Part 5 out of 10
patrician robes, the yet palpitating corpse of Martino di Porto.
"Behold!" said the Tribune, sternly, "thus die all robbers. For traitors,
the same law has the axe and the scaffold!"
Raimond drew back and turned pale. Not so the veteran noble. Tears of
wounded pride started from his eyes; he approached, leaning on his staff,
to Rienzi, touched him on his shoulder, and said, -
"Tribune, a judge has lived to envy his victim!"
Rienzi turned with an equal pride to the Baron.
"We forgive idle words in the aged. My Lord, have you done with us? - we
would be alone."
"Give me thy arm, Raimond," said Stephen. "Tribune - farewell. Forget
that the Colonna sued thee, - an easy task, methinks; for, wise as you are,
you forget what every one else can remember."
"Ay, my Lord, what?"
"Birth, Tribune, birth - that's all!"
"The Signor Colonna has taken up my old calling, and turned a wit,"
returned Rienzi, with an indifferent and easy tone.
Then following Raimond and Stephen with his eyes, till the door closed upon
them, he muttered, "Insolent! were it not for Adrian, thy grey beard should
not bear thee harmless. Birth! what Colonna would not boast himself, if he
could, the grandson of an emperor? - Old man, there is danger in thee which
must be watched." With that he turned musingly towards the casement, and
again that griesly spectacle of death met his eye. The people below,
assembled in large concourse, rejoiced at the execution of one whose whole
life had been infamy and rapine - but who had seemed beyond justice - with
all the fierce clamour that marks the exultation of the rabble over a
crushed foe. And where Rienzi stood, he heard heir shouts of "Long live
the Tribune, the just judge, Rome's liberator!" But at that time other
thoughts deafened his senses to the popular enthusiasm.
"My poor brother!" he said, with tears in his eyes, "it was owing to this
man's crimes - and to a crime almost similar to that for which he has now
suffered - that thou wert entrained to the slaughter; and they who had no
pity for the lamb, clamour for compassion to the wolf! Ah, wert thou
living now, how these proud heads would bend to thee; though dead, thou
wert not worthy of a thought. God rest thy gentle soul, and keep my
ambition pure as it was when we walked at twilight, side by side together!"
The Tribune shut the casement, and turning away, sought the chamber of
Nina. On hearing his step without, she had already risen from the couch,
her eyes sparkling, her bosom heaving; and as he entered, she threw herself
on his neck, and murmured as she nestled to his breast, - "Ah, the hours
since we parted!"
It was a singular thing to see that proud lady, proud of her beauty, her
station, her new honours; - whose gorgeous vanity was already the talk of
Rome, and the reproach to Rienzi, - how suddenly and miraculously she
seemed changed in his presence! Blushing and timid, all pride in herself
seemed merged in her proud love for him. No woman ever loved to the full
extent of the passion, who did not venerate where she loved, and who did
not feel humbled (delighted in that humility) by her exaggerated and
overweening estimate of the superiority of the object of her worship.
And it might be the consciousness of this distinction between himself and
all other created things, which continued to increase the love of the
Tribune to his bride, to blind him to her failings towards others, and to
indulge her in a magnificence of parade, which, though to a certain point
politic to assume, was carried to an extent which if it did not conspire to
produce his downfall, has served the Romans with an excuse for their own
cowardice and desertion, and historians with a plausible explanation of
causes they had not the industry to fathom. Rienzi returned his wife's
caresses with an equal affection, and bending down to her beautiful face,
the sight was sufficient to chase from his brow the emotions, whether
severe or sad, which had lately darkened its broad expanse.
"Thou has not been abroad this morning, Nina!"
"No, the heat was oppressive. But nevertheless, Cola, I have not lacked
company - half the matronage of Rome has crowded the palace."
"Ah, I warrant it. - But yon boy, is he not a new face?"
"Hush, Cola, speak to him kindly, I entreat: of his story anon. Angelo,
approach. You see your new master, the Tribune of Rome."
Angelo approached with a timidity not his wont, for an air of majesty was
at all times natural to Rienzi, and since his power it had naturally taken
a graver and austerer aspect, which impressed those who approached him,
even the ambassadors of princes, with a certain involuntary awe. The
Tribune smiled at the effect he saw he had produced, and being by temper
fond of children, and affable to all but the great, he hastened to dispel
it. He took the child affectionately in his arms, kissed him, and bade him
"May we have a son as fair!" he whispered to Nina, who blushed, and turned
"Thy name, my little friend?"
"A Tuscan name. There is a man of letters at Florence, doubtless writing
our annals from hearsay at this moment, called Villani. Perhaps akin to
"I have no kin," said the boy, bluntly; "and therefore I shall the better
love the Signora and honour you, if you will let me. I am Roman - all the
Roman boys honour Rienzi."
"Do they, my brave lad?" said the Tribune, colouring with pleasure; "that
is a good omen of my continued prosperity." He put down the boy, and threw
himself on the cushions, while Nina placed herself on a kind of low stool
"Let us be alone," said he; and Nina motioned to the attendant maidens to
"Take my new page with you," said she; "he is yet, perhaps, too fresh from
home to enjoy the company of his giddy brethren."
When they were alone, Nina proceeded to narrate to Rienzi the adventure of
the morning; but though he seemed outwardly to listen, his gaze was on
vacancy, and he was evidently abstracted and self-absorbed. At length, as
she concluded, he said, "Well, Nina, you have acted as ever, kindly and
nobly. Let us to other themes. I am in danger."
"Danger!" echoed Nina, turning pale.
"Why, the word must not appal you - you have a spirit like mine, that
scorns fear; and, for that reason, Nina, in all Rome you are my only
confidant. It was not only to glad me with thy beauty, but to cheer me
with thy counsel, to support me with thy valour, that Heaven gave me thee
as a helpmate."
"Now, our Lady bless thee for those words!" said Nina, kissing the hand
that hung over her shoulder; "and if I started at the word danger, it was
but the woman's thought of thee, - an unworthy thought, my Cola, for glory
and danger go together. And I am as ready to share the last as the first.
If the hour of trial ever come, none of thy friends shall be so faithful to
thy side as this weak form but undaunted heart."
"I know it, my own Nina; I know it," said Rienzi, rising, and pacing the
chamber with large and rapid strides. "Now listen to me. Thou knowest
that to govern in safety, it is my policy as my pride to govern justly. To
govern justly is an awful thing, when mighty barons are the culprits.
Nina, for an open and audacious robbery, our court has sentenced Martin of
the Orsini, the Lord of Porto, to death. His corpse swings now on the
Staircase of the Lion."
"A dreadful doom!" said Nina, shuddering.
"True; but by his death thousands of poor and honest men may live in peace.
It is not that which troubles me: the Barons resent the deed, as an insult
to them that law should touch a noble. They will rise - they will rebel.
I foresee the storm - not the spell to allay it."
Nina paused a moment, - "They have taken," she then said, "a solemn oath on
the Eucharist not to bear arms against thee."
"Perjury is a light addition to theft and murder," answered Rienzi, with
his sarcastic smile.
"But the people are faithful."
"Yes, but in a civil war (which the saints forefend!) those combatants are
the stanchest who have no home but their armour, no calling but the sword.
The trader will not leave his trade at the toll of a bell every day; but
the Barons' soldiery are ready at all hours."
"To be strong," said Nina, - who, summoned to the councils of her lord,
shewed an intellect not unworthy of the honour, - "to be strong in
dangerous times, authority must seem strong. By shewing no fear, you may
prevent the cause of fear."
"My own thought!" returned Rienzi, quickly. "You know that half my power
with these Barons is drawn from the homage rendered to me by foreign
states. When from every city in Italy the ambassadors of crowned princes
seek the alliance of the Tribune, they must veil their resentment at the
rise of the Plebeian. On the other hand, to be strong abroad I must seem
strong at home: the vast design I have planned, and, as by a miracle,
begun to execute, will fail at once if it seem abroad to be intrusted to an
unsteady and fluctuating power. That design (continued Rienzi, pausing,
and placing his hand on a marble bust of the young Augustus) is greater
than his, whose profound yet icy soul united Italy in subjection, - for it
would unite Italy in freedom; - yes! could we but form one great federative
league of all the States of Italy, each governed by its own laws, but
united for mutual and common protection against the Attilas of the North,
with Rome for their Metropolis and their Mother, this age and this brain
would have wrought an enterprise which men should quote till the sound of
the last trump!"
"I know thy divine scheme," said Nina, catching his enthusiasm; "and what
if there be danger in attaining it? Have we not mastered the greatest
danger in the first step?"
"Right, Nina, right! Heaven (and the Tribune, who ever recognised, in his
own fortunes, the agency of the hand above, crossed himself reverently)
will preserve him to whom it hath vouchsafed such lofty visions of the
future redemption of the Land of the true Church, and the liberty and
advancement of its children! This I trust: already many of the cities of
Tuscany have entered into treaties for the formation of this league; nor
from a single tyrant, save John di Vico, have I received aught but fair
words and flattering promises. The time seems ripe for the grand stroke of
"And what is that?" demanded Nina, wonderingly.
"Defiance to all foreign interference. By what right does a synod of
stranger princes give Rome a king in some Teuton Emperor? Rome's people
alone should choose Rome's governor; - and shall we cross the Alps to
render the title of our master to the descendants of the Goth?"
Nina was silent: the custom of choosing the sovereign by a diet beyond the
Rhine, reserving only the ceremony of his subsequent coronation for the
mock assent of the Romans, however degrading to that people, and however
hostile to all nations of substantial independence, was so unquestioned at
that time, that Rienzi's daring suggestion left her amazed and breathless,
prepared as she was for any scheme, however extravagantly bold.
"How!" said she, after a long pause; "do I understand aright? Can you mean
defiance to the Emperor?"
"Why, listen: at this moment there are two pretenders to the throne of
Rome - to the imperial crown of Italy - a Bohemian and a Bavarian. To
their election our assent - Rome's assent - is not requisite - not asked.
Can we be called free - can we boast ourselves republican - when a stranger
and a barbarian is thus thrust upon our necks? No, we will be free in
reality as in name. Besides, (continued the Tribune, in a calmer tone,)
this seems to me politic as well as daring. The people incessantly demand
wonders from me: how can I more nobly dazzle, more virtuously win them,
than by asserting their inalienable right to choose their own rulers? The
daring will awe the Barons, and foreigners themselves; it will give a
startling example to all Italy; it will be the first brand of an universal
blaze. It shall be done, and with a pomp that befits the deed!"
"Cola," said Nina, hesitatingly, "your eagle spirit often ascends where
mine flags to follow; yet be not over bold."
"Nay, did you not, a moment since, preach a different doctrine? To be
strong, was I not to seem strong?"
"May fate preserve you!" said Nina, with a foreboding sigh.
"Fate!" cried Rienzi; "there is no fate! Between the thought and the
success, God is the only agent; and (he added with a voice of deep
solemnity) I shall not be deserted. Visions by night, even while thine
arms are around me; omens and impulses, stirring and divine, by day, even
in the midst of the living crowd - encourage my path, and point my goal.
Now, even now, a voice seems to whisper in my ear - 'Pause not; tremble
not; waver not; - for the eye of the All-Seeing is upon thee, and the hand
of the All-Powerful shall protect!"
As Rienzi thus spoke, his face grew pale, his hair seemed to bristle, his
tall and proud form trembled visibly, and presently he sunk down on a seat,
and covered his face with his hands.
An awe crept over Nina, though not unaccustomed to such strange and
preternatural emotions, which appeared yet the more singular in one who in
common life was so calm, stately, and self-possessed. But with every
increase of prosperity and power, those emotions seemed to increase in
their fervour, as if in such increase the devout and overwrought
superstition of the Tribune recognised additional proof of a mysterious
guardianship mightier than the valour or art of man.
She approached fearfully, and threw her arms around him, but without
Ere yet the Tribune had well recovered himself, a slight tap at the door
was heard, and the sound seemed at once to recall his self-possession.
"Enter," he said, lifting his face, to which the wonted colour slowly
An officer, half-opening the door, announced that the person he had sent
for waited his leisure.
"I come! - Core of my heart," (he whispered to Nina,) "we will sup alone
tonight, and will converse more on these matters:" so saying, with
somewhat less than his usual loftiness of mien, he left the room, and
sought his cabinet, which lay at the other side of the reception chamber.
Here he found Cecco del Vecchio.
"How, my bold fellow," said the Tribune, assuming with wonderful ease that
air of friendly equality which he always adopted with those of the lower
class, and which made a striking contrast with the majesty, no less
natural, which marked his manner to the great. "How now, my Cecco! Thou
bearest thyself bravely, I see, during these sickly heats; we labourers -
for both of us labour, Cecco - are too busy to fall ill as the idle do, in
the summer, or the autumn, of Roman skies. I sent for thee, Cecco, because
I would know how thy fellow-craftsmen are like to take the Orsini's
"Oh! Tribune," replied the artificer, who, now familiarized with Rienzi,
had lost much of his earlier awe of him, and who regarded the Tribune's
power as partly his own creation; "they are already out of their honest
wits, at your courage in punishing the great men as you would the small."
"So; - I am repaid! But hark you, Cecco, it will bring, perhaps, hot work
upon us. Every Baron will dread lest it be his turn next, and dread will
make them bold, like rats in despair. We may have to fight for the Good
"With all my heart, Tribune," answered Cecco, gruffly. "I, for one, am no
"Then keep the same spirit in all your meetings with the artificers. I
fight for the people. The people at a pinch must fight with me."
"They will," replied Cecco; "they will!"
"Cecco, this city is under the spiritual dominion of the Pontiff - so be it
- it is an honour, not a burthen. But the temporal dominion, my friend,
should be with Romans only. Is it not a disgrace to Republican Rome, that
while we now speak, certain barbarians, whom we never heard of, should be
deciding beyond the Alps on the merits of two sovereigns, whom we never
saw? Is not this a thing to be resisted? An Italian city, - what hath it
to do with a Bohemian Emperor?"
"Little eno', St. Paul knows!" said Cecco.
"Should it not be a claim questioned?"
"I think so!" replied the smith.
"And if found an outrage on our ancient laws, should it not be a claim
"Not a doubt of it."
"Well, go to! The archives assure me that never was Emperor lawfully
crowned but by the free votes of the people. We never chose Bohemian or
"But, on the contrary, whenever these Northmen come hither to be crowned,
we try to drive them away with stones and curses, - for we are a people,
Tribune, that love our liberties."
"Go back to your friends - see - address them, say that your Tribune will
demand of these pretenders to Rome the right to her throne. Let them not
be mazed or startled, but support me when the occasion comes."
"I am glad of this," quoth the huge smith; "for our friends have grown a
little unruly of late, and say - "
"What do they say?"
"That it is true you have expelled the banditti, and curb the Barons, and
administer justice fairly; - "
"Is not that miracle enough for the space of some two or three short
"Why, they say it would have been more than enough in a noble; but you,
being raised from the people, and having such gifts and so forth, might do
yet more. It is now three weeks since they have had any new thing to talk
about; but Orsini's execution today will cheer them a bit."
"Well, Cecco, well," said the Tribune, rising, "they shall have more anon
to feed their mouths with. So you think they love me not quite so well as
they did some three weeks back?"
"I say not so," answered Cecco. "But we Romans are an impatient people."
"However, they will no doubt stick close enough to you; provided, Tribune,
you don't put any new tax upon them."
"Ha! But if, in order to be free, it be necessary to fight - if to fight,
it be necessary to have soldiers, why then the soldiers must be paid: -
won't the people contribute something to their own liberties; - to just
laws, and safe lives?"
"I don't know," returned the smith, scratching his head as if a little
puzzled; "but I know that poor men won't be overtaxed. They say they are
better off with you than with the Barons before, and therefore they love
you. But men in business, Tribune, poor men with families, must look to
their bellies. Only one man in ten goes to law - only one man in twenty is
butchered by a Baron's brigand; but every man eats, and drinks, and feels a
"This cannot be your reasoning, Cecco!" said Rienzi, gravely.
"Why, Tribune, I am an honest man, but I have a large family to rear."
"Enough; enough!" said the Tribune quickly; and then he added abstractedly
as to himself, but aloud, - "Methinks we have been too lavish; these shows
and spectacles should cease."
"What!" cried Cecco; "what, Tribune! - would you deny the poor fellows a
holiday. They work hard enough, and their only pleasure is seeing your
fine shows and processions; and then they go home and say, - 'See, our man
beats all the Barons! what state he keeps!'"
"Ah! they blame not my splendour, then!"
"Blame it; no! Without it they would be ashamed of you, and think the
Buono Stato but a shabby concern."
"You speak bluntly, Cecco, but perhaps wisely. The saints keep you! Fail
not to remember what I told you!"
"No, no. It is a shame to have an Emperor thrust upon us; - so it is.
Good evening, Tribune."
Left alone, the Tribune remained for some time plunged in gloomy and
"I am in the midst of a magician's spell," said he; "if I desist, the
fiends tear me to pieces. What I have begun, that must I conclude. But
this rude man shews me too well with what tools I work. For me failure is
nothing, I have already climbed to a greatness which might render giddy
many a born prince's brain. But with my fall - Rome, Italy, Peace,
Justice, Civilization - all fall back into the abyss of ages!"
He rose; and after once or twice pacing his apartment, in which from many a
column gleamed upon him the marble effigies of the great of old, he opened
the casement to inhale the air of the now declining day.
The Place of the Capitol was deserted save by the tread of the single
sentinel. But still, dark and fearful, hung from the tall gibbet the clay
of the robber noble; and the colossal shape of the Egyptian lion rose hard
by, sharp and dark in the breathless atmosphere.
"Dread statue!" thought Rienzi, "how many unwhispered and solemn rites hast
thou witnessed by thy native Nile, ere the Roman's hand transferred thee
hither - the antique witness of Roman crimes! Strange! but when I look
upon thee I feel as if thou hadst some mystic influence over my own
fortunes. Beside thee was I hailed the republican Lord of Rome; beside
thee are my palace, my tribunal, the place of my justice, my triumphs, and
my pomp: - to thee my eyes turn from my bed of state: and if fated to die
in power and peace, thou mayst be the last object my eyes will mark! Or if
myself a victim - ." He paused - shrank from the thought presented to him
- turned to a recess of the chamber - drew aside a curtain, that veiled a
crucifix and a small table, on which lay a Bible and the monastic emblems
of the skull and crossbones - emblems, indeed, grave and irresistible, of
the nothingness of power, and the uncertainty of life. Before these sacred
monitors, whether to humble or to elevate, knelt that proud and aspiring
man; and when he rose, it was with a lighter step and more cheerful mien
than he had worn that day.
Chapter 4.III. The Actor Unmasked.
"In intoxication," says the proverb, "men betray their real characters."
There is a no less honest and truth-revealing intoxication in prosperity,
than in wine. The varnish of power brings forth at once the defects and
the beauties of the human portrait.
The unprecedented and almost miraculous rise of Rienzi from the rank of the
Pontiff's official to the Lord of Rome, would have been accompanied with a
yet greater miracle, if it had not somewhat dazzled and seduced the object
it elevated. When, as in well-ordered states and tranquil times, men rise
slowly, step by step, they accustom themselves to their growing fortunes.
But the leap of an hour from a citizen to a prince - from the victim of
oppression to the dispenser of justice - is a transition so sudden as to
render dizzy the most sober brain. And, perhaps, in proportion to the
imagination, the enthusiasm, the genius of the man, will the suddenness be
dangerous - excite too extravagant a hope - and lead to too chimerical an
ambition. The qualities that made him rise, hurry him to his fall; and
victory at the Marengo of his fortunes, urges him to destruction at its
In his greatness Rienzi did not so much acquire new qualities, as develop
in brighter light and deeper shadow those which he had always exhibited.
On the one hand he was just - resolute - the friend of the oppressed - the
terror of the oppressor. His wonderful intellect illumined everything it
touched. By rooting out abuse, and by searching examination and wise
arrangement, he had trebled the revenues of the city without imposing a
single new tax. Faithful to his idol of liberty, he had not been betrayed
by the wish of the people into despotic authority; but had, as we have
seen, formally revived, and established with new powers, the Parliamentary
Council of the city. However extensive his own authority, he referred its
exercise to the people; in their name he alone declared himself to govern,
and he never executed any signal action without submitting to them its
reasons or its justification. No less faithful to his desire to restore
prosperity as well as freedom to Rome, he had seized the first dazzling
epoch of his power to propose that great federative league with the Italian
States which would, as he rightly said, have raised Rome to the
indisputable head of European nations. Under his rule trade was secure,
literature was welcome, art began to rise.
On the other hand, the prosperity which made more apparent his justice, his
integrity, his patriotism, his virtues, and his genius, brought out no less
glaringly his arrogant consciousness of superiority, his love of display,
and the wild and daring insolence of his ambition. Though too just to
avenge himself by retaliating on the patricians their own violence, though,
in his troubled and stormy tribuneship, not one unmerited or illegal
execution of baron or citizen could be alleged against him, even by his
enemies; yet sharing, less excusably, the weakness of Nina, he could not
deny his proud heart the pleasure of humiliating those who had ridiculed
him as a buffoon, despised him as a plebeian, and who, even now slaves to
his face, were cynics behind his back. "They stood before him while he
sate," says his biographer; "all these Barons, bareheaded; their hands
crossed on their breasts; their looks downcast; - oh, how frightened they
were!" - a picture more disgraceful to the servile cowardice of the nobles
than the haughty sternness of the Tribune. It might be that he deemed it
policy to break the spirit of his foes, and to awe those whom it was a vain
hope to conciliate.
For his pomp there was a greater excuse: it was the custom of the time; it
was the insignia and witness of power; and when the modern historian taunts
him with not imitating the simplicity of an ancient tribune, the sneer
betrays an ignorance of the spirit of the age, and the vain people whom the
chief magistrate was to govern. No doubt his gorgeous festivals, his
solemn processions, set off and ennobled - if parade can so be ennobled -
by a refined and magnificent richness of imagination, associated always
with popular emblems, and designed to convey the idea of rejoicing for
Liberty Restored, and to assert the state and majesty of Rome Revived - no
doubt these spectacles, however otherwise judged in a more enlightened age
and by closet sages, served greatly to augment the importance of the
Tribune abroad, and to dazzle the pride of a fickle and ostentatious
populace. And taste grew refined, luxury called labour into requisition,
and foreigners from all states were attracted by the splendour of a court
over which presided, under republican names, two sovereigns, (Rienzi,
speaking in one of his letters of his great enterprise, refers it to the
ardour of youth. The exact date of his birth is unknown; but he was
certainly a young man at the time now referred to. His portrait in the
Museo Barberino, from which his description has been already taken in the
first book of this work, represents him as beardless, and, as far as one
can judge, somewhere above thirty - old enough, to be sure, to have a
beard; and seven years afterwards he wore a long one, which greatly
displeased his naive biographer, who seems to consider it a sort of crime.
The head is very remarkable for its stern beauty, and little, if at all,
inferior to that of Napoleon; to which, as I before remarked, it has some
resemblance in expression, if not in feature.) young and brilliant, the one
renowned for his genius, the other eminent for her beauty. It was, indeed,
a dazzling and royal dream in the long night of Rome, spoiled of her
Pontiff and his voluptuous train - that holyday reign of Cola di Rienzi!
And often afterwards it was recalled with a sigh, not only by the poor for
its justice, the merchant for its security, but the gallant for its
splendour, and the poet for its ideal and intellectual grace!
As if to show that it was not to gratify the more vulgar appetite and
desire, in the midst of all his pomp, when the board groaned with the
delicacies of every clime, when the wine most freely circled, the Tribune
himself preserved a temperate and even rigid abstinence. ("Vita di Cola di
Rienzi". - The biographer praises the abstinence of the Tribune.) While
the apartments of state and the chamber of his bride were adorned with a
profuse luxury and cost, to his own private rooms he transported precisely
the same furniture which had been familiar to him in his obscurer life.
The books, the busts, the reliefs, the arms which had inspired him
heretofore with the visions of the past, were endeared by associations
which he did not care to forego.
But that which constituted the most singular feature of his character, and
which still wraps all around him in a certain mystery, was his religious
enthusiasm. The daring but wild doctrines of Arnold of Brescia, who, two
centuries anterior, had preached reform, but inculcated mysticism, still
lingered in Rome, and had in earlier youth deeply coloured the mind of
Rienzi; and as I have before observed, his youthful propensity to dreamy
thought, the melancholy death of his brother, his own various but
successful fortunes, had all contributed to nurse the more zealous and
solemn aspirations of this remarkable man. Like Arnold of Brescia, his
faith bore a strong resemblance to the intense fanaticism of our own
Puritans of the Civil War, as if similar political circumstances conduced
to similar religious sentiments. He believed himself inspired by awful and
mighty commune with beings of the better world. Saints and angels
ministered to his dreams; and without this, the more profound and hallowed
enthusiasm, he might never have been sufficiently emboldened by mere human
patriotism, to his unprecedented enterprise: it was the secret of much of
his greatness, - many of his errors. Like all men who are thus self-
deluded by a vain but not inglorious superstition, united with, and
coloured by, earthly ambition, it is impossible to say how far he was the
visionary, and how far at times he dared to be the impostor. In the
ceremonies of his pageants, in the ornaments of his person, were invariably
introduced mystic and figurative emblems. In times of danger he publicly
professed to have been cheered and directed by divine dreams; and on many
occasions the prophetic warnings he announced having been singularly
verified by the event, his influence with the people was strengthened by a
belief in the favour and intercourse of Heaven. Thus, delusion of self
might tempt and conduce to imposition on others, and he might not scruple
to avail himself of the advantage of seeming what he believed himself to
be. Yet, no doubt this intoxicating credulity pushed him into extravagance
unworthy of, and strangely contrasted by, his soberer intellect, and made
him disproportion his vast ends to his unsteady means, by the proud
fallacy, that where man failed, God would interpose. Cola di Rienzi was no
faultless hero of romance. In him lay, in conflicting prodigality, the
richest and most opposite elements of character; strong sense, visionary
superstition, an eloquence and energy that mastered all he approached, a
blind enthusiasm that mastered himself; luxury and abstinence, sternness
and susceptibility, pride to the great, humility to the low; the most
devoted patriotism and the most avid desire of personal power. As few men
undertake great and desperate designs without strong animal spirits, so it
may be observed, that with most who have risen to eminence over the herd,
there is an aptness, at times, to a wild mirth and an elasticity of humour
which often astonish the more sober and regulated minds, that are "the
commoners of life:" And the theatrical grandeur of Napoleon, the severe
dignity of Cromwell, are strangely contrasted by a frequent, nor always
seasonable buffoonery, which it is hard to reconcile with the ideal of
their characters, or the gloomy and portentous interest of their careers.
And this, equally a trait in the temperament of Rienzi, distinguished his
hours of relaxation, and contributed to that marvellous versatility with
which his harder nature accommodated itself to all humours and all men.
Often from his austere judgment-seat he passed to the social board an
altered man; and even the sullen Barons who reluctantly attended his
feasts, forgot his public greatness in his familiar wit; albeit this
reckless humour could not always refrain from seeking its subject in the
mortification of his crest-fallen foes - a pleasure it would have been
wiser and more generous to forego. And perhaps it was, in part, the
prompting of this sarcastic and unbridled humour that made him often love
to astonish as well as to awe. But even this gaiety, if so it may be
called, taking an appearance of familiar frankness, served much to
ingratiate him with the lower orders; and, if a fault in the prince, was a
virtue in the demagogue.
To these various characteristics, now fully developed, the reader must add
a genius of designs so bold, of conceptions so gigantic and august,
conjoined with that more minute and ordinary ability which masters details;
that with a brave, noble, intelligent, devoted people to back his projects,
the accession of the Tribune would have been the close of the thraldom of
Italy, and the abrupt limit of the dark age of Europe. With such a people,
his faults would have been insensibly checked, his more unwholesome power
have received a sufficient curb. Experience familiarizing him with power,
would have gradually weaned him from extravagance in its display; and the
active and masculine energy of his intellect would have found field for the
more restless spirits, as his justice gave shelter to the more tranquil.
Faults he had, but whether those faults or the faults of the people, were
to prepare his downfall, is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, amidst a discontented nobility and a fickle populace, urged on
by the danger of repose to the danger of enterprise; partly blinded by his
outward power, partly impelled by the fear of internal weakness; at once
made sanguine by his genius and his fanaticism, and uneasy by the
expectations of the crowd, - he threw himself headlong into the gulf of the
rushing Time, and surrendered his lofty spirit to no other guidance than a
conviction of its natural buoyancy and its heaven-directed haven.
Chapter 4.IV. The Enemy's Camp.
While Rienzi was preparing, in concert, perhaps, with the ambassadors of
the brave Tuscan States, whose pride of country and love of liberty were
well fitted to comprehend, and even share them, his schemes for the
emancipation from all foreign yoke of the Ancient Queen, and the
Everlasting Garden, of the World; the Barons, in restless secrecy, were
revolving projects for the restoration of their own power.
One morning, the heads of the Savelli, the Orsini, and the Frangipani, met
at the disfortified palace of Stephen Colonna. Their conference was warm
and earnest - now resolute, now wavering, in its object - as indignation or
"You have heard," said Luca di Savelli, in his usual soft and womanly
voice, "that the Tribune has proclaimed, that, the day after tomorrow, he
will take the order of knighthood, and watch the night before in the church
of the Lateran: He has honoured me with a request to attend his vigil."
"Yes, yes, the knave. What means this new fantasy?" said the brutal Prince
of the Orsini.
"Unless it be to have the cavalier's right to challenge a noble," said old
Colonna, "I cannot conjecture. Will Rome never grow weary of this madman?"
"Rome is the more mad of the two," said Luca di Savelli; "but methinks, in
his wildness, the Tribune hath committed one error of which we may well
avail ourselves at Avignon."
"Ah," cried the old Colonna, "that must be our game; passive here, let us
fight at Avignon."
"In a word then, he hath ordered that his bath shall be prepared in the
holy porphyry vase in which once bathed the Emperor Constantine."
"Profanation! profanation!" cried Stephen. "This is enough to excuse a
bull of excommunication. The Pope shall hear of it. I will despatch a
"Better wait and see the ceremony," said the Savelli; "some greater folly
will close the pomp, be assured."
"Hark ye, my masters," said the grim Lord of the Orsini; "ye are for delay
and caution; I for promptness and daring; my kinsman's blood calls aloud,
and brooks no parley."
"And what do?" said the soft-voiced Savelli; "fight without soldiers,
against twenty thousand infuriated Romans? not I."
Orsini sunk his voice into a meaning whisper. "In Venice," said he, "this
upstart might be mastered without an army. Think you in Rome no man wears
"Hush," said Stephen, who was of far nobler and better nature than his
compeers, and who, justifying to himself all other resistance to the
Tribune, felt his conscience rise against assassination; "this must not be
- your zeal transports you."
"Besides, whom can we employ? scarce a German left in the city; and to
whisper this to a Roman were to exchange places with poor Martino - Heaven
take him, for he's nearer heaven than ever he was before," said the
"Jest me no jests," cried the Orsini, fiercely. "Jests on such a subject!
By St. Francis I would, since thou lovest such wit, thou hadst it all to
thyself; and, methinks, at the Tribune's board I have seen thee laugh at
his rude humour, as if thou didst not require a cord to choke thee."
"Better to laugh than to tremble," returned the Savelli.
"How! darest thou say I tremble?" cried the Baron.
"Hush, hush," said the veteran Colonna, with impatient dignity. "We are
not now in such holiday times as to quarrel amongst ourselves. Forbear, my
"Your greater prudence, Signor," said the sarcastic Savelli, "arises from
your greater safety. Your house is about to shelter itself under the
Tribune's; and when the Lord Adrian returns from Naples, the innkeeper's
son will be brother to your kinsman."
"You might spare me that taunt," said the old noble, with some emotion.
"Heaven knows how bitterly I have chafed at the thought; yet I would Adrian
were with us. His word goes far to moderate the Tribune, and to guide my
own course, for my passion beguiles my reason; and since his departure
methinks we have been the more sullen without being the more strong. Let
this pass. If my own son had wed the Tribune's sister, I would yet strike
a blow for the old constitution as becomes a noble, if I but saw that the
blow would not cut off my own head."
Savelli, who had been whispering apart with Rinaldo Frangipani, now said -
"Noble Prince, listen to me. You are bound by your kinsman's approaching
connection, your venerable age, and your intimacy with the Pontiff, to a
greater caution than we are. Leave to us the management of the enterprise,
and be assured of our discretion."
A young boy, Stefanello, who afterwards succeeded to the representation of
the direct line of the Colonna, and whom the reader will once again
encounter ere our tale be closed, was playing by his grandsire's knees. He
looked sharply up at Savelli, and said, "My grandfather is too wise, and
you are too timid. Frangipani is too yielding, and Orsini is too like a
vexed bull. I wish I were a year or two older."
"And what would you do, my pretty censurer?" said the smooth Savelli,
biting his smiling lip.
"Stab the Tribune with my own stiletto, and then hey for Palestrina!"
"The egg will hatch a brave serpent," quoth the Savelli. "Yet why so
bitter against the Tribune, my cockatrice?"
"Because he allowed an insolent mercer to arrest my uncle Agapet for debt.
The debt had been owed these ten years; and though it is said that no house
in Rome has owed more money than the Colonna, this is the first time I ever
heard of a rascally creditor being allowed to claim his debt unless with
doffed cap and bended knee. And I say that I would not live to be a Baron,
if such upstart insolence is to be put upon me."
"My child," said old Stephen, laughing heartily, "I see our noble order
will be safe enough in your hands."
"And," continued the child, emboldened by the applause he received, "if I
had time after pricking the Tribune, I would fain have a second stroke
at - "
"Whom?" said the Savelli, observing the boy pause;
"My cousin Adrian. Shame on him, for dreaming to make one a wife whose
birth would scarce fit her for a Colonna's leman!"
"Go play, my child - go play," said the old Colonna, as he pushed the boy
"Enough of this babble," cried the Orsini, rudely. "Tell me, old lord;
just as I entered, I saw an old friend (one of your former mercenaries)
quit the palace - may I crave his errand?"
"Ah, yes; a messenger from Fra Moreale. I wrote to the Knight, reproving
him for his desertion on our ill-starred return from Corneto, and
intimating that five hundred lances would be highly paid for just now."
"Ah," said Savelli; "and what is his answer!"
"Oh, wily and evasive: He is profuse in compliments and good wishes; but
says he is under fealty to the Hungarian king, whose cause is before
Rienzi's tribunal; that he cannot desert his present standard; that he
fears Rome is so evenly balanced between patricians and the people, that
whatever party would permanently be uppermost must call in a Podesta; and
this character alone the Provencal insinuates would suit him."
"Montreal our Podesta?" cried the Orsini.
"And why not?" said Savelli; "as good a well-born Podesta as a low-born
Tribune? But I trust we may do without either. Colonna, has this
messenger from Fra Moreale left the city?"
"I suppose so."
"No," said Orsini; "I met him at the gate, and knew him of old: it is
Rodolf, the Saxon (once a hireling of the Colonna), who has made some
widows among my clients in the good old day. He is a little disguised now;
however, I recognised and accosted him, for I thought he was one who might
yet become a friend, and I bade him await me at my palace."
"You did well," said the Savelli, musing, and his eyes met those of Orsini.
Shortly afterwards a conference, in which much was said and nothing
settled, was broken up; but Luca di Savelli, loitering at the porch, prayed
the Frangipani, and the other Barons, to adjourn to the Orsini's palace.
"The old Colonna," said he, "is well-nigh in his dotage. We shall come to
a quick determination without him, and we can secure his proxy in his son."
And this was a true prophecy, for half-an-hour's consultation with Rodolf
of Saxony sufficed to ripen thought into enterprise.
Chapter 4.V. The Night and its Incidents.
With the following twilight, Rome was summoned to the commencement of the
most magnificent spectacle the Imperial City had witnessed since the fall
of the Caesars. It had been a singular privilege, arrogated by the people
of Rome, to confer upon their citizens the order of knighthood. Twenty
years before, a Colonna and an Orsini had received this popular honour.
Rienzi, who designed it as the prelude to a more important ceremony,
claimed from the Romans a similar distinction. From the Capitol to the
Lateran swept, in long procession, all that Rome boasted of noble, of fair,
and brave. First went horsemen without number, and from all the
neighbouring parts of Italy, in apparel that well befitted the occasion.
Trumpeters, and musicians of all kinds, followed, and the trumpets were of
silver; youths bearing the harness of the knightly war-steed, wrought with
gold, preceded the march of the loftiest matronage of Rome, whose love for
show, and it may be whose admiration for triumphant fame, (which to women
sanctions many offences,) made them forget the humbled greatness of their
lords: amidst them Nina and Irene, outshining all the rest; then came the
Tribune and the Pontiff's Vicar, surrounded by all the great Signors of the
city, smothering alike resentment, revenge, and scorn, and struggling who
should approach nearest to the monarch of the day. The high-hearted old
Colonna alone remained aloof, following at a little distance, and in a garb
studiously plain. But his age, his rank, his former renown in war and
state, did not suffice to draw to his grey locks and highborn mien a single
one of the shouts that attended the meanest lord on whom the great Tribune
smiled. Savelli followed nearest to Rienzi, the most obsequious of the
courtly band; immediately before the Tribune came two men; the one bore a
drawn sword, the other the pendone, or standard usually assigned to
royalty. The tribune himself was clothed in a long robe of white satin,
whose snowy dazzle (miri candoris) is peculiarly dwelt on by the historian,
richly decorated with gold; while on his breast were many of those mystic
symbols I have before alluded to, the exact meaning of which was perhaps
known only to the wearer. In his dark eye, and on that large tranquil
brow, in which thought seemed to sleep, as sleeps a storm, there might be
detected a mind abstracted from the pomp around; but ever and anon he
roused himself, and conversed partially with Raimond or Savelli.
"This is a quaint game," said the Orsini, falling back to the old Colonna:
"but it may end tragically."
"Methinks it may," said the old man, "if the Tribune overhear thee."
Orsini grew pale. "How - nay - nay, even if he did, he never resents
words, but professes to laugh at our spoken rage. It was but the other day
that some knave told him what one of the Annibaldi said of him - words for
which a true cavalier would have drawn the speaker's life's blood; and he
sent for the Annibaldi, and said, 'My friend, receive this purse of gold, -
court wits should be paid.'"
"Did Annibaldi take the gold?"
"Why, no; the Tribune was pleased with his spirit, and made him sup with
him; and Annibaldi says he never spent a merrier evening, and no longer
wonders that his kinsman, Riccardo, loves the buffoon so."
Arrived now at the Lateran, Luca di Savelli fell also back, and whispered
to Orsini; the Frangipani, and some other of the nobles, exchanged meaning
looks; Rienzi, entering the sacred edifice in which, according to custom,
he was to pass the night watching his armour, bade the crowd farewell, and
summoned them the next morning, "To hear things that might, he trusted, be
acceptable to heaven and earth."
The immense multitude received this intimation with curiosity and gladness,
while those who had been in some measure prepared by Cecco del Vecchio,
hailed it as an omen of their Tribune's unflagging resolution. The
concourse dispersed with singular order and quietness; it was recorded as a
remarkable fact, that in so great a crowd, composed of men of all parties,
none exhibited licence or indulged in quarrel. Some of the barons and
cavaliers, among whom was Luca di Savelli, whose sleek urbanity and
sarcastic humour found favour with the Tribune, and a few subordinate pages
and attendants, alone remained; and, save a single sentinel at the porch,
that broad space before the Palace, the Basilica and Fount of Constantine,
soon presented a silent and desolate void to the melancholy moonlight.
Within the church, according to the usage of the time and rite, the
descendant of the Teuton kings received the order of the Santo Spirito.
His pride, or some superstition equally weak, though more excusable, led
him to bathe in the porphyry vase which an absurd legend consecrated to
Constantine; and this, as Savelli predicted, cost him dear. These
appointed ceremonies concluded, his arms were placed in that part of the
church, within the columns of St. John. And here his state bed was
prepared. (In a more northern country, the eve of knighthood would have
been spent without sleeping. In Italy, the ceremony of watching the armour
does not appear to have been so rigidly observed.)
The attendant barons, pages, and chamberlains, retired out of sight to a
small side chapel in the edifice; and Rienzi was left alone. A single
lamp, placed beside his bed, contended with the mournful rays of the moon,
that cast through the long casements, over aisle and pillar, its "dim
religious light." The sanctity of the place, the solemnity of the hour,
and the solitary silence round, were well calculated to deepen the high-
wrought and earnest mood of that son of fortune. Many and high fancies
swept over his mind - now of worldly aspirations, now of more august but
visionary belief, till at length, wearied with his own reflections, he cast
himself on the bed. It was an omen which graver history has not neglected
to record, that the moment he pressed the bed, new prepared for the
occasion, part of it sank under him: he himself was affected by the
accident, and sprung forth, turning pale and muttering; but, as if ashamed
of his weakness, after a moment's pause, again composed himself to rest,
and drew the drapery round him.
The moonbeams grew fainter and more faint as the time proceeded, and the
sharp distinction between light and shade faded fast from the marble floor;
when from behind a column at the furthest verge of the building, a strange
shadow suddenly crossed the sickly light - it crept on - it moved, but
without an echo, - from pillar to pillar it flitted - it rested at last
behind the column nearest to the Tribune's bed - it remained stationary.
The shades gathered darker and darker round; the stillness seemed to
deepen; the moon was gone; and, save from the struggling ray of the lamp
beside Rienzi, the blackness of night closed over the solemn and ghostly
In one of the side chapels, as I have before said, which, in the many
alterations the church has undergone, is probably long since destroyed,
were Savelli and the few attendants retained by the Tribune. Savelli alone
slept not; he remained sitting erect, breathless and listening, while the
tall lights in the chapel rendered yet more impressive the rapid changes of
"Now pray Heaven," said he, "the knave miscarry not! Such an occasion may
never again occur! He has a strong arm and a dexterous hand, doubtless;
but the other is a powerful man. The deed once done, I care not whether
the doer escape or not; if not, why we must stab him! Dead men tell no
tales. At the worst, who can avenge Rienzi? There is no other Rienzi!
Ourselves and the Frangipani seize the Aventine, the Colonna and the Orsini
the other quarters of the city; and without the master-spirit, we may laugh
at the mad populace. But if discovered; - " and Savelli, who, fortunately
for his foes, had not nerves equal to his will, covered his face and
shuddered; - "I think I hear a noise! - no - is it the wind? - tush, it
must be old Vico de Scotto, turning in his shell of mail! - silent - I like
not that silence! No cry - no sound! Can the ruffian have played us
false? or could he not scale the casement? It is but a child's effort; -
or did the sentry spy him?"
Time passed on: the first ray of daylight slowly gleamed, when he thought
he heard the door of the church close. Savelli's suspense became
intolerable: he stole from the chapel, and came in sight of the Tribune's
bed - all was silent.
"Perhaps the silence of death," said Savelli, as he crept back.
Meanwhile the Tribune, vainly endeavouring to close his eyes, was rendered
yet more watchful by the uneasy position he was obliged to assume - for the
part of the bed towards the pillow having given way, while the rest
remained solid, he had inverted the legitimate order of lying, and drawn
himself up as he might best accommodate his limbs, towards the foot of the
bed. The light of the lamp, though shaded by the draperies, was thus
opposite to him. Impatient of his wakefulness, he at last thought it was
this dull and flickering light which scared away the slumber, and was about
to rise, to remove it further from him, when he saw the curtain at the
other end of the bed gently lifted: he remained quiet and alarmed; - ere
he could draw a second breath, a dark figure interposed between the light
and the bed; and he felt that a stroke was aimed against that part of the
couch, which, but for the accident that had seemed to him ominous, would
have given his breast to the knife. Rienzi waited not a second and
better-directed blow; as the assassin yet stooped, groping in the uncertain
light, he threw on him all the weight and power of his large and muscular
frame, wrenched the stiletto from the bravo's hand, and dashing him on the
bed, placed his knee on his breast. - The stiletto rose - gleamed -
descended - the murtherer swerved aside, and it pierced only his right arm.
The Tribune raised, for a deadlier blow, the revengeful blade.
The assassin thus foiled was a man used to all form and shape of danger,
and he did not now lose his presence of mind.
"Hold!" said he; "if you kill me, you will die yourself. Spare me, and I
will save you."
"Hush - not so loud, or you will disturb your attendants, and some of them
may do what I have failed to execute. Spare me, I say, and I will reveal
that which were worth more than my life; but call not - speak not aloud, I
The Tribune felt his heart stand still: in that lonely place, afar from
his idolizing people - his devoted guards - with but loathing barons, or,
it might be, faithless menials, within call, might not the baffled
murtherer give a wholesome warning? - and those words and that doubt seemed
suddenly to reverse their respective positions, and leave the conqueror
still in the assassin's power.
"Thou thinkest to deceive me," said he, but in a voice whispered and
uncertain, which shewed the ruffian the advantage he had gained: "thou
wouldst that I might release thee without summoning my attendants, that
thou mightst a second time attempt my life."
"Thou hast disabled my right arm, and disarmed me of my only weapon."
"How camest thou hither?"
"Whence this attempt?"
"The dictation of others."
"If I pardon thee - "
"Thou shalt know all!"
"Rise," said the Tribune, releasing his prisoner, but with great caution,
and still grasping his shoulder with one hand, while the other pointed the
dagger at his throat.
"Did my sentry admit thee? There is but one entrance to the church,
"He did not; follow me, and I will tell thee more."
"Dog! thou hast accomplices?"
"If I have, thou hast the knife at my throat."
"Wouldst thou escape?"
"I cannot, or I would."
Rienzi looked hard, by the dull light of the lamp, at the assassin. His
rugged and coarse countenance, rude garb, and barbarian speech, seemed to
him proof sufficient that he was but the hireling of others; and it might
be wise to brave one danger present and certain, to prevent much danger
future and unforeseen. Rienzi, too, was armed, strong, active, in the
prime of life; - and at the worst, there was no part of the building whence
his voice would not reach those within the chapel, - if they could be
"Shew me then thy place and means of entrance," said he; "and if I but
suspect thee as we move - thou diest. Take up the lamp."
The ruffian nodded; with his left hand took up the lamp as he was ordered;
and with Rienzi's grasp on his shoulder, while the wound from his right arm
dropped gore as he passed, he moved noiselessly along the church - gained
the altar - to the left of which was a small room for the use or retirement
of the priest. To this he made his way. Rienzi's heart misgave him a
"Beware," he whispered, "the least sign of fraud, and thou art the first
The assassin nodded again, and proceeded. They entered the room; and then
the Tribune's strange guide pointed to an open casement. "Behold my
entrance," said he; "and, if you permit me, my egress - "
"The frog gets not out of the well so easily as he came in, friend,"
returned Rienzi, smiling. "And now, if I am not to call my guards, what am
I to do with thee!"
"Let me go, and I will seek thee tomorrow; and if thou payest me
handsomely, and promisest not to harm limb or life, I will put thine
enemies and my employers in thy power."
Rienzi could not refrain from a slight laugh at the proposition, but
composing himself, replied - "And what if I call my attendants, and give
thee to their charge?"
"Thou givest me to those very enemies and employers; and in despair lest I
betray them, ere the day dawn they cut my throat - or thine."
"Methinks knave, I have seen thee before."
"Thou hast. I blush not for name or country. I am Rodolf of Saxony!"
"I remember me: - servitor of Walter de Montreal. He, then, is thy
"Roman, no! That noble Knight scorns other weapon than the open sword, and
his own hand slays his own foes. Your pitiful, miserable, dastard
Italians, alone employ the courage, and hire the arm, of others."
Rienzi remained silent. He had released hold of his prisoner, and stood
facing him; every now and then regarding his countenance, and again
relapsing into thought. At length, casting his eyes round the small
chamber thus singularly tenanted, he observed a kind of closet, in which
the priests' robes, and some articles used in the sacred service, were
contained. It suggested at once an escape from his dilemma: he pointed to
"There, Rodolf of Saxony, shalt thou pass some part of this night - a small
penance for thy meditated crime; and tomorrow, as thou lookest for life,
thou wilt reveal all."
"Hark, ye, Tribune," returned the Saxon, doggedly; "my liberty is in your
power, but neither my tongue nor my life. If I consent to be caged in that
hole, you must swear on the crossed hilt of the dagger that you now hold,
that, on confession of all I know, you pardon and set me free. My
employers are enough to glut your rage an' you were a tiger. If you do not
swear this - "
"Ah, my modest friend! - the alternative?"
"I brain myself against the stone wall! Better such a death than the
"Fool, I want not revenge against such as thou. Be honest, and I swear
that, twelve hours after thy confession, thou shalt stand safe and
unscathed without the walls of Rome. So help me our Lord and his saints."
"I am content! - Donner und Hagel, I have lived long enough to care only
for my own life, and the great captain's next to it; - for the rest, I reck
not if ye southerns cut each other's throats, and make all Italy one
With this benevolent speech, Rodolf entered the closet; but ere Rienzi
could close the door, he stepped forth again -
"Hold," said he: "this blood flows fast. Help me to bandage it, or I
shall bleed to death ere my confession."
"Per fede," said the Tribune, his strange humour enjoying the man's cool
audacity; "but, considering the service thou wouldst have rendered me, thou
art the most pleasant, forbearing, unabashed, good fellow, I have seen this
many a year. Give us thine own belt. I little thought my first eve of
knighthood would have been so charitably spent!"
"Methinks these robes would make a better bandage," said Rodolf, pointing
to the priests' gear suspended from the wall.
"Silence, knave," said the Tribune, frowning; "no sacrilege! Yet, as thou
takest such dainty care of thyself, thou shalt have mine own scarf to
With that the Tribune, placing his dagger on the ground, while he
cautiously guarded it with his foot, bound up the wounded limb, for which
condescension Rodolf gave him short thanks; resumed his weapon and lamp;
closed the door; drew over it the long, heavy bolt without, and returned to
his couch, deeply and indignantly musing over the treason he had so
At the first grey streak of dawn he went out of the great door of the
church, called the sentry, who was one of his own guard, and bade him
privately, and now ere the world was astir, convey the prisoner to one of
the private dungeons of the Capitol. "Be silent," said he: "utter not a
word of this to any one; be obedient, and thou shalt be promoted. This
done, find out the councillor, Pandulfo di Guido, and bid him seek me here
ere the crowd assemble."
He then, making the sentinel doff his heavy shoes of iron, led him across
the church, resigned Rodolf to his care, saw them depart, and in a few
minutes afterwards his voice was heard by the inmates of the neighbouring
chapel; and he was soon surrounded by his train.
He was already standing on the floor, wrapped in a large gown lined with
furs; and his piercing eye scanned carefully the face of each man that
approached. Two of the Barons of the Frangipani family exhibited some
tokens of confusion and embarrassment, from which they speedily recovered
at the frank salutation of the Tribune.
But all the art of Savelli could not prevent his features from betraying to
the most indifferent eye the terror of his soul; - and, when he felt the
penetrating gaze of Rienzi upon him, he trembled in every joint. Rienzi
alone did not, however, seem to notice his disorder; and when Vico di
Scotto, an old knight, from whose hands he received his sword, asked him
how he had passed the night, he replied, cheerfully -
"Well, well - my brave friend! Over a maiden knight some good angel always
watches. Signor Luca di Savelli, I fear you have slept but ill: you seem
pale. No matter! - our banquet today will soon brighten the current of
your gay blood."
"Blood, Tribune!" said di Scotto, who was innocent of the plot: "Thou
sayest blood, and lo! on the floor are large gouts of it not yet dry."
"Now, out on thee, old hero, for betraying my awkwardness! I pricked
myself with my own dagger in unrobing. Thank Heaven it hath no poison in
The Frangipani exchanged looks, - Luca di Savelli clung to a column for
support, - and the rest of the attendants seemed grave and surprised.
"Think not of it, my masters," said Rienzi: "it is a good omen, and a true
prophecy. It implies that he who girds on his sword for the good of the
state, must be ready to spill his blood for it: that am I. No more of
this - a mere scratch: it gave more blood than I recked of from so slight
a puncture, and saves the leech the trouble of the lancet. How brightly
breaks the day! We must prepare to meet our fellow-citizens - they will be
here anon. Ha, my Pandulfo - welcome! - thou, my old friend, shalt buckle
on this mantle!"
And while Pandulfo was engaged in the task, the Tribune whispered a few
words in his ear, which, by the smile on his countenance, seemed to the
attendants one of the familiar jests with which Rienzi distinguished his
intercourse with his more confidential intimates.
Chapter 4.VI. The Celebrated Citation.
The bell of the great Lateran church sounded shrill and loud, as the mighty
multitude, greater even than that of the preceding night, swept on. The
appointed officers made way with difficulty for the barons and ambassadors,
and scarcely were those noble visitors admitted ere the crowd closed in
their ranks, poured headlong into the church, and took the way to the
chapel of Boniface VIII. There, filling every cranny, and blocking up the
entrance, the more fortunate of the press beheld the Tribune surrounded by
the splendid court his genius had collected, and his fortune had subdued.
At length, as the solemn and holy music began to swell through the edifice,
preluding the celebration of the mass, the Tribune stepped forth, and the
hush of the music was increased by the universal and dead silence of the
audience. His height, his air, his countenance, were such as always
command the attention of crowds; and at this time they received every
adjunct from the interest of the occasion, and that peculiar look of intent
yet suppressed fervour, which is, perhaps, the sole gift of the eloquent
that Nature alone can give.
"Be it known," said he, slowly and deliberately, "in virtue of that
authority, power, and jurisdiction, which the Roman people, in general
parliament, have assigned to us, and which the Sovereign Pontiff hath
confirmed, that we, not ungrateful of the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit
- whose soldier we now are - nor of the favour of the Roman people,
declare, that Rome, capital of the world, and base of the Christian church;
and that every City, State, and People of Italy, are henceforth free. By
that freedom, and in the same consecrated authority, we proclaim, that the
election, jurisdiction, and monarchy of the Roman empire appertain to Rome
and Rome's people, and the whole of Italy. We cite, then, and summon
personally, the illustrious princes, Louis Duke of Bavaria, and Charles
king of Bohemia, who would style themselves Emperors of Italy, to appear
before us, or the other magistrates of Rome, to plead and to prove their
claim between this day and the Day of Pentecost. We cite also, and within
the same term, the Duke of Saxony, the Prince of Brandenburg, and whosoever
else, potentate, prince, or prelate, asserts the right of Elector to the
imperial throne - a right that, we find it chronicled from ancient and
immemorial time, appertaineth only to the Roman people - and this in
vindication of our civil liberties, without derogation of the spiritual
power of the Church, the Pontiff, and the Sacred College. Herald, proclaim
the citation, at the greater and more formal length, as written and
intrusted to your hands, without the Lateran."
("Il tutto senza derogare all' autorita della Chiesa, del Papa e del Sacro
Collegio." So concludes this extraordinary citation, this bold and
wonderful assertion of the classic independence of Italy, in the most
feudal time of the fourteenth century. The anonymous biographer of Rienzi
declares that the Tribune cited also the Pope and the Cardinals to reside
in Rome. De Sade powerfully and incontrovertibly refutes this addition to
the daring or the extravagance of Rienzi. Gibbon, however, who has
rendered the rest of the citation in terms more abrupt and discourteous
than he was warranted by any authority, copies the biographer's blunder,
and sneers at De Sade, as using arguments "rather of decency than of
weight." Without wearying the reader with all the arguments of the learned
Abbe, it may be sufficient to give the first two.
1st. All the other contemporaneous historians that have treated of this
event, G. Villani, Hocsemius, the Vatican MSS. and other chroniclers,
relating the citation of the Emperor and Electors, say nothing of that of
the Pope and Cardinals; and the Pope (Clement VI.), in his subsequent
accusations of Rienzi, while very bitter against his citation of the
Emperor, is wholly silent on what would have been to the Pontiff the much
greater offence of citing himself and the Cardinals.)
2. The literal act of this citation, as published formally in the Lateran,
is extant in Hocsemius, (whence is borrowed, though not at all its length,
the speech in the text of our present tale;) and in this document the Pope
and his Cardinals are not named in the summons.
Gibbon's whole account of Rienzi is superficial and unfair. To the cold
and sneering scepticism, which so often deforms the gigantic work of that
great writer, allowing nothing for that sincere and urgent enthusiasm
which, whether of liberty or religion, is the most common parent of daring
action, the great Roman seems but an ambitious and fantastic madman. In
Gibbon's hands what would Cromwell have been? what Vane? what Hampden? The
pedant, Julian, with his dirty person and pompous affectation, was Gibbon's
ideal of a great man.)
As Rienzi concluded this bold proclamation of the liberties of Italy, the
Tuscan ambassadors, and those of some other of the free states, murmured
low approbation. The ambassadors of those States that affected the party
of the Emperor looked at each other in silent amaze and consternation. The
Roman Barons remained with mute lips and downcast eyes; only over the aged
face of Stephen Colonna settled a smile, half of scorn, half of exultation.
But the great mass of the citizens were caught by words that opened so
grand a prospect as the emancipation of all Italy: and their reverence of
the Tribune's power and fortune was almost that due to a supernatural
being; so that they did not pause to calculate the means which were to
correspond with the boast.
While his eye roved over the crowd, the gorgeous assemblage near him, the
devoted throng beyond; - as on his ear boomed the murmur of thousands and
ten thousands, in the space without, from before the Palace of Constantine
(Palace now his own!) sworn to devote life and fortune to his cause; in the
flush of prosperity that yet had known no check; in the zenith of power, as
yet unconscious of reverse, the heart of the Tribune swelled proudly:
visions of mighty fame and limitless dominion, - fame and dominion, once
his beloved Rome's and by him to be restored, rushed before his intoxicated
gaze; and in the delirious and passionate aspirations of the moment, he
turned his sword alternately to the three quarters of the then known globe,
and said, in an abstracted voice, as a man in a dream, "In the right of the
Roman people this too is mine!" ("Questo e mio.")
Low though the voice, the wild boast was heard by all around as distinctly
as if borne to them in thunder. And vain it were to describe the various
sensations it excited; the extravagance would have moved the derision of
his foes, the grief of his friends, but for the manner of the speaker,
which, solemn and commanding, hushed for the moment even reason and hatred
themselves in awe; afterwards remembered and repeated, void of the spell
they had borrowed from the utterer, the words met the cold condemnation of
the well-judging; but at that moment all things seemed possible to the hero
of the people. He spoke as one inspired - they trembled and believed; and,
as rapt from the spectacle, he stood a moment silent, his arm still
extended - his dark dilating eye fixed upon space - his lip parted - his
proud head towering and erect above the herd, - his own enthusiasm kindled
that of the more humble and distant spectators; and there was a deep murmur
begun by one, echoed by the rest, "The Lord is with Italy and Rienzi!"
The Tribune turned, he saw the Pope's Vicar astonished, bewildered, rising
to speak. His sense and foresight returned to him at once, and, resolved
to drown the dangerous disavowal of the Papal authority for this hardihood,
which was ready to burst from Raimond's lips, he motioned quickly to the
musicians, and the solemn and ringing chant of the sacred ceremony
prevented the Bishop of Orvietto all occasion of self-exoneration or reply.
The moment the ceremony was over, Rienzi touched the Bishop, and whispered,
"We will explain this to your liking. You feast with us at the Lateran. -
Your arm." Nor did he leave the good Bishop's arm, nor trust him to other
companionship, until to the stormy sound of horn and trumpet, drum and
cymbal, and amidst such a concourse as might have hailed, on the same spot,
the legendary baptism of Constantine, the Tribune and his nobles entered
the great gates of the Lateran, then the Palace of the World.
Thus ended that remarkable ceremony and that proud challenge of the
Northern Powers, in behalf of the Italian liberties, which, had it been
afterwards successful, would have been deemed a sublime daring; which,
unsuccessful, has been construed by the vulgar into a frantic insolence;
but which, calmly considering all the circumstances that urged on the
Tribune, and all the power that surrounded him, was not, perhaps,
altogether so imprudent as it seemed. And, even accepting that imprudence
in the extremest sense, - by the more penetrating judge of the higher order
of character, it will probably be considered as the magnificent folly of a
bold nature, excited at once by position and prosperity, by religious
credulities, by patriotic aspirings, by scholastic visions too suddenly
transferred from revery to action, beyond that wise and earthward policy
which sharpens the weapon ere it casts the gauntlet.
Chapter 4.VII. The Festival.
The Festival of that day was far the most sumptuous hitherto known. The
hint of Cecco del Vecchio, which so well depicted the character of his
fellow-citizens, as yet it exists, though not to such excess, in their love
of holyday pomp and gorgeous show, was not lost upon Rienzi. One instance
of the universal banqueting (intended, indeed, rather for the people than
the higher ranks) may illustrate the more than royal profusion that
prevailed. From morn till eve, streams of wine flowed like a fountain from
the nostrils of the Horse of the great Equestrian Statue of Constantine.
The mighty halls of the Lateran palace, open to all ranks, were prodigally
spread; and the games, sports, and buffooneries of the time, were in ample
requisition. Apart, the Tribunessa, as Nina was rather unclassically
entitled, entertained the dames of Rome; while the Tribune had so
effectually silenced or conciliated Raimond, that the good Bishop shared
his peculiar table - the only one admitted to that honour. As the eye
ranged each saloon and hall - it beheld the space lined with all the
nobility and knighthood - the wealth and strength - the learning and the
beauty - of the Italian metropolis; mingled with ambassadors and noble
strangers, even from beyond the Alps; (The simple and credulous briographer
of Rienzi declares his fame to have reached the ears of the Soldan of
Babylon.) - envoys not only of the free states that had welcomed the rise
of the Tribune, but of the highborn and haughty tyrants who had first
derided his arrogance, and now cringed to his power. There, were not only
the ambassadors of Florence, of Sienna, of Arezzo (which last subjected its
government to the Tribune,) of Todi, of Spoleto, and of countless other
lesser towns and states, but of the dark and terrible Visconti, prince of
Milan; of Obizzo of Ferrara, and the tyrant rulers of Verona and Bologna;
even the proud and sagacious Malatesta, lord of Rimini, whose arm
afterwards broke for awhile the power of Montreal, at the head of his Great
Company, had deputed his representative in his most honoured noble. John
di Vico, the worst and most malignant despot of his day, who had sternly
defied the arms of the Tribune, now subdued and humbled, was there in
person; and the ambassadors of Hungary and of Naples mingled with those of
Bavaria and Bohemia, whose sovereigns that day had been cited to the Roman
Judgment Court. The nodding of plumes, the glitter of jewels and cloth of
gold, the rustling of silks and jingle of golden spurs, the waving of
banners from the roof, the sounds of minstrelsy from the galleries above,
all presented a picture of such power and state - a court and chivalry of
such show - as the greatest of the feudal kings might have beheld with a
sparkling eye and a swelling heart. But at that moment the cause and lord
of all that splendour, recovered from his late exhilaration, sat moody and
abstracted, remembering with a thoughtful brow the adventure of the past
night, and sensible that amongst his gaudiest revellers lurked his intended
murtherers. Amidst the swell of the minstrelsy and the pomp of the crowd,
he felt that treason scowled beside him; and the image of the skeleton
obtruding, as of old, its grim thought of death upon the feast, darkened
the ruby of the wine, and chilled the glitter of the scene.
It was while the feast was loudest that Rienzi's page was seen gliding
through the banquet, and whispering several of the nobles; each bowed low,
but changed colour as he received the message.
"My Lord Savelli," said Orsini, himself trembling, "bear yourself more
bravely. This must be meant in honour, not revenge. I suppose your
summons corresponds with mine."
"He - he - asks - asks - me to supper at the Capitol; a fri-endly meeting -
(pest on his friendship!) - after the noise of the day."
"The words addressed also to me!" said Orsini, turning to one of the
Those who received the summons soon broke from the feast, and collected in
a group, eagerly conferring. Some were for flight, but flight was
confession; their number, rank, long and consecrated impunity, reassured
them, and they resolved to obey. The old Colonna, the sole innocent Baron
of the invited guests, was also the only one who refused the invitation.
"Tush!" said he, peevishly; here is feasting enough for one day! Tell the
Tribune that ere he sups I hope to be asleep. Grey hairs cannot encounter
all this fever of festivity."
As Rienzi rose to depart, which he did early, for the banquet took place
while yet morning, Raimond, eager to escape and confer with some of his
spiritual friends, as to the report he should make to the Pontiff, was
beginning his expressions of farewell, when the merciless Tribune said to
him gravely -
"My Lord, we want you on urgent business at the Capitol. A prisoner - a
trial - perhaps (he added with his portentous and prophetic frown) an
execution waits us! Come."
"Verily, Tribune," stammered the good Bishop, "this is a strange time for
"Last night was a time yet more strange. - Come."
There was something in the way in which the final word was pronounced, that
Raimond could not resist. He sighed, muttered, twitched his robes, and
followed the Tribune. As he passed through the halls, the company rose on
all sides. Rienzi repaid their salutations with smiles and whispers of
frank courtesy and winning address. Young as he yet was, and of a handsome
and noble presence, that took every advantage from splendid attire, and yet
more from an appearance of intellectual command in his brow and eye, which
the less cultivated signors of that dark age necessarily wanted - he
glittered through the court as one worthy to form, and fitted to preside
over, it; and his supposed descent from the Teuton Emperor, which, since
his greatness, was universally bruited and believed abroad, seemed
undeniably visible to the foreign lords in the majesty of his mien and the
easy blandness of his address.
"My Lord Prefect," said he to a dark and sullen personage in black velvet,
the powerful and arrogant John di Vico, prefect of Rome, "we are rejoiced
to find so noble a guest at Rome: we must repay the courtesy by surprising
you in your own palace ere long; - nor will you, Signor (as he turned to
the envoy from Tivoli,) refuse us a shelter amidst your groves and
waterfalls ere the vintage be gathered. Methinks Rome, united with sweet
Tivoli, grows reconciled to the Muses. Your suit is carried, Master
Venoni: the council recognises its justice; but I reserved the news for
this holyday - you do not blame me, I trust." This was whispered, with a
half-affectionate frankness, to a worthy citizen, who, finding himself
amidst so many of the great, would have shrunk from the notice of the
Tribune; but it was the policy of Rienzi to pay an especial and marked
attention to those engaged in commercial pursuits. As, after tarrying a
moment or two with the merchant, he passed on, the tall person of the old
Colonna caught his eye -
"Signor," said he, with a profound inclination of his head, but with a
slight emphasis of tone, "you will not fail us this evening."
"Tribune - " began the Colonna.
"We receive no excuse," interrupted the Tribune, hastily, and passed on.
He halted for a few moments before a small group of men plainly attired,
who were watching him with intense interest; for they, too, were scholars,
and in Rienzi's rise they saw another evidence of that wonderful and sudden
power which intellect had begun to assume over brute force. With these, as
if abruptly mingled with congenial spirits, the Tribune relaxed all the
gravity of his brow. Happier, perhaps, his living career - more
unequivocal his posthumous renown - had his objects as his tastes been
"Ah, carissime!" said he to one, whose arm he drew within his own, - "and
how proceeds thy interpretation of the old marbles? - half unravelled? I
rejoice to hear it! Confer with me as of old, I pray thee. Tomorrow - no,
nor the day after, but next week - we will have a tranquil evening. Dear
poet, your ode transported me to the days of Horace; yet, methinks, we do
wrong to reject the vernacular for the Latin. You shake your head? Well,
Petrarch thinks with you: his great epic moves with the stride of a giant
- so I hear from his friend and envoy, - and here he is. My Laeluis, is
that not your name with Petrarch? How shall I express my delight at his
comforting, his inspiring letter? Alas! he overrates not my intentions,
but my power. Of this hereafter."
A slight shade darkened the Tribune's brow at these words: but moving on,
a long line of nobles and princes on either side, he regained his self-
possession, and the dignity he had dropped with his former equals. Thus he
passed through the crowd, and gradually disappeared.
"He bears him bravely," said one, as the revellers reseated themselves.
"Noticed you the 'we' - the style royal?"
"But it must be owned that he lords it well," said the ambassador of the
Visconti: "less pride would be cringing to his haughty court."
"Why," said a professor of Bologna, "why is the Tribune called proud? I
see no pride in him."
"Nor I," said a wealthy jeweller.
While these, and yet more contradictory, comments followed the exit of the
Tribune, he passed into the saloon, where Nina presided; and here his fair
person and silver tongue ("Suavis colorataeque sententiae," according to
the description of Petrarch) won him a more general favour with the matrons
than he experienced with their lords, and not a little contrasted the
formal and nervous compliments of the good Bishop, who served him on such
occasions with an excellent foil.
But as soon as these ceremonies were done, and Rienzi mounted his horse,
his manner changed at once into a stern and ominous severity.
"Vicar," said he, abruptly, to the Bishop, "we might well need your
presence. Learn that at the Capitol now sits the Council in judgment upon
an assassin. Last night, but for Heaven's mercy, I should have fallen a
victim to a hireling's dagger, Knew you aught of this?"
And he turned so sharply on the Bishop, that the poor canonist nearly
dropped from his horse in surprise and terror.
"I, - " said he.
Rienzi smiled - "No, good my Lord Bishop! I see you are of no murtherer's
mould. But to continue: - that I might not appear to act in mine own
cause, I ordered the prisoner to be tried in my absence. In his trial (you
marked the letter brought me at our banquet?) - "
"Ay, and you changed colour."
"Well I might: in his trial, I say, he has confessed that nine of the
loftiest lords of Rome were his instigators. They sup with me tonight! -
BOOK V. THE CRISIS.
"Questo ha acceso 'i fuoco e la fiamma laquale non la par spotegnere." -
"Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 29.
"He has kindled fire and flames which he will not be able to extinguish." -
"Life of Cola di Rienzi".
Chapter 5.I. The Judgment of the Tribune.
The brief words of the Tribune to Stephen Colonna, though they sharpened
the rage of the proud old noble, were such as he did not on reflection deem
it prudent to disobey. Accordingly, at the appointed hour, he found
himself in one of the halls of the Capitol, with a gallant party of his
peers. Rienzi received them with more than his usual graciousness.
They sate down to the splendid board in secret uneasiness and alarm, as
they saw that, with the exception of Stephen Colonna, none, save the
conspirators, had been invited to the banquet. Rienzi, regardless of their
silence and abstraction, was more than usually gay - the old Colonna more
than usually sullen.
"We fear we have but ill pleased you, my Lord Colonna, by our summons.
Once, methinks, we might more easily provoke you to a smile."
"Situations are changed, Tribune, since you were my guest."
"Why, scarcely so. I have risen, but you have not fallen. Ye walk the
streets day and night in security and peace; your lives are safe from the
robber, and your palaces no longer need bars and battlements to shield you
from your fellow-citizens. I have risen, but we all have risen - from
barbarous disorder into civilized life! My Lord Gianni Colonna, whom we
have made Captain over Campagna, you will not refuse a cup to the Buono
Stato; - nor think we mistrust your valour, when we say, that we rejoice
Rome hath no enemies to attest your generalship."
"Methinks," quoth the old Colonna, bluntly, "we shall have enemies enough
from Bohemia and Bavaria, ere the next harvest be green."
"And, if so," replied the Tribune, calmly, "foreign foes are better than
"Ay, if we have money in the treasury; which is but little likely, if we
have many more such holydays."
"You are ungracious, my Lord," said the Tribune; "and, besides, you are
more uncomplimentary to Rome than to ourselves. What citizen would not
part with gold to buy fame and liberty?"
"I know very few in Rome that would," answered the Baron. "But tell me,
Tribune, you who are a notable casuist, which is the best for a state -
that its governor should be over-thrifty or over-lavish?"
"I refer the question to my friend, Luca di Savelli," replied Rienzi. "He
is a grand philosopher, and I wot well could explain a much knottier
riddle, which we will presently submit to his acumen."
The Barons, who had been much embarrassed by the bold speech of the old
Colonna, all turned their eyes to Savelli, who answered with more composure
than was anticipated.
"The question admits a double reply. He who is born a ruler, and maintains
a foreign army, governing by fear, should be penurious. He who is made
ruler, who courts the people, and would reign by love, must win their
affection by generosity, and dazzle their fancies by pomp. Such, I
believe, is the usual maxim in Italy, which is rife in all experience of
The Barons unanimously applauded the discreet reply of Savelli, excepting
only the old Colonna.
"Yet pardon me, Tribune," said Stephen, "if I depart from the courtier-like
decision of our friend, and opine, though with all due respect, that even a
friar's coarse serge, ("Vestimenta da Bizoco," was the phrase used by
Colonna; a phrase borrowed from certain heretics (bizocchi) who affected
extreme austerity; afterwards the word passed into a proverb. - See the
comments of Zerfirino Re, in "Vita di Cola di Rienzi".) the parade of
humility, would better become thee, than this gaudy pomp, the parade of
pride!" So saying, he touched the large loose sleeve fringed with gold, of
the Tribune's purple robe.
"Hush, father!" said Gianni, Colonna's son, colouring at the unprovoked
rudeness and dangerous candour of the veteran.
"Nay, it matters not," said the Tribune, with affected indifference, though
his lip quivered, and his eye shot fire; and then, after a pause, he
resumed with an awful smile - "If the Colonna love the serge of the friar,
he may see enough of it ere we part. And now, my Lord Savelli, for my
question, which I pray you listen to; it demands all your wit. Is it best
for a State's Ruler to be over-forgiving, or over-just? Take breath to
answer: you look faint - you grow pale - you tremble - you cover your
face! Traitor and assassin, your conscience betrays you! My Lords,
relieve your accomplice, and take up the answer."
"Nay, if we are discovered," said the Orsini, rising in despair, "we will
not fall unavenged - die, tyrant!"
He rushed to the place where Rienzi stood - for the Tribune also rose, -
and made a thrust at his breast with his dagger; the steel pierced the
purple robe, yet glanced harmlessly away - and the Tribune regarded the
disappointed murtherer with a scornful smile.
"Till yesternight, I never dreamt that under the robe of state I should
need the secret corselet," said he. "My Lords, you have taught me a dark
lesson, and I thank ye."
So saying, he clapped his hands, and suddenly the folding doors at the end
of the hall flew open, and discovered the saloon of the Council hung with
silk of a blood-red, relieved by rays of white, - the emblem of crime and
death. At a long table sate the councillors in their robes; at the bar
stood a ruffian form, which the banqueters too well recognised.
"Bid Rodolf of Saxony approach!" said the Tribune.
And led by two guards, the robber entered the hall.
"Wretch, you then betrayed us!" said one of the Frangipani.
"Rodolph of Saxony goes ever to the highest bidder," returned the
miscreant, with a horrid grin. "You gave me gold, and I would have slain
your foe; your foe defeated me; he gives me life, and life is a greater
boon than gold!"
"Ye confess your crime, my Lords! Silent! dumb! Where is your wit,
Savelli? Where your pride, Rinaldo di Orsini? Gianni Colonna, is your
chivalry come to this?"
"Oh!" continued Rienzi, with deep and passionate bitterness; "oh, my Lords,
will nothing conciliate you - not to me, but to Rome? What hath been my
sin against you and yours? Disbanded ruffians (such as your accuser) -
dismantled fortresses - impartial law - what man, in all the wild
revolutions of Italy, sprung from the people, ever yielded less to their
licence? Not a coin of your coffers touched by wanton power, - not a hair
of your heads harmed by private revenge. You, Gianni Colonna, loaded with
honours, intrusted with command - you, Alphonso di Frangipani, endowed with
new principalities, - did the Tribune remember one insult he received from
you as the Plebeian? You accuse my pride; - was it my fault that ye
cringed and fawned upon my power, - flattery on your lips, poison at your
hearts? No, I have not offended you; let the world know, that in me you
aimed at liberty, justice, law, order, the restored grandeur, the renovated
rights of Rome! At these, the Abstract and the Immortal - not at this
frail form, ye struck; - by the divinity of these ye are defeated; - for
the outraged majesty of these, - criminals and victims, - ye must die!"
With these words, uttered with the tone and air that would have become the
loftiest spirit of the ancient city, Rienzi, with a majestic step, swept
from the chamber into the Hall of Council. (The guilt of the Barons in
their designed assassination of Rienzi, though hastily slurred over by
Gibbon, and other modern writers, is clearly attested by Muratori, the
Bolognese Chronicle &c. - They even confessed the crime. (See Cron.
Estens: Muratori, tom. xviii. page 442.))
All that night the conspirators remained within that room, the doors locked
and guarded; the banquet unremoved, and its splendour strangely contrasting
the mood of the guests.
The utter prostration and despair of these dastard criminals - so unlike
the knightly nobles of France and England, has been painted by the
historian in odious and withering colours. The old Colonna alone sustained
his impetuous and imperious character. He strode to and fro the room like
a lion in his cage, uttering loud threats of resentment and defiance; and
beating at the door with his clenched hands, demanding egress, and
proclaiming the vengeance of the Pontiff.
The dawn came, slow and grey upon that agonized assembly: and just as the
last star faded from the melancholy horizon, and by the wan and comfortless
heaven, they regarded each other's faces, almost spectral with anxiety and
fear, the great bell of the Capitol sounded the notes in which they well
recognised the chime of death! It was then that the door opened, and a
drear and gloomy procession of cordeliers, one to each Baron, entered the
apartment! At that spectacle, we are told, the terror of the conspirators
was so great, that it froze up the very power of speech. ("Diventarono si
gelati, che non poteno favellare.") The greater part at length, deeming
all hope over, resigned themselves to their ghostly confessors. But when
the friar appointed to Stephen approached that passionate old man, he waved
his hand impatiently, and said - "Tease me not! Tease me not!"
"Nay, son, prepare for the awful hour."
"Son, indeed!" quoth the Baron. "I am old enough to be thy grandsire; and
for the rest, tell him who sent thee, that I neither am prepared for death,
nor will prepare! I have made up my mind to live these twenty years, and
longer too; - if I catch not my death with the cold of this accursed
Just at that moment a cry that almost seemed to rend the Capitol asunder
was heard, as, with one voice, the multitude below yelled forth -
"Death to the conspirators! - death! death!"
While this the scene in that hall, the Tribune issued from his chamber, in
which he had been closeted with his wife and sister. The noble spirit of
the one, the tears and grief of the other (who saw at one fell stroke
perish the house of her betrothed,) had not worked without effect upon a
temper, stern and just indeed, but naturally averse from blood; and a heart
capable of the loftiest species of revenge.
He entered the Council, still sitting, with a calm brow, and even a
"Pandulfo di Guido," he said, turning to that citizen, "you are right; you
spoke as a wise man and a patriot, when you said that to cut off with one
blow, however merited, the noblest heads of Rome would endanger the State,
sully our purple with an indelible stain, and unite the nobility of Italy
"Such, Tribune, was my argument, though the Council have decided
"Hearken to the shouts of the populace, you cannot appease their honest
warmth," said the demagogue Baroncelli.
Many of the Council murmured applause.
"Friends," said the Tribune, with a solemn and earnest aspect, "let not
Posterity say that Liberty loves blood; let us for once adopt the example
and imitate the mercy of our great Redeemer! We have triumphed - let us
forbear; we are saved - let us forgive!"
The speech of the Tribune was supported by Pandulfo, and others of the more
mild and moderate policy; and for a short but animated discussion, the
influence of Rienzi prevailed, and the sentence of death was revoked, but
by a small majority.
"And now," said Rienzi, "let us be more than just; let us be generous.
Speak - and boldly. Do any of ye think that I have been over-hard, over-
haughty with these stubborn spirits? - I read your answer in your brows! -
I have! Do any of ye think this error of mind may have stirred them to
their dark revenge? Do any of you deem that they partake, as we do, of
human nature, - that they are sensible to kindness, that they are softened
by generosity, - that they can be tamed and disarmed by such vengeance as
is dictated to noble foes by Christian laws?"
"I think," said Pandulfo, after a pause, "that it will not be in human
nature, if the men you pardon, thus offending and thus convicted, again
attempt your life!"
"Methinks," said Rienzi, "we must do even more than pardon. The first
great Caesar, when he did not crush a foe, strove to convert him to a
friend - "
"And perished by the attempt," said Baroncelli, abruptly.
Rienzi started and changed colour.
"If you would save these wretched prisoners, better not wait till the fury
of the mob become ungovernable," whispered Pandulfo.
The Tribune roused himself from his revery.
"Pandulfo," said he, in the same tone, "my heart misgives me - the brood of
serpents are in my hand - I do not strangle them - they may sting me to
death, in return for my mercy - it is their instinct! No matter: it shall
not be said that the Roman Tribune bought with so many lives his own
safety: nor shall it be written upon my grave-stone, 'Here lies the
coward, who did not dare forgive.' What, ho! there, officers, unclose the
doors! My masters, let us acquaint the prisoners with their sentence."
With that, Rienzi seated himself on the chair of state, at the head of the
table, and the sun, now risen, cast its rays over the blood-red walls, in
which the Barons, marshalled in order into the chamber, thought to read
"My Lords," said the Tribune, "ye have offended the laws of God and man;
but God teaches man the quality of mercy. Learn at last, that I bear a
charmed life. Nor is he whom, for high purposes, Heaven hath raised from
the cottage to the popular throne, without invisible aid and spiritual
protection. If hereditary monarchs are deemed sacred, how much more one in
whose power the divine hand hath writ its witness! Yes, over him who lives
but for his country, whose greatness is his country's gift, whose life is
his country's liberty, watch the souls of the just, and the unsleeping eyes
of the sworded seraphim! Taught by your late failure and your present
peril, bid your anger against me cease; respect the laws, revere the
freedom of your city, and think that no state presents a nobler spectacle
than men born as ye are - a patrician and illustrious order - using your
power to protect your city, your wealth to nurture its arts, your chivalry
to protect its laws! Take back your swords - and the first man who strikes
against the liberties of Rome, let him be your victim; even though that
victim be the Tribune. Your cause has been tried - your sentence is
pronounced. Renew your oath to forbear all hostility, private or public,
against the government and the magistrates of Rome, and ye are pardoned -
ye are free!"
Amazed, bewildered, the Barons mechanically bent the knee: the friars who
had received their confessions, administered the appointed oath; and while,
with white lips, they muttered the solemn words, they heard below the roar
of the multitude for their blood.
This ceremony ended, the Tribune passed into the banquet-hall, which
conducted to a balcony, whence he was accustomed to address the people; and
never, perhaps, was his wonderful mastery over the passions of an audience
(ad persuadendum efficax dictator, quoque dulcis ac lepidus) (Petrarch of
Rienzi.) more greatly needed or more eminently shown, than on that day; for
the fury of the people was at its height, and it was long ere he succeeded
in turning it aside. Before he concluded, however, every wave of the wild
sea lay hushed. - The orator lived to stand on the same spot, to plead for
a life nobler than those he now saved, - and to plead unheard and in vain!
As soon as the Tribune saw the favourable moment had arrived, the Barons
were admitted into the balcony: - in the presence of the breathless
thousands, they solemnly pledged themselves to protect the Good Estate.
And thus the morning which seemed to dawn upon their execution witnessed
their reconciliation with the people.
The crowd dispersed, the majority soothed and pleased; - the more
sagacious, vexed and dissatisfied.
"He has but increased the smoke and the flame which he was not able to
extinguish," growled Cecco del Vecchio; and the smith's appropriate saying
passed into a proverb and a prophecy.
Meanwhile, the Tribune, conscious at least that he had taken the more
generous course, broke up the Council, and retired to the chamber where
Nina and his sister waited him. These beautiful young women had conceived
for each other the tenderest affection. And their differing characters,
both of mind and feature, seemed by contrast to heighten the charms of
both; as in a skilful jewellery, the pearl and diamond borrow beauty from
And as Irene now turned her pale countenance and streaming eyes from the
bosom to which she had clung for support, the timid sister, anxious,
doubtful, wistful; - the proud wife, sanguine and assured, as if never
diffident of the intentions nor of the power of her Rienzi: - the contrast
would have furnished to a painter no unworthy incarnation of the Love that
hopeth, and the Love that feareth, all things.
"Be cheered, my sweet sister," said the Tribune, first caught by Irene's
imploring look; "not a hair on the heads of those who boast the name of him
thou lovest so well is injured. - Thank Heaven," as his sister, with a low
cry, rushed into his arms, "that it was against my life they conspired!
Had it been another Roman's, mercy might have been a crime! Dearest, may
Adrian love thee half as well as I; and yet, my sister and my child, none
can know thy soft soul like he who watched over it since its first blossom
expanded to the sun. My poor brother! had he lived, your counsel had been
his; and methinks his gentle spirit often whispers away the sternness
which, otherwise, would harden over mine. Nina, my queen, my inspirer, my
monitor - ever thus let thy heart, masculine in my distress, be woman's in
my power; and be to me, with Irene, upon earth, what my brother is in
The Tribune, exhausted by the trials of the night, retired for a few hours
to rest; and as Nina, encircling him within her arms, watched over his
noble countenance - care hushed, ambition laid at rest, its serenity had
something almost of sublime. And tears of that delicious pride, which
woman sheds for the hero of her dreams, stood heavy in the wife's eyes, as
she rejoiced more, in the deep stillness of her heart, at the prerogative,
alone hers, of sharing his solitary hours, than in all the rank to which
his destiny had raised her, and which her nature fitted her at once to
adorn and to enjoy. In that calm and lonely hour she beguiled her heart by
waking dreams, vainer than the sleeper's; and pictured to herself the long
career of glory, the august decline of peace, which were to await her lord.
And while she thus watched and thus dreamed, the cloud, as yet no bigger
than a man's hand, darkened the horizon of a fate whose sunshine was well-
Chapter 5.II. The Flight.
Fretting his proud heart, as a steed frets on the bit, old Colonna regained
his palace. To him, innocent of the proposed crime of his kin and
compeers, the whole scene of the night and morning presented but one
feature of insult and degradation. Scarce was he in his palace, ere he
ordered couriers, in whom he knew he could confide, to be in preparation
for his summons. "This to Avignon," said he to himself, as he concluded an
epistle to the Pontiff. - "We will see whether the friendship of the great
house of the Colonna will outweigh the frantic support of the rabble's
puppet. - This to Palestrina, - the rock is inaccessible! - This to John di
Vico, he may be relied upon, traitor though he be! - This to Naples; the
Colonna will disown the Tribune's ambassador, if he throw not up the trust
and hasten hither, not a lover but a soldier! - and may this find Walter de
Montreal! Ah, a precious messenger he sent us, but I will forgive all -
all, for a thousand lances." And as with trembling hands he twined the
silk round his letters, he bade his pages invite to his board, next day,
all the signors who had been implicated with him on the previous night.
The Barons came - far more enraged at the disgrace of pardon, than grateful
for the boon of mercy. Their fears combined with their pride; and the
shouts of the mob, the whine of the cordeliers, still ringing in their
ears, they deemed united resistance the only course left to protect their
lives, and avenge their affront.
To them the public pardon of the Tribune seemed only a disguise to private
revenge. All they believed was, that Rienzi did not dare to destroy them
in the face of day; forgetfulness and forgiveness appeared to them as the
means designed to lull their vigilance, while abasing their pride: and the
knowledge of crime detected forbade them all hope of safety. The hand of
their own assassin might be armed against them, or they might be ruined
singly, one by one, as was the common tyrant-craft of that day. Singularly
enough, Luca di Savelli was the most urgent for immediate rebellion. The
fear of death made the coward brave.
Unable even to conceive the romantic generosity of the Tribune, the Barons
were yet more alarmed when, the next day, Rienzi, summoning them one by one
to a private audience, presented them with gifts, and bade them forget the
past: excused himself rather than them, and augmented their offices and
In the Quixotism of a heart to which royalty was natural, he thought that
there was no medium course; and that the enmity he would not silence by
death, he could crush by confidence and favours. Such conduct from a born
king to hereditary inferiors might have been successful; but the generosity
of one who has abruptly risen over his lords is but the ostentation of
insult. Rienzi in this, and, perhaps, in forgiveness itself, committed a
fatal error of policy, which the dark sagacity of a Visconti, or, in later
times, of a Borgia, would never have perpetrated. But it was the error of
a bright and a great mind.
Nina was seated in the grand saloon of the palace - it was the day of
reception for the Roman ladies.
The attendance was so much less numerous than usual that it startled her,
and she thought there was a coldness and restraint in the manner of the
visitors present, which somewhat stung her vanity.
"I trust we have not offended the Signora Colonna," she said to the Lady of
Gianni, Stephen's son. "She was wont to grace our halls, and we miss much
her stately presence."
"Madam, my Lord's mother is unwell!"
"Is she so? We will send for her more welcome news. Methinks we are
As she spoke, she carelessly dropped her handkerchief - the haughty dame of
the Colonna bent not - not a hand stirred; and the Tribunessa looked for a
moment surprised and disconcerted. Her eye roving over the throng, she
perceived several, whom she knew as the wives of Rienzi's foes, whispering
together with meaning glances, and more than one malicious sneer at her
mortification was apparent. She recovered herself instantly, and said to
the Signora Frangipani, with a smile, "May we be a partaker of your mirth?
You seem to have chanced on some gay thought, which it were a sin not to
The lady she addressed coloured slightly, and replied, "We were thinking,
madam, that had the Tribune been present, his vow of knighthood would have
been called into requisition."
"And how, Signora?"
"It would have been his pleasing duty, madam, to succour the distressed."
And the Signora glanced significantly on the kerchief still on the floor.
"You designed me, then, this slight, Signoras," said Nina, rising with
great majesty. "I know not whether your Lords are equally bold to the
Tribune; but this I know, that the Tribune's wife can in future forgive
your absence. Four centuries ago, a Frangipani might well have stooped to
a Raselli; today, the dame of a Roman Baron might acknowledge a superior in
the wife of the first magistrate of Rome. I compel not your courtesy, nor
"We have gone too far," whispered one of the ladies to her neighbour.
"Perhaps the enterprise may not succeed; and then - "
Further remark was cut short by the sudden entrance of the Tribune. He
entered with great haste, and on his brow was that dark frown which none
ever saw unquailing.
"How, fair matrons!" said he, looking round the room with a rapid glance,
"ye have not deserted us yet? By the blessed cross, your Lords pay a
compliment to our honour, to leave us such lovely hostages, or else, God's
truth, they are ungrateful husbands. So, madam," turning sharp round to
the wife of Gianni Colonna, "your husband is fled to Palestrina; yours,
Signora Orsini, to Marino; yours with him, fair bride of Frangipani, - ye
came hither to - . But ye are sacred even from a word!"