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THE shades of evening were mantling the Castle of Caprese; already its base was buried in darkness, while the last rays of light still rested on its towers, giving an air of mysterious grandeur to the venerable pile. On a projecting crag, that hung over the deep river below, distinguished from the dark foliage only by the few gleams of light reflected from its surface, sat a pale melancholy boy. Sometimes he leaned fearlessly forward, as if to catch the sound of the distant water-fall, or of the soft rippling of the wave; then his eye turned to the ivy-clad towers. As he looked, turret after turret gradually disappeared, till only one lingering ray remained on the loftiest tower, and the building stood dark and frowning, an undistinguishable mass, with only its bold outline visible.
“Home of my Fathers !” he exclaimed, "abode of my ancestors! These halls have once been thronged by fair ladies, and noble knights ; now how deserted and forlorn ! Well does the gloom that surrounds it shadow forth its history; and yet," he continued with animation, “one ray, one glorious ray lingers long on its summit. Desolation and ruin may hover round its base, but light and glory shall yet rest on its towers."
Slowly he arose and bent his steps towards the ancient pile. There was nothing of the springing elasticity of youth and boyhood ; his movements were measured and dignified and well corresponded with the thoughtfulness that sat upon his brow.
As he entered the hall of the castle, he met his father who had been anxiously expecting him.
“Welcome, my son,” said he in a tone of mingled grief and reproach. “It is not well for thee to tempt the night air ; where hast thou been thus long?"
“Part of my time has been passed at the village of Settiniano, and in wandering among its quarries of marble.".
" And the other part ? ”
“ All that remains to me now,” he exclaimed, “is my son.
To him I look for the solace as well as brightness of my closing life. Ah ! shall it be that I am to see him degraded by base associations, and the predictions of astrologers proved false ? "
“What is it you fear, father ?” said the youth, calmly interrupting him.
"I have been told, that your foster sister, Caterina, is called fair.
Can it be, my son, that you have suffered yourself to be captivated by this village beauty ?"
"Is it of Michelangelo,” exclaimed the youth, his dark eyes flashing, “ that you ask this question ? of him who is captivated by the arts ?"
How, then, and where,” said Ludovico, “ do you pass day after day?" “ In the house of
foster-father. He is a sculptor, and his work-shop is filled with the implements of his art, and a few noble specimens of ancient sculpture : it is there I have exercised the chisel, and truly the days are too short."
“I cannot suffer my son,” said the proud Ludovico, “to disgrace himself by a mechanical employment taken from the low born. Know you not the high destiny to which you are ordained ? »
"I feel it,” replied the youth, with solemnity.
“Thou mayst read it," returned the father. " This parchment contains the horoscope of thy nativity. Retire to thine own apartment, and study it well. Thou wilt then perceive that thy days are not to be passed in employments that befit the peasants of Settiniano."
The youth took the parchment and sought his solitary apartment, situated in the highest turret of the castle. Here, perched like an eagle on its nest, he was accustomed to watch the clouds as they rolled majestically along, or were heaped in masses against the azure sky. Frequently, to his imagination, they assumed the shape of gigantic rocks, and of giant banditti starting from behind them. The window overlooked the hills and vallies of Tuscany, which were now veiled in darkness, except where a ray
of light streamed through the parting clouds, and yet rested on the bosom of the wandering Arno. With intense interest he unrolled the parchment, and, trimming his antique lamp, read the following document:
“ Near the convent of St. Francis, in the Castle of Caprese, on the sixth day of March,
and at the eighth hour of the Sabbath evening, was born a boy, to whom his father, as if by the inspiration of heaven, gave the name of Michelangelo, implying that the child was destined to divine works. The horoscope of his nativity confirmed the idea; for it was found that the conjunction of Mercury and Venus took place at that time, and that they were received into the house of Jupiter with a benign aspect; which fully demonstrates that the boy, hy his genius and skill, will produce wonderful and stupendous works of
The young Michelangelo threw the document aside.
“What,” he exclaimed, " are the predictions of astrologers ? what the ambitious tenderness of a parent, if the inspiration be not here?" and he laid his hand on his heart. It throbbed with almost supernatural force ; he arose, and threw open the casement for air ; he panted as if the narrow confines of the body could hardly contain the soul. Just above the highest mountain, the beautiful planet Mars shone with unusual lustre ; but Venus, the other star of his nativity, was no
* For the original of this document, see Vasari, Vita di Michelagnolo.