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ON THE Fable and Composition of THE
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
The story was taken from an old translation of the Gesta Romanorum, first printed by Winkin de Worde. The book was very popular, and Shakspere has closely copied some of the language: an additional argument, if we wanted it, of his track of reading.-Three vessels are exhibited to a lady for her choice — The first was made of pure gold, well beset with precious stones without, and within full of dead men's bones; and thereupon was engraven this posie: Whoso chooseth me, shall find that he deserveth. The second vessel was made of fine silver, filled with earth and worms, the superscription was thus, Whoso chooseth me, shall find that his nature desireth. The third vessel was made of lead, full within of precious stones, and thereupon was insculpt this posie, Whoso chooseth me, sball find that God bath disposed for him. - The lady,
comment upon each, chooses the leaden bessel, FARME P..
It has been lately discovered, that this fable is taken from a story in the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a novela list, who wrote in 1378. The story has been published in English, and I have epitomized the translation. The translator is of opinion, that the choice of the caskets is borrowed Aij
from a tale of Boccace, which I have likewise abridged, though I believe that Shakspere must have had some other novel in view. Johnson.
“There lived at Florence, a merchant whose name was Bindo. He was rich, and had three sons. Being near his end, he called for the two eldest, and left them heirs : to the youngest he left nothing. This youngest, whose name was Giannetto, went to his father, and said, What has my father done? The father replied, Dear Giannetto, there is none to whom I wish better than to you. Go to Venice, to your godfather, whose name is Ansaldo : he has no child, and has wrote to me often to send you thither to him. He is the richest merchant amongst the Christians : if you behave well, you will be certainly a rich man. The son answered, I am ready to do whatever my dear father shall command: upon which he gave him his benediction, and in a few days died.
“ Giannetto went to Ansaldo, and presented the letter given by the father before his death. Ansaldo reading the letter, cried out, My dearest godson is welcome to my arms. He then asked news of his father. Giannetto replied, He is dead. I am much grieved, replied Ansaldo, to hear of the death of Bindo; but the joy I feel, in seeing you, mitigates my sorrow. He conducted him to his house, and gave orders to his servants, that Giannetto should be obeyed, and served with more attention than had been paid to himself. He then delivered him the keys of his ready money; and told him, Son, spend this money, keep a table, and make yourself known : remember, that the more you gain the good-will of every body, the more you will be dear to me.
“Giannetto now began to give entertainments. He was more obedient and courteous to Ansaldo, than if he had been an hundred times his father. Every body in Venice was fond of him.
Ansaldo could think of nothing but him; so much was he pleased with his good manners and behaviour.
"It happened, that two of his most intimate acquaintance designed to go with two ships to Alexandria, and told Giannetto,
he would do well to take a voyage and see the world. I would s go willingly, said he, if my father Ansaldo will give leave.
His companions go to Ansaldo, and beg his permission for Giannetto to go in the spring with them to Alexandria; and desire him to provide him a ship. Ansaldo immediately procured a very fine ship, loaded it with merchandize, adorned it with streamers, and furnished it with arms; and, as soon as it was ready, he gave orders to the captain and sailors to do every thing that Giannetto commanded. It happened one morning early, that Giannetto saw a gulph, with a fine port, and asked the captain how the port was called ? He replied, That place belongs to a widow lady, who has ruined many gentle.
In what manner ? says Giannetto. He answered, This lady is a fine and beautiful woman, and has made a law, that whoever arrives here is obliged to go to bed with her, and if he can have the enjoyment of her, he must take her for his wife, and be lord of all the country ; but if he cannot enjoy her, he loses every thing he has brought with him. Giannetto, after a little reflection, tells the captain to get into the port. He was obeyed ; and in an instant they slide into the port so easily that the other ships perceived nothing.
“ The lady was soon informed of it, and sent for Giannetto, who waited on her immediately. She, taking him by the hand, asked him who he was? whence he came? and if he knew the custom of the country? He answered, That the knowledge of that custom was his only reason for coming. The lady paid him great honours, and sent for barons, counts, and knigħts in great numbers, who were her subjects, to keep Giannetto company.
These nobles were highly delighted with the good breeding and manners of Giannetto; and all would have rejoiced to have him for their lord.
“ The night being come, the lady said, it seems to be time to go to bed. Giannetto told the lady, he was entirely devoted to her service; and immediately two damsels enter with wine and sweetmeats. The lady entreats him to taste the wine: he takes the sweet-meats, and drinks some of the wine, which was prepared with ingredients to cause sleep. He then goes into the bed, where he instantly falls asleep, and never wakes till late in the morning, but the lady rose with the sun, and gave orders to unload the vessel, which she found full of rich merchandize. After nine o'clock the women servants go to the bed-side, order Giannetto to rise and be gone, for he had lost the ship. The lady gave him a horse and money, and he leaves the place very melancholy, and goes to Venice. When he arrives, he daręs not return home for shame ; but at night goes to the house of a friend, who is surprised to see him, and inquires of him the cause of his return?. He answers, his ship had struck on a rock in the night, and was broke in pieces.
“ This friend, going one day to make a visit to Ansaldo, found him very disconsolate. I fear, says Ansaldo, so much, that this son of mine is dead, that I have no rest. His friend told him, that he had been shipwrecked, and had lost his all, but that he himself was safe. Ansaldo instantly gets up and runs to find him. My dear son, said he, you need not fear my displeasure ;. it is a common accident; trouble yourself no further. He takes him home, all the way telling him to be cheerful and easy.
“ The news was soon known all over Venice, and every one was concerned for Giannetto. Some time after, his compani.