Berloiz has worked the man up into a strong and sinewy drama, several others have done the same, but it will require the combined skill of Rostand, Mansfield and Samuel Eberly Gross to ever do the character justice.
John Morley says, “There is nothing worse than mettle in a blind horse.” So one might say there is nothing worse than sincerity in a superstitious person. Benvenuto Cellini is the true type of a literary and artistic Bad Man. Had he lived in Colorado in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, the Vigilance Committee would have used him to start a graveyard.
But he is so open, so simple, so candid, that we laugh at his lapses, admire his high resolves, sigh at his follies, sympathize with his spasms of repentance, and smile a misty smile at one who is humorous without meaning to be, who was deeply religious but never pious, who was highly conscientious, undoubtedly artistic, and who blundered through life, always in a turmoil, hopelessly entangled in the web of Fate, committing every crime, justifying himself in everything, and finally passing out peacefully, sincerely believing that he had lived a Christian life.
Benvenuto Cellini was born in Florence, in the year Fifteen Hundred, the day after the feast-day of All Souls, at four-thirty precisely in the afternoon.
The name Benvenuto means welcome: the world welcomed Benvenuto from the first. When five years of age he seized upon a live scorpion that he found in the yard and carried it into the house. His father seeing the deadly creature in his hand sought to get him to throw it away, but he only clung the tighter to the plaything. The parent then grabbed a pair of shears and cut off the tail, mouth and claws of the scorpion, much to the wrath of the child.
Shortly after this he was seated by his father’s side looking into a brazier of coals. All at once they saw a salamander in the fire, wiggling about in playful mood, literally making its bed in hell. Many men go through life without seeing a single salamander; neither Darwin, Spencer, Huxley nor Wallace ever saw one; they are so rare that occasionally there be men who deny their existence, for we are very apt to deny the existence of anything we have not seen. In truth, Benvenuto never saw but this one salamander, but this one was enough: coupled with the incident of the scorpion it was an augury that the boy would have a great career, be in many a hot position, and march through life triumphant and unscathed–God takes care of His own.
The father of Benvenuto was a designer, a goldsmith and an engineer, and he might have succeeded in a masterly way in these sublime arts had he not early in life acquired the habit of the flute. He played the flute all day long, and often played the flute in the morning and the fife at night. As it was the flute that had won him his gracious wife, he thanked God for the gift and continued to play as long as he had breath.
Now, it was his ambition that his son should play the flute, too, as all fond fathers regard themselves as a worthy pattern on which their children should model their manners and morals. But Benvenuto despised the damnable invention of a flute–it was only blowing one’s breath through a horn and making a noise–yet to please his father he mastered the instrument, and actuated by filial piety he occasionally played in a way that caused his father and mother to weep with joy. But the boy’s bent was for drawing and modeling in wax. All of his spare time was spent in this work, and so great was his skill that when he was sixteen he was known throughout all Florence. About this time his brother, two years younger than himself, had the misfortune one day to be set upon by a gang of miscreants, and was nigh being killed when Benvenuto ran to his rescue and seizing his sword laid around him lustily. The miscreants were just making off when a party of gendarmes appeared and arrested all concerned. The rogues were duly tried and sentenced to banishment from the city.