My Ten Years’ Imprisonment by Silvio Pellico

This etext was prepared by David Price, email, from the 1886 Cassell & Co. edition. MY TEN YEARS’ IMPRISONMENT by Silvio Pellico INTRODUCTION. Silvio Pellico was born at Saluzzo, in North Italy, in the year of the fall of the Bastille, 1789. His health as a child was feeble, his temper gentle, and he
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This etext was prepared by David Price, email, from the 1886 Cassell & Co. edition.


by Silvio Pellico


Silvio Pellico was born at Saluzzo, in North Italy, in the year of the fall of the Bastille, 1789. His health as a child was feeble, his temper gentle, and he had the instincts of a poet. Before he was ten years old he had written a tragedy on a theme taken from Macpherson’s Ossian. His chief delight as a boy was in acting plays with other children, and he acquired from his father a strong interest in the patriotic movements of the time. He fastened upon French literature during a stay of some years at Lyons with a relation of his mother’s. Ugo Foscolo’s Sepolcri revived his patriotism, and in 1810, at the age of twenty-one, he returned to Italy. He taught French in the Soldiers’ Orphans’ School at Milan. At Milan he was admitted to the friendship of Vincenzo Monti, a poet then touching his sixtieth year, and of the younger Ugo Foscolo, by whose writings he had been powerfully stirred, and to whom he became closely bound. Silvio Pellico wrote in classical form a tragedy, Laodicea, and then, following the national or romantic school, for a famous actress of that time, another tragedy, Francesca di Rimini, which was received with great applause.

After the dissolution of the kingdom of Italy, in April 1814, Pellico became tutor to the two children of the Count Porro Lambertenghi, at whose table he met writers of mark, from many countries; Byron (whose Manfred he translated), Madame de Stael, Schlegel, Manzoni, and others. In 1819 Silvio Pellico began publishing Il Conciliatore, a journal purely literary, that was to look through literature to the life that it expresses, and so help towards the better future of his country. But the merciless excisions of inoffensive passages by the Austrian censorship destroyed the journal in a year.

A secret political association had been formed in Italy of men of all ranks who called themselves the Carbonari (charcoal burners), and who sought the reform of government in Italy. In 1814 they had planned a revolution in Naples, but there was no action until 1820. After successful pressure on the King of the two Sicilies, the forces of the Carbonari under General Pepe entered Naples on the ninth of July, 1820, and King Ferdinand I. swore on the 13th of July to observe the constitution which the Carbonari had proclaimed at Nola and elsewhere during the preceding month. On the twenty-fifth of August, the Austrian government decreed death to every member of a secret society, and carcere duro e durissimo, severest pains of imprisonment, to all who had neglected to oppose the progress of Carbonarism. Many seizures were made, and on the 13th of October the gentle editor of the Conciliatore, Silvio Pellico, was arrested as a friend of the Carbonari, and taken to the prison of Santa Margherita in Milan.

In the same month of October, the Emperors of Austria and Russia, and the Prince of Prussia met at Troppau to concert measures for crushing the Carbonari.

In January, 1821, they met Ferdinand I. at Laybach and then took arms against Naples. Naples capitulated on the 20th of March, and on the 24th of March, 1821, its Revolutionary council was closed. A decree of April 10th condemned to death all persons who attended meetings of the Carbonari, and the result was a great accession to the strength of this secret society, which spread its branches over Germany and France.

On the 19th of February, 1821, Silvio Pellico was transferred to imprisonment under the leads, on the isle of San Michele, Venice. There he wrote two plays, and some poems. On the 21st of February, 1822, he and his friend Maroncelli were condemned to death; but, their sentence being commuted to twenty years for Maroncelli, and fifteen years for Pellico, of carcere duro, they entered their underground prisons at Spielberg on the 10th of April, 1822. The government refused to transmit Pellico’s tragedies to his family, lest, though harmless in themselves, the acting of them should bring good-will to a state prisoner. At Spielberg he composed a third tragedy, Leoniero da Dordona, though deprived of books, paper, and pens, and preserved it in his memory. In 1828, a rumour of Pellico’s death in prison caused great excitement throughout Italy. On the 17th of September, 1830, he was released, by the amnesty of that year, and, avoiding politics thenceforth, devoted himself to religion. The Marchesa Baroli, at Turin, provided for his maintenance, by engaging him as her secretary and librarian. With health made weaker by his sufferings, Silvio Pellico lived on to the age of sixty-five, much honoured by his countrymen. Gioberti dedicated a book to him as “The first of Italian Patriots.” He died at Turin on the 1st of February, 1854.

Silvio Pellico’s account of his imprisonment, Le Mie Prigioni, was first published in Paris in 1833. It has been translated into many languages, and is the work by which he will retain his place in European literature. His other plays, besides the two first named, were Eufemia di Messina; Iginia di Asti; Leoniero da Dordona, already named as having been thought out at Spielberg; his Gismonda; l’Erodiade; Ester d’Engaddi; Corradino; and a play upon Sir Thomas More. He wrote also poems, Cantiche, of which the best are Eligi e Valfrido and Egilde; and, in his last years, a religious manual on the Duties of Men.

H. M.


Have I penned these memorials, let me ask myself, from any paltry vanity, or desire to talk about that self? I hope this is not the case, and forasmuch as one may be able to judge in one’s own cause, I think I was actuated by better views. These, briefly, were to afford consolation to some unfortunate being, situated like myself, by explaining the evils to which I was exposed, and those sources of relief which I found were accessible, even when labouring under the heaviest misfortune; to bear witness, moreover, that in the midst of my acute and protracted torments, I never found humanity, in the human instruments around me, so hopelessly wicked, so unworthy of consideration, or so barren of noble minds in lowly station, as it is customary to represent it; to engage, if possible, all the generous and good-hearted to love and esteem each other, to become incapable of hating any one; to feel irreconcilable hatred only towards low, base falsehood; cowardice, perfidy, and every kind of moral degradation. It is my object to impress on all that well- known but too often forgotten truth, namely, that both religion and philosophy require calmness of judgment combined with energy of will, and that without such a union, there can be no real justice, no dignity of character, and no sound principles of human action.



On Friday, the 15th of October, 1820, I was arrested at Milan, and conveyed to the prison of Santa Margherita. The hour was three in the afternoon. I underwent a long examination, which occupied the whole of that and several subsequent days; but of this I shall say nothing. Like some unfortunate lover, harshly dealt with by her he adored, yet resolved to bear it with dignified silence, I leave la Politica, such as SHE IS, and proceed to something else.

At nine in the evening of that same unlucky Friday, the actuary consigned me to the jailer, who conducted me to my appointed residence. He there politely requested me to give up my watch, my money, and everything in my pockets, which were to be restored to me in due time; saying which he respectfully bade me good-night.

“Stop, my dear sir,” I observed, “I have not yet dined; let me have something to eat.”

“Directly; the inn is close by, and you will find the wine good, sir.”

“Wine I do not drink.”

At this announcement Signor Angiolino gave me a look of unfeigned surprise; he imagined that I was jesting. “Masters of prisons,” he rejoined, “who keep shop, have a natural horror of an abstemious captive.”

“That may be; I don’t drink it.”

“I am sorry for you, sir; you will feel solitude twice as heavily.”

But perceiving that I was firm, he took his leave; and in half an hour I had something to eat. I took a mouthful, swallowed a glass of water, and found myself alone. My chamber was on the ground floor, and overlooked the court-yard. Dungeons here, dungeons there, to the right, to the left, above, below, and opposite, everywhere met my eye. I leaned against the window, listened to the passing and repassing of the jailers, and the wild song of a number of the unhappy inmates. A century ago, I reflected, and this was a monastery; little then thought the pious, penitent recluses that their cells would now re-echo only to the sounds of blasphemy and licentious song, instead of holy hymn and lamentation from woman’s lips; that it would become a dwelling for the wicked of every class- -the most part destined to perpetual labour or to the gallows. And in one century to come, what living being will be found in these cells? Oh, mighty Time! unceasing mutability of things! Can he who rightly views your power have reason for regret or despair when Fortune withdraws her smile, when he is made captive, or the scaffold presents itself to his eye? yesterday I thought myself one of the happiest of men; to-day every pleasure, the least flower that strewed my path, has disappeared. Liberty, social converse, the face of my fellow-man, nay, hope itself hath fled. I feel it would be folly to flatter myself; I shall not go hence, except to be thrown into still more horrible receptacles of sorrow; perhaps, bound, into the hands of the executioner. Well, well, the day after my death it will be all one as if I had yielded my spirit in a palace, and been conveyed to the tomb, accompanied with all the pageantry of empty honours.

It was thus, by reflecting on the sweeping speed of time, that I bore up against passing misfortune. Alas, this did not prevent the forms of my father, my mother, two brothers, two sisters, and one other family I had learned to love as if it were my own, from all whom I was, doubtless, for ever cut off, from crossing my mind, and rendering all my philosophical reasoning of no avail. I was unable to resist the thought, and I wept even as a child.


Three months previous to this time I had gone to Turin, where, after several years of separation, I saw my parents, one of my brothers, and two sisters. We had always been an attached family; no son had ever been more deeply indebted to a father and a mother than I; I remember I was affected at beholding a greater alteration in their looks, the progress of age, than I had expected. I indulged a secret wish to part from them no more, and soothe the pillow of departing age by the grateful cares of a beloved son. How it vexed me, too, I remember, during the few brief days I passed with them, to be compelled by other duties to spend so much of the day from home, and the society of those I had such reason to love and to revere; yes, and I remember now what my mother said one day, with an expression of sorrow, as I went out–“Ah! our Silvio has not come to Turin to see US!” The morning of my departure for Milan was a truly painful one. My poor father accompanied me about a mile on my way; and, on leaving me, I more than once turned to look at him, and, weeping, kissed the ring my mother had just given me; nor did I ever before quit my family with a feeling of such painful presentiment. I am not superstitious; but I was astonished at my own weakness, and I more than once exclaimed in a tone of terror, “Good God! whence comes this strange anxiety and alarm?” and, with a sort of inward vision, my mind seemed to behold the approach of some great calamity. Even yet in prison I retain the impression of that sudden dread and parting anguish, and can recall each word and every look of my distressed parents. The tender reproach of my mother, “Ah! Silvio has not come to Turin to see US!” seemed to hang like a weight upon my soul. I regretted a thousand instances in which I might have shown myself more grateful and agreeable to them; I did not even tell them how much I loved; all that I owed to them. I was never to see them more, and yet I turned my eyes with so much like indifference from their dear and venerable features! Why, why was I so chary of giving expression to what I felt (would they could have read it in my looks), to all my gratitude and love? In utter solitude, thoughts like these pierced me to the soul.

I rose, shut the window, and sat some hours, in the idea that it would be in vain to seek repose. At length I threw myself on my pallet, and excessive weariness brought me sleep.


To awake the first night in a prison is a horrible thing. Is it possible, I murmured, trying to collect my thoughts, is it possible I am here? Is not all that passed a dream? Did they really seize me yesterday? Was it I whom they examined from morning till night, who am doomed to the same process day after day, and who wept so bitterly last night when I thought of my dear parents? Slumber, the unbroken silence, and rest had, in restoring my mental powers, added incalculably to the capability of reflecting, and, consequently, of grief. There was nothing to distract my attention; my fancy grew busy with absent forms, and pictured, to my eye the pain and terror of my father and mother, and of all dear to me, on first hearing the tidings of my arrest.

At this moment, said I, they are sleeping in peace; or perhaps, anxiety for me may keep them watching, yet little anticipating the fate to which I am here consigned. Happy for them, were it the will of God, that they should cease to exist ere they hear of this horrible misfortune. Who will give them strength to bear it? Some inward voice seemed to whisper me, He whom the afflicted look up to, love and acknowledge in their hearts; who enabled a mother to follow her son to the mount of Golgotha, and to stand under His cross. He, the friend of the unhappy, the friend of man.

Strange this should be the first time I truly felt the power of religion in my heart; and to filial love did I owe this consolation. Though not ill-disposed, I had hitherto been little impressed with its truth, and had not well adhered to it. All common-place objections I estimated at their just value, yet there were many doubts and sophisms which had shaken my faith. It was long, indeed, since they had ceased to trouble my belief in the existence of the Deity; and persuaded of this, it followed necessarily, as part of His eternal justice, that there must be another life for man who suffers so unjustly here. Hence, I argued, the sovereign reason in man for aspiring to the possession of that second life; and hence, too, a worship founded on the love of God, and of his neighbour, and an unceasing impulse to dignify his nature by generous sacrifices. I had already made myself familiar with this doctrine, and I now repeated, “And what else is Christianity but this constant ambition to elevate and dignify our nature?” and I was astonished, when I reflected how pure, how philosophical, and how invulnerable the essence of Christianity manifested itself, that there could come an epoch when philosophy dared to assert, “From this time forth I will stand instead of a religion like this.” And in what manner–by inculcating vice? Certainly not. By teaching virtue? Why that will be to teach us to love God and our neighbour; and that is precisely what Christianity has already done, on far higher and purer motives. Yet, notwithstanding such had, for years, been my opinion, I had failed to draw the conclusion, Then be a Christian! No longer let corruption and abuses, the work of man, deter you; no longer make stumbling-blocks of little points of doctrine, since the principal point, made thus irresistibly clear, is to love God and your neighbour.

In prison I finally determined to admit this conclusion, and I admitted it. The fear, indeed, of appearing to others more religious than I had before been, and to yield more to misfortune than to conviction, made me sometimes hesitate; but feeling that I had done no wrong, I felt no debasement, and cared nothing to encounter the possible reproaches I had not deserved, resolving henceforward to declare myself openly a Christian.


I adhered firmly to this resolution as time advanced; but the consideration of it was begun the first night of my captivity. Towards morning the excess of my grief had grown calmer, and I was even astonished at the change. On recalling the idea of my parents and others whom I loved, I ceased to despair of their strength of mind, and the recollection of those virtues which I knew they had long possessed gave me real consolation. Why had I before felt such great dismay on thinking of them, and now so much confidence in their strength of mind? Was this happy change miraculous, or the natural effect of my renewed belief in God? What avails the distinction, while the genuine sublime benefits of religion remain the same.

At midnight two secondini (the under jailers are so termed) had paid me a visit, and found me in a very ill mood; in the morning they returned, and were surprised to see me so calm, and even cheerful.

“Last night, sir, you had the face of a basilisk,” said Tirola; “now you are quite another thing; I rejoice at it, if, indeed, it be a sign, forgive me the expression, that you are not a scoundrel. Your scoundrels (for I am an old hand at the trade, and my observations are worth something) are always more enraged the second day after their arrest than the first. Do you want some snuff?”

“I do not take it, but will not refuse your offer. If I have not a gorgon-face this morning, it must surely be a proof of my utter insensibility, or easy belief of soon regaining my freedom.”

“I should doubt that, even though you were not in durance for state matters. At this time of day they are not so easily got over as you might think; you are not so raw as to imagine such a thing. Pardon me, but you will know more by and by.”

“Tell me, how come you to have so pleasant a look, living only, as you do, among the unfortunate?”

“Why, sir, you will attribute it to indifference to others’ sufferings; of a truth, I know not how it is; yet, I assure you, it often gives me pain to see the prisoners weep. Truly, I sometimes pretend to be merry to bring a smile upon their faces.”

“A thought has just struck me, my friend, which I never had before; it is, that a jailer may be made of very congenial clay.”

“Well, the trade has nothing to do with that, sir. Beyond that huge vault you see there, without the court-yard, is another court, and other prisons, all prepared for women. They are, sir, women of a certain class; yet are there some angels among them, as to a good heart. And if you were in my place, sir–“

“I?” and I laughed out heartily.

Tirola was quite disconcerted, and said no more. Perhaps he meant to imply that had I been a secondino, it would have been difficult not to become attached to some one or other of these unfortunates.

He now inquired what I wished to take for breakfast, left me, and soon returned with my coffee. I looked hard at him, with a sort of malicious smile, as much as to say, “Would you carry me a bit of a note to an unhappy friend–to my friend Piero?” {1} He understood it, and answered with another: “No sir; and if you do not take heed how you ask any of my comrades, they will betray you.”

Whether or not we understood each other, it is certain I was ten times upon the point of asking him for a sheet of paper, &c.; but there was a something in his eye which seemed to warn me not to confide in any one about me, and still less to others than himself.


Had Tirola, with his expression of good-nature, possessed a less roguish look, had there been something a little more dignified in his aspect, I should have tried to make him my ambassador; for perhaps a brief communication, if in time, might prevent my friend committing some fatal error, perhaps save him, poor fellow; besides several others, including myself: and too much was already known. Patience! it was fated to be thus.

I was here recalled to be examined anew. The process continued through the day, and was again and again repeated, allowing me only a brief interval during dinner. While this lasted, the time seemed to pass rapidly; the excitement of mind produced by the endless series of questions put to me, and by going over them at dinner and at night, digesting all that had been asked and replied to, reflecting on what was likely to come, kept me in a state of incessant activity. At the end of the first week I had to endure a most vexatious affair. My poor friend Piero, eager as myself to have some communication, sent me a note, not by one of the jailers, but by an unfortunate prisoner who assisted them. He was an old man from sixty to seventy, and condemned to I know not how long a period of captivity. With a pin I had by me I pricked my finger, and scrawled with my blood a few lines in reply, which I committed to the same messenger. He was unluckily suspected, caught with the note upon him, and from the horrible cries that were soon heard, I conjectured that he was severely bastinadoed. At all events I never saw him more.

On my next examination I was greatly irritated to see my note presented to me (luckily containing nothing but a simple salutation), traced in my blood. I was asked how I had contrived to draw the blood; was next deprived of my pin, and a great laugh was raised at the idea and detection of the attempt. Ah, I did not laugh, for the image of the poor old messenger rose before my eyes. I would gladly have undergone any punishment to spare the old man. I could not repress my tears when those piercing cries fell upon my ear. Vainly did I inquire of the jailers respecting his fate. They shook their heads, observing, “He has paid dearly for it, he will never do such like things again; he has a little more rest now.” Nor would they speak more fully. Most probably they spoke thus on account of his having died under, or in consequence of, the punishment he had suffered; yet one day I thought I caught a glimpse of him at the further end of the court-yard, carrying a bundle of wood on his shoulders. I felt a beating of the heart as if I had suddenly recognised a brother.


When I ceased to be persecuted with examinations, and had no longer anything to fill up my time, I felt bitterly the increasing weight of solitude. I had permission to retain a bible, and my Dante; the governor also placed his library at my disposal, consisting of some romances of Scuderi, Piazzi, and worse books still; but my mind was too deeply agitated to apply to any kind of reading whatever. Every day, indeed, I committed a canto of Dante to memory, an exercise so merely mechanical, that I thought more of my own affairs than the lines during their acquisition. The same sort of abstraction attended my perusal of other things, except, occasionally, a few passages of scripture. I had always felt attached to this divine production, even when I had not believed myself one of its avowed followers. I now studied it with far greater respect than before; yet my mind was often almost involuntarily bent upon other matters; and I knew not what I read. By degrees I surmounted this difficulty, and was able to reflect upon its great truths with higher relish than I had ever before done. This, in me, did not give rise to the least tendency to moroseness or superstition, nothing being more apt than misdirected devotion to weaken and distort the mind. With the love of God and mankind, it inspired me also with a veneration for justice, and an abhorrence of wickedness, along with a desire of pardoning the wicked. Christianity, instead of militating against anything good, which I had derived from Philosophy, strengthened it by the aid of logical deductions, at once more powerful and profound.

Reading one day that it was necessary to pray without ceasing, and that prayer did not consist in many words uttered after the manner of the Pharisees, but in making every word and action accord with the will of God, I determined to commence with earnestness, to pray in the spirit with unceasing effort: in other words, to permit no one thought which should not be inspired by a wish to conform my whole life to the decrees of God.

The forms I adopted were simple and few; not from contempt of them (I think them very salutary, and calculated to excite attention), but from the circumstance of my being unable to go through them at length, without becoming so far abstracted as to make me forget the solemn duty in which I am engaged. This habitual observance of prayer, and the reflection that God is omnipresent as well as omnipotent in His power to save, began ere long to deprive solitude of its horrors, and I often repeated, “Have I not the best society man can have?” and from this period I grew more cheerful, I even sang and whistled in the new joy of my heart. And why lament my captivity? Might not a sudden fever have carried me off? and would my friends then have grieved less over my fate than now? and cannot God sustain them even as He could under a more trying dispensation? And often did I offer up my prayers and fervent hopes that my dear parents might feel, as I myself felt, resigned to my lot; but tears frequently mingled with sweet recollections of home. With all this, my faith in God remained undisturbed, and I was not disappointed.


To live at liberty is doubtless much better than living in a prison; but, even here, the reflection that God is present with us, that worldly joys are brief and fleeting, and that true happiness is to be sought in the conscience, not in external objects, can give a real zest to life. In less than one month I had made up my mind, I will not say perfectly, but in a tolerable degree, as to the part I should adopt. I saw that, being incapable of the mean action of obtaining impunity by procuring the destruction of others, the only prospect that lay before me was the scaffold, or long protracted captivity. It was necessary that I should prepare myself. I will live, I said to myself, so long as I shall be permitted, and when they take my life, I will do as the unfortunate have done before me; when arrived at the last moment, I can die. I endeavoured, as much as possible, not to complain, and to obtain every possible enjoyment of mind within my reach. The most customary was that of recalling the many advantages which had thrown a charm round my previous life; the best of fathers, of mothers, excellent brothers and sisters, many friends, a good education, and a taste for letters. Should I now refuse to be grateful to God for all these benefits, because He had pleased to visit me with misfortune? Sometimes, indeed, in recalling past scenes to mind, I was affected even to tears; but I soon recovered my courage and cheerfulness of heart.

At the commencement of my captivity I was fortunate enough to meet with a friend. It was neither the governor, nor any of his under- jailers, nor any of the lords of the process-chamber. Who then?–a poor deaf and dumb boy, five or six years old, the offspring of thieves, who had paid the penalty of the law. This wretched little orphan was supported by the police, with several other boys in the same condition of life. They all dwelt in a room opposite my own, and were only permitted to go out at certain hours to breathe a little air in the yard. Little deaf and dumb used to come under my window, smiled, and made his obeisance to me. I threw him a piece of bread; he took it, and gave a leap of joy, then ran to his companions, divided it, and returned to eat his own share under the window. The others gave me a wistful look from a distance, but ventured no nearer, while the deaf and dumb boy expressed a sympathy for me; not, I found, affected, out of mere selfishness. Sometimes he was at a loss what to do with the bread I gave him, and made signs that he had eaten enough, as also his companions. When he saw one of the under-jailers going into my room, he would give him what he had got from me, in order to restore it to me. Yet he continued to haunt my window, and seemed rejoiced whenever I deigned to notice him. One day the jailer permitted him to enter my prison, when he instantly ran to embrace my knees, actually uttering a cry of joy. I took him up in my arms, and he threw his little hands about my neck, and lavished on me the tenderest caresses. How much affection in his smile and manner! how eagerly I longed to have him to educate, raise him from his abject condition, and snatch him, perhaps, from utter ruin. I never even learnt his name; he did not himself know that he had one. He seemed always happy, and I never saw him weep except once, and that was on being beaten, I know not why, by the jailer. Strange that he should be thus happy in a receptacle of so much pain and sorrow; yet he was light-hearted as the son of a grandee. From him I learnt, at least, that the mind need not depend on situation, but may be rendered independent of external things. Govern the imagination, and we shall be well, wheresoever we happen to be placed. A day is soon over, and if at night we can retire to rest without actual pain and hunger, it little matters whether it be within the walls of a prison, or of a kind of building which they call a palace. Good reasoning this; but how are we to contrive so to govern the imagination? I began to try, and sometimes I thought I had succeeded to a miracle; but at others the enchantress triumphed, and I was unexpectedly astonished to find tears starting into my eyes.


I am so far fortunate, I often said, that they have given me a dungeon on the ground floor, near the court, where that dear boy comes within a few steps of me, to converse in our own mute language. We made immense progress in it; we expressed a thousand various feelings I had no idea we could do, by the natural expressions of the eye, the gesture, and the whole countenance. Wonderful human intelligence! How graceful were his motions! how beautiful his smile! how quickly he corrected whatever expression I saw of his that seemed to displease me! How well he understands I love him, when he plays with any of his companions! Standing only at my window to observe him, it seemed as if I possessed a kind of influence over his mind, favourable to his education. By dint of repeating the mutual exercise of signs, we should be enabled to perfect the communication of our ideas. The more instruction he gets, the more gentle and kind he becomes, the more he will be attached to me. To him I shall be the genius of reason and of good; he will learn to confide his sorrows to me, his pleasures, all he feels and wishes; I will console, elevate, and direct him in his whole conduct. It may be that this my lot may be protracted from month to month, even till I grow grey in my captivity. Perhaps this little child may continue to grow under my eye, and become one in the service of this large family of pain, and grief, and calamity. With such a disposition as he has already shown, what would become of him? Alas; he would at most be made only a good under-keeper, or fill some similar place. Yet I shall surely have conferred on him some benefit if I can succeed in giving him a desire to do kind offices to the good and to himself, and to nourish sentiments of habitual benevolence. This soliloquy was very natural in my situation; I was always fond of children, and the office of an instructor appeared to me a sublime duty. For a few years I had acted in that capacity with Giacomo and Giulio Porro, two young men of noble promise, whom I loved, and shall continue to love as if they were my own sons. Often while in prison were my thoughts busied with them; and how it grieved me not to be enabled to complete their education. I sincerely prayed that they might meet with a new master, who would be as much attached to them as I had been.

At times I could not help exclaiming to myself, What a strange burlesque is all this! instead of two noble youths, rich in all that nature and fortune can endow them with, here I have a pupil, poor little fellow! deaf, dumb, a castaway; the son of a robber, who at most can aspire only to the rank of an under-jailer, and which, in a little less softened phraseology, would mean to say a sbirro. {2} This reflection confused and disquieted me; yet hardly did I hear the strillo {3} of my little dummy than I felt my heart grow warm again, just as a father when he hears the voice of a son. I lost all anxiety about his mean estate. It is no fault of his if he be lopped of Nature’s fairest proportions, and was born the son of a robber. A humane, generous heart, in an age of innocence, is always respectable. I looked on him, therefore, from day to day with increased affection, and was more than ever desirous of cultivating his good qualities, and his growing intelligence. Nay, perhaps we might both live to get out of prison, when I would establish him in the college for the deaf and dumb, and thus open for him a path more fortunate and pleasing than to play the part of a shirro. Whilst thus pleasingly engaged in meditating his future welfare, two of the under-jailers one day walked into my cell.

“You must change your quarters, sir!”

“What mean you by that?”

“We have orders to remove you into another chamber.”

“Why so?”

“Some other great bird has been caged, and this being the better apartment–you understand.”

“Oh, yes! it is the first resting-place for the newly arrived.”

They conveyed me to the opposite side of the court, where I could no longer converse with my little deaf and dumb friend, and was far removed from the ground floor. In walking across, I beheld the poor boy sitting on the ground, overcome with grief and astonishment, for he knew he had lost me. Ere I quite disappeared, he ran towards me; my conductors tried to drive him away, but he reached me, and I caught him in my arms, and returned his caresses with expressions of tenderness I sought not to conceal. I tore myself from him, and entered my new abode.


It was a dark and gloomy place; instead of glass it had pasteboard for the windows; the walls were rendered more repulsive by being hung with some wretched attempts at painting, and when free from this lugubrious colour, were covered with inscriptions. These last gave the name and country of many an unhappy inmate, with the date of the fatal day of their captivity. Some consisted of lamentations on the perfidy of false friends, denouncing their own folly, or women, or the judge who condemned them. Among a few were brief sketches of the victims’ lives; still fewer embraced moral maxims. I found the following words of Pascal: “Let those who attack religion learn first what religion is. Could it boast of commanding a direct view of the Deity, without veil or mystery, it would be to attack that religion to say, ‘that there is nothing seen in the world which displays Him with such clear evidence.’ But since it rather asserts that man is involved in darkness, far from God, who is hidden from human knowledge, insomuch as to give Himself the name in scripture of ‘Deus absconditus,’ what advantage can the enemies of religion derive when, neglecting, as they profess to do, the science of truth, they complain that the truth is not made apparent to them?” Lower down was written (the words of the same author), “It is not here a question of some trivial interest relating to a stranger; it applies to ourselves, and to all we possess. The immortality of the soul is a question of that deep and momentous importance to all, as to imply an utter loss of reason to rest totally indifferent as to the truth or the fallacy of the proposition.” Another inscription was to this effect: “I bless the hour of my imprisonment; it has taught me to know the ingratitude of man, my own frailty, and the goodness of God.” Close to these words again appeared the proud and desperate imprecations of one who signed himself an Atheist, and who launched his impieties against the Deity, as if he had forgotten that he had just before said there was no God. Then followed another column, reviling the cowardly fools, as they were termed, whom captivity had converted into fanatics. I one day pointed out these strange impieties to one of the jailers, and inquired who had written them? “I am glad I have found this,” was the reply, “there are so many of them, and I have so little time to look for them;” and he took his knife, and began to erase it as fast as he could.

“Why do you do that?” I inquired of him.

“Because the poor devil who wrote it was condemned to death for a cold-blooded murder; he repented, and made us promise to do him this kindness.”

“Heaven pardon him!” I exclaimed; “what was it he did?”

“Why, as he found he could not kill his enemy, he revenged himself by slaying the man’s son, one of the finest boys you ever saw.”

I was horror-struck. Could ferocity of disposition proceed to such lengths? and could a monster, capable of such a deed, hold the insulting language of a man superior to all human weaknesses? to murder the innocent, and a child!


In my new prison, black and filthy to an extreme, I sadly missed the society of my little dumb friend. I stood for hours in anxious, weary mood, at the window which looked over a gallery, on the other side of which could be seen the extremity of the court-yard, and the window of my former cell. Who had succeeded me there? I could discern his figure, as he paced quickly to and fro, apparently in violent agitation. Two or three days subsequently, I perceived that he had got writing materials, and remained busied at his little table the whole of the day. At length I recognised him. He came forth accompanied by his jailer; he was going to be examined, when I saw he was no other than Melchiorre Gioja. {4} It went to my heart: “You, too, noble, excellent man, have not escaped!” Yet he was more fortunate than I. After a few months’ captivity, he regained his liberty. To behold any really estimable being always does me good; it affords me pleasant matter for reflection, and for esteem–both of great advantage. I could have laid down my life to save such a man from captivity; yet merely to see him was some consolation to me. After regarding him intently, some time, to ascertain if he were tranquil or agitated, I offered up a heart-felt prayer for his deliverance; I felt my spirits revived, a greater flow of ideas, and greater satisfaction with myself. Such an incident as this has a charm for utter solitude, of which you can form no idea without experiencing it. A poor dumb boy had before supplied me with this real enjoyment, and I now derived it from a distant view of a man of distinguished merit.

Perhaps some one of the jailers had informed him where I was. One morning, on opening his window, he waved his handkerchief in token of salutation, and I replied in the same manner. I need not describe the pleasure I felt; it appeared as if we were no longer separated; and we discoursed in the silent intercourse of the spirit, which, when every other medium is cut off, in the least look, gesture, or signal of any kind, can make itself comprehended and felt.

It was with no small pleasure I anticipated a continuation of this friendly communication. Day after day, however, went on, and I was never more gratified by the appearance of the same favourite signals. Yet I frequently saw my friend at his window; I waved my handkerchief, but in vain; he answered it no more. I was now informed by our jailers, that Gioja had been strictly prohibited from exciting my notice, or replying to it in any manner. Notwithstanding, he still continued to look at me, and I at him, and in this way, we conversed upon a great variety of subjects, which helped to keep us alive.


Along the same gallery, upon a level with my prison, I saw other prisoners passing and repassing the whole day to the place of examination. They were, for the chief part, of lowly condition, but occasionally one or two of better rank. All, however, attracted my attention, brief as was the sight of them, and I truly compassionated them. So sorrowful a spectacle for some time filled me with grief, but by degrees I became habituated to it, and at last it rather relieved than added to the horror of my solitude. A number of women, also, who had been arrested, passed by. There was a way from the gallery, through a large vault, leading to another court, and in that part were placed the female prisoners, and others labouring under disease. A single wall, and very slight, separated my dwelling from that of some of the women. Sometimes I was almost deafened with their songs, at others with their bursts of maddened mirth. Late at evening, when the din of day had ceased, I could hear them conversing, and, had I wished, I could easily have joined with them. Was it timidity, pride, or prudence which restrained me from all communication with the unfortunate and degraded of their sex? Perhaps it partook of all. Woman, when she is what she ought to be, is for me a creature so admirable, so sublime, the mere seeing, hearing, and speaking to her, enriches my mind with such noble fantasies; but rendered vile and despicable, she disturbs, she afflicts, she deprives my heart, as it were, of all its poetry and its love. Spite of this, there were among those feminine voices, some so very sweet that, there is no use in denying it, they were dear to me. One in particular surpassed the rest; I heard it more seldom, and it uttered nothing unworthy of its fascinating tone. She sung little and mostly kept repeating these two pathetic lines:-

Chi rende alla meschina
La sua felicita?

Ah, who will give the lost one
Her vanished dream of bliss?

At other times, she would sing from the litany. Her companions joined with her; but still I could discern the voice of Maddalene from all others, which seemed only to unite for the purpose of robbing me of it. Sometimes, too, when her companions were recounting to her their various misfortunes, I could hear her pitying them; could catch even her very sighs, while she invariably strove to console them: “Courage, courage, my poor dear,” she one day said, “God is very good, and He will not abandon us.”

How could I do otherwise than imagine she was beautiful, more unfortunate than guilty, naturally virtuous, and capable of reformation? Who would blame me because I was affected with what she said, listened to her with respect, and offered up my prayers for her with more than usual earnestness of heart. Innocence is sacred, and repentance ought to be equally respected. Did the most perfect of men, the Divinity on earth, refuse to cast a pitying eye on weak, sinful women; to respect their fear and confusion, and rank them among the minds he delighted to consort with and to honour? By what law, then, do we act, when we treat with so much contempt women fallen into ignominy?

While thus reasoning, I was frequently tempted to raise my voice and speak, as a brother in misfortune, to poor Maddalene. I had often even got out the first syllable; and how strange! I felt my heart beat like an enamoured youth of fifteen; I who had reached thirty- one; and it seemed as if I should never be able to pronounce the name, till I cried out almost in a rage, “Mad! Mad!” yes, mad enough, thought I.


Thus ended my romance with that poor unhappy one; yet it did not fail to produce me many sweet sensations during several weeks. Often, when steeped in melancholy, would her sweet calm voice breathe consolation to my spirit; when, dwelling on the meanness and ingratitude of mankind, I became irritated, and hated the world, the voice of Maddalene gently led me back to feelings of compassion and indulgence.

How I wish, poor, unknown, kind-hearted repentant one, that no heavy punishment may befall thee. And whatever thou shalt suffer, may it well avail thee, re-dignify thy nature, and teach thee to live and die to thy Saviour and thy Lord. Mayest thou meet compassion and respect from all around thee, as thou didst from me a stranger to thee. Mayest thou teach all who see thee thy gentle lesson of patience, sweetness, the love of virtue, and faith in God, with which thou didst inspire him who loved without having beheld thee. Perhaps I erred in thinking thee beautiful, but, sure I am, thou didst wear the beauty of the soul. Thy conversation, though spoken amidst grossness and corruption of every kind, was ever chaste and graceful; whilst others imprecated, thou didst bless; when eager in contention, thy sweet voice still pacified, like oil upon the troubled waters. If any noble mind hath read thy worth, and snatched thee from an evil career; hath assisted thee with delicacy, and wiped the tears from thy eyes, may every reward heaven can give be his portion, that of his children, and of his children’s children!

Next to mine was another prison occupied by several men. I also heard THEIR conversation. One seemed of superior authority, not so much probably from any difference of rank, as owing to greater eloquence and boldness. He played, what may musically be termed, the first fiddle. He stormed himself, yet put to silence those who presumed to quarrel by his imperious voice. He dictated the tone of the society, and after some feeble efforts to throw off his authority they submitted, and gave the reins into his hands.

There was not a single one of those unhappy men who had a touch of that in him to soften the harshness of prison hours, to express one kindly sentiment, one emanation of religion, or of love. The chief of these neighbours of mine saluted me, and I replied. He asked me how I contrived to pass such a cursed dull life? I answered, that it was melancholy, to be sure; but no life was a cursed one to me, and that to our last hour, it was best to do all to procure oneself the pleasure of thinking and of loving.

“Explain, sir, explain what you mean!”

I explained, but was not understood. After many ingenious attempts, I determined to clear it up in the form of example, and had the courage to bring forward the extremely singular and moving effect produced upon me by the voice of Maddalene; when the magisterial head of the prison burst into a violent fit of laughter. “What is all that, what is that?” cried his companions. He then repeated my words with an air of burlesque; peals of laughter followed, and I there stood, in their eyes, the picture of a convicted blockhead.

As it is in prison, so it is in the world. Those who make it their wisdom to go into passions, to complain, to defy, to abuse, think that to pity, to love, to console yourself with gentle and beautiful thoughts and images, in accord with humanity and its great Author, is all mere folly.


I let them laugh and said not a word; they hit at me again two or three times, but I was mute. “He will come no more near the window,” said one, “he will hear nothing but the sighs of Maddalene; we have offended him with laughing.” At length, the chief imposed silence upon the whole party, all amusing themselves at my expense. “Silence, beasts as you are; devil a bit you know what you are talking about. Our neighbour is none so long eared an animal as you imagine. You do not possess the power of reflection, no not you. I grin and joke; but afterwards I reflect. Every low-born clown can stamp and roar, as we do here. Grant a little more real cheerfulness, a spark more of charity, a bit more faith in the blessing of heaven;–what do you imagine that all this would be a sign of?” “Now, that I also reflect,” replied one, “I fancy it would be a sign of being a little less of a brute.”

“Bravo!” cried his leader, in a most stentorian howl! “now I begin to have some hope of you.”

I was not overproud at being thus rated a LITTLE LESS OF A BRUTE than the rest; yet I felt a sort of pleasure that these wretched men had come to some agreement as to the importance of cultivating, in some degree, more benevolent sentiments.

I again approached the window, the chief called me, and I answered, hoping that I might now moralise with him in my own way. I was deceived; vulgar minds dislike serious reasoning; if some noble truth start up, they applaud for a moment, but the next withdraw their notice, or scruple not to attempt to shine by questioning, or aiming to place it in some ludicrous point of view.

I was next asked if I were imprisoned for debt?

“Perhaps you are paying the penalty of a false oath, then?”

“No, it is quite a different thing.”

“An affair of love, most likely, I guess?”


“You have killed a man, mayhap?”


“It’s for carbonarism, then?”

“Exactly so.”

“And who are these carbonari?”

“I know so little of them, I cannot tell you.”

Here a jailer interrupted us in great anger; and after commenting on the gross improprieties committed by my neighbours, he turned towards me, not with the gravity of a sbirro, but the air of a master: “For shame, sir, for shame! to think of talking to men of this stamp! do you know, sir, that they are all robbers?”

I reddened up, and then more deeply for having shown I blushed, and methought that to deign to converse with the unhappy of however lowly rank, was rather a mark of goodness than a fault.


Next morning I went to my window to look for Melchiorre Gioja; but conversed no more with the robbers. I replied to their salutation, and added, that I had been forbidden to hold conversation. The secretary who had presided at my examinations, told me with an air of mystery, I was about to receive a visit. After a little further preparation, he acquainted me that it was my father; and so saying, bade me follow him. I did so, in a state of great agitation, assuming at the same time an appearance of perfect calmness in order not to distress my unhappy parent. Upon first hearing of my arrest, he had been led to suppose it was for some trifling affair, and that I should soon be set at liberty. Finding his mistake, however, he had now come to solicit the Austrian government on my account. Here, too, he deluded himself, for he never imagined I could have been rash enough to expose myself to the penalty of the laws, and the cheerful tone in which I now spoke persuaded him that there was nothing very serious in the business.

The few words that were permitted to pass between us gave me indescribable pain; the more so from the restraint I had placed upon my feelings. It was yet more difficult at the moment of parting. In the existing state of things, as regarded Italy, I felt convinced that Austria would make some fearful examples, and that I should be condemned either to death or long protracted imprisonment. It was my object to conceal this from my father and to flatter his hopes at a moment when I was inquiring for a mother, brother, and sisters, whom I never expected to behold more. Though I knew it to be impossible, I even calmly requested of him that he would come and see me again, while my heart was wrung with the bitter conflict of my feelings. He took his leave, filled with the same agreeable delusion, and I painfully retraced my steps back into my dungeon. I thought that solitude would now be a relief to me; that to weep would somewhat ease my burdened heart? yet, strange to say, I could not shed a tear. The extreme wretchedness of feeling this inability even to shed tears excites, under some of the heaviest calamities, is the severest trial of all, and I have often experienced it.

An acute fever, attended by severe pains in my head, followed this interview. I could not take any nourishment; and I often said, how happy it would be for me, were it indeed to prove mortal. Foolish and cowardly wish! heaven refused to hear my prayer, and I now feel grateful that it did. Though a stern teacher, adversity fortifies the mind, and renders man what he seems to have been intended for; at least, a good man, a being capable of struggling with difficulty and danger; presenting an object not unworthy, even in the eyes of the old Romans, of the approbation of the gods.


Two days afterwards I again saw my father. I had rested well the previous night, and was free from fever; before him I preserved the same calm and even cheerful deportment, so that no one could have suspected I had recently suffered, and still continued to suffer so much. “I am in hopes,” observed my father, “that within a very few days we shall see you at Turin. Your mother has got your old room in readiness, and we are all expecting you to come. Pressing affairs now call me away, but lose no time, I entreat you, in preparing to rejoin us once more.” His kind and affecting expressions added to my grief. Compassion and filial piety, not unmingled with a species of remorse, induced me to feign assent; yet afterwards I reflected how much more worthy it had been, both of my father and myself, to have frankly told him that most probably, we should never see each other again, at least in this world. Let us take farewell like men, without a murmur and without a tear, and let me receive the benediction of a father before I die. As regarded myself, I should wish to have adopted language like that; but when I gazed on his aged and venerable features, and his grey hairs, something seemed to whisper me, that it would be too much for the affectionate old man to bear; and the words died in my heart. Good God! I thought, should he know the extent of the EVIL, he might, perhaps, run distracted, such is his extreme attachment to me: he might fall at my feet, or even expire before my eyes. No! I could not tell him the truth, nor so much as prepare him for it; we shed not a tear, and he took his departure in the same pleasing delusion as before. On returning into my dungeon I was seized in the same manner, and with still more aggravated suffering, as I had been after the last interview; and, as then, my anguish found no relief from tears.

I had nothing now to do but resign myself to all the horrors of long captivity, and to the sentence of death. But to prepare myself to bear the idea of the immense load of grief that must fall on every dear member of my family, on learning my lot, was beyond my power. It haunted me like a spirit, and to fly from it I threw myself on my knees, and in a passion of devotion uttered aloud the following prayer:- “My God! from thy hand I will accept all–for me all: but deign most wonderfully to strengthen the hearts of those to whom I was so very dear! Grant thou that I may cease to be such to them now; and that not the life of the least of them may be shortened by their care for me, even by a single day!”

Strange! wonderful power of prayer! for several hours my mind was raised to a contemplation of the Deity, and my confidence in His goodness proportionately increased; I meditated also on the dignity of the human mind when, freed from selfishness, it exerts itself to will only that which is the will of eternal wisdom. This can be done, and it is man’s duty to do it. Reason, which is the voice of the Deity, teaches us that it is right to submit to every sacrifice for the sake of virtue. And how could the sacrifice which we owe to virtue be completed, if in the most trying afflictions we struggle against the will of Him who is the source of all virtue? When death on the scaffold, or any other species of martyrdom becomes inevitable, it is a proof of wretched degradation, or ignorance, not to be able to approach it with blessing upon our lips. Nor is it only necessary we should submit to death, but to the affliction which we know those most dear to us must suffer on our account. All it is lawful for us to ask is, that God will temper such affliction, and that he will direct us all, for such a prayer is always sure to be accepted.


For a period of some days I continued in the same state of mind; a sort of calm sorrow, full of peace, affection, and religious thoughts. I seemed to have overcome every weakness, and as if I were no longer capable of suffering new anxiety. Fond delusion! it is man’s duty to aim at reaching as near to perfection as possible, though he can never attain it here. What now disturbed me was the sight of an unhappy friend, my good Piero, who passed along the gallery within a few yards of me, while I stood at my window. They were removing him from his cell into the prison destined for criminals. He was hurried by so swiftly that I had barely time to recognise him, and to receive and return his salutation.

Poor young man! in the flower of his age, with a genius of high promise, of frank, upright, and most affectionate disposition, born with a keen zest of the pleasures of existence, to be at once precipitated into a dungeon, without the remotest hope of escaping the severest penalty of the laws. So great was my compassion for him, and my regret at being unable to afford him the slightest consolation, that it was long before I could recover my composure of mind. I knew how tenderly he was attached to every member of his numerous family, how deeply interested in promoting their happiness, and how devotedly his affection was returned. I was sensible what must be the affliction of each and all under so heavy a calamity. Strange, that though I had just reconciled myself to the idea in my own case, a sort of phrensy seized my mind when I depicted the scene; and it continued so long that I began to despair of mastering it.

Dreadful as this was, it was still but an illusion. Ye afflicted ones, who believe yourselves victims of some irresistible, heart- rending, and increasing grief, suffer a little while with patience, and you will be undeceived. Neither perfect peace, nor utter wretchedness can be of long continuance here below. Recollect this truth, that you may not become unduly elevated in prosperity, and despicable under the trials which assuredly await you. A sense of weariness and apathy succeeded the terrible excitement I had undergone. But indifference itself is transitory, and I had some fear lest I should continue to suffer without relief under these wretched extremes of feeling. Terrified at the prospect of such a future, I had recourse once more to the only Being from whom I could hope to receive strength to bear it, and devoutly bent down in prayer. I beseeched the Father of mercies to befriend my poor deserted Piero, even as myself, and to support his family no less than my own. By constant repetition of prayers like these, I became perfectly calm and resigned.


It was then I reflected upon my previous violence; I was angry at my own weakness and folly, and sought means of remedying them. I had recourse to the following expedient. Every morning, after I had finished my devotions, I set myself diligently to work to recall to mind every possible occurrence of a trying and painful kind, such as a final parting from my dearest friends and the approach of the executioner. I did this not only in order to inure my nerves to bear sudden or dreadful incidents, too surely my future portion, but that I might not again be taken unawares. At first this melancholy task was insupportable, but I persevered; and in a short time became reconciled to it.

In the spring of 1821 Count Luigi Porro {5} obtained permission to see me. Our warm friendship, the eagerness to communicate our mutual feelings, and the restraint imposed by the presence of an imperial secretary, with the brief time allowed us, the presentiments I indulged, and our efforts to appear calm, all led me to expect that I should be thrown into a state of fearful excitement, worse than I had yet suffered. It was not so; after taking his leave I remained calm; such to me proved the signal efficacy of guarding against the assault of sudden and violent emotions. The task I set myself to acquire, constant calmness of mind, arose less from a desire to relieve my unhappiness than from a persuasion how undignified, unworthy, and injurious, was a temper opposite to this, I mean a continued state of excitement and anxiety. An excited mind ceases to reason; carried away by a resistless torrent of wild ideas, it forms for itself a sort of mad logic, full of anger and malignity; it is in a state at once as absolutely unphilosophical as it is unchristian.

If I were a divine I should often insist upon the necessity of correcting irritability and inquietude of character; none can be truly good without that be effected. How nobly pacific, both with regard to himself and others, was He whom we are all bound to imitate. There is no elevation of mind, no justice without moderation in principles and ideas, without a pervading spirit which inclines us rather to smile at, than fall into a passion with, the events of this little life. Anger is never productive of any good, except in the extremely rare case of being employed to humble the wicked, and to terrify them from pursuing the path of crime, even as the usurers were driven by an angry Saviour, from polluting his holy Temple. Violence and excitement, perhaps, differing altogether from what I felt, are no less blamable. Mine was the mania of despair and affliction: I felt a disposition, while suffering under its horrors, to hate and to curse mankind. Several individuals, in particular, appeared to my imagination depicted in the most revolting colours. It is a sort of moral epidemic, I believe, springing from vanity and selfishness; for when a man despises and detests his fellow-creatures, he necessarily assumes that he is much better than the rest of the world. The doctrine of such men amounts to this:- “Let us admire only one another, if we turn the rest of mankind into a mere mob, we shall appear like demi-gods on earth.” It is a curious fact that living in a state of hostility and rage actually affords pleasure; it seems as if people thought there was a species of heroism in it. If, unfortunately, the object of our wrath happens to die, we lose no time in finding some one to fill the vacant place. Whom shall I attack next, whom shall I hate? Ah! is that the villain I was looking out for? What a prize! Now my friends, at him, give him no quarter. Such is the world, and, without uttering a libel, I may add that it is not what it ought to be.


It showed no great malignity, however, to complain of the horrible place in which they had incarcerated me, but fortunately another room became vacant, and I was agreeably surprised on being informed that I was to have it. Yet strangely enough, I reflected with regret that I was about to leave the vicinity of Maddalene. Instead of feeling rejoiced, I mourned over it with almost childish feeling. I had always attached myself to some object, even from motives comparatively slight. On leaving my horrible abode, I cast back a glance at the heavy wall against which I had so often supported myself, while listening as closely as possible to the gentle voice of the repentant girl. I felt a desire to hear, if only for the last time, those two pathetic lines, –

Chi rende alla meschina
La sua felicita?

Vain hope! here was another separation in the short period of my unfortunate life. But I will not go into any further details, lest the world should laugh at me, though it would be hypocrisy in me to affect to conceal that, for several days after, I felt melancholy at this imaginary parting.

While going out of my dungeon I also made a farewell signal to two of the robbers, who had been my neighbours, and who were then standing at their window. Their chief also got notice of my departure, ran to the window, and repeatedly saluted me. He began likewise to sing the little air, Chi rende alla meschina; and was this, thought I, merely to ridicule me? No doubt that forty out of fifty would say decidedly, “It was!” In spite, however, of being outvoted, I incline to the opinion that the GOOD ROBBER meant it kindly; and, as such I received it, and gave him a look of thanks. He saw it, and thrust his arm through the bars, and waved his cap, nodding kindly to me as I turned to go down the stairs.

Upon reaching the yard below, I was further consoled by a sight of the little deaf and dumb boy. He saw me, and instantly ran towards me with a look of unfeigned delight. The wife of the jailer, however, Heaven knows why, caught hold of the little fellow, and rudely thrusting him back, drove him into the house. I was really vexed; and yet the resolute little efforts he made even then to reach me, gave me indescribable pleasure at the moment, so pleasing it is to find that one is really loved. This was a day full of great adventures for ME; a few steps further I passed the window of my old prison, now the abode of Gioja: “How are you, Melchiorre?” I exclaimed as I went by. He raised his head, and getting as near me as it was POSSIBLE, cried out, “How do you do, Silvio?” They would not let me stop a single moment; I passed through the great gate, ascended a flight of stairs, which brought us to a large, well-swept room, exactly over that occupied by Gioja. My bed was brought after me, and I was then left to myself by my conductors. My first object was to examine the walls; I met with several inscriptions, some written with charcoal, others in pencil, and a few incised with some sharp point. I remember there were some very pleasing verses in French, and I am sorry I forgot to commit them to mind. They were signed “The duke of Normandy.” I tried to sing them, adapting to them, as well as I could, the favourite air of my poor Maddalene. What was my surprise to hear a voice, close to me, reply in the same words, sung to another air. When he had finished, I cried out, “Bravo!” and he saluted me with great respect, inquiring if I were a Frenchman.

“No; an Italian, and my name is Silvio Pellico.”

“The author of Francesca da Rimini?” {6}

“The same.”

Here he made me a fine compliment, following it with the condolences usual on such occasions, upon hearing I had been committed to prison. He then inquired of what part of Italy I was a native. “Piedmont,” was the reply; “I am from Saluzzo.” Here I was treated to another compliment, on the character and genius of the Piedmontese, in particular, the celebrated men of Saluzzo, at the head of whom he ranked Bodoni. {7} All this was said in an easy refined tone, which showed the man of the world, and one who had received a good education.

“Now, may I be permitted,” said I, “to inquire who you are, sir?”

“I heard you singing one of my little songs,” was the reply.

“What! the two beautiful stanzas upon the wall are yours!”

“They are, sir.”

“You are, therefore,–“

“The unfortunate duke of Normandy.”


The jailer at that moment passed under our windows, and ordered us to be silent.

What can he mean by the unfortunate duke of Normandy? thought I, musing to myself. Ah! is not that the title said to be assumed by the son of Louis XVI.? but that unhappy child is indisputably no more. Then my neighbour must be one of those unlucky adventurers who have undertaken to bring him to life again. Not a few had already taken upon themselves to personate this Louis XVII., and were proved to be impostors; how is my new acquaintance entitled to greater credit for his pains?

Although I tried to give him the advantage of a doubt, I felt an insurmountable incredulity upon the subject, which was not subsequently removed. At the same time, I determined not to mortify the unhappy man, whatever sort of absurdity he might please to hazard before my face.

A few minutes afterwards he began again to sing, and we soon renewed our conversation. In answer to my inquiry, “What is your real name?” he replied, “I am no other than Louis XVII.” And he then launched into very severe invectives against his uncle, Louis XVIII., the usurper of his just and natural rights.

“But why,” said I, “did you not prefer your claims at the period of the restoration?”

“I was unable, from extreme illness, to quit the city of Bologna. The moment I was better I hastened to Paris; I presented myself to the allied monarchs, but the work was done. The good Prince of Conde knew, and received me with open arms, but his friendship availed me not. One evening, passing through a lonely street, I was suddenly attacked by assassins, and escaped with difficulty. After wandering through Normandy, I returned into Italy, and stopped some time at Modena. Thence I wrote to the allied powers, in particular to the Emperor Alexander, who replied to my letter with expressions of the greatest kindness. I did not then despair of obtaining justice, or, at all events, if my rights were to be sacrificed, of being allowed a decent provision, becoming a prince. But I was arrested, and handed over to the Austrian government. During eight months I have been here buried alive, and God knows when I shall regain my freedom.”

I begged him to give me a brief sketch of his life. He told me very minutely what I already knew relating to Louis XVII. and the cruel Simon, and of the infamous calumnies that wretch was induced to utter respecting the unfortunate queen, &c. Finally he said, that while in prison, some persons came with an idiot boy of the name of Mathurin, who was substituted for him, while he himself was carried off. A coach and four was in readiness; one of the horses was merely a wooden-machine, in the interior of which he was concealed. Fortunately, they reached the confines, and the General (he gave me the name, which has escaped me) who effected his release, educated him for some time with the attention of a father, and subsequently sent, or accompanied him, to America. There the young king, without a sceptre, had room to indulge his wandering disposition; he was half famished in the forests; became at length a soldier, and resided some time, in good credit, at the court of the Brazils. There, too, he was pursued and persecuted, till compelled to make his escape. He returned to Europe towards the close of Napoleon’s career, was kept a close prisoner at Naples by Murat; and, at last, when he was liberated, and in full preparation to reclaim the throne of France, he was seized with that unlucky illness at Bologna, during which Louis XVIII. was permitted to assume his nephew’s crown.


All this he related with an air of remarkable frankness and truth. Although not justified in believing him, I nevertheless was astonished at his knowledge of the most minute facts connected with the revolution. He spoke with much natural fluency, and his conversation abounded with a variety of curious anecdotes. There was something also of the soldier in his expression, without showing any want of that sort of elegance resulting from an intercourse with the best society.

“Will it be permitted me,” I inquired, “to converse with you on equal terms, without making use of any titles?”

“That is what I myself wish you to do,” was the reply. “I have at least reaped one advantage from adversity; I have learnt to smile at all these vanities. I assure you that I value myself more upon being a man, than having been born a prince.”

We were in the habit of conversing together both night and morning, for a considerable time; and, in spite of what I considered the comic part of his character, he appeared to be of a good disposition, frank, affable, and interested in the virtue and happiness of mankind. More than once I was on the point of saying, “Pardon me; I wish I could believe you were Louis XVII., but I frankly confess I cannot prevail on myself to believe it; be equally sincere, I entreat you, and renounce this singular fiction of yours.” I had even prepared to introduce the subject with an edifying discourse upon the vanity of all imposture, even of such untruths as may appear in themselves harmless.

I put off my purpose from day to day; I partly expected that we should grow still more friendly and confidential, but I had never the heart really to try the experiment upon his feelings. When I reflect upon this want of resolution, I sometimes attempt to reconcile myself to it on the ground of proper urbanity, unwillingness to give offence, and other reasons of the kind. Still these excuses are far from satisfying me; I cannot disguise that I ought not to have permitted my dislike to preaching him a sermon to stand in the way of speaking my real sentiments. To affect to give credit to imposture of any kind is miserable weakness, such as I think I should not, even in similar circumstances, exhibit again. At the same time, it must be confessed that, preface it as you will, it is a harsh thing to say to any one, “I don’t believe you!” He will naturally resent it; it would deprive us of his friendship or regard: nay it would, perhaps, make him hate us. Yet it is better to run every risk than to sanction an untruth. Possibly, the man capable of it, upon finding that his imposture is known, will himself admire our sincerity, and afterwards be induced to reflect in a manner that may produce the best results.

The under-jailers were unanimously of opinion that he was really Louis XVII., and having already seen so many strange changes of fortune, they were not without hopes that he would some day ascend the throne of France, and remember the good treatment and attentions he had met with. With the exception of assisting in his escape, they made it their object to comply with all his wishes. It was by such means I had the honour of forming an acquaintance with this grand personage. He was of the middle height, between forty and forty-five years of age, rather inclined to corpulency, and had features strikingly like those of the Bourbons. It is very probable that this accidental resemblance may have led him to assume the character he did, and play so melancholy a part in it.


There is one other instance of unworthy deference to private opinion, of which I must accuse myself. My neighbour was not an Atheist, he rather liked to converse on religious topics, as if he justly appreciated the importance of the subject, and was no stranger to its discussion. Still, he indulged a number of unreasonable prejudices against Christianity, which he regarded less in its real nature than its abuses. The superficial philosophy which preceded the French revolution had dazzled him. He had formed an idea that religious worship might be offered up with greater purity than as it had been dictated by the religion of the Evangelists. Without any intimate acquaintance with the writings of Condillac and Tracy, he venerated them as the most profound thinkers, and really thought that the last had carried the branch of metaphysics to the highest degree of perfection.

I may fairly say that MY philosophical studies had been better directed; I was aware of the weakness of the experimental doctrine, and I knew the gross and shameless errors in point of criticism, which influenced the age of Voltaire in libelling Christianity. I had also read Guenee, and other able exposers of such false criticism. I felt a conviction that, by no logical reasoning, could the being of a God be granted, and the Bible rejected, and I conceived it a vulgar degradation to fall in with the stream of antichristian opinions, and to want elevation of intellect to apprehend how the doctrine of Catholicism in its true character, is religiously simple and ennobling. Yet I had the meanness to bow to human opinion out of deference and respect. The wit and sarcasms of my neighbour seemed to confound me, while I could not disguise from myself that they were idle and empty as the air. I dissimulated, I hesitated to announce my own belief, reflecting how far it were seasonable thus to contradict my companion, and persuading myself that it would be useless, and that I was perfectly justified in remaining silent. What vile pusillanimity! why thus respect the presumptuous power of popular errors and opinions, resting upon no foundation. True it is that an ill-timed zeal is always indiscreet, and calculated to irritate rather than convert; but to avow with frankness and modesty what we regard as an important truth, to do it even when we have reason to conclude it will not be palatable, and to meet willingly any ridicule or sarcasm which may be launched against it; this I maintain to be an actual duty. A noble avowal of this kind, moreover, may always be made, without pretending to assume, uncalled for, anything of the missionary character.

It is, I repeat, a duty, not to keep back an important truth at any period; for though there may be little hope of it being immediately acknowledged; it may tend to prepare the minds of others, and in due time, doubtless, produce a better and more impartial judgment, and a consequent triumph of truth.


I continued in the same apartment during a month and some days. On the night of February the 18th, 1821, I was roused from sleep by a loud noise of chains and keys; several men entered with a lantern, and the first idea that struck me was, that they were come to cut my throat. While gazing at them in strange perplexity, one of the figures advanced towards me with a polite air; it was Count B- , {8} who requested I would dress myself as speedily as possible to set out.

I was surprised at this announcement, and even indulged a hope that they were sent to conduct me to the confines of Piedmont. Was it likely the storm which hung over me would thus early be dispersed? should I again enjoy that liberty so dearly prized, be restored to my beloved parents, and see my brothers and sisters?

I was allowed short time to indulge these flattering hopes. The moment I had thrown on my clothes, I followed my conductors without having an opportunity of bidding farewell to my royal neighbour. Yet I thought I heard him call my name, and regretted it was out of my power to stop and reply. “Where are we going?” I inquired of the Count, as we got into a coach, attended by an officer of the guard. “I cannot inform you till we shall be a mile on the other side the city of Milan.” I was aware the coach was not going in the direction of the Vercelline gate; and my hopes suddenly vanished. I was silent; it was a beautiful moonlight night; I beheld the same well-known paths I had traversed for pleasure so many years before. The houses, the churches, and every object renewed a thousand pleasing recollections. I saw the Corsia of Porta Orientale, I saw the public gardens, where I had so often rambled with Foscolo, {9} Monti, {10} Lodovico di Breme, {11} Pietro Borsieri, {12} Count Porro, and his sons, with many other delightful companions, conversing in all the glow of life and hope. How I felt my friendship for these noble men revive with double force when I thought of having parted from them for the last time, disappearing as they had done, one by one, so rapidly from my view. When we had gone a little way beyond the gate, I pulled my hat over my eyes, and indulged these sad retrospections unobserved.

After having gone about a mile, I addressed myself to Count B-. “I presume we are on the road to Verona.” “Yes, further,” was the reply; “we are for Venice, where it is my duty to hand you over to a special commission there appointed.”

We travelled post, stopped nowhere, and on the 20th of February arrived at my destination. The September of the year preceding, just one month previous to my arrest, I had been at Venice, and had met a large and delightful party at dinner, in the Hotel della Luna. Strangely enough, I was now conducted by the Count and the officer to the very inn where we had spent that evening in social mirth.

One of the waiters started on seeing me, perceiving that, though my conductors had assumed the dress of domestics, I was no other than a prisoner in their hands. I was gratified at this recognition, being persuaded that the man would mention my arrival there to more than one.

We dined, and I was then conducted to the palace of the Doge, where the tribunals are now held. I passed under the well-known porticoes of the Procuratie, and by the Florian Hotel, where I had enjoyed so many pleasant evenings the last autumn; but I did not happen to meet a single acquaintance. We went across the piazzetta, and there it struck me that the September before, I had met a poor mendicant, who addressed me in these singular words:-

“I see, sir, you are a stranger, but I cannot make out why you, sir, and all other strangers, should so much admire this place. To me it is a place of misfortune, and I never pass it when I can avoid it.”

“What, did you here meet with some disaster?”

“I did, sir; a horrible one, sir; and not only I. God protect you from it, God protect you!” And he took himself off in haste.

At this moment it was impossible for me to forget the words of the poor beggarman. He was present there, too, the next year, when I ascended the scaffold, whence I heard read to me the sentence of death, and that it had been commuted for fifteen years hard imprisonment. Assuredly, if I had been inclined ever so little to superstition, I should have thought much of the mendicant, predicting to me with so much energy, as he did, and insisting that this was a place of misfortune. As it is, I have merely noted it down for a curious incident. We ascended the palace; Count B- spoke to the judges, then, handing me over to the jailer, after embracing me with much emotion, he bade me farewell.


I followed the jailer in silence. After turning through a number of passages, and several large rooms, we arrived at a small staircase, which brought us under the Piombi, those notorious state prisons, dating from the time of the Venetian republic.

There the jailer first registered my name, and then locked me up in the room appointed for me. The chambers called I Piombi consist of the upper portion of the Doge’s palace, and are covered throughout with lead.

My room had a large window with enormous bars, and commanded a view of the roof (also of lead), and the church, of St. Mark. Beyond the church I could discern the end of the Piazza in the distance, with an immense number of cupolas and belfries on all sides. St. Mark’s gigantic Campanile was separated from me only by the length of the church, and I could hear persons speaking from the top of it when they talked at all loud. To the left of the church was to be seen a portion of the grand court of the palace, and one of the chief entrances. There is a public well in that part of the court, and people were continually in the habit of going thither to draw water. From the lofty site of my prison they appeared to me about the size of little children, and I could not at all hear their conversation, except when they called out very loud. Indeed, I found myself much more solitary than I had been in the Milanese prisons.

During several days the anxiety I suffered from the criminal trial appointed by the special commission, made me rather melancholy, and it was increased, doubtless, by that painful feeling of deeper solitude.

I was here, moreover, further removed from my family, of whom I heard no more. The new faces that appeared wore a gloom at once strange and appalling. Report had greatly exaggerated the struggle of the Milanese and the rest of Italy to recover their independence; it was doubted if I were not one of the most desperate promoters of that mad enterprise. I found that my name, as a writer, was not wholly unknown to my jailer, to his wife, and even his daughter, besides two sons, and the under-jailers, all of whom, by their manner, seemed to have an idea that a writer of tragedies was little better than a kind of magician. They looked grave and distant, yet as if eager to learn more of me, had they dared to waive the ceremony of their iron office.

In a few days I grew accustomed to their looks, or rather, I think, they found I was not so great a necromancer as to escape through the lead roofs, and, consequently, assumed a more conciliating demeanour. The wife had most of the character that marks the true jailer; she was dry and hard, all bone, without a particle of heart, about forty, and incapable of feeling, except it were a savage sort of instinct for her offspring. She used to bring me my coffee, morning and afternoon, and my water at dinner. She was generally accompanied by her daughter, a girl of about fifteen, not very pretty, but with mild, compassionating looks, and her two sons, from ten to thirteen years of age. They always went back with their mother, but there was a gentle look and a smile of love for me upon their young faces as she closed the door, my only company when they were gone. The jailer never came near me, except to conduct me before the special commission, that terrible ordeal for what are termed crimes of state.

The under-jailers, occupied with the prisons of the police, situated on a lower floor, where there were numbers of robbers, seldom came near me. One of these assistants was an old man, more than seventy, but still able to discharge his laborious duties, and to run up and down the steps to the different prisons; another was a young man about twenty-five, more bent upon giving an account of his love affairs than eager to devote himself to his office.


I had now to confront the terrors of a state trial. What was my dread of implicating others by my answers! What difficulty to contend against so many strange accusations, so many suspicions of all kinds! How impossible, almost, not to become implicated by these incessant examinations, by daily new arrests, and the imprudence of other parties, perhaps not known to you, yet belonging to the same movement! I have decided not to speak on politics; and I must suppress every detail connected with the state trials. I shall merely observe that, after being subjected for successive hours to the harassing process, I retired in a frame of mind so excited, and so enraged, that I should assuredly have taken my own life, had not the voice of religion, and the recollection of my parents restrained my hand. I lost the tranquillity of mind I had acquired at Milan; during many days, I despaired of regaining it, and I cannot even allude to this interval without feelings of horror. It was vain to attempt it, I could not pray; I questioned the justice of God; I cursed mankind, and all the world, revolving in my mind all the possible sophisms and satires I could think of, respecting the hollowness and vanity of virtue. The disappointed and the exasperated are always ingenious in finding accusations against their fellow-creatures, and even the Creator himself. Anger is of a more universal and injurious tendency than is generally supposed. As we cannot rage and storm from morning till night, and as the most ferocious animal has necessarily its intervals of repose, these intervals in man are greatly influenced by the immoral character of the conduct which may have preceded them. He appears to be at peace, indeed, but it is an irreligious, malignant peace; a savage sardonic smile, destitute of all charity or dignity; a love of confusion, intoxication, and sarcasm.

In this state I was accustomed to sing–anything but hymns–with a kind of mad, ferocious joy. I spoke to all who approached my dungeon, jeering and bitter things; and I tried to look upon the whole creation through the medium of that commonplace wisdom, the wisdom of the cynics. This degrading period, on which I hate to reflect, lasted happily only for six or seven days, during which my Bible had become covered with dust. One of the jailer’s boys, thinking to please me, as he cast his eye upon it, observed, “Since you left off reading that great, ugly book, you don’t seem half so melancholy, sir.” “Do you think so?” said I. Taking the Bible in my hands, I wiped off the dust, and opening it hastily, my eyes fell upon the following words: –“And he said unto his disciples, it must needs be that offences come; but woe unto him by whom they come; for better had it been for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

I was affected upon reading this passage, and I felt ashamed when I thought that this little boy had perceived, from the dust with which it was covered, that I no longer read my Bible, and had even supposed that I had acquired a better temper by want of attention to my religious duties, and become less wretched by forgetting my God. “You little graceless fellow,” I exclaimed, though reproaching him in a gentle tone, and grieved at having afforded him a subject of scandal; “this is not a great, ugly book, and for the few days that I have left off reading it, I find myself much worse. If your mother would let you stay with me a little while, you would see that I know how to get rid of my ill-humour. If you knew how hard it was to be in good humour, when left so long alone, and when you hear me singing and talking like a madman, you would not call this a great ugly book.”


The boy left me, and I felt a sort of pleasure at having taken the Bible again in my hands, more especially at having owned I had been worse for having neglected it. It seemed as if I had made atonement to a generous friend whom I had unjustly offended, but had now become reconciled to. Yes! I had even forgotten my God! I exclaimed, and perverted my better nature. Could I have been led to believe that the vile mockery of the cynic was applicable to one in my forlorn and desperate situation?

I felt an indescribable emotion on asking myself this question; I placed the Bible upon a chair, and, falling on my knees, I burst into tears of remorse: I who ever found it so difficult to shed even a tear. These tears were far more delightful to me than any physical enjoyment I had ever felt. I felt I was restored to God, I loved him, I repented of having outraged religion by degrading myself; and I made a vow never, never more to forget, to separate myself from, my God.

How truly a sincere return to faith, and love, and hope, consoles and elevates the mind. I read and continued to weep for upwards of an hour. I rose with renewed confidence that God had not abandoned me, but had forgiven my every fault and folly. It was then that my misfortunes, the horrors of my continued examinations, and the probable death which awaited me, appeared of little account. I rejoiced in suffering, since I was thus afforded an occasion to perform some duty, and that, by submitting with a resigned mind, I was obeying my Divine Master. I was enabled, thanks be to Heaven, to read my Bible. I no longer estimated it by the wretched, critical subterfuges of a Voltaire, heaping ridicule upon mere expressions, in themselves neither false nor ridiculous, except to gross ignorance or malice, which cannot penetrate their meaning. I became clearly convinced how indisputably it was the code of sanctity, and hence of truth itself; how really unphilosophical it was to take offence at a few little imperfections of style, not less absurd than the vanity of one who despises everything that wears not the gloss of elegant forms; what still greater absurdity to imagine that such a collection of books, so long held in religious veneration, should not possess an authentic origin, boasting, as they do, such a vast superiority over the Koran, and the old theology of the Indies.

Many, doubtless, abused its excellence, many wished to turn it into a code of injustice, and a sanction of all their bad passions. But the triumphant answer to these is, that every thing is liable to abuse; and when did the abuse of the most precious and best of things lead us to the conclusion that they were in their own nature bad? Our Saviour himself declared it; the whole law and the Prophets, the entire body of these sacred books, all inculcate the same precept to love God and mankind. And must not such writings embrace the truth–truth adapted to all times and ages? must they not ever constitute the living word of the Holy Spirit?

Whilst I made these reflections, I renewed my intention of identifying with religion all my thoughts concerning human affairs, all my opinions upon the progress of civilisation, my philanthropy, love of my country, in short, all the passions of my mind.

The few days in which I remained subjected to the cynic doctrine, did me a deal of harm. I long felt its effects, and had great difficulty to remove them. Whenever man yields in the least to the temptation of undignifying his intellect, to view the works of God through the infernal medium of scorn, to abandon the beneficent exercise of prayer, the injury which he inflicts upon his natural reason prepares him to fall again with but little struggle. For a period of several weeks I was almost daily assaulted with strong, bitter tendencies to doubt and disbelief; and it called for the whole power of my mind to free myself from their grasp.


When these mental struggles had ceased, and I had again become habituated to reverence the Deity in all my thoughts and feelings, I for some time enjoyed the most unbroken serenity and peace. The examinations to which I was every two or three days subjected by the special commission, however tormenting, produced no lasting anxiety, as before. I succeeded in this arduous position, in discharging all which integrity and friendship required of me, and left the rest to the will of God. I now, too, resumed my utmost efforts to guard against the effects of any sudden surprise, every emotion and passion, and every imaginable misfortune; a kind of preparation for future trials of the greatest utility.

My solitude, meantime, grew more oppressive. Two sons of the jailer, whom I had been in the habit of seeing at brief intervals, were sent to school, and I saw them no more. The mother and the sister, who had been accustomed, along with them, to speak to me, never came near me, except to bring my coffee. About the mother I cared very little; but the daughter, though rather plain, had something so pleasing and gentle, both in her words and looks, that I greatly felt the loss of them. Whenever she brought the coffee, and said, “It was I who made it,” I always thought it excellent: but when she observed, “This is my mother’s making,” it lost all its relish.

Being almost deprived of human society, I one day made acquaintance with some ants upon my window; I fed them; they went away, and ere long the placed was thronged with these little insects, as if come by invitation. A spider, too, had weaved a noble edifice upon my walls, and I often gave him a feast of gnats or flies, which were extremely annoying to me, and which he liked much better than I did. I got quite accustomed to the sight of him; he would run over my bed, and come and take the precious morsels out of my hand. Would to heaven these had been the only insects which visited my abode. It was still summer, and the gnats had begun to multiply to a prodigious and alarming extent. The previous winter had been remarkably mild, and after the prevalence of the March winds followed extreme heat. It is impossible to convey an idea of the insufferable oppression of the air in the place I occupied. Opposed directly to a noontide sun, under a leaden roof, and with a window looking on the roof of St. Mark, casting a tremendous reflection of the heat, I was nearly suffocated. I had never conceived an idea of a punishment so intolerable: add to which the clouds of gnats, which, spite of my utmost efforts, covered every article of furniture in the room, till even the walls and ceiling seemed alive with them; and I had some apprehension of being devoured alive. Their bites, moreover, were extremely painful, and when thus punctured from morning till night, only to undergo the same operation from day to day, and engaged the whole time in killing and slaying, some idea may be formed of the state both of my body and my mind.

I felt the full force of such a scourge, yet was unable to obtain a change of dungeon, till at length I was tempted to rid myself of my life, and had strong fears of running distracted. But, thanks be to God, these thoughts were not of long duration, and religion continued to sustain me. It taught me that man was born to suffer, and to suffer with courage: it taught me to experience a sort of pleasure in my troubles, to resist and to vanquish in the battle appointed me by Heaven. The more unhappy, I said to myself, my life may become, the less will I yield to my fate, even though I should be condemned in the morning of my life to the scaffold. Perhaps, without these preliminary and chastening trials, I might have met death in an unworthy manner. Do I know, moreover, that I possess those virtues and qualities which deserve prosperity; where and what are they? Then, seriously examining into my past conduct, I found too little good on which to pride myself; the chief part was a tissue of vanity, idolatry, and the mere exterior of virtue. Unworthy, therefore, as I am, let me suffer! If it be intended that men and gnats should destroy me, unjustly or otherwise, acknowledge in them the instruments of a divine justice, and be silent.


Does man stand in need of compulsion before he can be brought to humble himself with sincerity? to look upon himself as a sinner? Is it not too true that we in general dissipate our youth in vanity, and, instead of employing all our faculties in the acquisition of what is good, make them the instruments of our degradation? There are, doubtless, exceptions, but I confess they cannot apply to a wretched individual like myself. There is no merit in thus being dissatisfied with myself; when we see a lamp which emits more smoke than flame, it requires no great sincerity to say that it does not burn as it ought to do.

Yes, without any degradation, without any scruples of hypocrisy, and viewing myself with perfect tranquillity of mind, I perceived that I had merited the chastisement of my God. An internal monitor told me that such chastisements were, for one fault or other, amply merited; they assisted in winning me back to Him who is perfect, and whom every human being, as far as their limited powers will admit, are bound to imitate. By what right, while constrained to condemn myself for innumerable offences and forgetfulness towards God, could I complain, because some men appeared to me despicable, and others wicked? What if I were deprived of all worldly advantages, and was doomed to linger in prison, or to die a violent death? I sought to impress upon my mind reflections like these, at once just and applicable; and this done, I found it was necessary to be consistent, and that it could be effected in no other manner than by sanctifying the upright judgments of the Almighty, by loving them, and eradicating every wish at all opposed to them. The better to persevere in my intention, I determined, in future, carefully to revolve in my mind all my opinions, by committing them to writing. The difficulty was that the Commission, while permitting me to have the use of ink and paper, counted out the leaves, with an express prohibition that I should not destroy a single one, and reserving the power of examining in what manner I had employed them. To supply the want of paper, I had recourse to the simple stratagem of smoothing with a piece of glass a rude table which I had, and upon this I daily wrote my long meditations respecting the duties of mankind, and especially of those which applied to myself. It is no exaggeration to say that the hours so employed were sometimes delightful to me, notwithstanding the difficulty of breathing I experienced from the excessive heat, to say nothing of the bitterly painful wounds, small though they were, of those poisonous gnats. To defend myself from the countless numbers of these tormentors, I was compelled, in the midst of suffocation, to wrap my head and my legs in thick cloth, and not only write with gloves on, but to bandage my wrist to prevent the intruders creeping up my sleeves.

Meditations like mine assumed somewhat of a biographical character. I made out an account of all the good and the evil which had grown up with me from my earliest youth, discussing them within myself, attempting to resolve every doubt, and arranging, to the best of my power, the various kinds of knowledge I had acquired, and my ideas upon every subject. When the whole surface of the table was covered with my lucubrations, I perused and re-perused them, meditated on what I had already meditated, and, at length, resolved (however unwillingly) to scratch out all I had done with the glass, in order to have a clean superficies upon which to recommence my operations.

From that time I continued the narrative of my experience of good and evil, always relieved by digressions of every kind, by some analysis of this or that point, whether in metaphysics, morals, politics, or religion; and when the whole was complete, I again began to read, and re-read, and lastly, to scratch out. Being anxious to avoid every chance of interruption, or of impediment, to my repeating with the greatest possible freedom the facts I had recorded, and my opinions upon them, I took care to transpose and abbreviate the words in such a manner as to run no risk from the most inquisitorial visit. No search, however, was made, and no one was aware that I was spending my miserable prison-hours to so good a purpose. Whenever I heard the jailer or other person open the door I covered my little table with a cloth, and placed upon it the ink- stand, with the LAWFUL quantity of state paper by its side.


Still I did not wholly neglect the paper put into my hands, and sometimes even devoted an entire day or night to writing. But here I only treated of literary matters. I composed at that time the Ester d’Engaddi, the Iginia d’Asti, and the Cantichi, entitled,