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The Last of the Roman Tribunes
Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Bart.
Then turn we to her latest Tribune's name,
From her ten thousand tyrants turn to thee,
Redeemer of dark centuries of shame -
The friend of Petrarch - hope of Italy -
Rienzi, last of Romans! While the tree
Of Freedom's wither'd trunk puts forth a leaf,
Even for thy tomb a garland let it be -
The Forum's champion, and the People's chief -
Her new-born Numa thou!
Childe Harold, cant. iv. stanza 114.
Amidst the indulgence of enthusiasm and eloquence, Petrarch, Italy, and
Europe, were astonished by a revolution, which realized for a moment his
most splendid visions. - Gibbon, chap. 1xx.
Dedication of Rienzi.
To Alessandro Manzoni, as to the Genius of the Place,
Are Dedicated These Fruits, gathered on The Soil of Italian Fiction.
London, Dec. 1, 1835.
Prefixed to the First Collected Edition of the Author's Works in 1840.
My Dear Mother,
In inscribing with your beloved and honoured name this Collection of my
Works, I could wish that the fruits of my manhood were worthier of the
tender and anxious pains bestowed upon my education in youth.
Left yet young, and with no ordinary accomplishments and gifts, the sole
guardian of your sons, to them you devoted the best years of your useful
and spotless life; and any success it be their fate to attain in the paths
they have severally chosen, would have its principal sweetness in the
thought that such success was the reward of one whose hand aided every
struggle, and whose heart sympathized in every care.
From your graceful and accomplished taste, I early learned that affection
for literature which has exercised so large an influence over the pursuits
of my life; and you who were my first guide, were my earliest critic. Do
you remember the summer days, which seemed to me so short, when you
repeated to me those old ballads with which Percy revived the decaying
spirit of our national muse, or the smooth couplets of Pope, or those
gentle and polished verses with the composition of which you had beguiled
your own earlier leisure? It was those easy lessons, far more than the
harsher rudiments learned subsequently in schools, that taught me to admire
and to imitate; and in them I recognise the germ of the flowers, however
perishable they be, that I now bind up and lay upon a shrine hallowed by a
thousand memories of unspeakable affection. Happy, while I borrowed from
your taste, could I have found it not more difficult to imitate your
virtues - your spirit of active and extended benevolence, your cheerful
piety, your considerate justice, your kindly charity - and all the
qualities that brighten a nature more free from the thought of self, than
any it has been my lot to meet with. Never more than at this moment did I
wish that my writings were possessed of a merit which might outlive my
time, so that at least these lines might remain a record of the excellence
of the Mother, and the gratitude of the Son.
E.L.B. London: January 6, 1840.
The First Edition of Rienzi.
I began this tale two years ago at Rome. On removing to Naples, I threw it
aside for "The Last Days of Pompeii," which required more than "Rienzi" the
advantage of residence within reach of the scenes described. The fate of
the Roman Tribune continued, however, to haunt and impress me, and, some
time after "Pompeii" was published, I renewed my earlier undertaking. I
regarded the completion of these volumes, indeed, as a kind of duty; - for
having had occasion to read the original authorities from which modern
historians have drawn their accounts of the life of Rienzi, I was led to
believe that a very remarkable man had been superficially judged, and a
very important period crudely examined. (See Appendix, Nos. I and II.)
And this belief was sufficiently strong to induce me at first to meditate a
more serious work upon the life and times of Rienzi. (I have adopted the
termination of Rienzi instead of Rienzo, as being more familiar to the
general reader. - But the latter is perhaps the more accurate reading,
since the name was a popular corruption from Lorenzo.) Various reasons
concurred against this project - and I renounced the biography to commence
the fiction. I have still, however, adhered, with a greater fidelity than
is customary in Romance, to all the leading events of the public life of
the Roman Tribune; and the Reader will perhaps find in these pages a more
full and detailed account of the rise and fall of Rienzi, than in any
English work of which I am aware. I have, it is true, taken a view of his
character different in some respects from that of Gibbon or Sismondi. But
it is a view, in all its main features, which I believe (and think I could
prove) myself to be warranted in taking, not less by the facts of History
than the laws of Fiction. In the meanwhile, as I have given the facts from
which I have drawn my interpretation of the principal agent, the reader has
sufficient data for his own judgment. In the picture of the Roman
Populace, as in that of the Roman Nobles of the fourteenth century, I
follow literally the descriptions left to us; - they are not flattering,
but they are faithful, likenesses.
Preserving generally the real chronology of Rienzi's life, the plot of this
work extends over a space of some years, and embraces the variety of
characters necessary to a true delineation of events. The story,
therefore, cannot have precisely that order of interest found in fictions
strictly and genuinely dramatic, in which (to my judgment at least) the
time ought to be as limited as possible, and the characters as few; - no
new character of importance to the catastrophe being admissible towards the
end of the work. If I may use the word Epic in its most modest and
unassuming acceptation, this Fiction, in short, though indulging in
dramatic situations, belongs, as a whole, rather to the Epic than the
I cannot conclude without rendering the tribute of my praise and homage to
the versatile and gifted Author of the beautiful Tragedy of Rienzi.
Considering that our hero be the same - considering that we had the same
materials from which to choose our several stories - I trust I shall be
found to have little, if at all, trespassed upon ground previously
occupied. With the single exception of a love-intrigue between a relative
of Rienzi and one of the antagonist party, which makes the plot of Miss
Mitford's Tragedy, and is little more than an episode in my Romance, having
slight effect on the conduct and none on the fate of the hero, I am not
aware of any resemblance between the two works; and even this coincidence I
could easily have removed, had I deemed it the least advisable: - but it
would be almost discreditable if I had nothing that resembled a performance
possessing so much it were an honour to imitate.
In fact, the prodigal materials of the story - the rich and exuberant
complexities of Rienzi's character - joined to the advantage possessed by
the Novelist of embracing all that the Dramatist must reject (Thus the
slender space permitted to the Dramatist does not allow Miss Mitford to be
very faithful to facts; to distinguish between Rienzi's earlier and his
later period of power; or to detail the true, but somewhat intricate causes
of his rise, his splendour, and his fall.) - are sufficient to prevent
Dramatist and Novelist from interfering with each other.
London, December 1, 1835.
Preface to the Present Edition, 1848.
From the time of its first appearance, "Rienzi" has had the good fortune to
rank high amongst my most popular works - though its interest is rather
drawn from a faithful narration of historical facts, than from the
inventions of fancy. And the success of this experiment confirms me in my
belief, that the true mode of employing history in the service of romance,
is to study diligently the materials as history; conform to such views of
the facts as the Author would adopt, if he related them in the dry
character of historian; and obtain that warmer interest which fiction
bestows, by tracing the causes of the facts in the characters and emotions
of the personages of the time. The events of his work are thus already
shaped to his hand - the characters already created - what remains for him,
is the inner, not outer, history of man - the chronicle of the human heart;
and it is by this that he introduces a new harmony between character and
event, and adds the completer solution of what is actual and true, by those
speculations of what is natural and probable, which are out of the province
of history, but belong especially to the philosophy of romance. And - if
it be permitted the tale-teller to come reverently for instruction in his
art to the mightiest teacher of all, who, whether in the page or on the
scene, would give to airy fancies the breath and the form of life, - such,
we may observe, is the lesson the humblest craftsman in historical romance
may glean from the Historical Plays of Shakespeare. Necessarily,
Shakespeare consulted history according to the imperfect lights, and from
the popular authorities, of his age; and I do not say, therefore, that as
an historian we can rely upon Shakespeare as correct. But to that in which
he believed he rigidly adhered; nor did he seek, as lesser artists (such as
Victor Hugo and his disciples) seek now, to turn perforce the Historical
into the Poetical, but leaving history as he found it, to call forth from
its arid prose the flower of the latent poem. Nay, even in the more
imaginative plays which he has founded upon novels and legends popular in
his time, it is curious and instructive to see how little he has altered
the original ground-work - taking for granted the main materials of the
story, and reserving all his matchless resources of wisdom and invention,
to illustrate from mental analysis, the creations whose outline he was
content to borrow. He receives, as a literal fact not to be altered, the
somewhat incredible assertion of the novelist, that the pure and delicate
and highborn Venetian loves the swarthy Moor - and that Romeo fresh from
his "woes for Rosaline," becomes suddenly enamoured of Juliet: He found
the Improbable, and employed his art to make it truthful.
That "Rienzi" should have attracted peculiar attention in Italy, is of
course to be attributed to the choice of the subject rather than to the
skill of the Author. It has been translated into the Italian language by
eminent writers; and the authorities for the new view of Rienzi's times and
character which the Author deemed himself warranted to take, have been
compared with his text by careful critics and illustrious scholars, in
those states in which the work has been permitted to circulate. (In the
Papal States, I believe, it was neither, prudently nor effectually,
proscribed.) I may say, I trust without unworthy pride, that the result
has confirmed the accuracy of delineations which English readers relying
only on the brilliant but disparaging account in Gibbon deemed too
favourable; and has tended to restore the great Tribune to his long
forgotten claims to the love and reverence of the Italian land. Nor, if I
may trust to the assurances that have reached me from many now engaged in
the aim of political regeneration, has the effect of that revival of the
honours due to a national hero, leading to the ennobling study of great
examples, been wholly without its influence upon the rising generation of
Italian youth, and thereby upon those stirring events which have recently
drawn the eyes of Europe to the men and the lands beyond the Alps.
In preparing for the Press this edition of a work illustrative of the
exertions of a Roman, in advance of his time, for the political freedom of
his country, and of those struggles between contending principles, of which
Italy was the most stirring field in the Middle Ages, it is not out of
place or season to add a few sober words, whether as a student of the
Italian Past, or as an observer, with some experience of the social
elements of Italy as it now exists, upon the state of affairs in that
It is nothing new to see the Papal Church in the capacity of a popular
reformer, and in contra-position to the despotic potentates of the several
states, as well as to the German Emperor, who nominally inherits the
sceptre of the Caesars. Such was its common character under its more
illustrious Pontiffs; and the old Republics of Italy grew up under the
shadow of the Papal throne, harbouring ever two factions - the one for the
Emperor, the one for the Pope - the latter the more naturally allied to
Italian independence. On the modern stage, we almost see the repetition of
many an ancient drama. But the past should teach us to doubt the
continuous and stedfast progress of any single line of policy under a
principality so constituted as that of the Papal Church - a principality in
which no race can be perpetuated, in which no objects can be permanent; in
which the successor is chosen by a select ecclesiastical synod, under a
variety of foreign as well as of national influences; in which the chief
usually ascends the throne at an age that ill adapts his mind to the idea
of human progress, and the active direction of mundane affairs; - a
principality in which the peculiar sanctity that wraps the person of the
Sovereign exonerates him from the healthful liabilities of a power purely
temporal, and directly accountable to Man. A reforming Pope is a lucky
accident, and dull indeed must be the brain which believes in the
possibility of a long succession of reforming Popes, or which can regard as
other than precarious and unstable the discordant combination of a
constitutional government with an infallible head.
It is as true as it is trite that political freedom is not the growth of a
day - it is not a flower without a stalk, and it must gradually develop
itself from amidst the unfolding leaves of kindred institutions.
In one respect, the Austrian domination, fairly considered, has been
beneficial to the States over which it has been directly exercised, and may
be even said to have unconsciously schooled them to the capacity for
freedom. In those States the personal rights which depend on impartial and
incorrupt administration of the law, are infinitely more secure than in
most of the Courts of Italy. Bribery, which shamefully predominates in the
judicature of certain Principalities, is as unknown in the juridical courts
of Austrian Italy as in England. The Emperor himself is often involved in
legal disputes with a subject, and justice is as free and as firm for the
humblest suitor, as if his antagonist were his equal. Austria, indeed, but
holds together the motley and inharmonious members of its vast domain on
either side the Alps, by a general character of paternal mildness and
forbearance in all that great circle of good government which lies without
the one principle of constitutional liberty. It asks but of its subjects
to submit to be well governed - without agitating the question "how and by
what means that government is carried on." For every man, except the
politician, the innovator, Austria is no harsh stepmother. But it is
obviously clear that the better in other respects the administration of a
state it does but foster the more the desire for that political security,
which is only found in constitutional freedom: the reverence paid to
personal rights, but begets the passion for political; and under a mild
despotism are already half matured the germs of a popular constitution.
But it is still a grave question whether Italy is ripe for self-government
- and whether, were it possible that the Austrian domination could be
shaken off - the very passions so excited, the very bloodshed so poured
forth, would not ultimately place the larger portion of Italy under
auspices less favourable to the sure growth of freedom, than those which
silently brighten under the sway of the German Caesar.
The two kingdoms, at the opposite extremes of Italy, to which circumstance
and nature seem to assign the main ascendancy, are Naples and Sardinia.
Looking to the former, it is impossible to discover on the face of the
earth a country more adapted for commercial prosperity. Nature formed it
as the garden of Europe, and the mart of the Mediterranean. Its soil and
climate could unite the products of the East with those of the Western
hemisphere. The rich island of Sicily should be the great corn granary of
the modern nations as it was of the ancient; the figs, the olives, the
oranges, of both the Sicilies, under skilful cultivation, should equal the
produce of Spain and the Orient, and the harbours of the kingdom (the keys
to three-quarters of the globe) should be crowded with the sails and busy
with the life of commerce. But, in the character of its population, Naples
has been invariably in the rear of Italian progress; it caught but partial
inspiration from the free Republics, or even the wise Tyrannies, of the
Middle Ages; the theatre of frequent revolutions without fruit; and all
rational enthusiasm created by that insurrection, which has lately bestowed
on Naples the boon of a representative system, cannot but be tempered by
the conviction that of all the States in Italy, this is the one which least
warrants the belief of permanence to political freedom, or of capacity to
retain with vigour what may be seized by passion. (If the Electoral
Chamber in the new Neapolitan Constitution, give a fair share of members to
the Island of Sicily, it will be rich in the inevitable elements of
discord, and nothing save a wisdom and moderation, which cannot soberly be
anticipated, can prevent the ultimate separation of the island from the
dominion of Naples. Nature has set the ocean between the two countries -
but differences in character, and degree and quality of civilisation -
national jealousies, historical memories, have trebled the space of the
seas that roll between them. - More easy to unite under one free
Parliament, Spain with Flanders; or re-annex to England its old domains of
Aquitaine and Normandy - than to unite in one Council Chamber truly
popular, the passions, interests, and prejudices of Sicily and Naples. -
Time will show.)
Far otherwise is it, with Sardinia. Many years since, the writer of these
pages ventured to predict that the time must come when Sardinia would lead
the van of Italian civilisation, and take proud place amongst the greater
nations of Europe. In the great portion of this population there is
visible the new blood of a young race; it is not, as with other Italian
States, a worn-out stock; you do not see there a people fallen, proud of
the past, and lazy amidst ruins, but a people rising, practical,
industrious, active; there, in a word, is an eager youth to be formed to
mature development, not a decrepit age to be restored to bloom and muscle.
Progress is the great characteristic of the Sardinian state. Leave it for
five years; visit it again, and you behold improvement. When you enter the
kingdom and find, by the very skirts of its admirable roads, a raised
footpath for the passengers and travellers from town to town, you become
suddenly aware that you are in a land where close attention to the humbler
classes is within the duties of a government. As you pass on from the more
purely Italian part of the population, - from the Genoese country into that
of Piedmont, - the difference between a new people and an old, on which I
have dwelt, becomes visible in the improved cultivation of the soil, the
better habitations of the labourer, the neater aspect of the towns, the
greater activity in the thoroughfares. To the extraordinary virtues of the
King, as King, justice is scarcely done, whether in England or abroad.
Certainly, despite his recent concessions, Charles Albert is not and cannot
be at heart, much of a constitutional reformer; and his strong religious
tendencies, which, perhaps unjustly, have procured him in philosophical
quarters the character of a bigot, may link him more than his political,
with the cause of the Father of his Church. But he is nobly and
preeminently national, careful of the prosperity and jealous of the honour
of his own state, while conscientiously desirous of the independence of
Italy. His attention to business, is indefatigable. Nothing escapes his
vigilance. Over all departments of the kingdom is the eye of a man ever
anxious to improve. Already the silk manufactures of Sardinia almost rival
those of Lyons: in their own departments the tradesmen of Turin exhibit an
artistic elegance and elaborate finish, scarcely exceeded in the wares of
London and Paris. The King's internal regulations are admirable; his laws,
administered with the most impartial justice - his forts and defences are
in that order, without which, at least on the Continent, no land is safe -
his army is the most perfect in Italy. His wise genius extends itself to
the elegant as to the useful arts - an encouragement that shames England,
and even France, is bestowed upon the School for Painters, which has become
one of the ornaments of his illustrious reign. The character of the main
part of the population, and the geographical position of his country,
assist the monarch and must force on himself, or his successors, in the
career of improvement so signally begun. In the character of the people,
the vigour of the Northman ennobles the ardour and fancy of the West. In
the position of the country, the public mind is brought into constant
communication with the new ideas in the free lands of Europe. Civilisation
sets in direct currents towards the streets and marts of Turin. Whatever
the result of the present crisis in Italy, no power and no chance which
statesmen can predict, can preclude Sardinia from ultimately heading all
that is best in Italy. The King may improve his present position, or
peculiar prejudices, inseparable perhaps from the heritage of absolute
monarchy, and which the raw and rude councils of an Electoral Chamber,
newly called into life, must often irritate and alarm, may check his own
progress towards the master throne of the Ausonian land. But the people
themselves, sooner or later, will do the work of the King. And in now
looking round Italy for a race worthy of Rienzi, and able to accomplish his
proud dreams, I see but one for which the time is ripe or ripening, and I
place the hopes of Italy in the men of Piedmont and Sardinia.
London, February 14, 1848.
RIENZI, The Last of the Tribunes.
BOOK I. THE TIME, THE PLACE, AND THE MEN.
"Fu da sua gioventudine nutricato di latte di eloquenza; buono grammatico,
megliore rettorico, autorista buono...Oh, come spesso diceva, 'Dove sono
questi buoni Romani? Dov'e loro somma giustizia? Poterommi trovare in
tempo che questi fioriscano?' Era bell 'omo...Accadde che uno suo frate fu
ucciso, e non ne fu fatta vendetta di sua morte: non lo poteo aiutare;
pensa lungo mano vendicare 'l sangue di suo frate; pensa lunga mano
dirizzare la cittate di Roma male guidata." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi" Ed.
"From his youth he was nourished with the milk of eloquence; a good
grammarian, a better rhetorician, well versed in the writings of
authors...Oh, how often would he say, 'Where are those good Romans? Where
is their supreme justice? Shall I ever behold such times as those in which
they flourished?' He was a handsome man...It happened that a brother of
his was slain, and no retribution was made for his death: he could not
help him; long did he ponder how to avenge his brother's blood; long did he
ponder how to direct the ill guided state of Rome." - "Life of Cola di
Chapter 1.I. The Brothers.
The celebrated name which forms the title to this work will sufficiently
apprise the reader that it is in the earlier half of the fourteenth century
that my story opens.
It was on a summer evening that two youths might be seen walking beside the
banks of the Tiber, not far from that part of its winding course which
sweeps by the base of Mount Aventine. The path they had selected was
remote and tranquil. It was only at a distance that were seen the
scattered and squalid houses that bordered the river, from amidst which
rose, dark and frequent, the high roof and enormous towers which marked the
fortified mansion of some Roman baron. On one side of the river, behind
the cottages of the fishermen, soared Mount Janiculum, dark with massive
foliage, from which gleamed at frequent intervals, the grey walls of many a
castellated palace, and the spires and columns of a hundred churches; on
the other side, the deserted Aventine rose abrupt and steep, covered with
thick brushwood; while, on the height, from concealed but numerous
convents, rolled, not unmusically, along the quiet landscape and the
rippling waves, the sound of the holy bell.
Of the young men introduced in this scene, the elder, who might have
somewhat passed his twentieth year, was of a tall and even commanding
stature; and there was that in his presence remarkable and almost noble,
despite the homeliness of his garb, which consisted of the long, loose gown
and the plain tunic, both of dark-grey serge, which distinguished, at that
time, the dress of the humbler scholars who frequented the monasteries for
such rude knowledge as then yielded a scanty return for intense toil. His
countenance was handsome, and would have been rather gay than thoughtful in
its expression, but for that vague and abstracted dreaminess of eye which
so usually denotes a propensity to revery and contemplation, and betrays
that the past or the future is more congenial to the mind than the
enjoyment and action of the present hour.
The younger, who was yet a boy, had nothing striking in his appearance or
countenance, unless an expression of great sweetness and gentleness could
be so called; and there was something almost feminine in the tender
deference with which he appeared to listen to his companion. His dress was
that usually worn by the humbler classes, though somewhat neater, perhaps,
and newer; and the fond vanity of a mother might be detected in the care
with which the long and silky ringlets had been smoothed and parted as they
escaped from his cap and flowed midway down his shoulders.
As they thus sauntered on, beside the whispering reeds of the river, each
with his arm round the form of his comrade, there was a grace in the
bearing, in the youth, and in the evident affection of the brothers - for
such their connexion - which elevated the lowliness of their apparent
"Dear brother," said the elder, "I cannot express to thee how I enjoy these
evening hours. To you alone I feel as if I were not a mere visionary and
idler when I talk of the uncertain future, and build up my palaces of the
air. Our parents listen to me as if I were uttering fine things out of a
book; and my dear mother, Heaven bless her! wipes her eyes, and says,
'Hark, what a scholar he is!' As for the monks, if I ever dare look from
my Livy, and cry 'Thus should Rome be again!' they stare, and gape, and
frown, as though I had broached an heresy. But you, sweet brother, though
you share not my studies, sympathize so kindly with all their results - you
seem so to approve my wild schemes, and to encourage my ambitious hopes -
that sometimes I forget our birth, our fortunes, and think and dare as if
no blood save that of the Teuton Emperor flowed through our veins."
"Methinks, dear Cola," said the younger brother, "that Nature played us an
unfair trick - to you she transmitted the royal soul, derived from our
father's parentage; and to me only the quiet and lowly spirit of my
mother's humble lineage."
"Nay," answered Cola, quickly, "you would then have the brighter share, -
for I should have but the Barbarian origin, and you the Roman. Time was,
when to be a simple Roman was to be nobler than a northern king. - Well,
well, we may live to see great changes!"
"I shall live to see thee a great man, and that will content me," said the
younger, smiling affectionately; "a great scholar all confess you to be
already: our mother predicts your fortunes every time she hears of your
welcome visits to the Colonna."
"The Colonna!" said Cola, with a bitter smile; "the Colonna - the pedants!
- They affect, dull souls, the knowledge of the past, play the patron, and
misquote Latin over their cups! They are pleased to welcome me at their
board, because the Roman doctors call me learned, and because Nature gave
me a wild wit, which to them is pleasanter than the stale jests of a hired
buffoon. Yes, they would advance my fortunes - but how? by some place in
the public offices, which would fill a dishonoured coffer, by wringing, yet
more sternly, the hard-earned coins from our famishing citizens! If there
be a vile thing in the world, it is a plebeian, advanced by patricians, not
for the purpose of righting his own order, but for playing the pander to
the worst interests of theirs. He who is of the people but makes himself a
traitor to his birth, if he furnishes the excuse for these tyrant
hypocrites to lift up their hands and cry - 'See what liberty exists in
Rome, when we, the patricians, thus elevate a plebeian!' Did they ever
elevate a plebeian if he sympathized with plebeians? No, brother; should I
be lifted above our condition, I will be raised by the arms of my
countrymen, and not upon their necks."
"All I hope, is, Cola, that you will not, in your zeal for your fellow-
citizens, forget how dear you are to us. No greatness could ever reconcile
me to the thought that it brought you danger."
"And I could laugh at all danger, if it led to greatness. But greatness -
greatness! Vain dream! Let us keep it for our night sleep. Enough of my
plans; now, dearest brother, of yours."
And, with the sanguine and cheerful elasticity which belonged to him, the
young Cola, dismissing all wilder thoughts, bent his mind to listen, and to
enter into, the humbler projects of his brother. The new boat and the
holiday dress, and the cot removed to a quarter more secure from the
oppression of the barons, and such distant pictures of love as a dark eye
and a merry lip conjure up to the vague sentiments of a boy; - to schemes
and aspirations of which such objects made the limit, did the scholar
listen, with a relaxed brow and a tender smile; and often, in later life,
did that conversation occur to him, when he shrank from asking his own
heart which ambition was the wiser.
"And then," continued the younger brother, "by degrees I might save enough
to purchase such a vessel as that which we now see, laden, doubtless, with
corn and merchandise, bringing - oh, such a good return - that I could fill
your room with books, and never hear you complain that you were not rich
enough to purchase some crumbling old monkish manuscript. Ah, that would
make me so happy!" Cola smiled as he pressed his brother closer to his
"Dear boy," said he, "may it rather be mine to provide for your wishes!
Yet methinks the masters of yon vessel have no enviable possession, see how
anxiously the men look round, and behind, and before: peaceful traders
though they be, they fear, it seems, even in this city (once the emporium
of the civilised world), some pirate in pursuit; and ere the voyage be
over, they may find that pirate in a Roman noble. Alas, to what are we
The vessel thus referred to was speeding rapidly down the river, and some
three or four armed men on deck were indeed intently surveying the quiet
banks on either side, as if anticipating a foe. The bark soon, however,
glided out of sight, and the brothers fell back upon those themes which
require only the future for a text to become attractive to the young.
At length, as the evening darkened, they remembered that it was past the
usual hour in which they returned home, and they began to retrace their
"Stay," said Cola, abruptly, "how our talk has beguiled me! Father Uberto
promised me a rare manuscript, which the good friar confesses hath puzzled
the whole convent. I was to seek his cell for it this evening. Tarry here
a few minutes, it is but half-way up the Aventine. I shall soon return."
"Can I not accompany you?"
"Nay," returned Cola, with considerate kindness, "you have borne toil all
the day, and must be wearied; my labours of the body, at least, have been
light enough. You are delicate, too, and seem fatigued already; the rest
will refresh you. I shall not be long."
The boy acquiesced, though he rather wished to accompany his brother; but
he was of a meek and yielding temper, and seldom resisted the lightest
command of those he loved. He sat him down on a little bank by the river-
side, and the firm step and towering form of his brother were soon hid from
his gaze by the thick and melancholy foliage.
At first he sat very quietly, enjoying the cool air, and thinking over all
the stories of ancient Rome that his brother had told him in their walk.
At length he recollected that his little sister, Irene, had begged him to
bring her home some flowers; and, gathering such as he could find at hand
(and many a flower grew, wild and clustering, over that desolate spot), he
again seated himself, and began weaving them into one of those garlands for
which the southern peasantry still retain their ancient affection, and
something of their classic skill.
While the boy was thus engaged, the tramp of horses and the loud shouting
of men were heard at a distance. They came near, and nearer.
"Some baron's procession, perhaps, returning from a feast," thought the
boy. "It will be a pretty sight - their white plumes and scarlet mantles!
I love to see such sights, but I will just move out of their way."
So, still mechanically platting his garland, but with eyes turned towards
the quarter of the expected procession, the young Roman moved yet nearer
towards the river.
Presently the train came in view, - a gallant company, in truth; horsemen
in front, riding two abreast, where the path permitted, their steeds
caparisoned superbly, their plumes waving gaily, and the gleam of their
corselets glittering through the shades of the dusky twilight. A large and
miscellaneous crowd, all armed, some with pikes and mail, others with less
warlike or worse fashioned weapons, followed the cavaliers; and high above
plume and pike floated the blood-red banner of the Orsini, with the motto
and device (in which was ostentatiously displayed the Guelfic badge of the
keys of St. Peter) wrought in burnished gold. A momentary fear crossed the
boy's mind, for at that time, and in that city, a nobleman begirt with his
swordsmen was more dreaded than a wild beast by the plebeians; but it was
already too late to fly - the train were upon him.
"Ho, boy! cried the leader of the horsemen, Martino di Porto, one of the
great House of the Orsini; "hast thou seen a boat pass up the river? - But
thou must have seen it - how long since?"
"I saw a large boat about half an hour ago," answered the boy, terrified by
the rough voice and imperious bearing of the cavalier.
"Sailing right a-head, with a green flag at the stern?"
"The same, noble sir."
"On, then! we will stop her course ere the moon rise," said the baron.
"On! - let the boy go with us, lest he prove traitor, and alarm the
"An Orsini, an Orsini," shouted the multitude; "on, on!" and, despite the
prayers and remonstrances of the boy, he was placed in the thickest of the
crowd, and borne, or rather dragged along with the rest - frightened,
breathless, almost weeping, with his poor little garland still hanging on
his arm, while a sling was thrust into his unwilling hand. Still he felt,
through all his alarm, a kind of childish curiosity to see the result of
By the loud and eager conversation of those about him, he learned that the
vessel he had seen contained a supply of corn destined to a fortress up the
river held by the Colonna, then at deadly feud with the Orsini; and it was
the object of the expedition in which the boy had been thus lucklessly
entrained to intercept the provision, and divert it to the garrison of
Martino di Porto. This news somewhat increased his consternation, for the
boy belonged to a family that claimed the patronage of the Colonna.
Anxiously and tearfully he looked with every moment up the steep ascent of
the Aventine; but his guardian, his protector, still delayed his
They had now proceeded some way, when a winding in the road brought
suddenly before them the object of their pursuit, as, seen by the light of
the earliest stars, it scudded rapidly down the stream.
"Now, the Saints be blest!" quoth the chief; "she is ours!"
"Hold!" said a captain (a German) riding next to Martino, in a half
whisper; "I hear sounds which I like not, by yonder trees - hark! The
neigh of a horse! - by my faith, too, there is the gleam of a corselet."
"Push on, my masters," cried Martino; "the heron shall not balk the eagle -
With renewed shouts, those on foot pushed forward, till, as they had nearly
gained the copse referred to by the German, a small compact body of
horsemen, armed cap-a-pie, dashed from amidst the trees, and, with spears
in their rests, charged into the ranks of the pursuers.
"A Colonna! a Colonna!" "An Orsini! an Orsini!" were shouts loudly and
fiercely interchanged. Martino di Porto, a man of great bulk and ferocity,
and his cavaliers, who were chiefly German Mercenaries, met the encounter
unshaken. "Beware the bear's hug," cried the Orsini, as down went his
antagonist, rider and steed, before his lance.
The contest was short and fierce; the complete armour of the horsemen
protected them on either side from wounds, - not so unscathed fared the
half-armed foot-followers of the Orsini, as they pressed, each pushed on by
the other, against the Colonna. After a shower of stones and darts, which
fell but as hailstones against the thick mail of the horsemen, they closed
in, and, by their number, obstructed the movements of the steeds, while the
spear, sword, and battle-axe of their opponents made ruthless havoc amongst
their undisciplined ranks. And Martino, who cared little how many of his
mere mob were butchered, seeing that his foes were for the moment
embarrassed by the wild rush and gathering circle of his foot train (for
the place of conflict, though wider than the previous road, was confined
and narrow), made a sign to some of his horsemen, and was about to ride
forward towards the boat, now nearly out of sight, when a bugle at some
distance was answered by one of his enemy at hand; and the shout of
"Colonna to the rescue!" was echoed afar off. A few moments brought in
view a numerous train of horse at full speed, with the banners of the
Colonna waving gallantly in the front.
"A plague on the wizards! who would have imagined they had divined us so
craftily!" muttered Martino; "we must not abide these odds;" and the hand
he had first raised for advance, now gave the signal of retreat.
Serried breast to breast and in complete order, the horsemen of Martino
turned to fly; the foot rabble who had come for spoil remained but for
slaughter. They endeavoured to imitate their leaders; but how could they
all elude the rushing chargers and sharp lances of their antagonists, whose
blood was heated by the affray, and who regarded the lives at their mercy
as a boy regards the wasp's nest he destroys. The crowd dispersing in all
directions, - some, indeed, escaped up the hills, where the footing was
impracticable to the horses; some plunged into the river and swam across to
the opposite bank - those less cool or experienced, who fled right onwards,
served, by clogging the way of their enemy, to facilitate the flight of
their leaders, but fell themselves, corpse upon corpse, butchered in the
unrelenting and unresisted pursuit.
"No quarter to the ruffians - every Orsini slain is a robber the less -
strike for God, the Emperor, and the Colonna!" such were the shouts which
rung the knell of the dismayed and falling fugitives. Among those who fled
onward, in the very path most accessible to the cavalry, was the young
brother of Cola, so innocently mixed with the affray. Fast he fled, dizzy
with terror - poor boy, scarce before ever parted from his parents' or his
brother's side! - the trees glided past him - the banks receded: - on he
sped, and fast behind came the tramp of the hoofs - the shouts - the curses
- the fierce laughter of the foe, as they bounded over the dead and the
dying in their path. He was now at the spot in which his brother had left
him; hastily he glanced behind, and saw the couched lance and horrent crest
of the horseman close at his rear; despairingly he looked up, and behold!
his brother bursting through the tangled brakes that clothed the mountain,
and bounding to his succour.
"Save me! save me, brother!" he shrieked aloud, and the shriek reached
Cola's ear; - the snort of the fiery charger breathed hot upon him; - a
moment more, and with one wild shrill cry of "Mercy, mercy" he fell to the
ground - a corpse: the lance of the pursuer passing through and through
him, from back to breast, and nailing him on the very sod where he had
sate, full of young life and careless hope, not an hour ago.
The horseman plucked forth his spear, and passed on in pursuit of new
victims; his comrades following. Cola had descended, - was on the spot, -
kneeling by his murdered brother. Presently, to the sound of horn and
trumpet, came by a nobler company than most of those hitherto engaged; who
had been, indeed, but the advanced-guard of the Colonna. At their head
rode a man in years, whose long white hair escaped from his plumed cap and
mingled with his venerable beard. "How is this?" said the chief, reining
in his steed, "young Rienzi!"
The youth looked up, as he heard that voice, and then flung himself before
the steed of the old noble, and, clasping his hands, cried out in a scarce
articulate tone: "It is my brother, noble Stephen, - a boy, a mere child!
- the best - the mildest! See how his blood dabbles the grass; - back,
back - your horse's hoofs are in the stream! Justice, my Lord, justice! -
you are a great man."
"Who slew him? an Orsini, doubtless; you shall have justice."
"Thanks, thanks," murmured Rienzi, as he tottered once more to his
brother's side, turned the boy's face from the grass, and strove wildly to
feel the pulse of his heart; he drew back his hand hastily, for it was
crimsoned with blood, and lifting that hand on high, shrieked out again,
The group round the old Stephen Colonna, hardened as they were in such
scenes, were affected by the sight. A handsome boy, whose tears ran fast
down his cheeks, and who rode his palfrey close by the side of the Colonna,
drew forth his sword. "My Lord," said he, half sobbing, "an Orsini only
could have butchered a harmless lad like this; let us lose not a moment, -
let us on after the ruffians."
"No, Adrian, no!" cried Stephen, laying his hand on the boy's shoulder;
"your zeal is to be lauded, but we must beware an ambush. Our men have
ventured too far - what, ho, there! - sound a return."
The bugles, in a few minutes, brought back the pursuers, - among them, the
horseman whose spear had been so fatally misused. He was the leader of
those engaged in the conflict with Martino di Porto; and the gold wrought
into his armour, with the gorgeous trappings of his charger, betokened his
"Thanks, my son, thanks," said the old Colonna to this cavalier, "you have
done well and bravely. But tell me, knowest thou, for thou hast an eagle
eye, which of the Orsini slew this poor boy? - a foul deed; his family,
too, our clients!"
"Who? yon lad?" replied the horseman, lifting the helmet from his head, and
wiping his heated brow; "say you so! how came he, then, with Martino's
rascals? I fear me the mistake hath cost him dear. I could but suppose
him of the Orsini rabble, and so - and so - "
"You slew him!" cried Rienzi, in a voice of thunder, starting from the
ground. "Justice! then, my Lord Stephen, justice! you promised me
justice, and I will have it!"
"My poor youth," said the old man, compassionately, "you should have had
justice against the Orsini; but see you not this has been an error? I do
not wonder you are too grieved to listen to reason now. We must make this
up to you."
"And let this pay for masses for the boy's soul; I grieve me much for the
accident," said the younger Colonna, flinging down a purse of gold. "Ay,
see us at the palace next week, young Cola - next week. My father, we had
best return towards the boat; its safeguard may require us yet."
"Right, Gianni; stay, some two of you, and see to the poor lad's corpse; -
a grievous accident! how could it chance?"
The company passed back the way they came, two of the common soldiers alone
remaining, except the boy Adrian, who lingered behind a few moments,
striving to console Rienzi, who, as one bereft of sense, remained
motionless, gazing on the proud array as it swept along, and muttering to
himself, "Justice, justice! I will have it yet."
The loud voice of the elder Colonna summoned Adrian, reluctantly and
weeping, away. "Let me be your brother," said the gallant boy,
affectionately pressing the scholar's hand to his heart; "I want a brother
Rienzi made no reply; he did not heed or hear him - dark and stern
thoughts, thoughts in which were the germ of a mighty revolution, were at
his heart. He woke from them with a start, as the soldiers were now
arranging their bucklers so as to make a kind of bier for the corpse, and
then burst into tears as he fiercely motioned them away, and clasped the
clay to his breast till he was literally soaked with the oozing blood.
The poor child's garland had not dropped from his arm even when he fell,
and, entangled by his dress, it still clung around him. It was a sight
that recalled to Cola all the gentleness, the kind heart, and winning
graces of his only brother - his only friend! It was a sight that seemed
to make yet more inhuman the untimely and unmerited fate of that innocent
boy. "My brother! my brother!" groaned the survivor; "how shall I meet our
mother? - how shall I meet even night and solitude again? - so young, so
harmless! See ye, sirs, he was but too gentle. And they will not give us
justice, because his murderer was a noble and a Colonna. And this gold,
too - gold for a brother's blood! Will they not" - and the young man's
eyes glared like fire - "will they not give us justice? Time shall show!"
so saying, he bent his head over the corpse; his lips muttered, as with
some prayer or invocation; and then rising, his face was as pale as the
dead beside him, - but it was no longer pale with grief!
From that bloody clay, and that inward prayer, Cola di Rienzi rose a new
being. With his young brother died his own youth. But for that event, the
future liberator of Rome might have been but a dreamer, a scholar, a poet;
the peaceful rival of Petrarch; a man of thoughts, not deeds. But from
that time, all his faculties, energies, fancies, genius, became
concentrated into a single point; and patriotism, before a vision, leapt
into the life and vigour of a passion, lastingly kindled, stubbornly
hardened, and awfully consecrated, - by revenge!
Chapter 1.II. An Historical Survey - not to Be Passed Over, Except by
Those Who Dislike to Understand What They Read.
Years had passed away, and the death of the Roman boy, amidst more noble
and less excusable slaughter, was soon forgotten, - forgotten almost by the
parents of the slain, in the growing fame and fortunes of their eldest son,
- forgotten and forgiven never by that son himself. But, between that
prologue of blood, and the political drama which ensues, - between the
fading interest, as it were, of a dream, and the more busy, actual, and
continuous excitements of sterner life, - this may be the most fitting time
to place before the reader a short and rapid outline of the state and
circumstances of that city in which the principal scenes of this story are
laid; - an outline necessary, perhaps, to many, for a full comprehension of
the motives of the actors, and the vicissitudes of the plot.
Despite the miscellaneous and mongrel tribes that had forced their
settlements in the City of the Caesars, the Roman population retained an
inordinate notion of their own supremacy over the rest of the world; and,
degenerated from the iron virtues of the Republic, possessed all the
insolent and unruly turbulence which characterised the Plebs of the ancient
Forum. Amongst a ferocious, yet not a brave populace, the nobles supported
themselves less as sagacious tyrants than as relentless banditti. The
popes had struggled in vain against these stubborn and stern patricians.
Their state derided, their command defied, their persons publicly outraged,
the pontiff-sovereigns of the rest of Europe resided, at the Vatican, as
prisoners under terror of execution. When, thirty-eight years before the
date of the events we are about to witness, a Frenchman, under the name of
Clement V., had ascended the chair of St. Peter, the new pope, with more
prudence than valour, had deserted Rome for the tranquil retreat of
Avignon; and the luxurious town of a foreign province became the court of
the Roman pontiff, and the throne of the Christian Church.
Thus deprived of even the nominal check of the papal presence, the power of
the nobles might be said to have no limits, save their own caprice, or
their mutual jealousies and feuds. Though arrogating through fabulous
genealogies their descent from the ancient Romans, they were, in reality,
for the most part, the sons of the bolder barbarians of the North; and,
contaminated by the craft of Italy, rather than imbued with its national
affections, they retained the disdain of their foreign ancestors for a
conquered soil and a degenerate people. While the rest of Italy,
especially in Florence, in Venice, and in Milan, was fast and far advancing
beyond the other states of Europe in civilisation and in art, the Romans
appeared rather to recede than to improve; - unblest by laws, unvisited by
art, strangers at once to the chivalry of a warlike, and the graces of a
peaceful, people. But they still possessed the sense and desire of
liberty, and, by ferocious paroxysms and desperate struggles, sought to
vindicate for their city the title it still assumed of "the Metropolis of
the World." For the last two centuries they had known various revolutions
- brief, often bloody, and always unsuccessful. Still, there was the empty
pageant of a popular form of government. The thirteen quarters of the city
named each a chief; and the assembly of these magistrates, called
Caporioni, by theory possessed an authority they had neither the power nor
the courage to exert. Still there was the proud name of Senator; but, at
the present time, the office was confined to one or to two persons,
sometimes elected by the pope, sometimes by the nobles. The authority
attached to the name seems to have had no definite limit; it was that of a
stern dictator, or an indolent puppet, according as he who held it had the
power to enforce the dignity he assumed. It was never conceded but to
nobles, and it was by the nobles that all the outrages were committed.
Private enmity alone was gratified whenever public justice was invoked:
and the vindication of order was but the execution of revenge.
Holding their palaces as the castles and fortresses of princes, each
asserting his own independency of all authority and law, and planting
fortifications, and claiming principalities in the patrimonial territories
of the Church, the barons of Rome made their state still more secure, and
still more odious, by the maintenance of troops of foreign (chiefly of
German) mercenaries, at once braver in disposition, more disciplined in
service, and more skilful in arms, than even the freest Italians of that
time. Thus they united the judicial and the military force, not for the
protection, but for the ruin of Rome. Of these barons, the most powerful
were the Orsini and Colonna; their feuds were hereditary and incessant, and
every day witnessed the fruits of their lawless warfare, in bloodshed, in
rape, and in conflagration. The flattery or the friendship of Petrarch,
too credulously believed by modern historians, has invested the Colonna,
especially of the date now entered upon, with an elegance and a dignity not
their own. Outrage, fraud, and assassination, a sordid avarice in securing
lucrative offices to themselves, an insolent oppression of their citizens,
and the most dastardly cringing to power superior to their own (with but
few exceptions), mark the character of the first family of Rome. But,
wealthier than the rest of the barons, they were, therefore, more
luxurious, and, perhaps, more intellectual; and their pride was flattered
in being patrons of those arts of which they could never have become the
professors. From these multiplied oppressors the Roman citizens turned
with fond and impatient regret to their ignorant and dark notions of
departed liberty and greatness. They confounded the times of the Empire
with those of the Republic; and often looked to the Teutonic king, who
obtained his election from beyond the Alps, but his title of emperor from
the Romans, as the deserter of his legitimate trust and proper home; vainly
imagining that, if both the Emperor and the Pontiff fixed their residence
in Rome, Liberty and Law would again seek their natural shelter beneath the
resuscitated majesty of the Roman people.
The absence of the pope and the papal court served greatly to impoverish
the citizens; and they had suffered yet more visibly by the depredations of
hordes of robbers, numerous and unsparing, who infested Romagna,
obstructing all the public ways, and were, sometimes secretly, sometimes,
openly, protected by the barons, who often recruited their banditti
garrisons by banditti soldiers.
But besides the lesser and ignobler robbers, there had risen in Italy a far
more formidable description of freebooters. A German, who assumed the
lofty title of the Duke Werner, had, a few years prior to the period we
approach, enlisted and organised a considerable force, styled "The Great
Company," with which he besieged cities and invaded states, without any
object less shameless than that of pillage. His example was soon imitated:
numerous "Companies," similarly constituted, devastated the distracted and
divided land. They appeared, suddenly raised, as if by magic, before the
walls of a city, and demanded immense sums as the purchase of peace.
Neither tyrant nor common wealth maintained a force sufficient to resist
them; and if other northern mercenaries were engaged to oppose them, it was
only to recruit the standards of the freebooters with deserters. Mercenary
fought not mercenary - nor German, German: and greater pay, and more
unbridled rapine, made the tents of the "Companies" far more attractive
than the regulated stipends of a city, or the dull fortress and
impoverished coffers of a chief. Werner, the most implacable and ferocious
of all these adventurers, and who had so openly gloried in his enormities
as to wear upon his breast a silver plate, engraved with the words, "Enemy
to God, to Pity, and to Mercy," had not long since ravaged Romagna with
fire and sword. But, whether induced by money, or unable to control the
fierce spirits he had raised, he afterwards led the bulk of his company
back to Germany. Small detachments, however, remained, scattered
throughout the land, waiting only an able leader once more to re-unite
them: amongst those who appeared most fitted for that destiny was Walter
de Montreal, a Knight of St. John, and gentleman of Provence, whose valour
and military genius had already, though yet young, raised his name into
dreaded celebrity; and whose ambition, experience, and sagacity, relieved
by certain chivalric and noble qualities, were suited to enterprises far
greater and more important than the violent depredations of the atrocious
Werner. From these scourges, no state had suffered more grievously than
Rome. The patrimonial territories of the pope, - in part wrested from him
by petty tyrants, in part laid waste by these foreign robbers, - yielded
but a scanty supply to the necessities of Clement VI., the most
accomplished gentleman and the most graceful voluptuary of his time; and
the good father had devised a plan, whereby to enrich at once the Romans
and their pontiff.
Nearly fifty years before the time we enter upon, in order both to
replenish the papal coffers and pacify the starving Romans, Boniface VIII.
had instituted the Festival of the Jubilee, or Holy Year; in fact, a
revival of a Pagan ceremonial. A plenary indulgence was promised to every
Catholic who, in that year, and in the first year of every succeeding
century, should visit the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. An immense
concourse of pilgrims, from every part of Christendom, had attested the
wisdom of the invention; "and two priests stood night and day, with rakes
in their hands, to collect without counting the heaps of gold and silver
that were poured on the altar of St. Paul." (Gibbon, vol. xii. c. 59.)
It is not to be wondered at that this most lucrative festival should, ere
the next century was half expired, appear to a discreet pontiff to be too
long postponed. And both pope and city agreed in thinking it might well
bear a less distant renewal. Accordingly, Clement VI. had proclaimed,
under the name of the Mosaic Jubilee, a second Holy Year for 1350 - viz.,
three years distant from that date at which, in the next chapter, my
narrative will commence. This circumstance had a great effect in whetting
the popular indignation against the barons, and preparing the events I
shall relate; for the roads were, as I before said, infested by the
banditti, the creatures and allies of the barons. And if the roads were
not cleared, the pilgrims might not attend. It was the object of the
pope's vicar, Raimond, bishop of Orvietto (bad politician and good
canonist), to seek, by every means, to remove all impediment between the
offerings of devotion and the treasury of St. Peter.
Such, in brief, was the state of Rome at the period we are about to
examine. Her ancient mantle of renown still, in the eyes of Italy and of
Europe, cloaked her ruins. In name, at least, she was still the queen of
the earth; and from her hands came the crown of the emperor of the north,
and the keys of the father of the church. Her situation was precisely that
which presented a vase and glittering triumph to bold ambition, - an
inspiring, if mournful, spectacle to determined patriotism, - and a fitting
stage for that more august tragedy which seeks its incidents, selects its
actors, and shapes its moral, amidst the vicissitudes and crimes of
Chapter 1.III. The Brawl.
On an evening in April, 1347, and in one of those wide spaces in which
Modern and Ancient Rome seemed blent together - equally desolate and
equally in ruins - a miscellaneous and indignant populace were assembled.
That morning the house of a Roman jeweller had been forcibly entered and
pillaged by the soldiers of Martino di Porto, with a daring effrontery
which surpassed even the ordinary licence of the barons. The sympathy and
sensation throughout the city were deep and ominous.
"Never will I submit to this tyranny!"
"Nor by the bones of St. Peter, will I!"
"And what, my friends, is this tyranny to which you will not submit?" said
a young nobleman, addressing himself to the crowd of citizens who, heated,
angry, half-armed, and with the vehement gestures of Italian passion, were
now sweeping down the long and narrow street that led to the gloomy quarter
occupied by the Orsini.
"Ah, my lord!" cried two or three of the citizens in a breath, "you will
right us - you will see justice done to us - you are a Colonna."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed scornfully one man of gigantic frame, and wielding on
high a huge hammer, indicative of his trade. "Justice and Colonna! body of
God! those names are not often found together."
"Down with him! down with him! he is an Orsinist - down with him!" cried at
least ten of the throng: but no hand was raised against the giant.
"He speaks the truth," said a second voice, firmly.
"Ay, that doth he," said a third, knitting his brows, and unsheathing his
knife, "and we will abide by it. The Orsini are tyrants - and the Colonnas
are, at the best, as bad."
"Thou liest in thy teeth, ruffian!" cried the young noble, advancing into
the press and confronting the last asperser of the Colonna.
Before the flashing eye and menacing gesture of the cavalier, the worthy
brawler retreated some steps, so as to leave an open space between the
towering form of the smith, and the small, slender, but vigorous frame of
the young noble.
Taught from their birth to despise the courage of the plebeians, even while
careless of much reputation as to their own, the patricians of Rome were
not unaccustomed to the rude fellowship of these brawls; nor was it unoften
that the mere presence of a noble sufficed to scatter whole crowds, that
had the moment before been breathing vengeance against his order and his
Waving his hand, therefore, to the smith, and utterly unheeding either his
brandished weapon or his vast stature, the young Adrian di Castello, a
distant kinsman of the Colonna, haughtily bade him give way.
"To your homes, friends! and know," he added, with some dignity, "that ye
wrong us much, if ye imagine we share the evil-doings of the Orsini, or are
pandering solely to our own passions in the feud between their house and
ours. May the Holy Mother so judge me," continued he, devoutly lifting up
his eyes, "as I now with truth declare, that it is for your wrongs, and for
the wrongs of Rome, that I have drawn this sword against the Orsini."
"So say all the tyrants," rejoined the smith, hardily, as he leant his
hammer against a fragment of stone - some remnant of ancient Rome - "they
never fight against each other, but it is for our good. One Colonna cuts
me the throat of Orsini's baker - it is for our good! Another Colonna
seizes on the daughter of Orsini's tailor - it is for our good! our good -
yes, for the good of the people! the good of the bakers and tailors, eh?"
"Fellow," said the young nobleman, gravely, "if a Colonna did thus, he did
wrong; but the holiest cause may have bad supporters."
"Yes, the holy Church itself is propped on very in different columns,"
answered the smith, in a rude witticism on the affection of the pope for
"He blasphemes! the smith blasphemes!" cried the partisans of that powerful
house. "A Colonna, a Colonna!"
"An Orsini, an Orsini!" was no less promptly the counter cry.
"The People!" shouted the smith, waving his formidable weapon far above the
heads of the group.
In an instant the whole throng, who had at first united against the
aggression of one man, were divided by the hereditary wrath of faction. At
the cry of Orsini, several new partisans hurried to the spot; the friends
of the Colonna drew themselves on one side - the defenders of the Orsini on
the other - and the few who agreed with the smith that both factions were
equally odious, and the people was the sole legitimate cry in a popular
commotion, would have withdrawn themselves from the approaching melee, if
the smith himself, who was looked upon by them as an authority of great
influence, had not - whether from resentment at the haughty bearing of the
young Colonna, or from that appetite of contest not uncommon in men of a
bulk and force which assure them in all personal affrays the lofty pleasure
of superiority - if, I say, the smith himself had not, after a pause of
indecision, retired among the Orsini, and entrained, by his example, the
alliance of his friends with the favourers of that faction.
In popular commotions, each man is whirled along with the herd, often half
against his own approbation or assent. The few words of peace by which
Adrian di Castello commenced an address to his friends were drowned amidst
their shouts. Proud to find in their ranks one of the most beloved, and
one of the noblest of that name, the partisans of the Colonna placed him in
their front, and charged impetuously on their foes. Adrian, however, who
had acquired from circumstances something of that chivalrous code which he
certainly could not have owed to his Roman birth, disdained at first to
assault men among whom he recognised no equal, either in rank or the
practice of arms. He contented himself with putting aside the few strokes
that were aimed at him in the gathering confusion of the conflict - few;
for those who recognised him, even amidst the bitterest partisans of the
Orsini, were not willing to expose themselves to the danger and odium of
spilling the blood of a man, who, in addition to his great birth and the
terrible power of his connexions, was possessed of a personal popularity,
which he owed rather to a comparison with the vices of his relatives than
to any remarkable virtues hitherto displayed by himself. The smith alone,
who had as yet taken no active part in the fray, seemed to gather himself
up in determined opposition as the cavalier now advanced within a few steps
"Did we not tell thee," quoth the giant, frowning, "that the Colonna were,
not less than the Orsini, the foes of the people? Look at thy followers
and clients: are they not cutting the throats of humble men by way of
vengeance for the crime of a great one? But that is the way one patrician
always scourges the insolence of another. He lays the rod on the backs of
the people, and then cries, 'See how just I am!'"
"I do not answer thee now," answered Adrian; "but if thou regrettest with
me this waste of blood, join with me in attempting to prevent it."
"I - not I! let the blood of the slaves flow today: the time is fast
coming when it shall be washed away by the blood of the lords."
"Away, ruffian!" said Adrian, seeking no further parley, and touching the
smith with the flat side of his sword. In an instant the hammer of the
smith swung in the air, and, but for the active spring of the young noble,
would infallibly have crushed him to the earth. Ere the smith could gain
time for a second blow, Adrian's sword passed twice through his right arm,
and the weapon fell heavily to the ground.
"Slay him, slay him!" cried several of the clients of the Colonna, now
pressing, dastard-like, round the disarmed and disabled smith.
"Ay, slay him!" said, in tolerable Italian, but with a barbarous accent,
one man, half-clad in armour, who had but just joined the group, and who
was one of those wild German bandits whom the Colonna held in their pay;
"he belongs to a horrible gang of miscreants sworn against all order and
peace. He is one of Rienzi's followers, and, bless the Three Kings! raves
about the People."
"Thou sayest right, barbarian," said the sturdy smith, in a loud voice, and
tearing aside the vest from his breast with his left hand; "come all -
Colonna and Orsini - dig to this heart with your sharp blades, and when you
have reached the centre, you will find there the object of your common
hatred - 'Rienzi and the People!'"
As he uttered these words, in language that would have seemed above his
station (if a certain glow and exaggeration of phrase and sentiment were
not common, when excited, to all the Romans), the loudness of his voice
rose above the noise immediately round him, and stilled, for an instant,
the general din; and when, at last, the words, "Rienzi and the People" rang
forth, they penetrated midway through the increasing crowd, and were
answered as by an echo, with a hundred voices - "Rienzi and the People!"
But whatever impression the words of the mechanic made on others, it was
equally visible in the young Colonna. At the name of Rienzi the glow of
excitement vanished from his cheek; he started back, muttered to himself,
and for a moment seemed, even in the midst of that stirring commotion, to
be lost in a moody and distant revery. He recovered, as the shout died
away; and saying to the smith, in a low tone, "Friend, I am sorry for thy
wound; but seek me on the morrow, and thou shalt find thou hast wronged
me;" he beckoned to the German to follow him, and threaded his way through
the crowd, which generally gave back as he advanced. For the bitterest
hatred to the order of the nobles was at that time in Rome mingled with a
servile respect for their persons, and a mysterious awe of their
As Adrian passed through that part of the crowd in which the fray had not
yet commenced, the murmurs that followed him were not those which many of
his race could have heard.
"A Colonna," said one.
"Yet no ravisher," said another, laughing wildly.
"Nor murtherer," muttered a third, pressing his hand to his breast. "'Tis
not against him that my father's blood cries aloud."
"Bless him," said a fourth, "for as yet no man curses him!"
"Ah, God help us!" said an old man, with a long grey beard, leaning on his
staff: "The serpent's young yet; the fangs will show by and by."
"For shame, father! he is a comely youth, and not proud in the least. What
a smile he hath!" quoth a fair matron, who kept on the outskirt of the
"Farewell to a man's honour when a noble smiles on his wife!" was the
"Nay," said Luigi, a jolly butcher, with a roguish eye, "what a man can win
fairly from maid or wife, that let him do, whether plebeian or noble -
that's my morality; but when an ugly old patrician finds fair words will
not win fair looks, and carries me off a dame on the back of a German boar,
with a stab in the side for comfort to the spouse, - then, I say, he is a
wicked man, and an adulterer."
While such were the comments and the murmurs that followed the noble, very
different were the looks and words that attended the German soldier.
Equally, nay, with even greater promptitude, did the crowd make way at his
armed and heavy tread; but not with looks of reverence: - the eye glared as
he approached; but the cheek grew pale - the head bowed - the lip quivered;
each man felt a shudder of hate and fear, as recognizing a dread and mortal
foe. And well and wrathfully did the fierce mercenary note the signs of
the general aversion. He pushed on rudely - half-smiling in contempt,
half-frowning in revenge, as he looked from side to side; and his long,
matted, light hair, tawny-coloured moustache, and brawny front, contrasted
strongly with the dark eyes, raven locks, and slender frames of the
"May Lucifer double damn those German cut-throats!" muttered, between his
grinded teeth, one of the citizens.
"Amen!" answered, heartily, another.
"Hush!" said a third, timorously looking round; "if one of them hear thee,
thou art a lost man."
"Oh, Rome! Rome! to what art thou fallen!" said bitterly one citizen,
clothed in black, and of a higher seeming than the rest; "when thou
shudderest in thy streets at the tread of a hired barbarian!"
"Hark to one of our learned men, and rich citizens!" said the butcher,
"'Tis a friend of Rienzi's," quoth another of the group, lifting his cap.
With downcast eyes, and a face in which grief, shame, and wrath, were
visibly expressed, Pandulfo di Guido, a citizen of birth and repute, swept
slowly through the crowd, and disappeared.
Meanwhile, Adrian, having gained a street which, though in the
neighbourhood of the crowd, was empty and desolate, turned to his fierce
comrade. "Rodolf!" said he, "mark! - no violence to the citizens. Return
to the crowd, collect the friends of our house, withdraw them from the
scene; let not the Colonna be blamed for this day's violence; and assure
our followers, in my name, that I swear, by the knighthood I received at
the Emperor's hands, that by my sword shall Martino di Porto be punished
for his outrage. Fain would I, in person, allay the tumult, but my
presence only seems to sanction it. Go - thou hast weight with them all."
"Ay, Signor, the weight of blows!" answered the grim soldier. "But the
command is hard; I would fain let their puddle-blood flow an hour or two
longer. Yet, pardon me; in obeying thy orders, do I obey those of my
master, thy kinsman? It is old Stephen Colonna - who seldom spares blood
or treasure, God bless him - (save his own!) - whose money I hold, and to
whose hests I am sworn."
"Diavolo!" muttered the cavalier, and the angry spot was on his cheek; but,
with the habitual self-control of the Italian nobles, he smothered his
rising choler, and said aloud, with calmness, but dignity -
"Do as I bid thee; check this tumult - make us the forbearing party. Let
all be still within one hour hence, and call on me tomorrow for thy reward;
be this purse an earnest of my future thanks. As for my kinsman, whom I
command thee to name more reverently, 'tis in his name I speak. Hark! the
din increases - the contest swells - go - lose not another moment."
Somewhat awed by the quiet firmness of the patrician, Rodolf nodded,
without answer, slid the money into his bosom, and stalked away into the
thickest of the throng. But, even ere he arrived, a sudden reaction had
The young cavalier, left alone in that spot, followed with his eyes the
receding form of the mercenary, as the sun, now setting, shone slant upon
his glittering casque, and said bitterly to himself - "Unfortunate city,
fountain of all mighty memories - fallen queen of a thousand nations - how
art thou decrowned and spoiled by thy recreant and apostate children! Thy
nobles divided against themselves - thy people cursing thy nobles - thy
priests, who should sow peace, planting discord - the father of thy church
deserting thy stately walls, his home a refuge, his mitre a fief, his court
a Gallic village - and we! we, of the haughtiest blood of Rome - we, the
sons of Caesars, and of the lineage of demigods, guarding an insolent and
abhorred state by the swords of hirelings, who mock our cowardice while
they receive our pay - who keep our citizens slaves, and lord it over their
very masters in return! Oh, that we, the hereditary chiefs of Rome, could
but feel - oh, that we could but find, our only legitimate safeguard in the
grateful hearts of our countrymen!"
So deeply did the young Adrian feel the galling truth of all he uttered,
that the indignant tears rolled down his cheeks as he spoke. He felt no
shame as he dashed them away; for that weakness which weeps for a fallen
race, is the tenderness not of women but of angels.
As he turned slowly to quit the spot, his steps were suddenly arrested by a
loud shout: "Rienzi! Rienzi!" smote the air. From the walls of the
Capitol to the bed of the glittering Tiber, that name echoed far and wide;
and, as the shout died away, it was swallowed up in a silence so profound,
so universal, so breathless, that you might have imagined that death itself
had fallen over the city. And now, at the extreme end of the crowd, and
elevated above their level, on vast fragments of stone which had been
dragged from the ruins of Rome in one of the late frequent tumults between
contending factions, to serve as a barricade for citizens against citizens,
- on these silent memorials of the past grandeur, the present misery, of
Rome, stood that extraordinary man, who, above all his race, was the most
penetrated with the glories of the one time, with the degradation of the
From the distance at which he stood from the scene, Adrian could only
distinguish the dark outline of Rienzi's form; he could only hear the faint
sound of his mighty voice; he could only perceive, in the subdued yet
waving sea of human beings that spread around, their heads bared in the
last rays of the sun, the unutterable effect which an eloquence, described
by contemporaries almost as miraculous, - but in reality less so from the
genius of the man than the sympathy of the audience, - created in all, who
drank into their hearts and souls the stream of its burning thoughts.
It was but for a short time that that form was visible to the earnest eye,
that that voice at intervals reached the straining ear, of Adrian di
Castello; but that time sufficed to produce all the effect which Adrian
himself had desired.
Another shout, more earnest, more prolonged than the first - a shout, in
which spoke the release of swelling thoughts, of intense excitement -
betokened the close of the harangue; and then you might see, after a
minute's pause, the crowd breaking in all directions, and pouring down the
avenues in various knots and groups, each testifying the strong and lasting
impression made upon the multitude by that address. Every cheek was
flushed - every tongue spoke: the animation of the orator had passed, like
a living spirit, into the breasts of the audience. He had thundered
against the disorders of the patricians, yet, by a word, he had disarmed
the anger of the plebeians - he had preached freedom, yet he had opposed
licence. He had calmed the present, by a promise of the future. He had
chid their quarrels, yet had supported their cause. He had mastered the
revenge of today, by a solemn assurance that there should come justice for
the morrow. So great may be the power, so mighty the eloquence, so
formidable the genius, of one man, - without arms, without rank, without
sword or ermine, who addresses himself to a people that is oppressed!
Chapter 1.IV. An Adventure.
Avoiding the broken streams of the dispersed crowd, Adrian Colonna strode
rapidly down one of the narrow streets leading to his palace, which was
situated at no inconsiderable distance from the place in which the late
contest had occurred. The education of his life made him feel a profound
interest, not only in the divisions and disputes of his country, but also
in the scene he had just witnessed, and the authority exercised by Rienzi.
An orphan of a younger, but opulent branch of the Colonna, Adrian had been
brought up under the care and guardianship of his kinsman, that astute, yet
valiant Stephen Colonna, who, of all the nobles of Rome, was the most
powerful, alike from the favour of the pope, and the number of armed
hirelings whom his wealth enabled him to maintain. Adrian had early
manifested what in that age was considered an extraordinary disposition
towards intellectual pursuits, and had acquired much of the little that was
then known of the ancient language and the ancient history of his country.
Though Adrian was but a boy at the time in which, first presented to the
reader, he witnessed the emotions of Rienzi at the death of his brother,
his kind heart had been penetrated with sympathy for Cola's affliction, and
shame for the apathy of his kinsmen at the result of their own feuds. He
had earnestly sought the friendship of Rienzi, and, despite his years, had
become aware of the power and energy of his character. But though Rienzi,
after a short time, had appeared to think no more of his brother's death -
though he again entered the halls of the Colonna, and shared their
disdainful hospitalities, he maintained a certain distance and reserve of
manner, which even Adrian could only partially overcome. He rejected every
offer of service, favour, or promotion; and any unwonted proof of kindness
from Adrian seemed, instead of making him more familiar, to offend him into
colder distance. The easy humour and conversational vivacity which had
first rendered him a welcome guest with those who passed their lives
between fighting and feasting, had changed into a vein ironical, cynical,
and severe. But the dull barons were equally amused at his wit, and Adrian
was almost the only one who detected the serpent couched beneath the smile.
Often Rienzi sat at the feast, silent, but observant, as if watching every
look, weighing every word, taking gauge and measurement of the intellect,
policy, temperament, of every guest; and when he had seemed to satisfy
himself, his spirits would rise, his words flow, and while his dazzling but
bitter wit lit up the revel, none saw that the unmirthful flash was the
token of the coming storm. But all the while, he neglected no occasion to
mix with the humbler citizens, to stir up their minds, to inflame their
imaginations, to kindle their emulation, with pictures of the present and
with legends of the past. He grew in popularity and repute, and was yet
more in power with the herd, because in favour with the nobles. Perhaps it
was for that reason that he had continued the guest of the Colonna.
When, six years before the present date, the Capitol of the Caesars
witnessed the triumph of Petrarch, the scholastic fame of the young Rienzi
had attracted the friendship of the poet, - a friendship that continued,
with slight interruption, to the last, through careers so widely different;
and afterwards, one among the Roman Deputies to Avignon, he had been
conjoined with Petrarch (According to the modern historians; but it seems
more probable that Rienzi's mission to Avignon was posterior to that of
Petrarch. However this be, it was at Avignon that Petrarch and Rienzi
became most intimate, as Petrarch himself observes in one of his letters.)
to supplicate Clement VI. to remove the Holy See from Avignon to Rome. It
was in this mission that, for the first time, he evinced his extraordinary
powers of eloquence and persuasion. The pontiff, indeed, more desirous of
ease than glory, was not convinced by the arguments, but he was enchanted
with the pleader; and Rienzi returned to Rome, loaded with honours, and
clothed with the dignity of high and responsible office. No longer the
inactive scholar, the gay companion, he rose at once to pre-eminence above
all his fellow-citizens. Never before had authority been borne with so
austere an integrity, so uncorrupt a zeal. He had sought to impregnate his
colleagues with the same loftiness of principle - he had failed. Now
secure in his footing, he had begun openly to appeal to the people; and
already a new spirit seemed to animate the populace of Rome.
While these were the fortunes of Rienzi, Adrian had been long separated
from him, and absent from Rome.
The Colonna were staunch supporters of the imperial party, and Adrian di
Castello had received and obeyed an invitation to the Emperor's court.
Under that monarch he had initiated himself in arms, and, among the knights
of Germany, he had learned to temper the natural Italian shrewdness with
the chivalry of northern valour.
In leaving Bavaria, he had sojourned a short time in the solitude of one of
his estates by the fairest lake of northern Italy; and thence, with a mind
improved alike by action and study, had visited many of the free Italian
states, imbibed sentiments less prejudiced than those of his order, and
acquired an early reputation for himself while inly marking the characters
and deeds of others. In him, the best qualities of the Italian noble were
united. Passionately addicted to the cultivation of letters, subtle and
profound in policy, gentle and bland of manner, dignifying a love of
pleasure with a certain elevation of taste, he yet possessed a gallantry of
conduct, and purity of honour, and an aversion from cruelty, which were
then very rarely found in the Italian temperament, and which even the
Chivalry of the North, while maintaining among themselves, usually
abandoned the moment they came into contact with the systematic craft and
disdain of honesty, which made the character of the ferocious, yet wily,
South. With these qualities he combined, indeed, the softer passions of
his countrymen, - he adored Beauty, and he made a deity of Love.
He had but a few weeks returned to his native city, whither his reputation
had already preceded him, and where his early affection for letters and
gentleness of bearing were still remembered. He returned to find the
position of Rienzi far more altered than his own. Adrian had not yet
sought the scholar. He wished first to judge with his own eyes, and at a
distance, of the motives and object of his conduct; for partly he caught
the suspicions which his own order entertained of Rienzi, and partly he
shared in the trustful enthusiasm of the people.
"Certainly," said he now to himself, as he walked musingly onward,
"certainly, no man has it more in his power to reform our diseased state,
to heal our divisions, to awaken our citizens to the recollections of
ancestral virtue. But that very power, how dangerous is it! Have I not
seen, in the free states of Italy, men, called into authority for the sake
of preserving the people, honest themselves at first, and then, drunk with
the sudden rank, betraying the very cause which had exalted them? True,
those men were chiefs and nobles; but are plebeians less human? Howbeit I
have heard and seen enough from afar, - I will now approach, and examine
the man himself."
While thus soliloquizing, Adrian but little noted the various passengers,
who, more and more rarely as the evening waned, hastened homeward. Among
these were two females, who now alone shared with Adrian the long and
gloomy street into which he had entered. The moon was already bright in
the heavens, and, as the women passed the cavalier with a light and quick
step, the younger one turned back and regarded him by the clear light with
an eager, yet timid glance.
"Why dost thou tremble, my pretty one!" said her companion, who might have
told some five-and-forty years, and whose garb and voice bespoke her of
inferior rank to the younger female. "The streets seem quiet enough now,
and, the Virgin be praised! we are not so far from home either."
"Oh, Benedetta, it is he! it is the young signor - it is Adrian!"
"That is fortunate," said the nurse, for such was her condition, "since
they say he is as bold as a Northman: and as the Palazzo Colonna is not
very far from hence, we shall be within reach of his aid should we want it:
that is to say, sweet one, if you will walk a little slower than you have
The young lady slackened her pace, and sighed.
"He is certainly very handsome," quoth the nurse: "but thou must not think
more of him; he is too far above thee for marriage, and for aught else,
thou art too honest, and thy brother too proud - "
"And thou, Benedetta, art too quick with thy tongue. How canst thou talk
thus, when thou knowest he hath never, since, at least, I was a mere child,
even addressed me: nay, he scarce knows of my very existence. He, the
Lord Adrian di Castello, dream of the poor Irene! The mere thought is
"Then why," said the nurse, briskly, "dost thou dream of him?"
Her companion sighed again more deeply than at first.
"Holy St. Catherine!" continued Benedetta, "if there were but one man in
the world, I would die single ere I would think of him, until, at least, he
had kissed my hand twice, and left it my own fault if it were not my lips
The young lady still replied not.
"But how didst thou contrive to love him?" asked the nurse. "Thou canst
not have seen him very often: it is but some four or five weeks since his
return to Rome."
"Oh, how dull art thou?" answered the fair Irene. "Have I not told thee
again and again, that I loved him six years ago?"
"When thou hadst told but thy tenth year, and a doll would have been thy
most suitable lover! As I am a Christian, Signora, thou hast made good use
of thy time.
"And during his absence," continued the girl, fondly, yet sadly, "did I not
hear him spoken of, and was not the mere sound of his name like a love-gift
that bade me remember? And when they praised him, have I not rejoiced? and
when they blamed him, have I not resented? and when they said that his
lance was victorious in the tourney, did I not weep with pride? and when
they whispered that his vows were welcome in the bower, wept I not as
fervently with grief? Have not the six years of his absence been a dream,
and was not his return a waking into light - a morning of glory and the
sun? and I see him now in the church when he wots not of me; and on his
happy steed as he passes by my lattice: and is not that enough of
happiness for love?"
"But if he loves not thee?"
"Fool! I ask not that; - nay, I know not if I wish it. Perhaps I would
rather dream of him, such as I would have him, than know him for what he
is. He might be unkind, or ungenerous, or love me but little; rather would
I not be loved at all, than loved coldly, and eat away my heart by
comparing it with his. I can love him now as something abstract, unreal,
and divine: but what would be my shame, my grief, if I were to find him
less than I have imagined! Then, indeed, my life would have been wasted;
then, indeed, the beauty of the earth would be gone!"
The good nurse was not very capable of sympathizing with sentiments like
these. Even had their characters been more alike, their disparity of age
would have rendered such sympathy impossible. What but youth can echo back
the soul of youth - all the music of its wild vanities and romantic
follies? The good nurse did not sympathize with the sentiments of her
young lady, but she sympathised with the deep earnestness with which they
were expressed. She thought it wondrous silly, but wondrous moving; she
wiped her eyes with the corner of her veil, and hoped in her secret heart
that her young charge would soon get a real husband to put such
unsubstantial fantasies out of her head. There was a short pause in their
conversation, when, just where two streets crossed one another, there was
heard a loud noise of laughing voices and trampling feet. Torches were
seen on high affronting the pale light of the moon; and, at a very short
distance from the two females, in the cross street, advanced a company of
seven or eight men, bearing, as seen by the red light of the torches, the
formidable badge of the Orsini.
Amidst the other disorders of the time, it was no unfrequent custom for the
younger or more dissolute of the nobles, in small and armed companies, to
parade the streets at night, seeking occasion for a licentious gallantry
among the cowering citizens, or a skirmish at arms with some rival
stragglers of their own order. Such a band had Irene and her companion now
chanced to encounter.
"Holy mother!" cried Benedetta, turning pale, and half running, "what curse
has befallen us? How could we have been so foolish as to tarry so late at
the lady Nina's! Run, Signora, - run, or we shall fall into their hands!"
But the advice of Benedetta came too late, - the fluttering garments of the
women had been already descried: in a moment more they were surrounded by
the marauders. A rude hand tore aside Benedetta's veil, and at sight of
features, which, if time had not spared, it could never very materially
injure, the rough aggressor cast the poor nurse against the wall with a
curse, which was echoed by a loud laugh from his comrades.
"Thou hast a fine fortune in faces Giuseppe!"
"Yes; it was but the other day that he seized on a girl of sixty."
"And then, by way of improving her beauty, cut her across the face with his
dagger, because she was not sixteen!"
"Hush, fellows! whom have we here?" said the chief of the party, a man
richly dressed, and who, though bordering upon middle age, had only the
more accustomed himself to the excesses of youth; as he spoke, he snatched
the trembling Irene from the grasp of his followers. "Ho, there! the
torches! Oh che bella faccia! what blushes - what eyes! - nay, look not
down, pretty one; thou needst not be ashamed to win the love of an Orsini -
yes; know the triumph thou hast achieved - it is Martino di Porto who bids
thee smile upon him!"
"For the blest Mother's sake release me! Nay, sir, this must not be - I am
not unfriended - this insult shall not pass!"
"Hark to her silver chiding; it is better than my best hound's bay! This
adventure is worth a month's watching. What! will you not come? - restive
- shrieks too! - Francesco, Pietro, ye are the gentlest of the band. Wrap
her veil around her, - muffle this music; - so! bear her before me to the
palace, and tomorrow, sweet one, thou shalt go home with a basket of
florins which thou mayest say thou hast bought at market."
But Irene's shrieks, Irene's struggles, had already brought succour to her
side, and, as Adrian approached the spot, the nurse flung herself on her
knees before him.
"Oh, sweet signor, for Christ's grace save us! Deliver my young mistress -
her friends love you well! We are all for the Colonna, my lord; yes,
indeed, all for the Colonna! Save the kin of your own clients, gracious
It is enough that she is a woman," answered Adrian, adding, between his
teeth, "and that an Orsini is her assailant." He strode haughtily into the
thickest of the group; the servitors laid hands on their swords, but gave
way before him as they recognised his person; he reached the two men who
had already seized Irene; in one moment he struck the foremost to the
ground, in another, he had passed his left arm round the light and slender
form of the maiden, and stood confronting the Orsini with his drawn blade,
which, however, he pointed to the ground.
"For shame, my lord - for shame!" said he, indignantly. "Will you force
Rome to rise, to a man, against our order? Vex not too far the lion,
chained though he be; war against us if ye will! draw your blades upon men,
though they be of your own race, and speak your own tongue: but if ye
would sleep at nights, and not dread the avenger's gripe, - if ye would
walk the market-place secure, - wrong not a Roman woman! Yes, the very
walls around us preach to you the punishment of such a deed: for that
offence fell the Tarquins, - for that offence were swept away the
Decemvirs, - for that offence, if ye rush upon it, the blood of your whole
house may flow like water. Cease, then, my lord, from this mad attempt, so
unworthy your great name; cease, and thank even a Colonna that he has come
between you and a moment's frenzy!"
So noble, so lofty were the air and gesture of Adrian, as he thus spoke,
that even the rude servitors felt a thrill of approbation and remorse - not
so Martino di Porto. He had been struck with the beauty of the prey thus
suddenly snatched from him; he had been accustomed to long outrage and to
long impunity; the very sight, the very voice of a Colonna, was a blight to
his eye and a discord to his ear: what, then, when a Colonna interfered
with his lusts, and rebuked his vices?
"Pedant!" he cried, with quivering lips, "prate not to me of thy vain
legends and gossip's tales! think not to snatch from me my possession in
another, when thine own life is in my hands. Unhand the maiden! throw down
thy sword! return home without further parley, or, by my faith, and the
blades of my followers - (look at them well!) - thou diest!"
"Signor," said Adrian, calmly, yet while he spoke he retreated gradually
with his fair burthen towards the neighbouring wall, so as at least to
leave only his front exposed to those fearful odds: "Thou will not so
misuse the present chances, and wrong thyself in men's mouths, as to attack
with eight swords even thy hereditary foe, thus cumbered, too, as he is.
But - nay hold! - if thou art so proposed, bethink thee well, one cry of my
voice would soon turn the odds against thee. Thou art now in the quarter
of my tribe; thou art surrounded by the habitations of the Colonna: yon
palace swarms with men who sleep not, save with harness on their backs; men
whom my voice can reach even now, but from whom, if they once taste of
blood, it could not save thee!"
"He speaks true, noble Lord," said one of the band: "we have wandered too
far out of our beat; we are in their very den; the palace of old Stephen
Colonna is within call; and, to my knowledge," added he, in a whisper,
"eighteen fresh men-of-arms - ay, and Northmen too - marched through its
gates this day."
"Were there eight hundred men at arm's length," answered Martino furiously,
"I would not be thus bearded amidst mine own train! Away with yon woman!
To the attack! to the attack!"
Thus saying, he made a desperate lunge at Adrian, who, having kept his eye
cautiously on the movements of his enemy, was not unprepared for the
assault. As he put aside the blade with his own, he shouted with a loud
voice - "Colonna! to the rescue, Colonna!"
Nor had it been without an ulterior object that the acute and self-
controlling mind of Adrian had hitherto sought to prolong the parley. Even
as he first addressed Orsini, he had perceived, by the moonlight, the
glitter of armour upon two men advancing from the far end of the street,
and judged at once, by the neighbourhood, that they must be among the
mercenaries of the Colonna.
Gently he suffered the form of Irene, which now, for she had swooned with
the terror, pressed too heavily upon him, to slide from his left arm, and
standing over her form, while sheltered from behind by the wall which he
had so warily gained, he contented himself with parrying the blows hastily
aimed at him, without attempting to retaliate. Few of the Romans, however
accustomed to such desultory warfare, were then well and dexterously
practised in the use of arms; and the science Adrian had acquired in the
schools of the martial north, befriended him now, even against such odds.
It is true, indeed, that the followers of Orsini did not share the fury of
their lord; partly afraid of the consequence to themselves should the blood
of so highborn a signor be spilt by their hands, partly embarrassed with
the apprehension that they should see themselves suddenly beset with the
ruthless hirelings so close within hearing, they struck but aimless and
random blows, looking every moment behind and aside, and rather prepared
for flight than slaughter. Echoing the cry of "Colonna," poor Benedetta
fled at the first clash of swords. She ran down the dreary street still
shrieking that cry, and passed the very portals of Stephen's palace (where
some grim forms yet loitered) without arresting her steps there, so great
were her confusion and terror.
Meanwhile, the two armed men, whom Adrian had descried, proceeded leisurely
up the street. The one was of a rude and common mould, his arms and his
complexion testified his calling and race; and by the great respect he paid
to his companion, it was evident that that companion was no native of
Italy. For the brigands of the north, while they served the vices of the
southern, scarce affected to disguise their contempt for his cowardice.
The companion of the brigand was a man of a martial, yet easy air. He wore
no helmet, but a cap of crimson velvet, set off with a white plume; on his
mantle, or surcoat, which was of scarlet, was wrought a broad white cross,
both at back and breast; and so brilliant was the polish of his corselet,
that, as from time to time the mantle waved aside and exposed it to the
moonbeams, it glittered like light itself.
"Nay, Rodolf," said he, "if thou hast so good a lot of it here with that
hoary schemer, Heaven forbid that I should wish to draw thee back again to
our merry band. But tell me - this Rienzi - thinkest thou he has any solid
and formidable power?"
"Pshaw! noble chieftain, not a whit of it. He pleases the mob; but as for
the nobles, they laugh at him; and, as for the soldiers, he has no money!"
"He pleases the mob, then!"
"Ay, that doth he; and when he speaks aloud to them, all the roar of Rome
"Humph! - when nobles are hated, and soldiers are bought, a mob may, in any
hour, become the master. An honest people and a weak mob, - a corrupt
people and a strong mob," said the other, rather to himself than to his
comrade, and scarce, perhaps, conscious of the eternal truth of his
aphorism. "He is no mere brawler, this Rienzi, I suspect - I must see to
it. Hark! what noise is that? By the Holy Sepulchre, it is the ring of
our own metal!"
"And that cry - 'a Colonna!'" exclaimed Rodolf. "Pardon me, master, - I
must away to the rescue!"
"Ay, it is the duty of thy hire; run; - yet stay, I will accompany thee,
gratis for once, and from pure passion for mischief. By this hand, there
is no music like clashing steel!"
Still Adrian continued gallantly and unwounded to defend himself, though
his arm now grew tired, his breath well-nigh spent, and his eyes began to
wink and reel beneath the glare of the tossing torches. Orsini himself,
exhausted by his fury, had paused for an instant, fronting his foe with a
heaving breast and savage looks, when, suddenly, his followers exclaimed,
"Fly! fly! - the bandits approach - we are surrounded!" - and two of the
servitors, without further parley, took fairly to their heels. The other
five remained irresolute, and waiting but the command of their master, when
he of the white plume, whom I have just described, thrust himself into the
"What! gentles," said he, "have ye finished already? Nay, let us not mar
the sport; begin again, I beseech you. What are the odds? Ho! six to one!
- nay, no wonder that ye have waited for fairer play. See, we two will
take the weaker side. Now then, let us begin again."
"Insolent!" cried the Orsini. "Knowest thou him whom thou addressest thus
arrogantly? - I am Martino di Porto. Who art thou?"
"Walter de Montreal, gentleman of Provence, and Knight of St. John!"
answered the other, carelessly.
At that redoubted name - the name of one of the boldest warriors, and of
the most accomplished freebooter of his time - even Martino's cheek grew
pale, and his followers uttered a cry of terror.
"And this, my comrade," continued the Knight, "for we may as well complete
the introduction, is probably better known to you than I am, gentles of
Rome; and you doubtless recognize in him Rodolf of Saxony, a brave man and
a true, where he is properly paid for his services."
"Signor," said Adrian to his enemy, who, aghast and dumb, remained staring
vacantly at the two new-comers, "you are now in my power. See, our own
people, too, are approaching."
And, indeed, from the palace of Stephen Colonna, torches began to blaze,
and armed men were seen rapidly advancing to the spot.
"Go home in peace, and if, tomorrow, or any day more suitable to thee, thou
wilt meet me alone, and lance to lance, as is the wont of the knights of
the empire; or with band to band, and man for man, as is rather the Roman
custom; I will not fail thee - there is my gage."
"Nobly spoken," said Montreal; "and, if ye choose the latter, by your
leave, I will be one of the party."
Martino answered not; he took up the glove, thrust it in his bosom, and
strode hastily away; only, when he had got some paces down the street, he
turned back, and, shaking his clenched hand at Adrian, exclaimed, in a
voice trembling with impotent rage - "Faithful to death!"
The words made one of the mottoes of the Orsini; and, whatever its earlier
signification, had long passed into a current proverb, to signify their
hatred to the Colonna.
Adrian, now engaged in raising, and attempting to revive Irene, who was
still insensible, disdainfully left it to Montreal to reply.
"I doubt not, Signor," said the latter, coolly, "that thou wilt be faithful
to Death: for Death, God wot, is the only contract which men, however
ingenious, are unable to break or evade."
"Pardon me, gentle Knight," said Adrian, looking up from his charge, "if I
do not yet give myself wholly to gratitude. I have learned enough of
knighthood to feel thou wilt acknowledge that my first duty is here - "
"Oh, a lady, then, was the cause of the quarrel! I need not ask who was in
the right, when a man brings to the rivalry such odds as yon caitiff."
"Thou mistakest a little, Sir Knight, - it is but a lamb I have rescued
from the wolf."
"For thy own table! Be it so!" returned the Knight, gaily.
Adrian smiled gravely, and shook his head in denial. In truth, he was
somewhat embarrassed by his situation. Though habitually gallant, he was
not willing to expose to misconstruction the disinterestedness of his late
conduct, and (for it was his policy to conciliate popularity) to sully the
credit which his bravery would give him among the citizens, by conveying
Irene (whose beauty, too, as yet, he had scarcely noted) to his own
dwelling; and yet, in her present situation, there was no alternative. She
evinced no sign of life. He knew not her home, nor parentage. Benedetta
had vanished. He could not leave her in the streets; he could not resign
her to the care of another; and, as she lay now upon his breast, he felt
her already endeared to him, by that sense of protection which is so
grateful to the human heart. He briefly, therefore, explained to those now
gathered round him, his present situation, and the cause of the past
conflict; and bade the torch-bearers precede him to his home.
"You, Sir Knight," added he, turning to Montreal, "if not already more
pleasantly lodged, will, I trust, deign to be my guest?"
"Thanks, Signor," answered Montreal, maliciously, "but I, also, perhaps,
have my own affairs to watch over. Adieu! I shall seek you at the
earliest occasion. Fair night, and gentle dreams!
'Robers Bertrams qui estoit tors
Mais a ceval estoit mult fors
Cil avoit o lui grans effors
Multi ot 'homes per lui mors.'"
("An ill-favoured man, but a stout horseman, was Robert Bertram. Great
deeds were his, and many a man died by his hand.")
And, muttering this rugged chant from the old "Roman de Rou," the
Provencal, followed by Rodolf, pursued his way.
The vast extent of Rome, and the thinness of its population, left many of
the streets utterly deserted. The principal nobles were thus enabled to
possess themselves of a wide range of buildings, which they fortified,
partly against each other, partly against the people; their numerous
relatives and clients lived around them, forming, as it were, petty courts
and cities in themselves.
Almost opposite to the principal palace of the Colonna (occupied by his
powerful kinsman, Stephen) was the mansion of Adrian. Heavily swung back
the massive gates at his approach; he ascended the broad staircase, and
bore his charge into an apartment which his tastes had decorated in a
fashion not as yet common in that age. Ancient statues and busts were
arranged around; the pictured arras of Lombardy decorated the walls, and
covered the massive seats.
"What ho! Lights here, and wine!" cried the Seneschal.
"Leave us alone," said Adrian, gazing passionately on the pale cheek of
Irene, as he now, by the clear light, beheld all its beauty; and a sweet
yet burning hope crept into his heart.
Chapter 1.V. The Description of a Conspirator, and the Dawn of the
Alone, by a table covered with various papers, sat a man in the prime of
life. The chamber was low and long; many antique and disfigured bas-
reliefs and torsos were placed around the wall, interspersed, here and
there, with the short sword and close casque, time-worn relics of the
prowess of ancient Rome. Right above the table at which he sate, the
moonlight streamed through a high and narrow casement, deep sunk in the
massy wall. In a niche to the right of this window, guarded by a sliding
door, which was now partially drawn aside - but which, by its solid
substance, and the sheet of iron with which it was plated, testified how
valuable, in the eyes of the owner, was the treasure it protected - were
ranged some thirty or forty volumes, then deemed no inconsiderable library;
and being, for the most part, the laborious copies in manuscript by the
hand of the owner, from immortal originals.
Leaning his cheek on his hand, his brow somewhat knit, his lip slightly
compressed, that personage, indulged in meditations far other than the
indolent dreams of scholars. As the high and still moonlight shone upon
his countenance, it gave an additional and solemn dignity to features which
were naturally of a grave and majestic cast. Thick and auburn hair, the
colour of which, not common to the Romans, was ascribed to his descent from
the Teuton emperor, clustered in large curls above a high and expansive
forehead; and even the present thoughtful compression of the brow could not
mar the aspect of latent power, which it derived from that great breadth
between the eyes, in which the Grecian sculptors of old so admirably
conveyed the expression of authority, and the silent energy of command.
But his features were not cast in the Grecian, still less in the Teuton
mould. The iron jaw, the aquiline nose, the somewhat sunken cheek,
strikingly recalled the character of the hard Roman race, and might not
inaptly have suggested to a painter a model for the younger Brutus.
The marked outline of the face, and the short, firm upper lip, were not
concealed by the beard and mustachios usually then worn; and, in the faded
portrait of the person now described, still extant at Rome, may be traced a
certain resemblance to the popular pictures of Napoleon; not indeed in the
features, which are more stern and prominent in the portrait of the Roman,
but in that peculiar expression of concentrated and tranquil power which so
nearly realizes the ideal of intellectual majesty. Though still young, the
personal advantages most peculiar to youth, - the bloom and glow, the
rounded cheek in which care has not yet ploughed its lines, the full
unsunken eye, and the slender delicacy of frame, - these were not the
characteristics of that solitary student. And, though considered by his
contemporaries as eminently handsome, the judgment was probably formed less
from the more vulgar claims to such distinction, than from the height of
the stature, an advantage at that time more esteemed than at present, and
that nobler order of beauty which cultivated genius and commanding
character usually stamp upon even homely features; - the more rare in an
age so rugged.
The character of Rienzi (for the youth presented to the reader in the first
chapter of this history is now again before him in maturer years) had
acquired greater hardness and energy with each stepping-stone to power.
There was a circumstance attendant on his birth which had, probably,
exercised great and early influence on his ambition. Though his parents
were in humble circumstances, and of lowly calling, his father was the
natural son of the Emperor, Henry VII.; (De Sade supposes that the mother
of Rienzi was the daughter of an illegitimate son of Henry VII., supporting
his opinion from a MS. in the Vatican. But, according to the
contemporaneous biographer, Rienzi, in addressing Charles, king of Bohemia
claims the relationship from his father "Di vostro legnaggio sono - figlio
di bastardo d'Enrico imperatore," &c. A more recent writer, il Padre
Gabrini, cites an inscription in support of this descent: "Nicolaus
Tribunus...Laurentii Teutonici Filius," &c.) and it was the pride of the
parents that probably gave to Rienzi the unwonted advantages of education.
This pride transmitted to himself, - his descent from royalty dinned into
his ear, infused into his thoughts, from his cradle, - made him, even in
his earliest youth, deem himself the equal of the Roman signors, and half
unconsciously aspire to be their superior. But, as the literature of Rome
was unfolded to his eager eye and ambitious heart, he became imbued with
that pride of country which is nobler than the pride of birth; and, save
when stung by allusions to his origin, he unaffectedly valued himself more
on being a Roman plebeian than the descendant of a Teuton king. His
brother's death, and the vicissitudes he himself had already undergone,
deepened the earnest and solemn qualities of his character; and, at length,
all the faculties of a very uncommon intellect were concentrated into one
object - which borrowed from a mind strongly and mystically religious, as
well as patriotic, a sacred aspect, and grew at once a duty and a passion.
"Yes," said Rienzi, breaking suddenly from his revery, "yes, the day is at
hand when Rome shall rise again from her ashes; Justice shall dethrone
Oppression; men shall walk safe in their ancient Forum. We will rouse from
his forgotten tomb the indomitable soul of Cato! There shall be a people
once more in Rome! And I - I shall be the instrument of that triumph - the
restorer of my race! mine shall be the first voice to swell the battle-cry
of freedom - mine the first hand to rear her banner - yes, from the height
of my own soul as from a mountain, I see already rising the liberties and
the grandeur of the New Rome; and on the corner-stone of the mighty fabric
posterity shall read my name."
Uttering these lofty boasts, the whole person of the speaker seemed
instinct with his ambition. He strode the gloomy chamber with light and
rapid steps, as if on air; his breast heaved, his eyes glowed. He felt
that love itself can scarcely bestow a rapture equal to that which is felt,
in his first virgin enthusiasm, by a patriot who knows himself sincere!
There was a slight knock at the door, and a servitor, in the rich liveries
worn by the pope's officials, (Not the present hideous habiliments, which
are said to have been the invention of Michael Angelo.) presented himself.
"Signor," said he, "my Lord, the Bishop of Orvietto, is without."
"Ha! that is fortunate. Lights there! - My Lord, this is an honour which I
can estimate better than express."
"Tut, tut! my good friend," said the Bishop, entering, and seating himself
familiarly, "no ceremonies between the servants of the Church; and never, I
ween well, had she greater need of true friends than now. These unholy
tumults, these licentious contentions, in the very shrines and city of St.
Peter, are sufficient to scandalize all Christendom."
"And so will it be," said Rienzi, "until his Holiness himself shall be
graciously persuaded to fix his residence in the seat of his predecessors,
and curb with a strong arm the excesses of the nobles."
"Alas, man!" said the Bishop, "thou knowest that these words are but as
wind; for were the Pope to fulfil thy wishes, and remove from Avignon to
Rome, by the blood of St. Peter! he would not curb the nobles, but the
nobles would curb him. Thou knowest well that until his blessed
predecessor, of pious memory, conceived the wise design of escaping to
Avignon, the Father of the Christian world was but like many other fathers
in their old age, controlled and guarded by his rebellious children.
Recollectest thou not how the noble Boniface himself, a man of great heart,
and nerves of iron, was kept in thraldom by the ancestors of the Orsini -
his entrances and exits made but at their will - so that, like a caged
eagle, he beat himself against his bars and died? Verily, thou talkest of
the memories of Rome - these are not the memories that are very attractive