Life of Benevenuto Cellini, translated by Symonds, 1889

At that time, while I was still a young man of about
twenty-three, there raged a plague of such extraordinary
violence that many thousands died of it every day in Rome.
Somewhat terrified at this calamity, I began to take certain
amusements, as my mind suggested, and for a reason which
I will presently relate. I had formed a habit of going on
feast-days to the ancient buildings, and copying parts of
them in wax or with the pencil ; and since these buildings
are all ruins, and the ruins house innumerable pigeons, it
came into my head to use my gun against these birds.
So then, avoiding all commerce with people, in my terror
of the plague, I used to put a fowling-piece on my boy
Pagolino's shoulder, and he and I went out alone into the
ruins ; and oftentimes we came home laden with a cargo of
the fattest pigeons. I did not care to charge my gun with
more than a single ball ; and thus it was by pure skill in
the art that I filled such heavy bags. I had a fowling-
piece which I had made myself ; inside and out it was as
bright as any mirror. I also used to make a very fine sort
of powder, in doing which I discovered secret processes,
beyond any which have yet been found ; and on this point,
in order to be brief, I will give but one particular, which
will astonish good shots of every degree. This is, that
when I charged my gun with powder weighing one-fifth
of the ball, it carried two hundred paces point-blank. It
is true that the great delight I took in this exercise bid
fair to withdraw me from my art and studies ; yet in
another way it gave me more than it deprived me of, seeing
that each time I went out shooting I returned with greatly
better health, because the open air was a benefit to my
constitution. My natural temperament was melancholy,
and while I was taking these amusements, my heart leapt
up with joy, and I found that I could work better and with
far greater mastery than when I spent my whole time in
study and manual labour. In this way my gun, at the end
of the game, stood me more in profit than in loss.
It was also the cause of my making acquaintance with
certain hunters after curiosities, who followed in the track
of those Lombard peasants who used to come to Rome to
till the vineyards at the proper season. While digging
the ground, they frequently turned up antique medals,
agates, chrysoprases, cornelians, and cameos ; also some-
times jewels, as, for instance, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds,
and rubies. The peasants used to sell things of this sort
to the traders for a mere trifle ; and I very often, when I
met them, paid the latter several times as many golden
crowns as they had given giulios for some object. Inde-
pendently of the profit I made by this traffic, which was
at least tenfold, it brought me also into agreeable relations
with nearly all the cardinals of Rome. I will only touch
upon a few of the most notable and rarest of these curio-
sities. There came into my hands, among many other
fragments, the head of a dolphin about as big as a good-
sized ballot-bean. Not only was the style of this head
extremely beautiful, but nature had here far surpassed art ;
for the stone was an emerald of such good colour, that the
man who bought it from me for tens of crowns sold it
again for hundreds after setting it as a finger-ring. I will
mention another kind of gem ; this was a magnificent topaz ;
and here art equalled nature ; it was as large as a big hazel-
nut, with the head of Minerva in a style of inconceivable
beauty. I remember yet another precious stone, different
from these ; it was a cameo, engraved with Hercules bind-
ing Cerberus of the triple throat ; such was its beauty and
the skill of its workmanship, that our great Michel Agnolo
protested he had never seen anything so wonderful. Among
many bronze medals, I obtained one upon which was a
head of Jupiter. It was the largest that had ever been
seen ; the head of the most perfect execution ; and it had
on the reverse side a very fine design of some little figures
in the same style. I might enlarge at great length on this
curiosity ; but I will refrain for fear of being prolix.