E. Felice Foresti




LATE in the autumn of 1836, an Austrian brig-of-war cast anchor in the harbor of New York ; and seldom have voyagers disembarked with such exhilarating emotions as thrilled the hearts of some of the passengers who then and there exchanged ship for shore. Yet their delight was not the joy of reunion with home and friends, nor the cheerful expectancy of the adventurous upon reaching a long-sought land of promise, nor the fresh sensation of the inexperienced when first beholding a new country ; it was the relief of enfranchised men, the rapture of devotees of freedom, loosened from a thrall, escaped from surveillance, and breathing, after years of captivity, the air where liberty is law, and self-government the basis of civic life. These were exiles ; but the bitterness of that lot was forgotten, at the moment, in the proud consciousness of having incurred it through allegiance to freedom, and being destined to endure it in a consecrated asylum. In that air, when first respired, on that soil, when first trod, they were unconscious of the lot of strangers: for there the vigilant eye of despotism ceased to watch their steps ; prudence checked no more the expression of honest thought or high aspiration ; manhood resumed its erect port, mind its spontaneous vigor ; nor did many moments pass ere friendly hands were extended, and kindly voices heard, and domestic retreats thrown open. Their welfare had been commended to generous hearts ; and the simple facts of their previous history won them respectful sympathy and cordial greeting.

Prominent amid the excited group was a tall, well-knit figure, whose high, square brow, benign smile, and frank earnestness bespoke a man of moral energy, vigorous intellect, and warm, candid, tender soul. Traces of suffering, of thought, of stern purpose were, indeed, apparent ; but with and above them, the ingenuousness and the glow of a brave and ardent man. This was ELEUTARIO FELICE FORESTI,—subsequently, and for years, the favorite professor of his beautiful native language and literature in New York,—the favorite guest and the cherished friend in her most cultivated homes and among her best citizens,—the Italian patriot, which title he vindicated by consistency, self-respect, and the most genial qualities. The vocation he adopted, because of its availability, only served to make apparent comprehensive endowments and an independent spirit; the lady with whom he read Tasso, beside the chivalrous music of the “Jerusalem Delivered,” learned to appreciate modern knighthood ; and the scholar to whom he expounded Dante, from the political chart of the Middle Ages, turned to an incarnation of existent patriotism. Not only by the arguments of Gioberti, the graphic pictures of Manzoni, and the terse pathos of Leopardi, did he illustrate what Italy boasts of later genius ; but through his own eloquent integrity and magnetic love of her achievements and faith in her destiny. The savings of years of patient toil were sacrificed to the subsistence of his poor countrymen who came hither after bravely fighting at Rome, Venice, Milan, and Novara, to have their fruits of victory treacherously gathered by aliens. Infirmity, consequent upon early privation and the unhealed wounds of long-worn chains, laid the stalwart frame of the brave and generous exile on a bed of pain. He uttered no complaint, and whispered not of the fear which no courage can quell in high natures, that of losing "the glorious privilege of being independent ”: yet his American friends must have surmised the truth ; for, one day, he received a letter stating that a sum, fully adequate for two years’ support, remained to his credit on the books of a merchant,—one of those mysterious provisions, such as once redeemed a note of Henry Clay’s, and of which no explanation can be given, except that “it is a way they have” among the merchant princes of New York. By a providential coincidence, surgical skill, at this juncture, essentially improved his physical condition ; but it became indispensable, at the same time, that he should exchange our rigorous clime for one more congenial ; and he sailed five years ago for Italy, taking up his residence in Piedmont, where dwell so many of the eminent adherents of the cause he loved, and where the institutions, polity, and social life include so many elements of progress and of faith. It was now that those who knew him best, including some of the leading citizens of his adopted city, applied to the Executive for his appointment as United States Consul at Genoa. There was a singular propriety in the request. Having passed and honored the ordeal of American citizenship, and being then a popular resident of the city which gave birth to the discoverer of this continent,—familiar with our institutions, and endeared to so many of the wise and brave in America and Italy,— illustrious through suffering, a veteran disciple and martyr of freedom,—he was eminently a representative man, whom freemen should delight to honor ; and while it then gratified our sense of the appropriate that this distinction and resource should cheer his declining years, we are impelled, now that death has canonized misfortune and integrity, to avail ourselves of the occasion to rehearse the incidents and revive the lessons of his life.1

Underlying the external apathy and apparently frivolous life of the Italian peninsula, there has ever been a resolute, clear, earnest patriotism, fed in the scholar by memories of past glory, in the peasant by intense local attachment, and kindled from time to time in all by the reaction of gross wrongs and moral privations. Sometimes in conversation, oftener in secret musing, now in the eloquent outburst of the composer, and now in the adjuration of the poet or the vow of the revolutionist, this latent spirit has found expression. Again and again, spasmodic and abortive émeutes, the calm protest of a D'Azeglio and the fanaticism of an Orsini, sacrifices of property, freedom, and life,—all the more pathetic, because to human vision useless, — have made known to the oppressor the writhings of the oppressed, and to the world the arbitrary rule which conceals injustice by imposing silence. The indirect, but most emphatic utterance of this deep, latent self-respect of the nation we find in Alfieri, whose stern muse revived the terse energy of Dante ; and in our own day, this identical inspiration fired the melancholy verse of Leopardi, the letters of Foscolo, the novels of Gucrrazzi, and the tender melody of Bellini. Recent literature has exhibited the conditions under which Italian Liberals strive, and the method of expiating their self-devotion. The novels of Ruffini, the letters of the Countess d’Ossoli, the rhetoric of Gavazzi, and the parliamentary reports of Gladstone, the leading reviews, the daily journals, intercourse with political refugees, and the personal observations of travel, have, more or less definitely, caused the problem called the "Italian Question” to come nearer to our sympathies than any other European exigency apart from practical interests. Moreover, the complicated and dubious aspect of the subject, viewed by transatlantic eyes, has, within the last ten years, been in a great measure dispelled by experimental facts. That Italy needs chiefly to be let alone, to achieve independence and realize a noble development, civic, economical, and social, every intelligent traveller who crosses the Austrian frontier and enters the Sardinian state, knows.

A greater contrast, as regards productive industry, intellectual enterprise, religious progress, comfort, and happiness, no adjacent countries ever exhibited ; constitutional freedom, an unrestricted press, toleration, and public education on the one hand, and foreign bayonets, espionage, and priestcraft on the other, explain the anomaly. In Venice the very trophies of national life are labelled in a foreign tongue, the caffès of Milan resound with Teutonic gutturals, and under the arcades of Bologna every other face wears the yellow beard of the North ; yet the family portraits in the vast palace-chambers, the eyes and dialect of the people, the monumental inscriptions, announce an indigenous and superseded race ; their industry, civil rights, property, and free expression in art, literature, and even speech, being forcibly and systematically repressed : while in the mountains of Savoy, the streets of Turin, and the harbor of Genoa, the stir and zest, the productiveness, and the felicity of national life greet the senses and gladden the soul. Statistics evidence what observation hints ; Cavour wins the respect of Europe ; D’Azeglio illustrates the inspiration which liberty yields to genius ; journalism ventilates political rancor ; debate neutralizes aggressive prejudice ; physical resources become available ; talent finds scope, character self-assertion ; Protestantism builds altars, patriotism shrines ; and genuine Italian nationality has a vital existence so palpably reproachful of circumjacent stagnation, ruin, and wrong, that no laws or material force can interpose a permanent obstacle to its indefinite extension and salutary reign.

In his first youth, Foresti imbibed the creative spirit breathed into the social and civic life of Italy by Napoleon’s victories and administration ; it was at that vivid epoch when the military, political, artistic, and literary talent of the land, so long repressed and thwarted by superstition and despotism, broke forth, that his studies were achieved. We have only to compare what was done, thought, and felt in the Peninsula, during the ten years between the coronation of Bonaparte at Milan and his overthrow at Waterloo, with the subsequent dearth of national triumphs in every sphere, and with the inert, apprehensive, baffled existence of the Italians in the grasp of reinstated and reinforced imbecile, yet tyrannic governments, to appreciate the feelings of a young, well-born, gifted citizen, when suddenly checked in a liberal and progressive career, and remanded, as it were, from the bracing atmosphere of modern civilization and enlightened activity, to the passive, silent endurance of obsolete feudalism.

It was the inevitable and deliberate protest against this wicked and absurd reaction which gave birth to the political organization of the Carbonari ; wherein the noblest men and the wisest princes of that day enrolled themselves ; and the inefficiency of whose far-reaching, secret, and solemn aims can be accounted for only by the fatal error of trusting in the magnanimity of an order born to hereditary power, and overlooking, in their municipal fraternities, the vast importance of the more scattered, but not less capable and patriotic agricultural class.

Foresti was born at Conselice in the Ferrarese. Few American travellers linger in Ferrara. Fresh from the more imposing attractions of Florence or Venice, this ancient Italian city offers little in comparison to detain the eager pilgrim ; and yet to one cognizant of its history and alive to imaginative associations, this neglect might increase the charm of a brief sojourn. It is pleasant to explore the less hackneyed stories of history and tradition, to enjoy an isolated scene fraught with grand or tender sentiment, to turn aside from the trampled highway and the crowded resort, to listen to some plaintive whisper from the Past amid the deserted memorials of its glory and grief. Such a place is Ferrara. The broad and regular streets and the massive palaces emphatically declare its former splendor ; and its actual decadence is no less manifest in the grassgrown pavement of the one and the crumbling and dreary aspect of the other. It requires no small effort of fancy, as we walk through some deserted by-way, wherein our footsteps echo audibly at noonday, to realize that this was the splendid arena where the House of Este so long held sway, limited in extent, but in its palmy days the centre of a brilliant court, a famous school of pictorial art, the seat of a university whose fame drew scholars from distant Britain, and whose ducal family gave birth to the Brunswick dynasty, whence descended the royalty of England. The city dates its origin from the fifth century, when its marshy site gave refuge from the pursuing Huns, and the ambition of its rulers gradually concentrated around the unpromising domain those elements of ecclesiastical prestige, knightly valor, artistic and literary resources which enriched and signalized the Italian cities of the Middle Ages. Enlightened, though capricious patronage made this haltingplace between Bologna and Venice, Padua and Rome, the nucleus of talent, enterprise, and diplomacy, the fruits whereof are permanent. But there are two hallowed associations which in a remarkable degree consecrated Ferrara and endeared her to the memory of later generations : she gave an asylum to the persecuted Christian Reformers, and was the home and haunt of poets. It is this recollection which stays the feet and warms the heart of the transatlantic visitor, as he roams at twilight around the venerable castle “flanked with towers,” traces the dim fresco in a church Giotto decorated, reads “ Parisina ” in Byron’s paraphrase near the dungeons where she and her lover were slain, or gazes with mingled curiosity and love on the chirography of St. Chrysostom, the original manuscripts of Tasso, Ariosto, and Guarini, or the inscription of Victor Alfieri in the Studio Publico. It is because Calvin was here sheltered, and Olympia Morata found sympathy and respect,—because the author of “Jerusalem Delivered” here loved, triumphed, and despaired, and the author of the “Orlando Furioso” so assiduously labored for his orphaned family, the exacting Cardinal Ippolito, and the cause of learning, and strung a lyre which has for centuries vibrated in the popular heart and fancy,—because, in a word, Ferrara contains the prison of Tasso, and the home of Ariosto, who called her “città bene avventurosa,” as did Tassoni the “gran donna del Po,”—that the desolate old city is revived to the imagination, with its hundred thousand people, its gay courtiers and brave knights, the romance of its feats of minstrelsy and arms whereat noble beauties and immortal bards assisted, and Art, Chivalry, Learning, Church, and State held festival with the Muses to adorn and perpetuate the transient pageant, the loveliness, and the rule,—otherwise since consigned to the monotonous record of vanished pomp and arbitrary sway.

When Napoleon fell, Foresti was a student at the University of Bologna, whence he returned to his native capital, after obtaining the degree of Doctor of Laws. His earliest forensic labors, like those of our young advocates, were in the defence of accused criminals ; and, limited as is this sphere, he must have displayed unusual maturity of judgment and natural eloquence, to have received successively the eminent appointments of Provisory Assistant Judge in the Court of Justice of Ferrara, Supplementary Professor of Eloquence and Belles Lettres in the Lyceum, and Judge of the Peace, by virtue of which latter office he crossed the Po to practise at Polesino,—wisely preferring the Austrian to the Papal jurisdiction. In Crespino, in the province of Rovigo, in the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom, Foresti was made Prætor under the Emperor’s warrant. Coincident with this recognition of his judicial knowledge and skill, was a kindred appreciation on the part of his liberal and patriotic countrymen ; they beheld in the vigorous and disciplined mind and generous heart of Foresti, in his civic wisdom and courage, the representative and ally they sought in this portion of their beautiful and unhappy land. To disseminate the principles and secure the coöperation of Venice became the special office of the Carbonari leaders of Ferrara, and they had only to reveal the high and holy object they cherished, to one who so well knew the wants and woes of his country as Foresti, to enlist his adventurous sympathy. The delicate and difficult mission, fraught with the dearest prospects of Italy, was nearly consummated, when a treacherous colleague revealed to the accredited agents both of Austria and the Pope the system of this mysterious revolutionary combination in and around Ferrara. The latter shrank from extreme measures, and was content with an oath of retraction ; but the Austrian government gave instant orders to the chiefs of police, both there and at Venice, to arrest those whom the perjured Count Villa named as adherents of Carbonarism. The decree was executed with military force ; and, without warning, preparation, or even a parting interview with their families and friends, the suspected were hurried off to the Piombi, that Venetian prison so graphically described by Pellico. All correspondence and personal intercourse was denied. Meantime, an ingenious and persevering investigation went on, to ascertain the scope of the enterprise thus summarily baffled, the means proposed, and the individuals implicated. To complicate still further the situation of the victims, in other quarters the flame they had secretly fed burst forth conspicuously ; Naples and Piedmont were in arms ; and Austria conceived an alarming idea of the national spirit she had partially contravened. The rigor of espionage towards the imprisoned and their friends increased ; the prosecution was insidiously prolonged ; privation and solitude, vigilance and suspense were made instruments for subduing the resolution and invading the Confidence of the captives ; they pined in desolation, ignorant of their fate, uninformed of the welfare of those most dear to them, without resources of defence or consolation, except what the strength of individual character yields; physically weakened, morally isolated ; sometimes roused from sleep and bewildered with questions ; at other times told they were to die, that some companion had confessed, or that some loved one had ceased to exist;—and all these crises of feeling and anxiety, of surprise and despair, induced with a fiendish deliberation, to startle honor into self-betrayal, wring from exhausted Nature what conscious rectitude would not divulge, or agonize human love into inadvertent disloyalty.

At length their fate was decided. Foresti’s companion in prison was the son of a judge of Ferrara ; and, one November midnight, their conversation was interrupted by the unexpected entrance of the jailer, who bade Foresti follow him. The hour and the manner of the official convinced both him and his comrade that his sacrifice was resolved upon ; they embraced, and he left the cell to find himself strictly guarded by six soldiers. This nocturnal procession marched silently through the vast, lonely, and magnificent rooms of the Ducal Palace to the door which leads to the Bridge of Sighs : it was the old road to destruction,—the mysterious process, made familiar by novelists and poets, by which the ancient and sinister republic made more fearful the vengeance of government. As the unfortunate youth passed through a labyrinth of gloomy corridors, he recognized the haunts of the ancient Inquisition ; the atmosphere was clogged with damp ; moisture dripped from the stones. A dungeon, lighted only by a lamp suspended from the vault, and narrow, humid, and unfurnished, except with a pile of straw and a rude table, proved the dreary goal of their heavy steps. Left to his own reflections, Foresti contemplated his prospects with deliberate anguish ; that he had been found guilty was apparent ; if the fact of his direct agency in initiating the oath of self-emancipation, the sacred compact of national self-assertion in the Austrian dominions, had transpired, he felt that his prominence as a judicial officer, and the firmness with which he had refused to explain the purposes or betray the associates of this memorable league, made him the most probable victim of extreme measures, should one be chosen from the Carbonari of Ferrara. At that period of his life he entertained the opinion that suicide was justifiable to avoid an ignominious death at the hands of arbitrary power. Believing his fate scaled, he gave a few moments of tender reminiscence to his dead mother and his living father and sisters, to the dreams of his youth, and the patriotic aspirations to which he was about to fall a sacrifice. The jailer returned, bringing a book and a bottle of wine, for which he had asked ; a few tears were shed, a prayer for forgiveness breathed, and then he plunged a knife into his breast; the blade broke ; he shattered the bottle at his side and swallowed the fragments, and then fell bleeding and exhausted on the straw. If left long alone, life would have ebbed away ; but, probably in anticipation of such a catastrophe, the officer ere many hours revisited the cell to put chains upon the prisoner. Discovering his condition, a surgeon was called, remedies were applied, and two Austrian sentinels carried Foresti into the presence of the judge. It was scarcely dawn ; the venerable and courteous, but inflexible representative of the Emperor expressed solicitude and sympathy ; a secretary and physician, with the guard and their prisoner, confronted each other by the dim light of two candles. Irritated by the conventional politeness of this arbiter of his destiny at such a crisis, having vainly sought death, and bitterly conscious of the long outrages perpetrated under the name of justice, Foresti burst forth into stern invectives, and boldly declared his liberal sentiments, his allegiance to the principles for the sake of which he thus suffered, and his absolute enmity to the usurpers of his country’s freedom. The Cavalier Mazzetti treated this overflow of emotion as the ebullition of a youthful mind, romantic and intrepid, but unreasonable ; he professed the sincerest pity for so gifted and brave a youth, lamented his delusion, painted in emphatic words his want of gratitude and allegiance, treated his political creed and organization as chimerical, and wound up by informing Foresti that he was condemned to die on the public square of Venice, and that nothing would save him but a complete revelation of the true plan, arrangements, and members of the secret conclave to which he belonged. Threats and blandishments failed to move the prisoner; he was silent, accepted his doom, and was remanded with two allies,—one of whom purchased a remission by treason to his vows. Such was the climax of two dreary years of imprisonment, aggravated by ingenious moral torture.

If the modern history of liberty is written by a comprehensive humanitarian, he will not look exclusively to the battle-field for picturesque and impressive tableaux ; in that record most signally will it appear that “the angel of martyrdom is brother to the angel of victory”; and among the memorable scenes which an earnest chronicler will delineate with noble pathos, few can exceed in moral interest that which the Piazza of San Marco, at Venice, presented on Christmas Eve, 1821. There is not a spot in Europe, within the limits of a city, more distinctly remembered by the transatlantic traveller,—the only spacious area of solid ground under the open sky, in that marvellous old city of the sea,—the gay centre of a recreative population, where the costumes and physiognomies of the Orient and the West mingle in dramatic contrast,—the nucleus of historical and romantic associations, singularly domesticated in two hemispheres by the household lore of Shakspeare and Otway, Byron and Rogers, Cooper and Ruskin. The ancient temple of St. Mark, the bronze horses of Lysippus, the arched galleries of the Palace, the waters of the Adriatic, the firmament above, and the stones beneath seem instinct with the fame of commercial grandeur, maritime triumphs, and diplomatic prowess ; the cheerful arcades that shade the caffès remind us of the “harmless comedy of life” which Goldoni recorded ; the flush of sunset on dome, balcony, and canal seems warm with the peerless tints which Titian here caught and transmitted ; the crowd of pleasure-seekers recall the music, love, and chivalry, of which this was once the splendid centre ; while the shadow of a dark façade whispers of the mysterious oligarchy, the anonymous accusers, the secret council, and the venerable Doge;—a more remarkable union of gloom and gayety, of romance and reality, of the beautiful and the tragic, directly suggested by inevitable local associations, cannot be found in the whole range of European travel. Imagine this memorable square, on the afternoon of a great Christmas festival;—fair faces at every window, — the adjacent roofs crowded with spectators,—an Austrian regiment drawn up around a scaffold,— the Viceroy, brother of the Emperor, standing in the large balcony of the Palace, — two cannon placed between the columns of San Marco and San Teodoro, — every inch of the vast Piazza, without the circle of soldiery, occupied by eager spectators. Over this vast assemblage, amid the impending thoughts which the incidents of the hour and the memory of the Past inspired, reigned a profound silence ; no laugh or jest, such as bespeaks a holiday, no heartless curiosity, such as accompanies a mere public show, no vulgar excitement was evident ; on many faces dwelt an expression of awe and pity,—on others an indignant frown,—on all painful and sympathetic expectancy. Every class was represented, from the swarthy fishermen of the lagoons to the dark-eyed countess of the Palazzo,—pale students, venerable citizens, the shopkeeper and the marquis, the priest and the advocate. It was not merely the fate of the few prisoners on the scaffold, deep as was the public sympathy, which occasioned this profound suspense ; they represented the national cause, and in every city of the land there were scores of the bravest and the best equally involved in the patriotic sacrifice, and whose destiny had, for long and weary months, agonized their relations, friends, and countrymen. The anomalous tyranny under which the nation had collapsed was demonstrated not so much by the outward aspect as by the moral facts of that fatal day in the Piazza of San Marco. On the scaffold were a group of educated, courageous, honest Italians, guarded by Austrian soldiers and overlooked by the official representative of imperial despotism ; their attitude was criminal, their acts sublime ; ostensibly condemned, they were in reality glorified. Not a being in that vast multitude, except the official creatures of Austria, but gazed with respect, love, sorrow, pride, tenderness, and admiration upon her noble victims ; it was the apparent triumph of physical force, and the actual realization of moral superiority : the silence of that multitude was the eloquent protest of humanity.

And this ominous silence was all at once broken by the clear, well-emphasized voice of a judicial officer, reading the sentence ; it was listened to with such breathless attention, that, when the phrase, condemned to death, was uttered, a visible shudder vibrated, like an electric shock, through the dense mass of human beings, and upturned faces flushed or grew pallid in an instant; but scarcely were these simultaneous emotions recognized, when another phrase, life granted, called forth a cry as of one mighty voice. All were spared ; but a sentence, to such as understood its meaning, of living death,— carcere duro in Spielberg and the Castle of Lubiano,—some for ten, others for fifteen, and the remainder for twenty years, — was substituted.

This entire ceremony was characteristic of Austrian despotism, aware of the profound sympathy among the Italians for their patriot martyrs, of the widespread disaffection, of the necessity of exciting vague and terrible apprehension,—and at the same time conscious that policy forbade arousing the fury of despair. The accused were thus kept more than two years alternating from hope to desperation, the people in ignorance of the issue, and then, when led out, as they supposed, to die, they served as a warning to those who dared imperial vengeance, while, by a sudden act of apparent clemency, the government at once rid itself of formidable opponents and assumed the character of merciful executors ot law ! It was rumored that the consideration of his youth saved the life of Foresti ;— he was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment.

From the scaffold the prisoners were transferred to the Island of St. Michael. Their transit was more like an ovation than a disgrace. The better class of spectators embarked in gondolas and followed the cortége with shouts of encouragement and waving of handkerchiefs ; “ Courage, courage, brave patriots ! ” was their salutation ; and when night fell upon the scene, there rose from the lagoons strains of instrumental and vocal melody, and improvised recitations breathing honor, compassion, and hope ; so that, in spite of bayonets and police, terrorism and espionage, the voice of their fettered country wafted to every captive the assurance that he had not striven and been faithful unto death in vain.

These scenes in Venice were reënacted, with unimportant modifications, within a few months, at Rome and Turin, at Modena, Parma, and Naples. The rolls of victims embraced the most highly endowed and heroic men of the day. Many of them, after years of incarceration, distinguished themselves in civil and literary life ; some perished miserably in durance ; and a few yet survive and enjoy social consideration or European fame. Among them were representatives of every rank, vocation, and section of the land,—noblemen, professors, military officers, advocates, physicians, priests, men of wealth, of genius, and of character. Those known in America, either personally or by their writings, are Count Gonfalonieri of Milan, Silvio Pellico, Castilla, Borsieri, Maroncelli, and Foresti. The abortive revolutions of 1831 and 1848 sent other refugees to our shores, and canonized other saintly heroes in the Calendar of Freedom ; but these were the original, and, as a body, the remarkable men, who, imbued with the intelligent and progressive Liberalism of the nineteenth century, practically established in Italy by Napoleon, bravely initiated the vital reaction invoked by humanity as well as patriotism, before which European despotism has never ceased to tremble, and which, however baffled, postponed, and misunderstood, by the law of God as well as the development of man, is absolutely destined to an ultimate triumph.

The show of justice and clemency was made at noonday with every circumstance of pomp and authority to give it popular effect; the trial and punishment were enacted in darkness and isolation. On a cold, still night of January came police commissioners to the island, whither the condemned patriots had been conveyed amid tears and benedictions, and chained them in couples like galley-slaves. By the light of torches they were placed in boats which glided noiselessly by sleeping Venice to Mestre, and there they were transferred to carriages, two prisoners and four guards to each vehicle, and in this manner, for four dreary weeks, borne through the winter days farther and farther from country and home,—sleeping at night in town-jails, by-way fortresses, or, when neither were available, in the worst apartments of lonely inns. Who can adequately describe the wretchedness of that journey, the bitterness, of soul, the prospective desolation, the tender regrets of those unhappy prisoners,—torn from the embrace of kindred, the dignity and motive of a high career, the most beautiful of countries, and the most sacred of ties and duties, to bury their youth, with all its high dreams and noble fervor and consecrated gifts, in a distant dungeon ? Even the strangers through whose domain they passed testified by looks, signs, respectful greetings, and, when possible, kind attentions, their sympathy and esteem ; people of rank continued to approach them in disguise merely to indicate their humane recognition ; the very commissioners sent to attest the execution of the sentence parted from their charge with tearful respect. Grief, privation, and fatigue, greatly aggravated by the shackles which bound them in pairs, had exhausted body and mind at the end of the journey. From the city of Brunn, the capital of Moravia, their wan looks sought the mountain prison above, where frowned the bastions of Spielberg, once a mediæval castle, then a fortress, built by the Emperor Charles, and, just before the battle of Austerlitz, dismantled by Napoleon, and now the place of confinement for the most degraded criminals of Austria, nearly a thousand of whom there expiate their offences. Into this herd of malefactors were thrust gentlemen, scholars, citizens, for the crime of patriotism. To each was assigned a cell, twelve feet in length and eight in breadth, with a small iron-barred window, a plank with a mattress and blanket, an iron chair secured to the wall, and an earthen jug for water. Arrayed in convict uniform, here the brave youths were immured. Sentinels were continually on guard in the corridors and court and around the bastions ; the food was inadequate and often loathsome ; an hour’s walk in the yard daily, between two soldiers with loaded muskets, was the only respite from solitude and inaction ; "Lives of the Saints” were the only books allowed ; intercourse with the outward world was entirely cut off; surveillance was incessant ; on Sunday they were guarded to the chapel, but kept apart ; every quarter appeared a priest, who strove, by rigid examination, to elicit political secrets ; the agents and officials maintained an unmitigated reserve ; what transpired in the world, how it fared with their country and their loved ones, was unknown ; existence so near to death itself, in passivity, “cold obstruction,” alienation from all the interests, the hopes, and the very impressions of human life, it is impossible to imagine. Subsequently reforms were introduced, and the rigors of this system somewhat modified ; but the era of Foresti’s confinement at Spielberg was that which has become accursed in political history as the reign of Francesco Primo. He insisted to the last on chains, the badge of crime, and the severest régime possible to life. He had even visited Brunn, and been within hearing of his victims, and sent his physician to ascertain their condition ; but refused any mitigation of sufferings, moral and physical, which involved sanity, health, and almost vitality.

The details of this experience are familiar through current European memoirs, Silvio Pellico has made the life of an Austrian prisoner-of-state, in its outward environment and inward struggles, as well known as that of the Arctic explorer or the English factory-operative. A confirmatory supplement to this dark chapter in the history of modern civilization has recently appeared from the pen of another of Foresti’s fellow-martyrs, Pallavicino.2 But while they were undergoing the bitter ordeal, it was all but unknown in Europe and undreamedof in America; literature, that noble vantage-ground for oppressed humanity, has now broken the silence and proclaimed the truth. There was one solace ingeniously obtained by these buried members of the living human family,— occasional indirect intercourse with each other: the telegraphs of eye and ear conveyed their mutual feelings. One after another succumbed, from the vital injuries of the régime; in one case the brain grew weak, in another the blood was impoverished or fevered; this one was prostrated by gangrene in wounds caused by chafing fetters, and that attenuated by insufficient nourishment: yet they contrived to make known to each other how it fared with them respectively. Pellico, through an indulgent guard, sent Foresti verses on his birthday; Maroncelli sounded on the wall the intimation of his continued existence after his leg was amputated ; and when marshalled for a walk or convened on Sunday in the chapel, the devoted band had the melancholy satisfaction of beholding each other, though the different groups were not permitted to communicate. Andryane, a French officer, included in the original edict, though upon most inadequate evidence, describes, with keen interest, his first impressions when permitted to go to mass at Spielberg. His companion speculated on the identity of each of the captives. “ That one, with dejected looks and hollow eyes, who seems so exhausted, and, though a tall man, is bent down into a dwarf, is Villa. Poor fellow ! he has but a few months to live. As for the last one, with the stern looks and bushy black hair, he appears to bear his fate in such a manner as ought to make us resigned to our own.” “ That,” whispered a fellow-prisoner, “ is Foresti, who, like Ajax, doubtless mutters between his teeth, ' I will foil them yet, though even the gods oppose me! ’ ” 3

This observation was sagacious. It was by calm resolution and philosophic self-possession, through faith in the ultimate triumph of justice and freedom, that Foresti kept at bay the corrosive despair which irritated less noble characters into melancholy or wasted spirits of gentler mould to insanity. Yet his physical torture was extreme. Of robust frame and in the plenitude of youthful vigor when arrested, the want of food during the earlier years of his captivity made serious and permanent inroads upon a naturally powerful constitution. We have heard him relate, with a humorous emphasis indicative of brave endurance, yet suggestive of the keenest pangs, how eagerly he one day seized a pudding, thrust under his dress, as he passed the lodge of an official in the court, by a compassionate woman,—how ingeniously he concealed it from the sentinels, at, the risk of burning his hands,— with what triumph he unfolded and with what voracity he devoured it in the solitude of his cell. Sometimes an indignity overcame his self-possession, as, on one occasion, when the jailer’s attendant rudely awoke him with a kick, as he deposited a basin of hot broth, which Foresti indignantly seized and dashed its scalding contents into the face of the brutal menial, who thenceforward was more respectful in his salutations. But it was the moral suffering against which all his wisdom and courage were invoked to struggle, — the resolute maintenance of healthful mental activity, without an object or motive underived from will,— the repression of hopeless, vague, selftormenting reverie, which perverts intellect and drains moral energy,—the habitual exercise of memory, reflection, and fancy, to preserve their functions unimpaired. Such expedients were of special necessity at Spielberg ; for never were educated men so barbarously deprived of the legitimate resources of mind and heart ; thought and love were left uninvited, unappeased. Sir Walter Raleigh had the materials, at the Tower, to write a history ; Lafayette, at Olmutz, lived in perpetual expectancy of release ; Moore, and Byron, children, flowers, birds, and the Muses cheered Leigh Hunt’s year of durance: but in this bleak fortress, innocent and magnanimous men beheld the seasons come and go, night succeed day, and year follow year, with no cognizance of kindred or the world’s doings,—no works of bard or sage,—no clement of life,—but a grim, cold, deadly routine within stone walls,— all tender sympathies, the very breath of the soul, denied,— all influx of knowledge, the food of the mind, prohibited,—experience a blank, existence a void !

Had we need of evidence that conscience is a normal attribute of humanity, that the soul is endowed with relations to the Infinite, we should find it in the self-preservation realized under such circumstances as these. Only conscious rectitude could arm humanity against the sense of degradation and deprivation thus surrounding and pressing upon it for years, — only the belief in a Power above and beyond human will and perversity,—only, in a word, the recuperative force of moral individuality and aspiration, could keep intact and uninvaded the integrity of conscious being. Of course, the method thereof depends on character ; a cheerful heart in one, a buoyant imagination in another, and the sweet self-oblivion which Faith imparts in a third, sentiment here and will there, work the same miracle. Foresti belonged to that class of Italians who combine perspicacity and force of reasoning with a frank, affectionate, and trustful disposition,—types of the manly intellect, the childlike heart ; incarceration, while it failed to enfeeble the former, by seclusion from life’s game and the world’s encroachments from early youth to middle age, perhaps confirmed the latter into the candid and loving nature which endeared him to so many friends in Europe and America. Sterne says, that, if he were in a desert, he would love some cypress ; and Isaac Taylor has observed, that the devout heart can find in a single blade of grass the evidence of a Divine Creator. We have all read of Bruce testing his fate, when a captive, by the gyrations of a spider, of Baron Trenck finding solace in a dungeon in the companionship of a mouse, and the imaginative prisoner of Fenestrelle absorbed in vigilant and even affectionate observation of a little plant,— its germination, slow approach to maturity, and consummate flowering. But there were alleviating circumstances in the situation of these captives,—a definite hope of release or a certainty of life-bondage, either of which alternatives is more favorable to tranquillity of soul than absolute suspense ; they enjoyed tidings from without or indulgences within. At Spielberg, the sistema diabolico, as it has been justly called, especially at the epoch of Foresti’s incarceration, retained the galling chain on the limbs, cut off the supply of moral and intellectual vitality, refused appropriate occupation, baffled hope, eclipsed knowledge, and kept up a vile inquisitorial process to goad the crushed heart, sap the heroic will, and stupefy or alienate the mental faculties ; dawn ushered in the twilight of a mausoleum, noon fell dimly on paralyzed manhood, night canopied aggravating dreams.

“To such sad pitch their gathering griefs were wrought,
Life seemed not life, save when convulsed by thought.”

Casual evasions of this fiendish torture, through ingenuity or the compassion of officials, are among the few animated episodes of their dreary experiences recorded by the victims. At length the Emperor died (an event they had surmised from a change in the form of the public prayer) ; his son Ferdinand succeeded to the throne, and signalized his accession by a decree liberating the Italian patriots, but condemning them to perpetual exile in America. Those long years of such captivity did not even gain them the privilege of again enjoying civil rights, their country, and kindred! Protests were vain, appeals disregarded. In November, 1835, their chains were removed ; the same blacksmith who had welded Foresti’s shackles fourteen years before, now severed them, and wept with joy as they fell! One night they were all summoned to the director’s room, and he, too, announced their enfranchisement with congratulations ; the prison garb was exchanged for citizen’s dress, and they were, taken in carriages to the police prison of Brunn, where comfortable apartments, good food, free intercourse, books, and newspapers awaited them. Imagine the vividness of their sensations, the hilarity of feeling inspired by the first sight of scenes and objects associated with their youth ! It was like a new birth. To grasp the hands and hear the voices of their fellow-creatures,—to behold streets, caffès, and shops, the tokens of industry, the insignia of life,—to taste viands unknown for years,—to see the horizon,—to feel the breath of heaven,— to trace once more those charts of living history, the journals, resume acquaintance with favorite authors, converse together, move unchained, think aloud,— this sudden and entire transition awakened a sensation of almost infantile joy. But privation had too long been their lot to be instantly ignored with impunity ; a reaction followed ; the weakness incident to long confinement, prostrated faculties, and inadequate nourishment brought on illness ; they could not, at once, bear the excitement, digest the food, or sustain the keen pleasure ; and a rigorous climate quelled their sensitive vitality. But universal sympathy now environed them ; their very custodian ministered to their wants ; and the Emperor ordered them to be, removed to the Castle of Gradisca, on the confines of Italy, where a milder atmosphere prevailed.

How much had occurred while these years of arbitrarily imposed monasticism crept heavily by, to excite the speculative thought and kindle the sympathies of educated men ! To what new aspects of civilization and fresh phases of contemporaneous history their liberation suddenly introduced them !

Their journey from Brunn to Gradisca was a perfect contrast to that melancholy transit, so many years before, from Venice to Spielberg. It was near the beginning of April, 1836, when they started in carriages with a commissary and a few guards ; in every town and village through which they passed, crowds surrounded them with gratulations ; the inns where they stopped were besieged with wellwishers; Nature, too, seemed to hail their release with vernal beauty ; and so they journeyed on, to be received as honored guests rather than prisoners-of-state at the Castle of Gradisca. Their sojourn here was as recreative as was consistent with that degree of supervision necessary to prevent escape ; they were at liberty to walk about, to make and receive visits, to bathe in the sea, to attend the fairs, and examine the local celebrities of Friuli ; a single commissary often accompanied their excursions, and personally the most delicate consideration was paid them. Here, too, the most affecting reunions of longsevered kindred and friends took place ; their relatives hastened hither to embrace them.

Foresti used to relate many anecdotes illustrative of the sympathy and respect felt and manifested by strangers during this interlude between prison and exile. One deserves record here. Two travelling-carriages arrived at a village-inn, one evening, where they were resting. While the gentlemen were inspecting the apartments, a lady of distinguished appearance inquired of a bystander, who the strangers were towards whom so many friendly glances were directed ; soon after, the landlord bore to them her request for an interview ; they rose at her entrance ; she attempted to speak, but her voice faltered, and, with tears, she turned to her little boys and said, “Kneel, my darlings, to these brave Italian patriots ; they are illustrious victims in the great cause of Liberty ; and you, gentlemen, bless my sons ; your blessing will be fruitful to them of good ; it will make them love their country and die for it, if need be. I am a Pole. My country is oppressed like yours. I have two brothers compromised in the last insurrection in Cracow. May God preserve them!”—and weeping bitterly, she retired. They afterwards learned that her husband was Counsellor of State to the King of Prussia.

On the 1st of August, 1836, they were transported by night to Trieste, and, by a singular coincidence, placed on board the same brig-of-war whence Kozsta was subsequently taken at Smyrna,— an incident memorable in our subsequent diplomacy, as having occasioned the celebrated letter of Webster to the Austrian envoy. Provided by that government with warm clothing, the money they had taken to Spielberg was restored to them, not, however, in the original gold coin, but in the Vienna bills for which it had been then exchanged by the police, diminished nearly two-thirds in value during the interval of fourteen years. The vessel was uncomfortably crowded ; the voyage occupied three months ; but they fared alike with the officers. Towards the close of October, they beheld the noble bay of New York ; and so intense was the satisfaction with which they first trod American soil, the goal and terminus of such protracted suffering, that, ever after, the Battery, where they landed, was hallowed to their memories as consecrated ground.

Within a few days of their arrival, a banquet was given them by their compatriots ; and from that hour, Foresti became the oracle and the consoler, the teacher, almoner, and chief of his followexiles. Subsequent events drove many other Italian patriots to our shores ; his purse and his counsel were ever ready for the impoverished and inexperienced, who regarded him with filial admiration ; while to the more educated he was the intimate companion or sympathetic friend. Through his personal influence, employment was constantly obtained and kindness enlisted for his countrymen. When the great political crisis of 1848 occurred, Foresti hastened to Europe ; Pius IX., at the urgent prayer of his sisters and cousins, offered him free entrance to his dominions, a favor his predecessor might have granted but for the strong opposition of Cardinal Lambruschini. He took counsel with the revolutionary leaders at Paris, and passed through Italy to the frontiers of the Papal States, whence the fatal reaction, supported by French bayonets, at Rome, sent him back once more to the land of his adoption, whither he was soon followed by many of the heroic and unfortunate men who redeemed the martial fame, without being able to retrieve the fate of Italy.

Of the many Italian exiles who have found an asylum in the United States, Foresti was preëminently the representative man. The period of his arrival, the circumstances of his life, and the traits of his character united thus to distinguish him even among the best educated and most unfortunate of the political refugees from Southern Europe. At the time of his arrest, the vilest modern despotism of the Continent had reached its acme ; and the patriotic movements it then sought to annihilate by a cruelty unparalleled since the Middle Ages were justified even by conservative reformers, on account of their stringent moral necessity, the intelligent scope of their advocates, and the high and cultivated spirit of their illustrious martyrs. As scholars, citizens, gentlemen, and, in more than one instance, authors of real genius, these Liberals stand alone, and are not to be confounded with the perverse Radicals of a subsequent epoch. Moreover, their aspirations were, as we have seen, more reactionary than experimental ; for the rights for which they conspired had been in a great measure enjoyed under Europe’s modern conqueror, then impotent in action, but most efficient in remembrance, although isolated on his prison-rock. Foresti’s companion in misfortune has made their mutual wrongs “familiar as household words”; and to be associated in captivity with the author of “Le Mie Prigioni” was of itself a passport to the sympathy of the civilized world.

The interest his previous history inspired was deepened and confirmed by intimate acquaintance with Foresti. He lived for many years domesticated in the family of a fellow-countryman ; and an habitué of his apartments was transported in a moment from bustling, prosperous, and republican New York, to the land of song, of martyrdom, and of antiquity. The soulful ardor and childlike ingenuousness, the keen perceptions and earnest, will of Foresti suggested an obsolete, or at least rare type of character ; he belonged essentially to the olden days of loyalty and lore which gave birth to self-reliance on the one hand, and disinterested feeling on the other. His manner and conversation had, as it were, an historical as well as national flavor, by virtue whereof we were borne away from the prosaic and practical spirit of the age, to the days of chivalry, feudal zeal, and genuine humanity,— when faith was an inspiration, friendship a moral fact, and manhood, in its virile simplicity, greater than wealth. Nor were the generous exile’s humble surroundings alien to these impressions : the effigies of his country’s poets were the favorite ornaments of his sitting-room; a volume of Foscolo on the table, or a fresh letter from Silvio Pellico under his snuffbox, — the grim, old-fashioned type of his Sentenza, as it was originally distributed through Austrian Italy, and hanging in its black frame, a memorial of startling import to a freeman’s eyes,—a landscape representing the Castle of Ferrara, the far-away scene of his youthful life,— and a primitive engraving from one of the old masters of that city, dedicated to him in one of those euphonious inscriptions peculiar to Italian artists,—these and such as these tokens of his experience and tastes gave interesting significance to his companionship. Nor were indications of present consideration and usefulness wanting : flowers or dainty needle-work, the offerings of his fair pupils, applications to him, as President of the Italian Benevolent Society, diplomas from American colleges, and invitations to the country, to dinner, and to domestic fêtes, from the numerous friends he had won in the free land of his adoption, gave evidence of social enjoyment and genial activity.

Whoever enjoyed Foresti’s hospitality, in the conversations as well as the viands has found an epitome and reflex of his most genial hours in Italy : brave soldiers, like Avezzana and Garibaldi, scholars, artists, every form of the national character, were gratefully exhibited in reunions, of which he was the presiding genius, and to which his American friends were admitted with fraternal cordiality. It was then that his clear and strong mind often displayed itself with the spontaneity of his race.

Chastened, though unsubdued by misfortune, Foresti cherished a truly Christian spirit of forgiveness, and the liberality which large experience invariably fosters in enlightened minds : it was the system, rather than its agents, which he ever held up to condemnation in discussing the Austrian policy. Familiarity with American and English politics and the modern history of Europe induced a wise modification of his opinions on government ; a fervent republican in sentiment, he yet recognized the radical benefits of a constitutional monarchy, like those of England and Sardinia. He was a natural orator, and, on several occasions, memorably addressed the public with rare eloquence and power on subjects of national or beneficent interest. During his long sojourn in New York, he was not merely the acknowledged representative of Italy, but her eloquent advocate, her wise expositor, her illustrious son, whose literature he memorably unfolded, whose history he sagaciously analyzed, whose misfortunes he tenderly portrayed, whose glory he proudly vindicated, and whose nationality he incessantly affirmed. Well did one of the leading Turin journals indicate the prevalent graces of his character:—“A pure and just man, he knew always how to appreciate those who dissented from him about forms of government, because he could discover in them the true love of nationality, to which Italy aspires. Wise without pretension, beneficent without ostentation, chaste in deed and word, exquisitely tender-hearted, he tempered the harsh lessons of experience by the unchanged serenity of his bearing.”

Foresti was the most charming of correspondents ; in a chirography almost feminine, he wrote, in the old cavalier style, such quaintly pleasant epistles, with graceful turns of expression, beautiful epithets, and appropriate adjectives, that, to one fond of the writer and cognizant of his native tongue, the most casual note was a prize to be treasured. “Truly,” remarks one of his friends, “he was squisitamente affettuoso di cuore,” and now the sweetest proof thereof is to be found in his correspondence. In his two visits to Italy, he used to walk daily to the shores, when within reach of the Mediterranean, and salute, with tears, the bandiera stellata,—as he called our national banner, under which his exile had been protected and honored.

The pleasure expressed at Foresti's consular appointment, as well as the high order of applicants in his behalf, afforded the best evidence of the friendship and interest he had awakened and maintained in a foreign land. On the shores of the Hudson, by the cliffs of Newport, under the elms of New Haven, as well as in the metropolis where he had so long dwelt, faithful hearts rejoiced at the announcement. “ Few are aware,” said Hillhouse, in his Eulogy on Lafayette, “how hallowed and how deep are their feelings who worship Liberty as a mistress they may never possess.” And it was the constancy and intelligence of his devotion to her which won for him such peculiar regard ; for he did not belong to the sentimental and spasmodic, but to the resolute and philosophic devotees at her shrine ; his native taste was more wedded to the wise satire of Casti and the acute generalities of Vico than satisfied with the soft beauties of Petrarch or the luxurious graces of Boccaccio; the stoical Alfieri, more than the epicurean Metastasio, breathed music to his soul. “You belong,” wrote Pellico to him, “you belong to those who to a generous disposition unite an intellect to see things wisely ; never can I forget the gifts of genius and of courage developed in you in the days of misfortune.” It was an auspicious sign of the times when the land which protected such an exile was represented by him in that of his nativity.

Brief, however, was Foresti’s enjoyment of the distinction and resource thus secured for him through the considerate efforts of his American friends. “I write to you,” says his last letter to one of them, dated immediately after the reception of his commission, “with my left hand pressed on a heart overflowing with gratitude for the means thus honorably afforded to solace the last years of the old prisoner of Spielberg.” Three months after, that noble heart ceased to beat ; an effusion on the chest, which ultimately defied the best medical skill and the most assiduous friendly devotion, ended fatally on the morning of the 14th of September, 1858. “By his death,” said one of his eulogists, “is broken one of the links that bind the New World to the Old”; and as if to evidence the sympathy of mourners in two hemispheres and attest the varied associations which embalm the example and memory of Foresti, his funeral was typical of his life, and so illustrative of his character, that we can imagine no peculiar honor wanting, grateful to the patriot, the liberal, the martyr, or the man. In that ancient city of Genoa, of old renowned for commercial glory and maritime valor, the birthplace of the discoverer of the land of his adoption, now the refuge of more who had sacrificed all for their country, and the state where that country’s best prospects are centred and her highest aspirations cherished, in the home of the moral, civic, and social vanguard of modern Italy, he found a grave. The American flag was his pall ; American mariners carried his bier ; before it was borne the Cross. His remains were followed from the Piazza della Maddelena, through the principal streets and the Porta Romana to the Campo Santo, by the officers and crew of the United States frigate “Wabash,” the captains of the American merchantmen in port, the Society of Operatives, the industrial representative of a progressive state, of which he was an honorary member, a vast multitude of emigrants from the less favored Italian provinces, and a numerous body of literary, official, and private gentlemen who enjoyed his personal friendship.

  1. It is to be lamented that Foresti had not anticipated our purpose with that consecutive detail possible only in an autobiography. ”Le Scene del Carcere Duro in Austria,” writes the Marquis Pallavicino, “non sono ancora la storia del Ventuno. Un uomo potrebbe scriverla e svelare molte infamie tuttavia occulte del governo Austriaco. Quest’ nomo è Felice Foresti. Il quale abbandonò gli agi Americani per combattere un’ altra volta, guerriero cannto, le gloriose battaglie dell’ Italico risorgimento. Il martire scriva: e la sua penna, come quella d’ un altro martire,— Silvio Pellico,— sarà una spada nel cuore dell’ Austria."—Notes to Spielbergo e Gradisca.
  2. Spielbergo e Gradisca : Scene del Carcere Duro di GIORGIO PALLAVICINO. Torino. 1856.
  3. “Memoires d'un Prisonnier d' Etat.” Par ALEXANDRE ANDRYANE. Paris.