“THE 3rd of July had been excessively hot, and, late in the evening, when the air was somewhat cooler, Crichton, followed by one of his servants, issued from the ducal palace, which he was never to enter again. Did no foreboding oppress him as he gazed for the last time on the moonbeams which flickered on the battlements of the Gothic edifice? Did his heart not wander for a moment with sudden longing to his native land which he had forsaken many years ago? Who knows what thoughts may have arisen in his mind as he strolled through the deserted porticoes and silent squares of the ancient city – thoughts, it may be, of greater glory, of wedded love, of home, of Heaven – for he had a strange religion of his own. Or, it may be, he was only brooding on wrongs received and longing for power to revenge himself on his enemies. No one can know now. He passed on, and no voice bade him turn back; the ancient grotesque statue of Virgil, which grinned on him from a niche in the wall of the Piazza, uttered no word of warning; the clock in the next square struck the first hour of night – did Crichton not hear his death knell in that sound? The last square is crossed; the moon is shining brightly; used to scenes of blood, she does not hide her face as the young Scot passes on, entering the narrow street of San Silvestro.1 Two young men approach; one gives Crichton a rude push, and thrusts him down from the side next the wall, passing on at once. He, indignant at the affront, draws his poniard and assails the companion of his insulter, wounding him in the shoulder; the other youth, hearing the clash of steel, turns back – a few moments of deadly strife – two of the combatants are mortally wounded, and Crichton, recognising, at last, him from whom he had received his death blow, murmers, “Forgive me, your Highness; I only recognise you now.”
Such at least is the story as narrated by the Prince, who, being the only survivor, could tell the tale as he chose, without fear of being contradicted. But Crichton’s servant, where was he? From that moment he was seen no more – an occurrence in itself sufficient to throw suspicion of foul play on Vincenzo, of whom this servant was subject. But let us hear his own account of the matter, as related in the following letter, written by Luigi Olivo the castellan, an hour after Crichton’s death:-
To the very illustrious Signore, Aurelio Zibramonti,
Secretary and Councillor of his Highness.
Immediately. On his Highness’ service.
At the second hour of night,2 as I was on the point of going to bed, I was informed that Mr. James Crichton had been wounded to death; therefore I dressed at once, meaning to send some one to see him, and to make whatever provisions might be required. As I was leaving my apartments, however, the most Serene Signor Prince came to me and asked me to have the postern opened for four of his men whom he wished to place in ambush on the lake so that (so his Highness said to me) Signor Crichton might not escape by the walls and swim over the lake, he having killed Signor Hippolytus Lanzoni at his Highness’ feet. I answered that I could not do it; besides, Signor Crichton, being wounded to death, was in no state to escape by swimming over the lake. The Signor Prince calmed himself then, and said he thought he had wounded him, but was not sure of it. Showing me then his sword and buckler, the one all bloody and hacked, the other bearing the marks of many blows, his Highness narrated the fact in this manner: Having gone out in doublet3 with the said Lanzoni to wish Signor Valerian Cattaneo a good evening, he had met, about half-past one at night, one who had his hood over his face and his sword under his arm, and who wanted to keep the upper part of the street. Thinking this was Count Langosco, he had given him a push with his buckler and sent him down, and had then passed on. This person, however, as Signor Lanzoni passed him, had stabbed the latter in the back, so that the said Lanzoni had begun to use his sword. His Highness, missing him, and not knowing why he delayed, put himself forward and began to fight, giving blows and receiving them on his buckler. At last, with a thrust, he wounded his adversary, who then said, “Your Highness, forgive me, for I did not recognise you till now.” Nothing else would have happened then, had not Signor Lanzoni said he was badly wounded, and, while the prince was trying to support him till he had reached some place where he could have his wounds dressed, after a few steps he had fallen to the ground and died there at the feet of his Highness, who got two priests who happened to be there to recommend his soul to God. Deeply grieved and exceedingly angry, his Highness, after the death of Signor Lanzoni, left the spot, intending to find means of hindering Crichton’s escape; but this provision was not necessary, since at three o’clock at night, which has just sounded, the said Signor Crichton, having had his wounds medicated, yielded his soul to God. A truly strange case, since, beside the manifest danger in which the Serene Signor Prince found himself, it has been followed by the death of those two gentlemen, worthy of being wept by all. I send the present courier immediately so that he may reach you by daybreak, and I have ordered a horse to be given to him in order that he may arrive in time. I humbly kiss your Lordship’s hands.
Mantua, 3rd July, at the 4th hour of night, 1582.
Your Lordship’s most obliged Servant,
Post Scr. The said Signor Critonio died in the house of Messere Hippolytus Serena, as I have just learned; Lanzoni in St. Sylvester Street, where he was wounded.
This letter was followed by another written a few hours later, when the castellan had grown somewhat calmer. A few other particulars are added:-
Illustrious and affectionate Sir,
As your Lordship will have seen, I wrote to you this night of the unhappy issue of those homicides with more affliction than ever I felt for any other strange accident, considering the danger which his Most Serene Highness the Prince was in, and which has given and still gives much to say to the city, as a false rumour was spread of his Highness having been badly wounded, so that the people are astounded at seeing his Highness unharmed. Considering, too, the loss of Signor Crichton (may he be in Heaven!) and the unfortunate end of Signor Hippolytus Lanzoni, it is not to be wondered at if I left out some details, if we add to the rest the untimely hour and the excessive heat. I say then that when Signor Crichton made himself known, and begged the Most Serene Prince to pardon him, his Highness immediately withdrew, and Signor Crichton went towards San Silvestro, the said Signor Prince thinking that Lanzoni was not wounded. When, therefore, his Highness saw him fall at his feet, saying he was wounded in the back under the bone of the left shoulder (the wound penetrating downwards and being very deep though it did not pass in front, having been inflicted by Signor Crichton’s poniard as he was passing); when, rather, he saw him die, he was seized by such wrath and excessive grief that he, being quite alone there, without even a lackey, sent immediately to call some of his gentlemen together with Signor Charles Gonzaga, and resolved to take revenge in some way or other on this Signor Crichton. And this he would certainly have done had he not been informed that Signor Crichton had but little time to live, and, in fact, he died an hour later. His highness then calmed himself and went to rest, after having given me a minute relation of the fact, showing me in what peril his life had been, concerning which I said as much to his Highness as I thought convenient for a humble servant. But his Highness answered that he had only gone to wish Signor Cattaneo a good evening, and that he believed Signor Crichton had recognised him as it was early and the moon was shining everywhere, his Highness being in his doublet with his face uncovered and his bonnet pushed back. The accident happened at the entrance of St. Sylvester Street, from Piazzo Purgo. Signor Crichton walked as far as St. Thomas Street, then he sat down, being afterwards lifted up and carried to Serena the apothecary’s, where he died, well disposed though almost unconscious. His wound was quite small, above the right teat, but as bad luck would have it, it was cut across the vena cava, so that not only was it incurable, but it sent out such a profluvium of blood that he was immediately choked. May the Lord God have received him into glory, as He had endowed him with so many rare qualities as will make him unique in the world. I have seen his papers, and among them I have found three or four letters concerning his Highness’ service, which I have taken possession of. An inventory of his belongings and of some few coins of his has been made, and we have found the phial of a liquor which his servants say is most precious. If his Highness so commands, I shall take it, too, into custody.
I swear to your Lordship that I have suffered so much in body and in mind from this unfortunate accident that I am almost demented. I wanted to give your Lordship this further account, lest you should consider me a man who spares his pen. In short, we can agree in saying that the most Serene Signor Prince has been born again, et enim manus domini erat cum illo [and the hand of the Lord was with him]. The Blessed God be praised for ever.
I humbly kiss your Lordships hand and commend myself without end to your favour.
Mantua, 4th July, 1582. LUIGI OLIVO.
The arrival of Olivo’s messenger brought dismay to the Duke’s household at Gonzaga, for, from the first, it was seen that the Prince had laid himself open to grave suspicion; and this unpleasant thought, together with gratitude for his son’s safety, occupied a large place in the Duke’s feelings, though the loss of Crichton also grieved him deeply. He was highly indignant at the Prince’s having been in Lanzoni’s company, and caused Zibramonti to write a sharp letter of reproof to Donati, who ought to have looked better after his pupil. Zibramonti, for whom the “Admirable” had shown so much affection, preserves all the composure of a finished courtier, and, careful of his own interest, writes a cold note of regret to the castellan, charging a servant to find him his bible, which he had lent to the unfortunate Scotchman, as well as the chronicles of Platina, and warning one of Crichton’s creditors that he had better get his claims satisfied before the horses and carriages of the defunct were sold.
There was a great commotion in the court and in the city on the morning of the 4th of July. Messengers were going to and fro from the palace, bringing fresh news, repeating the murmurings of the citizens, whispering of the motives which might have induced Prince Vincenzo to slay the Scot, and wondering, with ominous shakes of their heads, how it would all end. Not the least agitated in the city was Marcellus Donati, who for several days had been confined to his rooms by a slight indisposition. He was in deep consternation at the tragic fact, when the courier brought him Zibramonti’s letter.
“His Highness” – so ran the epistle – “has charged me to write to your Lordship that he has heard of the occurrences of yesterday with that grief which you can imagine, for three reasons – 1st, Because H.S.H. The Prince has stained his hands with blood; 2nd, He has stained them with the blood of one of his Highness’ servants, so renowned throughout the world; 3rd, He was in the company of Hippolytus Lanzoni; therefore, the promise made by him to his Most Serene Father not to associate with him being known, his Highness considers that the world will seize this opportunity of doubting the faith of the Serene Prince.”
This letter wounded the tutor deeply; nor did he hide his resentment. He wrote immediately in answer to the Duke’s reproofs, saying that till then he had been unwell, and that he had suffered no less anxiety than his Highness himself, thinking, as he did, that if the Prince had been behind Lanzoni instead of before him, he would have received the fatal blow. Blaming the Prince for having kept up his relations with the bestial Lanzoni, he nevertheless exculpates him from guilt in his share in the tragedy, and declares that Crichton’s having returned a push by a stab, was the act of a barbarian. “Praised be God!” He exclaims, “that the Prince had no intention of staining his hands with the blood of any one, much less with that of one of the Duke’s servants; but in self-defence he wounded, with one only would, that unfortunate Scot.” He goes on to say that, though he had not seen the Prince after the catastrophe, he had written to him, admonishing him to take what happened as a warning from God to govern himself better in the future, and to live more as a prince and a Christian should. He himself, however, was quite prepared for worse happening, considering the life which the Prince was leading. He remarks on the difficulty of his position, he being but a vassal of his pupil, and concludes with a few stinging words meant for the Duke himself. “The public opinion here and elsewhere,” says he, “is that the Signor Prince is allowed to occupy himself too much in what is not seemly, and not at all in what he ought to.”
This accusation of having neglected the training of his son was a great blow to Duke William, and, after having sent Zibramonti to Mantua to examine into matters and to confer with Donati on the provisions to be made for the future, instructing him also to give orders to the Capitano di Giustizia to investigate the matter thoroughly without respect to persons, he sent him a letter indignantly denying the assertion made by Donati, and calling on Zibramonti himself to prove what efforts had been made to interest the prince in the affairs of State. He had, declared the Duke, been acquainted with everything, and on all important occasions he had been called on to confer with his father. His Highness had even offered to give him a share in the government, reserving for himself alone only the power of granting pardons and naming the magistrates. “Therefore,” concludes Count Sangiorgi, who on this occasion acted as the Duke’s secretary, “if the Prince attends to what he ought not to attend to, that does not happen because his Highness has not made every effort to turn him away from such things as his weak health permitted. But for that, he could have kept the Prince near him, and endeavoured assiduously to understand what would have kept him on the right way.” But these mutual recriminations and justifications were alike futile in the circumstances. The one thing necessary, now that the deed was done, was to justify the Prince’s act not only before the Duke’s subjects but also before the other courts of Italy, where malignant rumours were sure to spread. There was no danger of an investigation resulting unfavourably to Vincenzo; the servant who had been with Crichton had mysteriously disappeared; the Prince was the only survivor of the three combatants; his tale was perfectly plausible, and the officers of the law would naturally be disposed to look on their Prince’s doings in a favourable light. And the Prince, though he seems to have shunned a direct interview with the Captain of Justice, assumed an air of proud confidence and called on the law to take its course, as he was ready to prove that what he had done he had done justly and as beseemed a knight. That this might be more apparent he ordered that his sword should be exhibited to the public, together with Crichton’s, which was “more than a palm longer,” as well as the poniard with which Lanzoni had been slain and which was “covered with blood up to the hilt.”
As was to be expected, the result of the investigations did not disappoint the court. Vincezo was absolved, as it was agreed that he had slain Crichton by accident and in self-defence. The citizens might murmur and exchange meaning glances as his Highness passed by; abroad, suspicion might be expressed with less precaution; but the law declared Prince Vincenzo Gonzaga free from blame for the death of the Scot, James Crichton, and if some accusation reached his ears, he had but to refer to the following report of the so-called Captain of Justice,4 who was no doubt very thankful when the embarrassing process came to an end. It is addressed to Zibramonti, as secretary of the Duke. Here and there a word is wanting, the documents being corroded at the edges, but there is no difficulty in supplying the missing parts:-
In answer to your Lordship’s letter, written by order of H.S.H., I inform you that, besides the first examination made of the bodies of the two gentlemen, Hipp. Lanzoni and James Crichton, Scot, slain in the affray of the preceding evening, I myself visited them, and found to be true what Julian, our notary of the guard, had … from the records made by him – namely, that Signor Lanzoni, from one single wound under the bone of his left shoulder, in … by a blow from the point of a poniard, penetrating inwardly towards … for a palm, as is seen from the mark of the blood on the Scot’s poniard; … that from this wound here, on the spot of the affray, he fell dead in a short time at his Highness’ feet. The Scotch gentleman has a thrust from a rapier,5 on the right side above the teat, penetrating straight forwards for about five fingers,6 as is shown by the measure of the blood stain on the point of the Serene Signor Prince’s sword, received in the same affray. From this wound he fell, before reaching the house of Messere Hippolyta della Serena, where he had directed himself to have his wounds dressed. He was then carried to the said house, where he expired.
To assist me in my duty, I took information of the deed from several witnesses, and now nothing is wanting but the confession of the Serene Signor Prince, which, judging from the draft of it in the possession of the castellan, I see is in conformity with the process. From the whole it is shown – that the encounter was casual, the one party not recognising the other till the blows had been given; that all the information is in favour of what his Highness the Prince necessarily wrought in the matter; and that, from it, his absolution and liberation by justice reasonably follows, always granted that his Highness thinks this sufficient to repress every sinister opinion of the world and to take away from his Serene Person every stain which men consider such acts make on those who commit them. The fierceness and danger of this affray show what a strife it has been, two out of three having been slain. The grace of God is seen, in the preservation of his Highness from all injury, when we consider the impetus and terribleness7 of the Scotch gentleman, and the slight sword of the Signor Prince, more suitable for peace than for war, for ornament than for strife, five fingers shorter than that of his adversary and all hacked and ill-conditioned. We must therefore be most grateful to the goodness of God. With this I remain the servant of your Lordship, whom may God preserve in happiness.
Your Lordship’s affectionate Servant,
Mantua, 6th July, 1582. THE CAPTAIN OF JUSTICE.
In the meantime, Olivo the castellan, and Bianchi the Master of the Court and Bishop of Osimo, were engaged in examining Crichton’s belongings, while his corpse was lying neglected in the house where he had died. An inventory was made of the very little he had left behind – “stockings, doublets, shirts, and a very little money, lire 20, soldi 7,” to which were added other ten crowns found afterwards in a trunk, of which his servants had the key, besides certain phials containing “liquors, waters, and ointments,” which were put away with the other precious liquor found before. Besides those articles, there were only the horses and carriages belonging to Crichton, and Olivo wrote to the Duke offering to purchase the horses for himself and obliging himself in that case to pay part of the Scotchman’s debts, which were “many and of some importance.” In this same letter he informs him that Crichton’s servants were expecting orders to bury their master with the honour due to him, but that both he and Bianchi had refused to take any step in this matter without express commands from the Duke.
They were, said he, doing their utmost to put matters right; they had “for the reputation of his Highness hesitated to dismiss the Scot’s servants immediately, and had even ordered that three of them should have food given them in the palace.” The same attention was paid to a Scotchman who was supposed to be a relation of the deceased and who found himself in great embarrassment, being without money and unable to speak the language. Olivo recommends the Duke to help him to return to his own country.
Mention is made here as well as in Bianchi’s letters of the servant who was with Crichton when the disaster took place, but who is never mentioned in the Prince’s version of the quarrel, nor even in the report of the Captain of Justice. The castellan mentions that he was a native of Mantua, the Master of the Court observes: “A servant, who was with him when the accident happened, cannot be found. He is supposed to have made a booty of what his master had on, and to have escaped.”
The Duke sent instructions as to how the Scot’s servants were to be treated, ordering that they should be maintained at his expense for eighty days, and agreeing to receive three Frenchmen who had shared Crichton’s apartments and who desired to pay their homage to him. But the servants waited in vain for orders to bury their master with the due ceremonies, and one of them “made up his bundle and took himself off with God”;8 the apothecary refused to keep the corpse in his house any longer, as, with the great heat, it caused an insupportable stench; the servants were penniless, and there was nothing left for them to do but to put the remains of their master into a tarred coffin and carry him quietly and without any solemnity to the small church of San Simone, trusting that the Duke might still pay him the honour due to him, and cause some public obsequies to be celebrated. But the Gonzagas, anxious to have the matter hushed up, bestowed no further thought on the corpse of one who had, nevertheless, been an honour to their court. No record whatever exists of the quiet funeral which took place in the little church that morning of the 5th of July, and no stone marks where the “Admirable’s” body lies; nothing distinguishes his grave from those around it. Very quietly he was sunk into the ground that summer morning, and just as quietly he disappeared from Italian history. Now, however, Nemesis, in the shape of yellow-corroded documents, springs up, and pointing to Vincenzo Gonzago, exclaims, “Thou art the man!” And this Prince was he who protected and consoled the unhappy [Torquato] Tasso, winning his gratitude and affection!
In Mantua, however, the murmurs did not cease immediately. Crichton had been a favourite; the Prince’s conduct had excited universal discontent; and the want of respect shown to the remains of the young Scot, who had been cut off in the flower of his youth, was thought to throw discredit on the Duke. Olivo himself showed his surprise at this neglect in a letter to Zibramonti:-
The people, it seems, are little satisfied, or, to express myself better, are amazed at Signor Crichton’s body having been carried so privately to St. Simon’s, and, as it were, abandoned, considering, especially, that he was one of his Highness’ councillors. Let him consider, then, if it were not well to hinder such rare remains9 from being left there, forsaken in such a way; having at least regard for the rare endowments of his mind, and forgetting the fault he committed, as he, before his death, shewed his repentance and repeatedly asked the Prince’s forgiveness.
But the people were left to their discontent, and Crichton’s corpse was left in the tarred coffin.
The court was much annoyed at the stories that were afloat in the other parts of the peninsula. The report of the Captain of Justice had not deadened suspicion, and the Bishop of Osimo, during a journey through Italy which he made shortly after the tragic event, found that the Prince was not considered guiltless by many whose good opinion was desirable. He wrote therefore to Vincenzo, warning him of the calumnies, and telling him what he had done to refute them. Though Bianchi had been in Mantua when the tragic event happened, the Prince nevertheless found it advisable to send him a detailed account of it, with which he might annihilate his accusers. As, up to the present, we have only had his description of the occurrence at second hand, it may be interesting to read his letter, of which the syntax is very curious:-
Illustrious and Reverend Sir,
I thank your Lordship for the affectionate admonition in your letter of the 17th, knowing that it was dictated by that good-will which you have always borne and still bear to my service. That you may know the exact truth about the unfortunate accident which happened to me, and be able to tell it to whom you may think proper, I want to tell you precisely what occurred. One of those evenings, as I was taking a little fresh air in the city about one o’clock at night, being accompanied by Signor Hipp. Lanzoni, a gentleman of this city, in whose humour I took much pleasure, I met by chance, James, the Scot,10 and, believing him to be Count Langosco, my valet, whom he resembled in stature, I went to give him a push as a joke. As I neared him, however, I saw it was not he, and, putting my buckler, which I had on my arm, before my face, I passed on, leaving the Scot in some suspicion. He, seeing Lanzoni follow, with his buckler likewise before his face, tried to pass above him next the wall, and, when he had passed, he thrust his dagger into his shoulder up to the hilt. Both of them then laid hold of their arms, but Lanzoni being mortally wounded could not defend himself. I, therefore, hearing the noise, turned round towards where the sound came from, hastily drawing my sword. The Scot, not knowing me at first, aimed a blow at me, which I parried with my buckler. I attacked the Scot, he sought to ward off the thrust with his poniard, but, it being violent, he did not succeed, and it wounded him in the breast. He, having recognised me, began to beg for his life. I left him and returned to my companion, whom I found scarcely able to stand, and as I tried to sustain him, he fell dead at my feet. It was a case of pure misadventure, and if I had had to do with anyone but a barbarian, so much harm would not have followed. I am sorry that my uncle, the Most Illustrious Monsignore Farnese, should have been so vexed at this my unforeseen mischance. I hope, however, that when he hears my exculpation he will thank God for the matter having ended with the safety of my life, placed in no little peril by the barbarity of that wretch, whom may God pardon and deliver your very Illustrious Lordship from the gout as I offer and commend myself with all my heart to your Lordship for such an end.
From Mantua, July 27th, 1582. THE PRINCE OF MANTUA.
The last two lines are a good specimen of the perspicuity of his Highness’ style. But as his letters seem often to have been written in moments of anger, the elegance of the periods may be attributed to the atrabilious movements of his pen. He was sick of the fuss made about the death of the “barbarian,” sick of the murmurs which would not cease, longing to be out of such favourable surroundings, where black looks met him everywhere. The Duke had evidently refused to see him after Crichton’s death, and at the end of July he humbly wrote a note begging his father’s pardon especially for having been in Lanzoni’s company, professing to be ready and anxious to please him in all things, and asking permission to absent himself for a time from Mantua, where he was continually troubled by the talking on the Scot’s death. At the same time he begged Zibramonti to tell him how he ought to conduct himself; if he would do well to go to Gonzaga to kiss his father’s hand before departing, or if it would be better for him to go without presenting himself to his incensed parent.
The permission thus humbly entreated was granted, and, in a few days, Vincenzo was at the feet of the Countess of Sala, whom he visited on his way to Ferrara!
Crichton, as has already been seen, had left several debts behind him, but his creditors at Mantua were not the only ones who let themselves be heard when the news of his death had spread. In Venice and in Padua he had left some claims unsettled, but the person to whom he owed most, the person who made the most clamour to be paid, was his well-beloved Cornaro, of whom he had ever extolled the extreme goodness, the “almost divine qualities.” On the 6th of July this gentleman wrote a most woeful epistle to Zibramonti, in which, after expressing his profound grief at the loss of his friend, he gives a detailed account of what he had done for Crichton, and begged the Duke to see that his claims were satisfied with the proceeds of the sale of the horses. When Crichton had visited Padua, after having been some time in the Duke’s service, he had lent him 320 crowns to pay his debts, he had paid for several pieces of silk sent to him that summer, and had helped him in a manifold other ways, moved by compassion at his distress. Crichton had promised to refund the money at an early period, and had repeated this promise over and over again in his letters. But now he was dead, and who was to pay his debts? Cornaro himself was then in pecuniary difficulties, and could only trust that the Duke would acknowledge the justice of his claims. He begged, in concluding, that any of his letters which might be found among Crichton’s papers should be returned to him, and declared that his having the money restored would be “the only remedy for the infinite suffering caused him by such a bitter case.”11
At first this appeal was not much attended to. Cornaro’s proofs were unsatisfactory, and other claims had to be settled. He wrote again, therefore, on the 20th of July, begging that “his cause might be speedily despatched, as every day new creditors were appearing and delay might cause him great loss.” In this letter appearing and delay might cause him great loss.” In this letter we hear the first note of accusation against Crichton, “for whom,” says the writer, “I have suffered so much. May it please God to pardon him the evil conduct which he, contrary to all his obligations, has used towards me; whence one could judge of the success of that youth, only well known by me, after he had passed to another life!”12
This last sentence struck the Duke, not sorry perhaps to snatch at something which might diminish the regret he really felt for Crichton’s death, and especially for the manner in which he had met it. He was too conscious of the extraordinary talents of the young Scot not to understand what a loss his court had suffered, and what a stain had been cast on the name Gonzaga. But what if, after all, Crichton had been unworthy of his favour? if, after all, his faults had been great enough to cancel his merits? Then, remorse would be mitigated, blame diminished, and Vincenzo more easily excused. Zibramonti therefore wrote to Cornaro, whose affairs were gradually being arranged as he desired, and asked him what reasons he had for expressing such an unfavourable opinion of his Highness’ late servant. In two letters, addressed the one to the Count San Giorgio, the other to the Duke himself, we get the answer. In the first, Crichton is bitterly accused of deceit and ingratitude, and many insinuations are made about “the letters, mutilated perhaps intentionally,” which the Scot had written to his benefactor, and which were not clear enough to prove his debts, Cornaro, not to wound the excessive pride of his friend,13 having arranged his affairs with great secrecy; the other is worth translating, being a direct reply to the Duke’s inquiry:-
Most Serene Highness,
With all affection I thank your Highness for having deigned in your benignity to reply to my letter, and I render you infinite thanks for the order you have given concerning the summary despatch of my cause, trusting that, when the quality of my proofs is seen, you will allow me to swear to the truth of my statement, as I have begged before and repeat now. Signor Zibramonti writes to me saying that it will please your Highness to know what moved me to write that one could not expect Crichton to turn out well. I said so because, after his death, I discovered, by divers things, that he was ingrate and disloyal. That he was an ingrate can be proved by several who had benefitted him, and by me above all. Disloyal he has manifested himself to be by not observing what he promised and what it was his duty to perform; and showing himself void of sincerity towards me, he has deceived and injured me, which he ought not to have done, I, alas! having paid dearly for my former acquaintance with him. With a thousand oaths he had promised not to touch the supplies which your Highness granted him, pretending that he meant to reintegrate me with those. In spite of that, he has taken them, and, what is worse, he has boasted of being my creditor for large sums. He was not true, and, since his death, I have found that he had opened and retained letters which had been given him to forward to me, doing so, likewise, with some of mine which he ought to have sent to others. Finally, I have discovered an infinity of things which he said and affirmed with great oaths, to be false and simply lies. For these reasons, therefore, and for many others, which, for brevity’s sake, I cannot mention, I was moved to write that he could not turn out well, and many wise people who knew him are of the same opinion. And if he behaved in such a way towards me, Serenissimo Signore, to whom, as God and many mortals know, he was so much beholden, and who had treated him as I had done, what could one hope from him in his relations to anyone else? Never was more said in praise of anyone than what he used to say of me, nor more appearance of affection demonstrated than what he feigned to bear to me; and I have found the whole to be pretence assumed for his own convenience, he hiding his faults with marvellous astuteness. He really esteemed nobody intrinsically, and, in short, he has manifested himself to be of such a wicked nature that I can with truth assert, it is well that he is dead. He might have deceived your Highness too, as I could assure you more completely vivâ voce. Expecting that occasion, I now end, praying to God to give you all happiness.
Your most Serene Highness’
Padua, 11th Aug., 1582. JAMES AL’ CORNARO.
Is this our Admirable Crichton, and was Nemesis waiting for him too, among the dusty papers in the archives? Can we find no word of praise, nothing to testify to his virtues after those terrible accusations, true or untrue?
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interrèd with their bones…
Must we add – “So let it be with Crichton“? Or can it be that, with the exception of his marvellous intellectual gifts, no good was interred with his bones? We feel somewhat inclined to pardon some of Prince Vincenzo’s faults, when we remember his generosity towards Tasso. Must we leave our brilliant young Scot there, in the quiet little church, without a last word of praise? Sadly enough we answer yes. Time may yet discover some noble deed wrought by him; but now, however unwillingly, we must forsake him, not refusing him, indeed, his title of Admirable for his mental endowments, but reluctantly confessing that, as far as we can judge from appearances, his faults were almost as great as the singular gifts with which God had endowed him, and that, however wronged he was by the Prince whom he had served, he, in his turn, had ill requited one who had shown him such exceptional kindness. We have seen, indeed, that Crichton in his letters to Zibramonti confessed freely his obligations to the noble Venetian. We can still hope, then, that Cornaro had been misled, and was, if not unjust, at least mistaken in his bitter complaints, and that some document shedding a purer light on the character of our renowned Admirable Crichton may yet be discovered.
Mantua, Italy. LILY EGLANTINE MARSHALL.”