Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

Rienzi, the last of the tribunes (Volume 3) online

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military science; yet, somehow or other, upon the
whole, his arms prospered. He defeated the chivalry
of Rome at her gates ; and if he did not, after his vic-
tory, march to Marino, for which his biographer* and
Gibbon blame him, the reason is sufficiently clear
" Volea pecunia per soldati" he wanted money for
the soldiers ! On his return as Senator, it must be
remembered that he had to besiege Palestrina, which
was considered even by the ancient Romans almost
impregnable by position ; but during the few weeks
he was in power, Palestrina yielded all his open ene-

* In this the anonymous writer compares him gravely to
Hannibal, who knew how to conquer, but not how to use his

NOTES* 353

ulies were defeated the tyrants expelled Rome free ;
and this without support from any party, Papal or
Popular, or, as Gibbon well expresses it, " suspected
by the people abandoned by the prince."

On regarding what Rienzi did, we must look to his
means to the difficulties that surrounded him to
the scantiness of his resources. We see a man with-
out rank, wealth, or friends, raising himself to the
head of a popular government in the metropolis of the
Church in the City of the Empire. We see him re-
ject any title save that of a popular magistrate estab-
lish at one stroke a free constitution a new code of
law. We see him first expel, then subdue, the fiercest
aristocracy in Europe conquer the most stub-
born banditti rule impartially the most turbulent
people, embruted by the violence, and sunk in the
corruption, of centuries. We see him restore trade
-establish order create civilisation as by a miracle
receive from crowned heads homage and con-
gratulation outwit, conciliate, or awe, the wiliest
priesthood of the Papal Diplomacy and raise
his native city at once to sudden yet acknowledged
eminence over every other state, its superior in arts,
wealth and "civilisation ; We ask what errors we are
to weigh in the opposite balance, and we find an unne-
cessary ostentation and a certain insolent sternness.
But what are such offences what the splendour of a
banquet, or the ceremony of knighthood, or a few
arrogant words, compared with the vices of almost
every Prince who was his cotemporary ? This is the
way to judge character we must compare men with
men, and not with ideals of what men should be. We
look to the amazing benefits Rienzi conferred upon his

354 NOTES.

country. We ask his means, and see but his own abi-
lities. His treasury becomes impoverished his ene-
mies revolt the Church takes advantage of his weak-
ness he is excommunicated the soldiers refuse to
fight the people refuse to assist the Barons ravage
the country the ways are closed, the provisions are
cut off from Rome.* A handful of banditti enter the
city Rienzi proposes to resist them the people de-
sert he abdicates Rapine, Famine, Massacre ensue
they who deserted regret, repent yet he is still unas-
sisted, alone now an exile, now a prisoner, his own ge-
nius saves him from every peril, and restores him to
greatness. He returns, the Pope's Legate refuses him
arms the People refuse him money. He re-establishes
law and order, expels the tyrants, renounces his for-
mer faultst is prudent, wary, provident reigns a

" Allora le strade furo chiuse, li massari de la terre non
portavano grano, ogni die nasceva nuovo rumore." Vit. di
Col. di Rienzi, lib. i. c. xxxvii.

t This, the second period of his power, has been represent-
ed as that of his principal faults and he is evidently at this
time no favourite with his biographer but looking to what he
did, we find amazing dexterity, prudence, and energy in the most
difficult crisis, and none of his earlier faults. It is true, that
he does not show the same brilliant extravagance which, I sus-
pect, dazzled his contemporaries, more than his sounder quali-
ties ; but we find that in a few weeks he had conquered all his
powerful enemies that his eloquence was as great as ever
his promptitude greater his diligence indefatigable his fore-
sight unslumbering. " He alone carried on the affairs of
Rome, but his officials were slothful and cold." This too,
tortured by a painful disease already though yet young

NOTES. 355

few weeks taxes the people, in support of the peo-
ple, and is torn to pieces ! One day of the rule that
followed, is sufficient to vindicate his reign and
avenge his memory and for centuries afterwards
whenever that wretched and degenerate populace
dreamt of glory or sighed for justice, they recalled the
bright vision of their own victim, and deplored the
fate of Cola di Rienzi.

I have said that the moral of the Tribune's life, and
of this fiction, is not the stale and unprofitable mo-
ral, that warns the ambition of an individual:
More vast, more solemn, and more useful it ad-
dresses itself to nations. If I judge not erringly,
it proclaims that to be great and free, a People
must trust not to individuals but themselves that
there is no sudden leap from servitude to liberty
that it is to institutions, not to men, that they must
look for reforms that last beyond the hour that
their own passions are the real despots they should
subdue, their own reason the true regenerator of
abuses. With a calm and a noble people, the indi-

broken and infirm. The only charges against him, as Senator,
were the deaths of Montreal and Pandulfo di Guido the im-
position of the gabelle, and the renunciation of his former
habits of rigid abstinence, for indulgence in wine and feast-
ing. Of the first charges, the reader has already been ena-
bled to form a judgment. To the last, alas ! the reader must
extend indulgence and for it he may find excuse. We must
compassionate even more than condemn the man to whom,
excitement has become nature, and who resorts to the physical
stimulus or the momentary lethe, when the mental exhilara-
tions of hope, youth, and glory, begiu to desert him.

356 NOTES.

vidual ambition of a citizen can never effect evil :
to be impatient of chains, is not to be worthy of
freedom to massacre a magistrate is not to amelio-
rate the laws.* The people write their own condem-
nation whenever they use characters of blood and
theirs alone the madness and the crime, if they crown a
tyrant or butcher a victim.

* Rienzi was massacred, because the Romans had been in
the habit of massacring whenever they were displeased.
They had very shortly before stoned one magistrate, and torn
to pieces another. By the same causes and the same career a
People may be made to resemble the bravo whose hand
wanders to his knife at the smallest affront, and if to-day he
poinards the enemy who assaults him, to-morrow he strikes the
friend who would restrain.





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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonRienzi, the last of the tribunes (Volume 3) → online text (page 15 of 15)