Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Garibaldi at Varegnano




What a deal of rubbish is now being circulated by the Press in England as to Garibaldi’s present abode! If Spezia had been in the Fejee Islands, there would scarcely have been an excuse for the gross ignorance displayed on the subject.

All are agreed in making out Varegnano to be a fortress, and some have grown pathetic over Garibaldi’s dungeon.

Now, Varegnano is nothing less in the world than a fortress. Its sole pretension to fortification is a semi-circular sea-wall in front of it, on which five small guns are mounted en barbette, their chief function being to return the salutes of ships-of-war as they pass the Gulf.

As to the dungeon, let me assure you few gentlemen of England have a more spacious, more airy or loftier drawing-room, and none, I am certain, one which commands a more splendid view from the windows.

Varegnano is a large, massive, four-fronted building, such as in Italy is often called a “Palazzo.” It was built and used for the quarantine establishment of the Gulf, and intended to afford accommodation to a large staff of government officials. The principal staircase is wider and handsomer than that of Buckingham Palace, and the corridors are large and spacious in proportion.

When the Sub-Prefect of the Province first heard that Garibaldi was to arrive there as a prisoner, his most pressing care was to remove several hundred tons of gunpowder that were stored in some vaults underneath the building, and his next to provide whatever he could hurriedly collect of articles of furniture and comfort, for Varegnano has long been in great part unoccupied, a few of the lower rooms only being used for the Director of the Lazaretto. The building itself is beautifully placed; it occupies the extreme point of a narrow promontory which, projecting into the Gulf, separates two deep and picturesque bays,—that of the “Grazia” to the north—the Bay of Varegnano to the south. In front—and about four miles distant, lies Lerici—a crescent-like Toron on the very margin of the sea, flanked by a rocky precipice surmounted by a ruined castle. More inward again is seen St. Arenza, where close to the water’s edge, and on great massive arches under which the sea washes freely, is a square, old-fashioned villa, the terrace of which runs the whole extent of the sea front. This was where Shelley lived. Behind Varegnano, and separating it from the Gulf of Genoa, rises the great mount of the Castellano, with its fort half hid in the clouds.

For beauty of situation as for salubrity, probably the whole shore of the Mediterranean could offer nothing superior to Varegnano. But were it even otherwise, the choice of a safe spot of detention for Garibaldi was a very limited one. It would have been the height of rashness to have kept him in the south. Ancona, too, would have been a dangerous vicinity. To convey him to Alessandria or Fenestrella must necessitate the landing at Genoa, and the passage through that fiery furnace of Mazzinism; so that nothing remained but Spezia or Savonna. Between the two, there could not be a moment’s hesitation.

Spezia, too, was easily guarded—a few mortar-boats in the Gulf, and a battalion of Bersaglieri on land, could secure Varegnano against all surprise, if such were to be apprehended.

If it be but fair to disabuse the world of the false impression that Garibaldi’s place of detention is a prison, and his room a cell, it is equally owing to justice to state that in all that regards intercourse with his friends, and communication with them, he is treated with a rigid severity. None who are admitted once, are ever permitted to return, if they leave the precincts of Varegnano; and thus his own children, not to lose the advantage of his presence, have been obliged to take up their abode with him, within the walls, and never leave them. His letters—as well those he writes, as those he receives—are all opened and read; and, in a word, even to the character of the individual to whom his safe custody is committed, there is nothing omitted which could be employed towards one fully convicted and sentenced in an open tribunal. Poor Garibaldi, even in his brief experience of imprisonment, has met his Sir Hudson Lowe!

When the doctors met first in consultation on the case, on the morning of the 3rd, they found Garibaldi less worn and exhausted than they expected. He had been somewhat impatient for their arrival; but, as they entered the room, he shook each cordially by the hand, and seemed cheerful and good-humoured. He said that the journey, and especially the transit from the ship to the shore, had cost him much pain, but that he was then easier, and perfectly ready to submit to whatever they recommended—even amputation, if necessary. While this was his manner to the doctors, his reception of all officials of the Government was cold and haughty, and Turr and Bixio, it is said, went away overwhelmed with sorrow at the less than friendly greeting of the old general.

This is not the place, nor is it my intention, to be led away to discuss this rash enterprise, with all its varying accidents; but certainly the judgments passed upon Garibaldi savour far more of those which attend failure, than those which criticise fairly a daring attempt.

There were, in reality, ten thousand more chances for Garibaldi to succeed in anything—no matter what—now, than when he undertook the expedition against Naples in 1859. His name alone was worth an army, and so he would have proved it, had it not been that he was “counter-mined.” Had Cavour been alive, and the minister, instead of Ratazzi, there is not a man in Italy doubts, that the Italian flag would be floating to-day over the Capitol.

Garibaldi was recalled from Caprera to arouse, as he was told and believed, the dormant patriotism of Italy; but, in reality, to give the Cabinet a certain power of pressure on France, to be relaxed if needed. When that need did come, and it was seen that Louis Napoleon, instead of lessening his hold on Italy, only confirmed and tightened his grasp, Garibaldi was ordered to keep quiet. Like Nelson, however, “he would not mind the signal,”—he went on; but, unlike Nelson, not to victory!

All who know Italy, know well that he failed, not because Italy was against him. Public opinion opposed. The army faithful, and his own means small and inadequate, he failed simply by being too soon. In one fortnight more, the mass of the nation would have been with him. The great truth was breaking—only breaking on the popular mind, that the country was no better than a French province, and that Garibaldi alone could relieve them of this disgrace.

And now, a prisoner, and wounded in Varegnano, this man’s name, so far from the prediction of certain newspaper-writers being true, is a spell which could move Italy to its very centre; and the whole fate of the Peninsula hangs now, not on the will of Austria, or the will of France, but on the resolve of the Turin Cabinet, What is to be done with Garibaldi?