Francis Petrarch
Familiar Letters

From James Harvey Robinson, ed. and trans.
Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters
(New York: G.P. Putnam, 1898)

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned by Jason Boley and Jacob Miller in August, 1995.
Proofread by Monica Banas, Stephanie Hammett, and Heather Haralson in April, 1996.
Proofread and pages inserted by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.

The Visit to the Goldsmith at Bergamo
To Neri Morando


[Page 169] Enough has been said of my own trifling experiences, and the story of the wound inflicted upon me by Cicero has reached an unconscionable length. But I will add another incident to prove that Cicero is not the only one who enjoyed the affection of those who had never seen him. Although an old story to you, it may nevertheless arouse new interest when you hear it again.

From here I have always in sight a certain Alpine town, the Italian Pergamum, to distinguish it from an Asiatic city of the same name, which, as you [Page 170] know, was once the capital of Attalus, who bequeathed his possessions to Rome. In our Pergamum there lives a certain man, who, while he has but a slight knowledge of literature, possesses a good mind,--had he earlier applied himself to study. By profession he is a goldsmith, remarkably successful in the practice of his art; he enjoys moreover the best gift that nature can bestow, for he is an admirer and lover of all that is good and beautiful. The gold in which he works, and other forms of worldly wealth, appeal to him only in so far as they are means to higher ends. This old man, having heard of me by reputation, was immediately seized with a most ardent desire to win my friendship.

It would be a long story were I to recount all the devices he used in order to gratify this modest wish. By constant, courteous attentions and compliments to me and to those about me, he at last succeeded in his ardent efforts to bridge the chasm between us. While I had never seen him before, I knew his name and object, indeed his longing was plainly depicted in his face and expression. No one surely would have been so rude and surly as to refuse to see him under the circumstances. How could I have done otherwise? I was completely vanquished by the man's attractive countenance and his sincere and persistent attentions, and received him with hearty and unreserved good-will; indeed, it would have been inhuman to have rejected such proofs of genuine affection. His exultation and pride were at once obvious in every accent and gesture. He seemed to have reached the very summit [Page 171] of his fondest hopes and to be metamorphosed by his joy.

He began long ago to spend no small part of his patrimony in my honour. In every corner of his house he placed the arms, name, and portrait of his new friend, whose face was even more deeply graven in his heart. Another portion of his wealth he devoted to procuring copies of anything of mine which he could get hold of, no matter what might be its character. I could not be very hard-hearted when it came to letting so enthusiastic and novel a collector have what I certainly would have denied a man of more consequence. He moreover gradually weaned himself from his previous life, habits, and interests, and so completely altered his whole former self as to be a source of utter astonishment to his friends.

In one matter, however, he refused to be guided by me, and, in spite of my opposition and frequent admonitions that he should not, at so late a day, exchange his customary vocations for a life of study, he finally left his shop and began to frequent the schools and cultivate teachers of the liberal arts. He took the greatest delight in his new life and was extremely sanguine as to the results. I cannot say how he actually got along, but he certainly merited the highest degree of success in his fond undertaking. No one could have shown greater ardour in a good cause, or more contempt for the less worthy objects of desire. He was at least equipped with a good mind and great enthusiasm, and could find plenty of teachers in his city. His age seemed to [Page 172] be the only obstacle, although I well know that Plato took up the study of philosophy late in life, and Cato made no little progress in Greek literature when he was already an old man. Perhaps it is but right that this man should for this very reason find a niche in some of my works. So I will add that he is called Henry, his surname being Capra, a most energetic and lively animal, fond of leaves and always climbing upwards. For these reasons Varro believes that the name is, by a transposition of letters, derived from this animal's tendency to nibble twigs, and certainly carpa and capra are not very unlike. If anyone ever deserved the name it is our friend, who, if he had got at the woods in the morning would have returned with a full paunch and plenty of milk. All this you yourself have heard often enough, but I tell it for the benefit of others. The rest of my story you do not yet know.

This fellow, whose character and devotion to me I have so carefully portrayed, had long been urging me to honour him and his lares with a visit, and by a sojourn of at least a single day to render him, as he put it, happy and renowned to all future generations. I continued, however, not without difficulty, to postpone his desire for several years. But at last, influenced by the nearness of the place, and overcome [Page 173] not only by prayers but by objurations and tears, I consented to accompany him, in spite of the objections of my more haughty friends, to whom he seemed unworthy of the honour.

I reached Bergamo on the evening of October thirteenth. My host had accompanied me the whole of the way, and, in constant fear lest I might perhaps change my mind, he and those with him exerted all their powers of invention to discover topics of conversation which might make the way less wearisome. Thus we traversed a short and easy road without fatigue. A few gentlemen had accompanied me with the special purpose of finding out what this enthusiastic person might have in store.

Well, when we approached the town I was cordially received by friends who had come out to meet me. They, with the Podesta, the Captain of the People, and other local magistrates, vied with each other in urging me to put up at the palazzo or at some gentleman's house. All this time my poor goldsmith was trembling for fear I might give in to such insistence. But I did what I believed to be proper under the circumstances, and alighted with my companions at the house of my more humble friend. There I was received with great pomp, and sat down to a kingly banquet rather than to the good cheer of an artisan or philosopher. My couch of purple was spread in a room glittering with gold, where, as my host swore by all that was holy, no one else had ever slept or ever would sleep. The books I found were not technical, but such as would be [Page 174] dear to a student and a lover of good literature. Here I passed the night. Certainly no one ever enjoyed the hospitality of so delighted a host. In fact his delight was so great that his friends began to fear for his sanity, or lest, as has happened to not a few, he should actually die of joy.

The next day I departed, loaded with honours and surrounded by a great crowd. The Podesta and many others whose society I did not care for accompanied me much farther on my way than was agreeable. It was late before I had finally shaken off my fervid host and was again at my country place.

You have now heard, good Neri, what I had in mind to tell you, and this nocturnal epistle must come to an end,--for my anxiety to get my letter done has kept me writing straight on until nearly dawn. I am weary now and the morning quiet invites me to enjoy the best part of the night for slumber. Farewell, remember your friend.

Written with a rural pen, just before light, on October 15.

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