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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Necklace of Pearls
By Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571)
 
From the ‘Memoirs’: Translation of John Addington Symonds

I MUST beg your attention now, most gracious reader, for a very terrible event which happened.  1
  I used the utmost diligence and industry to complete my statue, and went to spend my evenings in the Duke’s wardrobe, assisting there the goldsmiths who were working for his Excellency. Indeed, they labored mainly on designs which I had given them. Noticing that the Duke took pleasure in seeing me at work and talking with me, I took it into my head to go there sometimes also by day. It happened upon one of those days that his Excellency came as usual to the room where I was occupied, and more particularly because he heard of my arrival. His Excellency entered at once into conversation, raising several interesting topics, upon which I gave my views so much to his entertainment that he showed more cheerfulness than I had ever seen in him before. All of a sudden one of his secretaries appeared, and whispered something of importance in his ear; whereupon the Duke rose, and retired with the official into another chamber.  2
  Now the Duchess had sent to see what his Excellency was doing, and her page brought back this answer:—“The Duke is talking and laughing with Benvenuto, and is in excellent good humor.” When the Duchess heard this, she came immediately to the wardrobe, and not finding the Duke there, took a seat beside us. After watching us at work a while, she turned to me with the utmost graciousness, and showed me a necklace of large and really very fine pearls. On being asked by her what I thought of them, I said it was in truth a very handsome ornament. Then she spoke as follows:—“I should like the Duke to buy them for me; so I beg you, my dear Benvenuto, to praise them to him as highly as you can.” At these words, I disclosed my mind to the Duchess with all the respect I could, and answered:—“My lady, I thought this necklace of pearls belonged already to your illustrious Excellency. Now that I am aware you have not yet acquired them, it is right, nay more, it is my duty, to utter what I might otherwise have refrained from saying; namely, that my mature professional experience enables me to detect very grave faults in the pearls, and for this reason I could never advise your Excellency to purchase them.”  3
  She replied:—“The merchant offers them for six thousand crowns; and were it not for some of those trifling defects you speak of, the rope would be worth over twelve thousand.”  4
  To this I replied that, even were the necklace of quite flawless quality, I could not advise any one to bid up to five thousand crowns for it: for pearls are not gems; pearls are but fishes’ bones, which in the course of time must lose their freshness. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, on the contrary, never grow old; these four are precious stones, and these it is right to purchase. When I had thus spoken, the Duchess showed some signs of irritation, and exclaimed, “I have a mind to possess these pearls; so prithee, take them to the Duke and praise them up to the skies; even if you have to use some words beyond the bounds of truth, speak them to do me service; it will be well for you!”  5
  I have always been the greatest friend of truth and foe of lies; yet compelled by necessity, unwilling to lose the favor of so great a princess, I took those confounded pearls sorely against my inclination, and went with them over to the other room, whither the Duke had withdrawn. No sooner did he set eyes upon me than he cried, “O Benvenuto, what are you about here?” I uncovered the pearls and said, “My lord, I am come to show you a most splendid necklace of pearls, of the rarest quality, and truly worthy of your Excellency; I do not believe it would be possible to put together eighty pearls which could show better than these do in a necklace. My counsel therefore is that you should buy them, for they are in good sooth miraculous.” He responded on the instant, “I do not choose to buy them; they are not pearls of the quality and goodness you affirm; I have seen the necklace, and they do not please me.” Then I added, “Pardon me, Prince! These pearls exceed in rarity and beauty any which were ever brought together for a necklace.” The Duchess had risen, and was standing behind a door listening to all I said. Well, when I had praised the pearls a thousandfold more warmly than I have described above, the Duke turned toward me with a kindly look, and said, “O my dear Benvenuto, I know that you have an excellent judgment in all these matters. If the pearls are as rare as you certify, I should not hesitate about their purchase; partly to gratify the Duchess and partly to possess them, seeing I have always need of such things, not so much for her Grace as for the various uses of my sons and daughters.” When I heard him speak thus, having once begun to tell fibs, I stuck to them with even greater boldness; I gave all the color of truth I could to my lies, confiding in the promise of the Duchess to help me at the time of need. More than two hundred crowns were to be my commission on the bargain, and the Duchess had intimated that I should receive so much; but I was firmly resolved not to touch a farthing, in order to secure my credit, and convince the Duke I was not prompted by avarice. Once more his Excellency began to address me with the greatest courtesy: “I know that you are a consummate judge of these things; therefore, if you are the honest man I always thought you, tell me now the truth.” Thereat I flushed up to my eyes, which at the same time filled with tears, and said to him, “My lord, if I tell your most illustrious Excellency the truth, I shall make a mortal foe of the Duchess; this will oblige me to depart from Florence, and my enemies will begin at once to pour contempt upon my Perseus, which I have announced as a masterpiece to the most noble school of your illustrious Excellency. Such being the case, I recommend myself to your most illustrious Excellency.”  6
  The Duke was now aware that all my previous speeches had been, as it were, forced out of me. So he rejoined, “If you have confidence in me, you need not stand in fear of anything whatever.” I recommenced, “Alas! my lord, what can prevent this coming to the ears of the Duchess?” The Duke lifted his hand in sign of troth pledge and exclaimed, “Be assured that what you say will be buried in a diamond casket.” To this engagement upon honor I replied by telling the truth according to my judgment, namely, that the pearls were not worth above two thousand crowns. The Duchess, thinking we had stopped talking, for we now were speaking in as low a voice as possible, came forward and began as follows:—“My lord, do me the favor to purchase this necklace, because I have set my heart on them, and your Benvenuto here has said he never saw a finer row of pearls.” The Duke replied, “I do not choose to buy them.”—“Why, my lord, will not your Excellency gratify me by buying them?”—“Because I do not care to throw my money out of the window.” The Duchess recommenced, “What do you mean by throwing your money away, when Benvenuto, in whom you place such well-merited confidence, has told me that they would be cheap at over three thousand crowns?” Then the Duke said, “My lady! my Benvenuto here has told me that if I purchase this necklace I shall be throwing my money away, inasmuch as the pearls are neither round nor well-matched, and some of them are quite faded. To prove that this is so, look here! look there! consider this one and then that. The necklace is not the sort of thing for me.” At these words the Duchess cast a glance of bitter spite at me, and retired with a threatening nod of her head in my direction. I felt tempted to pack off at once and bid farewell to Italy. Yet my Perseus being all but finished, I did not like to leave without exposing it to public view. But I ask every one to consider in what a grievous plight I found myself!  7
 
 
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