"We soon became acquainted with the young Marquis Ossoli, and met him frequently at Margaret's rooms. He appeared to be of a reserved and gentle nature, with quiet, gentleman-like manners, and there was something melancholy in the expression of his face, which made one desire to know more of him. In figure, he was tall, and of slender frame, with dark hair and eyes; we judged that he was about thirty years of age, possibly younger. Margaret spoke of him most frankly, and soon told us the history of her first acquaintance with him, which, as nearly as I can recall, was as follows:—
"She went to hear vespers, the evening of 'Holy Thursday,' soon after her first coming to Rome, in the spring of 1847, at St. Peter's. She proposed to her companions that some place in the church should be designated, where, after the services, they should meet,—she being inclined, as was her custom always in St. Peter's, to wander alone among the different chapels. When, at length, she saw that the crowd was dispersing, she returned to the place assigned, but could not find her party. In some perplexity, she walked about, with her glass carefully examining each group. Presently, a young man of gentlemanly address came up to her, and begged, if she were seeking any one, that he might be permitted to assist her; and together they continued the search through all parts of the church. At last, it became evident, beyond a doubt, that her party could no longer be there, and, as it was then quite late, the crowd all gone, they went out into the piazza to find a carriage, in which she might go home. In the piazza, in front of St. Peter's, generally may be found many carriages; but, owing to the delay they had made, there were then none, and Margaret was compelled to walk, with her stranger friend, the long distance between the Vatican and the Corso. At this time, she had little command of the language for conversational purposes, and their words were few, though enough to create in each a desire for further knowledge and acquaintance. At her door, they parted, and Margaret, finding her friends already at home, related the adventure."
This chance meeting at vesper service in St. Peter's prepared the way for many interviews; and it was before Margaret's departure for Venice, Milan, and Como, that Ossoli first offered her his hand, and was refused. Mrs. Story continues:—
"After her return to Rome, they met again, and he became her constant visitor; and as, in those days, Margaret watched with intense interest the tide of political events, his mind was also turned in the direction of liberty and better government. Whether Ossoli, unassisted, would have been able to emancipate himself from the influence of his family and early education, both eminently conservative and narrow, may be a question; but that he did throw off the shackles, and espouse the cause of Roman liberty with warm zeal, is most certain. Margaret had known Mazzini in London, had partaken of his schemes for the future of his country, and was taking every pains to inform herself in regard to the action of all parties, with a view to write a history of the period. Ossoli brought her every intelligence that might be of interest to her, and busied himself in learning the views of both parties, that she might be able to judge the matter impartially.
"Here I may say, that, in the estimation of most of those who were in Italy at this time, the loss of Margaret's history and notes is a great and irreparable one. No one could have possessed so many avenues of direct information from both sides. While she was the friend and correspondent of Mazzini, and knew the springs of action of his party; through her husband's family and connections, she knew the other view; so that, whatever might be the value of her deductions, her facts could not have been other than of highest worth. Together, Margaret and Ossoli went to the meetings of either side; and to her he carried all the flying reports of the day, such as he had heard in the cafe, or through his friends.
"In a short time, we went to Naples, and Margaret, in the course of a few months, to Aquila and Rieti. Meanwhile, we heard from her often by letter, and wrote to urge her to join us in our villa at Sorrento. During this summer, she wrote constantly upon her history of the Italian movement, for which she had collected materials through the past winter. We did not again meet, until the following spring, March, 1849, when we went from Florence back to Rome. Once more we were with her, then, in most familiar every-day intercourse, and as at this time a change of government had taken place,—the Pope having gone to Molo di Gaeta.—we watched with her the great movements of the day. Ossoli was now actively interested on the liberal side; he was holding the office of captain in the Guardia Civica, and enthusiastically looking forward to the success of the new measures.
"During the spring of 1849, Mazzini came to Rome. He went at once to see Margaret, and at her rooms met Ossoli. After this interview with Mazzini, it was quite evident that they had lost something of the faith and hopeful certainty with which they had regarded the issue, for Mazzini had discovered the want of singleness of purpose in the leaders of the Provisional Government. Still zealously Margaret and Ossoli aided in everything the progress of events; and when it was certain that the French had landed forces at Civita Vecchia, and would attack Rome, Ossoli took station with his men on the walls of the Vatican gardens, where he remained faithfully to the end of the attack. Margaret had, at the same time, the entire charge of one of the hospitals, and was the assistant of the Princess Belgioioso, in charge of 'dei Pellegrini,' where, during the first day, they received seventy wounded men, French and Romans.
"Night and day, Margaret was occupied, and, with the princess, so ordered and disposed the hospitals, that their conduct was truly admirable. All the work was skilfully divided, so that there was no confusion or hurry and, from the chaotic condition in which these places had been left by the priests,—who previously had charge of them,—they brought them to a state of perfect regularity and discipline. Of money they had very little, and they were obliged to give their time and thoughts, in its place. From the Americans in Rome, they raised a subscription for the aid of the wounded of either party; but, besides this, they had scarcely any means to use. I have walked through the wards with Margaret, and seen how comforting was her presence to the poor suffering men. 'How long will the Signora stay?' 'When will the Signora come again?' they eagerly asked. For each one's peculiar tastes she had a care: to one she carried books; to another she told the news of the day; and listened to another's oft-repeated tale of wrongs, as the best sympathy she could give. They raised themselves up on their elbows, to get the last glimpse of her as she was going away. There were some of the sturdy fellows of Garibaldi's Legion there, and to them she listened, as they spoke with delight of their chief, of his courage and skill; for he seemed to have won the hearts of his men in a remarkable manner.
"One incident I may as well narrate in this connection. It happened, that, some time before the coming of the French, while Margaret was travelling quite by herself, on her return from a visit to her child, who was out at nurse in the country, she rested for an hour or two at a little wayside osteria. While there, she was startled by the padrone, who, with great alarm, rushed into the room, and said, 'We are quite lost! here is the Legion Garibaldi! These men always pillage, and, if we do not give all up to them without pay, they will kill us.' Margaret looked out upon the road, and saw that it was quite true, that the legion was coming thither with all speed. For a moment, she said, she felt uncomfortably; for such was the exaggerated account of the conduct of the men, that she thought it quite possible that they would take her horses, and so leave her without the means of proceeding on her journey. On they came, and she determined to offer them a lunch at her own expense; having faith that gentleness and courtesy was the best protection from injury. Accordingly, as soon as they arrived, and rushed boisterously into the osteria, she rose, and said to the padrone, 'Give these good men wine and bread on my account; for, after their ride, they must need refreshment.' Immediately, the noise and confusion subsided; with respectful bows to her, they seated themselves and partook of the lunch, giving her an account of their journey. When she was ready to go, and her vettura was at the door, they waited upon her, took down the steps, and assisted her with much gentleness and respectfulness of manner, and she drove off, wondering how men with such natures could have the reputation they had. And, so far as we could gather, except in this instance, their conduct was of a most disorderly kind.
"Again, on another occasion, she showed how great was her power over rude men. This was when two contadini at Rieti, being in a violent quarrel, had rushed upon each other with knives. Margaret was called by the women bystanders, as the Signora who could most influence them to peace. She went directly up to the men, whose rage was truly awful to behold, and, stepping between them, commanded them to separate. They parted, but with such a look of deadly revenge, that Margaret felt her work was but half accomplished. She therefore sought them out separately, and talked with each, urging forgiveness; it was long, however, before she could see any change of purpose, and only by repeated conversations was it, that she brought about her desire, and saw them meet as friends. After this, her reputation as peace-maker was great, and the women in the neighborhood came to her with long tales of trouble, urging her intervention. I have never known anything more extraordinary than this influence of hers over the passion and violence of the Italian character. Repeated instances come to my mind, when a look from her has had more power to quiet excitement, than any arguments and reasonings that could be brought to bear upon the subject. Something quite superior and apart from them, the people thought her, and yet knew her as the gentle and considerate judge of their vices.
"I may also mention here, that Margaret's charities, according to her means, were larger than those of any other whom I ever knew. At one time, in Rome, while she lived upon the simplest, slenderest fare, spending only some ten or twelve cents a day for her dinner, she lent, unsolicited, her last fifty dollars to an artist, who was then in need. That it would ever be returned to her, she did not know; but the doubt did not restrain the hand from giving. In this instance, it was soon repaid her; but her charities were not always towards the most deserving. Repeated instances of the false pretences, under which demands for charity are made, were known to her after she had given to unworthy objects; but no experience of this sort ever checked her kindly impulse to give, and being once deceived taught her no lesson of distrust. She ever listened with ready ear to all who came to her in any form of distress. Indeed, to use the language of another friend, 'the prevalent impression at Rome, among all who knew her, was, that she was a mild saint and a ministering angel.'
"I have, in order to bring in these instances of her influence on those about her, deviated from my track. We return to the life she led in Rome during the attack of the French, and her charge of the hospitals, where she spent daily some seven or eight hours, and, often, the entire night. Her feeble frame was a good deal shaken by so uncommon a demand upon her strength, while, at the same time, the anxiety of her mind was intense. I well remember how exhausted and weary she was; how pale and agitated she returned to us after her day's and night's watching; how eagerly she asked for news of Ossoli, and how seldom we had any to give her, for he was unable to send her a word for two or three days at a time. Letters from the country there were few or none, as the communication between Rieti and Rome was cut off.
"After one such day, she called me to her bedside, and said that I must consent, for her sake, to keep the SECRET she was about to confide. Then she told me of her marriage; where her child was, and where he was born; and gave me certain papers and parchment documents which I was to keep; and, in the event of her and her husband's death, I was to take the boy to her mother in America, and confide him to her care, and that of her friend, Mrs. ——.
"The papers thus given me, I had perfect liberty to read; but after she had told me her story, I desired no confirmation of this fact, beyond what her words had given. One or two of the papers she opened, and we together read them. One was written on parchment, in Latin, and was a certificate, given by the priest who married them, saying that Angelo Eugene Ossoli was the legal heir of whatever title and fortune should come to his father. To this was affixed his seal, with those of the other witnesses, and the Ossoli crest was drawn in full upon the paper. There was also a book, in which Margaret had written the history of her acquaintance and marriage with Ossoli, and of the birth of her child. In giving that to me, she said, 'If I do not survive to tell this myself to my family, this book will be to them invaluable. Therefore keep it for them. If I live, it will be of no use, for my word will be all that they will ask.' I took the papers, and locked them up. Never feeling any desire to look into them, I never did; and as she gave them to me, I returned them to her, when I left Rome for Switzerland.
"After this, she often spoke to me of the necessity there had been, and still existed, for her keeping her marriage a secret. At the time, I argued in favor of her making it public, but subsequent events have shown me the wisdom of her decision. The explanation she gave me of the secret marriage was this:
"They were married in December, soon after,—as I think, though I am not positive,—the death of the old Marquis Ossoli. The estate he had left was undivided, and the two brothers, attached to the Papal household, were to be the executors. This patrimony was not large, but, when fairly divided, would bring to each a little property,—an income sufficient, with economy, for life in Rome. Everyone knows, that law is subject to ecclesiastical influence in Rome, and that marriage with a Protestant would be destructive to all prospects of favorable administration. And beside being of another religious faith, there was, in this case, the additional crime of having married a liberal,—one who had publicly interested herself in radical views. Taking the two facts together, there was good reason to suppose, that, if the marriage were known, Ossoli must be a beggar, and a banished man, under the then existing government; while, by waiting a little, there was a chance,—a fair one, too,—of an honorable post under the new government, whose formation every one was anticipating. Leaving Rome, too, at that time, was deserting the field wherein they might hope to work much good, and where they felt that they were needed. Ossoli's brothers had long before begun to look jealously upon him. Knowing his acquaintance with Margaret, they feared the influence she might exert over his mind in favor of liberal sentiments, and had not hesitated to threaten him with the Papal displeasure. Ossoli's education had been such, that it certainly argues an uncommon elevation of character, that he remained so firm and single in his political views, and was so indifferent to the pecuniary advantages which his former position offered, since, during many years, the Ossoli family had been high in favor and in office, in Rome, and the same vista opened for his own future, had he chosen to follow their lead. The Pope left for Molo di Gaeta, and then came a suspension of all legal procedure, so that the estate was never divided, before we left Italy, and I do not know that it has ever been.
"Ossoli had the feeling, that, while his own sister and family could not be informed of his marriage, no others should know of it; and from day to day they hoped on for the favorable change which should enable them to declare it. Their child was born; and, for his sake, in order to defend him, as Margaret said, from the stings of poverty, they were patient waiters for the restored law of the land. Margaret felt that she would, at any cost to herself, gladly secure for her child a condition above want; and, although it was a severe trial,—as her letters to us attest,—she resolved to wait, and hope, and keep her secret. At the time when she took me into her confidence, she was so full of anxiety and dread of some shock, from which she might not recover, that it was absolutely necessary to make it known to some friend. She was living with us at the time, and she gave it to me. Most sacredly, but timidly, did I keep her secret; for, all the while, I was tormented with a desire to be of active service to her, and I was incapacitated from any action by the position in which I was placed.
"Ossoli's post was one of considerable danger, he being in one of the most exposed places; and, as Margaret saw his wounded and dying comrades, she felt that another shot might take him from her, or bring him to her care in the hospital. Eagerly she watched the carts, as they came up with their suffering loads, dreading that her worst fears might be confirmed. No argument of ours could persuade Ossoli to leave his post to take food or rest. Sometimes we went to him, and carried a concealed basket of provisions, but he shared it with so many of his fellows, that his own portion must have been almost nothing. Haggard, worn, and pale, he walked over the Vatican grounds with us, pointing out, now here, now there, where some poor fellow's blood sprinkled the wall; Margaret was with us, and for a few moments they could have an anxious talk about their child.
"To get to the child, or to send to him, was quite impossible, and for days they were in complete ignorance about him. At length, a letter came; and in it the nurse declared that unless they should immediately send her, in advance-payment, a certain sum of money, she would altogether abandon Angelo. It seemed, at first, impossible to forward the money, the road was so insecure, and the bearer of any parcel was so likely to be seized by one party or the other, and to be treated as a spy. But finally, after much consideration, the sum was sent to the address of a physician, who had been charged with the care of the child. I think it did reach its destination, and for a while answered the purpose of keeping the wretched woman faithful to her charge."
AQUILA AND RIETI.
Extracts from Margaret's and Ossoli's letters will guide us more into the heart of this home-tragedy, so sanctified with holy hope, sweet love, and patient heroism. They shall be introduced by a passage from a journal written many years before.
"My Child! O, Father, give me a bud on my tree of life, so scathed by the lightning and bound by the frost! Surely a being born wholly of my being, would not let me lie so still and cold in lonely sadness. This is a new sorrow; for always, before, I have wanted a superior or equal, but now it seems that only the feeling of a parent for a child could exhaust the richness of one's soul. All powerful Nature, how dost thou lead me into thy heart and rebuke every factitious feeling, every thought of pride, which has severed me from the Universe! How did I aspire to be a pure flame, ever pointing upward on the altar! But these thoughts of consecration, though true to the time, are false to the whole. There needs no consecration to the wise heart for all is pervaded by One Spirit, and the Soul of all existence is the Holy of Holies. I thought ages would pass, before I had this parent feeling, and then, that the desire would rise from my fulness of being. But now it springs up in my poverty and sadness. I am well aware that I ought not to be so happy. I do not deserve to be well beloved in any way, far less as the mother by her child. I am too rough and blurred an image of the Creator, to become a bestower of life. Yet, if I refuse to be anything else than my highest self, the true beauty will finally glow out in fulness."
At what cost, were bought the blessings so long pined for! Early in the summer of 1848, Margaret left Rome for Aquila, a small, old town, once a baronial residence, perched among the mountains of Abruzzi. She thus sketches her retreat:—
"I am in the midst of a theatre of glorious, snow-crowned mountains, whose pedestals are garlanded with the olive and mulberry, and along whose sides run bridle-paths, fringed with almond groves and vineyards. The valleys are yellow with saffron flowers; the grain fields enamelled with the brilliant blue corn-flower and red poppy. They are of intoxicating beauty, and like nothing in America. The old genius of Europe has so mellowed even the marbles here, that one cannot have the feeling of holy virgin loneliness, as in the New World. The spirits of the dead crowd me in most solitary places. Here and there, gleam churches or shrines. The little town, much ruined, lies on the slope of a hill, with the houses of the barons gone to decay, and unused churches, over whose arched portals are faded frescoes, with the open belfry, and stone wheel-windows, always so beautiful. Sweet little paths lead away through the fields to convents,—one of Passionists, another of Capuchins; and the draped figures of the monks, pacing up and down the hills, look very peaceful. In the churches still open, are pictures, not by great masters, but of quiet, domestic style, which please me much, especially one of the Virgin offering her breast to the child Jesus. There is often sweet music in these churches; they are dressed with fresh flowers, and the incense is not oppressive, so freely sweeps through them the mountain breeze."
Here Margaret remained but a month, while Ossoli was kept fast by his guard duties in Rome. "Addio, tutto caro," she writes; "I shall receive you with the greatest joy, when you can come. If it were only possible to be nearer to you! for, except the good air and the security, this place does not please me." And again:—"How much I long to be near you! You write nothing of yourself, and this makes me anxious and sad. Dear and good! I pray for thee often, now that it is all I can do for thee. We must hope that Destiny will at last grow weary of persecuting. Ever thy affectionate." Meantime Ossoli writes:—"Why do you not send me tidings of yourself, every post-day? since the post leaves Aquila three times a week. I send you journals or letters every time the post leaves Rome. You should do the same. Take courage, and thus you will make me happier also; and you can think how sad I must feel in not being near you, dearest, to care for all your wants."
By the middle of July, Margaret could bear her loneliness no longer, and, passing the mountains, advanced to Rieti, within the frontier of the Papal States. Here Ossoli could sometimes visit her on a Sunday, by travelling in the night from Rome. "Do not fail to come," writes Margaret. "I shall have your coffee warm. You will arrive early, and I can see the diligence pass the bridge from my window." But now threatened a new trial, terrible under the circumstances, yet met with the loving heroism that characterized all her conduct. The civic guard was ordered to prepare for marching to Bologna. Under date of August 17th, Ossoli writes:—"Mia Cara! How deplorable is my state! I have suffered a most severe struggle. If your condition were other than it is, I could resolve more easily; but, in the present moment, I cannot leave you! Ah, how cruel is Destiny! I understand well how much you would sacrifice yourself for me, and am deeply grateful; but I cannot yet decide." Margaret is alone, without a single friend, and not only among strangers, but surrounded by people so avaricious, cunning, and unscrupulous, that she has to be constantly on the watch to avoid being fleeced; she is very poor, and has no confidant, even in Rome, to consult with; she is ill, and fears death in the near crisis; yet thus, with true Roman greatness, she counsels her husband:—"It seems, indeed, a marvel how all things go contrary to us! That, just at this moment, you should be called upon to go away. But do what is for your honor. If honor requires it, go. I will try to sustain myself. I leave it to your judgment when to come,—if, indeed, you can ever come again! At least, we have had some hours of peace together, if now it is all over. Adieu, love; I embrace thee always, and pray for thy welfare. Most affectionately, adieu."
* * * * *
From this trial, however, she was spared. Pio Nono hesitated to send the civic guard to the north of Italy. Then Margaret writes:—"On our own account, love, I shall be most grateful, if you are not obliged to go. But how unworthy, in the Pope! He seems now a man without a heart. And that traitor, Charles Albert! He will bear the curse of all future ages. Can you learn particulars from Milan? I feel sad for our poor friends there; how much they must suffer! * * * I shall be much more tranquil to have you at my side, for it would be sad to die alone, without the touch of one dear hand. Still, I repeat what I said in my last; if duty prevents you from coming, I will endeavor to take care of myself." Again, two days later, she says:—"I feel, love, a profound sympathy with you, but am not able to give perfectly wise counsel. It seems to me, indeed, the worst possible moment to take up arms, except in the cause of duty, of honor; for, with the Pope so cold, and his ministers so undecided, nothing can be well or successfully done. If it is possible for you to wait for two or three weeks, the public state will be determined,—as will also mine,—and you can judge more calmly. Otherwise, it seems to me that I ought to say nothing. Only, if you go, come here first. I must see you once more. Adieu, dear. Our misfortunes are many and unlooked for. Not often does destiny demand a greater price for some happy moments. Yet never do I repent of our affection; and for thee, if not for me, I hope that life has still some good in store. Once again, adieu! May God give thee counsel and help, since they are not in the power of thy affectionate Margherita."
On the 5th of September, Ossoli was "at her side," and together, with glad and grateful hearts, they welcomed their boy; though the father was compelled to return the next day to Rome. Even then, however, a new chapter of sorrows was opening. By indiscreet treatment, Margaret was thrown into violent fever, and became unable to nurse her child. Her waiting maid, also, proved so treacherous, that she was forced to dismiss her, and wished "never to set eyes on her more;" and the family, with whom she was living, displayed most detestable meanness. Thus helpless, ill, and solitary, she could not even now enjoy the mother's privilege. Yet she writes cheerfully:—"My present nurse is a very good one, and I feel relieved. We must have courage but it is a great care, alone and ignorant, to guard an infant in its first days of life. He is very pretty for his age; and, without knowing what name I intended giving him, the people in the house call him Angiolino, because he is so lovely." Again:—"He is so dear! It seems to me, among all disasters and difficulties, that if he lives and is well, he will become a treasure for us two, that will compensate us for everything." And yet again:—"This —— is faithless, like the rest. Spite of all his promises, he will not bring the matter to inoculate Nino, though, all about us, persons are dying with small-pox. I cannot sleep by night, and I weep by day, I am so disgusted; but you are too far off to help me. The baby is more beautiful every hour. He is worth all the trouble he causes me,—poor child that I am,—alone here, and abused by everybody."
Yet new struggles; new sorrows! Ossoli writes:—
"Our affairs must be managed with the utmost caution imaginable, since my thought would be to keep the baby out of Rome for the sake of greater secrecy, if only we can find a good nurse who will take care of him like a mother." To which Margaret replies:—"He is always so charming, how can I ever, ever leave him! I wake in the night,—I look at him. I think: Ah, it is impossible! He is so beautiful and good, I could die for him!" Once more:—"In seeking rooms, do not pledge me to remain in Rome, for it seems to me, often, I cannot stay long without seeing the boy. He is so dear, and life seems so uncertain. It is necessary that I should be in Rome a month, at least, to write, and also to be near you. But I must be free to return here, if I feel too anxious and suffering for him. O, love! how difficult is life! But thou art good! If it were only possible to make thee happy!" And, finally, "Signora speaks very highly of ——, the nurse of Angelo, and says that her aunt is an excellent woman, and that the brothers are all good. Her conduct pleases me well. This consoles me a little, in the prospect of leaving my child, if that is necessary."
So, early in November, Ossoli came for her, and they returned together. In December, however, Margaret passed a week more with her darling, making two fatiguing and perilous journeys, as snows had fallen on the mountains, and the streams were much swollen by the rains. And then, from the combined motives of being near her husband, watching and taking part in the impending struggle of liberalism, earning support by her pen, preparing her book, and avoiding suspicion, she remained for three months in Rome. "How many nights I have passed," she writes, "entirely in contriving possible means, by which, through resolution and effort on my part, that one sacrifice could be avoided. But it was impossible. I could not take the nurse from her family; I could not remove Angelo, without immense difficulty and risk. It is singular, how everything has worked to give me more and more sorrow. Could I but have remained in peace, cherishing the messenger dove, I should have asked no more, but should have felt overpaid for all the pains and bafflings of my sad and broken life." In March, she flies back to Rieti, and finds "our treasure in the best of health, and plump, though small. When first I took him in my arms, he made no sound, but leaned his head against my bosom, and kept it there, as if he would say, How could you leave me? They told me, that all the day of my departure he would not be comforted, always looking toward the door. He has been a strangely precocious infant, I think, through sympathy with me, for I worked very hard before his birth, with the hope that all my spirit might be incarnated in him. In that regard, it may have been good for him to be with these more instinctively joyous natures. I see that he is more serene, is less sensitive, than when with me, and sleeps better. The most solid happiness I have known has been when he has gone to sleep in my arms. What cruel sacrifices have I made to guard my secret for the present, and to have the mode of disclosure at my own option! It will, indeed, be just like all the rest, if these sacrifices are made in vain."
* * * * *
At Rieti, Margaret rested till the middle of April, when, returning once more to Rome, she was, as we have seen, shut up within the beleagured city.
The siege ended, the anxious mother was free to seek her child once more, in his nest among the mountains. Her fears had been but too prophetic. "Though the physician sent me reassuring letters," she writes, "I yet often seemed to hear Angelino calling to me amid the roar of the cannon, and always his tone was of crying. And when I came, I found mine own fast waning to the tomb! His nurse, lovely and innocent as she appeared, had betrayed him, for lack of a few scudi! He was worn to a skeleton; his sweet, childish grace all gone! Everything I had endured seemed light to what I felt when I saw him too weak to smile, or lift his wasted little hand. Now, by incessant care, we have brought him back,—who knows if that be a deed of love?—into this hard world once more. But I could not let him go, unless I went with him; and I do hope that the cruel law of my life will, at least, not oblige us to be separated. When I saw his first returning smile,—that poor, wan, feeble smile!—and more than four weeks we watched him night and day, before we saw it,—new resolution dawned in my heart. I resolved to live, day by day, hour by hour, for his dear sake. So, if he is only treasure lent,—if he too must go, as sweet Waldo, Pickie, Hermann, did,—as all my children do!—I shall at least have these days and hours with him."
How intolerable was this last blow to one stretched so long on the rack, is plain from Margaret's letters. "I shall never again," she writes, "be perfectly, be religiously generous, so terribly do I need for myself the love I have given to other sufferers. When you read this, I hope your heart will be happy; for I still like to know that others are happy,—it consoles me." Again her agony wrung from her these bitter words,—the bitterest she ever uttered,—words of transient madness, yet most characteristic:—"Oh God! help me, is all my cry. Yet I have little faith in the Paternal love I need, so ruthless or so negligent seems the government of this earth. I feel calm, yet sternly, towards Fate. This last plot against me has been so cruelly, cunningly wrought, that I shall never acquiesce. I submit, because useless resistance is degrading, but I demand an explanation. I see that it is probable I shall never receive one, while I live here, and suppose I can bear the rest of the suspense, since I have comprehended all its difficulties in the first moments. Meanwhile, I live day by day, though not on manna." But now comes a sweeter, gentler strain:—"I have been the object of great love from the noble and the humble; I have felt it towards both. Yet I am tired out,—tired of thinking and hoping,—tired of seeing men err and bleed. I take interest in some plans,—Socialism for instance,—but the interest is shallow as the plans. These are needed, are even good; but man will still blunder and weep, as he has done for so many thousand years. Coward and footsore, gladly would I creep into some green recess, where I might see a few not unfriendly faces, and where not more wretches should come than I could relieve. Yes! I am weary, and faith soars and sings no more. Nothing good of me is left except at the bottom of the heart, a melting tenderness:—'She loves much.'"
CALM AFTER STORM.
Morning rainbows usher in tempests, and certainly youth's romantic visions had prefigured a stormy day of life for Margaret. But there was yet to be a serene and glowing hour before the sun went down. Angelo grew strong and lively once more; rest and peace restored her elasticity of spirit, and extracts from various letters will show in what tranquil blessedness, the autumn and winter glided by. After a few weeks' residence at Rieti, the happy three journeyed on, by way of Perugia, to Florence, where they arrived at the end of September. Thence, Margaret writes:—
It was so pleasant at Perugia! The pure mountain air is such perfect elixir, the walks are so beautiful on every side, and there is so much to excite generous and consoling feelings! I think the works of the Umbrian school are never well seen except in their home;—they suffer by comparison with works more rich in coloring, more genial, more full of common life. The depth and tenderness of their expression is lost on an observer stimulated to a point out of their range. Now, I can prize them. We went every morning to some church rich in pictures, returning at noon for breakfast. After breakfast, we went into the country, or to sit and read under the trees near San Pietro. Thus I read Nicolo di' Lapi, a book unenlivened by a spark of genius, but interesting, to me, as illustrative of Florence.
Our little boy gained strength rapidly there;—every day he was able to go out with us more. He is now full of life and gayety. We hope he will live, and grow into a stout man yet.
Our journey here was delightful;—it is the first time I have seen Tuscany when the purple grape hangs garlanded from tree to tree. We were in the early days of the vintage: the fields were animated by men and women, some of the latter with such pretty little bare feet, and shy, soft eyes, under the round straw hat. They were beginning to cut the vines, but had not done enough to spoil any of the beauty.
Here, too, I feel better pleased than ever before. Florence seems so cheerful and busy, after ruined Rome, I feel as if I could forget the disasters of the day, for a while, in looking on the treasures she inherits.
* * * * *
To-day we have been out in the country, and found a little chapel, full of contadine, their lovers waiting outside the door. They looked charming in their black veils,—the straw hat hanging on the arm,—with shy, glancing eyes, and cheeks pinched rosy by the cold; for it is cold here as in New England. On foot, we have explored a great part of the environs; and till now I had no conception of their beauty. When here before, I took only the regular drives, as prescribed for all lady and gentlemen travellers. This evening we returned by a path that led to the banks of the Arno. The Duomo, with the snowy mountains, were glorious in the rosy tint and haze, just before sunset. What a difference it makes to come home to a child!—how it fills up all the gaps of life, just in the way that is most consoling, most refreshing! Formerly, I used to feel sad at that hour; the day had not been nobly spent, I had not done my duty to myself and others, and I felt so lonely! Now I never feel lonely; for, even if my little boy dies, our souls will remain eternally united. And I feel infinite hope for him,—hope that he will serve God and man more loyally than I have done; and, seeing how full he is of life,—how much he can afford to throw away,—I feel the inexhaustibleness of nature, and console myself for my own incapacities.
* * * * *
Florence, Oct. 14, 1849.—Weary in spirit, with the deep disappointments of the last year, I wish to dwell little on these things for the moment, but seek some consolation in the affections. My little boy is quite well now, and I often am happy in seeing how joyous and full of activity he seems. Ossoli, too, feels happier here. The future is full of difficulties for us, but, having settled our plans for the present, we shall set it aside while we may. "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof;" and if the good be not always sufficient, in our case it is; so let us say grace to our dinner of herbs.
* * * * *
Florence, Nov. 7.—Dearest Mother,—Of all your endless acts and words of love, never was any so dear to me as your last letter;—so generous, so sweet, so holy! What on earth is so precious as a mother's love; and who has a mother like mine!
I was thinking of you and my father, all that first day of October, wishing to write, only there was much to disturb me that day, as the police were threatening to send us away. It is only since I have had my own child that I have known how much I always failed to do what I might have done for the happiness of you both; only since I have seen so much of men and their trials, that I have learned to prize my father as he deserved; only since I have had a heart daily and hourly testifying to me its love, that I have understood, too late, what it was for you to be deprived of it. It seems to me as if I had never sympathized with you as I ought, or tried to embellish and sustain your life, as far as is possible, after such an irreparable wound.
It will be sad for me to leave Italy, uncertain of return. Yet when I think of you, beloved mother; of brothers and sisters, and many friends, I wish to come. Ossoli is perfectly willing. He leaves in Rome a sister, whom he dearly loves. His aunt is dying now. He will go among strangers; but to him, as to all the young Italians, America seems the land of liberty. He hopes, too, that a new revolution will favor return, after a number of years, and that then he may find really a home in Italy. All this is dark;—we can judge only for the present moment. The decision will rest with me, and I shall wait till the last moment, as I always do, that I may have all the reasons before me.
I thought, to-day, ah, if she could only be with us now! But who knows how long this interval of peace will last? I have learned to prize such, as the halcyon prelude to the storm. It is now about a fortnight, since the police gave us leave to stay, and we feel safe in our little apartment. We have no servant except the nurse, with occasional aid from the porter's wife, and now live comfortably so, tormented by no one, helping ourselves. In the evenings, we have a little fire now;—the baby sits on his stool between us. He makes me think how I sat on mine, in the chaise, between you and father. He is exceedingly fond of flowers;—he has been enchanted, this evening, by this splendid Gardenia, and these many crimson flowers that were given me at Villa Correggi, where a friend took us in his carriage. It was a luxury, this ride, as we have entirely renounced the use of a carriage for ourselves. How enchanted you would have been with that villa! It seems now as if, with the certainty of a very limited income, we could be so happy! But I suppose, if we had it, one of us would die, or the baby. Do not you die, my beloved mother;—let us together have some halcyon moments, again, with God, with nature, with sweet childhood, with the remembrance of pure trust and good intent; away from perfidy and care, and the blight of noble designs.
Ossoli wishes you were here, almost as much as I. When there is anything really lovely and tranquil, he often says, "Would not 'La Madre' like that?" He wept when he heard your letter. I never saw him weep at any other time, except when his father died, and when the French entered Rome. He has, I think, even a more holy feeling about a mother, from having lost his own, when very small. It has been a life-long want with him. He often shows me a little scar on his face, made by a jealous dog, when his mother was caressing him as an infant. He prizes that blemish much.
* * * * *
Florence, December 1, 1849.—I do not know what to write about the baby, he changes so much,—has so many characters. He is like me in that, for his father's character is simple and uniform, though not monotonous, any more than are the flowers of spring flowers of the valley. Angelino is now in the most perfect rosy health,—a very gay, impetuous, ardent, but sweet-tempered child. He seems to me to have nothing in common with his first babyhood, with its ecstatic smiles, its exquisite sensitiveness, and a distinction in the gesture and attitudes that struck everybody. His temperament is apparently changed by taking the milk of these robust women. He is now come to quite a knowing age,—fifteen months.
In the morning, as soon as dressed, he signs to come into our room; then draws our curtain with his little dimpled hand, kisses me rather violently, pats my face, laughs, crows, shows his teeth, blows like the bellows, stretches himself, and says "bravo." Then, having shown off all his accomplishments, he expects, as a reward, to be tied in his chair, and have his playthings. These engage him busily, but still he calls to us to sing and drum, to enliven the scene. Sometimes he summons me to kiss his hand, and laughs very much at this. Enchanting is that baby-laugh, all dimples and glitter,—so strangely arch and innocent! Then I wash and dress him. That is his great time. He makes it last as long as he can, insisting to dress and wash me the while, kicking, throwing the water about, and full of all manner of tricks, such as, I think, girls never dream of. Then comes his walk;—we have beautiful walks here for him, protected by fine trees, always warm in mid-winter. The bands are playing in the distance, and children of all ages are moving about, and sitting with their nurses. His walk and sleep give me about three hours in the middle of the day.
I feel so refreshed by his young life, and Ossoli diffuses such a power and sweetness over every day, that I cannot endure to think yet of our future. Too much have we suffered already, trying to command it. I do not feel force to make any effort yet. I suppose that very soon now I must do something, and hope I shall feel able when the time comes. My constitution seems making an effort to rally, by dint of much sleep. I had slept so little, for a year and a half, and, after the birth of the child, I had such anxiety and anguish when separated from him, that I was consumed as by nightly fever. The last two months at Rome would have destroyed almost any woman. Then, when I went to him, he was so ill, and I was constantly up with him at night, carrying him about. Now, for two months, we have been tranquil. We have resolved to enjoy being together as much as we can, in this brief interval,—perhaps all we shall ever know of peace. It is very sad we have no money, we could be so quietly happy a while. I rejoice in all Ossoli did; but the results, in this our earthly state, are disastrous, especially as my strength is now so impaired. This much I hope, in life or death, to be no more separated from Angelino.
Last winter, I made the most vehement efforts at least to redeem the time, hoping thus good for the future. But, of at least two volumes written at that time, no line seems of any worth. I had suffered much constraint,—much that was uncongenial, harassing, even torturing, before; but this kind of pain found me unprepared;—the position of a mother separated from her only child is too frightfully unnatural.
* * * * *
The Christmas holidays interest me now, through my child, as they never did for myself. I like to go out to watch the young generation who will be his contemporaries. On Monday, we went to the Caseine. After we had taken the drive, we sat down on a stone seat in the sunny walk, to see the people pass;—the Grand Duke and his children; the elegant Austrian officers, who will be driven out of Italy when Angelino is a man; Princess Demidoff; Harry Lorrequer; an absurd brood of fops; many lovely children; many little frisking dogs, with their bells, &c. The sun shone brightly on the Arno; a barque moved gently by; all seemed good to the baby. He laid himself back in my arms, smiling, singing to himself, and dancing his feet. I hope he will retain some trace in his mind of the perpetual exhilarating picture of Italy. It cannot but be important in its influence while yet a child, to walk in these stately gardens, full of sculpture, and hear the untiring music of the fountains.
Christmas-eve we went to the Annunziata, for midnight mass. Though the service is not splendid here as in Rome, we yet enjoyed it;—sitting in one of the side chapels, at the foot of a monument, watching the rich crowds steal gently by, every eye gleaming, every gesture softened by the influence of the pealing choir, and the hundred silver lamps swinging their full light, in honor of the abused Emanuel.
But far finest was it to pass through the Duomo. No one was there. Only the altars were lit up, and the priests, who were singing, could not be seen by the faint light. The vast solemnity of the interior is thus really felt. The hour was worthy of Brunelleschi. I hope he walked there so. The Duomo is more divine than St. Peter's, and worthy of genius pure and unbroken. St. Peter's is, like Rome, a mixture of sublimest heaven with corruptest earth. I adore the Duomo, though no place can now be to me like St. Peter's, where has been passed the splendidest part of my life. My feeling was always perfectly regal, on entering the piazza of St. Peter's. No spot on earth is worthier the sunlight;—on none does it fall so fondly.
* * * * *
You ask me, how I employ myself here. I have been much engaged in writing out my impressions, which will be of worth so far as correct. I am anxious only to do historical justice to facts and persons; but there will not, so far as I am aware, be much thought, for I believe I have scarce expressed what lies deepest in my mind. I take no pains, but let the good genius guide my pen. I did long to lead a simple, natural life, at home, learning of my child, and writing only when imperatively urged by the need of utterance; but when we were forced to give up the hope of subsisting on a narrow independence, without tie to the public, we gave up the peculiar beauty of our lives, and I strive no more. I only hope to make good terms with the publishers.
Then, I have been occupied somewhat in reading Louis Blanc's Ten Years, Lamartine's Girondists, and other books of that class, which throw light on recent transactions.
I go into society, too, somewhat, and see several delightful persons, in an intimate way. The Americans meet twice a week, at the house of Messrs. Mozier and Chapman, and I am often present, on account of the friendly interest of those resident here. With our friends, the Greenoughs, I have twice gone to the opera. Then I see the Brownings often, and love and admire them both, more and more, as I know them better. Mr. Browning enriches every hour I pass with him, and is a most cordial, true, and noble man. One of my most highly prized Italian friends, also, Marchioness Arconati Visconti, of Milan, is passing the winter here, and I see her almost every day.
* * * * *
My love for Ossoli is most pure and tender, nor has any one, except my mother or little children, loved me so genuinely as he does. To some, I have been obliged to make myself known; others have loved me with a mixture of fancy and enthusiasm, excited by my talent at embellishing life. But Ossoli loves me from simple affinity;—he loves to be with me, and to serve and soothe me. Life will probably be a severe struggle, but I hope I shall be able to live through all that is before us, and not neglect my child or his father. He has suffered enough since we met;—it has ploughed furrows in his life. He has done all he could, and cannot blame himself. Our outward destiny looks dark, but we must brave it as we can. I trust we shall always feel mutual tenderness, and Ossoli has a simple, childlike piety, that will make it easier for him.
MARGARET AND HER PEERS.
Pure and peaceful as was the joy of Margaret's Florence winter, it was ensured and perfected by the fidelity of friends, who hedged around with honor the garden of her home. She had been called to pass through a most trying ordeal, and the verdict of her peers was heightened esteem and love. With what dignified gratitude she accepted this well-earned proof of confidence, will appear from the following extracts.
TO MRS. E.S.
Thus far, my friends have received news that must have been an unpleasant surprise to them, in a way that, a moi, does them great honor. None have shown littleness or displeasure, at being denied my confidence while they were giving their own. Many have expressed the warmest sympathy, and only one has shown a disposition to transgress the limit I myself had marked, and to ask questions. With her, I think, this was because she was annoyed by what people said, and wished to be able to answer them. I replied to her, that I had communicated already all I intended, and should not go into detail;—that when unkind things were said about me, she should let them pass. Will you, dear E——, do the same? I am sure your affection for me will prompt you to add, that you feel confident whatever I have done has been in a good spirit, and not contrary to my ideas of right. For the rest, you will not admit for me,—as I do not for myself,—the rights of the social inquisition of the United States to know all the details of my affairs. If my mother is content; if Ossoli and I are content; if our child, when grown up, shall be content; that is enough. You and I know enough of the United States to be sure that many persons there will blame whatever is peculiar. The lower-minded persons, everywhere, are sure to think that whatever is mysterious must be bad. But I think there will remain for me a sufficient number of friends to keep my heart warm, and to help me earn my bread;—that is all that is of any consequence. Ossoli seems to me more lovely and good every day; our darling child is well now, and every day more gay and playful. For his sake I shall have courage; and hope some good angel will show us the way out of our external difficulties.
It was like you to receive with such kindness the news of my marriage. A less generous person would have been displeased, that, when we had been drawn so together,—when we had talked so freely, and you had shown towards me such sweet friendship,—I had not told you. Often did I long to do so, but I had, for reasons that seemed important, made a law to myself to keep this secret as rigidly as possible, up to a certain moment. That moment came. Its decisions were not such as I had hoped; but it left me, at least, without that painful burden, which I trust never to bear again. Nature keeps so many secrets, that I had supposed the moral writers exaggerated the dangers and plagues of keeping them; but they cannot exaggerate. All that can be said about mine is, that I at least acted out, with, to me, tragic thoroughness, "The wonder, a woman keeps a secret." As to my not telling you, I can merely say, that I was keeping the information from my family and dearest friends at home; and, had you remained near me a very little later, you would have been the very first person to whom I should have spoken, as you would have been the first, on this side of the water, to whom I should have written, had I known where to address you. Yet I hardly hoped for your sympathy, dear W——. I am very glad if I have it. May brotherly love ever be returned unto you in like measure. Ossoli desires his love and respect to be testified to you both.
TO THE MARCHIONESS VISCONTI ARCONATI.
Reading a book called "The Last Days of the Republic in Rome," I see that my letter, giving my impressions of that period, may well have seemed to you strangely partial. If we can meet as once we did, and compare notes in the same spirit of candor, while making mutual allowance for our different points of view, your testimony and opinions would be invaluable to me. But will you have patience with my democracy,—my revolutionary spirit? Believe that in thought I am more radical than ever. The heart of Margaret you know,—it is always the same. Mazzini is immortally dear to me—a thousand times deafer for all the trial I saw made of him in Rome;—dearer for all he suffered. Many of his brave friends perished there. We who, less worthy, survive, would fain make up for the loss, by our increased devotion to him, the purest, the most disinterested of patriots, the most affectionate of brothers. You will not love me less that I am true to him.
Then, again, how will it affect you to know that I have united my destiny with that of an obscure young man,—younger than myself; a person of no intellectual culture, and in whom, in short, you will see no reason for my choosing; yet more, that this union is of long standing; that we have with us our child, of a year old, and that it is only lately I acquainted my family with the fact?
If you decide to meet with me as before, and wish to say something about the matter to your friends, it will be true to declare that there have been pecuniary reasons for this concealment. But to you, in confidence, I add, this is only half the truth; and I cannot explain, or satisfy my dear friend further. I should wish to meet her independent of all relations, but, as we live in the midst of "society," she would have to inquire for me now as Margaret Ossoli. That being done, I should like to say nothing more on the subject.
However you may feel about all this, dear Madame Arconati, you will always be the same in my eyes. I earnestly wish you may not feel estranged; but, if you do, I would prefer that you should act upon it. Let us meet as friends, or not at all. In all events, I remain ever yours,
TO THE MARCHIONESS VISCONTI ARCONATI.
My loved friend,—I read your letter with greatest content. I did not know but that there might seem something offensively strange in the circumstances I mentioned to you. Goethe says, "There is nothing men pardon so little as singular conduct, for which no reason is given;" and, remembering this, I have been a little surprised at the even increased warmth of interest with which the little American society of Florence has received me, with the unexpected accessories of husband and child,—asking no questions, and seemingly satisfied to find me thus accompanied. With you, indeed, I thought it would be so, because you are above the world; only, as you have always walked in the beaten path, though with noble port, and feet undefiled, I thought you might not like your friends to be running about in these blind alleys. It glads my heart, indeed, that you do not care for this, and that we may meet in love.
You speak of our children. Ah! dear friend, I do, indeed, feel we shall have deep sympathy there. I do not believe mine will be a brilliant child, and, indeed, I see nothing peculiar about him. Yet he is to me a source of ineffable joys,—far purer, deeper, than anything I ever felt before,—like what Nature had sometimes given, but more intimate, more sweet. He loves me very much; his little heart clings to mine. I trust, if he lives, to sow there no seeds which are not good, to be always growing better for his sake. Ossoli, too, will be a good father. He has very little of what is called intellectual development, but unspoiled instincts, affections pure and constant, and a quiet sense of duty, which, to me,—who have seen much of the great faults in characters of enthusiasm and genius,—seems of highest value.
When you write by post, please direct "Marchesa Ossoli," as all the letters come to that address. I did not explain myself on that point. The fact is, it looks to me silly for a radical like me to be carrying a title; and yet, while Ossoli is in his native land, it seems disjoining myself from him, not to bear it. It is a sort of thing that does not naturally belong to me, and, unsustained by fortune, is but a souvenir even for Ossoli. Yet it has appeared to me, that for him to drop an inherited title would be, in some sort, to acquiesce in his brothers' disclaiming him, and to abandon a right he may passively wish to maintain for his child. How does it seem to you? I am not very clear about it. If Ossoli should drop the title, it would be a suitable moment to do so on becoming an inhabitant of Republican America.
TO MRS. C.T.
What you say of the meddling curiosity of people repels me, it is so different here. When I made my appearance with a husband and a child of a year old, nobody did the least act to annoy me. All were most cordial; none asked or implied questions. Yet there were not a few who might justly have complained, that, when they were confiding to me all their affairs, and doing much to serve me, I had observed absolute silence to them. Others might, for more than one reason, be displeased at the choice I made. All have acted in the kindliest and most refined manner. An Italian lady, with whom I was intimate,—who might be qualified in the Court Journal, as one of the highest rank, sustained by the most scrupulous decorum,—when I wrote, "Dear friend, I am married; I have a child. There are particulars, as to my reasons for keeping this secret, I do not wish to tell. This is rather an odd affair; will it make any difference in our relations?"—answered, "What difference can it make, except that I shall love you more, now that we can sympathize as mothers?" Her first visit here was to me: she adopted at once Ossoli and the child to her love.
—— wrote me that —— was a little hurt, at first, that I did not tell him, even in the trying days of Rome, but left him to hear it, as he unluckily did, at the table d'hote in Venice; but his second and prevailing thought was regret that he had not known it, so as to soothe and aid me,—to visit Ossoli at his post,—to go to the child in the country. Wholly in that spirit was the fine letter he wrote me, one of my treasures. The little American society have been most cordial and attentive; one lady, who has been most intimate with me, dropped a tear over the difficulties before me, but she said, "Since you have seen fit to take the step, all your friends have to do, now, is to make it as easy for you as they can."
TO MRS. E.S.
I am glad to have people favorably impressed, because I feel lazy and weak, unequal to the trouble of friction, or the pain of conquest. Still, I feel a good deal of contempt for those so easily disconcerted or reaessured. I was not a child; I had lived in the midst of that New England society, in a way that entitled me to esteem, and a favorable interpretation, where there was doubt about my motives or actions. I pity those who are inclined to think ill, when they might as well have inclined the other way. However, let them go; there are many in the world who stand the test, enough to keep us from shivering to death. I am, on the whole, fortunate in friends whom I can truly esteem, and in whom I know the kernel and substance of their being too well to be misled by seemings.
TO MRS. C.T.
I had a letter from my mother, last summer, speaking of the fact, that she had never been present at the marriage of one of her children. A pang of remorse came as I read it, and I thought, if Angelino dies,[A] I will not give her the pain of knowing that I have kept this secret from her;—she shall hear of this connection, as if it were something new. When I found he would live, I wrote to her and others. It half killed me to write those few letters, and yet, I know, many are wondering that I did not write more, and more particularly. My mother received my communication in the highest spirit. She said, she was sure a first object with me had been, now and always, to save her pain. She blessed us. She rejoiced that she should not die feeling there was no one left to love me with the devotion she thought I needed. She expressed no regret at our poverty, but offered her feeble means. Her letter was a noble crown to her life of disinterested, purifying love.
[Footnote A: This was when Margaret found Nino so ill at Rieti.]
The following notes respecting Margaret's residence in Florence were furnished to the editors by Mr. W.H. Hurlbut.
I passed about six weeks in the city of Florence, during the months of March and April, 1850. During the whole of that time Madame Ossoli was residing in a house at the corner of the Via della Misericordia and the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. This house is one of those large, well built modern houses that show strangely in the streets of the stately Tuscan city. But if her rooms were less characteristically Italian, they were the more comfortable, and, though small, had a quiet, home-like air. Her windows opened upon a fine view of the beautiful Piazza; for such was their position, that while the card-board facade of the church of Sta. Maria Novella could only be seen at an angle, the exquisite Campanile rose fair and full against the sky. She enjoyed this most graceful tower very much, and, I think, preferred it even to Giotto's noble work. Its quiet religious grace was grateful to her spirit, which seemed to be yearning for peace from the cares that had so vexed and heated the world about her for a year past.
I saw her frequently at these rooms, where, surrounded by her books and papers, she used to devote her mornings to her literary labors. Once or twice I called in the morning, and found her quite immersed in manuscripts and journals. Her evenings were passed usually in the society of her friends, at her own rooms, or at theirs. With the pleasant circle of Americans, then living in Florence, she was on the best terms, and though she seemed always to bring with her her own most intimate society, and never to be quite free from the company of busy thoughts, and the cares to which her life had introduced her, she was always cheerful, and her remarkable powers of conversation subserved on all occasions the kindliest, purposes of good-will in social intercourse.
The friends with whom she seemed to be on the terms of most sympathy, were an Italian lady, the Marchesa Arconati Visconti,[A]—the exquisite sweetness of whose voice interpreted, even to those who knew her only as a transient acquaintance, the harmony of her nature,—and some English residents in Florence, among whom I need only name Mr. and Mrs. Browning, to satisfy the most anxious friends of Madame Ossoli that the last months of her Italian life were cheered by all the light that communion with gifted and noble natures could afford.
The Marchesa Arconati used to persuade Madame Ossoli to occasional excursions with her into the environs of Florence, and she passed some days of the beautiful spring weather at the villa of that lady.
Her delight in nature seemed to be a source of great comfort and strength to her. I shall not easily forget the account she gave me, on the evening of one delicious Sunday in April, of a walk which she had taken with her husband in the afternoon of that day, to the hill of San Miniato. The amethystine beauty of the Apennines,—the cypress trees that sentinel the way up to the ancient and deserted church,—the church itself, standing high and lonely on its hill, begirt with the vine-clad, crumbling walls of Michel Angelo,—the repose of the dome-crowned city in the vale below,—seemed to have wrought their impression with peculiar force upon her mind that afternoon. On their way home, they had entered the conventual church that stands half way up the hill, just as the vesper service was beginning, and she spoke of the simple spirit of devotion that filled the place, and of the gentle wonder with which, to use her own words, the "peasant women turned their glances, the soft dark glances of the Tuscan peasant's eyes," upon the strangers, with a singular enthusiasm. She was in the habit of taking such walks with her husband, and she never returned from one of them, I believe, without some new impression of beauty and of lasting truth. While her judgment, intense in its sincerity, tested, like an aqua regia, the value of all facts that came within her notice, her sympathies seemed, by an instinctive and unerring action, to transmute all her experiences instantly into permanent treasures.
The economy of the house in which she lived afforded me occasions for observing the decisive power, both of control and of consolation, which she could exert over others. Her maid,—an impetuous girl of Rieti, a town which rivals Tivoli as a hot-bed of homicide,—was constantly involved in disputes with a young Jewess, who occupied the floor above Madame Ossoli. On one occasion, this Jewess offered the maid a deliberate and unprovoked insult. The girl of Rieti, snatching up a knife, ran up stairs to revenge herself after her national fashion. The porter's little daughter followed her and, running into Madame Ossoli's rooms, besought her interference. Madame Ossoli reached the apartment of the Jewess, just in time to interpose between that beetle-browed lady and her infuriated assailant. Those who know the insane license of spirit which distinguishes the Roman mountaineers, will understand that this was a position of no slight hazard. The Jewess aggravated the danger of the offence by the obstinate maliciousness of her aspect and words. Such, however, was Madame Ossoli's entire self-possession and forbearance, that she was able to hold her ground, and to remonstrate with this difficult pair of antagonists so effectually, as to bring the maid to penitent tears, and the Jewess to a confession of her injustice, and a promise of future good behavior.
The porter of the house, who lived in a dark cavernous hole on the first floor, was slowly dying of a consumption, the sufferings of which were imbittered by the chill dampness of his abode. His hollow voice and hacking cough, however, could not veil the grateful accent with which he uttered any allusion to Madame Ossoli. He was so close a prisoner to his narrow, windowless chamber, that when I inquired for Madame Ossoli he was often obliged to call his little daughter, before he could tell me whether Madame was at home, or not; and he always tempered the official uniformity of the question with some word of tenderness. Indeed, he rarely pronounced her name; sufficiently indicating to the child whom it was that I was seeking, by the affectionate epithet he used, "Lita! e la cara Signora in casa?"
The composure and force of Madame Ossoli's character would, indeed, have given her a strong influence for good over any person with whom she was brought into contact; but this influence must have been even extraordinary over the impulsive and ill-disciplined children of passion and of sorrow, among whom she was thrown in Italy.
Her husband related to me once, with a most reverent enthusiasm, some stories of the good she had done in Rieti, during her residence there. The Spanish troops were quartered in that town, and the dissipated habits of the officers, as well as the excesses of the soldiery, kept the place in a constant irritation. Though overwhelmed with cares and anxieties, Madame Ossoli found time and collectedness of mind enough to interest herself in the distresses of the towns-people, and to pour the soothing oil of a wise sympathy upon their wounded and indignant feelings. On one occasion, as the Marchese told me, she undoubtedly saved the lives of a family in Rieti, by inducing them to pass over in silence an insult offered to one of them by an intoxicated Spanish soldier,—and, on another, she interfered between two brothers, maddened by passion, and threatening to stain the family hearth with the guilt of fratricide.[B]
Such incidents, and the calm tenor of Madame Ossoli's confident hopes.—the assured faith and unshaken bravery, with which she met and turned aside the complicated troubles, rising sometimes into absolute perils, of their last year in Italy,—seemed to have inspired her husband with a feeling of respect for her, amounting to reverence. This feeling, modifying the manifest tenderness with which he hung upon her every word and look, and sought to anticipate her simplest wishes, was luminously visible in the air and manner of his affectionate devotion to her.
The frank and simple recognition of his wife's singular nobleness, which he always displayed, was the best evidence that his own nature was of a fine and noble strain. And those who knew him best, are, I believe, unanimous in testifying that his character did in no respect belie the evidence borne by his manly and truthful countenance, to its warmth and its sincerity. He seemed quite absorbed in his wife and child. I cannot remember ever to have found Madame Ossoli alone, on those evenings when she remained at home. Her husband was always with her. The picture of their room rises clearly on my memory. A small square room, sparingly, yet sufficiently furnished, with polished floor and frescoed ceiling,—and, drawn up closely before the cheerful fire, an oval table, on which stood a monkish lamp of brass, with depending chains that support quaint classic cups for the olive oil. There, seated beside his wife, I was sure to find the Marchese, reading from some patriotic book, and dressed in the dark brown, red-corded coat of the Guardia Civica, which it was his melancholy pleasure to wear at home. So long as the conversation could be carried on in Italian, he used to remain, though he rarely joined in it to any considerable degree; but if a number of English and American visitors came in, he used to take his leave and go to the Cafe d'Italia, being very unwilling, as Madame Ossoli told me, to impose any seeming restraint, by his presence, upon her friends, with whom he was unable to converse. For the same reason, he rarely remained with her at the houses of her English or American friends, though he always accompanied her thither, and returned to escort her home.
I conversed with him so little that I can hardly venture to make any remarks on the impression which I received from his conversation, with regard to the character of his mind. Notwithstanding his general reserve and curtness of speech, on two or three occasions he showed himself to possess quite a quick and vivid fancy, and even a certain share of humor. I have heard him tell stories remarkably well. One tale, especially, which related to a dream he had in early life, about a treasure concealed in his father's house, which was thrice repeated, and made so strong an impression on his mind as to induce him to batter a certain panel in the library almost to pieces, in vain, but which received something like a confirmation from the fact, that a Roman attorney, who rented that and other rooms from the family, after his father's death, grew suddenly and unaccountably rich,—I remember as being told with great felicity and vivacity of expression.
His recollections of the trouble and the dangers through which he had passed with his wife seemed to be overpoweringly painful. On one occasion, he began to tell me a story of their stay in the mountains: He had gone out to walk, and had unconsciously crossed the Neapolitan frontier. Suddenly meeting with a party of the Neapolitan gendarmerie, he was called to account for his trespass, and being unable to produce any papers testifying to his loyalty, or the legality of his existence, he was carried off, despite his protestations, and lodged for the night in a miserable guard-house, whence he-was taken, next morning, to the head-quarters of the officer commanding in the neighborhood. Here, matters might have gone badly with him, but for the accident that he had upon his person a business letter directed to himself as the Marchese Ossoli. A certain abbe, the regimental chaplain, having once spent some time in Rome, recognized the name as that of an officer in the Pope's Guardia Nobile,[C] whereupon, the Neapolitan officers not only ordered him to be released, but sent him back, with many apologies, in a carriage, and under an armed escort, to the Roman territory. When he reached this part of his story, and came to his meeting with Madame Ossoli, the remembrance of her terrible distress during the period of his detention so overcame him, that he was quite unable to go on.
Towards their child he manifested an overflowing tenderness, and most affectionate care.
Notwithstanding the intense contempt and hatred which Signore Ossoli, in common with all the Italian liberals, cherished towards the ecclesiastical body, he seemed to be a very devout Catholic. He used to attend regularly the vesper service, in some of the older and quieter churches of Florence; and, though I presume Madame Ossoli never accepted in any degree the Roman Catholic forms of faith, she frequently accompanied him on these occasions. And I know that she enjoyed the devotional influences of the church ritual, as performed in the cathedral, and at Santa Croce, especially during the Easter-week.
Though condemned by her somewhat uncertain position at Florence,[D] as well as by the state of things in Tuscany at that time, to a comparative inaction, Madame Ossoli never seemed to lose in the least the warmth of her interest in the affairs of Italy, nor did she bate one jot of heart or hope for the future of that country. She was much depressed, however, I think, by the apparent apathy and prostration of the Liberals in Tuscany; and the presence of the Austrian troops in Florence was as painful and annoying to her, as it could have been to any Florentine patriot. When it was understood that Prince Lichtenstein had requested the Grand Duke to order a general illumination in honor of the anniversary of the battle of Novara, Madame Ossoli, I recollect, was more moved, than I remember on any other occasion to have seen her. And she used to speak very regretfully of the change which had come over the spirit of Florence, since her former residence there. Then all was gayety and hope. Bodies of artisans, gathering recruits as they passed along, used to form themselves into choral bands, as they returned from their work at the close of the day, and filled the air with the chants of liberty. Now, all was a sombre and desolate silence.
Her own various cares so occupied Madame Ossoli that she seemed to be very much withdrawn from the world of art. During the whole time of my stay in Florence, I do not think she once visited either of the Grand Ducal Galleries, and the only studio in which she seemed to feel any very strong interest, was that of Mademoiselle Favand, a lady whose independence of character, self-reliance, and courageous genius, could hardly have failed to attract her congenial sympathies.
But among all my remembrances of Madame Ossoli, there are none more beautiful or more enduring than those which recall to me another person, a young stranger, alone and in feeble health, who found, in her society, her sympathy, and her counsels, a constant atmosphere of comfort and of peace. Every morning, wild-flowers, freshly gathered, were laid upon her table by the grateful hands of this young man; every evening, beside her seat in her little room, his mild, pure face was to be seen, bright with a quiet happiness, that must have bound his heart by no weak ties to her with whose fate his own was so closely to be linked.
And the recollection of such benign and holy influences breathed upon the human hearts of those who came within her sphere, will not, I trust, be valueless to those friends, in whose love her memory is enshrined with more immortal honors than the world can give or take away.
[Footnote A: Just before I left Florence, Madame Ossoli showed me a small marble figure of a child, playing among flowers or vine leaves, which, she said, was a portrait of the child of Madame Arconati, presented to her by that lady. I mention this circumstance, because I have understood that a figure answering this description was recovered from the wreck of the Elizabeth.]
[Footnote B: The circumstances of this story, perhaps, deserve to be recorded. The brothers were two young men, the sons and the chief supports of Madame Ossoli's landlord at Rieti. They were both married,—the younger one to a beautiful girl, who had brought him no dowry, and who, in the opinion of her husband's family, had not shown a proper disposition to bear her share of the domestic burdens and duties. The bickerings and disputes which resulted from this state of affairs, on one unlucky day, took the form of an open and violent quarrel. The younger son, who was absent from home when the conflict began, returned to find it at its height, and was received by his wife with passionate tears, and by his relations with sharp recriminations. His brother, especially, took it upon himself to upbraid him, in the name of all his family, for bringing into their home-circle such a firebrand of discord. Charges and counter charges followed in rapid succession, and hasty words soon led to blows. From blows the appeal to the knife was swiftly made, and when Madame Ossoli, attracted by the unusual clamor, entered upon the scene of action, she found that blood had been already drawn, and that the younger brother was only restrained from following up the first assault by the united force of all the females, who hung about him, while the older brother, grasping a heavy billet of wood, and pale with rage, stood awaiting his antagonist. Passing through the group of weeping and terrified women, Madame Ossoli made her way up to the younger brother and, laying her hand upon his shoulder, asked him to put down his weapon and listen to her. It was in vain that he attempted to ignore her presence. Before the spell of her calm, firm, well-known voice, his fury melted away. She spoke to him again, and besought him to show himself a man, and to master his foolish and wicked rage. With a sudden impulse, he flung his knife upon the ground, turned to Madame Ossoli, clasped and kissed her hand, and then running towards his brother, the two met in a fraternal embrace, which brought the threatened tragedy to a joyful termination.]
[Footnote C: It will be understood, that this officer was the Marchese's older brother, who still adheres to the Papal cause.]
[Footnote D: She believed herself to be, and I suppose really was, under the surveillance of the police during her residence in Florence.]
BY W.H. CHANNING
* * * * *
Last, having thus revealed all I could love And having received all love bestowed on it, I would die: so preserving through my course God full on me, as I was full on men: And He would grant my prayer—"I have gone through All loveliness of life; make more for me, If not for men,—or take me to Thyself, Eternal, Infinite Love!"
Till another open for me In God's Eden-land unknown, With an angel at the doorway, White with gazing at His Throne; And a saint's voice in the palm-trees, singing,—"ALL IS LOST, and won."
La ne venimmo: e lo scaglion primaio Bianco marmo era si pulito e terso, Ch'io mi specchiava in esso, qual io paio. Era 'l secondo tinto, piu che perso, D'una petrina ruvida ed arsiccia, Crepata per lo lungo e per traverso. Lo terzo, che di sopra s'ammassiccia, Porfido mi parea si fiammegiante, Come sangue che fuor di vena spiccia. Sopra questa teneva ambo le piante L' angel di Dio, sedendo in su la soglia, Che mi sembiava pietra di diamante. Per li tre gradi su di buona voglia Mi trasse 'l daca mio, dicendo, chiodi Umilmente che 'l serrame scioglia.
Che luce e questa, e qual nuova beltate? Dicean tra lor; perch' abito si adorno Dal mondo errante a quest 'alto soggiorno Non sail mai in tutta questa etate. Ella contenta aver cangiato albergo, Si paragona pur coi piu perfetti.
Spring, bright prophet of God's eternal youth, herald forever eloquent of heaven's undying joy, has once more wrought its miracle of resurrection on the vineyards and olive-groves of Tuscany, and touched with gently-wakening fingers the myrtle and the orange in the gardens of Florence. The Apennines have put aside their snowy winding-sheet, and their untroubled faces salute with rosy gleams of promise the new day, while flowers smile upward to the serene sky amid the grass and grain fields, and fruit is swelling beneath the blossoms along the plains of Arno. "The Italian spring," writes Margaret, "is as good as Paradise. Days come of glorious sunshine and gently-flowing airs, that expand the heart and uplift the whole nature. The birds are twittering their first notes of love; the ground is enamelled with anemones, cowslips, and crocuses; every old wall and ruin puts on its festoon and garland; and the heavens stoop daily nearer, till the earth is folded in an embrace of light, and her every pulse beats music."
"This world is indeed a sad place, despite its sunshine, birds, and crocuses. But I never felt as happy as now, when I always find the glad eyes of my little boy to welcome me. I feel the tie between him and me so real and deep-rooted, that even death shall not part us. So sweet is this unimpassioned love, it knows no dark reactions, it does not idealize, and cannot be daunted by the faults of its object. Nothing but a child can take the worst bitterness out of life, and break the spell of loneliness. I shall not be alone in other worlds, whenever Eternity may call me."
And now her face is turned homeward. "I am homesick," she had written years before, "but where is that HOME?"
"My heart is very tired,—my strength is low,— My hands are full of blossoms plucked before, Held dead within them till myself shall die."
Many motives drew Margaret to her native land: heart-weariness at the reaction in Europe; desire of publishing to best advantage the book whereby she hoped at once to do justice to great principles and brave men, and to earn bread for her dear ones and herself; and, above all, yearning to be again among her family and earliest associates. "I go back," she writes, "prepared for difficulties; but it will be a consolation to be with my mother, brothers, sister, and old friends, and I find it imperatively necessary to be in the United States, for a while at least, to make such arrangements with the printers as may free me from immediate care. I did think, at one time, of coming alone with Angelino, and then writing for Ossoli to come later, or returning to Italy; knowing that it will be painful for him to go, and that there he must have many lonely hours. But he is separated from his old employments and natural companions, while no career is open for him at present. Then, I would not take his child away for several months; for his heart is fixed upon him as fervently as mine. And, again, it would not only be very strange and sad to be so long without his love and care, but I should be continually solicitous about his welfare. Ossoli, indeed, cannot but feel solitary at first, and I am much more anxious about his happiness than my own. Still, he will have our boy, and the love of my family, especially of my mother, to cheer him, and quiet communings with nature give him pleasure so simple and profound, that I hope he will make a new life for himself, in our unknown country, till changes favor our return to his own. I trust, that we shall find the means to come together, and to remain together."
Considerations of economy determined them, spite of many misgivings, to take passage in a merchantman from Leghorn. "I am suffering," she writes, "as never before, from the horrors of indecision. Happy the fowls of the air, who do not have to think so much about their arrangements! The barque Elizabeth will take us, and is said to be an uncommonly good vessel, nearly new, and well kept. We may be two months at sea, but to go by way of France would more than double the expense. Yet, now that I am on the point of deciding to come in her, people daily dissuade me, saying that I have no conception of what a voyage of sixty or seventy days will be in point of fatigue and suffering; that the insecurity, compared with packet-ships or steamers, is great; that the cabin, being on deck, will be terribly exposed, in case of a gale, &c., &c. I am well aware of the proneness of volunteer counsellors to frighten and excite one, and have generally disregarded them. But this time I feel a trembling solicitude on account of my child, and am doubtful, harassed, almost ill." And again, under date of April 21, she says: "I had intended, if I went by way of France, to take the packet-ship 'Argo,' from Havre; and I had requested Mrs. —— to procure and forward to me some of my effects left at Paris, in charge of Miss F——, when, taking up Galignani, my eye fell on these words: 'Died, 4th of April, Miss F——; 'and, turning the page, I read, 'The wreck of the Argo,'—a somewhat singular combination! There were notices, also, of the loss of the fine English steamer Adelaide, and of the American packet John Skiddy. Safety is not to be secured, then, by the wisest foresight. I shall embark more composedly in our merchant-ship, praying fervently, indeed, that it may not be my lot to lose my boy at sea, either by unsolaced illness, or amid the howling waves; or, if so, that Ossoli, Angelo, and I may go together, and that the anguish may be brief."
Their state-rooms were taken, their trunks packed, their preparations finished, they were just leaving Florence, when letters came, which, had they reached her a week earlier, would probably have induced them to remain in Italy. But Margaret had already by letter appointed a rendezvous for the scattered members of her family in July; and she would not break her engagements with the commander of the barque. It was destined that they were to sail,—to sail in the Elizabeth, to sail then. And, even in the hour of parting, clouds, whose tops were golden in the sunshine, whose base was gloomy on the waters, beckoned them onward. "Beware of the sea," had been a singular prophecy, given to Ossoli when a boy, by a fortune-teller, and this was the first ship he had ever set his foot on. More than ordinary apprehensions of risk, too, hovered before Margaret. "I am absurdly fearful," she writes, "and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling. I am become indeed a miserable coward, for the sake of Angelino. I fear heat and cold, fear the voyage, fear biting poverty. I hope I shall not be forced to be as brave for him, as I have been for myself, and that, if I succeed to rear him, he will be neither a weak nor a bad man. But I love him too much! In case of mishap, however, I shall perish with my husband and my child, and we may be transferred to some happier state." And again: "I feel perfectly willing to stay my threescore years and ten, if it be thought I need so much tuition from this planet; but it seems to me that my future upon earth will soon close. It may be terribly trying, but it will not be so very long, now. God will transplant the root, if he wills to rear it into fruit-bearing." And, finally: "I have a vague expectation of some crisis,—I know not what. But it has long seemed, that, in the year 1850, I should stand on a plateau in the ascent of life, where I should be allowed to pause for a while, and take more clear and commanding views than ever before. Yet my life proceeds as regularly as the fates of a Greek tragedy, and I can but accept the pages as they turn." * *