Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
I CHOSE the route through the Grisons, all other passes being unsafe on account of war. We crossed the mountains of the Alba and Berlina; it was the 8th of May, and the snow upon them lay in masses.1 At the utmost hazard of our lives we succeeded in surmounting those two Alpine ridges; and when they had been traversed, we stopped at a place which, if I remember rightly, is called Valdista. There we took up quarters, and at nightfall there arrived a Florentine courier named Busbacca. I had heard him mentioned as a man of character and able in his profession, but I did not know that he had forfeited that reputation by his rogueries. When he saw me in the hostelry, he addressed me by my name, said he was going on business of importance to Lyons, and entreated met to lend him money for the journey. I said I had no money to lend, but that if he liked to join me, I would pay his expenses as far as Lyons. The rascal wept, and wheedled me with a long story, saying: If a poor courier employed on affairs of national consequence has fallen short of money, it is the duty of a man like you to assist him. Then he added that he was carrying things of the utmost importance from Messer Filippo Strozzi;2 and showing me a leather case for a cup he had with him, whispered in my ear that it held a goblet of silver which contained jewels to the value of many thousands of ducats, together with letters of vast consequence, sent by Messer Filippo Strozzi. I told him that he ought to let me conceal the jewels about his own person, which would be much less dangerous than carrying them in the goblet; he might give that up to me, and, its value being probably about ten crowns, I would supply him with twenty-five on the security. To these words the courier replied that he would go with me, since he could not do otherwise, for to give up the goblet would not be to his honour.
Accordingly we struck the bargain so; and taking horse next morning, came to a lake between Valdistate and Vessa; it is fifteen miles long when one reaches Vessa. On beholding the boats upon that lake I took fright; because they are of pine, of no great size and no great thickness, loosely put together, and not even pitched. If I had not seen four German gentlemen, with their four horses, embarking in one of the same sort as ours, I should never have set my foot in it; indeed I should far more likely have turned tail; but when I saw their hare-brained recklessness, I took it into my head that those German waters would not drown folk, as ours do in Italy. However, my two young men kept saying to me: Benvenuto, it is surely dangerous to embark in this craft with four horses. I replied: You cowards, do you not observe how those four gentlemen have taken boat before us, and are going on their way with laughter? If this were wine, as indeed tis water, I should say that they were going gladly to drown themselves in it; but as it is but water, I know well that they have no more pleasure than we have in drowning there. The lake was fifteen miles long and about three broad; on one side rose a mountain very tall and cavernous, on the other some flat land and grassy. When we had gone about four miles, it began to storm upon the lake, and our oarsmen asked us to help in rowing; this we did awhile. I made gestures and directed them to land us on the farther shore; they said it was not possible, because there was not depth of water for the boat, and there were shoals there, which would make it go to pieces and drown us all; and still they kept on urging us to help them. The boatmen shouted one to the other, calling for assistance. When I saw them thus dismayed, my horse being an intelligent animal, I arranged the bridle on his neck and took the end of the halter with my left hand. The horse, like most of his kind, being not devoid of reason, seemed to have an instinct of my intention; for having turned his face towards the fresh grass, I meant that he should swim and draw me after him. Just at that moment a great wave broke over the boat. Ascanio shrieked out: Mercy, my father; save me, and wanted to throw himself upon my neck. Accordingly, I laid hand to my little dagger, and told them to do as I had shown them, seeing that the horses would save their lives as well as I too hoped to escape with mine by the same means; but that if he tried to jump on me, I should kill him. So we went forward several miles in this great peril of our lives.
Note 1. I have retained Cellinis spelling of names upon this journey. He passed the Bernina and Albula mountains, descended the valley of the Rhine to Wallenstadt, travelled by Weesen and probably Glarus to Lachen and Zurich, thence to Solothurn, Lausanne, Geneva, Lyons. [back]
Note 2. Filippo Strozzi was leader of the anti-Medicean party, now in exile. He fell into the hands of Duke Cosimo on the 1st of August in this year, 1537. [back]