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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVI - THE PEDIGREE OF MONTE BENI
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVI - THE PEDIGREE OF MONTE BENI Post by :tbeinc Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :3612

Click below to download : The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVI - THE PEDIGREE OF MONTE BENI (Format : PDF)

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVI - THE PEDIGREE OF MONTE BENI

From the old butler, whom he found to be a very gracious and affable
personage, Kenyon soon learned many curious particulars about the
family history and hereditary peculiarities of the Counts of Monte
Beni. There was a pedigree, the later portion of which--that is to
say, for a little more than a thousand years--a genealogist would have
found delight in tracing out, link by link, and authenticating by
records and documentary evidences. It would have been as difficult,
however, to follow up the stream of Donatello's ancestry to its dim
source, as travellers have found it to reach the mysterious fountains
of the Nile. And, far beyond the region of definite and demonstrable
fact, a romancer might have strayed into a region of old poetry, where
the rich soil, so long uncultivated and untrodden, had lapsed into
nearly its primeval state of wilderness. Among those antique paths,
now overgrown with tangled and riotous vegetation, the wanderer must
needs follow his own guidance, and arrive nowhither at last.

The race of Monte Beni, beyond a doubt, was one of the oldest in Italy,
where families appear to survive at least, if not to flourish, on
their half-decayed roots, oftener than in England or France. It came
down in a broad track from the Middle Ages; but, at epochs anterior to
those, it was distinctly visible in the gloom of the period before
chivalry put forth its flower; and further still, we are almost afraid
to say, it was seen, though with a fainter and wavering course, in the
early morn of Christendom, when the Roman Empire had hardly begun to
show symptoms of decline. At that venerable distance, the heralds
gave up the lineage in despair.

But where written record left the genealogy of Monte Beni, tradition
took it up, and carried it without dread or shame beyond the Imperial
ages into the times of the Roman republic; beyond those, again, into
the epoch of kingly rule. Nor even so remotely among the mossy
centuries did it pause, but strayed onward into that gray antiquity of
which there is no token left, save its cavernous tombs, and a few
bronzes, and some quaintly wrought ornaments of gold, and gems with
mystic figures and inscriptions. There, or thereabouts, the line was
supposed to have had its origin in the sylvan life of Etruria, while
Italy was yet guiltless of Rome.

Of course, as we regret to say, the earlier and very much the larger
portion of this respectable descent--and the same is true of many
briefer pedigrees--must be looked upon as altogether mythical. Still,
it threw a romantic interest around the unquestionable antiquity of
the Monte Beni family, and over that tract of their own vines and
fig-trees beneath the shade of which they had unquestionably dwelt for
immemorial ages. And there they had laid the foundations of their
tower, so long ago that one half of its height was said to be sunken
under the surface and to hide subterranean chambers which once were
cheerful with the olden sunshine.

One story, or myth, that had mixed itself up with their mouldy
genealogy, interested the sculptor by its wild, and perhaps grotesque,
yet not unfascinating peculiarity. He caught at it the more eagerly,
as it afforded a shadowy and whimsical semblance of explanation for
the likeness which he, with Miriam and Hilda, had seen or fancied
between Donatello and the Faun of Praxiteles.

The Monte Beni family, as this legend averred, drew their origin from
the Pelasgic race, who peopled Italy in times that may be called
prehistoric. It was the same noble breed of men, of Asiatic birth,
that settled in Greece; the same happy and poetic kindred who dwelt in
Arcadia, and--whether they ever lived such life or not--enriched the
world with dreams, at least, and fables, lovely, if unsubstantial, of
a Golden Age. In those delicious times, when deities and demigods
appeared familiarly on earth, mingling with its inhabitants as friend
with friend,--when nymphs, satyrs, and the whole train of classic
faith or fable hardly took pains to hide themselves in the primeval
woods,--at that auspicious period the lineage of Monte Beni had its
rise. Its progenitor was a being not altogether human, yet partaking
so largely of the gentlest human qualities, as to be neither awful nor
shocking to the imagination. A sylvan creature, native among the
woods, had loved a mortal maiden, and--perhaps by kindness, and the
subtile courtesies which love might teach to his simplicity, or
possibly by a ruder wooing--had won her to his haunts. In due time he
gained her womanly affection; and, making their bridal bower, for
aught we know, in the hollow of a great tree, the pair spent a happy
wedded life in that ancient neighborhood where now stood Donatello's

From this union sprang a vigorous progeny that took its place
unquestioned among human families. In that age, however, and long
afterwards, it showed the ineffaceable lineaments of its wild
paternity: it was a pleasant and kindly race of men, but capable of
savage fierceness, and never quite restrainable within the trammels of
social law. They were strong, active, genial, cheerful as the
sunshine, passionate as the tornado. Their lives were rendered
blissful by art unsought harmony with nature.

But, as centuries passed away, the Faun's wild blood had necessarily
been attempered with constant intermixtures from the more ordinary
streams of human life. It lost many of its original qualities, and
served for the most part only to bestow an unconquerable vigor, which
kept the family from extinction, and enabled them to make their own
part good throughout the perils and rude emergencies of their
interminable descent. In the constant wars with which Italy was
plagued, by the dissensions of her petty states and republics, there
was a demand for native hardihood.

The successive members of the Monte Beni family showed valor and
policy enough' at all events, to keep their hereditary possessions out
of the clutch of grasping neighbors, and probably differed very little
from the other feudal barons with whom they fought and feasted. Such
a degree of conformity with the manners of the generations through
which it survived, must have been essential to the prolonged
continuance of the race.

It is well known, however, that any hereditary peculiarity--as a
supernumerary finger, or an anomalous shape of feature, like the
Austrian lip--is wont to show itself in a family after a very wayward
fashion. It skips at its own pleasure along the line, and, latent for
half a century or so, crops out again in a great-grandson. And thus,
it was said, from a period beyond memory or record, there had ever and
anon been a descendant of the Monte Benis bearing nearly all the
characteristics that were attributed to the original founder of the
race. Some traditions even went so far as to enumerate the ears,
covered with a delicate fur, and shaped like a pointed leaf, among the
proofs of authentic descent which were seen in these favored
individuals. We appreciate the beauty of such tokens of a nearer
kindred to the great family of nature than other mortals bear; but it
would be idle to ask credit for a statement which might be deemed to
partake so largely of the grotesque.

But it was indisputable that, once in a century or oftener, a son of
Monte Beni gathered into himself the scattered qualities of his race,
and reproduced the character that had been assigned to it from
immemorial times. Beautiful, strong, brave, kindly, sincere, of
honest impulses, and endowed with simple tastes and the love of homely
pleasures, he was believed to possess gifts by which he could
associate himself with the wild things of the forests, and with the
fowls of the air, and could feel a sympathy even with the trees; among
which it was his joy to dwell. On the other hand, there were
deficiencies both of intellect and heart, and especially, as it seemed,
in the development of the higher portion of man's nature. These
defects were less perceptible in early youth, but showed themselves
more strongly with advancing age, when, as the animal spirits settled
down upon a lower level, the representative of the Monte Benis was apt
to become sensual, addicted to gross pleasures, heavy, unsympathizing,
and insulated within the narrow limits of a surly selfishness.

A similar change, indeed, is no more than what we constantly observe
to take place in persons who are not careful to substitute other
graces for those which they inevitably lose along with the quick
sensibility and joyous vivacity of youth. At worst, the reigning
Count of Monte Beni, as his hair grew white, was still a jolly old
fellow over his flask of wine, the wine that Bacchus himself was
fabled to have taught his sylvan ancestor how to express, and from
what choicest grapes, which would ripen only in a certain divinely
favored portion of the Monte Beni vineyard.

The family, be it observed, were both proud and ashamed of these
legends; but whatever part of them they might consent to incorporate
into their ancestral history, they steadily repudiated all that
referred to their one distinctive feature, the pointed and furry ears.
In a great many years past, no sober credence had been yielded to the
mythical portion of the pedigree. It might, however, be considered as
typifying some such assemblage of qualities--in this case, chiefly
remarkable for their simplicity and naturalness--as, when they
reappear in successive generations, constitute what we call family
character. The sculptor found, moreover, on the evidence of some old
portraits, that the physical features of the race had long been
similar to what he now saw them in Donatello. With accumulating years,
it is true, the Monte Beni face had a tendency to look grim and
savage; and, in two or three instances, the family pictures glared at
the spectator in the eyes like some surly animal, that had lost its
good humor when it outlived its playfulness.

The young Count accorded his guest full liberty to investigate the
personal annals of these pictured worthies, as well as all the rest of
his progenitors; and ample materials were at hand in many chests of
worm-eaten papers and yellow parchments, that had been gathering into
larger and dustier piles ever since the dark ages. But, to confess
the truth, the information afforded by these musty documents was so
much more prosaic than what Kenyon acquired from Tomaso's legends,
that even the superior authenticity of the former could not reconcile
him to its dullness. What especially delighted the sculptor was the
analogy between Donatello's character, as he himself knew it, and
those peculiar traits which the old butler's narrative assumed to have
been long hereditary in the race. He was amused at finding, too, that
not only Tomaso but the peasantry of the estate and neighboring
village recognized his friend as a genuine Monte Beni, of the original
type. They seemed to cherish a great affection for the young Count,
and were full of stories about his sportive childhood; how he had
played among the little rustics, and been at once the wildest and the
sweetest of them all; and how, in his very infancy, he had plunged
into the deep pools of the streamlets and never been drowned, and had
clambered to the topmost branches of tall trees without ever breaking
his neck. No such mischance could happen to the sylvan child because,
handling all the elements of nature so fearlessly and freely, nothing
had either the power or the will to do him harm.

He grew up, said these humble friends, the playmate not only of all
mortal kind, but of creatures of the woods; although, when Kenyon
pressed them for some particulars of this latter mode of companionship,
they could remember little more than a few anecdotes of a pet fox,
which used to growl and snap at everybody save Donatello himself.

But they enlarged--and never were weary of the theme--upon the
blithesome effects of Donatello's presence in his rosy childhood and
budding youth. Their hovels had always glowed like sunshine when he
entered them; so that, as the peasants expressed it, their young
master had never darkened a doorway in his life. He was the soul of
vintage festivals. While he was a mere infant, scarcely able to run
alone, it had been the custom to make him tread the winepress with his
tender little feet, if it were only to crush one cluster of the grapes.
And the grape-juice that gushed beneath his childish tread, be it
ever so small in quantity, sufficed to impart a pleasant flavor to a
whole cask of wine. The race of Monte Beni--so these rustic
chroniclers assured the sculptor--had possessed the gift from the
oldest of old times of expressing good wine from ordinary grapes, and
a ravishing liquor from the choice growth of their vineyard.

In a word, as he listened to such tales as these, Kenyon could have
imagined that the valleys and hillsides about him were a veritable
Arcadia; and that Donatello was not merely a sylvan faun, but the
genial wine god in his very person. Making many allowances for the
poetic fancies of Italian peasants, he set it down for fact that his
friend, in a simple way and among rustic folks, had been an
exceedingly delightful fellow in his younger days.

But the contadini sometimes added, shaking their heads and sighing,
that the young Count was sadly changed since he went to Rome. The
village girls now missed the merry smile with which he used to greet

The sculptor inquired of his good friend Tomaso, whether he, too, had
noticed the shadow which was said to have recently fallen over
Donatello's life.

"Ah, yes, Signore!" answered the old butler, "it is even so, since he
came back from that wicked and miserable city. The world has grown
either too evil, or else too wise and sad, for such men as the old
Counts of Monte Beni used to be. His very first taste of it, as you
see, has changed and spoilt my poor young lord. There had not been a
single count in the family these hundred years or more, who was so
true a Monte Beni, of the antique stamp, as this poor signorino; and
now it brings the tears into my eyes to hear him sighing over a cup of
Sunshine! Ah, it is a sad world now!"

"Then you think there was a merrier world once?" asked Kenyon.

"Surely, Signore," said Tomaso; "a merrier world, and merrier Counts
of Monte Beni to live in it! Such tales of them as I have heard, when
I was a child on my grandfather's knee! The good old man remembered a
lord of Monte Beni--at least, he had heard of such a one, though I
will not make oath upon the holy crucifix that my grandsire lived in
his time who used to go into the woods and call pretty damsels out of
the fountains, and out of the trunks of the old trees. That merry
lord was known to dance with them a whole long summer afternoon! When
shall we see such frolics in our days?"

"Not soon, I am afraid," acquiesced the sculptor. "You are right,
excellent Tomaso; the world is sadder now!"

And, in truth, while our friend smiled at these wild fables, he sighed
in the same breath to think how the once genial earth produces, in
every successive generation, fewer flowers than used to gladden the
preceding ones. Not that the modes and seeming possibilities of human
enjoyment are rarer in our refined and softened era,--on the contrary,
they never before were nearly so abundant,--but that mankind are
getting so far beyond the childhood of their race that they scorn to
be happy any longer. A simple and joyous character can find no place
for itself among the sage and sombre figures that would put his
unsophisticated cheerfulness to shame. The entire system of man's
affairs, as at present established, is built up purposely to exclude
the careless and happy soul. The very children would upbraid the
wretched individual who should endeavor to take life and the world as
w what we might naturally suppose them meant for--a place and
opportunity for enjoyment.

It is the iron rule in our day to require an object and a purpose in
life. It makes us all parts of a complicated scheme of progress,
which can only result in our arrival at a, colder and drearier region
than we were born in. It insists upon everybody's adding somewhat--a
mite, perhaps, but earned by incessant effort--to an accumulated pile
of usefulness, of which the only use will be, to burden our posterity
with even heavier thoughts and more inordinate labor than our own. No
life now wanders like an unfettered stream; there is a mill-wheel for
the tiniest rivulet to turn. We go all wrong, by too strenuous a
resolution to go all right.

Therefore it was--so, at least, the sculptor thought, although partly
suspicious of Donatello's darker misfortune--that the young Count
found it impossible nowadays to be what his forefathers had been. He
could not live their healthy life of animal spirits, in their sympathy
with nature, and brotherhood with all that breathed around them.
Nature, in beast, fowl, and tree, and earth, flood, and sky, is what
it was of old; but sin, care, and self-consciousness have set the
human portion of the world askew; and thus the simplest character is
ever the soonest to go astray.

"At any rate, Tomaso," said Kenyon, doing his best to comfort the old
man, "let us hope that your young lord will still enjoy himself at
vintage time. By the aspect of the vineyard, I judge that this will
be a famous year for the golden wine of Monte Beni. As long as your
grapes produce that admirable liquor, sad as you think the world,
neither the Count nor his guests will quite forget to smile."

"Ah, Signore," rejoined the butler with a sigh, "but he scarcely wets
his lips with the sunny juice."

"There is yet another hope," observed Kenyon; "the young Count may
fall in love, and bring home a fair and laughing wife to chase the
gloom out of yonder old frescoed saloon. Do you think he could do a
better thing, my good Tomaso?"

"Maybe not, Signore," said the sage butler, looking earnestly at him;
"and, maybe, not a worse!"

The sculptor fancied that the good old man had it partly in his mind
to make some remark, or communicate some fact, which, on second
thoughts, he resolved to keep concealed in his own breast. He now
took his departure cellarward, shaking his white head and muttering to
himself, and did not reappear till dinner-time, when he favored Kenyon,
whom he had taken far into his good graces, with a choicer flask of
Sunshine than had yet blessed his palate.

To say the truth, this golden wine was no unnecessary ingredient
towards making the life of Monte Beni palatable. It seemed a pity
that Donatello did not drink a little more of it, and go jollily to
bed at least, even if he should awake with an accession of darker
melancholy the next morning.

Nevertheless, there was no lack of outward means for leading an
agreeable life in the old villa. Wandering musicians haunted the
precincts of Monte Beni, where they seemed to claim a prescriptive
right; they made the lawn and shrubbery tuneful with the sound of
fiddle, harp, and flute, and now and then with the tangled squeaking
of a bagpipe. Improvisatori likewise came and told tales or recited
verses to the contadini--among whom Kenyon was often an auditor--after
their day's work in the vineyard. Jugglers, too, obtained permission
to do feats of magic in the hall, where they set even the sage Tomaso,
and Stella, Girolamo, and the peasant girls from the farmhouse, all of
a broad grin, between merriment and wonder. These good people got
food and lodging for their pleasant pains, and some of the small wine
of Tuscany, and a reasonable handful of the Grand Duke's copper coin,
to keep up the hospitable renown of Monte Beni. But very seldom had
they the young Count as a listener or a spectator.

There were sometimes dances by moonlight on the lawn, but never since
he came from Rome did Donatello's presence deepen the blushes of the
pretty contadinas, or his footstep weary out the most agile partner or
competitor, as once it was sure to do.

Paupers--for this kind of vermin infested the house of Monte Beni
worse than any other spot in beggar-haunted Italy--stood beneath all
the windows, making loud supplication, or even establishing themselves
on the marble steps of the grand entrance. They ate and drank, and
filled their bags, and pocketed the little money that was given them,
and went forth on their devious ways, showering blessings innumerable
on the mansion and its lord, and on the souls of his deceased
forefathers, who had always been just such simpletons as to be
compassionate to beggary. But, in spite of their favorable prayers,
by which Italian philanthropists set great store, a cloud seemed to
hang over these once Arcadian precincts, and to be darkest around the
summit of the tower where Donatello was wont to sit and brood.

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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS
After the sculptor's arrival, however, the young Count sometimes camedown from his forlorn elevation, and rambled with him among theneighboring woods and hills. He led his friend to many enchantingnooks, with which he himself had been familiar in his childhood. Butof late, as he remarked to Kenyon, a sort of strangeness had overgrownthem, like clusters of dark shrubbery, so that he hardly recognizedthe places which he had known and loved so well.To the sculptor's eye, nevertheless, they were still rich with beauty.They were picturesque in that sweetly impressive way where wildness,in a long lapse of years, has crept over

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXV - SUNSHINE The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXV - SUNSHINE

The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXV - SUNSHINE
"Come," said the Count, "I see you already find the old house dismal.So do I, indeed! And yet it was a cheerful place in my boyhood. But,you see, in my father's days (and the same was true of all my endlessline of grandfathers, as I have heard), there used to be uncles, aunts,and all manner of kindred, dwelling together as one family. Theywere a merry and kindly race of people, for the most part, and keptone another's hearts warm.""Two hearts might be enough for warmth," observed the sculptor, "evenin so large a house as this. One solitary