Rienzi, Nicolas Gabrini De

, who, from a low and despicable situation, raised himself to sovereign authority in Rome, in the 14th century, assuming the title of tribune, and proposing to restore the ancient free republic, was born at Rome, and was the son of no greater a personage than a mean vintner, or, as others say, a miller, named Lawrence Gabrini, and Magdalen, a laundress. However, Nicolas Rienzi, by which appellation he was commonly distinguished, did not form his sentiments from the meanness of his birth. To a good natural understanding he joined an uncommon assiduity, and made a great proficiency in ancient literature. Every thing he read he compared with similar passages that occurred within his own observation; whence he made reflections, by which he regulated his conduct. To this he added a great knowledge in the laws and customs of nations. He had a vast memory: he retained much of Cicero, Valerius Maximus, Livy, the two Senecas, and Cassar’s Commentaries especially, which he read continually, and often quoted and applied to the events of his own times. This fund of learning proved the foundation of his rise: the desire he had to distinguish | himself in the knowledge of monumental history, drew him to another sort of science, then little understood. He passed whole days among the inscriptions which are to be found at Rome, and acquired soon the reputation of a great antiquary. Having hence formed within himself the most exalted notions of the justice, liberty, and ancient grandeur of the old Romans, words he was perpetually repeating to the people, he at length persuaded not only himself, but the giddy mob his followers, that he should one day become the restorer of the Roman republic. His advantageous stature, his countenance, and that air of importance which he well knew how to assume, deeply imprinted all he said in the minds of his audience: nor was it only by the populace that he was admired; he also found means to insinuate himself into the favour of those who partook of the administration. Rienzi’s talents procured him to be nominated one of the deputies, sent by the Romans to pope Clement VI. who resided at Avignon. The intention of this deputation was to make his holiness sensible, how prejudicial his absence was, as well to himself as to the interest of Rome. At his first audience, our hero charmed the court of Avignon by his eloquence, and the sprightliness of his conversation. Encouraged by success, he one day took the liberty to tell the pope, that the grandees of Rome were avowed robbers, public thieves, infamous adulterers, and illustrious profligates; who by their example authorized the most horrid crimes. To them he attributed the desolation of Rome, of which he drew so lively a picture, that the holy father was moved, and exceedingly incensed against the Roman nobility. Cardinal Colonna, in other respects a lover of real merit, could not help considering these reproaches as reflecting upon some of his family; and therefore found means of disgracing Rienzi, so that he fell into extreme misery, vexation, and sickness, which, joined, with indigence, brought him to an hospital. Nevertheless, the same hand that threw him down, raised him up again. The cardinal, who was all compassion, caused him to appear before the pope, in assurance of his being a good man, and a great partizan for justice and equity. The pope approved of him more than ever and, as proofs of his esteem and confidence, made him apostolicnotary, and sent him back loaded with favours. Yet his subsequent behaviour shewed, that resentment had a greater ascendancy over him than gratitude. Being returned to Rome, he began ta | execute the functions of his office, and by affability, candour, assiduity, and impartiality, in the administration of justice, he arrived at a superior degree of popularity; which he still improved by continued invectives against the vices of the great, whom he strove to render as odious as possible; till at last, for some ill-timed freedoms of speech, he was not only severely reprimanded, but displaced. His dismission did not make him desist from inveighing against the debauched, though he conducted himself with more prudence. From this time it was his constant endeavour to inspire the people with a fondness for their ancient liberties; to which purpose, he caused to be hung up in the most public places emblematic pictures, expressive of the former splendour and present decline of Rome. To these he added frequent harangues and predictions upon the same subject, in this manner he proceeded till one party looked on him only as a madman, while others caressed him as their protector. Thus he infatuated the minds of the people, and many of the nobility began to come into his views, while the senate in no wise mistrusted a man, whom they judged to have neither interest nor ability. At length he ventured to disclose his designs to such as he believed mal-contents, first separately, but afterwards, when he thought he had firmly attached a sufficient number to his interest, he assembled them together, and represented to them the deplorable state of the city, over-run with debaucheries, and the incapacities of their governors to correct or amend them. As a necessary foundation for the enterprize, he gave them a statement of the immense revenues of the apostolic chamber; demonstrating that the pope could, only at the rate of four-pence, raise a hundred thousand florins by firing, as much by salt, and as much more by the customs and other duties. “As for the rest,” said he, “I would not have you imagine, that it is without the pope’s consent I lay hands on the revenues. Alas! how many others in this city plunder the effects of the church contrary to his will 1

By this artful falsehood, he so animated his auditors, that they declared they would make no scruple of securing these treasures for whatever end might be most convenient, and that they were devoted to his will. Having obtained so much to secure his adherents from a revolt, he tendered them a paper, superscribed, “an oath to procure the good establishment;” and made them subscribe and swear to it, | before he dismissed them. By what means he prevailed on the pope’s vicar to give a tacit sanction to his project is not certainly known; that he did procure that sanction, and that it was looked on as a master-piece of policy, is generally admitted. The 20th of May, being Whitsunday, he fixed upon to sanctify in some sort his enterprize; and pretended, that all he acted was by particular inspiration of the Holy Ghost. About nine, he came out of the church bare-headed, accompanied by the pope’s vicar, surrounded by an hundred armed men. A vast crowd followed him with shouts and acclamations. The gentlemen conspirators carried three standards before him, on which were wrought devices, insinuating, that his design was to re-establish liberty, justice, and peace. In this manner he proceeded directly to the capitol, where he mounted the rostrum; and, with more boldness and energy than ever, expatiated on the miseries to which the Romans were reduced; at the same time telling them, without hesitation, *' that the happy hour of their deliverance was at length come, and that he was to be their deliverer, regardless of the dangers he was exposed to for the service of the holy father and the people’s safety.“After which, he ordered the laws of what he called the good establishment to be read: and assured that the Romans would resolve to observe these laws, he engaged in a short time to re-establish them in their ancient grandeur. The laws of the good establishment promised plenty and security, which were greatly wanted; and the humiliation of the nobility, who were deemed common oppressors. Such laws could not fail of being agreeable to a people who found in them these double advantages; and therefore enraptured with the pleasing ideas of a liberty to which they were at present strangers, and the hope of gain, they adopted most zealously the fanaticism of Rienzi.-^­They resumed the pretended authority of the Romans; they declared him sovereign of Rome, and granted him the power of life and death, of rewards and punishments, of enacting and repealing the laws, of treating with foreign powers; in a word, they gave him the full and supreme authority over all the extensive territories of the Romans. Rienzi, arrived at the summit of his wishes, kept at a great distance his artifice: he pretended to be very unwilling to accept of their offers, but upon two conditions; the first, that they should nominate the pope’s vicar (the bishop of Orvieto) his co-partner the second, that the pope’s | consent should be granted him, which (he told them) he flattered himself he should obtain. On the one hand, he hazarded nothing in thus making his court to the holy father, and, on the other, he well knew, that the bishop of Orvieto would carry a title only, and no authority. The people granted his request, but paid all the honours to him: he possessed the authority without restriction; the good bishop appeared a mere shadow and veil to his enterprizes. Rienzi was seated in his triumphal chariot, like an idol, to triumph with the greater splendor. He dismissed the people replete with joy and hope. He ^eized upon the palace, where he continued after he had turned out the senate; and, the same day, he began to dictate his laws in the capitol. This election, though not very pleasing to the pope, was ratified by him; yet Rienzi meditated the obtaining of a title, exclusive of the papal prerogative. Well versed in the Roman history, he was no stranger to the extent of the tribunitial authority; and, as he owed his elevation to the people, he chose to have the title of their magistrate. He asked it, and it was conferred on him and his co- partner, with the addition of deliverers of their country. Our adventurer’s behaviour in his elevation was at first such as commanded esteem and respect, not only from the Romans, but from all the neighbouring states. His contemporary, the celebrated Petrarch, in a letter to Charles, king of the Romans, gives the following account of him:” Not long since a most remarkable man, of the plebeian race, a person whom neither titles nor virtues had distinguished until he presumed to set himself up for a restorer or the Roman liberty, has obtained the highest authority at Rome. So sudden, so great is his success, that this man has already won Tuscany and all Italy. Already Europe and the whole world are in motion; to speak the whole in one word, I protest to you, not as a reader, but as an eye-witness, that he has restored to us the justice, peace, integrity, and every other token of the golden age.“But it is difficult for a person of mean birth, elevated at once, by the caprice of fortune, to the most exalted station, to move rightly in a sphere in which he must breathe an air he has been unaccustomed to. Rienzi ascended by degrees the summit of his fortune. Riches softened, power dazzled, the pomp of his cavalcades animated, and formed in his mind ideas adequate to those of princes born to empire. Hence luxury invaded his table, and tyranny took possession of his heart. The pop conceived his designs contrary to the interests of | the holy see, and the nobles, whose power it had been his constant endeavours to depress, conspired against him; and Rienzi was forced to quit an authority he had possessed little more than six months. It was to a precipitate flight that he was indebted, at this juncture, for his life; and to different disguises for his subsequent preservation. Having made an ineffectual effort at Rome, and not knowing where to find a new resource to carry on his designs, he took a most bold step, conformable to that rashness which had so often assisted him in his former exploits. He determined to go to Prague, to Charles, king of the Romans, whom the year before he had summoned to his tribunal, and who he foresaw would deliver him up to a pope highly incensed against him. He was accordingly soon after sent to Avignon, and there thrown into a prison, where he continued three years. The divisions and disturbances in Italy, occa* sioned by the number of petty tyrants that had established themselves in the ecclesiastical territories, and even at Rome, occasioned his enlargement. Innocent VI. who succeeded Clement in the papacy, sensible that the Romans still entertained an affection for our hero, and believing that his chastisement would teach him to act with more moderation than he had formerly done, as well as that gratitude would oblige him, for the remainder of his life, to preserve au inviolable attachment to the holy see (by whose favour he should be re-established), thought him a proper instrument to assist his design of reducing those other tyrants; and therefore, not only gave him his liberty, but also appointed him governor and senator of Rome. He met with many obstacles to the assumption of this newly-granted authority, all which, by cunning and resolution, he at length over> came. But giving way to his passions, which were immoderately warm, and inclined him to cruelty, he excited so general a resentment against him, that he was murdered, Oct. 8, 1354.” Such,“say his biographers,” was the end of Nicolas Rienzi, one of the most renowned men of the age; who, after forming a conspiracy full of extravagance, and executing it in the sight of almost the whole world, with such success that he became sovereign of Rome; after causing plenty, justice, and liberty to flourish among the Romans; after protecting potentates, and terrifying sovereign princes; after being arbiter of crowned heads; after re-establishing the ancient majesty and power of the Roman republic, and filling all Europe with his fame | during the seven months of his first reign after having compelled his masters themselves to confirm him in the authority he bad usurped against their interests; fell at length at the end of his second, which lasted not four months, a sacrifice to the nobility whose ruin he had vowed, and to those vast projects which his death prevented him from putting into execution." 1


Memoirs co Rierui, by Brutnoy and Cerceavu