Letter XXXII.

From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston


Progress of the Tragedy.—Pius IX. disavows Liberalism.—Oudinot, and the Roman Authorities.—Shame of France.—Devastation of the City.—Courage of the People.—Bombs Extinguished.—A Crisis approaching.

Rome, June 21, 1849.

  It is now two weeks since the first attack of Oudinot, and as yet we hear nothing decisive from Paris. I know not yet what news may have come last night, but by the morning’s mail we did not even receive notice that Lesseps was arrived in Paris.

  Whether Lesseps was consciously the servant of all these base intrigues, time will show. His conduct was boyish and foolish, if it was not treacherous. The only object seemed to be to create panic, to agitate, to take possession of Rome somehow, though what to do with it, if they could get it, the French government would hardly know.

  Pius IX., in his allocation of the last 29th of April last, has explained himself fully. He has disavowed every liberal act which ever seemed to emanate from him, with the exception of the amnesty. He has shamelessly recalled his refusal to let Austrian blood be shed while Roman flows daily at his request. He has implicitly declared that his future government, could he return, would be absolute despotism,—has dispelled the last lingering illusion of those still anxious to apologize for him as only a prisoner now in the hands of the Cardinals and the king of Naples. The last frail link is broken that bound to him the people of Rome, and could the French restore him, they must frankly avow themselves, abandon entirely and fully the position they took in February, 1848, and declare themselves the allies of Austria and of Russia.

  Meanwhile they persevere in the Jesuitical policy that has already disgraced and is to ruin them. After a week of vain assaults, Oudinot sent to Rome the following letter, which I translate, as well as the answers it elicited.


  Intended for the Roman Constituent Assembly, the Triumvirate, the Generalissimo, and the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard.

  “General,—The events of war have, as you know, conducted the French army to the gates of Rome.

  “Should the entrance into the city remain closed against us, I should see myself constrained to employ immediately all the means of action that France has placed in my hands.

  “Before having recourse to such terrible necessity, I think it my duty to make a last appeal to a people that cannot have toward France sentiments of hostility.

  “The Roman army wishes, no doubt, equally with myself, to spare bloody ruin to the capital of the Christian world.

  “With this conviction, I pray you, Signore General, to give the enclosed proclamation the most speedy publicity. If, twelve hours after this despatch shall have been delivered to you, an answer corresponding to the honor and intentions of France shall not have reached me, I shall be constrained to give the forcible attack.

“Accept &c.

  “Villa Pamfili, 12 June, 1849, 5 P.M.”

  He was in fact at Villa Santucci, much farther out, but could not be content without falsifying his date as well as all his statements.


  “Inhabitants of Rome,—We did not come to bring you war. We came to sustain among you order, with liberty. The intentions of our government have been misunderstood. The labors of the siege have conducted us under your walls. Till now we have wished only occasionally to answer the fire of your batteries. We approach these last moments, when the necessities of war burst out in terrible calamities. Spare them to a city so full of so many glorious memories.

  “If you persist in repelling us, on you alone will fall the responsibility of irreparable disasters.”

  The following are the answers of the various functionaries to whom this letter was sent:—


  “General,—The Roman Constitutional Assembly informs you, in reply to your despatch of yesterday, that, having concluded a Convention from the 31st of May, 1849, with M. de Lesseps, Minister Plenipotentiary of the French Republic, a convention which we confirmed soon after your protest, it must consider that convention obligatory for both parties, and indeed the safeguard of the rights of nations, until it has been ratified or declined by the government of France. Therefore the Assembly must regard as a violation of that convention every hostile act of the French army since the above-named 31st of May, and all others that shall take place before the resolution of your government can be made known, and before the expiration of time agreed upon for the armistice. You demand, General, an answer correspondent to the intentions and power of France. Nothing could be more comfortable to the intentions and power of France than to cease a flagrant violation of the rights of nations.

  “Whatever may be the results of such violation, the people of Rome are not responsible for them. Rome is strong in its right, decided to maintain the conventions which attach it to your nation; only it finds itself constrained by the necessity of self-defense to repel unjust aggressions.

  “Accept &c., for the Assembly,

“The President, GALLETTI.



  “General,—The treaty, of which we await the ratification, assures this tranquil city from every disaster.

  “The National Guard, destined to maintain order, has the duty of seconding the resolutions of the government; willingly and zealously it fulfils this duty, not caring for annoyance and fatigue.

  “The National Guard showed very lately, when it escorted the prisoners back to you, its sympathy for France, but it shows also on every occasion a supreme regard for its own dignity, for the honor of Rome.

  “Every misfortune to the capital of the Catholic world, to the monumental city, must be attributed not to the pacific citizens constrained to defend themselves, but solely to its aggressors.

“Accept &c
General of the National Guard, Representative of the People.”


  “Citizen General,—A fatality leads to conflict between the armies of two republics, whom a better destiny would have invited to combat against their common enemy; for the enemies of the one cannot fail to be also the enemies of the other.

  “We are not deceived, and shall combat by every means in our power whosoever assails out institutions, for only the brave are worthy to stand before the French soldiers.

  “Reflecting that there is a state of life worse than death, if the war you wage should put us in that state, it will be better to close our eyes for ever than to see the interminable oppressions of our country.

“I wish you well and desire fraternity.

  “We have the honor to transmit to you the answer of the Assembly.

  “We never break our promises. We have promised to defend, in execution of orders from the Assembly and people of Rome, the banner of the Republic, the honor of the country, and the sanctity of the capital of the Christian world; this promise we shall maintain.

“Accept, &c.
“The Triumvirs,

  Observe the miserable evasion of this missive of Oudinot: “The fortune of war has conducted us.” What war? He pretended to come as a friend, a protector; is enraged only because, after his deceits at Civita Vecchia, Rome will not trust him within her walls. For this he daily sacrifices hundreds of lives. “The Roman People cannot be hostile to the French?” No, indeed; they were not disposed to be so. They had been stirred to emulation by the example of France. They had warmly hoped in her as their true ally. It required all that Oudinot has done to turn their faith to contempt and aversion.

  Cowardly man! He knows now that he comes upon a city which wished to receive him only as a friend, and he cries, “With my cannon, with my bombs, I will compel you to let me betray you.”

  The conduct of France—infamous enough before—looks tenfold blacker now that, while the so-called Plenipotentiary is absent with the treaty to be ratified, her army daily assails Rome,—assails in vain. After receiving these answers to his letter and proclamation, Oudinot turned all the force of his cannonade to make a breach, and began, what no one, even in these days, has believed possible, the bombardment of Rome.

  Yes! the French, who pretend to be the advanced guard of civilization, are bombarding Rome. They dare take the risk of destroying the richest bequests made to man by the great Past. Nay, they seem to do it in an especially barbarous manner. It was thought they would avoid, as much as possible, the hospitals for the wounded, marked to their view by the black banner, and the places where are the most precious monuments; but several bombs have fallen on the chief hospital, and the Capitol evidently is especially aimed at. They made a breach in the wall, but it was immediately filled up with a barricade, and all the week they have been repulsed in every attempt they made to gain ground, though with considerable loss of life on our side; on theirs it must be great, but how great we cannot know.

  Ponte Molle, the scene of Raphael’s fresco of a battle, in the Vatican, saw again a fierce struggle last Friday. More than fifty were brought wounded into Rome.

  But the wounds and assaults only fire more and more the courage of her defenders. They feel the justice of their cause, and the peculiar iniquity of this aggression. In proportion as there seems little aid to be hoped from man, they seem to claim it from God. The noblest sentiments are heard from every lip, and, thus far, their acts amply correspond.

  On the eve of the bombardment one or two officers went round with a fine band. It played in the piazzas in the Marseillaise and Roman marches; and when the people were thus assembled, they were told of the proclamation, and asked how they felt. Many shouted loudly, Guerra! Viva la Republica Romana! Afterward, bands of young men went round singing the chorus,

“Vogliamo sempre quella,
Vogliamo Liberta.”

(“We want always one thing; we want Liberty.”) Guitars played, and some danced. When the bombs began to come, one of the Trasteverini, those noble images of the old Roman race, redeemed her claim to that descent by seizing one and extinguishing the match. She received a medal and a reward in money. A soldier did the same at Palazza Spada, where is the statue of Pompey, at whose base great Cæsar fell. He was promoted. Immediately the people were seized with emulation; armed with pans of wet clay they ran wherever the bombs fell, to extinguish them. Women collect the balls from the hostile cannon and carry them to ours. As thus very little injury has been done to life, the people cry, “Madonna protects us against the bombs; she wills it not that Rome should be destroyed.”

  Meanwhile many poor people are driven from their homes, and provisions are growing very dear. The heats are now terrible for us, and must be far more so for the French. It is said that a vast number are ill of fever; indeed it cannot be otherwise. Oudinot himself has it, and perhaps this is one explanation of the mixture of violence and weakness in his actions.

  He must be deeply ashamed at the poor result to his bad acts,—that at the end of two weeks and so much bravado, he has done nothing to Rome, unless intercept provisions, kill some of her brave youth, and injure churches which should be sacred to him as to us. St. Maria Trastevere, that ancient church, so full of precious remains, and which had an air of mild repose more beautiful than almost any other, is said to have suffered particularly.

  As to the men who die, I share the impassioned sorrow of the Triumvirs. “O Frenchmen!” they wrote, “could you know what men you destroy! They are no mercenaries, like those who fill your ranks, but the flower of the Italian youth, and the noblest among the aged. When you shall know of what minds you have robbed the world, how ought you to repent and mourn!”

  This is especially true of the Emigrant and the Garibaldi legions. The misfortunes of Northern and Southern Italy, the conscription which compels to the service of tyranny those who remain, has driven from the kingdom of Naples and from Lombardy all the brave and noble youth. Many are in Venice or Rome, the forlorn hope of Italy. Radetsky, every day more cruel, now impresses aged men and the fathers of large families. He carries them with him in chains, determined, if he cannot have good troops to send into Hungary, at least to revenge himself on the unhappy Lombards.

  Many of these young men, students from Pisa, Pavia, Padua and the Roman University, lie wounded in the hospitals, for naturally they rushed first into combat. One kissed an arm which was cut off; another preserves pieces of bone which are being painfully extracted from his wound, as relics of the best days of his life. The older men, many of whom have been saddened by exile and disappointment, less glowing, are not less resolved. A spirit burns noble as ever animated the most precious facts we treasure from the heroic age. I suffer to see these temples of the soul thus broken, to see the fever-weary days and painful operations undergone by these noble men, these true priests of a higher hope, but I would not, for much, have missed seeing it all. The memory will console amid the spectacles of meanness, selfishness and faithlessness which life may yet have in store for the pilgrim.

June 23.

  Matters verge to a crisis. The French government sustains Oudinot and disclaims Lesseps. Harmonious throughout, shameless in falsehood, it seems that Oudinot knew that the mission of Lesseps was at an end, when he availed himself of his pacific promises to occupy Monte Mario. When the Romans were anxious at seeing French troops move in that direction, Lesseps said it was only done to occupy them, and conjured the Romans to avoid all collision which might prevent his success with the treaty. The sham treaty was concluded the 30th of May, a detachment of French having occupied Monte Mario the night of the 29th. Oudinot flies into a rage and refuses to sign; M. Lesseps goes off to Paris; meanwhile, the brave Oudinot attacks the 3d, after writing to the French Consul that he should not till the 4th, to leave time for the foreigners remaining to retire. He attacked in the night, was possessing himself of Villa Pamfili, as he had of Monte Mario, by treachery and surprise.

  Meanwhile, M. Lesseps arrives in Paris, to find himself seemingly or really in great disgrace with the would-be Emperor and his cabinet. To give reason for this, M. Drouyn de Lhuys, who had publicly declared to the Assembly that M. Lesseps had no instructions except from the report of the sitting of 7th of May, shamefully publishes a letter of special instructions, hemming him in on every side, which M. Lesseps, the “Plenipotentiary,” dares not disown.

  What are we think of a great nation, whose leading men are such barefaced liars? M. Guizot finds his creed faithfully followed up.

  The liberal party in France does what it can to wash its hands of this offence, but it seems weak, and unlikely to render effectual service at this crisis. Venice, Rome, Ancona are the last strong-holds of hope, and they cannot stand forever thus unsustained. Night before last, a tremendous cannonade left no moment to sleep, even had the anxious hearts of mothers and wives been able to crave it. At morning a little detachment of French had entered by the breach of St. Pancrazio, and intrenched itself in a vineyard. Another has possession of Villa Poniatowski, close to Porta del Popolo, and attacks and alarms are hourly to be expected. I would like to see the final one, dreadful as that hour may be, since now there seems no hope from delay. Men are daily slain, and this state of suspense is agonizing.

  In the evening ‘t is pretty, though terrible, to see the bombs, fiery meteors, springing from the horizon line upon their bright path to do their wicked message. ‘T would not be so bad, methinks, to die of one of these, as wait to have every drop of pure blood, every childlike radiant hope, drained and driven from the heart by the betrayals of nations and of individuals, till at last the sickened eyes refuse more to open to that light which shines daily on such pits of iniquity.

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