione et jure quidem merito cum obscenitates sordidas contineat moribus plerumque obnoxias et pluribi vulgatas. Optime quippe animadvertit Possevinus S. J. de cultura ingeniorum cap. 52, quod expediens esset homines potius nasci mutos et rationis expertes, quam in propriam et aliorum perniciam divin providenti dona convertere, imo ante eum ejusdem sententi fuisse M. F. Quintilianum licet gentilem, ipse Possevinus confirmat."

On reading even the most severely castrated edition of the "Notti," one may be at first a little surprised to find that some of the most fulsome stories have been left almost untouched, and it is not until one realizes the fact that expurgation has been held to mean the cutting out of every word concerning religion and its professors, that one fully understands the principle upon which "Possevinus S. J." and his colleagues worked. The presence of matter injurious to public morals had evidently less to do with the action of these reformers than certain anecdotes describing the presence of priests and nuns in certain places where, by every rule of good manners, they ought not to have been found. In plain words, the book was prohibited and castrated on account of the ugly picture of clerical morals which was exhibited in its pages. [23] A glance at any of the editions issued con licenza de' superiori" will show that the revisers went to their work with set purpose, caring nought as to the mangled mass of letterpress they might leave be hind them. In some fables bits are cut out so clumsily that the point of the story is entirely lost; in others the feelings of orthodoxy are spared by changing the hero of amorous intrigue from a Prete to a Giovene. In one a pope is reduced to a mere initial (of course standing for a layman), and the famous story of Belphegor is left out altogether. It was surely little short of impertinent to ask for a condemnation of the cc Notti" on the ground of offence to public decency from a generation which read such books as "Les facétieuses journées" of Chapuys and "Les contes aux heures perdues;" which witnessed the issue of Morlini's novels and of Cinthio degli Fabritii's book," Dell' origine delli vol gari proverbii," printed "cum privilegio summi pontificis et sacra ma jestatis;" a generation for which Poggio's obscene fables were favourite reading, and which remembered that Pietro Bembo had been a cardinal and Giovanni di Medici a pope.

It is impossible to indicate precisely the sources of the fables seriatim, seeing that in many cases there was available for Straparola a choice of origins. An approximate reckoning would give fifteen fables to the novelists who preceded him, twenty-two to Jerome Morlini, four to medieval and seven to oriental legends, thus leaving twenty-eight to be classed as original. From beginning to end he certainly made free use of all the storehouses of materials which were available, selecting therefrom whatever subjects pleased him, and working them up to the best of his skill. It was unreasonable to censure him on this score, seeing that in what he did he merely followed the fashion of the age. He borrowed from Ser Giovanni, and Ser Giovanni borrowed also from the "Directorium" and the "Gesta Romanorum." Folk-lorists have discovered for us the fact that all the stories the world ever listened to may, by proper classification, be shown to be derived from some half-dozen sources. As the sorting and searching goes on, new facts constantly come to light, the drift of which tends to prove that the charge of plagiarism is now almost meaningless. It is hard to say what new and strange fruits may not be gathered from the wide field now covered by the folk-lorist. Formerly he hunted only in the East; now we find him amongs the Lapps and the Zulus in Labrador, and in the South Pacific as well. A still more ex tended search will very likely find a fresh source for those of the fables in the" Notti" which have heretofore been classed as the original work of Straparola, and will discover for us a new and genuine author of" Puss in Boots."

Hide thou whatever here is found of fault;

And laud the Faultless and His might exalt!


[1] “Istoria della volgar poesia” (Ven. 1731).

[2] In 1556 the two parts were first issued bearing the same date, but with a different title-page.

[3] To add to the confusion, the English translator of Grimm gives "stories" as the equivalent for "Marchen."

[4] M. Jannet in his preface to the ""Fac Nuits de Straparole" (Paris, 857), says he has not been able to find a copy of this work in any library. There is one in the British Museum, under the title, "Opera nova da Zoan Francesco Streparola da Cara vazo novamëte stampata Sonetti CXV., Strabotti XXXV., Epistole VII., Capitoli XII." (Ven. 1508, per Georgio de Ruschonl).

[5] The "Decameron" did not reach its sixteenth edition till fifty years after its first publication.

[6] In his introduction to the recent edition of Painter, Mr. Joseph Jacobs cites the presence of this fable as an argument that Painter must occasionally have translated directly from the Italian. There is no reason, however, why he should not have used Louveau's work.

[7] It was published with seven other stories in a volume, "Novelle otto rarissirne stampate a spese de Signor Giacomo conte de Clambrassil, J. Stanley, et Wogan Browne. Londra, Giacomo Edwards, 1790."

[8] Brackelmann says that it was a selection from the first six nights, while Grimm maintains that it contains the whole of these, and Grimm's English translator says that it "only contains six stories." In fact, it is made up chiefly of the contents of the first six nights, but in addition to these it contains fables from Nights VII., VIII., and XIII. It would appear that neither Dunlop nor Schmidt knew of the existence of this work.

[9] Night IV., Fable I.; Night IV., Fable III Night V., Fable III., and Night XII., Fable III.

[10] Night V., Fable I.

[11] Night XI Fable I

[12] Cf. Foreword, Vol. I., XI.

[13] In the National Gallery, London.

[14] Di che le donne, et paramente gli gil huomini fecero si gran risa che ancora ridno.

[15] Foreword, Vol. I., XI., XII.

[16] Night VII., Fable II.

[17] Night IV., Fable V.

[18] Night VIII., Fable V.

[19] Night X., Fable IV.

[20] Foreword, Vol. I., XII.

[21] Night VII., Fable I.

[22] Foreword, Vol. I., XII.

[23] "Die XIII. náchtlichen Erz sammt den Logogryphen weiche Argellati, 'ingeniosissime conflata quamvis parum pudice,' nennt wurden zu Rom durch das Decret vom i6ten Dec. 5605, einigen darin enthal tenen unzuchtigen Stellen wegen verbothen" (preface to Vienna translation, 1791). The book must have been condemned by the index some time before this, as the issue of 1604, Ven., "con licenza de' Superiori" is rigorously castrated.

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