Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

tions have some weight)rogues are more enraged on the second, than on the first day of their arrest. Do you take snuff ?

I am not in the habit of taking it, but I cannot refuse your kindness. As to your observations, they are not those of the wise man I took you to be. If this morning I no longer wear the appearance of a basalisk, may not the change be a proof of folly, of facility in deluding myself with, and in dreaming of, a speedy liberation ?

I might doubt it, sir, if you were in prison for any other reason; but for these State affairs, at this time of day, it is not possible to suppose that they will finish so easily, and you are not such a fool as to imagine it-excuse me -another pinch.

But, how comes it that you preserve so gay a countenance, living perpe. tually among disgraced beings ?

You will set it down to the score of indifference for the afflictions of others, and, to tell the truth, I know not exactly the reason myself; but this I can assure you, that the sight of weeping makes me uncomfortable, and then I pretend to be gay, in order that the poor prisoners may smile also.

A thought occurs to me, my good fellow, that never occurred to me before, that a gaoler may be made of excellent stuff.

The calling is nothing, sir. On the other side of the court, there is another court, and other cells, all for women. They are I can't express it-loose women. And yet, sir, there are some of them angels, as far as the heart is concerned, and if you were a turnkey

I? (And I burst out laughing.)

Tirola was disconcerted at my laughter, and paused. Perhaps he meant to say, if I had been a turnkey, it would be difficult for me not to feel an affection for some of these disgraced beirgs. He asked me what I should like for refreshment. He went out, and in a few minutes after he brought me coffee.

I looked steadily in his face, with a malicious smile, which meant to say, would you take a note from me to a companion in misfortune, my friend Piero Maroncelli ?_While he replied with another smile, which said, No, sir ; and if you try any of my fellows, and he should say yes, take care he does not betray you.

During these first days of his confinement, the perusal of his Bible and his Dante served to dissipate the sickness of solitude. Instead of brooding over his misfortunes, he sought to discipline his mind into habits of cheerfulness and resignation, by enumerating perpetually the favours of Providence with which he had been particularly distinguished, and contemplating the bright side of his destiny. The gentleness and tenderness of his disposition was not long in finding opportunities for its development, and that in a way as novel and extraordinary as it was interesting and picturesque. Among the children of paupers detained in the prison, was a deaf and dumb boy, about seven years of age, between whom and Pellico there was formed a strong mutual attachment. Day after day the boy came and placed himself opposite his window, and they conversed together by looks and gestures :

How wonderful the human intellect (exclaims our author). How many things did we say to each other, with the infinitely varied expression of the eyes and countenance. With what grace he formed his gestures when I smiled at him, and how he would correct them, when he found that they displeased me. How he understood that I loved him, as he caressed some one of his companions. Nobody could form an idea of it; but yet, thought I, standing here at the window, I may become a kind of instructor to that poor little creature—by the perpetual repetition of the signs, we shall perfect this mode of conveying our ideas. The more he shall profit by my instructions the more he will love me. I shall be to him the genius of reason and truth; he will learn to confide to me his sorrows, his joys, his desires, and I to console, to ennoble, and to direct him in all his conduct.

But this soothing intercourse, and the benevolent intentions it gave rise to, were soon broken off by his removal to another cell, and with tears in his eyes he was forced to tear himself away from the company of his dumb protégé. After remaining some time in his new abode, he was visited by his aged father, who had come fully persuaded of being able to effect his liberation; but he soon found that this was not to be hoped for, and, with overflowing bosoms, they were forced to bid each other an eternal farewell. This was the severest shock to the soul of the unfortunate Pellico. To be resigned to the horrors of a long imprisonment, to be resigned to the scaffold that awaited him, was within the compass of his strength; but to be resigned to the overwhelming grief which must result to his father, mother, brothers, and sisters, was beyond the powers of endurance. After violent paroxysms of suffering, he sought once more consolation in religious contemplation, and found himself invigorated and restored. Days passed away without being marked by any other event than the occasional sight of some of his friends passing his window, on their way to trial or execution. They were all young men of the first promise, early distinguished for their literary talents, and each recognition was a fresh blow to the heart of Pellico.

At length, on the night of the 19th of February, 1821, he was roused from his sleep by the entrance of Count Bolza, the zealous and inexorable lieutenant of police, and conducted, with all due mystery, to Venice, and confined in the state prison. Here, in the most miserable dungeon, infested by musquitos and vermin, he busied himself with the composition of tragedies and some minor poems, which possess no inconsiderable merit as works of literature, and which derive a more touching interest from the circumstances which gave rise to their production. The first draught of these compositions was usually drawn upon his table, as he found no slight difficulty in procuring paper in sufficient quantity. Such has ever been the glorious distinction of genius. While the effect of rigid imprisonment on common natures and inferior souls is manifested by a lethargic supineness, or a morbid irritability approaching to madness; from the poet this loneliness only serves to call forth the treasures of his tenderness and imagination. Endowed with the divine gift of imagination, which is irrepressible and unconfinable, he carries himself at will over the space of creation, and returns laden with glorious shapes and forms and visions, to dispel the gloom and solitude of captivity. He was not long in his new abode without finding an object to interest his affections and generous propensities, which were ever ready to twine about the objects within their reach. Zanze, the young daughter of the gaoler, was in the habit of bringing his coffee, and a word of consolation bestowed upon her in her affliction at the infidelity of her lover, won her confidence and esteem. The account of his intimacy with Zanze is sketched with such inimitable grace and delicacy, that we feel tempted to extract it:

From that day I became, I know not why, the confidant of the young girl, and she returned to converse more at length with me.

She would say to me, you are so very kind, that I look upon you as

She wather.compliment

A pretty compliment that, I replied, pushing back her hands; I am scarcely thirty-two, and you already take me for your father.

Well, then, as my brother; and she insisted on taking my hand, and pressed it affectionately ; and all this was most innocent. I then said to myself, its lucky she is not a beauty, otherwise this innocent familiarity might disconcert me : at other times I would say, 'tis well she is so young

there can be no danger of my falling in love with a child of her age. Again I felt uneasy, as it appeared to me that I was wrong in considering her ugly, and I was obliged to confess that the lines of her countenance and shape were by no means irregular. If she was not so pale, said I, and had not those few freckles on her face, she might pass for handsome. The truth is, that it is impossible not to find some charm in the person, the looks, and the prattle of a lively and affectionate young girl. I had done nothing to captivate her affection, and I was as dear to her as a father, or as a brother, as I might choose. Why? Because she had read my tragedy of Francesca of Rimini, and my verses had made her weep so! And again, because I was a prisoner, without having (as she used to say) robbed or murdered!

In fine, how could I, who had conceived a fondness for Madalena without having seen her, feel indifferent to the sisterly attentions and the delicate little fatteries of this Venetian gaoler's daughter. It were hypocrisy to attribute my not having fallen in love with her to the predominance of wisdom ; it was solely owing to the fact of her being in love to folly with another. Woe to me had it been otherwise.

There was a naiveté and a tenderness about her that was most seductive. She would say to me, I am so much in love with another, and yet I find so much pleasure in your company. When I do not see my lover, I am uneasy everywhere but here.

Don't you know why ?-No.
I'll tell you ; because I allow you to talk about your lover.

You are most kind ; but it appears to me that it may be also, because I esteem you so very much.

Poor little girl, she had that blessed fault of continually taking my hand and pressing it, without ever perceiving that it at once caused me pleasure and uneasiness.

Once, doubting in my own firmness, grieved at finding her (I knew not by what species of magic) a hundred times handsomer than she had at first appeared to me, surprised at the sadness that overtook me in her absence, and the joy her presence was wont to bring me, I resolved to play the rude with her, hoping to break her off the habit of familiarity. The experiment was fruitless, she was so patient and so compassionate! She leant her arm upon the window frame, and stood gazing at me in silence. She then said, you seem tired of my company, sir; and yet, if I could, I would stay here all day, precisely because I see that you have need of distraction. This nasty humour is the effect of solitude; but do talk a little, and this bad humour will disappear; and if you do not like talking, I shall talk.

Of your lover, eh?

No, not always of him, I can talk of others as well ; and, in fact, she began to narrate to me her little domestic interests—the crossness of her mother, the kindness of her father, the puerilities of her brothers; and her tales were full of simplicity and grace. But without perceiving it, she ever reverted to the beloved theme of her hapless love.

And where was the harm in my tender longing for her visits; and in appreciating the sweetness of them, in being pleased with her compassion, and in giving her pity for pity: since our thoughts with regard to each other were pure as the purest thoughts of infancy-since her caresses and affectionate looks, while they disturbed me, filled me with salutary reverence.

But this source of consolation was of short duration. Zanze suddenly disappeared. To his inquiries, the only reply was a shake of the head, and the word seduction muttered by the turnkey.

His next employment was a correspondence with a fellow-prisoner, carried on through the medium of a benevolent turnkey at his personal risk. His correspondent was a professor of the philosophical creed of France; and, animated by a virtuous zeal, Pellico sought to disabuse him of his errors, and to maintain the cause of Christianity; but his arguments were treated with insult and contempt. The following passages, descriptive of the troubles and convulsions of his mind, are deeply pathetic and touching :

I took my pen to compose some verse, or to occupy myself with some literary subject, and an irrisistible force seemed to compel me to write something quite different. What? Long letters, that I could not send : long letters to my beloved family, into which I poured my whole heart. I wrote them on the table, and then erased them. They were lively expressions of tenderness, and reminiscences of the felicity I had enjoyed with parents, brothers, sisters, so indulgent and so affectionate. My desire to behold them inspired me with an infinite quantity of impassioned things. After writing hours upon hours, my stock of sentiments were still unex

hausted. I thus repeated my biography under a new shape; deceived myself agreeably by painting the past, and constrained myself to keep my eyes fixed upon days of happiness that were no more. But, oh, God! how often, after having depicted in most glowing colours a period of my lifeafter having raised my fancy to such a pitch of excitement as to make it appear that I was actually in presence of the people whom I addressed the consciousness of the present suddenly struck my soul, the pen dropped from my hand, and I relapsed into an agony of despair. These were moments of unutterable suffering. I had experienced them before, but never with convulsions like those which then assailed me.

I attributed those convulsions, and those excruciating tortures, to the over-excitement of the affections, caused by the epistolary shape I gave to those writings, and to my directing them to persons so dear to me. I wished to do otherwise, but I could not. I tried, at least, to alter the epistolary style, but it was beyond my power. I commenced writing, and a letter full of grief and tenderness was the constant result.

Have I, then, no longer control over my own will? said I. This necessity of doing what I do not wish to do, is undoubtedly a distortion of the brain. This had never occurred to me before. It might have admitted of explanation during the first days of my captivity ; but now that I am naturalized in my dungeon—now, when my fancy should be calmed upon every thing-now, when I have nourished my soul so abundantly with philosophical and religious contemplation-how is it that I become the slave of the blind wishes of the heart, and am forced to give way to this childishness. Let me apply myself to something else.

I then tried to pray, or to overcome myself with the study of German. Vain effort! I found myself writing another letter. It appeared to me that there were within me two separate beings : the one ever wishing to write letters, and the other to do something different.

3

[ocr errors]

In the morning, after long watchfulness, my exhausted faculties had an interval of repose. In my dream, or rather my delirium, I beheld my father, mother, or some other dear object of my affections, despairing over my destiny. I heard their agonising sobs, and I started awake, weeping and terrified.

Sometimes, in these most fleeting dreams, I thought I heard my mother consoling the rest of the family as she entered my dungeon, and addressing me in the most holy language on the duty of resignation; and when I became cheered by her courage and the firmness of those around her, she suddenly burst into tears, and all wept. No one can form an idea of what were then the agonies of my soul.

We have had powerful delineations of those awful throes and agonies of the spirit which rack the doomed victim of the dungeon, from men of confessedly sublime genius-—from Byron, from Hugo (Victor), from Godwin; but none, in our opinion, equalling in fidelity and pathos the simple and unaffected picture we have just laid before our readers.

From the state prison at Venice he was transported to another in the island of Santo Murano, and after seeing many of his friends

« ElőzőTovább »