Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton (5 June 1858 – 11 June 1859) was an incredibly prolific and successful Victorian era novelist. Today his works are largely forgotten and no longer read. In fact, thanks to such purple prose as the now infamous "it was a dark and stormy night," Bulwer Lytton has to some extent become a joke, the epitome of the hackneyed and cliched writer of substandard fiction.
Certainly Bulwer Lytton's reputation has suffered from changes in public taste. However his more durable contributions to English literature and culture, cannot be ignored. He was, in fact, the originator of many memorable lines such as "the pen is mightier than the sword" and many other phrases which are still n wide use today, even though the works that they originally appeared in have been relegated to dusty library bookshelves.
One of his books, Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871), which tells of a mighty technologically advanced civilization underneath the earth's surface, not only helped start the science fiction genre, but inadvertently shaped Nazi philosophy, when it was misinterpreted by some of Hitler's more gullible henchmen as a work of nonfiction. Attempts were actually made by the Nazis to contact this underground civilization.
Bulwer Lytton wrote many works of historical fiction, including several which were set in Rome or during the Roman Empire. Below is the text of his book Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes, set during the Middle Ages in Rome.
Then turn we to her latest Tribune's name, From her ten thousand tyrants turn to thee, Redeemer of dark centuries of shame - The friend of Petrarch - hope of Italy - Rienzi, last of Romans! While the tree Of Freedom's wither'd trunk puts forth a leaf, Even for thy tomb a garland let it be - The Forum's champion, and the People's chief - Her new-born Numa thou!
Childe Harold, cant. iv. stanza 114.
Amidst the indulgence of enthusiasm and eloquence, Petrarch, Italy, and Europe, were astonished by a revolution, which realized for a moment his most splendid visions. - Gibbon, chap. 1xx.
Dedication of Rienzi.
To Alessandro Manzoni, as to the Genius of the Place,
Are Dedicated These Fruits, gathered on The Soil of Italian Fiction.
London, Dec. 1, 1835.
Prefixed to the First Collected Edition of the Author's Works in 1840.
My Dear Mother,
In inscribing with your beloved and honoured name this Collection of my Works, I could wish that the fruits of my manhood were worthier of the tender and anxious pains bestowed upon my education in youth.
Left yet young, and with no ordinary accomplishments and gifts, the sole guardian of your sons, to them you devoted the best years of your useful and spotless life; and any success it be their fate to attain in the paths they have severally chosen, would have its principal sweetness in the thought that such success was the reward of one whose hand aided every struggle, and whose heart sympathized in every care.
From your graceful and accomplished taste, I early learned that affection for literature which has exercised so large an influence over the pursuits of my life; and you who were my first guide, were my earliest critic. Do you remember the summer days, which seemed to me so short, when you repeated to me those old ballads with which Percy revived the decaying spirit of our national muse, or the smooth couplets of Pope, or those gentle and polished verses with the composition of which you had beguiled your own earlier leisure? It was those easy lessons, far more than the harsher rudiments learned subsequently in schools, that taught me to admire and to imitate; and in them I recognise the germ of the flowers, however perishable they be, that I now bind up and lay upon a shrine hallowed by a thousand memories of unspeakable affection. Happy, while I borrowed from your taste, could I have found it not more difficult to imitate your virtues - your spirit of active and extended benevolence, your cheerful piety, your considerate justice, your kindly charity - and all the qualities that brighten a nature more free from the thought of self, than any it has been my lot to meet with. Never more than at this moment did I wish that my writings were possessed of a merit which might outlive my time, so that at least these lines might remain a record of the excellence of the Mother, and the gratitude of the Son.
E.L.B. London: January 6, 1840.
The First Edition of Rienzi.
I began this tale two years ago at Rome. On removing to Naples, I threw it aside for "The Last Days of Pompeii," which required more than "Rienzi" the advantage of residence within reach of the scenes described. The fate of the Roman Tribune continued, however, to haunt and impress me, and, some time after "Pompeii" was published, I renewed my earlier undertaking. I regarded the completion of these volumes, indeed, as a kind of duty; - for having had occasion to read the original authorities from which modern historians have drawn their accounts of the life of Rienzi, I was led to believe that a very remarkable man had been superficially judged, and a very important period crudely examined. (See Appendix, Nos. I and II.) And this belief was sufficiently strong to induce me at first to meditate a more serious work upon the life and times of Rienzi. (I have adopted the termination of Rienzi instead of Rienzo, as being more familiar to the general reader. - But the latter is perhaps the more accurate reading, since the name was a popular corruption from Lorenzo.) Various reasons concurred against this project - and I renounced the biography to commence the fiction. I have still, however, adhered, with a greater fidelity than is customary in Romance, to all the leading events of the public life of the Roman Tribune; and the Reader will perhaps find in these pages a more full and detailed account of the rise and fall of Rienzi, than in any English work of which I am aware. I have, it is true, taken a view of his character different in some respects from that of Gibbon or Sismondi. But it is a view, in all its main features, which I believe (and think I could prove) myself to be warranted in taking, not less by the facts of History than the laws of Fiction. In the meanwhile, as I have given the facts from which I have drawn my interpretation of the principal agent, the reader has sufficient data for his own judgment. In the picture of the Roman Populace, as in that of the Roman Nobles of the fourteenth century, I follow literally the descriptions left to us; - they are not flattering, but they are faithful, likenesses.
Preserving generally the real chronology of Rienzi's life, the plot of this work extends over a space of some years, and embraces the variety of characters necessary to a true delineation of events. The story, therefore, cannot have precisely that order of interest found in fictions strictly and genuinely dramatic, in which (to my judgment at least) the time ought to be as limited as possible, and the characters as few; - no new character of importance to the catastrophe being admissible towards the end of the work. If I may use the word Epic in its most modest and unassuming acceptation, this Fiction, in short, though indulging in dramatic situations, belongs, as a whole, rather to the Epic than the Dramatic school.
I cannot conclude without rendering the tribute of my praise and homage to the versatile and gifted Author of the beautiful Tragedy of Rienzi. Considering that our hero be the same - considering that we had the same materials from which to choose our several stories - I trust I shall be found to have little, if at all, trespassed upon ground previously occupied. With the single exception of a love-intrigue between a relative of Rienzi and one of the antagonist party, which makes the plot of Miss Mitford's Tragedy, and is little more than an episode in my Romance, having slight effect on the conduct and none on the fate of the hero, I am not aware of any resemblance between the two works; and even this coincidence I could easily have removed, had I deemed it the least advisable: - but it would be almost discreditable if I had nothing that resembled a performance possessing so much it were an honour to imitate.
In fact, the prodigal materials of the story - the rich and exuberant complexities of Rienzi's character - joined to the advantage possessed by the Novelist of embracing all that the Dramatist must reject (Thus the slender space permitted to the Dramatist does not allow Miss Mitford to be very faithful to facts; to distinguish between Rienzi's earlier and his later period of power; or to detail the true, but somewhat intricate causes of his rise, his splendour, and his fall.) - are sufficient to prevent Dramatist and Novelist from interfering with each other.
London, December 1, 1835.
Preface to the Present Edition, 1848.
From the time of its first appearance, "Rienzi" has had the good fortune to rank high amongst my most popular works - though its interest is rather drawn from a faithful narration of historical facts, than from the inventions of fancy. And the success of this experiment confirms me in my belief, that the true mode of employing history in the service of romance, is to study diligently the materials as history; conform to such views of the facts as the Author would adopt, if he related them in the dry character of historian; and obtain that warmer interest which fiction bestows, by tracing the causes of the facts in the characters and emotions of the personages of the time. The events of his work are thus already shaped to his hand - the characters already created - what remains for him, is the inner, not outer, history of man - the chronicle of the human heart; and it is by this that he introduces a new harmony between character and event, and adds the completer solution of what is actual and true, by those speculations of what is natural and probable, which are out of the province of history, but belong especially to the philosophy of romance. And - if it be permitted the tale-teller to come reverently for instruction in his art to the mightiest teacher of all, who, whether in the page or on the scene, would give to airy fancies the breath and the form of life, - such, we may observe, is the lesson the humblest craftsman in historical romance may glean from the Historical Plays of Shakespeare. Necessarily, Shakespeare consulted history according to the imperfect lights, and from the popular authorities, of his age; and I do not say, therefore, that as an historian we can rely upon Shakespeare as correct. But to that in which he believed he rigidly adhered; nor did he seek, as lesser artists (such as Victor Hugo and his disciples) seek now, to turn perforce the Historical into the Poetical, but leaving history as he found it, to call forth from its arid prose the flower of the latent poem. Nay, even in the more imaginative plays which he has founded upon novels and legends popular in his time, it is curious and instructive to see how little he has altered the original ground-work - taking for granted the main materials of the story, and reserving all his matchless resources of wisdom and invention, to illustrate from mental analysis, the creations whose outline he was content to borrow. He receives, as a literal fact not to be altered, the somewhat incredible assertion of the novelist, that the pure and delicate and highborn Venetian loves the swarthy Moor - and that Romeo fresh from his "woes for Rosaline," becomes suddenly enamoured of Juliet: He found the Improbable, and employed his art to make it truthful.
That "Rienzi" should have attracted peculiar attention in Italy, is of course to be attributed to the choice of the subject rather than to the skill of the Author. It has been translated into the Italian language by eminent writers; and the authorities for the new view of Rienzi's times and character which the Author deemed himself warranted to take, have been compared with his text by careful critics and illustrious scholars, in those states in which the work has been permitted to circulate. (In the Papal States, I believe, it was neither, prudently nor effectually, proscribed.) I may say, I trust without unworthy pride, that the result has confirmed the accuracy of delineations which English readers relying only on the brilliant but disparaging account in Gibbon deemed too favourable; and has tended to restore the great Tribune to his long forgotten claims to the love and reverence of the Italian land. Nor, if I may trust to the assurances that have reached me from many now engaged in the aim of political regeneration, has the effect of that revival of the honours due to a national hero, leading to the ennobling study of great examples, been wholly without its influence upon the rising generation of Italian youth, and thereby upon those stirring events which have recently drawn the eyes of Europe to the men and the lands beyond the Alps.
In preparing for the Press this edition of a work illustrative of the exertions of a Roman, in advance of his time, for the political freedom of his country, and of those struggles between contending principles, of which Italy was the most stirring field in the Middle Ages, it is not out of place or season to add a few sober words, whether as a student of the Italian Past, or as an observer, with some experience of the social elements of Italy as it now exists, upon the state of affairs in that country.
It is nothing new to see the Papal Church in the capacity of a popular reformer, and in contra-position to the despotic potentates of the several states, as well as to the German Emperor, who nominally inherits the sceptre of the Caesars. Such was its common character under its more illustrious Pontiffs; and the old Republics of Italy grew up under the shadow of the Papal throne, harbouring ever two factions - the one for the Emperor, the one for the Pope - the latter the more naturally allied to Italian independence. On the modern stage, we almost see the repetition of many an ancient drama. But the past should teach us to doubt the continuous and stedfast progress of any single line of policy under a principality so constituted as that of the Papal Church - a principality in which no race can be perpetuated, in which no objects can be permanent; in which the successor is chosen by a select ecclesiastical synod, under a variety of foreign as well as of national influences; in which the chief usually ascends the throne at an age that ill adapts his mind to the idea of human progress, and the active direction of mundane affairs; - a principality in which the peculiar sanctity that wraps the person of the Sovereign exonerates him from the healthful liabilities of a power purely temporal, and directly accountable to Man. A reforming Pope is a lucky accident, and dull indeed must be the brain which believes in the possibility of a long succession of reforming Popes, or which can regard as other than precarious and unstable the discordant combination of a constitutional government with an infallible head.
It is as true as it is trite that political freedom is not the growth of a day - it is not a flower without a stalk, and it must gradually develop itself from amidst the unfolding leaves of kindred institutions.
In one respect, the Austrian domination, fairly considered, has been beneficial to the States over which it has been directly exercised, and may be even said to have unconsciously schooled them to the capacity for freedom. In those States the personal rights which depend on impartial and incorrupt administration of the law, are infinitely more secure than in most of the Courts of Italy. Bribery, which shamefully predominates in the judicature of certain Principalities, is as unknown in the juridical courts of Austrian Italy as in England. The Emperor himself is often involved in legal disputes with a subject, and justice is as free and as firm for the humblest suitor, as if his antagonist were his equal. Austria, indeed, but holds together the motley and inharmonious members of its vast domain on either side the Alps, by a general character of paternal mildness and forbearance in all that great circle of good government which lies without the one principle of constitutional liberty. It asks but of its subjects to submit to be well governed - without agitating the question "how and by what means that government is carried on." For every man, except the politician, the innovator, Austria is no harsh stepmother. But it is obviously clear that the better in other respects the administration of a state it does but foster the more the desire for that political security, which is only found in constitutional freedom: the reverence paid to personal rights, but begets the passion for political; and under a mild despotism are already half matured the germs of a popular constitution. But it is still a grave question whether Italy is ripe for self-government
The two kingdoms, at the opposite extremes of Italy, to which circumstance and nature seem to assign the main ascendancy, are Naples and Sardinia. Looking to the former, it is impossible to discover on the face of the earth a country more adapted for commercial prosperity. Nature formed it as the garden of Europe, and the mart of the Mediterranean. Its soil and climate could unite the products of the East with those of the Western hemisphere. The rich island of Sicily should be the great corn granary of the modern nations as it was of the ancient; the figs, the olives, the oranges, of both the Sicilies, under skilful cultivation, should equal the produce of Spain and the Orient, and the harbours of the kingdom (the keys to three-quarters of the globe) should be crowded with the sails and busy with the life of commerce. But, in the character of its population, Naples has been invariably in the rear of Italian progress; it caught but partial inspiration from the free Republics, or even the wise Tyrannies, of the Middle Ages; the theatre of frequent revolutions without fruit; and all rational enthusiasm created by that insurrection, which has lately bestowed on Naples the boon of a representative system, cannot but be tempered by the conviction that of all the States in Italy, this is the one which least warrants the belief of permanence to political freedom, or of capacity to retain with vigour what may be seized by passion. (If the Electoral Chamber in the new Neapolitan Constitution, give a fair share of members to the Island of Sicily, it will be rich in the inevitable elements of discord, and nothing save a wisdom and moderation, which cannot soberly be anticipated, can prevent the ultimate separation of the island from the dominion of Naples. Nature has set the ocean between the two countries - but differences in character, and degree and quality of civilisation - national jealousies, historical memories, have trebled the space of the seas that roll between them. - More easy to unite under one free Parliament, Spain with Flanders; or re-annex to England its old domains of Aquitaine and Normandy - than to unite in one Council Chamber truly popular, the passions, interests, and prejudices of Sicily and Naples. - Time will show.)
Far otherwise is it, with Sardinia. Many years since, the writer of these pages ventured to predict that the time must come when Sardinia would lead the van of Italian civilisation, and take proud place amongst the greater nations of Europe. In the great portion of this population there is visible the new blood of a young race; it is not, as with other Italian States, a worn-out stock; you do not see there a people fallen, proud of the past, and lazy amidst ruins, but a people rising, practical, industrious, active; there, in a word, is an eager youth to be formed to mature development, not a decrepit age to be restored to bloom and muscle. Progress is the great characteristic of the Sardinian state. Leave it for five years; visit it again, and you behold improvement. When you enter the kingdom and find, by the very skirts of its admirable roads, a raised footpath for the passengers and travellers from town to town, you become suddenly aware that you are in a land where close attention to the humbler classes is within the duties of a government. As you pass on from the more purely Italian part of the population, - from the Genoese country into that of Piedmont, - the difference between a new people and an old, on which I have dwelt, becomes visible in the improved cultivation of the soil, the better habitations of the labourer, the neater aspect of the towns, the greater activity in the thoroughfares. To the extraordinary virtues of the King, as King, justice is scarcely done, whether in England or abroad. Certainly, despite his recent concessions, Charles Albert is not and cannot be at heart, much of a constitutional reformer; and his strong religious tendencies, which, perhaps unjustly, have procured him in philosophical quarters the character of a bigot, may link him more than his political, with the cause of the Father of his Church. But he is nobly and preeminently national, careful of the prosperity and jealous of the honour of his own state, while conscientiously desirous of the independence of Italy. His attention to business, is indefatigable. Nothing escapes his vigilance. Over all departments of the kingdom is the eye of a man ever anxious to improve. Already the silk manufactures of Sardinia almost rival those of Lyons: in their own departments the tradesmen of Turin exhibit an artistic elegance and elaborate finish, scarcely exceeded in the wares of London and Paris. The King's internal regulations are admirable; his laws, administered with the most impartial justice - his forts and defences are in that order, without which, at least on the Continent, no land is safe - his army is the most perfect in Italy. His wise genius extends itself to the elegant as to the useful arts - an encouragement that shames England, and even France, is bestowed upon the School for Painters, which has become one of the ornaments of his illustrious reign. The character of the main part of the population, and the geographical position of his country, assist the monarch and must force on himself, or his successors, in the career of improvement so signally begun. In the character of the people, the vigour of the Northman ennobles the ardour and fancy of the West. In the position of the country, the public mind is brought into constant communication with the new ideas in the free lands of Europe. Civilisation sets in direct currents towards the streets and marts of Turin. Whatever the result of the present crisis in Italy, no power and no chance which statesmen can predict, can preclude Sardinia from ultimately heading all that is best in Italy. The King may improve his present position, or peculiar prejudices, inseparable perhaps from the heritage of absolute monarchy, and which the raw and rude councils of an Electoral Chamber, newly called into life, must often irritate and alarm, may check his own progress towards the master throne of the Ausonian land. But the people themselves, sooner or later, will do the work of the King. And in now looking round Italy for a race worthy of Rienzi, and able to accomplish his proud dreams, I see but one for which the time is ripe or ripening, and I place the hopes of Italy in the men of Piedmont and Sardinia.
London, February 14, 1848.
RIENZI, The Last of the Tribunes.
BOOK I. THE TIME, THE PLACE, AND THE MEN.
BOOK II. THE REVOLUTION
BOOK III. THE FREEDOM WITHOUT LAW.
BOOK IV. THE TRIUMPH AND THE POMP.
BOOK V. THE CRISIS.
"TREMBLE! RIENZI SHALL RETURN!"
"TREMBLE! RIENZI SHALL RETURN!"
BOOK VI. THE PLAGUE.
BOOK VII. THE PRISON.
BOOK VIII. THE GRAND COMPANY.
BOOK IX. THE RETURN.
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