Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/First Discourse (12.)
EITHER is it allowed a woman to kill herself for dread of being violated, or after being so; else would she be doing a mortal sin. Wherefore is it better for her to suffer herself to be ravished, if that she can in no wise by fight or crying out avoid the same, than to kill herself. For the violation of the body is not sin, except with the consent of the will. Hence the reply which Saint Lucy did make to the tyrant who threatened to have her taken to the brothel. "If you have me forced," she said, "why! my chastity will receive a double crown."
For this cause Lucretia hath been found to blame by some. True it is Saint Sabina and Saint Sophronia, along with other Christian virgins, who did take their own lives rather than fall into the hands of barbarians, are excused by our doctors and fathers of the Church, which say they did so by special prompting of the Holy Spirit. By this same prompting, after the taking of Cyprus, a certain Cypriote damsel, lately made Christian, seeing herself being carried off as a slave with many another lady of her sort, to be the prey of Turks, did secretly fire the powder magazine in the galley, so that in an instant all was burned up and consumed along with her, saying, "So please God, our bodies will never be polluted and ravished by these foul Turks and Saracens!" Or 'tis possible, God knows, it had already been polluted and she was fain to do penance therefor,—unless indeed the fact was her master had refrained from touching her, to the end he might make more money by selling her a maid, seeing men are desirous in those lands, as indeed in all other lands, to taste a fresh and untainted morsel.
However, to return to the noble custodians of these poor women,—the eunuchs. These, as I have said, are not utterly unable to do adultery with them and make their husbands cuckold, excepting always the engendering of children.
I knew two women in France which did deliberately set their love on two gentlemen who were castrate, to the end they might not become with child; yet did they find pleasure therein, and free from all fear of scandal. But there have been husbands in Turkey and Barbary so jealous, that having discovered this deceit, they have determined to castrate their wretched slaves altogether and entirely, and cut the whole concern clean off. Now, by what those say who have had experience of Turkey, not two out of the dozen escape of those on whom they do practise this cruelty, and do not die therefrom. Them that do survive, they do cherish and make much of, as true, certain and chaste guardians of their wives' chastity and sure guarantors of their honour.
We Christians on our part do not practise suchlike abominable and too utterly horrible cruelties; but instead of these castrated slaves, we give our women old men of sixty for guardians. This for instance is done in Spain, even at the Court of the Queens of that country, where I have seen them as custodians of the maids of honour and Court ladies. Yet, God knows, there be old men more dangerous for ruining maids and wives than any young ones, and an hundred times more hot, ingenious and persevering to gain over and corrupt the same.
I do not believe such men, for all they be hoary headed and white bearded, are more sure guardians at all than younger men, nor old women neither. Thus an aged Spanish duenna once, taking out her maids and passing by a great hall and seeing men's members painted up on the wall in lifelike portrayal, only exaggerated and out of all proportion, did remark, Mira que tan bravos no los pintan estos hombres, como quien no los conociese (Look how brave men those be, and how ill they have painted them, like one who has never seen the things). Then all her maids did turn toward her, and noted what she said, except one, of my acquaintance, who acting the ingénue, did ask one of her companions what birds those were; for some of them were depicted with wings. And the other made answer, they were birds of Barbary, more beautiful in reality than even as depicted. God only knows if she had ever seen any such; but she had to make what pretence she could.
Many husbands are sore deceived, and often, in their duennas. For they think, provided only their womenkind are in the charge of some old woman, whom both parties do call mother as a title of respect, that they must needs be well safeguarded in front. Yet none are more easy than such guardians to be bribed and won over; for being as they are, avaricious of their very nature, they are ready to take gold from any quarter to sell their prisoners.
Others again cannot be forever on the watch over their young charges, who themselves are always wide awake and on the alert, especially when they be in love; for truly most of their time the old dames will be asleep in the chimney-corner, while before their very face the husbands will be a-cuckolding, without their heeding or knowing aught about it.
I knew once a lady which did it before her duenna's very eyes, in such cunning wise she never perceived anything wrong. Another did the like in her own husband's presence and all but under his eyes, the while he was playing at primero.
Then other aged dames will be feeble of foot, and cannot follow up their ladies at a round pace, so that by the time they do reach the extremity of a walk or a wood or a room, the young ones have whipped their little present into their pocket, without the old duenna having observed what was a-doing, or seen aught whatever, being slow of foot and dim of sight. Again there be yet other dames of the sort which, themselves having plied the trade of old, do think it pity to see the young fast, and are so good-natured to them, they will of their own accord open the way for their charges, yea! and provoke them to follow in the same, and help them all they can. Thus Aretino saith how the greatest of pleasures for a woman that hath travelled that road, and her highest satisfaction, is ever to make another do likewise.
And this is why, when a man doth crave the aid of a good minister for his amours, he will alway apply and address himself to an old procuress rather than to a young woman. So I do remember a certain very gallant gentleman, which did mislike sorely, and did forbid it expressly, that his wife should ever frequent the company of old women, as being much too dangerous society,—but with younger women she might go as much as she pleased. And for this course he would adduce many excellent reasons, the which I will leave to men of apter discourse than I to detail in full.
And this is why a certain Lord of the great world I know of did entrust his wife, of whom he was very jealous, to a lady, a cousin of his own, but unmarried, to be her surveillante. This office she did zealously perform, albeit for her own part she did copy the half only of the character of the gardener's dog, seeing he doth never eat the cabbage out of his master's garden, nor yet will suffer other to do so; but this lady would eat readily enough, but would never suffer her cousin. Yet was the other forever filching some dainty bit, without her noting it, cunning as she was,—or mayhap she did but make pretence not to see.
I could right easily adduce an host of devices which poor jealous cuckolds do employ to confine, constrain, curb and keep in their wives, that they kick not over the traces. But it is of mighty little use for them either to try these ancient means they have heard tell of, or to invent new ones; they but lose their labour. For once women have gotten this naughty worm of love in their heads, they will ever be sending their poor husbands to keep house with Guillot the Pensive. And hereof do I hope to discourse further in a chapter I have already half writ, on the ruses and stratagems of women in this matter, the which I do compare with the ambuscades and stratagems of soldiers in war. But the finest device of all, the most sure and eke the kindest preventive a jealous husband can apply to his wife, is ever to let her go her way in full liberty, as I have heard a very gallant married man declare, for that it is the woman's nature the more she is forbid a thing, so much the more to long for the same; and this is especially true in love, where the appetite doth grow far hotter by forbidding than by letting things take their course.
Then is there another sort of cuckolds, as to whom doth arise the following question, to wit,—whether if a man hath had full enjoyment of a woman during the lifetime of her cuckold husband, and this latter die, and the lover do afterward marry the widow in second nuptials, he ought to wear the name and title of cuckold,—a case I have heard debated in regard to several, and these great men.
Some there be do say he cannot be cuckold, because it is himself did have the doing of it, and no one else did make him so but only himself, and the horns were made by him and no other. Yet are there many armourors that do make swords whereby themselves are killed, or do kill each other.
Others again say he is really cuckold, but only in embryo. For this they do allege many reasons, but seeing the process is yet undecided, I leave it to be pleaded before the first audience that will listen to the case.
The same may be said concerning a very great lady, and a married one, which did break her marriage vow fourteen years agone with the lover who doth keep to her still, and since that day hath been ever awaiting and longing for her husband's death. But the devil is in it if he hath ever yet contrived to die to meet her wishes! So that she might well say, "Cursed be the husband and mate, which hath lived longer than I desired!" Sicknesses and calamities of body he hath had galore, but never fatal. In fact our King, the last Henri, having bestowed the inheritance in the fine and rich estate the said cuckold husband had of him on a very honourable and brave gentleman, would ofttimes say, "Two persons there be at my Court which are thinking it long till so and so die, one for his estate's sake and the other to wed her lover. But both one and the other have been sore deluded up to now."
See how wise and foreseeing God is, not to send folk what they wish, when it is evil. However, I have been told that for some while past this pair are in ill accord, and have now burned their promise of future marriage and broke the agreement,—to the huge despite of the lady and joy of the prospective husband, seeing he did in no wise desire to go on longer and wait forever for the death of the other. This last was alway making a mock of folk, continually giving alarms, as that he was just about to die; yet in the end he hath survived his would-be supplanter. An instance surely of God's punishment, for a marriage so made is a thing all but unheard of; and indeed 'tis a great sin, and an odious, to contract and agree upon a second marriage, the first being still existent in its entirety.
I had rather have one, also a great lady, albeit not so great as the other I have just spoke of, who being sought of a nobleman in marriage, did wed him, not for the love she bare him, but because she saw him sickly, thin and worn, and in constant ill-health, and as the doctors told her he would not outlive the year, even after having known this fair lady several times abed. Wherefore she did expect his death very soon, and did make all dispositions after his demise as to his goods and property, fine plenishing and great wealth, which he did bring her by marriage; for he was a nobleman of much riches and very well-to-do. But she was finely cheated; for he liveth still a sturdy wight, and in better fettle an hundred times than before he married her; since then the lady herself is dead. They say the aforesaid nobleman was used to feign to be sickly and ailing to the end that, knowing as he did the lady to be exceeding avaricious, she might wed him in the hope of getting so rich an inheritance. Yet did God above dispose it all quite contrariwise, and made the she-goat feed where she had been tied, in spite of herself.
Now what shall we say of such men as do wed with harlots and courtesans, that are very famous, as is commonly done in France, but still more in Spain and Italy, where men are persuaded they are winning God's mercy for good deeds, por librar un' anima Christiana del infierno,—"for delivering a Christian soul from hell," as they say, and setting it in the right way.
I have undoubtedly seen some men maintain this opinion and doctrine, that if they did marry them for this good and religious object, they ought in no wise to be ranked as cuckolds. For surely what is done for the honour of God should not be made a matter of shame. This, of course, provided that their wives, once started afresh in the right way, do not leave it again and return to the other. So have I seen some of these women in the two countries named which did sin no more after being married, but others that could never reform, and went back to trip and stumble in the old ditch.
The first time ever I was in Italy, I fell in love with a very beautiful courtesan of Rome, who was called Faustina. But seeing I had no great wealth, and she was of a very high price, from ten to twelve crowns a night, I was constrained to content me with words and looks only. After some time I paid a second visit to the same city, and being now better furnished with money, I went to visit her at her lodging by the introduction of another lady, and did find her married to a man of the law, though still established in her old quarters. She did welcome me affectionately, and recounted me the good fortune of her marriage, repudiating altogether the follies of her previous life, to the which she had said farewell forever. I did then show her an handful of good French crowns, for indeed I was dying of love for her worse than ever. She was tempted at the sight and did grant me that I longed for, saying how in concluding marriage, she had claimed and agreed with her husband for her entire liberty,—without scandal, however, or concealment, and only at the price of a large sum,—to the end the pair of them might live in affluence. She was therefore to be had only by wealthy men; and to them he would yield very willingly, but not to petty customers at all. Truly here was a husband cuckold out and out, in bud and blossom too.
I have heard speak of a lady of the great world who, in concluding marriage, did desire and stipulate that her husband should leave her at Court to follow the pursuit of love, reserving herself alway the use of her forest of dead-wood or common faggot at her own good pleasure. However, in return, she was to give him every month a thousand francs for his little indulgences of every day. In fact the one thought was to have a merry life of it.
Thus it is, such women as have been free, cannot easily refrain, but will e'en burst the strait bars of the doors imprisoning them, however strong these be and well guarded, wherever gold doth clink and glitter. Witness the beauteous daughter of King Acrisius (Danaë), who all confined and imprisoned in her great tower as she was, yet did feel the persuasive drops of Jupiter's fair rain of gold, and admit the same.
Ah! how hard it is, a gallant gentleman of my acquaintance used to say, to safeguard a woman which is fair, ambitious, greedy and covetous of being bravely attired, and richly dressed, gaily decked out and well appointed, so that she lay not cul en terre,—no matter how well armed, as they say, her fort be, and however brave and valiant a man her husband be, and albeit he doth carry a good sword to defend her withal.
I have known so many of these same brave and valiant folk which have all gone this road. And truly 'tis great pity to see these honourable and brave men come to this, and that, after so many gallant victories won by them, so many notable conquests over their enemies and noble combats decided by their valour, they should yet be forced to carry horns intermingled among the fair flowers and leaves of the crowns of triumph they wear,—horns which do altogether spoil the effect thereof. Yet do they think far more of their high ambitions and noble combats, their honourable emprises and valiant exploits, than of safeguarding their wives and throwing light on their dark places. And this is how, without more ado, they do come to the city of Cuckoldland and the conquest of the same. Yet is it a sore pity. For instance, I once knew a very brave and valiant gentleman, bearing a very high name and title, who was one day proudly telling over his valiant deeds and conquests, when a very honourable and noble gentleman, his comrade and friend, who was present, did say, "Yes! there he is telling us of all his wonderful conquests; but truly to master his own wife's affair is the greatest of all he hath ever won, or ever will!"
Many others have I known, who no matter what grace, majesty and proud carriage they might show, yet did every one display that look of the cuckold which doth spoil all the rest. For truly this look and defect cannot ever be hid or dissembled; no confidence of bearing and gesture whatsoever can hinder its being known and evidently noted. And for myself, never have I seen any one of these folk in all my life but did have their own distinctive marks, gestures, postures, looks and defects,—excepting only one I knew once, in whom the most keensighted could have found naught to observe or take hold of, without knowing his wife as well; such an easy grace, pleasant manners, and honourable, dignified deportment were his.
I would earnestly beg ladies which have husbands so perfect not to play them such tricks and put such affronts on them. But then they might in their turn retort upon me, "Nay! tell us where are to be found these perfect husbands, such as was the man whose example you have just quoted to us?"
Verily, ladies, you are right; for that all men cannot be Scipios and Cæsars. I hold, therefore, that herein ye must e'en follow your fancies. For indeed, speaking of the Cæsars, the most gallant of mankind have all gone this road, and the most virtuous and perfect, as I have said above and as we do read of that enlightened Emperor Trajan, whose perfections, however, could not hinder his wife Plotina from yielding herself up entirely to the good pleasure of Hadrian, which was Emperor afterward. From her did this last win great advantages, profits and aggrandisement, so much so that she was the chief cause of his advancement. Nor was he in any wise ungrateful, after he had come to greatness, for he did love her and ever honour her right well. And after her death he did make such mourning and felt such sadness that at the last he did altogether lose all wish to eat and drink for a while, and was forced to tarry in Narbonese Gaul, where he had heard the sad tidings, three or four months, during which time he writ to the Senate ordering them to stablish Plotina in the number of the Goddesses, and did command that at her funeral sacrifices, exceeding rich and sumptuous, should be offered. Meantime he did employ his leisure in building and raising up, to her honour and memory, a very beautiful temple near Nemausus, now called Nimes, adorned with most fair and rich marbles and porphyries, with other gawds.
See then how in matters of love and its satisfaction, naught at all can be laid down for certain. For truly Cupid the God thereof is blind, as doth clearly appear in sundry women, which having husbands as handsome and honourable and accomplished as can anywhere be seen, yet do fall in love with other men as ill-favoured and foul as mortals may be.
I have seen many cases that did force one to ask this question: Which is the more whorish dame, she that hath a right handsome and honourable husband, yet taketh an ill-favoured lover, one that is evil-tempered and quite unlike her husband; or she which hath an ill-favoured and ill-conditioned husband, and doth take a handsome, agreeable lover, and yet ceaseth not to love and fondly caress her husband, as if he were the prince of men for beauty,—as myself have seen many a woman do?
Of a surety the common voice doth declare that she which, having an handsome husband, yet doth leave the same to love an ill-favoured lover is a very great whore,—just as a person is surely a foul glutton which doth quit good food to eat of bad. So when a woman doth quit an handsome piece to take up with an ill-favoured, it hath all the semblance of her doing this out of sheer lecherousness, seeing there is naught more licentious and more fitted to satisfy licentiousness than an ugly man, with a savour more after the fashion of a stinking, filthy and lascivious goat than of a proper man. And in very deed handsome and honourable men are something more delicate and less apt to satiate an excessive and unbridled wantonness than is a coarse, bearded, lewd fellow, some big ramping countrified satyr.
Others maintain that the woman which doth love a handsome lover and an ill-favoured husband, and doth caress them both, is at the least as great a whore as the other, for that she is fain to lose naught whatever of her ordinary diet and sustenance.
Such women are like them that travel in foreign lands, yea! and in France to boot, which being arrived at night at the inn to supper, do never forget to claim of mine host the wheeler's measure. Yea! and the fellow must needs have it too, albeit he should be full of good liquor to the throat already.
So will these dames, when night comes, never be without their "wheeler's measure,"—as was the way with one I knew well, who yet had a husband that was a right good performer. Natheless are they fain to increase and redouble their pleasure by any means they may, liking to have the lover for the day, which doth show up his beauty and so make the lady more eager for the fray, and give her more delight and satisfaction by reason of the good daylight. But the worthy husband with his ill-favoured face is kept for nighttime; for truly, as they say all cats are grey at night, and provided the lady have satisfaction of her appetites, she recks naught whether her mate is ill or well favoured.
Indeed, as I learn from sundry, when one is in these ecstasies of amorous pleasure, neither man nor woman reck aught of any other thing or thought whatever, but only what they are at for the instant; albeit on the other hand I have it on good authority how many dames have persuaded their lovers that, when they were at it with their husbands, they would ever give their thoughts to their lovers, and not reck at all of their husbands, in order to get the greater pleasure therefrom. So likewise have I heard husbands declare that when with their wives, they would be alway thinking of their mistresses with the like object. But these be disagreeable subjects!
Natural philosophers have told me that none but the present object of passion can possibly dominate them at this crisis, and in no wise the absent; and give many reasons for their opinion. However I am not philosopher enough nor sufficiently learned to contradict them; and besides sundry of their reasons are filthy ones, and I would fain ever preserve decency. But for these predilections for all-favoured loves, I have seen many such in my day that have astonished me an hundred times over.
Returning once from a journey in a foreign land,—I will not give the name, for fear men should recognise whereof I speak,—and discoursing with a noble lady of the great world, I chanced to speak of another great lady and Princess, the which I had seen in those parts; whereupon she did ask me as to this latter's love affairs. So I told her the name of the personage whom she held favourite, one that was neither handsome nor of graceful presence, and of very low degree. Her reply was, "Verily she doth herself great wrong, and eke plays love a sorry trick, seeing she is so fair and honourable a lady, as all men hold."
And the said lady was surely right in the language she held, for that herself did act accordingly, and gainsaid not her opinions. For she had a worthy and honourable lover, whom she cherished right well. And when all is said, a fair lady will be doing no harm in loving, if only she will choose a worthy object of her love, nor wronging her husband neither,—if for no other reason, at least for the sake of their descendants. This, seeing there be husbands that are so ill-favoured, so stupid, senseless and silly, so graceless and cowardly, so poor spirited and good for naught, that their wives, having children of them and like them, might as well have none at all. And indeed myself have known many ladies, which have borne children to suchlike husbands, and these have been all of them just like their fathers; yet afterward, when they have e'en borrowed one or two from their lovers, these have surpassed their supposed fathers, their brothers and sisters in all things whatsoever.
Some, moreover, among philosophers which have treated of this matter, have always maintained how that children thus borrowed by stealth, or stolen, if you will, thus engendered under the rose, and on the spur of the moment, are ever far more gallant, and recall more the merry fashion wherein they are used to be created, nimbly and cleverly, than such as are begot in bed, heavily, dully, ponderously, at leisure, their parents more than half asleep the while, giving never a thought but of brutish satisfaction to the pleasure in hand.
In like wise have I heard them that have charge of the stud-farms of kings and great lords say how they have many a time seen better foals got stealthily by their dams than others bred with every precaution by the masters of the stud, and from stallions specially chosen and assigned thereto. And so it is with human beings.
How many cases have I seen where ladies have borne handsomer and braver and more excellent children than they would have done, if the putative fathers had really begotten them,—mere calves and brute beasts as they would then have been.
A good reason why women are well advised to seek the help and commodity of good and handsome stallions, to the end they may produce good offspring. Yet I have seen on the other hand some which had handsome husbands, but did nevertheless call in the aid of ill-favoured lovers and base stallions, which did beget ugly and evilconditioned descendants.
This indeed is one of the most signal commodities and incommodities of the state of cuckoldry.
I once knew a great lady of society which had an exceeding ill-favoured and ill-bred husband; and of four girls and two boys she had, there were only two good for aught, being children of her lover, while the others, coming of her scrub of a husband,—I had all but said her screech-owl of a husband, for truly he had all the look of one,—were but poor misbegotten creatures.
Now herein doth it behoove ladies to be very well advised and cunning withal, for as a rule children do resemble their fathers, and whenas they do not so, bring grave suspicion on their mothers' honour. So have I seen in my life many fair ladies possessed of this craze, to have it said and thought of all the world that their children do altogether resemble their father and not themselves, though really they are not the least like them. For to say so is the greatest pleasure one can do them, seeing there is then presumption they have not borrowed them from any other, however opposite the truth may really be.
One time I was present at a great assemblage of the Court, whereat folk were discussing the portraits of two daughters of a certain very great Queen. Each stated his opinion as to whom they did resemble, in such wise that all, men and women, declared they took altogether after the mother. But I, being a most humble servant and admirer of the mother, did hold the other side, and maintained stoutly they took entirely after the father, and that if only they had known and seen the same as intimately as I had, they would grant me it was so. Whereupon the Queen's sister did thank me for my words, and was exceeding grateful to me, seeing there were sundry persons, which did say what they did, of set purpose, to raise suspicion of her going astray in love,—the more that there was something of dust in her flute, as the saying is. Thus did my judgement as to the children's likeness to their father put all right again. Wherefore in this matter, whosoever shall love a lady and shall be looking upon children of her blood and bone, let him alway declare these do take after the father altogether, whether it be so or no.
True they will do no hurt, if they maintain the children take a little after the mother, as was said by a gentleman of the Court, a chief friend of mine, speaking in company of two gentlemen, brothers and high favourites with the King. Being asked which they were like, the father or mother, he did make answer that the one which was cold was like the father, and the other, which was hot, the mother. By this quip giving a pretty stroke at the mother, who was of a somewhat hot complexion. And as a matter of fact these two children did partake of these two several humours, the hot and the cold.
There is yet another sort of cuckolds, they which are made such by reason of the scorn they show their wives. Thus I have known several who, though having fair and honourable dames to wife, did take no account of them, but would ever scorn and disdain them. These being sharp of wit and full of spirit, and of good family to boot, seeing themselves so disdained, did proceed to pay them back in their own coin. Quick was there fine love making, and quick the accomplishment of the same; for as saith the Italian and Neapolitan catch, amor non si vince con altro che con sdegno—"love mastered by scorn, and scorn only."
For so a fair and honourable lady, and one that doth know herself such and taketh pride therein, seeing her husband treating her with mere disdain, though she should bear him the fondest wifely love in the world, and albeit they should preach and put before her all the commands of the law to love and honour him, yet if she have the least spark of spirit, will she leave him in the lurch and take a lover elsewhere to help her in her little needs, and choose her out some private pleasure of her own.
I knew once two ladies of the Court, that were sisters-in-law. Of these the one had married an husband which was high in favour, a courtier and an adroit one. Yet did he not make such account of his wife as it behooved, seeing the birth she was of, but would speak to her before company as she were a mere savage, and treat her very roughly. This behaviour she did endure patiently for a while, till at length the husband did fall something out of favour. Then noting her opportunity and taking it cleverly as it came, having indeed waited for a good one, she straightway paid him back the scorn he had put on her, lightly and gaily making the poor man cuckold. And her sister did likewise, following her example. This last had been wed when very young and of tender years, so that her husband took no great heed of her, deeming her a mere chit and child, and did not love her as he should. But she coming to a riper time of life, and finding out she had a heart and was fair to look on, did soon pay him back in his own coin, and so made him a present of a fine pair of horns by way of interest on his past neglect.
Another time I knew a great Lord, which having taken two courtesans into favour, whereof one was a Moorish woman, to be his delight and joy of heart, did make no account of his wife, albeit she did seek to him with all due respect, and all the wifely love and reverence ever she could. Yet could he never look upon her with a favourable eye, or cherish her with a good grace, and of an hundred nights he would hardly bestow twain on her. What must she do then, the poor girl, after so many indignities, but what she did,—choose another vacant bed, and couple with another better half, and so take that she was fain of?.
At least she had been justified, if the husband had been like another I know of, who was of a like humour, and being pressed by his wife, a very fair lady and one that did take her joy elsewhere than at home, did tell her frankly: "Well! well! take your pleasures abroad; I give you full leave. Do on your part what you please with another; I leave you in perfect liberty. Only make no trouble about my amours, and suffer me to do as I like. I will never hinder your pleasures and satisfaction; so do not you hinder mine." So, each independent of the other, the twain did go forth on their merry way, one to right, the other to left, without a thought or care for one another; a good and happy life truly!
No less should I commend a certain old man I knew once, who being impotent, sickly and gouty, did say thus one fine day to his wife, who was very fair, seeing clearly he could not satisfy her as she was fain to be dealt with: "I know right well, my pretty, how that my impotence accords ill with your heartsome years. This may well make me odious to you, and render it impossible to you to be my loving wife, as if I could to you the regular offices a strong, robust husband should. So I have thought good to suffer you and grant you full freedom to love some other, and borrow one that may satisfy you better than I can. But above all, I pray you choose out one that is discreet and modest, and will in no wise bring scandal on you, nor on me neither. And may he make you a pair of fine lads, the which I will love and rear as my own, in such wise that all men shall think them our own true and lawful offspring. And this is the more possible, seeing I have still in me some show of vigour and strength, and appearance enough of bodily manhood to make folk suppose them mine."
I leave you to suppose whether the fair girl was glad to receive this agreeable little homily, and free leave to enjoy such pleasing liberty. This she did turn to such good account that in a twinkling she did people the house with two or three fine infants, wherein the husband, inasmuch as he did touch her at times and sleep with her, might deem he had some share, and did actually think so, and the neighbours and every one. In such wise were both husband and wife well pleased, and had good progeny, to boot.
Here again is another sort of cuckolds, they which are made so by reason of an amiable opinion certain women hold, to wit that there is no thing nobler and more lawful and more commendable than Charity. And by Charity they say they mean not merely giving to the poor who have need of succour and assistance from the wealth and abundance of the rich, but likewise helping to assuage the flames of poor languishing lovers that one sees consuming with the fire of an ardent passion. "For of a truth," they declare, "what can be more charitable than to restore life to one we see dying, and to quite refresh again the man thus consuming away?" So says that brave Paladin, the Seigneur de Montauban, upholding the fair Genevra in Ariosto, who doth maintain that of rights the woman should die, which robs her lover of life, and not she who gives it him.
This did he say of a maid, and if it be true of a maid, then much more are suchlike deeds of Charity commendable in wives even more than in maids, seeing these have not their purses untied and open yet like married women,—the which, or at any rate some among them, have these same exceeding ample and well adapted to enlarge their charities!
Which doth remind me of a tale of a very fair lady of the Court, who did attire herself for a Candlemas-tide all in a dress of white damask, with all else white to match, so that naught that day did look fairer or more white. Then did the lady's lover win over one of her companions, which likewise was a very fair lady, but somewhat older and better skilled in speech, and well fitted to intercede for him. So, whenas they all three were looking at a very fine picture, wherein was depicted Charity clad all in white with a white veil, this last did say to her friend: "You do wear this day the same dress as Charity here; but seeing you do resemble her in attire, you should be like her too as concerneth your lover, there being no other thing more commendable than good pity and sweet charity, in whatsoever way it be showed forth, provided always it be with good will to help one's neighbour. Therefore be charitable; but if you have the fear of your husband and the sanctity of wedlock before your eyes, why! 'tis a vain superstition we women should never entertain, seeing how nature hath given us good things in divers sorts, not to use the same niggardly, like some vile miserly hag with her treasure hoard, but rather to distribute them generously to poor suffering mortals and men in dire straits. True it is our chastity doth resemble a treasure, which it behooves us be niggard of on base occasions; but for high and noble ones, we should dispense thereof liberally and without stint. In like wise ought we to deal with our chastity, the which we must yield up generously to folk of merit and desert, and ill-fortune to boot, but refuse to such as be vile, worthless, and such as do not stand in need. As for our husbands, truly these be fine idols, for us never to pay our vows and candles to any but them only, and never to visit other handsome images! For 'tis to God alone we do owe absolute and unbroken allegiance, and to no man."
Now this discourse was in no wise displeasing to the lady, and did much advantage the lover, who by help of a little perseverance, did presently reap the benefit thereof. Yet are Charity sermons of the sort right dangerous for the unhappy husbands. I have heard tell (I know not whether it be true, so I will not say for certain it is so), how at the beginning when the Huguenots did first establish their religion, and they would be holding their preachings at night and in secret places, for fear of being surprised, sought out and punished, whenas one day they were thus in the Rue St. Jacques at Paris, in the days of King Henri II., certain great ladies resorting thither to receive this Charity, were all but caught in the act. After the Minister had done his sermon, at the end thereof he did recommend them to be charitable; whereupon without more ado they did extinguish the lights, and on the spot each man and woman did exercise the same towards his or her brother or sister in Christ, dispensing it one to the other according to the good will and ability of each. But this I dare not assert right out, though I have been assured 'tis a true thing. Yet on the contrary 'tis very possible the whole is a mere lie and imposture.
At any rate I know this much well, how at Poitiers there dwelt at that time a certain advocate's wife, known by the name of the fair Gotterelle, whom myself have seen, which was one of the most beautiful women of her day, of the most charming grace and shape, and one of the most desirable dames in all the town at that time. Wherefore was every man fain to be making eyes at the same, and laying of his heart at her feet. She was one day at the end of sermon time handled by a round dozen of student lads, one after the other, whether in the Consistory or under some pent-house, or as I have heard some say, under a gallows in the Old Market,—at any rate without her having made one single outcry or refusal. Rather, asking only the text of the sermon for password, she did welcome them one after other right courteously, as her true brothers in Christ. This gentle alms-giving she did long continue afterward towards them, yet would she never bestow one farthing's worth on any Papist. Yet were there sundry of that faith which, borrowing of the Huguenot comrades the word and the jargon of their meeting-house, did enjoy her favours. Others again would resort to the sermonizing expressly for this cause, and pretend to be converted, to learn the secret and so have pleasure of this beauteous dame. I was then at Poitiers as a student lad, and several good comrades of mine, who had their share of her favour, did assure me of the fact, and swear to it; moreover the general bruit in the place did confirm the same. Verily a delectable and charitable deed to do, and a right conscientious lady thus to make choice and preference of her fellow religionists!
Yet another form of Charity is there, which is oft times practised towards poor prisoners who are shut up in dungeons and robbed of all enjoyments with women. On such do the gaolers' wives and women that have charge over them, or chatelaines who have prisoners of war in their Castle, take pity and give them share of their love out of very charity and mercifulness. Thus did a certain Roman courtesan say once to her daughter, of whom a gallant was deeply enamoured, but she would never bestow on him so much as a farthing's worth: E dagli, al manco por misericordia,—"Well, well! do him charity then for pity's sake."
Thus do these gaolers' wives, noble châtelaines and others, treat their prisoners, the which, captive and unhappy though they be, yet cease not for that to feel the prickings of the flesh, as much as ever they did in their best days. As saith the old proverb, "Longing cometh of lacking," so even in the straw and on the hard ground, my lord Priapus will still be lifting his head, as well as on the best and softest bed in all the world.
Hence it cometh that beggars and prisoners, in their lazar-houses and prisons, are just as wanton as Kings, Princes and great folk in their rich Palaces and on their royal and dainty couches.
To confirm what I say, I will instance a tale that Captain Beaulieu, Captain of the King's Galleys, of whom I have before spoke once and again, did tell me. He was in the service of the late Grand Prior of France, a member of the house of Lorraine, who was much attached to him. Going one time to take his patron on board at Malta in a frigate, he was taken by the Sicilian galleys, and carried prisoner to the Castel-à-mare at Palermo, where he was shut up in an exceeding narrow, dark and wretched dungeon, and very ill entreated by the space of three months. By good hap the Governor of the Castle, who was a Spaniard, had two very fair daughters, who hearing him complaining and making moan, did one day ask leave of their father to visit him, for the honour of the good God; and this he did freely give them permission to do. And seeing the Captain was of a surety a right gallant gentleman, and as ready-tongued as most, he was able so to win them over at this, the very first visit, that they did gain their father's leave for him to quit his wretched dungeon and to be put in a seemly enough chamber and receive better treatment. Nor was this all, for they did crave and get permission to come and see him freely every day and converse with him.
And this did fall out so well that presently both the twain of them were in love with him, albeit he was not handsome to look upon, and they very fair ladies. And so, without a thought of the chance of more rigorous imprisonment or even death, but rather tempted by such opportunities, he did set himself to the enjoyment of the two girls with good will and hearty appetite. And these pleasures did continue without any scandal, for so fortunate was he in this conquest of his for the space of eight whole months, that no scandal did ever hap all that time, and no ill, inconvenience, nor any surprise or discovery at all. For indeed the two sisters had so good an understanding between them and did so generously lend a hand to each other and so obligingly play sentinel to one another, that no ill hap did ever occur. And he sware to me, being my very intimate friend as he was, that never in his days of greatest liberty had he enjoyed so excellent entertainment or felt keener ardour or better appetite for it than in the said prison,—which truly was a right good prison for him, albeit folk say no prison can be good. And this happy time did continue for the space of eight months, till the truce was made betwixt the Emperor and Henri II., King of France, whereby all prisoners did leave their dungeons and were released. He sware that never was he more grieved than at quitting this good prison of his, but was exceeding sorry to leave these fair maids, with whom he was in such high favour, and who did express all possible regrets at his departing.
I did ask him if ever he apprehended ill consequences, if he were discovered. To which he made reply, he most certainly did, yet was not afeared thereof. For at the worst they would but have put him to death, and he had rather have died than go back to his first dungeon. Moreover he was afraid, if he had failed to gratify these honourable maids, seeing they sought to him so eagerly, that they would have conceived so sore a despite and disdain against him, that he would have gotten some worse treatment even than afore. Wherefore, close shutting his eyes to all consequences, he did adventure boldly on this merry emprise.
Many another adventure of the sort is related in our land of France, as of the Due d'Arschot, who when a prisoner in the Bois de Vincennes, did escape by the help of an honourable lady; the which lady however was like to have suffered sore for it, seeing 'twas a matter of the King's service. And indeed suchlike deeds of charity are blameworthy, if they do touch the general weal, though very good and commendable, when only the individual is concerned, and the lover's life and his mistress's only endangered. In this there is scant hurt.
I could instance many fine examples pertinent to this matter, if I were desirous of writing a separate discourse thereon,—and insooth 'twould be by no means an unamusing subject. However I will but quote the following one, and no other beside, for the sake of telling a pleasant and classic tale.
We read in Livy how, after the Romans had utterly destroyed the town of Capua, certain inhabitants of that city did come to Rome to represent their unhappy state to the Senate, and beseech the Fathers to have pity on them. The matter was debated and amongst others which did pronounce an opinion was M. Atilius Regulus, who did maintain they should show no mercy whatever. "For he could in no wise discover," he declared, "any single Capuan, since the revolting of their city, who could be said to have displayed the least atom of friendliness or affection for the Roman State, except only two honourable women,"—the one Vestia Oppia, an Atellane, from the city of Atella, domiciled at Capua at the time, and the other, one Faucula Cluvia, both of whom had been aforetime ladies of pleasure and courtesans, plying their trade publicly in that city. The one had let never a day pass without offering up prayers and sacrifices for the success and victory of the Roman People, while the other had deserved well for having by stealth succoured with victuals the poor prisoners of war, dying of hunger and misery.
Verily good and pious deeds of Charity these! But hereanent, a noble gentleman, an honourable lady and myself reading of this passage of Livy together one day, we did suddenly exclaim one to the other, how seeing these two honourable dames had gone thus far and had performed such good and pious offices, that doubtless they had gone on to yet others, and had bestowed on the poor prisoners the charity of their fair bodies. For indeed in former days they had distributed these same alms to other folk, being then courtesans, or mayhap being so still. Still the book doth not say so, but leaveth this point in doubt; yet may we guess how 'twas. But even granting they had of yore plied this trade, but had now left it off for some space, yet might they very well have taken it up again, nothing being more easy and facile to do. Then likely enough they did recognise and once again receive some of the good lovers of their former acquaintance, and were now ready to return once more somewhat on their old courses. Or again 'tis quite likely that among the prisoners, they may have seen some, hitherto unknown and which they had never set eyes on but this once, and found the same handsome, brave, valiant and well-liking gallants, that did well deserve all their charity, and so could they do no otherwise than grant them full enjoyment of their good favours.
Thus, in whatsoever way it came about, did these honourable ladies well earn the courtesy which the Roman Commonwealth showed them, making them to recover all their goods, and assuring them the peaceable enjoyment of the same for all time. Nay! more, they did make known to them how they might ask what they would, and they should have their request. And to speak candidly, if Titus Livy had not been so reticent and unduly constrained by shamefacedness and overmodesty, he might very well have spoke right out about these ladies, and said plainly they did not grudge the favour of their fair bodies. So would this passage of History have been yet more excellent and entertaining to peruse, had he not thus docked his narrative, and left sticking at his pen-point the best part of the tale. Such was the discourse we three did hold thereon at the time.