The Strolling Saint; being the confessions of the high and mighty Agostino D'Anguissola, tyrant of Mondolfo and Lord of Carmina in the state of Piacenza

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CHAPTER I. NOMEN ET OMEN

In seeking other than in myself—as men will—the causes of my tribulations, I have often inclined to lay the blame of much of the ill that befell me, and the ill that in my sinful life I did to others, upon those who held my mother at the baptismal font and concerted that she should bear the name of Monica.

There are in life many things which, in themselves, seeming to the vulgar and the heedless to be trivial and without consequence, may yet be causes pregnant of terrible effects, mainsprings of Destiny itself. Amid such portentous trifles I would number the names so heedlessly bestowed upon us.

It surprises me that in none of the philosophic writings of the learned scholars of antiquity can I find that this matter of names has been touched upon, much less given the importance of which I account it to be deserving.

Possibly it is because no one of them ever suffered, as I have suffered, from the consequences of a name. Had it but been so, they might in their weighty and impressive manner have set down a lesson on the subject, and so relieved me—who am all-conscious of my shortcomings in this direction-from the necessity of repairing that omission out of my own experience.

Let it then, even at this late hour, be considered what a subtle influence for good or ill, what a very mould of character may lie within a name.

To the dull clod of earth, perhaps, or, again, to the truly strong-minded nature that is beyond such influences, it can matter little that he be called Alexander or Achilles; and once there was a man named Judas who fell so far short of the noble associations of that name that he has changed for all time the very sound and meaning of it.

But to him who has been endowed with imagination—that greatest boon and greatest affliction of mankind—or whose nature is such as to crave for models, the name he bears may become a thing portentous by the images it conjures up of some mighty dead who bore it erstwhile and whose life inspires to emulation.

Whatever may be accounted the general value of this premiss, at least as it concerns my mother I shall hope to prove it apt.

They named her Monica. Why the name was chosen I have never learnt; but I do not conceive that there was any reason for the choice other than the taste of her parents in the matter of sounds. It is a pleasing enough name, euphoniously considered, and beyond that—as is so commonly the case—no considerations were taken into account.

To her, however, at once imaginative and of a feeble and dependent spirit, the name was fateful. St. Monica was made the special object of her devotions in girlhood, and remained so later when she became a wife. The Life of St. Monica was the most soiled and fingered portion of an old manuscript collection of the life histories of a score or so of saints that was one of her dearest possessions. To render herself worthy of the name she bore, to model her life upon that of the sainted woman who had sorrowed and rejoiced so much in her famous offspring, became the obsession of my mother's soul....