Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

The Close of the Day

We have arrived at our last chapter, which will also be our briefest. Garibaldi's fighting days were over, and he now applied himself to a task which did not prove easy—that of setting his house in order. It will be recollected that in January 1860 he had contracted a nominal marriage with a lady, who was still his legal wife. Before that, however, he had formed an irregular connection with a peasant-woman of Nice, by whom he had several children, the eldest being named Anita, after the Montevidean heroine. For years his relationship to 'Anita's mother ' weighed upon his conscience, and in 1877 he attempted to obtain a divorce from his wife, in order to marry her obscure rival. Two years later he succeeded; and at the age of seventy-two he repaired what must be admitted to have been a great wrong.

Endeavoring to support his young family, Garibaldi, racked with rheumatism, was sadly straitened in circumstances. Manual labor was out of the question, so he courted the favor of the public with three novels—Clelia, The Volunteer, and The Thousand—all wretched failures. "I know," he wrote, "quite as well as anyone how worthless are my romantic works, written from a motive I do not care to expound." In 1875 a handsome gratuity and pension had been voted him by the two chambers, and vehemently refused. "The gift would be to me the shirt of Nessus. I should lose sleep, I should feel the cold of the hand-cuffs, see on my hands the stains of blood, and each time that I heard of Government depredations and public misery I must have covered my face with shame."

And yet who could have a better claim on the national exchequer than the "donor of two realms"?

On March 28, 1882, Garibaldi paid a visit to Palermo, where the people were much shocked at his altered appearance; he was only the specter of his former self. Re-embarking on April 17, he returned to Caprera, from which island came sundry rumors of the hero's indisposition. These, however, created no special disquietude, since for six years it had been known that his health was failing. On June 1 the intelligence was more definite and more grave; he was reported to be dying. On June 2 the announcement was made that he was dead. It is impossible to describe the consternation and grief produced by the news in the hearts of his devoted countrymen. So he was gone—the greatest and bravest Italian of his time, the man who had raised Italy from its ashes, and demonstrated to the world that chivalry in its highest form was not extinct! The loss might well seem irreparable.

Very touching was the closing scene in the sea-girt island that had so long been Garibaldi's home. "His last letter," says Jessie White Mario, "was written on May 29 to the professor of meteorology in the university of Palermo, asking for the position of the new comet and the day of its greatest magnitude. Then his difficulty of breathing increased and strength failed rapidly. All the afternoon of June 2 he lay silently gazing from the open window on the ocean, which had been his first love and his last, his eyes resting on two finches trilling gaily on the window-sill. He murmured, "Maybe they are the souls of my little ones come to call me. Feed them when I am gone." Once more his eyes sought the sky, the sea; then the faces of his dear ones; his last look was for his 'best-beloved' Menotti. At twenty-five minutes past six in the evening of June 2, 1882, the eagle eyes were sightless, the clarion voice was silent, the 'loving lion heart' had ceased to beat."