One of Shelley's stories that show her love for Italy, Italian history, bloodlines and politics. The main plot concentrates on a family rivalry in Siena. The Mancinis and the Tolomeis are fierce opponents, but all of a sudden one member of the one family falls in love with a member of the other ...
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An Italian Story
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
It is well known that the hatred borne by one family against another, and the strife of parties, which often led to bloodshed in the Italian cities during the Middle Ages, so vividly described by Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet," was not confined to the Montecchi and Ciapelletti of Verona, but existed with equal animosity in almost every other town of that beautiful peninsula. The greatest men among them were the victims; and crowds of exiles — families who but the day before were in the full enjoyment of the luxuries of life and the endearing associations of home — were every now and then seen issuing from the gates of their native cities, deprived of every possession, and with melancholy and slow steps dragging their wearied limbs to the nearest asylum offered them, thence to commence a new career of dependence and poverty, to endure to the end of their lives, or until some lucky accident should enable them to change places with their enemies, making those the sufferers who were late the tyrants. In that country, where each town formed an independent State, to change one for the other was to depart from the spot cherished as a country and a home for distant banishment — or worse; for as each city entertained either hatred or contempt for its neighbour, it often happened that the mourning exile was obliged to take up his abode among a people whom he had injured or scoffed. Foreign service offered a resource to the young and bold among the men. But lovely Italy was to be left, the ties of young hearts severed, and all the endearing associations of kin and country broken and scattered for ever. The Italians were always peculiarly susceptible to these misfortunes. They loved their native walls, the abodes of their ancestors, the familiar scenes of youth, with all the passionate fervour characteristic of that clime.
It was therefore no uncommon thing for any one among them, like Foscari of Venice, to prefer destitution and danger in their own city, to a precarious subsistence among strangers in distant lands; or, if compelled to quit the beloved precincts of their native walls, still to hover near, ready to avail themselves of the first occasion that should present itself for reversing the decree that condemned them to misery.
For three days and nights there had been warfare in the streets of Sienna, — blood flowed in torrents, — yet the cries and groans of the fallen but excited their friends to avenge them — not their foes to spare. On the fourth morning, Ugo Mancini, with a scanty band of followers, was driven from the town; succors from Florence had arrived for his enemies, and he was forced to yield Burning with rage, writhing with an impotent thirst for vengeance, Ugo went round to the neighboring villages to rouse them, not against his native town, but the victorious Tolomei. Unsuccessful in these endeavors, he next took the more equivocal step of seeking warlike aid from the Pisans. But Florence kept Pisa in check, and Ugo found only an inglorious refuge where he had hoped to acquire active allies. He had been wounded in these struggles; but, animated by a superhuman spirit, ho had forgotten his pain and surmounted his weakness; nor was it until a cold refusal was returned to his energetic representations, that he sank beneath his physical sufferings. He was stretched on a bed of torture when he received intelligence that an edict of perpetual banishment and confiscation of property was passed against him. His two children, beggars now, were sent to him. His wife was dead, and these were all of near relations that he possessed. His bitter feelings were still too paramount for him to receive comfort from their presence; yet these agitated and burning emotions appeared in after-times a remnant of happiness compared to the total loss of every hope — the wasting inaction of sickness and of poverty.
For five years Ugo Mancini lay stretched on his couch, alternating between states of intense pain and overpowering weakness; and then he died. During this interval, the wreck of his fortunes, consisting of the rent of a small farm, and the use of some money lent, scantily supported him. His few relatives and followers were obliged to seek their subsistence elsewhere, and he remained alone to his pain, and to his two children, who yet clung to the paternal side.
Hatred to his foes, and love for his native town, were the sentiments that possessed his soul, and which he imparted in their full force to the plastic mind of his son, which received like molten metal the stamp he desired to impress. Lorenzo was scarcely twelve years old at the period of his father's exile, and he naturally turned with fondness towards the spot where he had enjoyed every happiness, where each hour had been spent in lighthearted hilarity, and the kindness and observance of many attended on his steps. Now, how sad the contrast! — dim penury — a solitude cheered by no encouraging smiles or sunny flatteries — perpetual attendance on his father, and untimely cares, cast their dark shadows over his altered lot.
Lorenzo was a few years older than his sister. Friendless and destitute as was the exile's family, it was he who overlooked its moderate disbursements, who was at once his father's nurse and his sister's guardian, and acted as the head of the family during the incapacity of his parent. But instead of being narrowed or broken in spirit by these burdens, his ardent soul rose to meet them, and grew enlarged and lofty from the very calls made upon it. His look was serious, not careworn; his manner calm, not humble; his voice had all the tenderness of a woman — his eye all the pride and fire of a hero.
Still his unhappy father wasted away, and Lorenzo's hours were entirely spent beside his bed. He was indefatigable in his attentions— weariness never seemed to overcome him. His limbs were always alert — his speech inspiriting and kind. His only pastime was during any interval in his parent's sufferings, to listen to his eulogiums on his native town, and to the history of the wrongs which, from time immemorial, the Mancini had endured from the Tolomei. Lorenzo, though replete with noble qualities, was still an Italian; and fervent love for his birthplace, and violent hatred towards the foes of his house, were the darling passions of his heart. Nursed in loneliness, they acquired vigor; and the nights he spent in watching his father were varied by musing on the career he should hereafter follow — his return to his beloved Sienna, and the vengeance he would take on his enemies.
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