Letter XXXIII.

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


Siege of Rome.—Heat.—Night Attacks.—The Bombardment.—The Night Breach.—Defection.—Entry of the French.—Slaughter of the Romans.—The Hospitals.—Destruction of the Bombs.—Cessation of Resistance.—Oudinot’s Subterranean.—Garibaldi’s Troops.—Their Muster of the Scene of Rienzi’s Triumph.—Gardibaldi.—His Departure.—“Respectable” Opinion.—The Protectors unmasked.—Cold Reception.—A Priest assassinated.—Martial Law Declared.—Republican Education.—Disappearance of French Soldiers.—Clearing the Hospitals.—Priestly Baseness.—Insult to the American Consul.—His Protest and Departure.—Disarming the National Guard.—Position of Mr. Cass.—Petty Oppression.—Expulsion of Foreigners.—Effect of French Presence.—Address to the People.—Visit to the Scene of Strife.—American Sympathy for Liberty in Europe.

Rome, July 8, 1849.

  IF I mistake not, I closed my last letter just as the news arrived here that the attempt of the democratic party in France to resist the infamous proceedings of the government had failed, and thus Rome, as far as human calculation went, had not a hope for her liberties left. An inland city cannot long sustain a siege when there is no hope of aid. Then followed the news of the surrender of Ancona, and Rome found herself quite alone; for, though Venice continued to hold out, all communication was cut off.

  The Republican troops, almost to a man, left Ancona, but a long march separated them from Rome.

  The extreme heat of these days was far more fatal to the Romans than their assailants, for as fast as the French troops sickened, their place was taken by fresh arrivals. Ours not only sustained the exhausting service by day, but were harassed at night by attacks, feigned or real. These commonly began about eleven or twelve o’clock at night, just when all who meant to rest were fairly asleep. I can imagine the harassing effect upon the troops, from what I feel in my sheltered pavilion, in consequence of not knowing a quiet night’s sleep for a month.

  The bombardment became constantly more serious. The house where I live was filled as early as the 20th with persons obliged to fly from the Piazza di Gesu, where the fiery rain fell thickest. The night of the 21st-22d, we were all alarmed about two o’clock, A.M. by a tremendous cannonade. It was the moment when the breach was finally made by which the French entered. They rushed in, and I grieve to say, that by the only instance of defection known in the course of the siege, those companies of the regiment Union which had in charge a casino on that point yielded to panic and abandoned it. The French immediately entered and intrenched themselves. That was the fatal hour for the city. Every day afterward, though obstinately resisted, they gained, till at last, their cannon being well placed, the city was entirely commanded from the Janiculum, and all thought of further resistance was idle.

  This was the true policy to avoid street fight, in which the Italian, an unpractised soldier, but full of feeling and sustained from the houses, would have been no match even for their disciplined troops. After the 22d of June, the slaughter of the Romans became every day more fearful. Their defences were knocked down by the heavy cannon of the French, and, entirely exposed in their valorous onsets, great numbers perished on the spot. Those who were brought into the hospitals were generally grievous wounded, very commonly subjects for amputation. My heart bled daily more and more at these sights, and I could not feel much for myself, though now the balls and bombs began to fall round me also. The night of the 28th the effect was truly fearful, as they whizzed and burst near me. As many as thirty fell upon or near the Hotel de Russie, where Mr. Cass has his temporary abode. The roof of the studio in the pavilion, tenanted by Mr. Stermer, well known to the visitors of Rome for his highly-finished cabinet pictures, was torn to pieces. I sat alone in my much exposed apartment thinking “if one strikes me, I only hope it will kill me at once, and that God will transport my soul to some sphere where virtue and love are not tyrannized over by egotism and brute force, as in this.” However, that night passed; the next, we had reason to expect a still more fiery salute to the Pincian, as here alone remained three or four pieces of cannon which could be used. But the morning of the 30th, in a contest at the foot of the Janiculum, the line, old Papal troops, naturally not in earnest, like the free corps, refused to fight against odds so terrible, the heroic Marina fell, with hundreds of his devoted Lombards. Garibaldi saw his best officers perish, and himself went in the afternoon to say to the Assembly that further resistance was unavailing.

  The Assembly sent to Oudinot, but he refused any conditions,—refused even to guarantee a safe departure to Garibaldi, his brave foe. Notwithstanding, a great number of men left the other regiments to follow the leader, whose courage had captivated them and whose superiority over difficulties commanded their entire confidence. Toward the evening of Monday, 2d of July, it was known that the French were preparing to cross the river and take possession of all the city. I went into the Corso with some friends; it was filled with citizens and military. The carriage was stopped by the crowd near the Doria palace; the lancers of Garibaldi galloped along in full career. I longed for Sir Walter Scott to be on earth again, and see them; all are light, athletic, resolute figures, many of the forms of the finest manly beauty of the South, all sparkling with its genius and ennobled by the resolute spirit, ready to dare, to do, to die. We followed them to the piazza of St. John Lateran. Never have I seen a sight so beautiful, so romantic, and so sad. Whoever knows Rome knows the peculiar solemn grandeur of that piazza, scene of the first triumph of Rienzi, the magnificence of the “mother of all churches,” the baptistery with its porphyry columns, the Santa Scala with its glittering mosaics of the early ages, the obelisk standing fairest of any of those most imposing monuments of Rome, the view through the gates of the Campagna, on that side so richly strewn with ruins. The sun was setting, the crescent moon rising, the flower of the Italian youth were marshalling in that solemn place. They had been driven from every other spot where they had offered their hearts as bulwarks of Italian independence; in this last strong-hold they had sacrificed hecatombs of their best and bravest in that cause; they must now go or remain prisoners and slaves. Where go, they knew not; for except distant Hungary there is not now a spot which would receive them, or where they can act as honor commands. They had all put on the beautiful dress of the Garibaldi legion, the tunic of bright red cloth, the Greek cap, or else round hat with Puritan plume. Their long hair was blown back from resolute faces; all looked full of courage. They had counted the cost before they entered on this perilous struggle; they had weighed life and all its material advantages against liberty, and made their election; they turned not back, nor flinched at this bitter crisis. I saw the wounded, all that could go, laden upon their baggage cars; some were already and fainting, still they wished to go. I saw many youths, born to rich inheritance, carrying in a handkerchief all their worldly good. The women were ready; their eyes too were resolved, if sad. The wife of Garibaldi followed him horseback. He himself was distinguished by the white tunic; his look was entirely that of a hero of the Middle Ages,—his face still young, for the excitements of his life, though so many, have all been youthful, and there is no fatigue upon his brow or cheek. Fall or stand, one sees in him a man engaged in the career in which he is adapted by nature. He went upon the parapet, and looked upon the road with a spy-glass, and, no obstruction being in sight, he turned his face for a moment back upon Rome, then led the way through the gate. Hard was the heart, stony and scared the eye that had no tear for that moment. Go, fated, gallant band! and if God care not indeed for men as for the sparrows, most of ye go forth to perish. And Rome, anew the Niobe! Must she lose also these beautiful and brave, that promised her regeneration, and would have given it, but for the perfidy, the overpowering force, of the foreign intervention?

  I know that many “respectable” gentlemen would be surprised to hear me speak in this way. Gentlemen who perform their “duties to society” by buying for themselves handsome clothes and furniture with the interest of their money, speak of Garibaldi and his men as “brigands” and “vagabonds.” Such are they, doubtless, in the same sense as Jesus, Moses, and Eneas were. To me, men who can throw so lightly aside the ease of wealth, the joys of affection, for the sake of what they deem honor, in whatsoever form, are the “respectable.” No doubt there are in these bands a number of men of lawless minds, and who follow this banner only because there is for them no other path. But the greater part are the noble youths who have fled from the Austrian conscription, or fly now from the renewal of the Papal suffocation, darkened by the French protection.

  As for the protectors, they entirely threw the mask, as it was always supposed they would the moment they had possession of Rome. I do not know whether they were really so bewildered by their priestly counsellors as to imagine they would be well received in a city which they had bombarded, and where twelve hundred men were lying wounded by their assault. To say nothing of the justice or injustice of the matter, it could not be supposed that the Roman people, if it had any sense of dignity, would welcome them. I did not appear in the street, as I would not give any countenance to such a wrong; but an English lady, my friend, told me they seemed to look expectingly for a strong party of friends they had always pretended to have within the walls. The French officers looked up to the windows for ladies, and, she being the only one they saw, saluted her. She made no reply. They then passed into the Corso. Many were assembled, the softer Romans being unable to control a curiosity the Milanese would have disclaimed, but preserving an icy silence. In an evil hour, a foolish priest dared to break it by the cry of Viva Pio Nono! The populace, roused to fury, rushed on him with their knives. He was much wounded; one or two other were killed in the rush. The people howled, then, and hissed at the French, who, advancing their bayonets, and clearing the way before them, fortified themselves in the piazzas. Next day the French troops were marched to and fro through Rome, to inspire awe into the people; but it has only created a disgust amounting to loathing, to see that, with such an imposing force, and in a great part fresh, the French were not ashamed to use bombs also, and kill women and children in their beds. Oudinot then, seeing the feeling of the people, and finding they pursued as a spy any man who so much as showed his way to his soldiers,—that the Italians went out of the cafés if Frenchmen entered,—in short, that the people regarded him and his followers in the same light as the Austrians,—has declared martial law in Rome; the press is stifled; everybody is to be in the house at half past nine o’clock in the evening, and whoever in any way insults his men, or puts any obstacle in their way, is to be shot.

  The fruits of all this will be the same as elsewhere; temporary repression will sow the seeds of perpetual resistance; and never was Rome in so fair a way to be educated for a republican form of government as now.

  Especially could nothing be more irritating to an Italian population, in the month of July, than to drive them to their homes at half past nine. After the insupportable heat of the day, their only enjoyment and refreshment is found in evening walks, and chats together as they sit before their cafés, or in groups outside some friendly door. Now they must hurry home when the drum beats at nine o’clock. They are forbidden to stand or sit in groups, and this by their bombarding protector! Comment is unnecessary.

  French soldiers are daily missing; of some it is known that they have been killed by the Trasteverini for daring to make court to their women. Of more than a hundred and fifty, it is only known that they cannot be found; and in two days of French “order” more acts of violence have been committed than in two months under the Triumvirate.

  The French have taken up their quarters in the court-yards of the Quirinal and Venetian palaces, which are full of the wounded, many of whom have been driven well-nigh mad, and their burning wounds exasperated, by the sound of their drums and trumpets,—the constant sense of an insulting presence. The wounded have been warned to leave the Quirinal at the end of eight days, though there are many who cannot be moved from bed to bed without causing them great anguish and peril; nor is it known that any other place has been provided as a hospital for them. At the Palazzo di Venezia the French have searched for three emigrants whom they wished to imprison, even in the apartments where the wounded were lying, running their bayonets into the mattresses. They have taken for themselves beds given by the Romans to the hospital,—not public property, but private gift. The hospital of Santo Spirito was a governmental establishment, and, in using a part of it for the wounded, its director had been retained, because he had the reputation of being honest and not illiberal. But as soon as the French entered, he, with true priestly baseness, sent away the women nurses, saying he had no longer money to pay them, transported the wounded into a miserable, airless basement, that had before been used as a granary, and appropriated the good apartments to the use of the French!

July 8.

  The report of this morning is that the French yesterday violated the domicile of our Consul, Mr. Brown, pretending to search for persons hidden there; that Mr. Brown, banner in one hand and sword in the other, repelled the assault, and fairly drove them down stairs; that then he made them an appropriate speech, though in a mixed language of English, French and Italian; that the crowd vehemently applauded Mr. Brown, who was already much liked for the warm sympathy he had shown the Romans in their aspirations and their distresses; that he then donned his uniform and went to Oudinot to make his protest. How this was received I know not, but understand Mr. Brown departed with his family yesterday evening. Will America look as coldly on the insult to herself, as she has on the struggle of this injured people?

  To-day an edict is out to disarm the National Guard. The generous “protectors” wish to take all the trouble upon themselves. Rome is full of them; at every step are met groups in the uniform of France, with faces bronzed in the African war, and so stultified by a life without enthusiasm and without thought, that I do not believe Napoleon would recognize them as French soldiers. The effect of their appearance compared with that of the Italian free corps is that of body compared with spirit. It is easy to see how they could be used to purposes so contrary to the legitimate policy of France, for they do not look more intellectual, more fitted to have opinions of their own, than the Austrian soldiery.

July 10.

  The plot thickens. The exact facts with regard to the invasion of Mr. Brown’s house, I have not been able to ascertain. I suppose they will have to be published, as Oudinot has promised to satisfy Mr. Cass. I must add, in reference to what I wrote some time ago of the position of our Envoy here, that the kind and sympathetic course of Mr. Cass toward the Republicans in these troubles, his very gentlemanly and courteous bearing, have from the minds of most removed all unpleasant feelings. They see that his position was very peculiar,—sent to the Papal government, finding here the Republican, and just at that moment violently assailed. Unless he had extraordinary powers, he naturally felt obliged to communicate further with our government before acknowledging this. I shall always regret, however, that he did not stand free to occupy the high position that belonged to the representative of the United States at that moment, and peculiarly because it was by a republic that the Roman Republic was betrayed.

  But, as I say, the plot thickens. Yesterday, three families were carried to prison because a boy crowed like a cock at the French soldiery from the windows of a house they occupied. Another, because a man pursued took refuge in their court-yard. At the same time, the city being mostly disarmed, came the edict to take down the insignia of the Republic, “emblems of anarchy.” But worst of all they have done is an edict commanding all foreigners who had been in the service of the Republican government to leave Rome within twenty-four hours. This is the most infamous thing done yet, as it drives to desperation those who stayed because they had so many to go with and no place to go to, or because their relatives lie wounded here; no others wished to remain in Rome under present circumstances.

  I am sick of breathing the same air with men capable of a part so utterly cruel and false. As soon as I can, I shall take refuge in the mountains, if it be possible to find an obscure nook unpervaded by these convulsions. Let not my friends be surprised if they do not hear from me for some time. I may not feel like writing. I have seen too much sorrow, and, alas! without power to aid. It makes me sick to see the palaces and streets of Rome full of these infamous foreigners, and to note the already changed aspect of her population. The men of Rome had begun, filled with new hopes, to develop unknown energy,—they walked quick, their eyes sparkled, they delighted in duty, in responsibility; in a year of such life their effeminacy would have been vanquished. Now, dejectedly, unemployed, they lounge along the streets, feeling that all the implements of labor, all the ensigns of hope, have been snatched from them. Their hands fall slack, their eyes rove aimless, the beggars begin to swarm again, and the black ravens who delight in the night of ignorance, the slumber of sloth, as the only sureties for their rule, emerge daily more and more frequent from their hiding-places.

  The following Address has been circulated from hand to hand.


  “Misfortune, brothers, has fallen upon us anew. But it is trial of brief duration,—it is the stone of the sepulcher which we shall throw away after three days, rising victorious and renewed, an immortal nation. For with us are God and Justice,—God and Justice, who cannot die, but always triumph, while Kings and Popes, once dead, revive no more.

  “As you have been great in the combat, be so in the days of sorrow,—great in your conduct as citizens, of generous disdain, by sublime silence. Silence is the weapon we have now to use against the Cossaks of France and the priests, their masters.

  “In the streets do not look at them; do not answer if they address you.

  “In the cafés, in the eating-houses, if they enter, rise and go out.

  “Let your windows remain closed as they pass.

  “Never attend their feasts, their parades.

  “Regard the harmony of their musical bands as tones of slavery, and, when you hear them, fly.

  “Let the liberticide soldier be condemned to isolation; let him atone in solitude and contempt for having served priests and kings.

  “And you, Roman women, masterpiece of God’s work! deign no look, no smile to those satellites of an abhorred Pope! Cursed be she who, before the odious satellites of Austria, forgets that she is Italian! Her name shall be published for the execration of all her people! And even the courtesans! let them show love for their country, and thus regain the dignity of citizens!

  “And our word of order, our cry of reunion and emacipation, be now and ever, VIVA LA REPUBLICA!

  “This incessant cry, which not even French slaves can dispute, shall prepare us to administer the bequests of our martyrs, shall be consoling dew to the immaculate and holy bones that repose, sublime holocaust of faith and of love, near our walls, and make doubly divine the Eternal City. In this cry we shall find ourselves always brothers, and we shall conquer. Viva Rome, the capital of Italy! Viva the Italy of the people! Viva the Roman Republic!


  “Rome, July 4, 1849.”

  Yes; July 4th, the day so joyously celebrated in our land, is that of the entrance of the French into Rome!

  I know not whether the Romans will follow out this programme with constancy, as the sterner Milanese have done. If they can, it will draw upon them endless persecutions, countless exactions, but at once educate and prove them worthy of a nobler life.

  Yesterday I went over the scene of conflict. It was fearful even to see the Quattro Venti and Vascello Casinos, where the French and Romans had been for several days so near one another, all shattered to pieces, with fragments of rich stucco and painting still sticking to rafters between the great holes made by the cannonade, and think that men had stayed and fought in them when only a mass of ruins. The French, indeed, were entirely sheltered the last days; to my unpractised eyes the extent and thoroughness of their works seemed miraculous, and gave me the first clear idea of the incompetency of the Italians to resist organized armies. I saw their commanders had not even known enough of the art of war to understand how the French were conducting the siege. It is true, their resources were at any rate inadequate to resistance; only continual sorties would have arrested the progress of the foe, and to make them and man the wall, their forces were inadequate. I was struck more than ever by the heroic valor of our people,—let me so call them now as ever; for go where I may, a large part of my heart will ever remain in Italy. I hope her children will always acknowledge me as a sister, though I drew not my first breath here. A Contandini showed me where thirty-seven braves are buried beneath a heap of wall that fell upon them in the shock of one cannonade. A marble nymph, with broken arm, looked sadly that way, from her sun-dried fountain, some roses were blooming still, some red oleanders, amid the ruin. The sun was casting its last light on the mountains on the tranquil, sad Campagna, that sees on leaf turned more in the book of woe. This was in the Vascello. I then entered the French ground, all mapped and hollowed like a honeycomb. A pair of skeleton legs protruded from a bank of one barricade; lower, a dog had scratched away its light covering of earth from the body of a man, and discovered it lying face upward all dressed; the dog stood gazing on it with an air of stupid amazement. I thought at that moment, recalling some letters received: “O men and women of America, spared these frightful sights, these sudden wrecks of every hope, what angel of heaven do you suppose has time to listen to your tales of morbid woe? If any find leisure to work for men to-day, think you not they have enough to do to care for the victims here?”

  I see you have meetings, where you speak of the Italians, the Hungarians. I pray you do something; let it not end in the mere cry of sentiment. That is better than to sneer at all that is liberal, like the English,—than to talk of the holy victims of patriotism as “anarchists” and “brigands”; but it is not enough. It ought not to content your consciences. Do you owe no tithe to Heaven for the privileges it has showered on you, for whose achievement so many here suffer and perish daily? Deserve to retain them, by helping your fellow men to acquire them. Our government must abstain from interference but private action is practicable, is due. For Italy, it is in this moment too late, but all that helps Hungary helps her also,—helps all who wish the freedom of men from an hereditary yoke now become intolerable. Send money, send cheer,—acknowledge as the legitimate leaders and rulers those men who represent the people, who understand its wants, who are ready to die or to live for its good. Kossuth I know not, but his people recognize him; Manin I know not, but with what firm nobleness, what persevering virtue, he has acted for Venice! Mazzini I know, the man and his acts, great, pure and constant,—a man to whom only the next age can do justice, as it reaps the harvest of the seed he has sown in this. Friends, countrymen, and lovers of virtue, lovers of freedom, lovers of truth! be on alert; rest not supine in your easier lives, but remember

“Mankind is one,
And beats with one great heart.”

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