My Ten Years' Imprisonment
by Silvio Pellico
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Still I did not wholly neglect the paper put into my hands, and sometimes even devoted an entire day or night to writing. But here I only treated of literary matters. I composed at that time the Ester d'Engaddi, the Iginia d'Asti, and the Cantichi, entitled, Tanereda Rosilde, Eligi and Valafrido, Adello, besides several sketches of tragedies, and other productions, in the list of which was a poem upon the Lombard League, and another upon Christopher Columbus.

As it was not always so easy an affair to get a reinforcement of paper, I was in the habit of committing my rough draughts to my table, or the wrapping-paper in which I received fruit and other articles. At times I would give away my dinner to the under-jailer, telling him that I had no appetite, and then requesting from him the favour of a sheet of paper. This was, however, only in certain exigencies, when my little table was full of writing, and I had not yet determined on clearing it away. I was often very hungry, and though the jailer had money of mine in his possession, I did not ask him to bring me anything to eat, partly lest he should suspect I had given away my dinner, and partly that the under-jailer might not find out that I had said the thing which was not when I assured him of my loss of appetite. In the evening I regaled myself with some strong coffee, and I entreated that it might be made by the little sioa, Zanze. {13} This was the jailer's daughter, who, if she could escape the lynx-eye of her sour mamma, was good enough to make it exceedingly good; so good, indeed, that, what with the emptiness of my stomach, it produced a kind of convulsion, which kept me awake the whole of the night.

In this state of gentle inebriation, I felt my intellectual faculties strangely invigorated; wrote poetry, philosophized, and prayed till morning with feelings of real pleasure. I then became completely exhausted, threw myself upon my bed, and, spite of the gnats that were continually sucking my blood, I slept an hour or two in profound rest.

I can hardly describe the peculiar and pleasing exaltation of mind which continued for nights together, and I left no means untried to secure the same means of continuing it. With this view I still refused to touch a mouthful of dinner, even when I was in no want of paper, merely in order to obtain my magic beverage for the evening.

How fortunate I thought myself when I succeeded; not unfrequently the coffee was not made by the gentle Angiola; and it was always vile stuff from her mother's hands. In this last case, I was sadly put out of humour, for instead of the electrical effect on my nerves, it made me wretched, weak, and hungry; I threw myself down to sleep, but was unable to close an eye. Upon these occasions I complained bitterly to Angiola, the jailer's daughter, and one day, as if she had been in fault, I scolded her so sharply that the poor girl began to weep, sobbing out, "Indeed, sir, I never deceived anybody, and yet everybody calls me a deceitful little mix."

"Everybody! Oh then, I see I am not the only one driven to distraction by your vile slops."

"I do not mean to say that, sir. Ah, if you only knew; if I dared to tell you all that my poor, wretched heart—"

"Well, don't cry so! What is all this ado? I beg your pardon, you see, if I scolded you. Indeed, I believe you would not, you could not, make me such vile stuff as this."

"Dear me! I am not crying about that, sir."

"You are not!" and I felt my self-love not a little mortified, though I forced a smile. "Are you crying, then, because I scolded you, and yet not about the coffee?"

"Yes, indeed, sir?"

"Ah! then who called you a little deceitful one before?"

"HE did, sir."

"HE did; and who is HE?"

"My lover, sir;" and she hid her face in her little hands.

Afterwards she ingenuously intrusted to my keeping, and I could not well betray her, a little serio-comic sort of pastoral romance, which really interested me.


From that day forth, I know not why, I became the adviser and confidant of this young girl, who returned and conversed with me for hours. She at first said, "You are so good, sir, that I feel just the same when I am here as if I were your own daughter."

"That is a very poor compliment," replied I, dropping her hand; "I am hardly yet thirty-two, and you look upon me as if I were an old father."

"No, no, not so; I mean as a brother, to be sure;" and she insisted upon taking hold of my hand with an air of the most innocent confidence and affection.

I am glad, thought I to myself, that you are no beauty; else, alas, this innocent sort of fooling might chance to disconcert me; at other times I thought it is lucky, too, she is so young, there could never be any danger of becoming attached to girls of her years. At other times, however, I felt a little uneasy, thinking I was mistaken in having pronounced her rather plain, whereas her whole shape and features were by no means wanting in proportion or expression. If she were not quite so pale, I said, and her face free from those marks, she might really pass for a beauty. It is impossible, in fact, not to find some charm in the presence and in the looks and voice of a young girl full of vivacity and affection. I had taken not the least pains to acquire her good-will; yet was I as dear to either as a father or a brother, whichever title I preferred. And why? Only because she had read Francesca da Rimini and Eufemio, and my poems, she said, had made her weep so often; then, besides, I was a solitary prisoner, WITHOUT HAVING, as she observed, either robbed or murdered anybody.

In short, when I had become attached to poor Maddalene, without once seeing her, how was it likely that I could remain indifferent to the sisterly assiduity and attentions, to the thousand pleasing little compliments, and to the most delicious cups of coffee of this young Venice girl, my gentle little jailer? {14} I should be trying to impose on myself, were I to attribute to my own prudence the fact of my not having fallen in love with Angiola. I did not do so, simply from the circumstance of her having already a lover of her own choosing, to whom she was desperately, unalterably attached. Heaven help me! if it had not been thus I should have found myself in a very CRITICAL position, indeed, for an author, with so little to keep alive his attention. The sentiment I felt for her was not, then, what is called love. I wished to see her happy, and that she might be united to the lover of her choice; I was not jealous, nor had I the remotest idea she could ever select me as the object of her regard. Still, when I heard my prison-door open, my heart began to beat in the hope it was my Angiola; and if she appeared not, I experienced a peculiar kind of vexation; when she really came my heart throbbed yet more violently, from a feeling of pure joy. Her parents, who had begun to entertain a good opinion of me, and were aware of her passionate regard for another, offered no opposition to the visits she thus made me, permitting her almost invariably to bring me my coffee in a morning, and not unfrequently in the evening.

There was altogether a simplicity and an affectionateness in her every word, look, and gesture, which were really captivating. She would say, "I am excessively attached to another, and yet I take such delight in being near you! When I am not in HIS company, I like being nowhere so well as here." (Here was another compliment.)

"And don't you know why?" inquired I.

"I do not."

"I will tell you, then. It is because I permit you to talk about your lover."

"That is a good guess; yet still I think it is a good deal because I esteem you so very much!"

Poor girl! along with this pretty frankness she had that blessed sin of taking me always by the hand, and pressing it with all her heart, not perceiving that she at once pleased and disconcerted me by her affectionate manner. Thanks be to Heaven, that I can always recall this excellent little girl to mind without the least tinge of remorse.


The following portion of my narrative would assuredly have been more interesting had the gentle Angiola fallen in love with me, or if I had at least run half mad to enliven my solitude. There was, however, another sentiment, that of simple benevolence, no less dear to me, which united our hearts in one. And if, at any moment, I felt there was the least risk of its changing its nature in my vain, weak heart, it produced only sincere regret.

Once, certainly, having my doubts that this would happen, and finding her, to my sorrow, a hundred times more beautiful than I had at first imagined; feeling too so very melancholy when she was absent, so joyous when near, I took upon myself to play the UNAMIABLE, in the idea that this would remove all danger by making her leave off the same affectionate and familiar manner. This innocent stratagem was tried in vain; the poor girl was so patient, so full of compassion for me. She would look at me in silence, with her elbow resting upon the window, and say, after a long pause, "I see, sir, you are tired of my company, yet I would stay here the whole day if I could, merely to keep the hours from hanging so heavy upon you. This ill-humour of yours is the natural effect of your long solitude; if you were able to chat awhile, you would be quite well again. If you don't like to talk, I will talk for you."

"About your lover, eh?"

"No, no; not always about him; I can talk of many things."

She then began to give me some extracts from the household annals, dwelling upon the sharp temper of her mother, her good-natured father, and the monkey-tricks of her little brothers; and she told all this with a simple grace and innocent frankness not a little alluring. Yet I was pretty near the truth; for, without being aware of it, she uniformly concluded with the one favourite theme: her ill-starred love. Still I went on acting the part of the UNAMIABLE, in the hope that she would take a spite against me. But whether from inadvertency or design, she would not take the hint, and I was at last fairly compelled to give up by sitting down contented to let her have her way, smiling, sympathising with, and thanking her for the sweet patience with which she had so long borne with me.

I no longer indulged the ungracious idea of spiting her against me, and, by degrees, all my other fears were allayed. Assuredly I had not been smitten; I long examined into the nature of my scruples, wrote down my reflections upon the subject, and derived no little advantage from the process.

Man often terrifies himself with mere bugbears of the mind. If we would learn not to fear them, we have only to examine them a little more nearly and attentively. What harm, then, if I looked forward to her visits to me with a tender anxiety, if I appreciated their sweetness, if it did me good to be compassioned by her, and to interchange all our thoughts and feelings, unsullied, I will say, as those of childhood. Even her most affectionate looks, and smiles, and pressures of the hand, while they agitated me, produced a feeling of salutary respect mingled with compassion. One evening, I remember, when suffering under a sad misfortune, the poor girl threw her arms round my neck, and wept as if her heart would break. She had not the least idea of impropriety; no daughter could embrace a father with more perfect innocence and unsuspecting affection. I could not, however, reflect upon that embrace without feeling somewhat agitated. It often recurred to my imagination, and I could then think of no other subject. On another occasion, when she thus threw herself upon my confidence, I was really obliged to disentangle myself from her dear arms, ere I once pressed her to my bosom, or gave her a single kiss, while I stammered out, "I pray you, now, sweet Angiola, do not embrace me ever again; it is not quite proper." She fixed her eyes upon me for a moment, then cast them down, while a blush suffused her ingenuous countenance; and I am sure it was the first time that she read in my mind even the possibility of any weakness of mine in reference to her. Still she did not cease to continue her visits upon the same friendly footing, with a little mere reserve and respect, such as I wished it to be; and I was grateful to her for it.


I am unable to form an estimate of the evils which afflict others; but, as respects myself, I am bound to confess that, after close examination, I found that no sufferings had been appointed me, except to some wise end, and for my own advantage. It was thus even with the excessive heat which oppressed, and the gnats which tormented me. Often have I reflected that but for this continual suffering I might not have successfully resisted the temptation of falling in love, situated as I was, and with one whose extremely affectionate and ardent feelings would have made it difficult always to preserve it within respectful limits. If I had sometimes reason to tremble, how should I have been enabled to regulate my vain imagination in an atmosphere somewhat inspiring, and open to the breathings of joy.

Considering the imprudence of Angiola's parents, who reposed such confidence in me, the imprudence of the poor girl herself, who had not an idea of giving rise to any culpable affection on my part, and considering, too, the little steadfastness of my virtue, there can be little doubt but the suffocating heat of my great oven, and the cruel warfare of the gnats, were effectual safeguards to us both.

Such a reflection reconciled me somewhat to these scourges; and I then asked myself, Would you consent to become free, and to take possession of some handsome apartment, filled with flowers and fresh air, on condition of never more seeing this affectionate being? I will own the truth; I had not courage to reply to this simple question.

When you really feel interested about any one, it is indescribable what mere trifles are capable of conferring pleasure. A single word, a smile, a tear, a Venetian turn of expression, her eagerness in protecting me from my enemies, the gnats, all inspired me with a childish delight that lasted the whole day. What most gratified me was to see that her own sufferings seemed to be relieved by conversing with me, that my compassion consoled her, that my advice influenced her, and that her heart was susceptible of the warmest devotion when treating of virtue and its great Author.

When we had sometimes discussed the subject of religion, she would observe, "I find that I can now pray with more willingness and more faith than I did." At other times, suddenly breaking off some frivolous topic, she took the Bible, opened it, pressed her lips to it, and then begged of me to translate some passages, and give my comments. She added, "I could wish that every time you happen to recur to this passage you should call to mind that I have kissed and kissed it again."

It was not always, indeed, that her kisses fell so appropriately, more especially if she happened to open at the spiritual songs. Then, in order to spare her blushes, I took advantage of her want of acquaintance with the Latin, and gave a turn to the expressions which, without detracting from the sacredness of the Bible, might serve to respect her innocence. On such occasions I never once permitted myself to smile; at the same time I was not a little perplexed, when, not rightly comprehending my new version, she entreated of me to translate the whole, word for word, and would by no means let me shy the question by turning her attention to something else.


Nothing is durable here below! Poor Angiola fell sick; and on one of the first days when she felt indisposed, she came to see me, complaining bitterly of pains in her head. She wept, too, and would not explain the cause of her grief. She only murmured something that looked like reproaches of her lover. "He is a villain!" she said; "but God forgive him, as I do!"

I left no means untried to obtain her confidence, but it was the first time I was quite unable to ascertain why she distressed herself to such an excess. "I will return tomorrow morning," she said, one evening on parting from me; "I will, indeed." But the next morning came, and my coffee was brought by her mother; the next, and the next, by the under-jailers; and Angiola continued grievously ill. The under-jailers, also, brought me very unpleasant tidings relating to the love-affair; tidings, in short, which made me deeply sympathize with her sufferings. A case of seduction! But, perhaps, it was the tale of calumny. Alas! I but too well believed it, and I was affected at it more than I can express; though I still like to flatter myself that it was false. After upwards of a month's illness, the poor girl was taken into the country, and I saw her no more.

It is astonishing how deeply I felt this deprivation, and how much more horrible my solitude now appeared. Still more bitter was the reflection that she, who had so tenderly fed, and watched, and visited me in my sad prison, supplying every want and wish within her power, was herself a prey to sorrow and misfortune. Alas! I could make her no return; yet, surely she will feel aware how truly I sympathize with her; that there is no effort I would not make to afford her comfort and relief, and that I shall never cease to offer up my prayers for her, and to bless her for her goodness to a wretched prisoner.

Though her visits had been too brief, they were enough to break upon the horrid monotony of my solitude. By suggesting and comparing our ideas, I obtained new views and feelings, exercised some of the best and sweetest affections, gave a zest to life, and even threw a sort of lustre round my misfortunes.

Suddenly the vision fled, and my dungeon became to me really like a living tomb. A strange sadness for many days quite oppressed me. I could not even write: it was a dark, quiet, nameless feeling, in no way partaking of the violence and irritation which I had before experienced. Was it that I had become more inured to adversity, more philosophical, more of a Christian? Or was it really that the extremely enervating heat of my dungeon had so prostrated my powers that I could no longer feel the pangs of excessive grief. Ah, no! for I can well recollect that I then felt it to my inmost soul; and, perhaps, more intensely from the want both of will and power to give vent to it by agitation, maledictions, and cries. The fact is, I believe, that I had been severely schooled by my past sufferings, and was resigned to the will of God. I had so often maintained that it was a mark of cowardice to complain, that, at length, I succeeded in restraining my passion, when on the point of breaking out, and felt vexed that I had permitted it to obtain any ascendancy over me.

My mental faculties were strengthened by the habit of writing down my thoughts; I got rid of all my vanity, and reduced the chief part of my reasonings to the following conclusions: There is a God: THEREFORE unerring justice; THEREFORE all that happens is ordained to the best end; consequently, the sufferings of man on earth are inflicted for the good of man.

Thus, my acquaintance with Angiola had proved beneficial, by soothing and conciliating my feelings. Her good opinion of me had urged me to the fulfilment of many duties, especially of that of proving one's self superior to the shocks of fortune, and of suffering in patience. By exerting myself to persevere for about a month, I was enabled to feel perfectly resigned.

Angiola had beheld me two or three times in a downright passion; once, as I have stated, on account of her having brought me bad coffee, and a second time as follows:-

Every two or three weeks the jailer had brought me a letter from some of my family. It was previously submitted to the Commission, and most roughly handled, as was too evident by the number of ERASURES in the blackest ink which appeared throughout. One day, however, instead of merely striking out a few passages, they drew the black line over the entire letter, with the exception of the words, "My DEAREST SILVIO," at the beginning, and the parting salutation at the close, "ALL UNITE IN KINDEST LOVE TO YOU."

This act threw me into such an uncontrollable fit of passion, that, in presence of the gentle Angiola, I broke out into violent shouts of rage, and cursed I know not whom. The poor girl pitied me from her heart; but, at the same time, reminded me of the strange inconsistency of my principles. I saw she had reason on her side, and I ceased from uttering my maledictions.


One of the under-jailers one day entered my prison with a mysterious look, and said, "Sometime, I believe, that Siora Zanze (Angiola) . . . was used to bring you your coffee . . . She stopped a good while to converse with you, and I was afraid the cunning one would worm out all your secrets, sir."

"Not one," I replied, in great anger; "or if I had any, I should not be such a fool as to tell them in that way. Go on."

"Beg pardon, sir; far from me to call you by such a name . . . But I never trusted to that Siora Zanze. And now, sir, as you have no longer any one to keep you company . . . I trust I—"

"What, what! explain yourself at once!"

"Swear first that you will not betray me."

"Well, well; I could do that with a safe conscience. I never betrayed any one."

"Do you say really you will swear?"

"Yes; I swear not to betray you. But what a wretch to doubt it; for any one capable of betraying you will not scruple to violate an oath."

He took a letter from his coat-lining, and gave it me with a trembling hand, beseeching I would destroy it the moment I had read it.

"Stop," I cried, opening it; "I will read and destroy it while you are here."

"But, sir, you must answer it, and I cannot stop now. Do it at your leisure. Only take heed, when you hear any one coming, you will know if it be I by my singing, pretty loudly, the tune, Sognai mi gera un gato. You need, then, fear nothing, and may keep the letter quietly in your pocket. But should you not hear this song, set it down for a mark that it cannot be me, or that some one is with me. Then, in a moment, out with it, don't trust to any concealment, in case of a search; out with it, tear it into a thousand bits, and throw it through the window."

"Depend upon me; I see you are prudent, I will be so too."

"Yet you called me a stupid wretch."

"You do right to reproach me," I replied, shaking him by the hand, "and I beg your pardon." He went away, and I began to read

"I am (and here followed the name) one of your admirers: I have all your Francesca da Rimini by heart. They arrested me for—(and here he gave the reason with the date)—and I would give, I know not how many pounds of my blood to have the pleasure of being with you, or at least in a dungeon near yours, in order that we might converse together. Since I heard from Tremerello, so we shall call our confidant, that you, sir, were a prisoner, and the cause of your arrest, I have longed to tell you how deeply I lament your misfortune, and that no one can feel greater attachment to you than myself. Have you any objection to accept the offer I make, namely, that we should try to lighten the burden of our solitude by writing to each other. I pledge you my honour, that not a being shall ever hear of our correspondence from me, and am persuaded that I may count upon the same secresy on your part, if you adopt my plan. Meantime, that you may form some idea, I will give you an abstract from my life."—(It followed.)


The reader, however deficient in the imaginative organ, may easily conceive the electric effect of such a letter upon the nerves of a poor prisoner, not of the most savage disposition, but possessing an affectionate and gregarious turn of mind. I felt already an affection for the unknown; I pitied his misfortunes, and was grateful for the kind expressions he made use of. "Yes," exclaimed I, "your generous purpose shall be effected. I wish my letters may afford you consolation equal to that which I shall derive from yours."

I re-perused his letter with almost boyish delight, and blessed the writer; there was not an expression which did not exhibit evidence of a clear and noble mind.

The sun was setting, it was my hour of prayer; I felt the presence of God; how sincere was my gratitude for his providing me with new means of exercising the faculties of my mind. How it revived my recollection of all the invaluable blessings he had bestowed upon me!

I stood before the window, with my arms between the bars, and my hands folded; the church of St. Mark lay below me, an immense flock of pigeons, free as the air, were flying about, were cooing and billing, or busied in constructing their nests upon the leaden roof; the heavens in their magnificence were before me; I surveyed all that part of Venice visible from my prison; a distant murmur of human voices broke sweetly on my ear. From this vast unhappy prison-house did I hold communion with Him, whose eyes alone beheld me; to Him I recommended my father, my mother, and, individually, all those most dear to me, and it appeared as if I heard Him reply, "Confide in my goodness," and I exclaimed, "Thy goodness assures me."

I concluded my prayer with much emotion, greatly comforted, and little caring for the bites of the gnats, which had been joyfully feasting upon me. The same evening, my mind, after such exaltation, beginning to grow calmer, I found the torment from the gnats becoming insufferable, and while engaged in wrapping up my hands and face, a vulgar and malignant idea all at once entered my mind, which horrified me, and which I vainly attempted to banish.

Tremerello had insinuated a vile suspicion respecting Angiola; that, in short, she was a spy upon my secret opinions! She! that noble- hearted creature, who knew nothing of politics, and wished to know nothing of them!

It was impossible for me to suspect her; but have I, said I, the same certainty respecting Tremerello? Suppose that rogue should be the bribed instrument of secret informers; suppose the letter had been fabricated by WHO KNOWS WHOM, to induce me to make important disclosures to my new friend. Perhaps his pretended prison does not exist; or if so, he may be a traitor, eager to worm out secrets in order to make his own terms; perhaps he is a man of honour, and Tremerello himself the traitor who aims at our destruction in order to gain an additional salary.

Oh, horrible thought, yet too natural to the unhappy prisoner, everywhere in fear of enmity and fraud!

Such suspicions tormented and degraded me. I did not entertain them as regarded Angiola a single moment. Yet, from what Tremerello had said, a kind of doubt clung to me as to the conduct of those who had permitted her to come into my apartment. Had they, either from their own zeal, or by superior authority, given her the office of spy? in that case, how ill had she discharged such an office!

But what was I to do respecting the letter of the unknown? Should I adopt the severe, repulsive counsel of fear which we call prudence? Shall I return the letter to Tremerello, and tell him, I do not wish to run any risk. Yet suppose there should be no treason; and the unknown be a truly worthy character, deserving that I should venture something, if only to relieve the horrors of his solitude? Coward as I am, standing on the brink of death, the fatal decree ready to strike me at any moment, yet to refuse to perform a simple act of love! Reply to him I must and will. Grant that it be discovered, no one can fairly be accused of writing the letter, though poor Tremerello would assuredly meet with the severest chastisement. Is not this consideration of itself sufficient to decide me against undertaking any clandestine correspondence? Is it not my absolute duty to decline it?


I was agitated the whole evening; I never closed my eyes that night, and amidst so many conflicting doubts, I knew not on what to resolve.

I sprung from my bed before dawn, I mounted upon the window-place, and offered up my prayers. In trying circumstances it is necessary to appeal with confidence to God, to heed his inspirations, and to adhere to them.

This I did, and after long prayer, I went down, shook off the gnats, took the bitten gloves in my hands, and came to the determination to explain my apprehensions to Tremerello and warn him of the great danger to which he himself was exposed by bearing letters; to renounce the plan if he wavered, and to accept it if its terrors did not deter him. I walked about till I heard the words of the song:- Segnai mi gera un gato, E ti me carezzevi. It was Tremerello bringing me my coffee. I acquainted him with my scruples and spared nothing to excite his fears. I found him staunch in his desire to SERVE, as he said, TWO SUCH COMPLETE GENTLEMEN. This was strangely at variance with the sheep's face he wore, and the name we had just given him. {15} Well, I was as firm on my part.

"I shall leave you my wine," said I, "see to find me the paper; I want to carry on this correspondence; and, rely on it, if any one comes without the warning song, I shall make an end of every suspicious article."

"Here is a sheet of paper ready for you; I will give you more whenever you please, and am perfectly satisfied of your prudence."

I longed to take my coffee; Tremerello left me, and I sat down to write. Did I do right? was the motive really approved by God? Was it not rather the triumph of my natural courage, of my preference of that which pleased me, instead of obeying the call for painful sacrifices. Mingled with this was a proud complacency, in return for the esteem expressed towards me by the unknown, and a fear of appearing cowardly, if I were to adhere to silence and decline a correspondence, every way so fraught with peril. How was I to resolve these doubts? I explained them frankly to my fellow- prisoner in replying to him, stating it nevertheless, as my opinion, that if anything were undertaken from good motives, and without the least repugnance of conscience, there could be no fear of blame. I advised him at the same time to reflect seriously upon the subject, and to express clearly with what degree of tranquillity, or of anxiety, he was prepared to engage, in it. Moreover, if, upon reconsideration, he considered the plan as too dangerous, we ought to have firmness enough to renounce the satisfaction we promised ourselves in such a correspondence, and rest satisfied with the acquaintance we had formed, the mutual pleasure we had already derived, and the unalterable goodwill we felt towards each other, which resulted from it. I filled four pages with my explanations, and expressions of the warmest friendship; I briefly alluded to the subject of my imprisonment; I spoke of my family with enthusiastic love, as well as of some of my friends, and attempted to draw a full picture of my mind and character.

In the evening I sent the letter. I had not slept during the preceding night; I was completely exhausted, and I soon fell into a profound sleep, from which I awoke on the ensuing morning, refreshed and comparatively happy. I was in hourly expectation of receiving my new friend's answer, and I felt at once anxious and pleased at the idea.


The answer was brought with my coffee. I welcomed Tremerello, and, embracing him, exclaimed, "May God reward you for this goodness!" My suspicions had fled, because they were hateful to me; and because, making a point of never speaking imprudently upon politics, they appeared equally useless; and because, with all my admiration for the genius of Tacitus, I had never much faith in the justice of TACITISING as he does, and of looking upon every object on the dark side. Giuliano (as the writer signed himself), began his letter with the usual compliments, and informed me that he felt not the least anxiety in entering upon the correspondence. He rallied me upon my hesitation; occasionally assumed a tone of irony; and then more seriously declared that it had given him no little pain to observe in me "a certain scrupulous wavering, and a subtilty of conscience, which, however Christian-like, was little in accordance with true philosophy." "I shall continue to esteem you," he added, "though we should not agree upon that point; for I am bound, in all sincerity, to inform you, that I have no religion, that I abhor all creeds, and that I assume from a feeling of modesty the name of Julian, from the circumstance of that good emperor having been so decided an enemy of the Christians, though, in fact, I go much further than he ever did. The sceptred Julian believed in God, and had his own little superstitions. I have none; I believe not in a God, but refer all virtue to the love of truth, and the hatred of such as do not please me." There was no reasoning in what he said. He inveighed bitterly against Christianity, made an idol of worldly honour and virtue; and in a half serious and jocular vein took on himself to pronounce the Emperor Julian's eulogium for his apostasy, and his philanthropic efforts to eradicate all traces of the gospel from the face of the earth.

Apprehending that he had thus given too severe a shock to my opinions, he then asked my pardon, attempting to excuse himself upon the ground of PERFECT SINCERITY. Reiterating his extreme wish to enter into more friendly relations with me, he then bade me farewell.

In a postscript he added:- "I have no sort of scruples, except a fear of not having made myself sufficiently understood. I ought not to conceal that to me the Christian language which you employ, appears a mere mask to conceal your real opinions. I wish it may be so; and in this case, throw off your cloak, as I have set you an example."

I cannot describe the effect this letter had upon me. I had opened it full of hope and ardour. Suddenly an icy hand seemed to chill the life-blood of my heart. That sarcasm on my conscientiousness hurt me extremely. I repented having formed any acquaintance with such a man, I who so much detest the doctrine of the cynics, who consider it so wholly unphilosophical, and the most injurious in its tendency: I who despise all kind of arrogance as it deserves.

Having read the last word it contained, I took the letter in both my hands, and tearing it directly down the middle, I held up a half in each like an executioner, employed in exposing it to public scorn.


I kept my eye fixed on the fragments, meditating for a moment upon the inconstancy and fallacy of human things I had just before eagerly desired to obtain, that which I now tore with disdain. I had hoped to have found a companion in misfortune, and how I should have valued his friendship! Now I gave him all kinds of hard names, insolent, arrogant, atheist, and self-condemned.

I repeated the same operation, dividing the wretched members of the guilty letter again and again, till happening to cast my eye on a piece remaining in my hand, expressing some better sentiment, I changed my intention, and collecting together the disjecta membra, ingeniously pieced them with the view of reading it once more. I sat down, placed them on my great Bible, and examined the whole. I then got up, walked about, read, and thought, "If I do not answer," said I, "he will think he has terrified me at the mere appearance of such a philosophical hero, a very Hercules in his own estimation. Let us show him, with all due courtesy, that we fear not to confront him and his vicious doctrines, any more than to brave the risk of a correspondence, more dangerous to others than to ourselves. I will teach him that true courage does not consist in ridiculing CONSCIENCE, and that real dignity does not consist in arrogance and pride. He shall be taught the reasonableness of Christianity, and the nothingness of disbelief. Moreover, if this mock Julian start opinions so directly opposite to my own, if he spare not the most biting sarcasm, if he attack me thus uncourteously; is it not all a proof that he can be no spy? Yet, might not this be a mere stratagem, to draw me into a discussion by wounding my self-love? Yet no! I am unjust—I smart under his bitter irreligious jests, and conclude at once that he must be the most infamous of men. Base suspicion, which I have so often decried in others! he may be what he appears—a presumptuous infidel, but not a spy. Have I even a right to call by the name of INSOLENCE, what he considers SINCERITY. Is this, I continued, thy humility, oh, hypocrite? If any one presume to maintain his own opinions, and to question your faith, he is forthwith to be met with contempt and abuse. Is not this worse in a Christian, than the bold sincerity of the unbeliever? Yes, and perhaps he only requires one ray of Divine grace, to employ his noble energetic love of truth in the cause of true religion, with far greater success than yourself. Were it not, then, more becoming in me to pray for, than to irritate him? Who knows, but while employed in destroying his letter with every mark of ignominy, he might be reading mine with expressions of kindness and affection; never dreaming I should fly into such a mighty passion at his plain and bold sincerity. Is he not the better of the two, to love and esteem me while declaring he is no Christian; than I who exclaim, I am a Christian, and I detest you. It is difficult to obtain a knowledge of a man during a long intercourse, yet I would condemn him on the evidence of a single letter. He may, perhaps, be unhappy in his atheism, and wish to hear all my arguments to enable him the better to arrive at the truth. Perhaps, too, I may be called to effect so beneficent a work, the humble instrument of a gracious God. Oh, that it may indeed be so, I will not shrink from the task."


I sat down to write to Julian, and was cautious not to let one irritating word proceed from my pen. I took in good part his reflection upon my fastidiousness of conscience; I even joked about it, telling him he perhaps gave me too much credit for it, and ought to suspend his good opinion till he knew me better. I praised his sincerity, assuring him that he would find me equal to him in this respect, and that as a proof of it, I had determined to defend Christianity, "Well persuaded," I added, "that as I shall readily give free scope to your opinions, you will be prepared to give me the same advantage."

I then boldly entered upon my task, arguing my way by degrees, and analysing with impartiality the essence of Christianity; the worship of God free from superstitions, the brotherhood of mankind, aspiration after virtue, humility without baseness, dignity without pride, as exemplified in our Divine Saviour! what more philosophical, and more truly grand?

It was next my object to demonstrate, "that this divine wisdom had more or less displayed itself to all those who by the light of reason had sought after the truth, though not generally diffused till the arrival of its great Author upon the earth. He had proved his heavenly mission by effecting the most wonderful and glorious results, by human means the most mean and humble. What the greatest philosophers had in vain attempted, the overthrow of idolatry, and the universal preaching of love and brotherhood, was achieved by a few untutored missionaries. From that era was first dated the emancipation of slaves, no less from bondage of limbs than of mind, until by degrees a civilisation without slavery became apparent, a state of society believed to be utterly impracticable by the ancient philosophers. A review of history from the appearance of Christ to the present age, would finally demonstrate that the religion he established had invariably been found adapted to all possible grades in civilised society. For this reason, the assertion that the gospel was no longer in accordance with the continued progress of civilisation, could not for a moment be maintained."

I wrote in as small characters as I could, and at great length, but I could not embrace all which I had ready prepared upon the subject. I re-examined the whole carefully. There was not one revengeful, injurious, or even repulsive word. Benevolence, toleration, and forbearance, were the only weapons I employed against ridicule and sarcasm of every kind; they were also employed after mature deliberation, and dictated from the heart.

I despatched the letter, and in no little anxiety waited the arrival of the next morning, in hopes of a speedy reply.

Tremerello came, and observed; "The gentleman, sir, was not able to write, but entreats of you to continue the joke."

"The joke!" I exclaimed. "No, he could not have said that! you must have mistaken him."

Tremerello shrugged up his shoulders: "I suppose I must, if you say so."

"But did it really seem as if he had said a joke?"

"As plainly as I now hear the sound of St. Mark's clock;" (the Campanone was just then heard.) I drank my coffee and was silent.

"But tell me; did he read the whole of the letter?"

"I think he did; for he laughed like a madman, and then squeezing your letter into a ball, he began to throw it about, till reminding him that he must not forget to destroy it, he did so immediately."

"That is very well."

I then put my coffee cup into Tremerello's hands, observing that it was plain the coffee had been made by the Siora Bettina.

"What! is it so bad?"

"Quite vile!"

"Well! I made it myself; and I can assure you that I made it strong; there were no dregs."

"True; it may be, my mouth is out of taste."


I walked about the whole morning in a rage. "What an abandoned wretch is this Julian! what, call my letter a joke! play at ball with it, reply not a single line! But all your infidels are alike! They dare not stand the test of argument; they know their weakness, and try to turn it off with a jest. Full of vanity and boasting, they venture not to examine even themselves. They philosophers, indeed! worthy disciples of Democritus; who DID nothing but laugh, and WAS nothing but a buffoon. I am rightly served, however, for beginning a correspondence like this; and still more for writing a second time."

At dinner, Tremerello took up my wine, poured it into a flask, and put it into his pocket, observing: "I see that you are in want of paper;" and he gave me some. He retired, and the moment I cast my eye on the paper, I felt tempted to sit down and write to Julian a sharp lecture on his intolerable turpitude and presumption, and so take leave of him. But again, I repented of my own violence, and uncharitableness, and finally resolved to write another letter in a better spirit as I had done before.

I did so, and despatched it without delay. The next morning I received a few lines, simply expressive of the writer's thanks; but without a single jest, or the least invitation to continue the correspondence. Such a billet displeased me; nevertheless I determined to persevere. Six long letters were the result, for each of which I received a few laconic lines of thanks, with some declamation against his enemies, followed by a joke on the abuse he had heaped upon them, asserting that it was extremely natural the strong should oppress the weak, and regretting that he was not in the list of the former. He then related some of his love affairs, and observed that they exercised no little sway over his disturbed imagination.

In reply to my last on the subject of Christianity, he said he had prepared a long letter; for which I looked out in vain, though he wrote to me every day on other topics—chiefly a tissue of obscenity and folly.

I reminded him of his promise that he would answer all my arguments, and recommended him to weigh well the reasonings with which I had supplied him before he attempted to write. He replied to this somewhat in a rage, assuming the airs of a philosopher, a man of firmness, a man who stood in no want of brains to distinguish "a hawk from a hand-saw." {16} He then resumed his jocular vein, and began to enlarge upon his experiences in life, and especially some very scandalous love adventures.


I bore all this patiently, to give him no handle for accusing me of bigotry or intolerance, and in the hope that after the fever of erotic buffoonery and folly had subsided, he might have some lucid intervals, and listen to common sense. Meantime I gave him expressly to understand that I disapproved of his want of respect towards women, his free and profane expressions, and pitied those unhappy ones, who, he informed me, had been his victims.

He pretended to care little about my disapprobation, and repeated: "spite of your fine strictures upon immorality, I know well you are amused with the account of my adventures. All men are as fond of pleasure as I am, but they have not the frankness to talk of it without cloaking it from the eyes of the world; I will go on till you are quite enchanted, and confess yourself compelled in VERY CONSCIENCE to applaud me." So he went on from week to week, I bearing with him, partly out of curiosity and partly in the expectation he would fall upon some better topic; and I can fairly say that this species of tolerance, did me no little harm. I began to lose my respect for pure and noble truths, my thoughts became confused, and my mind disturbed. To converse with men of degraded minds is in itself degrading, at least if you possess not virtue very superior to mine. "This is a proper punishment," said I, "for my presumption; this it is to assume the office of a missionary without its sacredness of character."

One day I determined to write to him as follows:- " I have hitherto attempted to turn your attention to other subjects, and you persevere in sending me accounts of yourself which no way please me. For the sake of variety, let us correspond a little respecting worthier matters; if not, give the hand of fellowship, and let us have done."

The two ensuing days I received no answer, and I was glad of it. "Oh, blessed solitude;" often I exclaimed, "how far holier and better art thou than harsh and undignified association with the living. Away with the empty and impious vanities, the base actions, the low despicable conversations of such a world. I have studied it enough; let me turn to my communion with God; to the calm, dear recollections of my family and my true friends. I will read my Bible oftener than I have done, I will again write down my thoughts, will try to raise and improve them, and taste the pleasure of a sorrow at least innocent; a thousand fold to be preferred to vulgar and wicked imaginations."

Whenever Tremerello now entered my room he was in the habit of saying, "I have got no answer yet."

"It is all right," was my reply.

About the third day from this, he said, with a serious look, "Signor N. N. is rather indisposed."

"What is the matter with him?"

"He does not say, but he has taken to his bed, neither eats nor drinks, and is sadly out of humour."

I was touched; he was suffering and had no one to console him.

"I will write him a few lines," exclaimed I.

"I will take them this evening, then," said Tremerello, and he went out.

I was a little perplexed on sitting down to my table: "Am I right in resuming this correspondence? was I not, just now, praising solitude as a treasure newly found? what inconsistency is this! Ah! but he neither eats nor drinks, and I fear must be very ill. Is it, then, a moment to abandon him? My last letter was severe, and may perhaps have caused him pain. Perhaps, in spite of our different ways of thinking, he wished not to end our correspondence. Yes, he has thought my letter more caustic than I meant it to be, and taken it in the light of an absolute and contemptuous dismission.


I sat down and wrote as follows:-

"I hear that you are not well, and am extremely sorry for it. I wish I were with you, and enabled to assist you as a friend. I hope your illness is the sole cause why you have not written to me during the last three days. Did you take offence at my little strictures the other day? Believe me they were dictated by no ill will or spleen, but with the single object of drawing your attention to more serious subjects. Should it be irksome for you to write, send me an exact account, by word, how you find yourself. You shall hear from me every day, and I will try to say something to amuse you, and to show you that I really wish you well."

Imagine my unfeigned surprise when I received an answer, couched in these terms:

"I renounce your friendship: if you are at a loss how to estimate mine, I return the compliment in its full force. I am not a man to put up with injurious treatment; I am not one, who, once rejected, will be ordered to return."

"Because you heard I was unwell, you approach me with a hypocritical air, in the idea that illness will break down my spirit, and make me listen to your sermons . . . "

In this way he rambled on, reproaching and despising me in the most revolting terms he could find, and turning every thing I had said into ridicule and burlesque. He assured me that he knew how to live and die with consistency; that is to say, with the utmost hatred and contempt for all philosophical creeds differing from his own. I was dismayed!

"A pretty conversion I have made of it!" I exclaimed; "yet God is my witness that my motives were pure. I have done nothing to merit an attack like this. But patience! I am once more undeceived. I am not called upon to do more."

In a few days I became less angry, and conceived that all this bitterness might have resulted from some excitement which might pass away. Probably he repents, yet scorns to confess he was in the wrong. In such a state of mind, it might be generous of me to write to him once more. It cost my self-love something, but I did it. To humble one's self for a good purpose is not degrading, with whatever degree of unjust contempt it may be returned.

I received a reply less violent, but not less insulting. The implacable patient declared that he admired what he called my evangelical moderation. "Now, therefore," he continued, "let us resume our correspondence, but let us speak out. We do not like each other, but we will write, each for his own amusement, setting everything down which may come into our heads. You will tell me your seraphic visions and revelations, and I will treat you with my profane adventures; you again will run into ecstasies upon the dignity of man, yea, and of woman; I into an ingenuous narrative of my various profanations; I hoping to make a convert of you, and you of me.

"Give me an answer should you approve these conditions."

I replied, "Yours is not a compact, but a jest. I was full of good- will towards you. My conscience does not constrain me to do more than to wish you every happiness both as regards this and another life."

Thus ended my secret connexion with that strange man. But who knows; he was perhaps more exasperated by ill fortune, delirium, or despair, than really bad at heart.


I once more learnt to value solitude, and my days tracked each other without any distinction or mark of change.

The summer was over; it was towards the close of September, and the heat grew less oppressive; October came. I congratulated myself now on occupying a chamber well adapted for winter. One morning, however, the jailer made his appearance, with an order to change my prison.

"And where am I to go?"

"Only a few steps, into a fresher chamber."

"But why not think of it when I was dying of suffocation; when the air was filled with gnats, and my bed with bugs?"

"The order did not come before."

"Patience! let us be gone!"

Notwithstanding I had suffered so greatly in this prison, it gave me pain to leave it; not simply because it would have been best for the winter season, but for many other reasons. There I had the ants to attract my attention, which I had fed and looked upon, I may almost say, with paternal care. Within the last few days, however, my friend the spider, and my great ally in my war with the gnats, had, for some reason or other, chosen to emigrate; at least he did not come as usual. "Yet perhaps," said I, "he may remember me, and come back, but he will find my prison empty, or occupied by some other guest—no friend perhaps to spiders—and thus meet with an awkward reception. His fine woven house, and his gnat-feasts will all be put an end to."

Again, my gloomy abode had been embellished by the presence of Angiola, so good, so gentle and compassionate. There she used to sit, and try every means she could devise to amuse me, even dropping crumbs of bread for my little visitors, the ants; and there I heard her sobs, and saw the tears fall thick and fast, as she spoke of her cruel lover.

The place I was removed to was under the leaden prisons, (I Piombi) open to the north and west, with two windows, one on each side; an abode exposed to perpetual cold and even icy chill during the severest months. The window to the west was the largest, that to the north was high and narrow, and situated above my bed.

I first looked out at this last, and found that it commanded a view of the Palace of the Patriarch. Other prisons were near mine, in a narrow wing to the right, and in a projection of the building right opposite. Here were two prisons, one above the other. The lower had an enormous window, through which I could see a man, very richly drest, pacing to and fro. It was the Signor Caporale di Cesena. He perceived me, made a signal, and we pronounced each other's names.

I next looked out at my other window. I put the little table upon my bed, and a chair upon my table; I climbed up and found myself on a level with part of the palace roof; and beyond this was to be seen a fine view of the city and the lake.

I paused to admire it; and though I heard some one open the door, I did not move. It was the jailer; and perceiving that I had clambered up, he got it into his head I was making an attempt to escape, forgetting, in his alarm, that I was not a mouse to creep through all those narrow bars. In a moment he sprung upon the bed, spite of a violent sciatica which had nearly bent him double, and catching me by the legs, he began to call out, "thieves and murder!"

"But don't you see," I exclaimed, "you thoughtless man, that I cannot conjure myself through these horrible bars? Surely you know I got up here out of mere curiosity."

"Oh, yes, I see, I apprehend, sir; but quick, sir, jump down, sir; these are all temptations of the devil to make you think of it! come down, sir, pray."

I lost no time in my descent, and laughed.


At the windows of the side prisons I recognised six other prisoners, all there on account of politics. Just then, as I was composing my mind to perfect solitude, I found myself comparatively in a little world of human beings around me. The change was, at first, irksome to me, such complete seclusion having rendered me almost unsociable, add to which, the disagreeable termination of my correspondence with Julian. Still, the little conversation I was enabled to carry on, partly by signs, with my new fellow-prisoners, was of advantage by diverting my attention. I breathed not a word respecting my correspondence with Julian; it was a point of honour between us, and in bringing it forward here, I was fully aware that in the immense number of unhappy men with which these prisons were thronged, it would be impossible to ascertain who was the assumed Julian.

To the interest derived from seeing my fellow-captives was added another of a yet more delightful kind. I could perceive from my large window, beyond the projection of prisons, situated right before me, a surface of roofs; decorated with cupolas, campanili, towers, and chimneys, which gradually faded in a distant view of sea and sky. In the house nearest to me, a wing of the Patriarchal palace, lived an excellent family, who had a claim to my gratitude, for expressing, by their salutations, the interest which they took in my fate. A sign, a word of kindness to the unhappy, is really charity of no trivial kind. From one of the windows I saw a little boy, nine or ten years old, stretching out his hands towards me, and I heard him call out, "Mamma, mamma, they have placed somebody up there in the Piombi. Oh, you poor prisoner, who are you?"

"I am Silvio Pellico," was the reply.

Another older boy now ran to the same window, and cried out, "Are you Silvio Pellico?"

"Yes; and tell me your names, dear boys."

"My name is Antonio S-, and my brother's is Joseph."

He then turned round, and, speaking to some one within, "What else ought I to ask him?" A lady, whom I conjecture to have been their mother, then half concealed, suggested some pretty words to them, which they repeated, and for which I thanked them with all my heart. These sort of communications were a small matter, yet it required to be cautious how we indulged in them, lest we should attract the notice of the jailer. Morning, noon, and night, they were a source of the greatest consolation; the little boys were constantly in the habit of bidding me good night, before the windows were closed, and the lights brought in, "Good night, Silvio," and often it was repeated by the good lady, in a more subdued voice, "Good night, Silvio, have courage!"

When engaged at their meals they would say, "How we wish we could give you any of this good coffee and milk. Pray remember, the first day they let you out, to come and see us. Mamma and we will give you plenty of good things, {17} and as many kisses as you like."


The month of October brought round one of the most disagreeable anniversaries in my life. I was arrested on the 13th of that month in the preceding year. Other recollections of the same period, also pained me. That day two years, a highly valued and excellent man whom I truly honoured, was drowned in the Ticino. Three years before, a young person, Odoardo Briche, {18} whom I loved as if he had been my own son, had accidentally killed himself with a musket. Earlier in my youth another severe affliction had befallen me in the same month.

Though not superstitious, the remembrance of so many unhappy occurrences at the same period of the year, inspired a feeling of extreme sorrow. While conversing at the window with the children, and with my fellow prisoners, I assumed an air of mirth, but hardly had I re-entered my cave than an irresistible feeling of melancholy weighed down every faculty of my mind. In vain I attempted to engage in some literary composition; I was involuntarily impelled to write upon other topics. I thought of my family, and wrote letters after letters, in which I poured forth all my burdened spirit, all I had felt and enjoyed of home, in far happier days, surrounded by brothers, sisters, and friends who had always loved me. The desire of seeing them, and long compulsory separation, led me to speak on a variety of little things, and reveal a thousand thoughts of gratitude and tenderness, which would not otherwise have occurred to my mind.

In the same way I took a review of my former life, diverting my attention by recalling past incidents, and dwelling upon those happier periods now for ever fled. Often, when the picture I had thus drawn, and sat contemplating for hours, suddenly vanished from my sight, and left me conscious only of the fearful present, and more threatening future, the pen fell from my hand; I recoiled with horror; the contrast was more than I could bear. These were terrific moments; I had already felt them, but never with such intense susceptibility as then. It was agony. This I attributed to extreme excitement of the passions, occasioned by expressing them in the form of letters, addressed to persons to whom I was so tenderly attached.

I turned to other subjects, I determined to change the form of expressing my ideas, but could not. In whatever way I began, it always ended in a letter teeming with affection and with grief.

"What," I exclaimed, "am I no more master of my own will? Is this strange necessity of doing that which I object to, a distortion of my brain? At first I could have accounted for it; but after being inured to this solitude, reconciled, and supported by religious reflections; how have I become the slave of these blind impulses, these wanderings of heart and mind? let me apply to other matters!" I then endeavoured to pray; or to weary my attention by hard study of the German. Alas! I commenced and found myself actually engaged in writing a letter!


Such a state of mind was a real disease, or I know not if it may be called a kind of somnambulism. Without doubt it was the effect of extreme lassitude, occasioned by continual thought and watchfulness.

It gained upon me. I grew feverish and sleepless. I left off coffee, but the disease was not removed. It appeared to me as if I were two persons, one of them eagerly bent upon writing letters, the other upon doing something else. "At least," said I, "you shall write them in German if you do; and we shall learn a little of the language. Methought HE then set to work, and wrote volumes of bad German, and he certainly brought me rapidly forward in the study of it. Towards morning, my mind being wholly exhausted, I fell into a heavy stupor, during which all those most dear to me haunted my dreams. I thought that my father and mother were weeping over me; I heard their lamentations, and suddenly I started out of my sleep sobbing and affrighted. Sometimes, during short, disturbed slumbers, I heard my mother's voice, as if consoling others, with whom she came into my prison, and she addressed me in the most affectionate language upon the duty of resignation, and then, when I was rejoiced to see her courage, and that of others, suddenly she appeared to burst into tears, and all wept. I can convey no idea of the species of agony which I at these times felt.

To escape from this misery, I no longer went to bed. I sat down to read by the light of my lamp, but I could comprehend nothing, and soon I found that I was even unable to think. I next tried to copy something, but still copied something different from what I was writing, always recurring to the subject of my afflictions. If I retired to rest, it was worse; I could lie in no position; I became convulsed, and was constrained to rise. In case I slept, the same visions reappeared, and made me suffer much more than I did by keeping awake. My prayers, too, were feeble and ineffectual; and, at length, I could simply invoke the name of the Deity; of the Being who had assumed a human form, and was acquainted with grief. I was afraid to sleep; my prayers seemed to bring me no relief; my imagination became excited, and, even when awake, I heard strange noises close to me, sometimes sighs and groans, at others mingled with sounds of stifled laughter. I was never superstitious, but these apparently real and unaccountable sights and sounds led me to doubt, and I then firmly believed that I was the victim of some unknown and malignant beings. Frequently I took my light, and made a search for those mockers and persecutors of my waking and sleeping hours. At last they began to pull me by my clothes, threw my books upon the ground, blew out my lamp, and even, as it seemed, conveyed me into another dungeon. I would then start to my feet, look and examine all round me, and ask myself if I were really mad. The actual world, and that of my imagination, were no longer distinguishable, I knew not whether what I saw and felt was a delusion or truth. In this horrible state I could only repeat one prayer, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"


One morning early, I threw myself upon my pallet, having first placed my handkerchief, as usual, under my pillow. Shortly after, falling asleep, I suddenly woke, and found myself in a state of suffocation; my persecutors were strangling me, and, on putting my hand to my throat, I actually found my own handkerchief, all knotted, tied round my neck. I could have sworn I had never made those knots; yet I must have done this in my delirium; but as it was then impossible to believe it, I lived in continual expectation of being strangled. The recollection is still horrible. They left me at dawn of day; and, resuming my courage, I no longer felt the least apprehension, and even imagined it would be impossible they should again return. Yet no sooner did the night set in, than I was again haunted by them in all their horrors; being made sensible of their gradual approach by cold shiverings, the loss of all power, with a species of fascination which riveted both the eye and the mind. In fact, the more weak and wretched I felt, at night, the greater were my efforts during the day to appear cheerful in conversing with my companions, with the two boys at the palace, and with my jailers. No one to hear my jokes, would have imagined it possible that I was suffering under the disease I did. I thought to encourage myself by this forced merriment, but the spectral visions which I laughed at by day became fearful realities in the hours of darkness.

Had I dared, I should have petitioned the commission to change my apartment, but the fear of ridicule, in case I should be asked my reasons, restrained me. No reasonings, no studies, or pursuits, and even no prayers, were longer of avail, and the idea of being wholly abandoned by heaven, took possession of my mind.

All those wicked sophisms against a just Providence, which, while in possession of reason, had appeared to me so vain and impious, now recurred with redoubled power, in the form of irresistible arguments. I struggled mightily against this last and greatest evil I had yet borne, and in the lapse of a few days the temptation fled. Still I refused to acknowledge the truth and beauty of religion; I quoted the assertions of the most violent atheists, and those which Julian had so recently dwelt upon: "Religion serves only to enfeeble the mind," was one of these, and I actually presumed that by renouncing my God I should acquire greater fortitude. Insane idea! I denied God, yet knew not how to deny those invisible malevolent beings, that appeared to encompass me, and feast upon my sufferings.

What shall I call this martyrdom? is it enough to say that it was a disease? or was it a divine chastisement for my pride, to teach me that without a special illumination I might become as great an unbeliever as Julian, and still more absurd. However this may be, it pleased God to deliver me from such evil, when I least expected it. One morning, after taking my coffee, I was seized with violent sickness, attended with colic. I imagined that I had been poisoned. After excessive vomiting, I burst into a strong perspiration and retired to bed. About mid-day I fell asleep, and continued in a quiet slumber till evening. I awoke in great surprise at this unexpected repose, and, thinking I should not sleep again, I got up. On rising I said, "I shall now have more fortitude to resist my accustomed terrors." But they returned no more. I was in ecstasies; I threw myself upon my knees in the fulness of my heart, and again prayed to my God in spirit and in truth, beseeching pardon for having denied, during many days, His holy name. It was almost too much for my newly reviving strength, and while even yet upon my knees, supporting my head against a chair, I fell into a profound sleep in that very position.

Some hours afterwards, as I conjectured, I seemed in part to awake, but no sooner had I stretched my weary limbs upon my rude couch than I slept till the dawn of day. The same disposition to somnolency continued through the day, and the next night, I rested as soundly as before. What was the sort of crisis that had thus taken place? I know not; but I was perfectly restored.


The sickness of the stomach which I had so long laboured under now ceased, the pains of the head also left me, and I felt an extraordinary appetite. My digestion was good, and I gained strength. Wonderful providence! that deprived me of my health to humble my mind, and again restored it when the moment was at hand that I should require it all, that I might not sink under the weight of my sentence.

On the 24th of November, one of our companions, Dr. Foresti, was taken from the Piombi, and transported no one knew whither. The jailer, his wife, and the assistants, were alike alarmed, and not one of them ventured to throw the least light upon this mysterious affair.

"And why should you persist," said Tremerello, "in wishing to know, when nothing good is to be heard? I have told you too much—too much already."

"Then what is the use of trying to hide it? I know it too well. He is condemned to death."

"Who? . . . he . . . Doctor Foresti?"

Tremerello hesitated, but the love of gossip was not the least of his virtues.

"Don't say, then," he resumed, "that I am a babbler; I never wished to say a word about these matters; so, remember, it is you who compel me."

"Yes, yes, I do compel you; but courage! tell me every thing you know respecting the poor Doctor?"

"Ah, Sir! they have made him cross the Bridge of Sighs! he lies in the dungeons of the condemned; sentence of death has been announced to him and two others."

"And will it be executed? When? Oh, unhappy man! and what are the others' names?"

"I know no more. The sentences have not been published. It is reported in Venice that they will be commuted. I trust in God they may, at least, as regards the good Doctor. Do you know, I am as fond of that noble fellow, pardon the expression, as if he were my own brother."

He seemed moved, and walked away. Imagine the agitation I suffered throughout the whole of that day, and indeed long after, as there were no means of ascertaining anything further respecting the fate of these unfortunate men.

A month elapsed, and at length the sentences connected with the first trial were published. Nine were condemned to death, GRACIOUSLY exchanged for hard imprisonment, some for twenty, and others for fifteen years in the fortress of Spielberg, near the city of Brunn, in Moravia; while those for ten years and under were to be sent to the fortress of Lubiana.

Were we authorised to conclude, from this commutation of sentence in regard to those first condemned, that the parties subject to the second trial would likewise be spared? Was the indulgence to be confined only to the former, on account of their having been arrested previous to the publication of the edicts against secret societies; the full vengeance of the law being reserved for subsequent offenders?

Well, I exclaimed, we shall not long be kept in suspense; I am at least grateful to Heaven for being allowed time to prepare myself in a becoming manner for the final scene.


It was now my only consideration how to die like a Christian, and with proper fortitude. I felt, indeed, a strong temptation to avoid the scaffold by committing suicide, but overcame it. What merit is there in refusing to die by the hand of the executioner, and yet to fall by one's own? To save one's honour? But is it not childish to suppose that there can be more honour in cheating the executioner, than in not doing this, when it is clear that we must die. Even had I not been a Christian, upon serious reflection, suicide would have appeared to me both ridiculous and useless, if not criminal in a high degree.

"If the term of life be expired," continued I, "am I not fortunate in being permitted to collect my thoughts and purify my conscience with penitence and prayer becoming a man in affliction. In popular estimation, the being led to the scaffold is the worst part of death; in the opinion of the wise, is not this far preferable to the thousand deaths which daily occur by disease, attended by general prostration of intellect, without power to raise the thoughts from the lowest state of physical exhaustion."

I felt the justice of this reasoning, and lost all feeling of anxiety or terror at the idea of a public execution. I reflected deeply on the sacraments calculated to support me under such an appalling trial, and I felt disposed to receive them in a right spirit. Should I have been enabled, had I really been conducted to the scaffold, to preserve the same elevation of mind, the same forgiveness of my enemies, the same readiness to lay down my life at the will of God, as I then felt? Alas, how inconsistent is man! when most firm and pious, how liable is he to fall suddenly into weakness and crime! Is it likely I should have died worthily? God only knows; I dare not think well enough of myself to assert it.

The probable approach of death so riveted my imagination, that not only did it seem possible but as if marked by an infallible presentiment. I no longer indulged a hope of avoiding it, and at every sound of footsteps and keys, or the opening of my door, I was in the habit of exclaiming: "Courage! Perhaps I am going to receive sentence. Let me hear it with calm dignity, and bless the name of the Lord."

I considered in what terms I should last address my family, each of my brothers, and each of my sisters, and by revolving in my mind these sacred and affecting duties, I was often drowned in tears, without losing my fortitude and resignation.

I was naturally unable to enjoy sound repose; but my sleeplessness was not of the same alarming character as before; no visions, spectres, or concealed enemies were ready to deprive me of life. I spent the night in calm and reviving prayer. Towards morning I was enabled to sleep for about two hours, and rose late to breakfast.

One night I had retired to rest earlier than usual; I had hardly slept a quarter of an hour, when I awoke, and beheld an immense light upon the wall opposite to me. At first I imagined that I had been seized with my former illness; but this was no illusion. The light shone through the north window, under which I then lay.

I started up, seized my table, placed it on my bed, and a chair again upon the table, by means of all which I mounted up, and beheld one of the most terrific spectacles of fire that can be imagined. It was not more than a musket shot distant from our prison; it proceeded from the establishment of the public ovens, and the edifice was entirely consumed.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse