Sketches by Mark Twain/The Capitoline Venus
THE CAPITOLINE VENUS.
[Scene—An Artist's Studio in Rome.]
"OH, George, I do love you!"
"Bless your dear heart, Mary, I know that—why is your father so obdurate?"
"Georgy, he means well, but art is folly to him—he only understands groceries. He thinks you would starve me."
"Confound his wisdom—it savours of inspiration. Why am I not a money-making, bowelless grocer, instead of a divinely-gifted sculptor with nothing to eat?"
"Do not despond, George, dear—all his prejudices will fade away as soon as you shall have acquired fifty thousand dol—"
"Fifty thousand demons! Child, I am in arrears for my board!"
[Scene—A Dwelling in Rome.]
"My dear sir, it is useless to talk. I haven't anything against you, but I can't let my daughter marry a hash of love, art, and starvation—I believe you have nothing else to offer."
"Sir, I am poor, I grant you. But is fame nothing? The Hon. Bellamy Foodle, of Arkansas, says that my new statue of America is a clever piece of sculpture, and he is satisfied that my name will one day be famous."
"Bosh! What does that Arkansas ass know about it? Fame's nothing—the market price of your marble scarecrow is the thing to look at. It took you six months to chisel it, and you can't sell it for a hundred dollars. No, sir! Show me fifty thousand dollars and you can have my daughter—otherwise she marries young Simper. You have just six months to raise the money in. Good morning, sir."
"Alas! Woe is me!"
"Oh, John, friend of my boyhood, I am the unhappiest of men."
"You're a simpleton!"
"I have nothing left to love but my poor statue of America—and see, even she has no sympathy for me in her cold marble countenance—so beautiful and so heartless!"
"You're a dummy!"
"Oh, fudge! Didn't you say you had six months to raise the money in?"
"Don't deride my agony, John. If I had six centuries what good would it do? How could it help a poor wretch without name, capital or friends?"
"Idiot! Coward! Baby! Six months to raise the money in—and five will do!"
"Are you insane?"
"Six months—an abundance. Leave it to me. I'll raise it."
"What do you mean, John? How on earth can you raise such a monstrous sum for me?"
"Will you let that be my business, and not meddle? Will you leave the thing in my hands? Will you swear to submit to whatever I do? Will you pledge me to find no fault with my actions?"
"I am dizzy—bewildered—but I swear."
John took up a hammer and deliberately smashed the nose of America! He made another pass and two of her fingers fell to the floor—another, and part of an ear came away—another, and a row of toes was mangled and dismembered—another, and the left leg, from the knee down, lay a fragmentary ruin!
John put on his hat and departed.
George gazed speechless upon the battered and grotesque nightmare before him for the space of thirty seconds, and then wilted to the floor and went into convulsions.
John returned presently with a carriage, got the broken-hearted artist and the broken-legged statue aboard, and drove off, whistling low and tranquilly. He left the artist at his lodgings, and drove off and disappeared down the Via Quirinalis with the statue.
"The six months will be up at two o'clock to-day! Oh, agony! My life is blighted. I would that I were dead. I had no supper yesterday. I have had no breakfast to-day. I dare not enter an eating-house. And hungry?—don't mention it! My bootmaker duns me to death—my tailor duns me—my landlord haunts me. I am miserable. I haven't seen John since that awful day. She smiles on me tenderly when we meet in the great thoroughfares, but her old flint of a father makes her look in another direction in short order. Now who is knocking at that door? Who is come to persecute me? That malignant villain, the bootmaker, I'll warrant. Come in!"
"Ah, happiness attend your highness—Heaven be propitious to your grace! I have brought my lord's new boots—ah, say nothing about the pay, there is no hurry, none in the world. Shall be proud if my noble lord will continue to honour me with his custom—ah, adieu!"
"Brought the boots himself! Don't want his pay! Takes his leave with a bow and a scrape fit to honour majesty withal! Desires a continuance of my custom! Is the world coming to an end? Of all the—come in!"
"Pardon, signor, but I have brought your new suit of clothes for——"
"A thousand pardons for this intrusion, your worship! But I have prepared the beautiful suite of rooms below for you—this wretched den is but ill suited to——"
"I have called to say that your credit in our bank, some time since unfortunately interrupted, is entirely and most satisfactorily restored, and we shall be most happy if you will draw upon us for any——"
"My noble boy, she is yours! She'll be here in a moment! Take her—marry her—love her—be happy! God bless you both! Hip, hip, hur——"
"Oh, George, my own darling, we are saved!"
"Oh, Mary, my own darling, we are saved—but I'll swear I don't know why nor how!"
[Scene—A Roman Cafe.]
One of a group of American gentlemen reads and translates from the weekly edition of Il Slangwhanger di Roma as follows:
Chorus of Voices.—"Luck! It's no name for it!"
Another Voice.—"Gentlemen, I propose that we immediately form an American joint-stock company for the purchase of lands and excavations of statues, here, with proper connections in Wall Street to bull and bear the stock."
[Scene—The Roman Capitol Ten Years Later.]
"Dearest Mary, this is the most celebrated statue in the world. This is the renowned 'Capitoline Venus' you have heard so much about. Here she is with her little blemishes 'restored' (that is, patched) by the most noted Roman artists—and the mere fact that they did the humble patching of so noble a creation will make their names illustrious while the world stands. How strange it seems—this place! The day before I last stood here, ten happy years ago, I wasn't a rich man—bless your soul, I hadn't a cent. And yet I had a good deal to do with making Rome mistress of this grandest work of ancient art the world contains."
"The worshipped, the illustrious Capitoline Venus—and what a sum she is valued at! Ten millions of francs?"
"Yes—now she is."
"And oh, Georgy, how divinely beautiful she is!"
"Ah, yes—but nothing to what she was before that blessed John Smith broke her leg and battered her nose. Ingenious Smith!—gifted Smith—noble Smith! Author of all our bliss! Hark! Do you know what that wheeze means? Mary, that cub has got the whooping cough. Will you never learn to take care of the children!"
The Capitoline Venus is still in the Capitol at Rome, and is still the most charming and most illustrious work of ancient art the world can boast of. But if ever it shall be your fortune to stand before it and go into the customary ecstacies over it, don't permit this true and secret history of its origin to mar your bliss—and when you read about a gigantic Petrified Man being dug up near Syracuse, in the State of New York, or near any other place, keep your own counsel,—and if the Barnum that buried him there offers to sell to you at an enormous sum, don't you buy. Send him to the Pope!
Note.—The above sketch was written at the time the famous swindle of the "Petrified Giant" was the sensation of the day in the United States.