Part 10 out of 10
be it as seems best to your superior wisdom. Whatever you do, I pray you
to be cautious. If you select a traitor to the command of the Capitol
Guard! - I tremble at the thought!"
"By my faith, thou dost turn pale at it, dear boy; thy affection is a sweet
drop in a bitter draught. Whom can I choose better than thee? - thou shalt
have the post, at least during Bellini's illness. I will attend to it
today. The business, too, will less fatigue thy young mind than that which
now employs thee. Thou art over-laboured in our cause."
"Senator, I can but repeat my usual answer - I have a great trust to
Chapter 10.VII. The Tax.
These formidable conspiracies quelled, the Barons nearly subdued, and three
parts of the Papal territory reunited to Rome, Rienzi now deemed he might
safely execute one of his favourite projects for the preservation of the
liberties of his native city; and this was to raise and organize in each
quarter of Rome a Roman Legion. Armed in the defence of their own
institutions, he thus trusted to establish amongst her own citizens the
only soldiery requisite for Rome.
But so base were the tools with which this great man was condemned to work
out his noble schemes, that none could be found to serve their own country,
without a pay equal to that demanded by foreign hirelings. With the
insolence so peculiar to a race that has once been great, each Roman said,
"Am I not better than a German? - Pay me, then, accordingly."
The Senator smothered his disgust - he had learned at last to know that the
age of the Catos was no more. From a daring enthusiast, experience had
converted him into a practical statesman. The Legions were necessary to
Rome - they were formed - gallant their appearance and faultless their
caparisons. How were they to be paid? There was but one means to maintain
Rome - Rome must be taxed. A gabelle was put upon wine and salt.
The Proclamation ran thus:-
"Romans! raised to the rank of your Senator, my whole thought has been for
your liberties and welfare; already treason defeated in the City, our
banners triumphant without, attest the favour with which the Deity regards
men who seek to unite liberty with law. Let us set an example to Italy and
the World! Let us prove that the Roman sword can guard the Roman Forum!
In each Rione of the City is provided a Legion of the Citizens, collected
from the traders and artisans of the town; they allege that they cannot
leave their callings without remuneration. Your senator calls upon you
willingly to assist in your own defence. He has given you liberty; he has
restored to you peace: your oppressors are scattered over the earth. He
asks you now to preserve the treasures you have gained. To be free, you
must sacrifice something; for freedom, what sacrifice too great? Confident
of your support, I at length, for the first time, exert the right entrusted
to me by office - and for Rome's salvation I tax the Romans!"
Then followed the announcement of the gabelle.
The Proclamation was set up in the public thoroughfares. Round one of the
placards a crowd assembled. Their gestures were vehement and unguarded -
their eyes sparkled - they conversed low, but eagerly.
"He dares to tax us, then! Why, the Barons or the Pope could not do more
"Shame! shame!" cried a gaunt female; "we, who were his friends! How are
our little ones to get bread?"
"He should have seized the Pope's money!" quoth an honest wine-vender.
"Ah! Pandulfo di Guido would have maintained an army at his own cost. He
was a rich man. What insolence in the innkeeper's son to be a Senator!"
"We are not Romans if we suffer this!" said a deserter from Palestrina.
"Fellow-citizens!" exclaimed gruffly a tall man, who had hitherto been
making a clerk read to him the particulars of the tax imposed, and whose
heavy brain at length understood that wine was to be made dearer - "Fellow-
citizens, we must have a new revolution! This is indeed gratitude! What
have we benefited by restoring this man! Are we always to be ground to the
dust? To pay - pay - pay! Is that all we are fit for?"
"Hark to Cecco del Vecchio!"
"No, no; not now," growled the smith. "Tonight the artificers have a
special meeting. We'll see - we'll see!"
A young man, muffled in a cloak, who had not been before observed, touched
"Whoever storms the Capitol the day after tomorrow at the dawn," he
whispered, "shall find the guards absent!"
He was gone before the smith could look round.
The same night Rienzi, retiring to rest, said to Angelo Villani - "A bold
but necessary measure this of mine! How do the people take it?"
"They murmur a little, but seem to recognise the necessity. Cecco del
Vecchio was the loudest grumbler, but is now the loudest approver."
"The man is rough; he once deserted me; - but then that fatal
excommunication! He and the Romans learned a bitter lesson in that
desertion, and experience has, I trust, taught them to be honest. Well, if
this tax be raised quietly, in two years Rome will be again the Queen of
Italy; - her army manned - her Republic formed; and then - then - "
"Then what, Senator?"
"Why then, my Angelo, Cola di Rienzi may die in peace! There is a want
which a profound experience of power and pomp brings at last to us - a want
gnawing as that of hunger, wearing as that of sleep! - my Angelo, it is the
want to die!"
"My Lord, I would give this right hand," cried Villani, earnestly, "to hear
you say you were attached to life!"
"You are a good youth, Angelo!" said Rienzi, as he passed to Nina's
chamber; and in her smile and wistful tenderness, forgot for a while - that
he was a great man!
Chapter 10.VIII. The Threshold of the Event.
The next morning the Senator of Rome held high Court in the Capitol. From
Florence, from Padua, from Pisa, even from Milan, (the dominion of the
Visconti,) from Genoa, from Naples, - came Ambassadors to welcome his
return, or to thank him for having freed Italy from the freebooter De
Montreal. Venice alone, who held in her pay the Grand Company, stood
aloof. Never had Rienzi seemed more prosperous and more powerful, and
never had he exhibited a more easy and cheerful majesty of demeanour.
Scarce was the audience over, when a messenger arrived from Palestrina.
The town had surrendered, the Colonna had departed, and the standard of the
Senator waved from the walls of the last hold of the rebellious Barons.
Rome might now at length consider herself free, and not a foe seemed left
to menace the repose of Rienzi.
The Court dissolved. The Senator, elated and joyous, repaired towards his
private apartments, previous to the banquet given to the Ambassadors.
Villani met him with his wonted sombre aspect.
"No sadness today, my Angelo," said the Senator, gaily; "Palestrina is
"I am glad to hear such news, and to see my Lord of so fair a mien,"
answered Angelo. "Does he not now desire life?"
"Till Roman virtue revives, perhaps - yes! But thus are we fools of
Fortune; - today glad - tomorrow dejected!"
"Tomorrow," repeated Villani, mechanically: "Ay - tomorrow perhaps
"Thou playest with my words, boy," said Rienzi, half angrily, as he turned
But Villani heeded not the displeasure of his Lord.
The banquet was thronged and brilliant; and Rienzi that day, without an
effort, played the courteous host.
Milanese, Paduan, Pisan, Neapolitan, vied with each other in attracting the
smiles of the potent Senator. Prodigal were their compliments - lavish
their promises of support. No monarch in Italy seemed more securely
The banquet was over (as usual on state occasions) at an early hour; and
Rienzi, somewhat heated with wine, strolled forth alone from the Capitol.
Bending his solitary steps towards the Palatine, he saw the pale and veil-
like mists that succeed the sunset, gather over the wild grass which waves
above the Palace of the Caesars. On a mound of ruins (column and arch
overthrown) he stood, with folded arms, musing and intent. In the distance
lay the melancholy tombs of the Campagna, and the circling hills, crested
with the purple hues soon to melt beneath the starlight. Not a breeze
stirred the dark cypress and unwaving pine. There was something awful in
the stillness of the skies, hushing the desolate grandeur of the earth
below. Many and mingled were the thoughts that swept over Rienzi's breast:
memory was busy at his heart. How often, in his youth, had he trodden the
same spot! - what visions had he nursed! - what hopes conceived! In the
turbulence of his later life, Memory had long slept; but at that hour, she
re-asserted her shadowy reign with a despotism that seemed prophetic. He
was wandering - a boy, with his young brother, hand in hand, by the
riverside at eve: anon he saw a pale face and gory side, and once more
uttered his imprecations of revenge! His first successes, his virgin
triumphs, his secret love, his fame, his power, his reverses, the hermitage
of Maiella, the dungeon of Avignon, the triumphal return to Rome, - all
swept across his breast with a distinctness as if he were living those
scenes again! - and now! - he shrunk from the present, and descended the
hill. The moon, already risen, shed her light over the Forum, as he passed
through its mingled ruins. By the Temple of Jupiter, two figures suddenly
emerged; the moonlight fell upon their faces, and Rienzi recognised Cecco
del Vecchio and Angelo Villani. They saw him not; but, eagerly conversing,
disappeared by the Arch of Trajan.
"Villani! ever active in my service!" thought the Senator; "methinks this
morning I spoke to him harshly - it was churlish in me!"
He re-entered the Place of the Capitol - he stood by the staircase of the
Lion; there was a red stain upon the pavement, unobliterated since
Montreal's execution, and the Senator drew himself aside with an inward
shudder. Was it the ghastly and spectral light of the Moon, or did the
face of that old Egyptian Monster wear an aspect that was as of life? The
stony eyeballs seemed bent upon him with a malignant scowl; and as he
passed on, and looked behind, they appeared almost preternaturally to
follow his steps. A chill, he knew not why, sunk into his heart. He
hastened to regain his palace. The sentinels made way for him.
"Senator," said one of them, doubtingly, "Messere Angelo Villani is our new
captain - we are to obey his orders?"
"Assuredly," returned the Senator, passing on. The man lingered uneasily,
as if he would have spoken, but Rienzi observed it not. Seeking his
chamber, he found Nina and Irene waiting for him. His heart yearned to his
wife. Care and toil had of late driven her from his thoughts, and he felt
it remorsefully, as he gazed upon her noble face, softened by the
solicitude of untiring and anxious love.
"Sweetest," said he, winding his arms around her tenderly; "thy lips never
chide me, but thine eyes sometimes do! We have been apart too long.
Brighter days dawn upon us, when I shall have leisure to thank thee for all
thy care. And you, my fair sister, you smile on me! - ah, you have heard
that your lover, ere this, is released by the cession of Palestrina, and
tomorrow's sun will see him at your feet. Despite all the cares of the
day, I remembered thee, my Irene, and sent a messenger to bring back the
blush to that pale cheek. Come, come, we shall be happy again!" And with
that domestic fondness common to him, when harsher thoughts permitted, he
sate himself beside the two persons dearest to his hearth and heart.
"So happy - if we could have many hours like this!" murmured Nina, sinking
on his breast. "Yet sometimes I wish - "
"And I too," interrupted Rienzi; "for I read thy woman's thought - I too
sometimes wish that fate had placed us in the lowlier valleys of life! But
it may come yet! Irene wedded to Adrian - Rome married to Liberty - and
then, Nina, methinks you and I would find some quiet hermitage, and talk
over old gauds and triumphs, as of a summer's dream. Beautiful, kiss me!
Couldst thou resign these pomps?"
"For a desert with thee, Cola!"
"Let me reflect," resumed Rienzi; "is not today the seventh of October?
Yes! on the seventh, be it noted, my foes yielded to my power! Seven! my
fated number, whether ominous of good or evil! Seven months did I reign as
Tribune - seven (There was the lapse of one year between the release of
Rienzi from Avignon, and his triumphal return to Rome: a year chiefly
spent in the campaign of Albornoz.) years was I absent as an exile;
tomorrow, that sees me without an enemy, completes my seventh week of
"And seven was the number of the crowns the Roman Convents and the Roman
Council awarded thee, after the ceremony which gave thee the knighthood of
the Santo Spirito!" (This superstition had an excuse in strange historical
coincidences; and the number seven was indeed to Rienzi what the 3rd of
September was to Cromwell. The ceremony of the seven crowns which he
received after his knighthood, on the nature of which ridiculous ignorance
has been shown by many recent writers, was, in fact, principally a
religious and typical donation, (symbolical of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit,) conferred by the heads of convents - and that part of the ceremony
which was political, was republican, not regal.) said Nina, adding, with
woman's tender wit, "the brightest association of all!"
Follies seem these thoughts to others, and to philosophy, in truth, they
are so," said Rienzi; "but all my life long, omen and type and shadow have
linked themselves to action and event: and the atmosphere of other men
hath not been mine. Life itself a riddle, why should riddles amaze us?
The Future! - what mystery in the very word! Had we lived all through the
Past, since Time was, our profoundest experience of a thousand ages could
not give us a guess of the events that wait the very moment we are about to
enter! Thus deserted by Reason, what wonder that we recur to the
Imagination, on which, by dream and symbol, God sometimes paints the
likeness of things to come? Who can endure to leave the Future all
unguessed, and sit tamely down to groan under the fardel of the Present?
No, no! that which the foolish-wise call Fanaticism, belongs to the same
part of us as Hope. Each but carries us onward - from a barren strand to a
glorious, if unbounded sea. Each is the yearning for the GREAT BEYOND,
which attests our immortality. Each has its visions and chimeras - some
false, but some true! Verily, a man who becomes great is often but made so
by a kind of sorcery in his own soul - a Pythia which prophesies that he
shall be great - and so renders the life one effort to fulfil the warning!
Is this folly? - it were so, if all things stopped at the grave! But
perhaps the very sharpening, and exercising, and elevating the faculties
here - though but for a bootless end on earth - may be designed to fit the
soul, thus quickened and ennobled, to some high destiny beyond the earth!
Who can tell? not I! - Let us pray!"
While the Senator was thus employed, Rome in her various quarters presented
less holy and quiet scenes.
In the fortress of the Orsini lights flitted to and fro, through the
gratings of the great court. Angelo Villani might be seen stealing from
the postern-gate. Another hour, and the Moon was high in heaven; toward
the ruins of the Colosseum, men, whose dress bespoke them of the lowest
rank, were seen creeping from lanes and alleys, two by two; from these
ruins glided again the form of the son of Montreal. Later yet - the Moon
is sinking - a grey light breaking in the East - and the gates of Rome, by
St. John of Lateran, are open! Villani is conversing with the sentries!
The Moon has set - the mountains are dim with a mournful and chilling haze
- Villani is before the palace of the Capitol - the only soldier there!
Where are the Roman legions that were to guard alike the freedom and the
deliverer of Rome?
Chapter The Last. The Close of the Chase.
It was the morning of the 8th of October, 1354. Rienzi, who rose betimes,
stirred restlessly in his bed. "It is yet early," he said to Nina, whose
soft arm was round his neck; "none of my people seem to be astir. Howbeit,
my day begins before theirs."
"Rest yet, my Cola; you want sleep."
"No; I feel feverish, and this old pain in the side torments me. I have
letters to write."
"Let me be your secretary, dearest," said Nina.
Rienzi smiled affectionately as he rose; he repaired to his closet
adjoining his sleeping apartment, and used the bath, as was his wont. Then
dressing himself, he returned to Nina, who, already loosely robed, sate by
the writing-table, ready for her office of love.
"How still are all things!" said Rienzi. "What a cool and delicious
prelude, in these early hours, to the toilsome day."
Leaning over his wife, he then dictated different letters, interrupting the
task at times by such observations as crossed his mind.
"So, now to Annibaldi! By the way, young Adrian should join us today; how
I rejoice for Irene's sake!"
"Dear sister - yes! she loves, - if any, Cola, can so love, - as we do."
"Well, but to your task, my fair scribe. Ha! what noise is that? I hear
an armed step - the stairs creak - some one shouts my name."
Rienzi flew to his sword! the door was thrown rudely open, and a figure in
complete armour appeared within the chamber.
"How! what means this?" said Rienzi, standing before Nina, with his drawn
The intruder lifted his visor - it was Adrian Colonna.
"Fly, Rienzi! - hasten, Signora! Thank Heaven, I can save ye yet! Myself
and train released by the capture of Palestrina, the pain of my wound
detained me last night at Tivoli. The town was filled with armed men - not
thine, Senator. I heard rumours that alarmed me. I resolved to proceed
onward - I reached Rome, the gates of the city were wide open!"
"Your guard gone. Presently I came upon a band of the retainers of the
Savelli. My insignia, as a Colonna, misled them. I learned that this very
hour some of your enemies are within the city, the rest are on their march
- the people themselves arm against you. In the obscurer streets I passed
through, the mob were already forming. They took me for thy foe, and
shouted. I came hither - thy sentries have vanished. The private door
below is unbarred and open. Not a soul seems left in thy palace. Haste -
fly - save thyself! - Where is Irene?"
"The Capitol deserted! - impossible!" cried Rienzi. He strode across the
chambers to the ante-room, where his night-guard usually waited - it was
empty! He passed hastily to Villani's room - it was untenanted! He would
have passed farther, but the doors were secured without. It was evident
that all egress had been cut off, save by the private door below, - and
that had been left open to admit his murtherers!
He returned to his room - Nina had already gone to rouse and prepare Irene,
whose chamber was on the other side, within one of their own.
"Quick, Senator!" said Adrian. "Methinks there is yet time. We must make
across to the Tiber. I have stationed my faithful squires and Northmen
there. A boat waits us."
"Hark!" interrupted Rienzi, whose senses had of late been preternaturally
quickened. "I hear a distant shout - a familiar shout, 'Viva 'l Popolo!'
Why, so say I! These must be friends."
"Deceive not thyself; thou hast scarce a friend at Rome."
"Hist!" said Rienzi, in a whisper; "save Nina - save Irene. I cannot
"Art thou mad?"
"No! but fearless. Besides, did I accompany, I might but destroy you all.
Were I found with you, you would be massacred with me. Without me ye are
safe. Yes, even the Senator's wife and sister have provoked no revenge.
Save them, noble Colonna! Cola di Rienzi puts his trust in God alone!"
By this time Nina had returned; Irene with her. Afar was heard the tramp -
steady - slow - gathering - of the fatal multitude.
"Now, Cola," said Nina, with a bold and cheerful air, and she took her
husband's arm, while Adrian had already found his charge in Irene.
"Yes, now, Nina!" said Rienzi; "at length we part! If this is my last hour
- in my last hour I pray God to bless and shield thee! for verily, thou
hast been my exceeding solace - provident as a parent, tender as a child,
the smile of my hearth, the - the - "
Rienzi was almost unmanned. Emotions, deep, conflicting, unspeakably fond
and grateful, literally choked his speech.
"What!" cried Nina, clinging to his breast, and parting her hair from her
eyes, as she sought his averted face. "Part! - never! This is my place -
all Rome shall not tear me from it!"
Adrian, in despair, seized her hand, and attempted to drag her thence.
"Touch me not, sir!" said Nina, waving her arm with angry majesty, while
her eyes sparkled as a lioness, whom the huntsmen would sever from her
young. "I am the wife of Cola di Rienzi, the Great Senator of Rome, and by
his side will I live and die!"
"Take her hence: quick! - quick! I hear the crowd advancing."
Irene tore herself from Adrian, and fell at the feet of Rienzi - she
clasped his knees.
"Come, my brother, come! Why lose these precious moments? Rome forbids
you to cast away a life in which her very self is bound up."
"Right, Irene; Rome is bound up with me, and we will rise or fall together!
- no more!"
"You destroy us all!" said Adrian, with generous and impatient warmth. "A
few minutes more, and we are lost. Rash man! it is not to fall by an
infuriate mob that you have been preserved from so many dangers."
"I believe it," said the Senator, as his tall form seemed to dilate as with
the greatness of his own soul. "I shall triumph yet! Never shall mine
enemies - never shall posterity say that a second time Rienzi abandoned
Rome! Hark! 'Viva 'l Popolo!' still the cry of 'THE PEOPLE.' That cry
scares none but tyrants! I shall triumph and survive!"
"And I with thee!" said Nina, firmly. Rienzi paused a moment, gazed on his
wife, passionately clasped her to his heart, kissed her again and again,
and then said, "Nina, I command thee, - Go!"
He paused. Irene's face, drowned in tears, met his eyes.
"We will all perish with you," said his sister; "you only, Adrian, you
"Be it so," said the Knight, sadly; "we will all remain," and he desisted
at once from further effort.
There was a dead but short pause, broken but by a convulsive sob from
Irene. The tramp of the raging thousands sounded fearfully distinct.
Rienzi seemed lost in thought - then lifting his head, he said, calmly, "ye
have triumphed - I join ye - I but collect these papers, and follow you.
Quick, Adrian - save them!" and he pointed meaningly to Nina.
Waiting no other hint, the young Colonna seized Nina in his strong grasp -
with his left hand he supported Irene, who with terror and excitement was
almost insensible. Rienzi relieved him of the lighter load - he took his
sister in his arms, and descended the winding stairs. Nina remained
passive - she heard her husband's step behind, it was enough for her - she
but turned once to thank him with her eyes. A tall Northman clad in armour
stood at the open door. Rienzi placed Irene, now perfectly lifeless, in
the soldier's arms, and kissed her pale cheek in silence.
"Quick, my Lord," said the Northman, "on all sides they come!" So saying,
he bounded down the descent with his burthen. Adrian followed with Nina;
the Senator paused one moment, turned back, and was in his room ere Adrian
was aware that he had vanished.
Hastily he drew the coverlid from his bed, fastened it to the casement
bars, and by its aid dropped (at a distance of several feet) into the
balcony below. "I will not die like a rat," said he, "in the trap they
have set for me! The whole crowd shall, at least, see and hear me."
This was the work of a moment.
Meanwhile, Nina had scarcely proceeded six paces, before she discovered
that she was alone with Adrian.
"Ha! Cola!" she cried, "where is he? he has gone!"
"Take heart, Lady, he has returned but for some secret papers he has
forgotten. He will follow us anon."
"Let us wait, then."
"Lady," said Adrian, grinding his teeth, "hear you not the crowd? - on,
on!" and he flew with a swifter step. Nina struggled in his grasp - Love
gave her the strength of despair. With a wild laugh she broke from him.
She flew back - the door was closed - but unbarred - her trembling hands
lingered a moment round the spring. She opened it, drew the heavy bolt
across the panels, and frustrated all attempt from Adrian to regain her.
She was on the stairs, - she was in the room. Rienzi was gone! She fled,
shrieking his name, through the State Chambers - all was desolate. She
found the doors opening on the various passages that admitted to the rooms
below barred without. Breathless and gasping, she returned to the chamber.
She hurried to the casement - she perceived the method by which he had
descended below - her brave heart told her of his brave design; - she saw
they were separated, - "But the same roof holds us," she cried, joyously,
"and our fate shall be the same!" With that thought she sank in mute
patience on the floor.
Forming the generous resolve not to abandon the faithful and devoted pair
without another effort, Adrian had followed Nina, but too late - the door
was closed against his efforts. The crowd marched on - he heard their cry
change on a sudden - it was no longer "LIVE THE PEOPLE!" but "DEATH TO THE
TRAITOR!" His attendant had already disappeared, and waking now only to
the danger of Irene, the Colonna in bitter grief turned away, lightly sped
down the descent, and hastened to the riverside, where the boat and his
band awaited him.
The balcony on which Rienzi had alighted was that from which he had been
accustomed to address the people - it communicated with a vast hall used on
solemn occasions for State festivals - and on either side were square
projecting towers, whose grated casements looked into the balcony. One of
these towers was devoted to the armory, the other contained the prison of
Brettone, the brother of Montreal. Beyond the latter tower was the general
prison of the Capitol. For then the prison and the palace were in awful
The windows of the Hall were yet open - and Rienzi passed into it from the
balcony - the witness of the yesterday's banquet was still there - the
wine, yet undried, crimsoned the floor, and goblets of gold and silver
shone from the recesses. He proceeded at once to the armory, and selected
from the various suits that which he himself had worn when, nearly eight
years ago, he had chased the Barons from the gates of Rome. He arrayed
himself in the mail, leaving only his head uncovered; and then taking, in
his right hand, from the wall, the great Gonfalon of Rome, returned once
more to the hall. Not a man encountered him. In that vast building, save
the prisoners, and the faithful Nina, whose presence he knew not of - the
Senator was alone.
On they came, no longer in measured order, as stream after stream - from
lane, from alley, from palace and from hovel - the raging sea received new
additions. On they came - their passions excited by their numbers - women
and men, children and malignant age - in all the awful array of aroused,
released, unresisted physical strength and brutal wrath; "Death to the
traitor - death to the tyrant - death to him who has taxed the people!" -
"Mora l' traditore che ha fatta la gabella! - Mora!" Such was the cry of
the people - such the crime of the Senator! They broke over the low
palisades of the Capitol - they filled with one sudden rush the vast space;
- a moment before so desolate, - now swarming with human beings athirst for
Suddenly came a dead silence, and on the balcony above stood Rienzi - his
head was bared and the morning sun shone over that lordly brow, and the
hair grown grey before its time, in the service of that maddening
multitude. Pale and erect he stood - neither fear, nor anger, nor menace -
but deep grief and high resolve - upon his features! A momentary shame - a
momentary awe seized the crowd.
He pointed to the Gonfalon, wrought with the Republican motto and arms of
Rome, and thus he began: -
"I too am a Roman and a Citizen; hear me!"
"Hear him not! hear him not! his false tongue can charm away our senses!"
cried a voice louder than his own; and Rienzi recognised Cecco del Vecchio.
"Hear him not! down with the tyrant!" cried a more shrill and youthful
tone; and by the side of the artisan stood Angelo Villani.
"Hear him not! death to the death-giver!" cried a voice close at hand, and
from the grating of the neighbouring prison glared near upon him, as the
eye of a tiger, the vengeful gaze of the brother of Montreal.
Then from Earth to Heaven rose the roar - "Down with the tyrant - down with
him who taxed the people!"
A shower of stones rattled on the mail of the Senator, - still he stirred
not. No changing muscle betokened fear. His persuasion of his own
wonderful powers of eloquence, if he could but be heard, inspired him yet
with hope; he stood collected in his own indignant, but determined
thoughts; - but the knowledge of that very eloquence was now his deadliest
foe. The leaders of the multitude trembled lest he should be heard; "and
doubtless," says the contemporaneous biographer, "had he but spoken he
would have changed them all, and the work been marred."
The soldiers of the Barons had already mixed themselves with the throng -
more deadly weapons than stones aided the wrath of the multitude - darts
and arrows darkened the air; and now a voice was heard shrieking, "Way for
the torches!" And red in the sunlight the torches tossed and waved, and
danced to and fro, above the heads of the crowd, as if the fiends were let
loose amongst the mob! And what place in hell hath fiends like those a mad
mob can furnish? Straw, and wood, and litter, were piled hastily round the
great doors of the Capitol, and the smoke curled suddenly up, beating back
the rush of the assailants.
Rienzi was no longer visible, an arrow had pierced his hand - the right
hand that supported the flag of Rome - the right hand that had given a
constitution to the Republic. He retired from the storm into the desolate
He sat down; - and tears, springing from no weak and woman source, but
tears from the loftiest fountain of emotion - tears that befit a warrior
when his own troops desert him - a patriot when his countrymen rush to
their own doom - a father when his children rebel against his love, - tears
such as these forced themselves from his eyes and relieved, - but they
changed, his heart!
"Enough, enough!" he said, presently rising and dashing the drops
scornfully away; "I have risked, dared, toiled enough for this dastard and
degenerate race. I will yet baffle their malice - I renounce the thought
of which they are so little worthy! - Let Rome perish! - I feel, at last,
that I am nobler than my country! - she deserves not so high a sacrifice!"
With that feeling, Death lost all the nobleness of aspect it had before
presented to him; and he resolved, in very scorn of his ungrateful foes, in
very defeat of their inhuman wrath, to make one effort for his life! He
divested himself of his glittering arms; his address, his dexterity, his
craft, returned to him. His active mind ran over the chances of disguise -
of escape; - he left the hall - passed through the humbler rooms, devoted
to the servitors and menials - found in one of them a coarse working garb -
indued himself with it - placed upon his head some of the draperies and
furniture of the palace, as if escaping with them; and said, with his old
"fantastico riso" ("Fantastic smile or laugh.") - "When all other friends
desert me, I may well forsake myself!" With that he awaited his occasion.
Meanwhile the flames burnt fierce and fast; the outer door below was
already consumed; from the apartment he had deserted the fire burst out in
volleys of smoke - the wood crackled - the lead melted - with a crash fell
the severed gates - the dreadful entrance was opened to all the multitude -
the proud Capitol of the Caesars was already tottering to its fall! - Now
was the time! - he passed the flaming door - the smouldering threshold; -
he passed the outer gate unscathed - he was in the middle of the crowd.
"Plenty of pillage within," he said to the bystanders, in the Roman patois,
his face concealed by his load - "Suso, suso a gliu traditore!" (Down,
down with the traitor.") The mob rushed past him - he went on - he gained
the last stair descending into the open streets - he was at the last gate -
liberty and life were before him.
A soldier (one of his own) seized him. "Pass not - whither goest thou?"
"Beware, lest the Senator escape disguised!" cried a voice behind - it was
Villani's. The concealing load was torn from his head - Rienzi stood
"I am the Senator!" he said in a loud voice. "Who dare touch the
Representative of the People?"
The multitude were round him in an instant. Not led, but rather hurried
and whirled along, the Senator was borne to the Place of the Lion. With
the intense glare of the bursting flames, the grey image reflected a lurid
light, and glowed - (that grim and solemn monument!) - as if itself of
There arrived, the crowd gave way, terrified by the greatness of their
victim. Silent he stood, and turned his face around; nor could the squalor
of his garb, nor the terror of the hour, nor the proud grief of detection,
abate the majesty of his mien, or reassure the courage of the thousands who
gathered, gazing, round him. The whole Capitol wrapped in fire, lighted
with ghastly pomp the immense multitude. Down the long vista of the
streets extended the fiery light and the serried throng, till the crowd
closed with the gleaming standards of the Colonna - the Orsini - the
Savelli! Her true tyrants were marching into Rome! As the sound of their
approaching horns and trumpets broke upon the burning air, the mob seemed
to regain their courage. Rienzi prepared to speak; his first word was as
the signal of his own death.
"Die, tyrant!" cried Cecco del Vecchio: and he plunged his dagger in the
"Die, executioner of Montreal!" muttered Villani: "thus the trust is
fulfilled!" and his was the second stroke. Then as he drew back, and saw
the artisan in all the drunken fury of his brute passion, tossing up his
cap, shouting aloud, and spurning the fallen lion, - the young man gazed
upon him with a look of withering and bitter scorn, and said, while he
sheathed his blade, and slowly turned to quit the crowd,
"Fool, miserable fool! thou and these at least had no blood of kindred to
They heeded not his words - they saw him not depart; for as Rienzi, without
a word, without a groan, fell to the earth, - as the roaring waves of the
multitude closed over him, - a voice, shrill, sharp, and wild, was heard
above all the clamour. At the casement of the Palace, (the casement of her
bridal chamber,) Nina stood! - through the flames that burst below and
around, her face and outstretched arms alone visible! Ere yet the sound of
that thrilling cry passed from the air, down with a mighty crash thundered
that whole wing of the Capitol, - a blackened and smouldering mass.
At that hour, a solitary boat was gliding swiftly along the Tiber. Rome
was at a distance, but the lurid blow of the conflagration cast its
reflection upon the placid and glassy stream: fair beyond description was
the landscape; soft beyond all art of Painter and of Poet, the sunlight
quivering over the autumnal herbage, and hushing into tender calm the waves
of the golden River!
Adrian's eyes were strained towards the towers of the Capitol,
distinguished by the flames from the spires and domes around; - senseless,
and clasped to his guardian breast, Irene was happily unconscious of the
horrors of the time.
"They dare not - they dare not," said the brave Colonna, "touch a hair of
that sacred head! - if Rienzi fall, the liberties of Rome fall for ever!
As those towers that surmount the flames, the pride and monument of Rome,
he shall rise above the dangers of the hour. Behold, still unscathed
amidst the raging element, the Capitol itself is his emblem!"
Scarce had he spoken, when a vast volume of smoke obscured the fires afar
off, a dull crash (deadened by the distance) travelled to his ear, and the
next moment, the towers on which he gazed had vanished from the scene, and
one intense and sullen glare seemed to settle over the atmosphere, - making
all Rome itself the funeral pyre of THE LAST OF THE ROMAN TRIBUNES!
Appendix I. Some Remarks on the Life and Character of Rienzi.
The principal authority from which historians have taken their account of
the life and times of Rienzi is a very curious biography, by some unknown
contemporary; and this, which is in the Roman patois of the time, has been
rendered not quite unfamiliar to the French and English reader by the work
of Pere du Cerceau, called "Conjuration de Nicolas Gabrini, dit de Rienzi,"
(See for a specimen of the singular blunders of the Frenchman's work,
Appendix II.) which has at once pillaged and deformed the Roman biographer.
The biography I refer to was published (and the errors of the former
editions revised) by Muratori in his great collection; and has lately been
reprinted separately in an improved text, accompanied by notes of much
discrimination and scholastic taste, and a comment upon that celebrated
poem of Petrarch, "Spirito Gentil," which the majority of Italian critics
have concurred in considering addressed to Rienzi, in spite of the
ingenious arguments to the contrary by the Abbe de Sade.
This biography has been generally lauded for its rare impartiality. And
the author does, indeed, praise and blame alike with a most singular
appearance of stolid candour. The work, in truth, is one of those not
uncommon proofs, of which Boswell's "Johnson" is the most striking, that a
very valuable book may be written by a very silly man. The biographer of
Rienzi appears more like the historian of Rienzi's clothes, so minute is he
on all details of their colour and quality - so silent is he upon
everything that could throw light upon the motives of their wearer. In
fact, granting the writer every desire to be impartial, he is too foolish
to be so. It requires some cleverness to judge accurately of a very clever
man in very difficult circumstances; and the worthy biographer is utterly
incapable of giving us any clue to the actions of Rienzi - utterly unable
to explain the conduct of the man by the circumstances of the time. The
weakness of his vision causes him, therefore, often to squint. We must add
to his want of wisdom a want of truth, which the Herodotus-like simplicity
of his style frequently conceals. He describes things which had no witness
as precisely and distinctly as those which he himself had seen. For
instance, before the death of Rienzi, in those awful moments when the
Senator was alone, unheard, unseen, he coolly informs us of each motion,
and each thought of Rienzi's, with as much detail as if Rienzi had returned
from the grave to assist his narration. These obvious inventions have been
adopted by Gibbon and others with more good faith than the laws of evidence
would warrant. Still, however, to a patient and cautious reader the
biography may furnish a much better notion of Rienzi's character, than we
can glean from the historians who have borrowed from it piecemeal. Such a
reader will discard all the writer's reasonings, will think little of his
praise or blame, and regard only the facts he narrates, judging them true
or doubtful, according as the writer had the opportunities of being himself
the observer. Thus examining, the reader will find evidence sufficient of
Rienzi's genius and Rienzi's failings: Carefully distinguishing between
the period of his power as Tribune, and that of his power as Senator, he
will find the Tribune vain, haughty, fond of display; but, despite the
reasonings of the biographer, he will not recognise those faults in the
Senator. On the other hand, he will notice the difference between youth
and maturity - hope and experience; he will notice in the Tribune vast
ambition, great schemes, enterprising activity - which sober into less
gorgeous and more quiet colours in the portrait of the Senator. He will
find that in neither instance did Rienzi fall from his own faults - he will
find that the vulgar moral of ambition, blasted by its own excesses, is not
the true moral of the Roman's life; he will find that, both in his
abdication as Tribune, and his death as Senator, Rienzi fell from the vices
of the People. The Tribune was a victim to ignorant cowardice - the
Senator, a victim to ferocious avarice. It is this which modern historians
have failed to represent. Gibbon records rightly, that the Count of
Minorbino entered Rome with one hundred and fifty soldiers, and barricadoed
the quarter of the Colonna - that the bell of the Capitol sounded - that
Rienzi addressed the People - that they were silent and inactive - and that
Rienzi then abdicated the government. But for this he calls Rienzi
"pusillanimous." Is not that epithet to be applied to the People? Rienzi
invoked them to move against the Robber - the People refused to obey.
Rienzi wished to fight - the People refused to stir. It was not the cause
of Rienzi alone which demanded their exertions - it was the cause of the
People - theirs, not his, the shame, if one hundred and fifty foreign
soldiers mastered Rome, overthrew their liberties, and restored their
tyrants! Whatever Rienzi's sins, whatever his unpopularity, their freedom,
their laws, their republic, were at stake; and these they surrendered to
one hundred and fifty hirelings! This is the fact that damns them! But
Rienzi was not unpopular when he addressed and conjured them: they found
no fault with him. "The sighs and the groans of the People," says
Sismondi, justly, "replied to his," - they could weep, but they would not
fight. This strange apathy the modern historians have not accounted for,
yet the principal cause was obvious - Rienzi was excommunicated! (And this
curse I apprehend to have been the more effective in the instance of
Rienzi, from a fact that it would be interesting and easy to establish:
viz., that he owed his rise as much to religious as to civil causes. He
aimed evidently to be a religious Reformer. All his devices, ceremonies,
and watchwords, were of a religious character. The monks took part with
his enterprise, and joined in the revolution. His letters are full of
mystical fanaticism. His references to ancient heroes of Rome are always
mingled with invocations to her Christian Saints. The Bible, at that time
little read by the public civilians of Italy, is constantly in his hands,
and his addresses studded with texts. His very garments were adorned with
sacred and mysterious emblems. No doubt, the ceremony of his Knighthood,
which Gibbon ridicules as an act of mere vanity, was but another of his
religious extravagances; for he peculiarly dedicated his Knighthood to the
service of the Santo Spirito; and his bathing in the vase of Constantine
was quite of a piece, not with the vanity of the Tribune, but with the
extravagance of the Fanatic. In fact, they tried hard to prove him a
heretic; but he escaped a charge under the mild Innocent, which a century
or two before, or a century or two afterwards, would have sufficed to have
sent a dozen Rienzis to the stake. I have dwelt the more upon this point,
because, if it be shown that religious causes operated with those of
liberty, we throw a new light upon the whole of that most extraordinary
revolution, and its suddenness is infinitely less striking. The deep
impression Rienzi produced upon that populace was thus stamped with the
spirit of the religious enthusiast more than that of the classical
demagogue. And, as in the time of Cromwell, the desire for temporal
liberty was warmed and coloured by the presence of a holier and more
spiritual fervour: - "The Good Estate" (Buono Stato) of Rienzi reminds us a
little of the Good Cause of General Cromwell.) In stating the fact, these
writers have seemed to think that excommunication in Rome, in the
fourteenth century, produced no effect! - the effect it did produce I have
endeavoured in these pages to convey.
The causes of the second fall and final murder of Rienzi are equally
misstated by modern narrators. It was from no fault of his - no injustice,
no cruelty, no extravagance - it was not from the execution of Montreal,
nor that of Pandulfo di Guido - it was from a gabelle on wine and salt
that he fell. To preserve Rome from the tyrants it was necessary to
maintain an armed force; to pay the force a tax was necessary; the tax was
imposed - and the multitude joined with the tyrants, and their cry was,
"Perish the traitor who has made the gabelle!" This was their only charge
- this the only crime that their passions and their fury could cite against
The faults of Rienzi are sufficiently visible, and I have not unsparingly
shewn them; but we must judge men, not according as they approach
perfection, but according as their good or bad qualities preponderate -
their talents or their weaknesses - the benefits they effected, the evil
they wrought. For a man who rose to so great a power, Rienzi's faults were
singularly few - crimes he committed none. He is almost the only man who
ever rose from the rank of a citizen to a power equal to that of monarchs
without a single act of violence or treachery. When in power, he was vain,
ostentatious, and imprudent, - always an enthusiast - often a fanatic; but
his very faults had greatness of soul, and his very fanaticism at once
supported his enthusiastic daring, and proved his earnest honesty. It is
evident that no heinous charge could be brought against him even by his
enemies, for all the accusations to which he was subjected, when
excommunicated, exiled, fallen, were for two offences which Petrarch
rightly deemed the proofs of his virtue and his glory: first, for
declaring Rome to be free; secondly, for pretending that the Romans had a
right of choice in the election of the Roman Emperor. (The charge of
heresy was dropped.) Stern, just, and inflexible, as he was when Tribune,
his fault was never that of wanton cruelty. The accusation against him,
made by the gentle Petrarch, indeed, was that he was not determined enough
- that he did not consummate the revolution by exterminating the patrician
tyrants. When Senator, he was, without sufficient ground, accused of
avarice in the otherwise just and necessary execution of Montreal.
(Gibbon, in mentioning the execution of Montreal, omits to state that
Montreal was more than suspected of conspiracy and treason to restore the
Colonna. Matthew Villani records it as a common belief that such truly was
the offence of the Provencal. The biographer of Rienzi gives additional
evidence of the fact. Gibbon's knowledge of this time was superficial. As
one instance of this, he strangely enough represents Montreal as the head
of the first Free Company that desolated Italy: he took that error from
the Pere du Cerceau.) It was natural enough that his enemies and the
vulgar should suppose that he executed a creditor to get rid of a debt; but
it was inexcusable in later, and wiser, and fairer writers to repeat so
grave a calumny, without at least adding the obvious suggestion, that the
avarice of Rienzi could have been much better gratified by sparing than by
destroying the life of one of the richest subjects in Europe. Montreal, we
may be quite sure, would have purchased his life at an immeasurably higher
price than the paltry sum lent to Rienzi by his brothers. And this is not
a probable hypothesis, but a certain fact, for we are expressly told that
Montreal, "knowing the Tribune was in want of money, offered Rienzi, that
if he would let him go, he, Montreal, would furnish him not only with
twenty thousand florins, (four times the amount of Rienzi's debt to him,)
but with as many soldiers and as much money as he pleased." This offer
Rienzi did not attend to. Would he have rejected it had avarice been his
motive? And what culpable injustice, to mention the vague calumny without
citing the practical contradiction! When Gibbon tells us, also, that "the
most virtuous citizen of Rome, meaning Pandulfo, or Pandolficcio di Guido,
(Matthew Villani speaks of him as a wise and good citizen, of great repute
among the People - and this, it seems, he really was.) was sacrificed to
his jealousy, he a little exaggerates the expression bestowed upon
Pandulfo, which is that of "virtuoso assai;" and that expression, too, used
by a man who styles the robber Montreal, "eccellente uomo - di quale fama
suono per tutta la Italia di virtude" ("An excellent man whose fame for
valour resounded throughout all Italy.") - (so good a moral critic was the
writer!) but he also altogether waves all mention of the probabilities that
are sufficiently apparent, of the scheming of Pandulfo to supplant Rienzi,
and to obtain the "Signoria del Popolo." Still, however, if the death of
Pandulfo may be considered a blot on the memory of Rienzi, it does not
appear that it was this which led to his own fate. The cry of the mob
surrounding his palace was not, "Perish him who executed Pandulfo," it was
- and this again and again must be carefully noted - it was nothing more
nor less than, "Perish him who has made the gabelle!"
Gibbon sneers at the military skill and courage of Rienzi. For this sneer
there is no cause. His first attempts, his first rise, attested
sufficiently his daring and brave spirit; in every danger he was present -
never shrinking from a foe so long as he was supported by the People. He
distinguished himself at Viterbo when in the camp of Albornoz, in several
feats of arms, ("Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 14.) and his end
was that of a hero. So much for his courage; as to his military skill; it
would be excusable enough if Rienzi - the eloquent and gifted student,
called from the closet and the rostrum to assume the command of an army -
should have been deficient in the art of war; yet, somehow or other, upon
the whole, his arms prospered. He defeated the chivalry of Rome at her
gates; and if he did not, after his victory, march to Marino, for which his
biographer (In this the anonymous writer compares him gravely to Hannibal,
who knew how to conquer, but not how to use his conquest.) and Gibbon blame
him, the reason is sufficiently clear - "Volea pecunia per soldati" - he
wanted money for the soldiers! On his return as Senator, it must be
remembered that he had to besiege Palestrina, which was considered even by
the ancient Romans almost impregnable by position; but during the few weeks
he was in power, Palestrina yielded - all his open enemies were defeated -
the tyrants expelled - Rome free; and this without support from any party,
Papal or Popular, or, as Gibbon well expresses it, "suspected by the People
- abandoned by the Prince."
On regarding what Rienzi did, we must look to his means, to the
difficulties that surrounded him, to the scantiness of his resources. We
see a man without rank, wealth, or friends, raising himself to the head of
a popular government in the metropolis of the Church - in the City of the
Empire. We see him reject any title save that of a popular magistrate -
establish at one stroke a free constitution - a new code of law. We see
him first expel, then subdue, the fiercest aristocracy in Europe - conquer
the most stubborn banditti, rule impartially the most turbulent people,
embruted by the violence, and sunk in the corruption of centuries. We see
him restore trade - establish order - create civilization as by a miracle -
receive from crowned heads homage and congratulation - outwit, conciliate,
or awe, the wiliest priesthood of the Papal Diplomacy - and raise his
native city at once to sudden yet acknowledged eminence over every other
state, its superior in arts, wealth, and civilization; - we ask what errors
we are to weigh in the opposite balance, and we find an unnecessary
ostentation, a fanatical extravagance, and a certain insolent sternness.
But what are such offences - what the splendour of a banquet, or the
ceremony of Knighthood, or a few arrogant words, compared with the vices of
almost every prince who was his contemporary? This is the way to judge
character: we must compare men with men, and not with ideals of what men
should be. We look to the amazing benefits Rienzi conferred upon his
country. We ask his means, and see but his own abilities. His treasury
becomes impoverished - his enemies revolt - the Church takes advantage of
his weakness - he is excommunicated - the soldiers refuse to fight - the
People refuse to assist - the Barons ravage the country - the ways are
closed, the provisions are cut off from Rome. ("Allora le strade furo
chiuse, li massari de la terre non portavano grano, ogni die nasceva nuovo
rumore." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 37.) A handful of
banditti enter the city - Rienzi proposes to resist them - the People
desert - he abdicates. Rapine, Famine, Massacre, ensue - they who deserted
regret, repent - yet he is still unassisted, alone - now an exile, now a
prisoner, his own genius saves him from every peril, and restores him to
greatness. He returns, the Pope's Legate refuses him arms - the People
refuse him money. He re-establishes law and order, expels the tyrants,
renounces his former faults (this, the second period of his power, has been
represented by Gibbon and others as that of his principal faults, and he is
evidently at this time no favourite with his contemporaneous biographer;
but looking to what he did, we find amazing dexterity, prudence, and energy
in the most difficult crisis, and none of his earlier faults. It is true,
that he does not shew the same brilliant extravagance which, I suspect,
dazzled his contemporaries, more than his sounder qualities; but we find
that in a few weeks he had conquered all his powerful enemies - that his
eloquence was as great as ever - his promptitude greater - his diligence
indefatigable - his foresight unslumbering. "He alone," says the
biographer, "carried on the affairs of Rome, but his officials were
slothful and cold." This too, tortured by a painful disease - already -
though yet young - broken and infirm. The only charges against him, as
Senator, were the deaths of Montreal and Pandulfo di Guido, the imposition
of the gabelle, and the renunciation of his former habits of rigid
abstinence, for indulgence in wine and feasting. Of the first charges, the
reader has already been enabled to form a judgment. To the last, alas! the
reader must extend indulgence, and for it he may find excuse. We must
compassionate even more than condemn the man to whom excitement has become
nature, and who resorts to the physical stimulus or the momentary Lethe,
when the mental exhilarations of hope, youth, and glory, begin to desert
him. His alleged intemperance, however, which the Romans (a peculiarly
sober people) might perhaps exaggerate, and for which he gave the excuse of
a thirst produced by disease contracted in the dungeon of Avignon -
evidently and confessedly did not in the least diminish his attention to
business, which, according to his biographer, was at that time greater than
ever.) - is prudent, wary, provident - reigns a few weeks - taxes the
People, in support of the People, and is torn to pieces! One day of the
rule that followed is sufficient to vindicate his reign and avenge his
memory - and for centuries afterwards, whenever that wretched and
degenerate populace dreamed of glory or sighed for justice, they recalled
the bright vision of their own victim, and deplored the fate of Cola di
Rienzi. That he was not a tyrant is clear in this - when he was dead, he
was bitterly regretted. The People never regret a tyrant! From the
unpopularity that springs from other faults there is often a re-action; but
there is no re-action in the populace towards their betrayor or oppressor.
A thousand biographies cannot decide upon the faults or merits of a ruler
like the one fact, whether he is beloved or hated ten years after he is
dead. But if the ruler has been murdered by the People, and is then
regretted by them, their repentance is his acquittal.
I have said that the moral of the Tribune's life, and of this fiction, is
not the stale and unprofitable moral that warns the ambition of an
individual: - More vast, more solemn, and more useful, it addresses itself
to nations. If I judge not erringly, it proclaims that, to be great and
free, a People must trust not to individuals but themselves - that there is
no sudden leap from servitude to liberty - that it is to institutions, not
to men, for they must look for reforms that last beyond the hour - that
their own passions are the real despots they should subdue, their own
reason the true regenerator of abuses. With a calm and a noble people, the
individual ambition of a citizen can never effect evil: - to be impatient
of chains, is not to be worthy of freedom - to murder a magistrate is not
to ameliorate the laws. (Rienzi was murdered because the Romans had been
in the habit of murdering whenever they were displeased. They had, very
shortly before, stoned one magistrate, and torn to pieces another. By the
same causes and the same career a People may be made to resemble the bravo
whose hand wanders to his knife at the smallest affront, and if today he
poniards the enemy who assaults him, tomorrow he strikes the friend who
would restrain.) The People write their own condemnation whenever they use
characters of blood; and theirs alone the madness and the crime, if they
crown a tyrant or butcher a victim.
A Word Upon the Work by Pere du Cerceau and Pere Brumoy, Entitled
"Conjuration de Nicolas Gabrini, Dit de Rienzi, Tyran de Rome."
Shortly after the Romance of "Rienzi" first appeared, a translation of the
biography compiled by Cerceau and Brumoy was published by Mr. Whittaker.
The translator, in a short and courteous advertisement, observes, "That it
has always been considered as a work of authority; and even Gibbon appears
to have relied on it without further research: (Here, however, he does
injustice to Gibbon.)...that, "as a record of facts, therefore, the work
will, it is presumed, be acceptable to the public." The translator has
fulfilled his duty with accuracy, elegance, and spirit, - and he must
forgive me, if, in justice to History and Rienzi, I point out a very few
from amongst a great many reasons, why the joint labour of the two worthy
Jesuits cannot be considered either a work of authority, or a record of
facts. The translator observes in his preface, "that the general outline
(of Du Cerceau's work) was probably furnished by an Italian life written by
a contemporary of Rienzi." The fact, however, is, that Du Cerceau's book
is little more than a wretched paraphrase of that very Italian life
mentioned by the translator, - full of blunders, from ignorance of the
peculiar and antiquated dialect in which the original is written, and of
assumptions by the Jesuit himself, which rest upon no authority whatever.
I will first shew, in support of this assertion, what the Italians
themselves think of the work of Fathers Brumoy and Du Cerceau. The Signor
Zefirino Re, who had proved himself singularly and minutely acquainted with
the history of that time, and whose notes to the "Life of Rienzi" are
characterized by acknowledged acuteness and research, thus describes the
manner in which the two Jesuits compounded this valuable "record of facts."
"Father Du Cerceau for his work made use of a French translation of the
life by the Italian contemporary printed in Bracciano, 1624, executed by
Father Sanadon, another Jesuit, from whom he received the MS. This proves
that Du Cerceau knew little of our 'volgar lingua' of the fourteenth
century. But the errors into which he has run shew, that even that little
was unknown to his guide, and still less to Father Brumoy, (however learned
and reputed the latter might be in French literature,) who, after the death
of Du Cerceau, supplied the deficiencies in the first pages of the author's
MS., which were, I know not how, lost; and in this part are found the more
striking errors in the work, which shall be noticed in the proper place; in
the meantime, one specimen will suffice. In the third chapter, book i.,
Cola, addressing the Romans, says, 'Che lo giubileo si approssima, che se
la gente, la quale verra al giubileo, li trova sproveduti di annona, le
pietre (per metatesi sta scritto le preite) ne porteranno da Roma per
rabbia di fame, e le pietre non basteranno a tanta moltitudine. Il
francese traduce. Le jubile approche, et vous n'avez ni provisions, ni
vivres; les etrangers...trouvent votre ville denue de tout. Ne comptez
point sur les secours des gens d'Eglise; ils sortiront de la ville, s'ils
n'y trouvent de quoi subsister: et d'ailleurs pourroient-ils suffire a la
multitude innombrable, que se trouvera dans vos murs?'" (The English
translator could not fail to adopt the Frenchman's ludicrous mistake.)
"Buon Dio!" exclaims the learned Zefirino, "Buon Dio! le pietre prese per
tanta gente di chiesa!" (See Preface to Zefirino Re's edition of the "Life
of Rienzi," page 9, note on Du Cerceau.)
Another blunder little less extraordinary occurs in Chapter vi., in which
the ordinances of Rienzi's Buono Stato are recited.
It is set forth as the third ordinance: - "Che nulla case di Roma sia data
per terra per alcuna cagione, ma vada in commune;" which simply means, that
the houses of delinquents should in no instance be razed, but added to the
community or confiscated. This law being intended partly to meet the
barbarous violences with which the excesses and quarrels of the Barons had
half dismantled Rome, and principally to repeal some old penal laws by
which the houses of a certain class of offenders might be destroyed; but
the French translator construes it, "Que nulle maison de Rome ne saroit
donnee en propre, pour quelque raison que ce put etre; mais que les revenus
en appartiendroient au public!" (The English translator makes this law
unintelligible: - "That no family of Rome shall appropriate to their own
use what they think fit, but that the revenues shall appertain to the
public"!!! - the revenues of what?)
But enough of the blunders arising from ignorance. - I must now be
permitted to set before the reader a few of the graver offences of wilful
assumption and preposterous invention.
When Rienzi condemned some of the Barons to death, the Pere thus writes; I
take the recent translation published by Mr. Whittaker: -
"The next day the Tribune, resolving more than ever to rid himself of his
prisoners, ordered tapestries of two colours, red and white, to be laid
over the place whereon he held his councils, and which he had made choice
of to be the theatre of this bloody tragedy, as the extraordinary tapestry
seemed to declare. He afterwards sent a cordelier to every one of the
prisoners to administer the sacraments, and then ordered the Capitol bell
to be tolled. At that fatal sound and the sight of the confessors, the
Lords no longer doubted of sentence of death being passed upon them. They
all confessed except the old Colonna, and many received the communion. In
the meanwhile the people, naturally prompt to attend, when their first
impetuosity had time to calm, could not without pity behold the dismal
preparations which were making. The sight of the bloody colour in the
tapestry shocked them. On this first impression they joined in opinion in
relation to so many illustrious heads now going to be sacrificed, and
lamented more their unhappy catastrophe, as no crime had been proved upon
them to render them worthy of such barbarous treatment. Above all, the
unfortunate Stephen Colonna, whose birth, age, and affable behaviour,
commanded respect, excited a particular compassion. An universal silence
and sorrow reigned among them. Those who were nearest Rienzi discovered an
alteration. They took the opportunity of imploring his mercy towards the
prisoners in terms the most affecting and moving."
Will it be believed, that in the original from which the Pere Du Cerceau
borrows or rather imagines this touching recital, there is not a single
syllable about the pity of the people, nor their shock at the bloody
colours of the tapestry, nor their particular compassion for the
unfortunate Stephen Colonna? - in fine, the People are not even mentioned
at all. All that is said is, "Some Roman citizens, (alcuni cittadini
Romani,) considering the judgment Rienzi was about to make, interposed with
soft and caressing words, and at last changed the opinion of the Tribune;"
all the rest is the pure fiction of the ingenious Frenchman! Again, Du
Cerceau, describing the appearance of the Barons at this fatal moment,
says, "Notwithstanding the grief and despair visible in their countenances,
they shewed a noble indignation, generally attendant on innocence in the
hour of death." What says the authority from which alone, except his own,
the good Father could take his account? Why, not a word about this noble
indignation, or this parade of innocence! The original says simply, that
"the Barons were so frozen with terror that they were unable to speak,"
(diventaso si gelati che non poteano favellare;) "that the greater part
humbled themselves," (e prese penitenza e comunione;) that when Rienzi
addressed them "all the Barons (come dannati) stood in sadness." (See
"Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 29.) Du Cerceau then proceeds to
state, that "although he (Rienzi) was grieved at heart to behold his
victims snatched from him, he endeavoured to make a merit of it in the eyes
of the People." There is not a word of this in the original!
So when Rienzi, on a latter occasion, placed the Prefect John di Vico in
prison, this Jesuit says, "To put a gloss upon this action before the eyes
of the people, Rienzi gave out that the Governor, John di Vico, keeping a
correspondence with the conspirators, came with no other view than to
betray the Romans." And if this scribbler, who pretends to have consulted
the Vatican MSS., had looked at the most ordinary authorities, he would
have seen that John di Vico did come with that view. (See for Di Vico's
secret correspondence with the Barons, La Cron. Bologn. page 406; and La
Cron. Est. page 444.)
Again, in the battle between the Barons and the Romans at the gates, Du
Cerceau thus describes the conduct of the Tribune: - "The Tribune, amidst
his troops, knew so little of what had passed, that seeing at a distance
one of his standards fall, he looked upon all as lost, and, casting up his
eyes to heaven full of despair, cried out, "O God, will you then forsake
me?' But no sooner was he informed of the entire defeat of his enemies,
than his dread and cowardice even turned to boldness and arrogance."
Now in the original all that is said of this is, "That it is true that the
standard of the Tribune fell - the Tribune astonished, (or if you please,
dismayed, sbigottio,) stood with his eyes raised to heaven, and could find
no other words than, "O God hast thou betrayed me?'" This evinced,
perhaps, alarm or consternation at the fall of his standard - a
consternation natural, not to a coward, but a fanatic, at such an event.
But not a word is said about Rienzi's cowardice in the action itself; it is
not stated when the accident happened - nothing bears out the implication
that the Tribune was remote from the contest, and knew little of what
passed. And if this ignorant Frenchman had consulted any other
contemporaneous historian whatever, he would have found it asserted by them
all, that the fight was conducted with great valour, both by the Roman
populace and their leader on the one side, and the Barons on the other. -
G. Vill. lib. xii. cap. 105; Cron. Sen. tom. xv. Murat. page 119; Cron.
Est. page 444. Yet Gibbon rests his own sarcasm on the Tribune's courage
solely on the baseless exaggeration of this Pere Du Cerceau.
So little, indeed, did this French pretender know of the history of the
time and place he treats of, that he imagines the Stephen Colonna who was
killed in the battle above-mentioned was the old Stephen Colonna, and is
very pathetic about his "venerable appearance," &c. This error, with
regard to a man so eminent as Stephen Colonna the elder, is inexcusable:
for, had the priest turned over the other pages of the very collection in
which he found the biography he deforms, he would have learned that old
Stephen Colonna was alive some time after that battle. - (Cron. Sen. Murat.
tom. xv. page 121.)
Again, just before Rienzi's expulsion from the office of Tribune, Du
Cerceau, translating in his headlong way the old biographer's account of
the causes of Rienzi's loss of popularity, says, "He shut himself up in his
palace, and his presence was known only by the rigorous punishments which
he caused his agents to inflict upon the innocent." Not a word of this in
Again, after the expulsion, Du Cerceau says, that the Barons seized upon
the "immense riches" he had amassed, - the words in the original are,
"grandi ornamenti," which are very different things from immense riches.
But the most remarkable sins of commission are in this person's account of
the second rise and fall of Rienzi under the title of Senator. Of this I
shall give but one instance: -
"The Senator, who perceived it, became only the more cruel. His jealousies
produced only fresh murders. In the continual dread he was in, that the
general discontent would terminate in some secret attempt upon his person,
he determined to intimidate the most enterprising, by sacrificing sometimes
one, sometimes another, and chiefly those whose riches rendered them the
more guilty in his eyes. Numbers were sent every day to the Capitol
prison. Happy were those who could get off with the confiscation of their
Of these grave charges there is not a syllable in the original! And so
much for the work of Pere Cerceau and Pere Brumoy, by virtue of which,
historians have written of the life and times of Rienzi, and upon the
figments of which, the most remarkable man in an age crowded with great
characters is judged by the general reader!
I must be pardoned for this criticism, which might not have been necessary,
had not the work to which it relates, in the English translation quoted
from, (a translation that has no faults but those of the French original,)
been actually received as an historical and indisputable authority, and
opposed with a triumphant air to some passages in my own narrative which
were literally taken from the authentic records of the time.