Sixty Years of
Citizen Work and Play
Realities, trivialities, Divagations,
Reminiscences and Letters
WILLIAM PHILLIPS, J.P.
Author of “The Book of Fools" “The Home Rule Catechisms"
"The Military Juggernaut," &c.
W. H. DICKINSON, M.P.
ALEXANDER & SHEP HEARD, Limited,
Norwich St., Fetter Lane, London.
When I was twenty-five it was suggested by my father that I should go and see something of the world before I married and settled down. Thus it was that with two most agreeable companions I found myself in Italy, in 1851, just at the time when Austria had possession of Lombardy, and Ferdinand, King of Naples (known as Bomba), was amusing himself by shooting or imprisoning all his best and wisest counsellors who had dared to advise him to give his subjects a little more liberty.
Now, I went to Italy entirely for pleasure, without the slightest idea of turning conspirator, or taking any active part against the tyranny and oppression under which the people were then suffering. But on visiting the political prisons, which we did from north to south, the sights I saw outraged all my notions of right, justice and policy, and when at last, in the dungeons under the Castle of Ischia, we saw old Poerio, the late Prime Minister of Ferdinand, who had never done anything but give his master good advice, with the iron chains round his legs eating into his flesh and forming gangrene I said to my friends:
"This is really hell upon earth I and I will now join Garibaldi's British Legion, and at all events do something, however small, to help in throwing off this brutal tyranny." A few days after I was with Garibaldi at Caprera, who told me that he had more men than he wanted, and had been refusing men for a fortnight. But with my credentials, one of which was to the Private Secretary of the late Pope, Pius IX., if I would act in a civil capacity, I could do things which only an Englishman could do in saving life,, and be worth a hundred fighting men.
So, after an interview with Count G., who took a week to consider matters, I was duly installed as Civil Agent, my chief work being to find out in society the names of men sent up daily to the chief police "as suspects," taken out of their beds, at night, and shot at drumhead court-martial next morning. In this way I was able to save some valuable lives. On ray note of warning "suspects" had to fly.
As I intend to publish a full account of my doings in Italy, I will only now just mention one episode that may be interesting.
I was mainly instrumental in saving the life of a very important Neapolitan, whose name had just been sent up to the police as "suspect," by getting him on board a British man-of-war, then in the Bay,
and which was to sail at daybreak. When they sought for him, to take him to be shot, of course they did not find him, and after a few days King Bomba arrived at the conclusion that he must have gone away in that British ship of war.
Whereupon his anger knew no bounds, and he sent a very peremptory message to Lord Palmerston, then Prime Minister, stating a British man-of-war had taken away one of his rebel subjects, and demanding his extradition. Palmerston was not a man to be ordered about by a fellow like Bomba, and he coolly replied "that if His Majesty could not take care of his own rebel subjects, that was his business, and he should not interfere." Whereupon Bomba withdrew his ambassador, and turned out of the Bay every British ship that was then loading. Then Lord Palmerston becoming irate made known to King Bomba that if within seven days every British ship was not restored to its proper berth the Mediterranean Fleet would be sent to Naples. This brought Bomba to his senses.
By an extraordinary coincidence, I recently met at Monte Carlo the daughter of the very lady who had concealed Mazzini in a mattress when the soldiers and police searched her house for him. 10,000 ducats were at that time on his head.
I may remind my readers that the contract
between France and Italy was that the former was to help the latter to drive out Austria, and regain her nationality, with Victor Emmanuel as King 5 and. in return, was to have restored to her her old province of Savoy. Before Italy had completed her part of the contract, Garibaldi took Rome without the consent of France, drove out the Pope, the Swiss Guards, and the French Zouaves, and established a Republic with Mazzini, Saffi, and Armelini as the Triumvirate; which so incensed Lamartine that he sent General Oudenarde, with 70,0(JU men, to re-take Rome; and as we knew it could not hold out against. such a force for a single day, and the leaders declared they would never capitulate, we had to lay plans by which at a given signal they were seized and dragged into the Catacombs—all but Mazzini escaping; and never did I hear how he escaped, until, over fifty years years after, I heard it in this extraordinary manner, from Madame R's own lips.
I feel I must give just one illustration of the wonderful system of police espionage that prevailed in Italy in 1851. At my hotel in Rome one day I received a note from our Consul urgently requesting me to call upon him early next day on matters too serious to admit of any delay. Of course I went, wondering what it could mean, and after a few introductory words he said:
"I have to warn you that the official spies are beginning to suspect you, and your liberty is at stake. You will shortly receive notice to quit Rome, and you must then go or you will be put into prison, and you know what that means." When asked how he knew anything about my movements, he took a little book from a drawer, and then to my amazement read a brief account of all I had been doing for the last three weeks— how I had been to Milan to meet Cavour's agent; how often I had been to dine at the Quirinal; how I had supped at the palace of the Fontana Modino with a lady of high birth, known to be a friend of Mazzini's; how another day I received one of the Nationalist messengers, and so on, until I felt much as the woman of Samaria at the well. He then explained to me that in such serious times he had to employ a highly paid spy who mixed with the police spies, learning all they knew, and then reporting it to him. I did get the notice to quit, and of course I went.
I was in Naples when the great earthquake of Amalfi took place, and was at Messina when the awful fumare washed, in one night, one- third of the city, with people, houses, cattle, and every living thing into the sea.
In Italy I risked my liberty daily, and my life once.
Ai sensi della legge n.62 del 7 marzo 2001 il presente sito non costituisce testata giornalistica.
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