Io credo, valoroso signor mio, se l’affezione che io meritamente alla patria mia porto forse non mi inganna, che poche cittá siano nella bella Italia le quali a Verona possano di bellezza di sito esser superiori, sí per cosí nobil fiume, com’è l’Adice, che quasi per mezzo con le sue chiarissime acque la parte e delle mercanzie che manda l’Allemagna abbondevole la rende, come anche per gli ameni e fruttiferi colli e piacevoli valli con aprici campi che le sono intorno. Taccio tante fontane di freschissime e limpidissime acque ricche, che al comodo della cittá servono, con quattro nobilissimi ponti sovra il fiume e mille venerande antichitá che per quella si vedono.
Ma perché a ragionar non mi mossi per dir le lodi del nido mio natìo che da se stesso si loda e rende riguardevole, verrò a dirvi un pietoso caso ed infortunio grandissimo che a due nobilissimi amanti in quella avvenne.
Furono giá al tempo dei signori della Scala due famiglie in Verona tra le altre di nobiltá e ricchezze molto famose, cioè i Montecchi e i Capelletti, le quali tra loro, che che se ne fosse cagione, ebbero fiera e sanguinolente nemicizia, di modo che in diverse mischie, essendo ciascuna potente, molti ci morirono cosí di Montecchi e Capelletti come di seguaci che a quelli si accostarono; il che di più in più i loro odii accrebbe.
Era allora signor di Verona Bartolomeo Scala, il quale assai si affaticò per pacificar queste due schiatte, ma non ci fu ordine giammai, tanto era l’odio abbarbicato nei petti loro. Tuttavia gli ridusse a tale che, se non vi pose pace, ne levò almeno le continue mischie che tra loro assai sovente con morte di uomini si facevano; di maniera che se si scontravano, i giovini davano luogo ai più vecchi della contraria fazione.
Avvenne adunque che un anno, dopo Natale, si cominciarono a far delle feste ove i mascherati concorrevano. Antonio Capelletto, capo della sua famiglia, fece una bellissima festa alla quale invitò gran nobiltá di uomini e di donne.
I am sure that they which measure the greatness of God’s works, according to the capacity of their rude and simple understanding, will not lightly adhibit credit unto this history, so well for the variety of strange accidents which be therein described, as for the novelty and strangeness of so rare and perfect amity. But they that have read Pliny, Valerius Maximus, Plutarch, and divers other writers, doe find that in old time a great number of men and women have died, some of excessive joy, some of overmuch sorrow, and some of other passions. And amongst the same, love is not the least, which when it seizes upon any kind and gentle subject, and finds no resistance to serve for a rampart to stay the violence of his course, by little and little undermines, melts, and consumes the virtues of natural powers in such wise as the sprite yielding to the burden abandons the place of life, which is verified by the pitiful and unfortunate death of two lovers that surrendered their last breath in one Tomb at Verona, a city of Italy, wherein repose yet to this day (with great marvel) the bones and remnants of their late loving bodies. An history no less wonderful than true.
If then particular affection which of good right everyman ought to bear to the place where he was born, doe not deceive those that travail, I think they will confess with me that few cities in Italy can surpass the said city of Verona, as well for the navigable river called Adissa, which passes almost through the midst of the same, and thereby a great traffic into Almaine, as also for the prospect towards the fertile mountains and pleasant valleys which do environ the same, with a great number of very clear and lively fountains that serve for the ease and commodity of the place. Omitting (besides many other singularities) four bridges, and an infinite number of other honourable antiquities, daily apparent unto those, that be too curious to view and look upon them.
Which places I have somewhat touched, because this most true history which I purpose hereafter to recite, depends thereupon the memory whereof to this day is so well known at Verona, as hardly their blubbered eyes be yet dry that saw and beheld that lamentable sight.
When the Senior Escala was Lord of Verona, there were two families in the City, of far greater fame than the rest, as well for riches as nobility, the one called the Montesches and the other the Capellets, but like as most commonly there is discord amongst them, which be of semblable degree in honour, even so there happened a certain enmity between them, and for so much as the beginning thereof was unlawful, and of ill foundation, so likewise in process of time it kindled to such flame, as by divers and sundry devises practised on both sides, many lost their lives.
The Lord Bartholomeu of Escala (of whom we have already spoken), being Lord of Verona and seeing such disorder in his commonwealth, assayed divers and sundry ways to reconcile those two houses, but all in vain: for their hatred had taken such root, as the same could not be moderated by any wise counsel or good advise between whom no other thing could be accorded but giving over armour and weapon for the time attending some other season more convenient and with better leisure to appease the rest.
In the time that these things were a-doing, one of the family of Montesches called Rhomeo, of the age of 20 or 21 years, the fairest and best conditioned gentleman that was amongst the Veronian youth, fell in love with a young gentlewoman of Verona, and in few days was so attached with her comely and good behaviour, as he abandoned all other affaires and business to serve and honour her. And after many letters, ambassades and presents, he determined in the end to speak unto her, and to disclose his passions, which he did without any other practice. But she, which was virtuously brought up, knew how to make him so good answer to cut of his amorous affections, as he had no lust after that time to return any more, and showed herself so austere and sharp of speech, as she vouchsafed not with one look to behold him.
Love hath inflaméd twain by sudden sight,
Three months he doth enjoy his chief delight.
New marriage is offered to his wife.
Her husband hears the tidings of her death.
When she awakes, herself, alas! she slay’th.
There is beyond the Alps, a town of ancient fame,
Whose bright renown yet shineth clear: Verona men it name;
Built in a happy time, built on a fertile soil
Maintained by the heavenly fates, and by the townish toil
The fruitful hills above, the pleasant vales below,
The silver stream with channel deep, that thro’ the town doth flow,
The store of springs that serve for use, and eke for ease,
And other more commodities, which profit may and please, –
Eke many certain signs of things betid of old,
To fill the hungry eyes of those that curiously behold,
Do make this town to be preferred above the rest
Of Lombard towns, or at the least, compared with the best.
In which while Escalus as prince alone did reign,
To reach reward unto the good, to pay the lewd with pain,
Alas, I rue to think, an heavy hap befell:
Which Boccace scant, not my rude tongue, were able forth to tell.
Within my trembling hand, my pen doth shake for fear,
And, on my cold amazéd head, upright doth stand my hair.
But sith she doth command, whose hest I must obey,
In mourning verse, a woeful chance to tell I will assay.
Help, learnéd Pallas, help, ye Muses with your art,
Help, all ye damnéd fiends to tell of joys returned to smart.
Help eke, ye sisters three, my skilless pen t’indite:
For you it caused which I, alas, unable am to write.
There were two ancient stocks, which Fortune high did place
Above the rest, indued with wealth, and nobler of their race,
Loved of the common sort, loved of the prince alike,
And like unhappy were they both, when Fortune list to strike;
Whose praise, with equal blast, Fame in her trumpet blew;
The one was clepéd Capulet, and th’other Montague.
A wonted use it is, that men of likely sort,
(I wot not by what fury forced) envy each other’s port.
So these, whose equal state bred envy pale of hue,
And then, of grudging envy’s root, black hate and rancour grew
As, of a little spark, oft riseth mighty fire,
So of a kindled spark of grudge, in flames flash out their ire:
And then their deadly food, first hatched of trifling strife,
Did bathe in blood of smarting wounds; it reavéd breath and life,
No legend lie I tell, scarce yet their eyes be dry,
That did behold the grisly sight, with wet and weeping eye.
But when the prudent prince, who there the sceptre held,
So great a new disorder in his commonweal beheld;
By gentle mean he sought, their choler to assuage;
And by persuasion to appease, their blameful furious rage.
But both his words and time, the prince hath spent in vain:
So rooted was the inward hate, he lost his busy pain.
When friendly sage advice, ne gentle words avail,
By thund’ring threats, and princely power their courage ‘gan he quail
In hope that when he had the wasting flame supprest,
In time he should quite quench the sparks that burned within their breast.