My Ten Years' Imprisonment/Chapter 1
AUTHOR'S PREFACE. Have I penned these memorials, let me ask myself, from any paltry vanity, or desire to talk about that self? I hope this is not the case, and forasmuch as one may be able to judge in one's own cause, I think I was actuated by better views. These, briefly, were to afford consolation to some unfortunate being, situated like myself, by explaining the evils to which I was exposed, and those sources of relief which I found were accessible, even when labouring under the heaviest misfortune; to bear witness, moreover, that in the midst of my acute and protracted torments, I never found humanity, in the human instruments around me, so hopelessly wicked, so unworthy of consideration, or so barren of noble minds in lowly station, as it is customary to represent it; to engage, if possible, all the generous and good-hearted to love and esteem each other, to become incapable of hating any one; to feel irreconcilable hatred only towards low, base falsehood; cowardice, perfidy, and every kind of moral degradation. It is my object to impress on all that well- known but too often forgotten truth, namely, that both religion and philosophy require calmness of judgment combined with energy of will, and that without such a union, there can be no real justice, no dignity of character, and no sound principles of human action.
On Friday, the 15th of October, 1820, I was arrested at Milan, and conveyed to the prison of Santa Margherita. The hour was three in the afternoon. I underwent a long examination, which occupied the whole of that and several subsequent days; but of this I shall say nothing. Like some unfortunate lover, harshly dealt with by her he adored, yet resolved to bear it with dignified silence, I leave la Politica, such as SHE IS, and proceed to something else.
At nine in the evening of that same unlucky Friday, the actuary consigned me to the jailer, who conducted me to my appointed residence. He there politely requested me to give up my watch, my money, and everything in my pockets, which were to be restored to me in due time; saying which he respectfully bade me good-night.
"Stop, my dear sir," I observed, "I have not yet dined; let me have something to eat."
"Directly; the inn is close by, and you will find the wine good, sir."
"Wine I do not drink."
At this announcement Signor Angiolino gave me a look of unfeigned surprise; he imagined that I was jesting. "Masters of prisons," he rejoined, "who keep shop, have a natural horror of an abstemious captive."
"That may be; I don't drink it."
"I am sorry for you, sir; you will feel solitude twice as heavily."
But perceiving that I was firm, he took his leave; and in half an hour I had something to eat. I took a mouthful, swallowed a glass of water, and found myself alone. My chamber was on the ground floor, and overlooked the court-yard. Dungeons here, dungeons there, to the right, to the left, above, below, and opposite, everywhere met my eye. I leaned against the window, listened to the passing and repassing of the jailers, and the wild song of a number of the unhappy inmates. A century ago, I reflected, and this was a monastery; little then thought the pious, penitent recluses that their cells would now re-echo only to the sounds of blasphemy and licentious song, instead of holy hymn and lamentation from woman's lips; that it would become a dwelling for the wicked of every class- -the most part destined to perpetual labour or to the gallows. And in one century to come, what living being will be found in these cells? Oh, mighty Time! unceasing mutability of things! Can he who rightly views your power have reason for regret or despair when Fortune withdraws her smile, when he is made captive, or the scaffold presents itself to his eye? yesterday I thought myself one of the happiest of men; to-day every pleasure, the least flower that strewed my path, has disappeared. Liberty, social converse, the face of my fellow-man, nay, hope itself hath fled. I feel it would be folly to flatter myself; I shall not go hence, except to be thrown into still more horrible receptacles of sorrow; perhaps, bound, into the hands of the executioner. Well, well, the day after my death it will be all one as if I had yielded my spirit in a palace, and been conveyed to the tomb, accompanied with all the pageantry of empty honours.
It was thus, by reflecting on the sweeping speed of time, that I bore up against passing misfortune. Alas, this did not prevent the forms of my father, my mother, two brothers, two sisters, and one other family I had learned to love as if it were my own, from all whom I was, doubtless, for ever cut off, from crossing my mind, and rendering all my philosophical reasoning of no avail. I was unable to resist the thought, and I wept even as a child.