Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell
Garibaldi had accomplished so much for his country that he might fairly have rested on his laurels and left to others what remained to be done. From the terms of his manifesto it is plain that he proposed to stand aside while Victor Emmanuel completed the liberation of Italy by wresting Venice from the Austrians, and, what was more vital still, Rome from the sovereignty of the Pope. The statesmen who directed the fortunes of the new kingdom were not out of sympathy with these ideals, but observed their habitual prudence and bided their time. After waiting two years Garibaldi persuaded himself that if Rome were to be won for Italy, he must once more take the lead and spur the responsible government to action.
The Sicilians were heart and soul with him in this movement, and the cry of "Rome or Death!" first sounded at Marsala, met with a fine response. The young men of the capital and the provinces assembled at Ficuzza, a farmhouse of the Selva, a few miles distant from Palermo; a committee of supply was formed; and a number of Garibaldi's old comrades—Missori among the rest—rallied to the support of their friend and late leader. The new Thousand marched to Catania without serious interference on the part of the constituted authorities, and there embarked on two vessels, which were so crowded that they threatened to sink. Several Italian frigates were cruising outside the harbor, and might easily have prevented the passage, but their commanders—probably in defiance of instructions—ignored the expedition.
As in 1860 Garibaldi landed his men at Melito and proceeded in the direction of Reggio, from which some detachments were sent to oppose him. It was no longer Bourbon troops that attempted to arrest his progress, but the Italian army, whose presence in that part of the peninsula was due to his own initiative and the gallantry of his followers two short years before. The foremost Garibaldians, having intimated their resolution not to fight, received a summons to surrender. They refused, and at once the King's soldiers opened fire, compelling them by fratricidal volleys to fall back.
Garibaldi, wishing above all things to avoid insane carnage, struck off to the right and made for the pine-clad heights of Aspromonte. The peasants, schooled by the priests, treated the volunteers as if they were a crew of Satanists, and sought to escape all intercourse with them. This hostility rendered it difficult to procure supplies, and it was a weary and well-nigh starving force that at last reached the plateau of Aspromonte at dawn, August 29, 1862. To appease the pangs of hunger the men dug up unripe potatoes and ate them raw.
During the afternoon kindly mountaineers arrived with ample provisions of bread, fruit, and other edibles, but by that time the minds of all were preoccupied by coming danger. At about three o'clock the head of Pallavicini's column was descried some miles westward, and Garibaldi gave orders for his troops to ascend to a more defensible position on the crest of the mountain. The bersaglieri advanced at a swinging pace, and on arriving within long-range rifle-shot, deployed in skirmishing order, firing as they marched. Garibaldi ordered his men not to reply, and nearly all of them retired into the forest that crowns the summit of Aspromonte, but the officers remained at his side, including three surgeons to whose services Garibaldi owed his life. If he had chosen, he could no doubt have held the position for some time, even if his side had been outnumbered by ten to one, but he had a horror of civil war, and the only fighting that took place was on the right, when a few Hotspurs under Menotti got out of hand and repulsed a charge of the assailants.
Garibaldi stationed himself between the two lines in the hope of averting bloodshed, and was rewarded for his humanity by receiving two carbine-balls, one in the left hip and the other on the inside of the right ankle. Menotti also was wounded, almost at the same moment. The expedition had failed, and Garibaldi had to bemoan not only the inconstancy of fortune, but the paltry conduct of false friends, some of whom disowned him, while others declared they had been mistaken in singing his praises. No discourtesy was shown to him, but he complains that, as a wounded man, he was not accorded enough consideration, being taken in a frigate the whole length of the Tyrrhenian Sea to Varignano, in the Gulf of Spezia, whence he was removed to Pisa and finally to Caprera. "At last," he says, "after thirteen months, the wound in my right foot healed, and from that time till 1866 I led an inactive and useless life."
His wound was still causing him trouble when, in 1864, Garibaldi resolved on visiting England. He met with a reception almost unparalleled in its enthusiasm, especially considering that he was a foreigner. Quarters were assigned to him at Stafford House, near St James's Palace, whither he made his way in the Duke of Sutherland's carriage, clad in his red shirt and grey blanket. It took him six hours to pass through the five miles of London streets, all densely packed with spectators, thousands of whom clung to the sides of his carriage, delirious with joy. On gaining Stafford House, Garibaldi stepped out amid a throng of statesmen and beautiful ladies formed into a circle on the steps, and his carriage was removed to the stables. It had been so ruined by rough usage that it actually fell to pieces. It is not difficult to account for the alacrity of high and low in paying honor to Garibaldi. To the mob he was a son of the people, while the aristocracy, whiggish in politics and anti-Papal in religious sentiment, applauded his brave efforts against autocracy and priest-rule.
From London Garibaldi travelled to the Isle of Wight, where he was the guest of Mr. Seeley. Tennyson, always a well-wisher to the Italian cause, resided in the neighborhood, and Garibaldi seized the opportunity to call upon him. The two smoked together and bandied quotations of Italian poetry, of which they had a common appreciation. On his visitor's departure Tennyson recorded his impressions of the interview in the following terms:
"What a noble human being! I expected to see a hero and I was not disappointed. One cannot exactly say of him, as Chaucer says of the ideal knight, 'As meek he was of port as is a maid.' He is more majestic than meek, and his manners have a certain divine simplicity in them, such as I have never witnessed in a native of these islands, among men at least, and they are gentler than those of most young maidens whom I know."
The poet rated the hero's worldly wisdom low, but the censure, if it were meant for that, was expressed in the language of compliment. He said Garibaldi had "the divine stupidity of a hero." On the same occasion the General planted a tree, of which Tennyson sang at a much later time as
. . . . The waving pine which here
The warrior of Caprera set,
A name that earth will not forget
Till earth has roll'd her latest year.
As was natural, Garibaldi was often in the company of Gladstone, whom he styled his 'forerunner' in the emancipation of Naples—not without reason, for the rising statesman's denunciation of 'Bomba' had opened the eyes of mankind to the enormities of that monarch's rule and gained moral sanction, if not political support, for the revolutionary movement against the Bourbon dynasty.
We have cited Tennyson's judgment of Garibaldi after viewing him at close quarters. What did Gladstone think of him? Well, he would have been better satisfied if the hero had been, like himself, a devout Christian, but he found much to admire and extol in him. Sparkling phrase was not Gladstone's forte, but the rounded periods of his old-fashioned eloquence compose more than a formal tribute:
"We who then saw Garibaldi for the first time can many of us never forget the marvelous effect produced on our minds by the simple nobility of his demeanor, by his manners and his acts. . . . Besides his splendid integrity and his wide and universal sympathies, besides that seductive simplicity of manner which never departed from him, and that inborn and native grace which seemed to attend all his actions, I would almost select from every quality this which was in apparent contrast but real harmony in Garibaldi—his union of the most profound and tender humanity with fiery valor."