At the end of his letter, which describes the proceedings and the wedding gifts and their presentation, he tells us how the night was spent. " Afterwards the ladies danced, and, as an interlude, a worthy comedy was performed, with much music and singing, the Pope and all the rest of us being present throughout. What else shall I add ? It would make a long letter. The whole night was spent in this manner ; let your lordship decide whether well or ill."
Is not that sufficient to stop the foul mouth of inventive slander ? What need to suggest happenings unspeakable ? Yet it is the fashion to quote the last sentence above from Boccaccio's letter in the original " totam noctem comsumpsimus; judicet modo Exma-Dominatio vestra si bene o male " as though decency forbade its translation ; and at once this poisonous reticence does its work, and the imagination and not only that of the unlettered is fired, and all manner of abominations are speculatively conceived.
Infessura, being absent, says that the comedies performed were licentious (" lascive"). But what comedies of that age were not ? It was an age which had not yet invented modesty, as we understand it. That Boccaccio, who was present, saw nothing unusual in the comedy there was only one, according to him is proved by his description of it as " worthy " (" una degna commedia.")
M. Yriarte on this same subject1 is not only petty, but grotesque. He chooses to relate the incident from the point of view of Infessura, whom, by the way, he translates with an amazing freedom,2 and he M. Yriarte, you observe, does not scruple to opine that Boccaccio, who was present, did not see everything ; but he has no doubt that Infessura, who was not present, and who wrote from " hearsay" missed nothing.
1 La Vie de Cesar Borgia.
2 Thus in the matter of the fifty silver cups tossed by the Pope into the ladies' laps, " sinum " is the word employed by Infessura a word which has too loosely been given its general translation of makes bold to add regarding Gianandrea Boccaccio that : " It must also be said that the ambassador of Ferrara, either because he did not see everything, or because he was less austere than Infessura, was not shocked by the comedies, etc." (" soit qu'il n'ait pas tout vu, soit qu'il ait ete moins austere qu'Infessura, n'est pas choque. . . .")
Alas! Too much of the history of the Borgias has been written in this spirit, and the discrimination in the selection of authorities has ever been with a view to obtaining the more sensational rather than the more truthful narrative.
Although it is known that Cesare came to Rome in the early part of 1493 for his presence there is reported by Gianandrea Boccaccio in March of that year there is no mention of him at this time in connection with his sister's wedding. Apparently, then, he was not present, although it is impossible to suggest where he might have been at the time.
Boccaccio draws a picture of him in that letter, which is worthy of attention, " On the day before yesterday I found Cesare at home in Trastevere. He was on the point of setting out to go hunting, and entirely in secular habit; that is to say, dressed in silk and armed. Riding together, we talked a while. I am among his most intimate acquaintances. He is a man of great talent and of an excellent nature; his manners are those of the son of a great prince ; above everything, he is joyous and light hearted. He is very modest, much superior to, and of a much finer appearance than, his brother the Duke of Gandia, who also is not short of natural gifts. The archbishop never had any inclination for the priesthood. But his benefice yields him over 16,000 ducats."
" bosom," ignoring that it equally means " lap " and that " lap " it obviously means in this instance. M. Yriarte, however, goes a step further, and prefers to translate it as " corsage," which at once, and unpleasantly, falsifies the picture; and he adds matter to dot the i's to an extent certainly not warranted even by Infessura.
It may not be amiss though perhaps no longer very necessary, after what has been written to say a word at this stage on the social position of bastards in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to emphasize the fact that no stigma attached to Cesare Borgia or to any other member of his father's family on the score of the illegitimacy of their birth.
It is sufficient to consider the marriages they contracted to perceive that, however shocking the circumstances may appear to modern notions, the circumstance of their father being a Pope not only cannot have been accounted extraordinarily scandalous (if scandalous at all) but, on the contrary, rendered them eligible for alliances even princely.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries we see the bastard born of a noble, as noble as his father, displaying his father's arms without debruisement and enjoying his rank and inheritance unchallenged on the score of his birth, even though that inheritance should be a throne as witness Lucrezia's husband Giovanni, who, though a bastard of the house of Sforza, succeeded, nevertheless, his father in the Tyranny of Pesaro and Cotignola.
Later we shall see this same Lucrezia, her illegitimacy notwithstanding, married into the noble House of Este and seated upon the throne of Ferrara. And before then we shall have seen the bastard Cesare married to a daughter of the royal House of Navarre. Already we have seen the bastard Francesco Cibo take to wife the daughter of the great Lorenzo de' Medici, and we have seen the bastard Girolamo Riario married to Caterina Sforza a natural daughter of the ducal House of Milan and we have seen the pair installed in the Tyranny of Imola and Forli. A score of other instances might be added; but these should suffice.
The matter calls for the making of no philosophies, craves no explaining, and, above all, needs no apology. It clears itself. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries more just than our own more enlightened times attributed no shame to the men and women born out of wedlock, saw no reason as no reason is there, Christian or Pagan why they should suffer for a condition that was none of their contriving.