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THE METAL PIG

 

IN the city of Florence, not far from the Piazza del Granduca, there runs a little cross-street , I think it is called Porta Rossa . In this street , in front of a kind of market hall where vegetables are sold, there lies a Pig artistically fashioned of metal. The fresh clear water pours from the snout of the creature , which has become a blackish-green from age; only the snout shines as if it had been polished, and indeed it has been, by many hundreds of children and poor people , who seize it with their hands , and place their mouths close to the mouth of the animal , to drink . It is a perfect picture to see the well-shaped creature clasped by a half-naked boy, who lays his red lips against its snout .

Every one who comes to Florence can easily find the place; he need only ask the first beggar he meets for the Metal Pig , and he will find it .

It was late on a winter evening. The mountains were covered with snow; but the moon shone, and moonlight in Italy is just as good as the light of a murky Northern winter' s day ; nay , it is better, for the air shines and lifts us up, while in the North the cold grey leaden covering seems to press us downwards to the earth----the cold damp earth, which will some day press down our coffin .

In the Grand Duke's palace garden, under a roof of Pines where a thousand roses bloom in winter, a little ragged boy had been sitting all day long, a boy who might serve as a type of Italy, pretty and smiling, and yet suffering. He was hungry and thirsty, but no one gave him anything; and when it became dark, and the garden was to be closed, the porter turned him out. Long he stood musing on the bridge that spans the Arno, and looked at the stars, whose light glittered in the water between him and the splendid marble bridge.

He took the way towards the Metal Pig, half knelt down; clasped his arms round it, put his mouth against its shining snout , and drank the fresh water in deep draughts. Close by lay a few leaves of salad and one or two chestnuts; these were his supper. No one was in the street but himself----it belonged to him alone, and so he boldly sat down on the Pig's back, bent forward, so that his curly head rested on the head of the animal, and before he was aware fell asleep .

It was midnight. The Metal Pig stirred, and he heard it say quite distinctly, You little boy, hold tight, for now I am going to run, and away it ran with him.

This was a wonderful ride . First they got to the Piazza del Granduca, and the metal horse which carries the Duke' s statue neighed loudly , the painted coats of arms on the old council-house looked like transparent pictures, and Michael Angelo's David swung his sling: there was a strange life stirring among them. The metal groups representing Perseus, and the rape of the Sabines, stood there only too much alive : a cry of mortal fear escaped them, and resounded over the splendid lonely square.

By the Palazzo degli Uffizi, in the arcade, where the nobility assemble for the Carnival amusements, the Metal Pig stopped . Hold tight , said the creature , for now we are going upstairs . The little boy spoke not a word , for he was half frightened , half delighted .

They came into a long gallery where the boy had already been. The walls were adorned with pictures; here stood statues and busts , all in the most charming light , as if it had been broad clay ; but the most beautiful of all was when the door of a side room opened : the little boy could remember the splendour that was there , but on this night everything shone in the most glorious colours.

Here stood a beautiful woman, as radiant in beauty as nature and the greatest master of sculpture could make her: she moved her graceful limbs, dolphins sprang at her feet, and immortality shone out of her eyes . The world calls her the Venus de Medici . By her side are statues in which the spirit of life had been breathed into the stone; they are handsome unclothed men. One was sharpening a sword, and was called the Grinder; the Wrestling Gladiators formed another group; and the sword was sharpened, and they strove for the goddess of beauty .

The boy was dazzled by all this pomp : the walls gleamed with bright colours, and everything was life and movement there . In twofold form was seen the image of Venus, the earthly Venus, full and glowing, as Titian had seen her. The pictures of two lovely women; their beautiful unveiled limbs were stretched out on the soft cushions; their bosoms heaved, and their heads moved, so that the rich locks fell down over the rounded shoulders , while their dark eyes uttered glowing thoughts . But not one of all the pictures dared to step quite out of its frame . The Goddess of Beauty herself, the Gladiators and the Grinder, remained in their places , for the glory that shone from the Madonna , Jesus , and St . John , restrained them . The holy pictures were pictures no longer, they were the Holy Ones themselves.

What splendour, what beauty shone from hall to hall! and the little boy saw everything plainly, for the Metal Pig went step by step through all this scene of magnificence. Each fresh sight effaced the last. One picture only fixed itself firmly in his soul, especially through the very happy children introduced into it ; the little boy had once nodded to these in the daylight .

Many persons pass by this picture with indifference, and yet it contains a treasure of poetry. It represents the Saviour descending into hell. But these are not the damned whom the spectator sees around him, they are the heathens. The Florentine Angiolo Bronzino painted this picture. Most beautiful is the expression on the faces of the children,----the full confidence that they will get to heaven: two little beings are already embracing, and one little one stretches out his hand towards another who stands below him, and points to himself as if he were saying, I am going to heaven! The older people stand uncertain, hoping, or bowing in humble adoration before the Lord Jesus . The boy' s eyes rested longer on this picture than on any other. The Metal Pig stood still before it. A low sigh was heard : did it come from the picture or from the animal? The boy lifted up his hands towards the smiling children; then the Pig ran away with him, away through the open vestibule .

Thanks and blessings to you , you dear thing! said the little boy, and caressed the Metal Pig, as it sprang down the steps with him.

Thanks and blessings to yourself, replied the Metal Pig . I have helped you , and you have helped me , for only with an innocent child on my back do I receive power to run! Yes , you see , I may even step into the rays of the lamp in front of the picture of the Madonna, I can carry you everywhere , only I may not go into the church . But from without , when you are with me , I may look in through the open door. Do not get down from my back; if you do so, I shall lie dead as you see me in the daytime at the Porta Rossa .

I will stay with you , my dear creature! cried the child .

So they went in hot haste through the streets of Florence , out into the place before the church of Santa Croce .

The folding doors flew open, and lights gleamed out from the altar through the church into the deserted square .

A wonderful blaze of light streamed forth from a monument in the left aisle, and a thousand moving stars seemed to form a glory round it . A coat of arms shone upon the grave, a red ladder in a blue field seemed to glow like fire. It was the grave of Galileo . The monument is unadorned, but the red ladder is a significant emblem, as if it were that of art , for in art the way always leads up a burning ladder, towards heaven. The prophets of mind soar upwards towards heaven , like Elias of old .

To the right, in the aisle of the church, every statue on the richly carved sarcophagi seemed endowed with life . Here stood Michael Angelo, there Dante with the laurel wreath round his brow, Alfieri and Machiavelli; for herethe great men, the pride of Italy, rest side by side. It is a glorious church , far more beautiful than the marble cathedral of Florence , though not so large .

It seemed as if the marble vestments stirred, as if the great forms raised their heads higher and looked up, amid song and music, to the bright altar glowing with colour, where the white-clad boys swing the golden censers; and the strong fragrance streamed out of the church into the open square .

The boy stretched forth his hand towards the gleaming light, and in a moment the Metal Pig resumed its headlong career; he was obliged to cling tightly; and the wind whistled about his ears; he heard the church door creak on its hinges as it closed; but at the same moment his senses seemed to desert him, he felt a cold shudder pass over him, and awoke.

It was morning, and he was still sitting on the Metal Pig, which stood where it always stood on the Porta Rossa, and he had slipped half off its back .

Fear and trembling filled the soul of the boy at the thought of her whom he called mother, and who had yesterday sent him forth to bring money; for he had none, and was hungry and thirsty . Once more he clasped his arms round the neck of his metal pig, kissed its lips, and nodded farewell to it . Then he wandered away into one of the narrowest streets , where there was scarcely room for a laden ass . A great iron-clamped door stood ajar; he passed through it , and climbed up a brick stair with dirty walls and a rope for a balustrade, till he came to an open gallery hung with rags; from here a flight of stairs led down into the court, where there was a fountain, and great iron wires led up to the different stories , and many water-buckets hung side by side, and at times the roller creaked, and one of the buckets would dance into the air, swaying so that the water splashed out of it down into the courtyard . A second ruinous brick staircase here led upwards. Two Russian sailors were running briskly down, and almost overturned the poor boy : they were going home from their nightly carouse. A strongly-built woman, no longer young, with coarse black hair, followed them.

What do you bring home? she asked the boy.

Don ' t be angry , he pleaded . I received nothing----nothing at all . And he seized the mother' s dress, and would have kissed it .

They went into the little room. I will not describe it, but only say that there stood in it an earthen pot with handles, made for holding fire, and called a marito . This pot she took in her arms, warmed her fingers, and pushed the boy with her elbow.

Certainly you must have brought some money? said she.

The boy wept, and she struck him with her foot, so that he cried aloud .

Will you be silent, or I' ll break your screaming head! And she brandished the fire-pot which she held in her hand . The boy crouched down to the earth with a screamof terror. Then a neighbour stepped in, also with a marito in her arms.

Felicita, she said, what are you doing to the child?

The child is mine , retorted Felicita . I can murder him if I like, and you too, Giannina.

And she swung her fire-pot . The other lifted up hers in self-defence , and the two pots clashed together with such fury that fragments , fire , and ashes flew about the room; but at the same moment the boy rushed out at the door , sped across the courtyard , and fled from the house . The poor child ran till he was quite out of breath . He stopped by the church, whose great doors had opened to him the previous night, and went in. Everything was radiant . The boy knelt down at the first grave on the right hand, the grave of Michael Angelo, and soon he sobbed aloud. People came and went, and Mass was said; but no one noticed the boy, only an elderly citizen stood still, looked at him, and then went away like the rest.

Hunger and thirst tormented the child; he was quite faint and ill , and he crept into a corner between the wall and the marble monument , and went to sleep . Towards evening he was awakened by a tug at his sleeve; he started up, and the same citizen stood before him.

Are you ill? Where do you live? Have you been here all day? were three of the many questions the old man asked of him.

He answered, and the old man took him into his little house close by , in a back street . They came into a glover' s workshop , where a woman sat sewing busily . A little white Spitz dog, so closely shaven that his pink skin could be seen, frisked about on the table and gamboled before the boy .

Innocent souls soon make acquaintance, said the woman.

And she caressed the boy and the dog. The good people gave the child food and drink, and said he should be permitted to stay the night with them; and next day Father Guiseppe would speak to his mother. A little simple bed was assigned to him, but for him who had often slept on the hard stones it was a royal couch; and he slept sweetly, and dreamed of the splendid pictures and of the Metal Pig .

Father Guiseppe went out next morning: the poor child was not glad of this, for he knew that the object of the errand was to send him back to his mother. He wept, and kissed the merry little dog, and the woman nodded approvingly at both .

What news did Father Guiseppe bring home? He spoke a great deal with his wife, and she nodded and stroked the boy' s cheek .

He is a capital lad! said she . He may become an accomplished glove-maker, like you; and look what delicate fingers he has! Madonna intended him for a glove-maker .

And the boy stayed in the house, and the woman herself taught him to sew : he ate well, slept well, and became merry, and began to tease Bellissima, as the little dog was called; but the woman grew angry at this, and scolded and threatened him with her finger. This touched the boy's heart, and he sat thoughtful in his little chamber. This chamber looked upon the street, in which skins were dried; there were thick bars of iron before his window. He could not sleep, for the Metal Pig was always present in his thoughts, and suddenly he heard outside a pit-pat . That must be the Pig! He sprang to the window, but nothing was to be seen----it had passed by already .

Help the gentleman to carry his box of colours, said the woman next morning to the boy, when their young neighbour the artist passed by, carrying a paint-box and a large rolled canvas.

The boy took the box, and followed the painter; they betook themselves to the gallery , and mounted the same staircase which he remembered well from the night when he had ridden on the Metal Pig. He recognized the statues and pictures , the beautiful marble Venus , and the Venus that lived in the picture; and again he saw the Madonna, and the Saviour, and St. John.

They stood still before the picture by Bronzino, in which Christ is descending into bell, and the children smiling around him in the sweet expectation of heaven. The poor child smiled too , for he felt as if his heaven were here .

Go home now, said the painter, when the boy had stood until the other had set up his easel.

May I see you paint? asked the boy. May I see you put the picture upon this white canvas?

I am not going to paint yet, replied the man; and he brought out a piece of black crayon. His hand moved quickly; his eye measured the great picture, and though nothing appeared but a thin line, the figure of the Saviour stood there , as in the coloured picture .

Why don't you go?said the painter.

And the boy wandered home silently, and seated himself on the table and learned to sew gloves .

But all day long his thoughts were in the picture gallery; and so it came that he pricked his fingers, and was awkward; but he did not tease Bellissima. When evening came, and when the house door stood open, he crept out : it was cold but starlight , a bright beautiful evening. Away he went through the already deserted streets, and soon came to the Metal Pig. He bent down on it, kissed its shining mouth, and seated himself on its back.

You happy creature ! he said ; how I have longed for you! We must take a ride tonight .

The Metal Pig lay motionless, and the fresh stream gushed forth from its mouth . The little boy sat astride on its back: then something tugged at his clothes. He looked down, and there was Bellissima----little smooth-shaven Bellissima----the dog had crept out of the house along with him,and had followed him without his noticing it . Bellissima barked as if she would have said, Here am I too ; why are you sitting there? A fiery dragon could not have terrified the boy so much as did the little dog in this place. Bellissima in the street , and not dressed , as the old lady called it! What would be the end of it? The dog never came out in winter, except attired in a little lamb-skin, which had been cut out and made into a coat for him; it was made to fasten with a red ribbon round the little dog' s neck and body , and was adorned with bows and with bells. The dog looked almost like a little kid, when in winter he got permission to patter out with his mistress . Bellissima was outside , and not dressed! what would be the end of it! All his fancies were put to flight; yet the boy kissed the Metal Pig once more, and then took Bellissima, on his arm : the little thing trembled with cold, therefore the boy ran as fast as he could .

What are you running away with there? asked two gendarmes whom he met , and at whom Bellissima barked . Where have you stolen that pretty dog? they asked, and they took it away from him.

Oh , give it back to me! cried the boy despairingly .

If you have not stolen him, you may say at home that the dog may be sent for to the watch-house . And they told him where the watch-house was , and went away with Bellissima .

Here was a terrible calamity ! The boy did not know whether he should jump into the Arno, or go home and confess everything; they would certainly kill him, he thought.

But I will gladly be killed; then I shall die and get to heaven , he reasoned . And he went home , principally with the idea of being killed .

The door was locked, and he could not reach the knocker; no one was in the street, but a stone lay there, and with this he thundered at the door.

Who is there? cried somebody from within.

It is I , said he , The dog is gone . Open the door, and then kill me!

There was quite a panic . Madame was especially concerned for poor Bellissima. She immediately looked at the wall, where the dog' s dress usually hung, and there was the little lamb-skin .

Bellissima in the watch-house ! she cried aloud . You bad boy ! How did you entice her out? She' ll be frozen, the poor delicate little thing! among those rough soldiers .

The father was at once sent off----the woman lamented and the boy wept . All the inhabitants of the house came together, and among the rest the painter; he took the boy between his knees and questioned him; and in broken sentences he heard the whole story about the Metal Pig and the gallery, which was certainly rather incomprehensible.

The painter consoled the little fellow, and tried to calm the old lady' s anger; but she would not be pacified until the father came in with Bellissima, who had been among the soldiers; then there was great rejoicing; and the painter caressed the boy, and gave him a handful of pictures .

Oh , those were capital pieces----such funny heads! ----and truly the Metal Pig was there among them, bodily . Oh , nothing could be more superb! By means of a few strokes it was made to stand there on the paper, and even the house that stood behind it was sketched in .

Oh, if one could only draw and paint! Then one could bring the whole world to oneself .

On the first leisure moment of the following day, the little fellow seized the pencil, and on the back of one of the pictures he attempted to copy the drawing of the Metal Pig, and he succeeded! ----it was certainly rather crooked,rather up and down, one leg thick and another thin; but still it was to be recognized, and he rejoiced himself at it. The pencil would not quite work as it should do , that he could well observe; but on the next day a second Metal Pig was drawn by the side of the first, and this looked a hundred times better; and the third was already so good that every one could tell what it was meant for.

But the glove-making prospered little, and his errands in the town were executed but slowly ; for the Metal Pig had taught him that all pictures may be drawn on paper; and Florence is a picture-book for any one who chooses to turn over its pages. On the Piazza del Trinita stands a slender pillar, and upon it the goddess of justice, blindfolded and with her scales in her hand . Soon she was placed on thepaper, and it was the little glove-maker's boy who placed her there. The collection of pictures increased, but as yet it only contained representations of lifeless objects, when one day Bellissima came gambolling before him.

Stand still said he, then you shall be made beautiful and put into my collection .

But Bellissima would not stand still, so she had to be bound fast; her head and tail were tied, and she barked and jumped, and the string had to be pulled tight; and then the signora came in.

You wicked boy! ----The poor creature! was all she could utter.

And she pushed the boy aside, thrust him away with her foot , ordered him out of her house, and called him a most ungrateful good-for-nothing and a wicked boy; and then, weeping, she kissed her little half-strangled Bellissima .

At this very moment the painter came upstairs, and here is the turning-point of the story.

In the year 1834 there was an exhibition in the Academy of Arts at Florence. Two pictures, placed side by side , collected a number of spectators . The smaller of the two represented a merry little boy who sat drawing, with a little white Spitz dog, curiously shorn, for his model; but the animal would not stand still, and was therefore bound by a string fastened to its head and its tail. There was a truth and life in this picture that interested every one. The painter was said to be a young Florentine, who had been found in the streets in his childhood, had been brought up by an old glove-maker, and had taught himself to draw. It was further said that a painter, now become famous, had discovered this talent just as the boy was to be sent away for tying up the favourite little dog of Madame, and using it as a model.

The glove-maker's boy had become a great painter: the picture proved this, and still more the larger picture that stood beside it. Here was represented only one figure , a handsome boy , clad in rags , asleep in the street , and leaning against the Metal Pig in the Porta Rossa street .All the spectators knew the spot . The child' s arms rested upon the head of the Pig; the little fellow was fast asleep, and the lamp before the picture of the Madonna threw astrong effective light on the pale delicate face of the child----it was a beautiful picture! A great gilt frame surrounded it , and on one corner of the frame a laurel wreath had been hung; but a black band wound among the green leaves, and a streamer of crape hung down from it.

For within the last few days the young artist had died!


 

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