« PreviousContinue »
common disgrace: they associated their wishes, and perhaps their designs; an assassin was seized and tortured; he accused the nobles ; and as soon as Rienzi deserved the fate, he adopted the suspicions and maxims of a tyrant. On the same day, under various pretences, he invited to the Capitol his principal enemies, among whom were five members of the Ursini and three of the Colonna name. But instead of a council or a banquet, they found themselves prisoners under the sword of despotism or justice; and the consciousness of innocence or guilt might inspire them with equal apprehensions of danger. At the sound of the great bell the people assembled; they were arraigned for a conspiracy against the tribune's life; and though some might sympathize in their distress, not a hand, nor a voice, was raised to rescue the first of the nobility from their impending doom. Their apparent boldness was prompted by despair; they passed in separate chambers a sleepless and painful night; and the venerable hero, Stephen Colonna, striking against the door of his prison, repeatedly urged his guards to deliver him by a speedy death from such ignominious servitude. In the morning they understood their sentence from the visit of a confessor and the tolling of the bell. The great hall of the Capitol had been decorated for the bloody scene with red and white hangings: the countenance of the tribune was dark and severe; the swords of the executioners were unsheathed; and the barons were interrupted in their dying speeches by the sound of trumpets. But in this decisive moment, Rienzi was not less anxious or apprehensive than his captives: he dreaded the splendour of their names, their surviving kinsmen, the inconstancy of the people, the reproaches of the world, and, after rashly offering a mortal injury, he vainly presumed that, if he could forgive, he might himself be forgiven. His elaborate oration was that of a Christian and a suppliant; and, as the humble minister of the commons, he entreated his masters to pardon these noble criminals, for whose repentance and future service he pledged his faith and authority. “ If you are spared," said the tribune, “ by the mercy of the Romans, will you not promise to support the good estate with your lives and fortunes ?” Astonished by this marvellous clemency, the barons bowed their heads; and, while they devoutly repeated the oath of allegiance, might whisper secret, and more sincere, assurance of revenge. A priest, in the name of the people, pronounced their absolution: they received the communion with the tribune, assisted at the banquet, followed the procession; and, after every spiritual and temporal sign of reconciliation, were dismissed in safety to their respective homes, with the new honours and titles of generals, consuls, and patricians.
During some weeks they were checked by the memory of their danger, rather than of their deliverance, till the most powerful of the Ursini, escaping with the Colonna from the city, erected at Marino the standard of rebellion. The fortifications of the castle were instantly restored; the vassals attended their lord; the outlaws armed against the magistrate; the flocks and herds, the harvests and vineyards from Marino to the gates of Rome, were swept away or destroyed; and the people arraigned Rienzi as the author of the calamities which his government had taught them to forget. In the camp, Rienzi appeared to less advantage than in the rostrum; and he neglected the progress of the rebel barons till their numbers were strong, and their castles impregnable. From the pages of Livy he had not imbibed the art, or even the courage, of a general: an army of twenty thousand Romans returned without honour or effect from the attack of Marino; and his vengeance was amused by painting his enemies, their heads downwards, and drowning two dogs (at least they should have been bears) as the representatives of the Ursini. The belief of his incapacity encouraged their operations : they were invited by their secret adherents; and the barons attempted, with four thousand foot and sixteen hundred horse, to enter Rome by force or surprise. The city was prepared for their reception: the alarm-bell rung all night : the gates were strictly guarded, or insolently open; and after some hesitation they sounded a retreat. The two first divisions had passed along the walls, but the prospect of a free entrance tempted the headstrong valour of the nobles in the rear ; and after a successful skirmish, they were overthrown and massacred without quarter by the crowds of the Roman people. Stephen Colonna the
younger, the noble spirit to whom Petrarch ascribed the restoration of Italy, was preceded or accompanied in death by his son John, a gallant youth, by his brother Peter, who might regret the ease and honours of the church, by a nephew of legitimate birth, and by two bastards of the Colonna race; and the number of seven, the seven crowns, as Rienzi styled them, of the Holy Ghost, was completed by the agony of the deplorable parent, of the veteran chief, who had survived the hope and fortune of his house. The vision and prophecies of St. Martin
and Pope Boniface had been used by the tribune to animate his troops: he displayed, at least in the pursuit, the spirit of an hero; but he forgot the maxims of the ancient Romans, who abhorred the triumphs of civil
The conqueror ascended the Capitol ; deposited his crown and sceptre on the altar; and boasted, with some truth, that he had cut off an ear which neither pope nor emperor had been able to amputate. His base and implacable revenge denied the honours of burial ; and the bodies of the Colonna, which he threatened to expose with those of the vilest malefactors, were secretly interred by the holy virgins of their name and family. The people sympathised in their grief, repented of their own fury, and detested the indecent joy of Rienzi, who visited the spot where these illustrious victims had fallen. It was on that fatal spot that he conferred on his son the honour of knighthood; and the ceremony was accomplished by a slight blow from each of the horsemen of the guard, and by a ridiculous and inhuman ablution from a pool of water, which was yet polluted with patrician blood.
A short delay would have saved the Colonna, the delay of a single month, which elapsed between the triumph and exile of Rienzi. In the pride of victory, he forfeited what yet remained of his civil virtues, without acquiring the fame of military prowess. A free and vigorous opposition was formed in the city; and when the tribune proposed in the public council to impose a new tax, and to regulate the government of Perugia, thirty-nine members voted against his measures; repelled the injurious charge of treachery and corruption; and urged him to prove, by their forcible exclusion, that, if the populace adhered to his cause, it was already disclaimed by the most respectable citizens. The pope and the sacred college had never been dazzled by his specious professions; they were justly offended by the insolence of his conduct; a cardinal legate was sent to Italy, and after some fruitless treaty, and two personal interviews, he fulminated a bull of excommunication, in which the tribune is degraded from his office, and branded with the guilt of rebellion, sacrilege, and heresy. The surviving barons of Rome were now humbled to a sense of allegiance; their interest and revenge engaged them in the service of the church; but as the fate of the Colonna was before their eyes, they abandoned to a private adventurer the peril and glory of the revolution. John Pepin, Count of Minorbino, in the kingdom of Naples, had been condemned for his crimes, or his riches, to perpetual imprisonment; and Petrarch, by
soliciting his release, indirectly contributed to the ruin of his friend. At the head of one hundred and fifty soldiers, the Count of Minorbino introduced himself into Rome; barricaded the quarter of the Colonna; and found the enterprise as easy as it had seemed impossible. From the first alarm, the bell of the Capitol incessantly tolled ;—but, instead of repairing to the well-known sound, the people was silent and inactive; and the pusillanimous Rienzi, deploring their ingratitude with sighs and tears, abdicated the government and palace of the republic.
181.-ON THE RECEIPT OF HIS MOTHER'S PICTURE.
COWPER. [SOUTHEY has emphatically described Cowper as “ the most popular poet of his generation, and the best of English letter-writers. When we are familiar with the strong sense, the earnest piety, the ardent love of nature, the home affections, and the playful humour which characterise both his poetry and his prose, it is painful to know that such a mind was habitually clouded with the deepest gloom, and that occasional insanity was the fearful lot of this gifted being. The events of Cowper's life cannot be understood without much explanatory narrative. We may therefore content ourselves with saying that he was born in 1731, his father being the rector of Great Berkhampstead, that he was educated at Westminster, and that he died in 1800.]
O that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
Faithful remembrancer of one so dear,
Who bidst me honour with an artless
relief, Shall steep me in Elysian reverie, A momentary dream, that thou art she.
My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead, Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed ? Hover'd thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son, Wretch even then, life's journey just begun ? Perhaps thou gav'st me, though unfelt, a kiss; Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in blissAh, that maternal smile!—it answers—Yes. I heard the bell tolld on thy burial day, I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away, And, turning from my nursery window, drew A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu ! But was it such ?-It was.- Where thou art gone Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown. May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore, The parting word shall pass my lips no more! Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern, Oft gave me promise of thy quick return. What ardently I wish'd, I long believed, And disappointed still, was still deceived; By expectation every day beguiled, Dupe of to-morrow even from a child, Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went, Till, all my stock of infant sorrows spent, I learn'd at last submission to my lot, But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot.
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more, Children not thine have trod my nursery floor; And where the gardener Robin, day by day, Drew me to school along the public way,