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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

October 8

Rienzi’s Address to the Romans

By Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855)

  • An Italian patriot. He headed a revolution at Rome which overthrew the power of the aristocracy and placed him at the head of the municipality under the title of Tribune of the people. He became intoxicated with success and was ultimately killed in a riot which his conduct provoked, on Oct. 8, 1354.


    I come not here to talk. Ye know too well

    The story of our thraldom. We are slaves!

    The bright sun rises to his course, and lights

    A race of slaves! He sets, and his last beam

    Falls on a slave: not such as, swept along

    By the full tide of power, the conqueror leads

    To crimson glory and undying fame,—

    But base, ignoble slaves!—slaves to a horde

    Of petty tyrants, feudal despots; lords,

    Rich in some dozen paltry villages;

    Strong in some hundred spearmen; only great

    In that strange spell—a name! Each hour, dark fraud,

    Or open rapine, or protected murder,

    Cry out against them. But this very day,

    An honest man, my neighbor,—there he stands,—

    Was struck—struck like a dog, by one who wore

    The badge of Orsini! because, forsooth,

    He tossed not high his ready cap in air,

    Nor lifted up his voice in servile shouts,

    At sight of that great ruffian! Be we men,

    And suffer such dishonor? Men, and wash not

    The stain away in blood? Such shames are common.

    I have known deeper wrongs. I, that speak to ye,—

    I had a brother once, a gracious boy,

    Full of all gentleness, of calmest hope,

    Of sweet and quiet joy. There was the look

    Of heaven upon his face, which limners give

    To the beloved disciple. How I loved

    That gracious boy! Younger by fifteen years,

    Brother at once and son! He left my side,

    A summer bloom on his fair cheeks—a smile

    Parting his innocent lips. In one short hour,

    The pretty, harmless boy was slain! I saw

    The corse, the mangled corse, and then I cried

    For vengeance! Rouse, ye Romans! Rouse, ye slaves!

    Have ye brave sons?—Look in the next fierce brawl

    To see them die! Have ye fair daughters?—Look

    To see them live, torn from your arms, disdained,

    Dishonored; and, if ye dare call for justice,

    Be answered by the lash! Yet, this is Rome,

    That sat on her seven hills, and from her throne

    Of beauty ruled the world! Yet, we are Romans.

    Why, in that elder day, to be a Roman

    Was greater than a king! And once again—

    Hear me, ye walls, that echoed to the tread

    Of either Brutus!—once again I swear

    The Eternal City shall be free!