IT was in the month of November, in the year 1857, the writer of these lines, being then at Rome, visited for the last time the Villa Pamfili Doria, which lies about half a mile outside the Porta S. Pancrazio.
This famous villa, the present of Innocent X. to his brother’s wife, has ever been an object of attraction to the strangers who, for one reason or another, flock to the capital of the ancient world. The Basilica of St. Peter may be seen to more advantage from the grounds of this villa than from any other point of view.
Mount to the Belvedere at the top, and you will have the Campagna towards Ostia and Civita. Vecchia stretched out at your feet like a section of the North American prairie. Immediately about the house are some alleys of ever-green oaks, of magnificent growth and stature — whilst the groups of pines which are scattered here and there within the limits of the park are almost as celebrated as St. Peter’s itself.
It was not, however, to see Michael Angelo’s dome even from the best possible point of view nor the deserted Campagna — nor the alleys of Oak — nor the groups of pine-trees, that this little excursion had been undertaken; but because the Villa Pamfili Doria and its grounds had been the scene of the most sanguinary struggle between Garibaldi’s contingent and the French troops in 1848.
I wished — for more convenient expression, I will adopt the first person — to visit a spot where a man whom I had learned to respect and honour had performed one of his most daring exploits—and he has performed many. The old woman who guided us over the place did not, however,appear to share my feelings.
“The villa was not what it used to be — things had been stolen — statues mutilated — the grounds destroyed —and all by that brigand Garibaldi!”
Now, as I remembered the place well, I looked about me, and saw but little trace of this devastation. The pine groups were pretty much what they used to be.The works of art were unchanged—what little damage they had suffered was obviously the work not of Garibaldi, but of Time.
Of course it was not for me to say if anything had been stolen – but certainly Garibaldi was a very unlikely man to be the thief. From what I had seen of him, I should have said that the thief, if brought before him, would have stood an excellent chance of being converted into an ornament for one of the pine-trees in the grounds within five minutes after conviction.
The more closely I questioned the old lady the more I elicited facts to the disadvantage of the famous Free Lance. She wound up her denunciations by informing me, with an air of the most profound conviction, that her settled and decided opinion was, that Garibaldi was the Great Devil, or Satanasso himself.
Such is the idea entertained of Garibaldi in the Eternal City by the hangers-on, and dependents of the noble families — the Borghesi, the Dorias, theMassimi, and tutti quanti. The monkeries, and confraternities, and droning swarms of priests would, no doubt, be of a similar opinion. The Roman nobles themselves — not the most enlightened of their class — would probably think that if Garibaldi was not immediately the arch enemy of mankind, at least he was of the family.
Let us turn from Rome, the scene of his most memorable exploits, to our own country, and ask what Englishmen know about Garibaldi? The leading notion with regard to him has been, until recently, that he was a kind of melo-dramatic sabreur — something between Joachim Murat and General Walker — with a sword and an arm ready for any cause; -bearded like the pard – the terror of fathers of families and of men who pay rates and taxes.
Even the events of 1848 were insufficient to train English opinion to a correct appreciation of this remarkable man. We are afflicted here with such a crowd of mock refugees — the charlatans of patriotism, dirty and dishonest men — that we maybe well excused for hesitation in any ordinary case.
But Garibaldi’s is not an ordinary case. so far from being the Bobadil supposed, he is in private intercourse the most gentle and unassuming of men. Children would run to play with him. If in a crowded room you look round for some one to whom you would give a wife or sister in charge, you would single GARIBALDI out amongst hundreds, there is such a stamp and impress of one of nature’s gentlemen about the man.
It is, however, something far higher than the mere varnish of a drawing-room which gives the charm to his manners. There is not about him one shadow of affectation or self-consciousness — it never seems to enter into his imagination that he is one of the heroes of his country, and his age. In conversing with him you would suppose yourself to be conversing with a well-bred English military or naval officer — possibly the marine element somewhat pierces through now and again.
Another noticeable point about him is, that he never, by any chance, falls into the cant of the professional patriot. For his country he is perfectly ready to fight by day or by night — to lay down his life for her if need should be; but no stranger yet ever heard Garibaldi prating and babbling about the woes and chains of Italy.
He does not carry his heart in his hand for the inspection of the first comer. In this proud reticence he differs from most of his countrymen— otherwise sincere and honourable men.
A few dates and facts about the career of a man whose name is now so prominently before the public, may not be unacceptable to the reader.
Joseph Garibaldi was born at Nice on the 4th of July, 1807. He was destined for the sea service, and his early youth was spent amongst the boatmen and fishermen of that pleasant coast. In due course he entered the Sardinian navy, and remained in the service until he had attained his twenty-seventh year.
The romance of his life lies in the fifteen years which elapsed between 1834 and 1849; of course I am not speaking of recent events. During the years which immediately succeeded 1834, Italy was undergoing one of her periodical revolutionary movements, and with this young Garibaldi got mixed up, and was obliged to make good his escape to the French territory.
He was not destined to see his native land again for many a long year.Driven thus from his own country and from his appointed career, young Garibaldi first endeavoured to obtain service with the Dey of Tunis; but, as might have been expected, he was soon disgusted with the exigencies and satiated with the monotony of such a position.
In South America there was a fairer field for his courage and spirit of enterprise. He took service with the Republic of Uruguay, and there formed that famous Italian Legion which inflicted such frequent and such terrible losses upon the troops of Buenos Ayres.
Garibaldi had the command not only of his Legion but of the squadron; and thus fought, and fought well, both by land and by sea. Throughout the whole of this eventful contest, however, one thought was ever present to him: in his own mind, his Italian Legionaries were destined for service in Italy as soon as opportunity should offer of crossing swords with the Austrians with possibility of success.
Opportunity came in 1848; but, as it turned out, his battle was to be not only with Austria, but with France. He quitted South America, and brought a good portion of his Legion back with him to Europe.With these he attacked the Austrians on the Southern Tyrol, whilst Charles Albert was acting against them in the plains of Lombardy, and proved himself to be amongst old Radetski’s most troublesome opponents.
When that contest was settled, as far as Lombardy was concerned, at Novara, in March, 1849, Garibaldi looked around him to see where he could still prolong the struggle. Venice, destined to succumb on the 28th of August, was held in a state of such close blockade that the attempt to enter the city at the head of any considerable force would have led to certain destruction.
Rome still remained. Intelligence had reached Italy that the French were about to occupy Civita Vecchia, which they effectively did under the command of General Oudinot in April, 1849; but there was no difficulty in reaching the city, inasmuch as investment was out of the question with so small a force, even when it should reach the spot.
It would be idle to enter into the details of this French foray upon Rome — all this is new matter of history, and too familiar to English readers to need repetition here. It was Garibaldi who was the life and soul of the defence. The King of Naples – that wretched man who is now gone to his account – was advancing upon Rome from the south, whilst the French, coming from Civita Vecchia, had taken up their first positions on the eastern side.
Garibaldi, without their knowledge, withdrew his troops, and took them by forced marches to Palestrina, where he inflicted a most signal defeat upon the forces of the King of Naples. This was on the 9th of May. A few days afterwards he was victorious in another battle at Velletri, and though wounded in this last action,returned to Rome to continue the defence, which he did until resistance became hopeless.
At the last, had his advice been taken, more desperate counsels would have prevailed. From Rome, when the surrender had been resolved upon, Garibaldi made good his retreat with his own adherents,whom he disbanded at St. Marino, and then proceeded with his wife and a few of his immediate followers towards Venice by way of Ravenna.
It was now that the sad tragedy of his wife’s death occurred, and Garibaldi was compelled to leave her dead, who had never abandoned his side whilst living — nor in the day of battle. This blow came also from the Austrian enemy.
A few words will suffice to bring the history of this remarkable man down to the last few months, when we have seen him re-appearing on the scene in his old character of the Nemesis of Austria. When the Italian struggle of 1848-9 was at an end, Garibaldi returned to his old pursuits. For a very brief period he was in the service of Peru; but the larger proportion of his time, until about four years ago, was spent in the command of a trading-ship.
To provide a comfortable means of subsistence for his children was his object, and this he has sufficiently accomplished. In the year 1855 he bought an estate on the little island of Caprera, which lies in the Straits of Bonifazio, just on the north of Sardinia, and between that island and Corsica.
Here he became an object of particular veneration to the islanders, who assisted him in the building of his house; and here he lived with his children in retirement until the outbreak of the present war. The time has not yet arrived for giving an account of his share—no mean one—in recent transactions;but it may be safely said, that no nobler or more
honest man, no truer patriot, no braver soldier,has ever drawn sword in the cause of Italy than Joseph GARIBALDI.
Author: A. A. KNOX.