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THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
It has been lately discovered, that this fable is taken from a story in the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a novelist, who wrote in 1378. [The first novel of the fourth day.] The story has been published in English, and I have epitomized the translation. The translator is of opinion, that the choice of the caskets is borrowed from a tale of Boccace, though I believe that Shakspeare must have had some other novel in view.
There lived at Florence, a merchant whose name was Bindo. He was rich, and had three sons. Being near his end, he called for the two eldest, and left them heirs: to the youngest he left nothing. This youngest, whose name was Giannetto, went to his father, and said, What has my father done? The father replied, Dear Giannetto, there is none to whom I wish better than to you. Go to Venice to your godfather, whose name is Ansaldo; he has no child, and has wrote to me often to send you thither to him. He is the richest merchant amongst the Christians: if you behave well, you will be certainly a rich man. The son answered, I am ready to do whatever my dear father shall command: upon which he gave him his benediction, and in a few days died.
Giannetto went to Ansaldo, and presented the letter given by the father before his death. Ansaldo reading the letter, cried out,
My dearest godson is welcome to my arms.
He then asked news of his father. Giannetto replied, he is dead. I am much grieved, replied Ansaldo, to hear of the death of Bindo; but the joy I feel, in seeing you, mitigates my sorrow. He conducted him to his house, and gave orders to his servants, that Giannetto should be obeyed, and served with more attention than had been paid to himself. He then delivered him the keys of his ready money: and told him, Son, spend this money, keep a table, and make yourself known: remember, that the more you gain the good will of every body, the more you will be dear to me.
Giannetto new began to give entertainments. He was more obedient and courteous to Ansaldo, than if he had been an hundred times his father. Every body in Venice was fond of him. Ansaldo could think of nothing but him; so much was he pleased with his good manners and behaviour.
It happened, that two of his most intimate acquaintance designed to go with two ships to Alexandria, and told Giannetto, he would do well to take a voyage and see the world. I would go willingly, said he, if my father Ansaldo will give leave. His companions go to Ansaldo, and beg his permission for Giannetto to go in the spring with them to Alexandria; and desire him to provide him a ship. Ansaldo immediately procured a very fine ship, loaded it with merchandize, adorned it with streamers, and furnished it with arms; and, as soon as it was ready, he gave orders to the captain and sailors to do every thing that Giannetto commanded. It happened one morning early, that Giannetto saw a gulph, with a fine port, and asked the captain how the port was called? He replied That place belongs to a widow lady, who has ruined many gentlemen. In what manner? says Giannetto. He answered, This lady is a fine and beautiful woman, and has made a law, that whoever arrives here is obliged to go to bed with her, and if he can have the enjoyment of her, he must take her for his wife, and be lord of all the country; but if he cannot enjoy her, he loses every thing he has brought with him. Giannetto, after a little reflection, tells the captain to get into the port. He was obeyed; and in an instant they slide into the port so easily that the other ships perceived nothing.
The lady was soon informed of it, and sent for Giannetto, who
waited on her immediately. She, taking him by the hand, asked him who he was? whence he came ? and if he knew the custom of the country? He answered, That the knowledge of that custom was his only reason for coming. The lady paid him great honours, and sent for barons, counts, and knights in great numbers, who were her subjects, to keep Giannetto company. These nobles were highly delighted with the good breeding and manners of Giannetto; and all would have rejoiced to have him for their lord.
The night being come, the lady said, it seems to be time to go to bed. Giannetto told the lady, he was entirely devoted to her service and immediately two damsels enter with wine and sweetmeats. The lady entreats him to taste the wine; he takes the sweetmeats, and drinks some of the wine, which was prepared with ingredients to cause sleep. He then goes into the bed, where he instantly falls asleep, and never wakes till late in the morning, but the lady rose with the sun, and gave orders to unload the vessel, which she found full of rich merchandize. After nine o'clock the women servants go to the bed-side, order Giannetto to rise and be gone, for he had lost the ship. The lady gave him a horse and money, and he leaves the place very melancholy, and goes to Venice. When he arrives, he dares not return home for shame : but at night goes to the house of a friend, who is surprised to see him, and inquires of him the cause of his return: He answers, his ship had struck on a rock in the night, and was broke in pieces.
This friend, going one day to make a visit to Ansaldo, found him very disconsolate. I fear, says Ansaldo, so much, that this son of mine is dead, that I have no rest. His friend told him, that he had been shipwreck'd, and had lost his all, but that he himself was safe. Ansaldo instantly gets up and runs to find him. My dear son, said he, you need not fear my displeasure; it is a common accident; trouble yourself no further. He takes him home, all the way telling him to be chearful and easy.
The news was soon known all over Venice, and every one was concerned for Giannetto. Some time after, his companions arriving from Alexandria very rich, demanded what was become of their friend, and having heard the story, ran to see him, and rejoiced with him for his safety; telling him that next spring, he might gain as much as he had lost the last. But Giannetto had no
other thoughts than of his return to the lady; and was resolved to marry her, or die. Ansaldo told him frequently not to be cast down. Giannetto said, he should never be happy, till he was at liberty to make another voyage. Ansaldo provided another ship of more value than the first. He again entered the port of Belmonte, and the lady looking on the port from her bed-chamber, and seeing the ship, asked her maid, if she knew the streamers; the maid said, it was the ship of the young man who arrived the last year. You are in the right, answered the lady; he must surely have a great regard for me, for never any one came a second time: the maid said, she had never seen a more agreeable man. He went to the castle, and presented himself to the lady; who, as soon as she saw him embraced him, and the day was passed in joy and revels. Bed-time being come, the lady entreated him to go to rest: when they were seated in the chamber, the two damsels enter with wine and sweetmeats; and having eat and drank of them, they go to bed, and immediately Giannetto falls asleep; the lady undressed, and lay down by his side; but he waked not the whole night. In the morning, the lady rises, and gives orders to strip the ship. He has a horse and money given him, and away he goes, and never stops till he gets to Venice; and at night goes to the same friend, who with astonishment asked him what was the matter? I am undone, says Giannetto. His friend answered, You are the cause of the ruin of Ansaldo, and your shame ought to be greater than the loss you have suffered. Giannetto lived privately many days. At last he took the resolution of seeing Ansaldo, who rose from his chair, and running to embrace him, told him he was welcome : Giannetto with tears returned his embraces. Ansaldo heard his tale: Do not grieve, my dear son, says he, we have still enough: the sea enriches some men, others it ruins.
Poor Giannetto's head was day and night full of the thoughts of his bad success. When Ansaldo enquired what was the matter, he confessed, he could never be contented till he should be in a condition to regain all that he had lost. When Ansaldo found him resolved, he began to sell every thing he had, to furnish this other fine ship with merchandize: but, as he wanted still ten thousand ducats, he applied himself to a Jew at Mestri, and borrowed them on condition, that if they were not paid on the feast of St. John in the
next month of June, that the Jew might take a pound of flesh from any part of his body he pleased. Ansaldo agreed, and the Jew had an obligation drawn, and witnessed, with all the form and ceremony necessary; and then counted him the ten thousand ducats of gold, with which Ansaldo bought what was still wanting for the vessel. This last ship was finer and better freighted than the other two; and his companions made ready for their voyage, with a design that whatever they gained should be for their friend. When it was time to depart, Ansaldo told Giannetto, that since he well knew of the obligation to the Jew, he entreated, that if any misfortune happened, he would return to Venice, that he might see him before he died; and then he could leave the world with satisfaction: Giannetto promised to do every thing that he conceived might give him pleasure. Ansaldo gave him his blessing, they took their leave, and the ships set out.
Giannetto had nothing in his head but to steal into Belmonte; and he prevailed with one of the sailors in the night to sail the vessel into the port. It was told the lady that Giannetto was arrived in port. She saw from the window the vessel, and immediately sent for him.
Giannetto goes to the castle, the day is spent in joy and feasting; and to honour him, a tournament is ordered, and many barons and knights tilted that day. Giannetto did wonders, so well did he understand the lance, and was so graceful a figure on horseback: he pleased so much, that all were desirous to have him for their lord.
The lady, when it was the usual time, catching him by the hand, begged him to take his rest. When he passed the door of the chamber, one of the damsels in a whisper said to him, Make a pretence to drink the liquor, but touch not one drop. The lady said, I know you must be thirsty, I must have you drink before you go to bed: immediately two damsels entered the room, and presented the wine. Who can refuse wine from such beautiful hands? cries Giannetto: at which the lady smiled. Giannetto takes the cup, and making as if he drank, pours the wine into his bosom. The lady thinking he had drank, says aside to herself with great joy, You must go, young man, and bring another ship, for this is condemned. Giannetto went to bed, and began to snore