Italy – A Visit To Garibaldi

” ALLA gentile Miss Cobden. G. Garibaldi ” stands at the foot of a photograph which is one of my most cherished possessions. The photograph represents Garibaldi seated ; around his shoulders is wrapped an Algerian burnous, and on his head is a smoking cap. With this photograph before me I recall very vividly to my memory the visit to him in 1875 in the modest apartment of his son in Rome.

Garibaldi had been the hero of my youthful days. In my childhood I had the privilege of seeing a lock of his hair sent by him to my sister Kate, in reply to her ardent appeal to Garibaldi himself ! and over my desk in our Sussex school-room had hung a coloured print of the hero of the Resurrection of Italy, standing with drawn sword on a hilltop a silhouette against a bright blue Italian sky leading the Thousand to victory.

In 1875 I was in Rome for the first time, and one day without warning, and without preparation, the gates of our hotel, Hotel Costanzi were flung wide open, and into the courtyard dashed an open carriage drawn by two horses, and within it sat General Garibaldi. He had, I think, come unexpectedly to Rome on a visit to his son, Menotti, his first visit, I believe, to Rome as the capital of United Italy. Though his visit was unheralded, the crowd about his carriage, as he drove from the station, was so great that it was found necessary to take refuge within the gates of the Costanzi Hotel. And from the carriage Garibaldi was carried to a balcony from where he spoke to the people gathered in multitudes below. He spoke, I remember, of Freedom, and of their beloved Italy, and the streets echoed with their vivas ! At the hotel was my father’s old friend, T. B. Potter, M.P. for Rochdale, whose enthusiasm for Garibaldi was so great that in 1864 he brought to Caprera from England a yacht as a gift to the General, and by him I was taken, with his son Richard, to visit Garibaldi.

We drove to a modest house in a quiet street in Rome, and we climbed the three flights of stairs to his son’s apartment. There in a small room, seated beside a desk, surrounded by his wife and two young children, sat General Garibaldi in all the simplicity of greatness.

We were not fluent in Italian, and I believe Garibaldi knew little French, but in parting I tried to express to him my feeling that both he and my father had been fellow-workers in the great and sublime cause of Liberty. Then, as we left, with fingers stiff and knotted with rheumatism as those of our Sussex labourers he wrote beneath his photograph :

” Alla gentile Miss Cobden. G. Garibaldi.”

And now today the soldiers of the Alpini tell us the spirit of Garibaldi is there with them among the snow-clad mountains, and he will, they say, surely lead them to victory.