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XI MESSER FOLCO'S FESTIVAL
I  may say, indeed, to the very extreme of verity, that Messer Folco of the Portinari was an excellent man. I will never say that he had not his faults, for he had them, being mortal. He was, it may be, natived with something of a domineering disposition. Feeling himself worthy to command, he liked, perhaps as often as not, to assert that worthiness. It is very certain that what Messer Guido said of him was true, and that with regard to his own family he was indeed the Roman father, one whose word must be law absolute and unquestionable for all his children. Yet withal a just man whose judgments seldom erred in harshness. Although not acrimonious, he was inclined to be choleric, and he was punctilious to a degree that would never have suited my humor on all matters that concerned what he regarded as the sober conduct of life. Enough of this. Let us turn to the good man's patent virtues.

Though his steadfast adhesion to his own party had earned him many enemies among those of the [Pg 139]opposing faction, he was never so hot and desperate a politician as the most of his compatriots. There was in him something of the ancient humor and the ancient sweetness of them that wrote and taught with Cicero, and though he thought as highly as any Roman of them all of the honor and glory of the commonweal, he was so much of a philosopher as to believe that honor and glory to be earned, at least as much, by the welfare in mind and body of the citizens as by the triumph of one party over another party. He was alive with all the delicate and sensible charities, was forever scheming and planning to lessen distress and lighten sorrows, and if he could have had his way there would never have been a sick man or a poor man within the walls of Florence. Toward this end, indeed, he employed the major portion of his considerable wealth with more zeal, and yet at the same time with more prudence, than any other benefactor in the city. Vacant spaces of land, whose title-deeds lay to his credit, were now busy with men laying brick upon brick for this building that was to be a little temple of learning, and that building that was to be a hospital for the hurts and the sufferings of troubled men, and this other that was in time to be a church and sanctuary for the spirit as its fellow-edifices were sanctuaries for the body and the mind.

Messer Folco also gave largely in charities, both public and private, and yet, for all his sweetness of [Pg 140]generosity he was so shrewd a man that none ever came to him twice with a lying tale or tempted his beneficence with false credentials. He would say, and, indeed, I have heard him say it, though he spoke not to me indeed, for I was never one of those that he would have chosen for intimate conversation—he would say that charity, to be of any service in the world, should be as stern and swerveless a judge as ever Minos was. Like all good Florentines, he loved the liberal arts, and no little share of his money went in the encouragement of painters and musicians, and the gravers of bronze and the workers of marble, and those whose splendid pleasure it was to shape buildings that should be worthy of the city.

As the top and crown of all these commendabilities, he had a very liberal and hospitable spirit, loving to entertain, not indeed ostentatiously, but still with so much of restrained magnificence as became so wealthy and so honorable a man. It was in the service of this spirit that Messer Folco, some good while after that lovers' meeting which had been so strangely brought about, and which was to have so strange an issue, made up his mind to give a great entertainment to all his friends and lovers in the city. Because it might be said of him that every man that knew him was his friend, and that many that knew him not loved him for his good deeds and the clarity of his good name, it [Pg 141]came about that the most part of Florence that were of Messer Folco's station were bidden to come and make merry at the Palace of the Portinari. Among the number, to his great satisfaction, was your poor servant who tells you this tale.

The Palace of the Portinari was a great and stately building, with great and stately rooms inside it, stretching one out of another in what seemed to be an endless succession of ordered richness, and behind the great and stately house and within the great and stately walls that girdled it lay such a garden as no other man in Florence owned, a garden so well ordained after a plan so well conceived that though it was spacious indeed, it seemed ten times more spacious than it really was from the cunning and ingenuity with which its lawns and arbors, its boscages and pergolas, its hedges and trees, its alleys and avenues were adapted to lead the admiring wanderer on and on, and make him believe that he should never come to the end of his tether.

This garden was, for the most part, dedicated to the service of Monna Beatrice and her girl friends in the daytime. In the evening Messer Folco would often walk there with grave and learned elders like himself, and stir the sweet air with changing old-time philosophies, while Monna Beatrice and her maidens sang or danced or luted or played ball. Messer Folco was a man that cherished the [Pg 142]domesticities, and had no desire to see his home distorted into a house of call where all had a right to take him by the hand, and he held that the family life flourished best, like certain plants, in seclusion. But as there is a time for all things, so Messer Folco found a time for opening his doors to his friends and acquaintances, and giving them the freedom of his sweet garden, and bidding them eat and drink and dance and make merry to the top of their desires, always, of course, under the control of such decorum as was due to the noble life.

It was to celebrate the laying of the foundation-stone of his hospital that Messer Folco gave the entertainment of which I have just spoken and whose eventful consequences I have yet to relate. It must, of course, be clearly understood that I was not, and, indeed, could not be, always a witness of the events recorded or a hearer of the words set down in my narrative. But while it was my happy or sad fortune to witness many of these events and to hear many of these words, it was also my privilege, knowing, as I did, those that played their part in my tale, and those that knew them well and loved them well, to gain so close a knowledge of the deeds I did not witness and the words I did not hear as to make me as creditable in the recording them as any historian of old time that puts long speeches into the mouths of statesmen he [Pg 143]never saw, and repeats the harangues of embattled generals on fields where he never fought. And so to come back to Messer Folco and his house and his garden and his friends and the festival he gave them.


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