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NOTE ON THE CENCI. BY THE EDITOR.
The sort of mistake that Shelley made, as to The second volume of St. Leon begins with this the extent of his own genius and powers, which proud and true sentiment, “ There is nothing which led him deviously at first, but lastly into the direct the human mind can conceive which it may not track that enabled him fully to develop them, is a execute.' Shakspeare was only a human being." curious instance of his modesty of feeling, and of These words were written in 1818, while we were the methods which the human mind uses at once in Lombardy, when he little thought how soon a to deceive itself, and yet, in its very delusion, to work of his own would prove a proud comment on make its way out of error into the path which the
passage he quoted. When in Rome, in 1819, nature has marked out as its right one. He often a friend put into our hands the old manuscript incited me to attempt the writing a tragedy—he account of the story of the Cenci. We visited conceived that I possessed some dramatic talent, the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits and he was always most earnest and energetic in of Beatrice were to be found ; and her beauty cast his exhortations that I should cultivate any talent the reflection of its own grace over her appalling I possessed, to the utmost. I entertained a truer story. Shelley's imagination became strongly exestimate of my powers ; and, above all, though at cited, and he urged the subject to me as one fitted that time not exactly aware of the fact, I was far for a tragedy. More than ever I felt my incomtoo young to have any chance of succeeding, even petence; but I entreated him to write it instead; moderately, in a species of composition, that and he began and proceeded swiftly, urged on by requires a greater scope of experience in, and intense sympathy with the sufferings of the human sympathy with, human passion than could then beings whose passions, so long cold in the tomb, have fallen to my lot, or than any perhaps, except he revived, and gifted with poetic language. This Shelley, ever possessed, even at the age of twenty- tragedy is the only one of his works that he comsix, at which he wrote the Cenci.
municated to me during its progress. We talked
over the arrangement of the scenes together. I On the other hand, Shelley most erroneously speedily saw the great mistake we had made, and conceived himself to be destitute of this talent. triumphed in the discovery of the new talent He believed that one of the first requisites was
brought to light from that mine of wealth, never, the capacity of forming and following up a story or plot. He fancied himself to be defective in this por- depthis—his richly-gifted mind.
alas ! through his untimely death, worked to its tion of imagination—it was that which gave him least pleasure in the writings of others—though he laid
We suffered a severe affliction in Rome by the great store by it, as the proper framework to sup
loss of our eldest child, who was of such beauty port the sublimest efforts of poetry. He asserted and promise as to cause him deservedly to be the that he was too metaphysical and abstract--too
idol of our hearts. We left the capital of the fond of the theoretical and the ideal, to succeed as
world, anxious for a time to escape a spot associa tragedian. It perhaps is not strange that I ated too intimately with his presence and loss, shared this opinion with himself, for he had hitherto Some friends of ours were residing in the neighshown no inclination for, nor given any specimen bourhood of Leghorn, and we took a small house, of his powers in framing and supporting the in- Villa Valsovano, about half-way between the town terest of a story, either in prose or verse. Once and Monte Nero, where we remained during the or twice, when he attempted such, he had speedily * Such feelings haunted him when, in the Cenci, he thrown it aside, as being even disagreeable to him
makes Beatrice speak to Cardinal Camillo of
that fair blue-eyed child, as an occupation.
Who was the load-star of your life.
All see, since his most piteous death,
That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time, ber, remember Charles I. I have been already And all the things hoped for, or done therein, imagining how you would conduct some scenes. Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief.
summer. Our villa was situated in the midst of a “ The object of the present letter is to ask a favour podere ; the peasants sang as they worked beneath of you. I have written a tragedy on a story well our
ur windows, during the heats of a very hot sea known in Italy and, in my conception, eminently son, and in the evening the water-wheel creaked as dramatic. I have taken some pains to make my the process of irrigation went on, and the fire-flies play fit for representation, and those who have flashed from among the myrtle hedges :nature already seen it judge favourably. It is written was bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions by storms of a majestic terror, such as we had which characterise my other compositions ; I never before witnessed.
having attended simply to the impartial developAt the top of the house, there was a sort of
ment of such characters as it is probable the perterrace. There is often such in Italy, generally
sons represented really were, together with the roofed. This one was very small, yet not only greatest degree of popular effect to be produced roofed but glazed ; this Shelley made his study; | by such a development. I send you a translation it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country,
of the Italian MS. on which my play is founded ; and commanded a view of the near sea. The
the chief circumstance of which I have touched storms that sometimes varied our day showed
very delicately ; for my principal doubt as to themselves most picturesquely as they were driven
whether it would succeed, as an acting play, hangs across the ocean ; sometimes the dark lurid clouds entirely on the question as to whether any such a dipped towards the waves, and became water
thing as incest in this shape, however treated, spouts, that churned up the waters beneath, as
would be admitted on the stage. I think, however, they were chased onward, and scattered by the
it will form no objection, considering, first, that tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight the facts are matter of history, and, secondly, the and heat made it almost intolerable to every peculiar delicacy with which I have treated it *. other ; but Shelley basked in both, and his “I am exceedingly interested in the question health and spirits revived under their influence of whether this attempt of mine will succeed or not. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of The I am strongly inclined to the affirmative at present; Cenci. He was making a study of Calderon at the founding my hopes on this, that as a composition time, reading his best tragedies with an accom it is certainly not inferior to any of the modern plished lady living near us, to whom his letter plays that have been acted, with the exception of from Leghorn was addressed during the following • Remorse ;' that the interest of the plot is incre. year. He admired Calderon, both for his poetry dibly greater and more real, and that there is noand his dramatic genius ; but it shows his judg- thing beyond what the multitude are contented to ment and originality, that, though greatly struck believe that they can understand, either in imagery, by his first acquaintance with the Spanish poet, opinion, or sentiment. I wish to preserve a comnone of his peculiarities crept into the composition plete incognito, and can trust to you that, whatof The Cenci ; and there is no trace of his new ever else you do, you will at least favour me on studies, except in that passage to which he himself this point. Indeed this is essential, deeply essential alludes, as suggested by one in El Purgatorio de to its success. After it had been acted and sucSan Patricio.
cessfully, (could I hope for such a thing) I would
own it if I pleased, and use the celebrity it might Shelley wished The Cenci to be acted. He was
acquire to my own purposes. not a play-goer, being of such fastidious taste that he was easily disgusted by the bad filling up of the
“ What I want you to do, is to procure for me inferior parts. While preparing for our departure its presentation at Covent Garden. The principal from England, however, he saw Miss O'Neil character, Beatrice, is precisely fitted for Miss several times ; she was then in the zenith of her O'Neil, and it might even seem to have been writglory, and Shelley was deeply moved by her im
ten for her, (God forbid that I should see her play personation of several parts, and by the graceful
it—it would tear my nerves to pieces) and in all sweetness, the intense pathos, and sublime vehe- respects it is fitted only for Covent Garden. The
chief male character I confess I should be very mence of passion she displayed. She was often in his thoughts as he wrote, and when he had finished, In speaking of his mode of treating this main incihe became anxious that his tragedy should be
dent, Shelley said that it might be remarked that, in the
course of the play, he had never mentioned expressly acted, and receive the advantage of having this
Cenci's worst crime. Every one knew what it must be, accomplished actress to fill the part of the heroine.
but it was never imaged in words—the nearest allusion With this view he wrote the following letter to a to it being that portion of Cenci's curse, beginning, friend in London :
" That if she bave a child," &c.
unwilling that any one but Kean should play- proud comparison not only with any contemporary, that is impossible, and I must be contented with but preceding poet. The varying feelings of an inferior actor."
Beatrice are expressed with passionate, heartThe play was accordingly sent to Mr. Harris. reaching eloquence. Every character has a voice
It is curious, to He pronounced the subject to be so objectionable, that echoes truth in its tones. that he could not even submit the part to Miss
one acquainted with the written story, to mark O'Neil for perusal, but expressed his desire that the success with which the poet has inwoven the the author would write a tragedy on some other real incidents of the tragedy into his scenes, and subject, which he would gladly accept. Shelley yet, through the power of poetry, has obliterated
all that would otherwise have shown too harsh or printed a small edition at Leghorn, to insure its correctness; as he was much annoyed by the
too hideous in the picture. His success was a
double triumph ; and often after he was earnestly many mistakes that crept into his text, when distance prevented him from correcting the
entreated to write again in a style that commanded press.
popular favour, while it was not less instinct with Universal approbation soon stamped The Cenci truth and genius. But the bent of his mind went as the best tragedy of modern times. Writing the other way; and even when employed on subconcerning it, Shelley said : “ I have been cautious jects whose interest depended on character and to avoid the introducing faults of youthful com incident, he would start off in another direction, position ; diffuseness, a profusion of inapplicable and leave the delineations of human passion, which imagery, vagueness, generality, and, as Hamlet he could depict in so able a manner, for fantastic says, words, words." There is nothing that is not creations of his fancy, or the expression of those purely dramatic throughout ; and the character of opinions and sentiments with regard to human Beatrice, proceeding from vehement struggle to
nature and its destiny ; a desire to diffuse which, horror, to deadly resolution, and lastly, to the
was the master passion of his soul. elevated dignity of calm suffering joined to passionate tenderness and pathos, is touched with Finding among my papers the account of the hues so vivid and so beautiful, that the poet seems case of the Cenci family, translated from the old to have read intimately the secrets of the noble Roman MS., written at the period when the disheart imaged in the lovely countenance of the un
astrous events it commemorates occurred, I apfortunate girl. The Fifth Act is a masterpiece. pend it here, as the perusal must interest every It is the finest thing he ever wrote, and may claim reader.
THE DEATH OF THE FAMILY OF THE CENCI.
The most wicked life which the Roman nobleman, crowns to government, in commutation of the punishFrancesco Cenci, led while he lived in this world, not ment rightfully awarded to this crime: and concerning only occasioned his owu ruin and death, but also that his religion, it is sufficient to state, that he never freof many others, and brought down the entire destruc- quented any church ; and although he caused a small tion of his house, This nobleman was the son of chapel, dedicated to the apostle St. Thomas, to be Monsignore Cenci, who, having been treasurer during the built in the court of his palace, his intention in so doing pontificate of Pius V., Jeft inmense wealth to Francesco, was to bury there all his children, whom he cruelly his only son. From this inheritance alone he enjoyed hated. He had driven the eldest of these, Giacomo, an income of 160,000 crowns, and he increased his Cristofero, and Rocco, from the paternal mansion, fortune by marrying an exceedingly rich lady, who while they were yet too young to have given him any died after she had given birth to seven uufortunate real cause of displeasure. He sent them to the unichildren. He then contracted a second marriage with versity of Salamanca, but, refusing to remit to them Lucretia Petroni, a lady of a noble Roman family; there the money necessary for their maintenance, they but he had no children by ber. Sodomy was the least, desperately returned home. They found that this and atheism the greatest, of the vices of Francesco; as change ouly increased their misery, for the hatred and is proved by the tenor of his life ; for he was three contempt of their father towards them was so agyratimes accused of sodomy, and paid the sum of 100,000 vated, that he refused to dress or maintain them, so that
they were obliged to have recourse to the Pope, who The Palace Cenci was sometimes visited oy a Moncaused Cenci to make them a fit allowance, with which signore Guerra—a young man of handsome person and they withdrew from his house.
attractive manners, and of that facile character which The third imprisonment of Francesco for his accus. might easily be induced to become a partner in any tomed crime of sodomy, occurred at this time, and his action, good or evil, as it might happen. His coun. sons took occasion to supplicate the Pope to punish tenance was pleasing, and his person tall and well protheir father, and to remove so great a monster from portioned; he was somewhat in love with Beatrice, his family. The Pope, though before inclined to con and well acquainted with the turpitude of Francesco's demn Francesco to the deserved puuishment of death, character, and was hated by him on account of the would not do it at the request of his sons, but permitted familiar intercourse which subsisted between him and him again to compound with the law, by paying the the children of this unnatural father : for this reason accustomed penalty of 100,000 crowns. The hatred he timed his visits with caution, and never came to of Francesco towards his sons was augmented by this the house but when he knew that Francesco was proceeding on their parts ; he cursed them; and often absent. He was moved to a lively compassion of the also struck and ill-treated his daughters. The eldest state of Lucretia and Beatrice, who often related their of these, being unable any longer to support the cruelty increasing misery to him, and his pity was for ever fed of her father, exposed her miserable condition to the and augmented by some new tale of tyranny and cruelty. Pope, and supplicated him either to marry her, accord In one of these conversations Beatrice let fall some ing to bis choice, or to shut her up in a monastery, that words which plainly indicated that she and her motherby any means she might be liberated from the cruel op in-law contemplated the murder of their tyrant, and pression of her parent. Her prayer was heard, and the Monsignore Guerra not only showed approbation of their Pope, in pity to her unhappiness, bestowed her in mar. design, but also promised to co-operate with them in riage to Signore Carlo Gabrielli, one of the first gentle- their undertaking. Thus stimulated, Beatrice commen of the city of Gabbio, and obliged Francesco to give municated the design to her eldest brother, Giacomo, ler a fitting dowry of some thousand crowns.
without whose concurrence it was impossible that they Francesco fcaring that his youngest daughter would, should succeed. This latter was easily drawn into when she grew up, follow the example of her sister, consent, since he was utterly disgusted with his father, bethought himself how to hinder this design, and for who ill-treated him, and refused to allow him a suffithat purpose shut her up alone in an apartment of the cient support for his wife and children. palace, where he himself brought her food, so that no The apartments of Monsignore Guerra was the place one might approach her; and imprisoned her in this in which the circumstances of the crime about to be manner for several months, often inflicting on her blows committed were concerted and determined on. Here with a stick.
Giacomo, with the understanding of his sister and la the meantime ensued the death of two of his sons, mother-in-law, held various consultations, and finally Rocco and Cristofero-one being assassinated by a resolved to commit the murder of Francesco to two of surgeon, and the other by Paolo Corso, while he was bis vassals, who had become his inveterate enemies ; attending mass. The inhuman father showed every one called Marzio, and the other Olympio : the latter, sign of joy on hearing this news, saying that nothing by means of Francesco, had been deprived of his post would exceed his pleasure if all his children died, and as castellan of the Rock of Petrella. that when the grave should receive the last he would, It was already well known that Francesco, with the as a demonstration of joy, make a bonfire of all that he permission of Signor Marzio di Colonna, baron of that possessed. And on the present occasion, as a further feud, had resolved to retire to Petrella. and to pass the sign of his hatred, he refused to pay the smallest sum summer there with his family. Some banditti of the towards the funeral expenses of his murdered sons. kingdom of Naples were hired, and were instructed to
Francesco carried his wicked debauchery to such an lie in wait in the woods about Petrella, and, upon advice excess, that he caused girls (of whom he constantly being given to them of the approach of Francesco, to kepta number in his house), and also common courtezans, seize upon him. This scheme was so arranged that, to sleep in the bed of his wife, and often endeavoured, although the robbers were only to seize and take off by force and threats, to debauch his daughter Beatrice, Francesco, yet that his wife and children should not be who was now grown up, and exceedingly beautiful-t suspected of being accomplices in the act. But the
affair did not succeed; for, as the banditti were not
informed of his approach in time enough, Francesco Beatrice, finding it impossible to continue to live in
arrived safe and sound at Petrella. They were obliged
therefore to form some new scheme to obtain the end 80 miserable a manner, followed the example of her sister; she sent a well-written supplication to the Pope,
which every day made them more impatient to effect ; imploring him to exercise his authority in withdrawing He being an old man, above seventy years of age, never
for Francesco still persisted in his wicked conduct. her from the violence and cruelty of her father.—But this petition, which might, if listened to, have saved
quitted the castle ; therefore no use could be made of this unfortunate girl from an early death, produced
the banditti, who were still secreted in the environs. not the least effect. It was afterwards found among
It was determined, therefore, to accomplish the murder
in Francesco's own house. the collection of memorials, and it is pretended that it never came before the Pope.
Marzio and Olympio were called to the castle; and Francesco, having discovered this attempt on the
Beatrice, accompanied by her mother-in-law, conversed part of his daughter, became more enraged, and re
with them from a window during the night-time, when doubled his tyranny ; confining with rigour not only
her father slept. She ordered them to repair to Mon. Beatrice, but also his wife . At length, these unhappy signore Guerra with a note, in which they were desired
to murder Francesco, in consideration of a reward of a women, finding themselves without hope of relief, driven by desperation, resolved to plan his death.
thousand crowns : a third to be given then before the
act, by Monsignore Guerra, and the other two thirds, + The details here are horrible, and unfit for publication. I by the ladies themselves, after the deed should be ac
complished. Having consented to this agreement, they suddenly hired men to murder them, but succeeded were secretly admitted into the castle the 8th of Septem- only in assassinating Olympio at the city of Terni. ber, 1598; but because this day was the anniversary of Marzio, who had escaped this misfortune, soon incurred the birth of the Blessed Virgin, the Signora Lucretia, held that of being imprisoned at Naples, where he confessed back by her veneration for so holy a time, desired, with the whole; and instantly, while the arrival of Marzio the consent of her daughter-in-law, that the execution at Rome from Naples was expected, Giacomo and of the murder should be put off until the following day. Bernardo were arrested, and imprisoned in the Corte They dexterously mixed opium with the drink of Fran- Savella, and Lucretia and Beatrice were confined in cesco, who, upon going to bed, was soon oppressed by their own house under a good guard ; but afterwards a deep sleep. About midnight his daughter herself they were also conducted to the prison where were led the two assassins into the apartment of her father, the brothers. They were here examined, and all conand left them there that they might execute the deed stantly denied the crime, and particularly Beatrice, who they had undertaken, and retired to a chamber close also denied having given to Marzio the mantle trimmed by, where Lucretia remained also, expecting the return with gold, of which mention was before made; and of the murderers, and the relation of their success. Marzio, overcome and moved by the presence of mind Soon after the assassins entered, and told the ladies and courage of Beatrice, retracted all that he had dethat pity had held them back, and that they could not posed at Naples, and, rather than again confess, ob overcome their repugnance to kill in cold blood a poor stinately died under his torments. sleeping old man. Tbose words filled Beatrice with There not being sufficient proof to justify putting anger, and after having bitterly reviled them as cowards the Cenci family to the torture, they were all transand traitors, she exclaimed, “Since you have not ferred to Castello, where they remained several months courage enough to murder a sleeping man, I will kill in tranquillity. But, for their misfortune, one of the my father myself; but your lives shall not be longmurderers of Olympio at Terni fell into the hands of secure." The assassins, hearing this short but terrible justice ; he confessed that he had been hired to this threat, feared that if they did not commit the deed, deed by Monsignore Guerra, who had also commissioned the tempest would burst over their own heads, took him to assassinate Marzio. Fortunately for this precourage, and re-entered the chamber where Francesco late, he received prompt information of the testimony slept, and with a hammer drove a nail into his head, given against him, and was able to hide himself for a making it pass by his eye, and another they drove time, and to plan his escape, which was very difficult; into his neck. After a few struggles the unbappy for his stature, the fairness and beauty of his counteFrancesco breathed his last. The murderers departed, nance, and his light hair, made him conspicuous for after having received the remainder of the promised discovery. He changed his dress for that of a charcoal. reward; besides which, Beatrice gave Marzio a mantle man, blackening his face, and shaving his head ; and trimmed with gold. After this the two ladies, after thus disguised, driving two asses before him, with some drawing out the two nails, enveloped the body in a fine bread and onions in his hands, he passed freely through sheet, and carried it to an open gallery that overhung Rome, under the eyes of the ministers of justice, who a garden, and had underneath an elder-tree : from sought him everywhere ; and, without being recogoised thence they threw it down, so that it might be believed by any one, passed out of one of the gates of the city, that Francesco, attending a call of nature, was travers where, after a short time, he was met by the sbirri, ing this gallery, when, being only supported by feeble who were searching the country, and passed unknown bcams, it had given way, and thus had lost his life. by them, not without suffering great fear at his risk
And so indeed was it believed the next day, when of being discovered and arrested : by means of this the feigned lamentations of Lucretia and Beatrice, who ingenious disguise he effected his escape to a safe appeared inconsolable, spread the news of Francesco's country. death. He received an honourable burial ; and his The flight of Monsignore Guerra, joined to the confamily, after a short stay at the castle, returned to Rome fession of the murderer of Olympio, aggravated the to enjoy the fruits of their crime. They passed some other proofs so much, that the Cenci were re-transferred time there in tranquillity ; but Divine Justice, which from Castello to Corte Savella, and were condemned would not allow so atrocious a wickedness to remain to be put to the torture. The two sons sank vilely hid and unpunished, so ordered it, that the Court of under their torments, and became convicted; Lucretia, Naples, to which the account of the death of Cenci being of advanced age, having completed her fiftieth was forwarded, began to entertain doubts concerning year, and being of a fat make, was not able to resist the mode by which he came by it, and sept a com the torture of the cord—[ The original is wanting.) missary to examine the body and to take informations. -But he Signora Beatrice, being young, lively, and Among other things, this man discovered a circumstance strong, neither with good nor ill treatment, with to the prejudice of the family of the deceased : it ap menaces, nor fear of torture, would allow a single word peared that the day after the event of her father's to pass her lips which might inculpate her; and even, death, Beatrice had given to wash a sheet covered with by her lively eloquence, confused the judges who blood, saying:
examined her. The Pope, being informed of all that
passed by Signor Ulysse Moraci, the judge employed These informations were instantly forwarded to the in this affair, became suspicious that the beauty of Court of Rome; but, nevertheless, several months Beatrice had softened the mind of this judge, and passed without any step being taken in disfavour committed the cause to another, who found out another of the Cenci family; and, in the mean time, the mode of torment, called the torture of the hair; and youngest son of Francesco died, and two only remained when she was already tied under this torture, be of the five that he had had ; namely, Giacomo and Ber- brought before her her mother-in-law and brothers. nardo. Monsignore Guerra, having heard of the notifi- | They began altogether to exhort her to confess ; saying, cation made by the Court of Naples to that of Rome, that since the crime had been committed, they fearing that Marzio and Olympio might fall into the must suffer the punishment. Beatrice, after some hands of justice, and be induced to confess their crime resistance, said, “ So you all wish to die, and to dis