Who Am I? by Anonymous

A party of young men were at supper, one Sunday, in the city of Florence, at a gentleman's house whose name was Tommaso de Pecori, a respectable, honourable, and good-humoured man, who delighted in pleasant society. This party being retired after supper by a cheerful fire, were talking merrily together, as people who meet on such occasions are apt to do:—"How happens it," said one of them, "that Manetto Ammannotini would not join us to night; yet we all asked him, and still he obstinately refused to come?" This Manetto was by trade a carver in ebony, and kept a shop in St. John's Place—a clever fellow in his trade; he had an agreeable person, was of a merry turn of mind, and about thirty-five years of age. Being tall and rather corpulent, he was called Grasso, and was always accustomed to be of the party of jovial good fellows above-mentioned, who made themselves merry and comfortable; but in the present instance, whether from whim or caprice, the said Manetto would not meet them. The party, however, talking the matter over, could not guess at the reason, and concluding it to be a whim, were a little piqued at it. He who had spoken first, said, "why should we not play him a trick, to cure him of these fancies for the future?" Another said, "but what trick could we put upon him, except make him stand a treat, or some such thing?"

In the party was one whose name was Philip of Brunelesco; this person, who was well acquainted with Grasso, and knew his situation, began to think with himself how they could play him a trick, and ruminating for some time, he at last said, for he was a clever fellow, "Gentlemen, if you like, and I can find in my heart to do it, we will play off a hoax on this Grasso, which will greatly divert us: what I think we must do, is to persuade him that he is transformed, and not the same Grasso, but some other person." The others answered, "but that is certainly not possible." Upon which, Philip explained the plan he meant to pursue; as he was a shrewd fellow, he persuaded them it was very possible; so they all agreed on the means and plan to be pursued by each of them, in order to prove to Grasso that he was no other than one Matteo, one of the party. They proceeded, next night, in the following manner: it was agreed that Philip, who was more intimate with Grasso than either of the others, should go, about the time that shopkeepers generally shut up, to Grasso's shop. When he had been talking to Grasso some time, there came in, as it had been previously settled, a boy in great haste, who asked if Mr. Philip of Brunelesco was there. Philip coming forward, said he was, and that he himself was the man, and asked him what he wanted. To which the boy answered, "you must come home immediately, Sir, for, about two hours ago, your mother met with an accident, and is almost dead; therefore, hasten away with me." Philip, pretending to be very much alarmed and grieved, cried out, "good heaven defend me!" and took leave of Grasso. Grasso, being his friend, said, "I will go with you, if I can be of any service to you; these are cases in which friends should not hold back." Philip thanked him, and said, "I do not wish that you should come now, but should any thing be wanting I will send you word to come." Philip set off as if going homewards, but, turning round a corner of the street, he went into Grasso's house facing the church of Santa Reparata, and opening the door with a picklock, went in and fastened the door, so that no one might enter. Grasso's mother had gone, a few days before, to a little cottage she possessed at Polirrosa, in order to wash the linen, and was expected home hourly. Grasso, after having shut up the shop, went walking up and down the Piazza of San Giovanni as he was accustomed to do, still thinking of his friend's misfortune. It being then night, he thought to himself that Philip would not be in need of any assistance as he had not sent for him, so he determined to go home, and, arriving at the door, he ascended the two steps before it, tried to open the door as usual, and being unable to do so, he perceived it was locked in the inside; therefore, knocking, he cried out aloud, "open the door!" thinking his mother had returned home, and had fastened the door for some reason or other, or had done it inadvertently. Philip, who was within, imitating Grasso's voice, said, "who is there?" Grasso said, "open the door!" Philip pretended as if he thought he who knocked was the identical Matteo, whom they wanted Grasso to believe himself to be; and still assuming the character of Grasso, said, "pry'thee, Matteo, go thy ways, for I am in much anxiety, for as I was in the shop talking to Philip, a boy came running to him, and told him his mother was nearly dead, therefore you see I am sadly distressed then;" turning round he said, "good mother Giovanni, (for thus Grasso's mother was called) do let me have some supper, for it is a shame; you were to have been home two days ago, instead of which you arrive just at this time of the night thus he went on chiding, and imitating Grasso's voice." Grasso hearing this scolding, and it seeming to him to be his own voice, said to himself, "what the devil is all this, and who is he that is up there, is it I?—He says Philip was at his shop when he was told that his mother was ill, and moreover he is scolding Mother Giovanni—certainly I have lost my recollection"—thus saying, as he went down the steps to holla up at the windows, there came by, as had been previously settled, one whose name was Donatello, a stone-mason, a great friend of Grasso, who approaching him in the dark, said "good night, Matteo, are you going to see Grasso—he is just gone home," and so saying, he left him. Grasso, if he was surprised at first when Donatello called him Matteo, was now thunderstruck, and withdrew in the Piazza of San Giovanni, saying to himself, "I will walk about here till some one shall pass, and, knowing me, will tell me who I really am." Thus sauntering, in the greatest agitation of mind, he was met according to agreement, by four officers of the police, a messenger, and with them a man to whom that Matteo, whom Grasso began to think himself, owed money. This man accosting Grasso, turned to the officers and said, "take him, this is Matteo, this is my debtor. You see I have followed thee up close. I have caught thee at last." The officers then began to seize him, and lead him away. Grasso, turning to the man who had just arrested him, said, "what have I to do with thee? you have mistaken your man; I am not he you take me to be; I am Grasso, the carver in ebony; I am not Matteo, nor do I know who your Matteo is." He was on the point of following up his words, with a few hard blows, but they seized him by the arms, and held him tight. The creditor coming forward, and looking at him from head to foot, said, "what! you not Matteo! do I not know Matteo? Matteo, my debtor! don't I know who Grasso the carver is? I have thy name in my books, and have had a writ against thee this twelvemonth; so like a rogue, thou now deniest being Matteo, but an alias will not pay me my debt; take him away, take him away, we shall soon see if thou art Matteo." Thus abusing him, they led him to prison, and as it was supper-time, they met no one on their way. Being arrived, the gaol-keeper took down the captive under the name of Matteo, and confined him among the other prisoners, who having heard his name mentioned, though without knowing him, called out, "good night, Matteo." Grasso, hearing himself so named by every one of them, exclaimed, "what can this mean?" and really began to think that he certainly must be Matteo. The prisoners said, "thou seest we are going to supper, take a little with us, and put off care till to-morrow." Grasso supped with them, and when supper was over, one of them gave him part of his birth, saying, "Matteo, for this night make what shift you can here, then, to-morrow morning, if you can pay your debt, well and good; if not, thou must send home for a few bed-clothes." Grasso thanked him and laid himself down to rest, and began to think what he should do if from Grasso he were really turned to Matteo; "which," said he to himself, "I really think must be the case, from the different proofs I have had. If I send home to my mother, and Grasso should be in my house, they will laugh at me, and say I am mad, and yet methinks I am really Grasso." And thus he remained all night in suspense, not knowing whether he was Grasso or Matteo, and scarcely could he get a wink of sleep. In the morning he rose and placed himself at a small grated window of the prison, in hopes that some one would pass that knew him; remaining thus, there passed by a young man called Giovanni Francesco Rucellai, who was one of the party at supper when the conspiracy was formed, and who was well acquainted with Grasso: for this man Grasso was about making a dressing-table intended for a lady, a friend of Giovanni's, who, the very day before, had been in Grasso's shop to press him to finish the work, which the carver had promised should be finished, at farthest, in four days. This person having entered a shop next the prison, popped his head out at the door that faced the grated window of the prison, which in those times was on the ground floor, and at which window Grasso stood, who having seen Giovanni, began to grin and nod at him. Giovanni stared at him, as if he had never seen him before, and said, "what art thou grinning at, friend?" It appearing to Grasso, that the man did not know him, he said, "Oh! at nothing particular, but pray do you know one Grasso, that lives at the Piazza san Giovanni, just behind yonder place, who makes inlaid works?"

"Do I know him," said Giovanni, "don't I? why he is one of my best friends, and I am just going to him about a little job he is about for me."

"Well," said Grasso, "since you are going there about your own affair, do me the favour to tell him, a friend of his is taken into custody, and beg of him, as an act of friendship, to come and speak to him." Giovanni, looking at him, and scarcely able to keep his countenance, said, "I will do it with pleasure;" and went away about his business. Grasso still remaining at the little window, said to himself, "now I may be quite sure that I am no longer Grasso, but that I am changed to Matteo; what cursed ill fate is mine! If I speak of this matter, I shall be looked upon as a madman, and all the boys will run after me, and if I do not clear it up, a hundred blunders, such as happened to me last night, will occur again; so that either way I am in a terrible hobble: but let us see whether Grasso will come, for if he comes, I shall tell him all about it." Long did he wait in expectation; but as Grasso never came, he withdrew from the window, to make room for one of the prisoners; his eyes at first cast down to the ground, and then looking up to heaven, with his hands clasped together. At that time, there was in prison a judge, whose name, through respect, we shall not mention, who was there for debt. This judge, although he did not know Grasso, seeing him so very disconsolate, tried every means to comfort him, and said, "Matteo, you are as down-hearted as if you were going to be hanged to-morrow morning; yet according to what I hear, yours is but a small debt; you should not give yourself up thus to grief. Why don't you send to some friend or relation, and try to pay the money, or settle the business, in some way or other, so that you may get out of prison, and not vex yourself in this manner?" Grasso, finding that he so kindly endeavoured to comfort him, determined to tell him the whole circumstance, and having drawn him into a corner of the prison, said, "Sir, although you may not know me, I know you well, and know that you are a very worthy man, therefore have I made up my mind to tell you the cause of my unhappiness, lest you should think that such a trifling debt would make me uneasy. No! I have much greater reason for sorrow," and then he began to tell him the whole story, from beginning to end, weeping almost all the while, and requested two things of him, the one that he would not mention the matter to any living soul; and next that he would give him some advice, or point out some way to extricate him from so perplexing a situation; adding, "I know, Sir, you have read a great deal, and many authors who have written most extraordinary things, but have you ever heard of such a case as this?"

The worthy man having heard him, and considering the affair, it struck him it must be one of these two things, either that the poor fellow had lost his senses, or that this was a hoax, as it certainly was: and he immediately answered, he had read many similar things, and that to become another person was no uncommon occurrence, and by no means wonderful. "Now, then," said Grasso, "pray tell me if I am become Matteo?"

"Of course," said the judge, "he must have become Grasso."

"Well," said Grasso, "if it be so, I should like to see him to quiet my mind." Whilst they were thus conversing, it being nearly the hour of vespers, two brothers of this Matteo came to the prison and asked for the turnkey, and inquired whether a brother of theirs, by name Matteo, was in the prison, and for what sum he had been arrested, because, being his brothers, they had come to pay the debt for him, and to take him away. The turnkey, who was well acquainted with the plot, being a friend of Tommaso Pecori, answered, "There was such a person," and, pretending to turn over the leaves of the book, said, "the debt is so much, due to so and so."

"Well," said they, "we wish to speak to him, then we will settle every thing for him," and going to the prison, they desired one of the prisoners, who stood at the grating, to tell Matteo that two of his brothers were here, who were come to take him out of prison. The fellow having delivered his message, Grasso came to the little window, and bowed to them. The eldest of the brothers thus addressed him, "thou knowest, Matteo, how often we have admonished thee in respect to thy bad goings on: thou art every day getting in debt with some person or other, and never do you pay any one, because of the money you are spending in gambling, and what not, by which means thou art always left without a penny; and now that thou art in gaol, thou thinkest we have means to pay for thee, who hast consumed, within a short space, a treasure of money in all kinds of follies. Therefore, now we do say, that were it not for our honour's sake, and on account of thy mother, we would leave thee here long enough, that thou mightest learn better ways; but, for this once, we have determined to pay thy debt and get thee out of this dungeon, but if ever you get into such a scrape again you shall get out of it as you may. In order that we may not be seen coming from hence in the day-time, we will call this evening for thee, when there are fewer people about, in order to prevent folks from knowing our affairs, and being made to blush at this misconduct." Grasso turned to him that spoke, and with great humility and apparent contrition assured him, that, for the future, he should conduct himself more prudently, and would avoid the follies he had hitherto been guilty of, and never more disgrace them; and prayed them, for heaven's sake, when the hour should come, that they would call and fetch him away. They promised to do so, and left him. He retired from the window, and said to the judge, "this is droll enough; here have been two brothers of Matteo, of that Matteo which I am changed to, and they have spoken to me as if to Matteo; they have chid me much, and say they will come for me in the evening, and take me from hence; now, if they take me from this place, where in the world shall I go? Home I must not go, for if Grasso should be there, what shall I say? I shall be taken for a maniac; and methinks he must be there, otherwise my mother would have inquired after me; whereas having him with her she does not perceive the mistake." The judge had much ado to refrain from laughter, and enjoyed the joke; and said to him, "don't go home, but go with those who call themselves your brothers; see where they take you, and what they do with you." While they were thus talking, evening drew on, and the brothers came, pretending as if they had settled the debt and costs. The gaol-keeper arose with the keys of the prison in his hand, and said, "which of you is Matteo?" Grasso, stepping forward, said, "'tis I." The keeper looked at him, and said, "these, thy brothers, have paid your debt for you; therefore, you are now free;" and having opened the prison door, said, "go thy ways." Grasso came out, and it being nearly dark, went with the two brothers, who lived at Santa Félicita, at the rising of the hill San Giorgio.

Being arrived at home they went with him into a room on the ground floor. "Remain here," said they, "till supper time, as we would not let your mother see you, to distress her." One of them remained with him, and they sat down by the fire before the table already prepared. The other went to the curate of St. Felicita, a good worthy man, and said to him, "I come to you, reverend Sir, with that confidence due to you. It is true we are three brothers, among which is one whose name is Matteo, who, yesterday, on account of some debt, was put into prison, and has taken it so much to heart that we really think he is losing his senses, and going mad. In every thing he appears Matteo as heretofore, except in one thing, that is, he has taken it into his head that he is become another man than Matteo. Did you ever hear of such a thing? he pretends that he is a certain Grasso, a carver, well known to him, who has a shop behind San Giovanni, and his own home is St. Mario del Fiore, and no one can get this out of his noddle; so that we have got him out of prison, brought him here, and put him into a room to conceal him, lest these absurd notions should be made public: therefore, to conclude, we beg of you, for charity sake, that you would kindly come to our house and speak to him, and endeavour to cure him of this extraordinary hallucination: and, indeed, we shall feel under the greatest obligation to you for it." The priest was a good-natured soul, and answered, that he most willingly would do it, and in speaking with him he said he should soon discover the state of the case, and by talking seriously to him, would get this maggot out of his head. He went home with them, and when arrived where Grasso was, he entered the room when he was busy with his own thoughts. Grasso no sooner saw him, than he rose; the Priest said, "Good night, Matteo."

"Good night to you," said Grasso, "what brings you this way?"

"I am come to spend a little time with thee," said the Priest, and having taken a seat, "sit by me," said he, "and I will tell thee my mind." Grasso obeyed him, and sat down. "Now," said the Priest, "I'll tell you the reason, Matteo, why I came; it is first, because I have heard, and much it grieves me, that yesterday thou wert taken to prison on account of some debt: and, in the second place, that thou hast felt, and still feelest the greatest distress, which has almost driven thee mad; and among other nonsense of that kind, that thou wilt not believe but that thou art no longer Matteo, and insistest that thou art another person, called Grasso, the carver. Thou art much to blame to let such a trifling thing so distress you as almost to make you mad, and suffer yourself to be laughed at to your great discredit. In truth, Matteo, I will not have you do so, and I do desire that, for the love of me, thou wouldst promise me to give up this folly, and attend to thy business as an honourable man, like other people, by which means thou wilt delight thy brothers; for, if this circumstance were to be known, it would be said thou hadst lost thy intellect, and although thou mightest perfectly recover, yet it would ever be thought that thou wert still subject to fits of insanity, and thou wouldst be a lost man; therefore, to end the matter, determine now to be a man, not a simpleton, and give over all this nonsense; whether thou be Grasso or not Grasso, do as I advise you, for I counsel thee for thy good." Thus saying, he smiled kindly at him. Grasso having heard how benevolently he admonished him, not doubting but he must be Matteo, answered him directly, "that he certainly was disposed to do whatever he could to obey him," and he promised that, hereafter, he would exert himself, and endeavour not to think of his being any thing but Matteo, as he was; but that he wanted him to do him a very great favour, if it was possible, and this was, that he wished very much indeed to speak to that said Grasso, so as to convince himself of his own identity: to which the Priest answered, "this is all nonsense and much against your interest; I see thou hast still this whimsy in thy head."

"What the devil have you to do with the fellow? what do you want with that Grasso, that you should eternally be talking of him? the more you make this thing public the worse it will be for you," and so much did he talk to him, that he at last prevailed on him to give up the idea of seeing him, and having left him, he told the brothers what he had said and done, and what Matteo had promised: thus taking leave of them, he made the best of his way to the church.

While the Priest had remained with Matteo, Philip of Brunelesco had come secretly into another room. Much to his amusement, he heard the whole account from one of the brothers, of his going out of the prison—their conversation in their way home, and the rest: after which, putting a small powder in a cup, he said to one of the brothers, "contrive, while you are at supper, to give him this in a glass of wine, or any thing else you can, so that he may not notice it. This is an opiate, which will set him so fast asleep, that though you mumbled and tumbled him ever-so-much, he would not wake for several hours; and I will be with you by five o'clock, and we will settle the rest of the business." The brothers having returned to the room, they sat down with him to supper, and it was already three o'clock. Thus as they supped, they gave him the potion unnoticed by him; the which so perfectly stupified him, that he was unable to keep his eyes open. The brothers then said to him, "Matteo, thou seemest to be dead asleep, thou must have had little sleep last night," to which Grasso replied, "I protest, in the whole course of my life, I never felt so sleepy; I feel as if I had not slept for a whole month, therefore I think I had better go to bed," and he began to undress, but scarcely was he able to pull off his shoes and stockings, and get into bed. No sooner did he get into bed but he fell fast asleep, and snored like a pig.

At the hour previously fixed upon, Philipo di Brunelesco entered the room where he was, with six of his companions, and seeing him fast asleep, they took him and placed him on a sort of litter, with all his clothes, and carried him home. No one being at home, as it happened that his mother had not returned, they took him to his bed and placed him in it; they put his clothes where he was in the habit of depositing them, but instead of laying him at the head of the bed, they placed his head at the foot. This being done, they took the key of the shop that was hanging on a nail in the room, and they marched into the shop, where they took the tools he used to work with, and displaced them all from their usual places; turned the sharp edges of the planes topsy-turvy; the hammers on their wrong side; the saws, and, in short, every corner of his shop was ransacked and all things turned upside-down. The shop looked as if the devil and all his imps had been at work. Having locked the shop door, they carried the key to Grasso's room, and shutting the door after them, each of them went home to bed. Grasso, in a deep sleep from the effect of the opium, slept on the whole night without ever waking. In the morning, at the ringing of Santa Maria del Fiore, the beverage having taken its due effect, Grasso awoke; it being day-light, and recollecting the sound of the bell, he opened his eyes, and seeing the light in the room, and looking about him, he became persuaded he was in his own house, and recollecting all that had happened to him, he was full of astonishment. Remembering where he had gone to bed the night before, and where he then was, he began to think he had been dreaming, or was at that instant in a dream: the one seemed to be the fact at one time, and the next at another.

After a deep sigh from his heart, "Heaven help me," said he. Getting out of bed, and dressing himself, he took the key of the shop and went to it, and on opening it he saw all the shop in the greatest disorder, at which he stared with wonder. While he was setting them all to rights, and in their proper places, the two brothers of Matteo came in, and finding him so busy, seeming not to know him, one of them said, "Good morning, friend." Grasso turning round, looked at them, and recognizing them, said, "Good morning, good morning, what are you come for?"

"I will tell you," said one of them. "You know we have a brother called Matteo, who within a few days, owing to his being imprisoned for debt, has fallen into such a melancholy fit, that it has almost made him mad; and among other foolish things, he has got it into his head that he is not Matteo, but the master of this shop, who it seems is called Grasso. Upon which, having talked to him on the subject, and likewise the priest of the parish, who is a very good sort of man, he had promised the latter he would give up this foolish whim. He went to bed last night very cheerful while we were at supper, but, this morning, without our hearing him, he went out, nor do we know where he is gone; for this reason we came to see if perchance he had come here, or you could tell us if you know any thing of him." Grasso, while the man was speaking, was bewildered; at last, turning towards them, he said, "I know not what the devil you are talking about, or what all this nonsense means. Matteo has not been here, and if he said he was I, he is a great rascal, and, by my soul, if I meet with him I'll have a brush at him: I'll know whether he be I, or I am he. What the deuce has happened within these few days?" and, in a great rage, he took up his mantle, and pulling the shop-door after him, he left them and went towards St. Maria del Fiore, swearing all the way.

The brothers went about their business, and Grasso having entered into the church, walked up and down raging and fuming like a lion, so provoked and perplexed was he at all that had occurred. While he was in this state of confusion, there arrived at Florence one who had been his comrade, and who had been in Hungary, and had there made money by means of the protection of Signor Filippo Scolari, formerly called Spano, one of the citizens of Florence, who was then captain-general in the army of Gismondo, son of Charles, King of Bohemia. This Spano received and protected all those Florentines who had any particular talent, mechanical or intellectual, being a very worthy man who loved his nation very much, and did a great deal of good to his countrymen. This person had as it happened, come to Florence for the purpose of engaging some able and clever mechanics to complete some work he had taken in hand. He had often talked to Grasso on this subject, begging of him to go with him, and telling him that in a very few years he would become rich.. As soon as Grasso saw him coming, he thought of going with him; therefore, walking up to him, he said, "you have often advised me to go to Hungary with you, and I always refused; now, in consequence of a certain event that has befallen me, and on account of some little difference between my mother and me, I am willing to go with you, if you are willing I should, and I must be gone to-morrow morning, for if I delay my departure will be prevented." The young man said, that he was very glad of this, but that he himself could not set off tomorrow on account of some business, but that he might go forward and wait for him at Bologna, and he would be there in a few days. Grasso was delighted, and having settled matters, he returned to the shop, packed up some of his best tools, his clothes, and a little money he had; this being done he marched off to Borgo St. Lorenzo, and hired a pony as far as Bologna, and the next morning, mounting his palfrey, rode towards that city, and left a letter directed to his mother, in which he desired her to dispose of the shop to her advantage, and said that he was going to Hungary. Thus did Grasso depart from Florence, and, after waiting for his companion at Bologna, they departed for Hungary. There they did so well, that in a very few years they became quite rich considering their station, through the protection of the above-mentioned Spano, who made Grasso an engineer under the name of Manetto of Florence. Grasso returned several times to Florence, and being asked by Philip of Brunelesco to tell his story, he related this tale.