Heinrich Zschokke.

The Bravo of Venice; a romance online

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Transcribed from the 1886 Cassell & Company edition by David Price, email
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MATTHEW GREGORY LEWIS, who professed to have translated this romance out
of the German, very much, I believe, as Horace Walpole professed to have
taken _The Castle of Otranto_ from an old Italian manuscript, was born in
1775 of a wealthy family. His father had an estate in India and a post
in a Government office. His mother was daughter to Sir Thomas Sewell,
Master of the Rolls in the reign of George III. She was a young mother;
her son Matthew was devoted to her from the first. As a child he called
her “Fanny,” and as a man held firmly by her when she was deserted by her
husband. From Westminster School, M. G. Lewis passed to Christ Church,
Oxford. Already he was busy over tales and plays, and wrote at college a
farce, never acted, a comedy, written at the age of sixteen, _The East
Indian_, afterwards played for Mrs. Jordan’s benefit and repeated with
great success, and also a novel, never published, called _The Effusions
of Sensibility_, which was a burlesque upon the sentimental school. He
wrote also what he called “a romance in the style of _The Castle of
Otranto_,” which appeared afterwards as the play of _The Castle Spectre_.

With his mind thus interested in literature of the romantic form, young
Lewis, aged seventeen, after a summer in Paris, went to Germany, settled
for a time at Weimar, and, as he told his mother, knocked his brains
against German as hard as ever he could. “I have been introduced,” he
wrote, in July, 1792, “to M. de Goethe, the celebrated author of
_Werter_, so you must not be surprised if I should shoot myself one of
these fine mornings.” In the spring of 1793 the youth returned to
England, very full of German romantic tale and song, and with more paper
covered with wild fancies of his own. After the next Christmas he
returned to Oxford. There was a visit to Lord Douglas at Bothwell
Castle; there was not much academic work done at Oxford. His father’s
desire was to train him for the diplomatic service, and in the summer of
1794 he went to the Hague as attaché to the British Embassy. He had
begun to write his novel of _The Monk_, had flagged, but was spurred on
at the Hague by a reading of Mrs. Radcliffe’s _Mysteries of Udolpho_, a
book after his own heart, and he wrote to his mother at this time, “You
see I am horribly bit by the rage of writing.”

_The Monk_ was written in ten weeks, and published in the summer of 1795,
before its author’s age was twenty. It was praised, attacked, said by
one review to have neither originality, morals, nor probability to
recommend it, yet to have excited and to be continuing to excite the
curiosity of the public: a result set down to the “irresistible energy of
genius.” Certainly, Lewis did not trouble himself to keep probability in
view; he amused himself with wild play of a fancy that delighted in the
wonderful. The controversy over _The Monk_ caused the young author to be
known as Monk Lewis, and the word Monk has to this day taken the place of
the words Matthew Gregory so generally, that many catalogue-makers must
innocently suppose him to have been so named at the font. The author of
_The Monk_ came back from the Hague to be received as a young lion in
London society. When he came of age he entered Parliament for Hindon, in
Wiltshire, but seldom went to the House, never spoke in it, and retired
after a few sessions. His delight was in the use of the pen; his father,
although disappointed by his failure as a statesman, allowed him a
thousand a year, and he took a cottage at Barnes, that he might there
escape from the world to his ink-bottle. He was a frequent visitor at
Inverary Castle, and was fascinated by his host’s daughter, Lady
Charlotte Campbell. Still he wrote on. The musical drama of _The Castle
Spectre_ was produced in the year after _The Monk_, and it ran sixty
nights. He translated next Schiller’s _Kabale und Liebe_ as _The
Minister_, but it was not acted till it appeared, with little success,
some years afterwards at Covent Garden as _The Harper’s Daughter_. He
translated from Kotzebue, under the name of _Rolla_, the drama superseded
by Sheridan’s version of the same work as _Pizarro_. Then came the
acting, in 1799, of his comedy written in boyhood, _The East Indian_.
Then came, in the same year, his first opera, _Adelmorn the Outlaw_; then
a tragedy, _Alfonso_, _King of Castile_. Of the origin of this tragedy
Lewis gave a characteristic account. “Hearing one day,” he said, “my
introduction of negroes into a feudal baron’s castle” (in _The Castle
Spectre_) “exclaimed against with as much vehemence as if a dramatic
anachronism had been an offence undeserving of benefit of clergy, I said
in a moment of petulance, that to prove of how little consequence I
esteemed such errors, I would make a play upon the Gunpowder Plot, and
make Guy Faux in love with the Emperor Charlemagne’s daughter. By some
chance or other, this idea fastened itself upon me, and by dint of
turning it in my mind, I at length formed the plot of _Alfonso_.”

To that time in Lewis’s life belongs this book, _The Bravo of Venice_;
which was published in 1804, when the writer’s age was twenty-nine. It
was written at Inverary Castle, dedicated to the Earl of Moira, and
received as one of the most perfect little romances of its kind, “highly
characteristic of the exquisite contrivance, bold colouring, and profound
mystery of the German school.” In 1805 Lewis recast it into a melodrama,
which he called _Rugantino_.


Book the First.


IT was evening. Multitudes of light clouds, partially illumined by the
moonbeams, overspread the horizon, and through them floated the full moon
in tranquil majesty, while her splendour was reflected by every wave of
the Adriatic Sea. All was hushed around; gently was the water rippled by
the night wind; gently did the night wind sigh through the Colonnades of

It was midnight; and still sat a stranger, solitary and sad, on the
border of the great canal. Now with a glance he measured the battlements
and proud towers of the city; and now he fixed his melancholy eyes upon
the waters with a vacant stare. At length he spoke—

“Wretch that I am, whither shall I go? Here sit I in Venice, and what
would it avail to wander further? What will become of me? All now
slumber, save myself! the Doge rests on his couch of down; the beggar’s
head presses his straw pillow; but for _me_ there is no bed except the
cold, damp earth! There is no gondolier so wretched but he knows where
to find work by day and shelter by night—while _I_—while _I_—Oh! dreadful
is the destiny of which I am made the sport!”

He began to examine for the twentieth time the pockets of his tattered

“No! not one paolo, by heavens!—and I hunger almost to death.”

He unsheathed his sword; he waved it in the moonshine, and sighed, as he
marked the glittering of the steel.

“No, no, my old true companion, thou and I must never part. Mine thou
shalt remain, though I starve for it. Oh, was not that a golden time
when Valeria gave thee to me, and when she threw the belt over my
shoulder, I kissed thee and Valeria? She has deserted us for another
world, but thou and I will never part in this.”

He wiped away a drop which hung upon his eyelid.

“Pshaw! ’twas not a tear; the night wind is sharp and bitter, and makes
the eyes water; but as for _tears_—Absurd! my weeping days are over.”

And as he spoke, the unfortunate (for such by his discourse and situation
he appeared to be) dashed his forehead against the earth, and his lips
were already unclosed to curse the hour which gave him being, when he
seemed suddenly to recollect himself. He rested his head on his elbow,
and sang mournfully the burthen of a song which had often delighted his
childhood in the castle of his ancestors.

“Right,” he said to himself; “were I to sink under the weight of my
destiny, I should be myself no longer.”

At that moment he heard a rustling at no great distance. He looked
around, and in an adjacent street, which the moon faintly enlightened, he
perceived a tall figure, wrapped in a cloak, pacing slowly backwards and

“’Tis the hand of God which hath guided him hither—yes—I’ll—I’ll
_beg_—better to play the beggar in Venice than the villain in Naples; for
the beggar’s heart may beat nobly, though covered with rags.”

He then sprang from the ground, and hastened towards the adjoining
street. Just as he entered it at one end, he perceived another person
advancing through the other, of whose approach the first was no sooner
aware than he hastily retired into the shadow of a piazza, anxious to
conceal himself.

“What can this mean?” thought our mendicant. “Is yon eavesdropper one of
death’s unlicensed ministers? Has he received the retaining fee of some
impatient heir, who pants to possess the wealth of the unlucky knave who
comes strolling along yonder, so careless and unconscious? Be not so
confident, honest friend! I’m at your elbow.”

He retired further into the shade, and silently and slowly drew near the
lurker, who stirred not from his place. The stranger had already passed
them by, when the concealed villain sprang suddenly upon him, raised his
right hand in which a poniard was gleaming, and before he could give the
blow, was felled to the earth by the arm of the mendicant.

The stranger turned hastily towards them; the bravo started up and fled;
the beggar smiled.

“How now?” cried the stranger; “what does all this mean?”

“Oh, ’tis a mere jest, signor, which has only preserved your life.”

“What? my life? How so?”

“The honest gentleman who has just taken to his heels stole behind you
with true cat-like caution, and had already raised his dagger, when I saw
him. You owe your life to me, and the service is richly worth one little
piece of money! Give me some alms, signor, for on my soul I am hungry,
thirsty, cold.”

“Hence, scurvy companion! I know you and your tricks too well. This is
all a concerted scheme between you, a design upon my purse, an attempt to
procure both money and thanks, and under the lame pretence of having
saved me from an assassin. Go, fellow, go! practise these dainty devices
on the Doge’s credulity if you will; but with Buonarotti you stand no
chance, believe me.”

The wretched starving beggar stood like one petrified, and gazed on the
taunting stranger.

“No, as I have a soul to save, signor, ’tis no lie I tell you!—’tis the
plain truth; have compassion, or I die this night of hunger.”

“Begone this instant, I say, or by Heaven—”

The unfeeling man here drew out a concealed pistol, and pointed it at his

“Merciful Heaven! and is it thus that services are acknowledged in

“The watch is at no great distance, I need only raise my voice and—”

“Hell and confusion! do you take me for a robber, then?”

“Make no noise, I tell you. Be quiet—you had better.”

“Hark you, signor. Buonarotti is your name, I think? I will write it
down as belonging to the second scoundrel with whom I have met in

He paused for a moment, then continuing in a dreadful voice, “And when,”
said he, “thou, Buonarotti, shalt hereafter hear the name of

Abellino turned away, and left the hard-hearted Venetian.


AND now rushed the unfortunate wildly through the streets of Venice. He
railed at fortune; he laughed and cursed by turns; yet sometimes he
suddenly stood still, seemed as pondering on some great and wondrous
enterprise, and then again rushed onwards, as if hastening to its

Propped against a column of the Signoria, he counted over the whole sum
of his misfortunes. His wandering eyeballs appeared to seek comfort, but
they found it not.

“Fate,” he at length exclaimed in a paroxysm of despair, “Fate has
condemned me to be either the wildest of adventurers, or one at the
relation of whose crimes the world must shudder. To astonish is my
destiny. Rosalvo can know no medium; Rosalvo can never act like common
men. Is it not the hand of fate which has led me hither? Who could ever
have dreamt that the son of the richest lord in Naples should have
depended for a beggar’s alms on Venetian charity? I—I, who feel myself
possessed of strength of body and energy of soul fit for executing the
most daring deeds, behold me creeping in rags through the streets of this
inhospitable city, and torturing my wits in vain to discover some means
by which I may rescue life from the jaws of famine! Those men whom my
munificence nourished, who at my table bathed their worthless souls in
the choicest wines of Cyprus, and glutted themselves with every delicacy
which the globe’s four quarters could supply, these very men now deny to
my necessity even a miserable crust of mouldy bread. Oh, that is
dreadful, cruel—cruel of men—cruel of Heaven!”

He paused, folded his arms, and sighed.

“Yet will I bear it—I will submit to my destiny. I will traverse every
path and go through every degree of human wretchedness; and whate’er may
be my fate, I will still be myself; and whate’er may be my fate, I will
still act greatly! Away, then, with the Count Rosalvo, whom all Naples
idolised; now—now, I am the beggar Abellino. A beggar—that name stands
last in the scale of worldly rank, but first in the list of the
famishing, the outcast, and the unworthy.”

Something rustled near him. Abellino gazed around. He was aware of the
bravo, whom he struck to the ground that night, and whom two companions
of a similar stamp had now joined. As they advanced, they cast inquiring
glances around them. They were in search of some one.

“It is of me that they are in search,” said Abellino; then advanced a few
steps, and whistled.

The ruffians stood still; they whispered together, and seemed to be

Abellino whistled a second time.

“’Tis he,” he could hear one of them say distinctly, and in a moment
after they advanced slowly towards him.

Abellino kept his place, but unsheathed his sword. The three unknown
(they were masked) stopped a few paces from him.

“How now, fellow!” quoth one of them; “what is the matter? Why stand you
on your guard?”

_Abellino_.—It is as well that you should be made to keep your distance,
for I know you; you are certain honest gentlemen, who live by taking away
the lives of others.

_The First Ruffian_.—Was not your whistling addressed to us?

_Abellino_.—It was.

_A Ruffian_.—And what would you with us?

_Abellino_.—Hear me! I am a miserable wretch, and starving; give me an
alms out of your booty!

_A Ruffian_.—An alms? Ha! ha! ha! By my soul that is whimsical!—Alms
from us, indeed!—Oh, by all means! No doubt, you shall have alms in

_Abellino_.—Or else give me fifty sequins, and I’ll bind myself to your
service till I shall have worked out my debt.

_A Ruffian_.—Aye? and pray, then, who may you be?

_Abellino_.—A starving wretch, the Republic holds none more miserable.
Such am I at present; but hereafter—I have powers, knaves. This arm
could pierce a heart, though guarded by three breastplates; this eye,
though surrounded by Egyptian darkness, could still see to stab sure.

_A Ruffian_.—Why, then, did you strike me down, even now?

_Abellino_.—In the hope of being paid for it; but though I saved his
life, the scoundrel gave me not a single ducat.

_A Ruffian_.—No? So much the better. But hark ye, comrade, are you

_Abellino_.—Despair never lies.

_A Ruffian_.—Slave, shouldst thou be a traitor—

_Abellino_.—My heart would be within reach of your hands, and your
daggers would be as sharp as now.

The three dangerous companions again whispered among themselves for a few
moments, after which they returned their daggers into the sheath.

“Come on, then,” said one of them, “follow us to our home. It were
unwise to talk over certain matters in the open streets.”

“I follow you,” was Abellino’s answer, “but tremble should any one of you
dare to treat me as a foe. Comrade, forgive me that I gave your ribs
somewhat too hard a squeeze just now; I will be your sworn brother in

“We are on honour,” cried the banditti with one voice; “no harm shall
happen to you. He who does you an injury shall be to us as a foe. A
fellow of your humour suits us well; follow us, and fear not.”

And on they went, Abellino marching between two of them. Frequent were
the looks of suspicion which he cast around him; but no ill design was
perceptible in the banditti. They guided him onwards, till they reached
a canal, loosened a gondola, placed themselves in it, and rowed till they
had gained the most remote quarter of Venice. They landed, threaded
several by-streets, and at length knocked at the door of a house of
inviting appearance. It was opened by a young woman, who conducted them
into a plain but comfortable chamber. Many were the looks of surprise
and inquiry which she cast on the bewildered, half-pleased, half-anxious
Abellino, who knew not whither he had been conveyed, and still thought it
unsafe to confide entirely in the promises of the banditti.


SCARCELY were the bravoes seated, when Cinthia (for that was the young
woman’s name) was again summoned to the door; and the company was now
increased by two new-comers, who examined their unknown guest from head
to foot.

“Now, then,” cried one of these, who had conducted Abellino to this
respectable society, “let us see what you are like.”

As he said this he raised a burning lamp from the table, and the light of
its flame was thrown full upon Abellino’s countenance.

“Lord, forgive me my sins!” screamed Cinthia; “out upon him! what an ugly
hound it is!”

She turned hastily round, and hid her face with her hands. Dreadful was
the look with which Abellino repaid her compliment.

“Knave,” said one of the banditti, “Nature’s own hand has marked you out
for an assassin—come, prithee be frank, and tell us how thou hast
contrived so long to escape the gibbet? In what gaol didst thou leave
thy last fetters? Or from what galley hast thou taken thy departure,
without staying to say adieu?”

Abellino, folding his arms—“If I be such as you describe,” said he, with
an air of authority, and in a voice which made his hearers tremble, “’tis
for me all the better. Whate’er may be my future mode of life, Heaven
can have no right to find fault with it, since it was for that it formed
and fitted me.”

The five bravoes stepped aside, and consulted together. The subject of
their conference is easy to be divined. In the meanwhile Abellino
remained quiet and indifferent to what was passing.

After a few minutes they again approached him. One, whose countenance
was the most ferocious, and whose form exhibited the greatest marks of
muscular strength, advanced a few paces before the rest, and addressed
Abellino as follows:—

“Hear me, comrade. In Venice there exist but five banditti; you see them
before you; wilt thou be the sixth? Doubt not thou wilt find sufficient
employment. My name is Matteo, and I am the father of the band: that
sturdy fellow with the red locks is called Baluzzo; he, whose eyes
twinkle like a cat’s, is Thomaso, an arch-knave, I promise you; ’twas
Pietrino whose bones you handled so roughly to-night; and yon
thick-lipped Colossus, who stands next to Cinthia, is named Stuzza. Now,
then, you know us all—and since you are a penniless devil, we are willing
to incorporate you in our society; but we must first be assured that you
mean honestly by us.”

Abellino smiled, or rather grinned, and murmured hoarsely—“I am

“Answer, fellow! Dost thou mean honestly by us?”

“That must the event decide.”

“Mark me, knave; the first suspicion of treachery costs you your life.
Take shelter in the Doge’s palace, and girdle yourself round with all the
power of the Republic—though clasped in the Doge’s arms, and protected by
a hundred cannons, still would we murder you! Fly to the high altar;
press the crucifix to your bosom, and even at mid-day, still would we
murder you. Think on this well, fellow, and forget not we are banditti!”

“You need not tell me that. But give me some food, and then I’ll prate
with you as long as you please. At present I am starving.
Four-and-twenty hours have elapsed since I last tasted nourishment.”

Cinthia now covered a small table with her best provisions, and filled
several silver goblets with delicious wine.

“If one could but look at him without disgust,” murmured Cinthia; “if he
had but the appearance of something human! Satan must certainly have
appeared to his mother, and thence came her child into the world with
such a frightful countenance. Ugh! it’s an absolute mask, only that I
never saw a mask so hideous.”

Abellino heeded her not; he placed himself at the table, and ate and
drank as if he would have satisfied himself for the next six months. The
banditti eyed him with looks of satisfaction, and congratulated each
other on such a valuable acquisition.

If the reader is curious to know what this same Abellino was like, he
must picture to himself a young, stout fellow, whose limbs perhaps might
have been thought not ill-formed, had not the most horrible countenance
that ever was invented by a caricaturist, or that Milton could have
adapted to the ugliest of his fallen angels, entirely marred the
advantages of his person. Black and shining, but long and straight, his
hair flew wildly about his brown neck and yellow face. His mouth so
wide, that his gums and discoloured teeth were visible, and a kind of
convulsive twist, which scarcely ever was at rest, had formed its
expression into an internal grin. His eye, for he had but one, was sunk
deep into his head, and little more than the white of it was visible, and
even that little was overshadowed by the protrusion of his dark and bushy
eyebrow. In the union of his features were found collected in one
hideous assemblage all the most coarse and uncouth traits which had ever
been exhibited singly in wooden cuts, and the observer was left in doubt
whether this repulsive physiognomy expressed stupidity of intellect, or
maliciousness of heart, or whether it implied them both together.

“Now, then, I am satisfied,” roared Abellino, and dashed the still full
goblet upon the ground. “Speak! what would you know of me? I am ready
to give you answers.”

“The first thing,” replied Matteo, “the first thing necessary is to give
us a proof of your strength, for this is of material importance in our
undertakings. Are you good at wrestling?”

“I know not; try me.”

Cinthia removed the table.

“Now, then, Abellino, which of us will you undertake? Whom among us dost
thou think that thou canst knock down as easily as yon poor dabbler in
the art, Pietrino?”

The banditti burst into a loud fit of laughter.

“Now, then,” cried Abellino, fiercely; “now, then, for the trial. Why
come you not on?”

“Fellow,” replied Matteo, “take my advice; try first what you can do with
me alone, and learn what sort of men you have to manage. Think you, we
are marrowless boys, or delicate signors?”

Abellino answered him by a scornful laugh. Matteo became furious. His
companions shouted aloud, and clapped their hands.

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