Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes

Author: Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton

III. Faithful and Ill-Fated Love - The Aspirations Survive the Affections

Since that fearful hour in which Adrian Colonna had gazed upon the lifeless form of his adored Irene, the young Roman had undergone the usual vicissitudes of a wandering and adventurous life in those exciting times. His country seemed no longer dear to him. His very rank precluded him from the post he once aspired to take in restoring the liberties of Rome; and he felt that if ever such a revolution could be consummated, it was reserved for one in whose birth and habits the people could feel sympathy and kindred, and who could lift his hand in their behalf without becoming the apostate of his order and the judge of his own House. He had travelled through various courts, and served with renown in various fields. Beloved and honoured wheresoever he fixed a temporary home, no change of scene had removed his melancholy - no new ties had chased away the memory of the Lost. In that era of passionate and poetical romance, which Petrarch represented rather than created, Love had already begun to assume a more tender and sacred character than it had hitherto known, it had gradually imbibed the divine spirit which it derives from Christianity, and which associates its sorrows on earth with the visions and hopes of heaven. To him who relies upon immortality, fidelity to the dead is easy; because death cannot extinguish hope, and the soul of the mourner is already half in the world to come. It is an age that desponds of a future life - representing death as an eternal separation - in which, if men grieve awhile for the dead, they hasten to reconcile themselves to the living. For true is the old aphorism, that love exists not without hope. And all that romantic worship which the Hermit of Vaucluse felt, or feigned, for Laura, found its temple in the desolate heart of Adrian Colonna. He was emphatically the Lover of his time! Often as, in his pilgrimage from land to land, he passed the walls of some quiet and lonely convent, he seriously meditated the solemn vows, and internally resolved that the cloister should receive his maturer age. The absence of years had, however, in some degree restored the dimmed and shattered affection for his fatherland, and he desired once more to visit the city in which he had first beheld Irene. "Perhaps," he thought, "time may have wrought some unlooked-for change; and I may yet assist to restore my country."

But with this lingering patriotism no ambition was mingled. In that heated stage of action, in which the desire of power seemed to stir through every breast, and Italy had become the El Dorado of wealth, or the Utopia of empire, to thousands of valiant arms and plotting minds, there was at least one breast that felt the true philosophy of the Hermit. Adrian’s nature, though gallant and masculine, was singularly imbued with that elegance of temperament which recoils from rude contact, and to which a lettered and cultivated indolence is the supremest luxury. His education, his experience, and his intellect, had placed him far in advance of his age, and he looked with a high contempt on the coarse villanies and base tricks by which Italian ambition sought its road to power. The rise and fall of Rienzi, who, whatever his failings, was at least the purest and most honourable of the self-raised princes of the age, had conspired to make him despond of the success of noble, as he recoiled from that of selfish aspirations. And the dreamy melancholy which resulted from his ill-starred love, yet more tended to wean him from the stale and hackneyed pursuits of the world. His character was full of beauty and of poetry - not the less so in that it found not a vent for its emotions in the actual occupation of the poet! Pent within, those emotions diffused themselves over all his thoughts and coloured his whole soul. Sometimes, in the blessed abstraction of his visions, he pictured to himself the lot he might have chosen had Irene lived, and fate united them - far from the turbulent and vulgar roar of Rome - but amidst some yet unpolluted solitude of the bright Italian soil. Before his eye there rose the lovely landscape - the palace by the borders of the waveless lake - the vineyards in the valley - the dark forests waving from the hill - and that home, the resort and refuge of all the minstrelsy and love of Italy, brightened by the "Lampeggiar dell’ angelico riso," that makes a paradise in the face we love. Often, seduced by such dreams to complete oblivion of his loss, the young wanderer started from the ideal bliss, to behold around him the solitary waste of way - or the moonlit tents of war - or, worse than all, the crowds and revels of a foreign court.

Whether or not such fancies now, for a moment, allured his meditations, conjured up, perhaps, by the name of Irene’s brother, which never sounded in his ears but to awaken ten thousand associations, the Colonna remained thoughtful and absorbed, until he was disturbed by his own squire, who, accompanied by Montreal’s servitors, ushered in his solitary but ample repast. Flasks of the richest Florentine wines - viands prepared with all the art which, alas, Italy has now lost! - goblets and salvers of gold and silver, prodigally wrought with barbaric gems - attested the princely luxury which reigned in the camp of the Grand Company. But Adrian saw in all only the spoliation of his degraded country, and felt the splendour almost as an insult. His lonely meal soon concluded, he became impatient of the monotony of his tent; and, tempted by the cool air of the descending eve, sauntered carelessly forth. He bent his steps by the side of the brooklet that curved, snakelike and sparkling, by Montreal’s tent; and finding a spot somewhat solitary and apart from the warlike tenements around, flung himself by the margin of the stream.

The last rays of the sun quivered on the wave that danced musically over its stony bed; and amidst a little copse on the opposite bank broke the brief and momentary song of such of the bolder habitants of that purple air as the din of the camp had not scared from their green retreat. The clouds lay motionless to the west, in that sky so darkly and intensely blue, never seen but over the landscapes that a Claude or a Rosa loved to paint; and dim and delicious rose-hues gathered over the grey peaks of the distant Apennines. From afar floated the hum of the camp, broken by the neigh of returning steeds; the blast of an occasional bugle; and, at regular intervals, by the armed tramp of the neighbouring sentry. And opposite to the left of the copse - upon a rising ground, matted with reeds, moss, and waving shrubs - were the ruins of some old Etruscan building, whose name had perished, whose very uses were unknown.

The scene was so calm and lovely, as Adrian gazed upon it, that it was scarcely possible to imagine it at that very hour the haunt of fierce and banded robbers, among most of whom the very soul of man was embruted, and to all of whom murder or rapine made the habitual occupation of life.

Still buried in his reveries, and carelessly dropping stones into the noisy rivulet, Adrian was aroused by the sound of steps.

"A fair spot to listen to the lute and the ballads of Provence," said the voice of Montreal, as the Knight of St. John threw himself on the turf beside the young Colonna.

"You retain, then, your ancient love of your national melodies," said Adrian.

"Ay, I have not yet survived all my youth," answered Montreal, with a slight sigh. "But somehow or other, the strains that once pleased my fancy now go too directly to my heart. So, though I still welcome jongleur and minstrel, I bid them sing their newest conceits. I cannot wish ever again to hear the poetry I heard when I was young!"

"Pardon me," said Adrian, with great interest, "but fain would I have dared, though a secret apprehension prevented me hitherto, - fain would I have dared to question you of that lovely lady, with whom, seven years ago, we gazed at moonlight upon the odorous orange-groves and rosy waters of Terracina."

Montreal turned away his face; he laid his hand on Adrian’s arm, and murmured, in a deep and hoarse tone, "I am alone now!"

Adrian pressed his hand in silence. He felt no light shock at thus learning the death of one so gentle, so lovely, and so ill-fated.

"The vows of my knighthood," continued Montreal, "which precluded Adeline the rights of wedlock - the shame of her house - the angry grief of her mother - the wild vicissitudes of my life, so exposed to peril - the loss of her son - all preyed silently on her frame. She did not die (die is too harsh a word!), but she drooped away, and glided into heaven. Even as on a summer’s morn some soft dream fleets across us, growing less and less distinct, until it fades, as it were, into light, and we awaken - so faded Adeline’s parting spirit, till the daylight of God broke upon it."

Montreal paused a moment, and then resumed: "These thoughts make the boldest of us weak sometimes, and we Provencals are foolish in these matters! - God wot, she was very dear to me!"

The Knight bent down and crossed himself devoutly, his lips muttered a prayer. Strange as it may seem to our more enlightened age, so martial a garb did morality then wear, that this man, at whose word towns had blazed and torrents of blood had flowed, neither adjudged himself, nor was adjudged by the majority of his contemporaries, a criminal. His order, half monastic, half warlike, was emblematic of himself. He trampled upon man, yet humbled himself to God; nor had all his acquaintance with the refining scepticism of Italy shaken the sturdy and simple faith of the bold Provencal. So far from recognising any want of harmony between his calling and his creed, he held that man no true chevalier who was not as devout to the Cross as relentless with the sword.

"And you have no child save the one you lost?" asked Adrian, when he observed the wonted composure of Montreal once more returning.

"None!" said Montreal, as his brow again darkened. "No love-begotten heir of mine will succeed to the fortunes I trust yet to build. Never on earth shall I see upon the face of her child the likeness of Adeline! Yet, at Avignon, I saw a boy I would have claimed; for methought she must have looked her soul into his eyes, they were so like hers! Well, well! The Provence tree hath other branches; and some unborn nephew must be - what? The stars have not yet decided! But ambition is now the only thing in the world left me to love."

"So differently operates the same misfortune upon different characters," thought the Colonna. "To me, crowns became valueless when I could no longer dream of placing them on Irene’s brow!"

The similarity of their fates, however, attracted Adrian strongly towards his host; and the two Knights conversed together with more friendship and unreserve than they had hitherto done. At length Montreal said, "By the way, I have not inquired your destination."

"I am bound to Rome," said Adrian; "and the intelligence I have learned from you incites me thitherward yet more eagerly. If Rienzi return, I may mediate successfully, perchance, between the Tribune-Senator and the nobles; and if I find my cousin, young Stefanello, now the head of our house, more tractable than his sires, I shall not despair of conciliating the less powerful Barons. Rome wants repose; and whoever governs, if he govern but with justice, ought to be supported both by prince and plebeian!"

Montreal listened with great attention, and then muttered to himself, "No, it cannot be!" He mused a little while, shading his brow with his hand, before he said aloud, "To Rome you are bound. Well, we shall meet soon amidst its ruins. Know, by the way, that my object here is already won: these Florentine merchants have acceded to my terms; they have purchased a two years’ peace; tomorrow the camp breaks up, and the Grand Company march to Lombardy. There, if my schemes prosper, and the Venetians pay my price, I league the rascals (under Landau, my Lieutenant) with the Sea-City, in defiance of the Visconti, and shall pass my autumn in peace amidst the pomps of Rome."

"Sir Walter de Montreal," said Adrian, "your frankness perhaps makes me presumptuous; but when I hear you talk, like a huxtering trader, of selling alike your friendship and your forbearance, I ask myself, ’Is this the great Knight of St. John; and have men spoken of him fairly, when they assert the sole stain on his laurels to be his avarice?"

Montreal bit his lip; nevertheless, he answered calmly, "My frankness has brought its own penance, Lord Adrian. However, I cannot wholly leave so honoured a guest under an impression which I feel to be plausible, but not just. No, brave Colonna; report wrongs me. I value Gold, for Gold is the Architect of Power! It fills the camp - it storms the city - it buys the marketplace - it raises the palace - it founds the throne. I value Gold, - it is the means necessary to my end!"

"And that end - "

"Is - no matter what," said the Knight coldly. "Let us to our tents, the dews fall heavily, and the malaria floats over these houseless wastes."

The pair rose; - yet, fascinated by the beauty of the hour, they lingered for a moment by the brook. The earliest stars shone over its crisping wavelets, and a delicious breeze murmured gently amidst the glossy herbage."

"Thus gazing," said Montreal, softly, "we reverse the old Medusan fable the poets tell us of, and look and muse ourselves out of stone. A little while, and it was the sunlight that gilded the wave - it now shines as brightly and glides as gaily beneath the stars; even so rolls the stream of time: one luminary succeeds the other equally welcomed - equally illumining - equally evanescent! - You see, the poetry of Provence still lives beneath my mail!"

Adrian early sought his couch; but his own thoughts and the sounds of loud mirth that broke from Montreal’s tent, where the chief feasted the captains of his band, a revel from which he had the delicacy to excuse the Roman noble, kept the Colonna long awake; and he had scarcely fallen into an unquiet slumber, when yet more discordant sounds again invaded his repose. At the earliest dawn the wide armament was astir - the creaking of cordage - the tramp of men - loud orders and louder oaths - the slow rolling of baggage-wains - and the clank of the armourers, announced the removal of the camp, and the approaching departure of the Grand Company.

Ere Adrian was yet attired, Montreal entered his tent.

"I have appointed," he said, "five score lances under a trusty leader, to accompany you, noble Adrian, to the borders of Romagna; they wait your leisure. In another hour I depart; the on-guard are already in motion."

Adrian would fain have declined the proffered escort; but he saw that it would only offend the pride of the chief, who soon retired. Hastily Adrian endued his arms - the air of the fresh morning, and the glad sun rising gorgeously from the hills, revived his wearied spirit. He repaired to Montreal’s tent, and found him alone, with the implements of writing before him, and a triumphant smile upon his countenance.

"Fortune showers new favours on me!" he said, gaily. "Yesterday the Florentines spared me the trouble of a siege: and today (even since I last saw you - a few minutes since) puts your new Senator of Rome into my power."

"How! Have your bands then arrested Rienzi?"

"Not so - better still! The Tribune changed his plan, and repaired to Perugia, where my brothers now abide - sought them - they have supplied him with money and soldiers enough to brave the perils of the way, and to defy the swords of the Barons. So writes my good brother Arimbaldo, a man of letters, whom the Tribune thinks rightly he has decoyed with old tales of Roman greatness, and mighty promises of grateful advancement. You find me hastily expressing my content at the arrangement. My brothers themselves will accompany the Senator-Tribune to the walls of the Capitol."

"Still, I see not how this places Rienzi in your power."

"No! His soldiers are my creatures - his comrades my brothers - his creditor myself! Let him rule Rome then - the time soon comes when the Vice-Regent must yield to - "

"The Chief of the Grand Company," interrupted Adrian, with a shudder, which the bold Montreal was too engrossed with the unconcealed excitement of his own thoughts to notice. "No, Knight of Provence, basely have we succumbed to domestic tyrants: but never, I trust, will Romans be so vile as to wear the yoke of a foreign usurper."

Montreal looked hard at Adrian, and smiled sternly.

"You mistake me," said he; "and it will be time enough for you to play the Brutus when I assume the Caesar. Meanwhile we are but host and guest. Let us change the theme."

Nevertheless this, their latter conference, threw a chill over both during the short time the Knights remained together, and they parted with a formality which was ill-suited to their friendly intercourse of the night before. Montreal felt he had in cautiously revealed himself, but caution was no part of his character, whenever he found himself at the head of an army, and at the full tide of fortune; and at that moment, so confident was he of the success of his wildest schemes, that he recked little whom he offended, or whom alarmed.

Slowly, with his strange and ferocious escort, Adrian renewed his way. Winding up a steep ascent that led from the plain, - when he reached the summit, the curve in the road shewed him the whole army on its march; - the gonfalons waving - the armour flashing in the sun, line after line, like a river of steel, and the whole plain bristling with the array of that moving war; - while the solemn tread of the armed thousands fell subdued and stifled at times by martial and exulting music. As they swept on, Adrian descried at length the stately and towering form of Montreal upon a black charger, distinguished even at that distance from the rest, not more by his gorgeous armour than his lofty stature. So swept he on in the pride of his array - in the flush of his hopes - the head of a mighty armament - the terror of Italy - the hero that was - the monarch that might be!


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Chicago: Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, "III. Faithful and Ill-Fated Love - The Aspirations Survive the Affections," Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DBJGNYSJ97KK664.

MLA: Bulwer-Lytton, Edward George Earle Lytton. "III. Faithful and Ill-Fated Love - The Aspirations Survive the Affections." Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DBJGNYSJ97KK664.

Harvard: Bulwer-Lytton, EG, 'III. Faithful and Ill-Fated Love - The Aspirations Survive the Affections' in Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes, ed. and trans. . cited in , Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DBJGNYSJ97KK664.