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During several days' familiar intercourse, this strange man, though apparently speaking in the most unpremeditated manner, never let a word escape him that threw discredit on his narrative; and he never did or said anything that could possibly revoke in doubt his being, at all events, a perfect gentleman in manners, feeling, and education.
The first and most natural conclusion Signor
could draw from his strange avowal was, that he was a monomaniac—a. man mad on one particular point, but rational enough on all the rest; and he turned his attention in this direction. But the stranger spoke of his royal descent in a dispassionate and most reasonable tone; and on that, as well as on all other subjects, he was less vivacious and flighty than most Frenchmen are in the ordinary circumstances of life. His fund of anecdote, the elegance of his language, whether speaking French or Italian, and the variety of his acquirements, made him a
delightful companion. One day that Signor — had
invited him to dine at the hotel, an old priest from the country was of the party, and the conversation happened to fall upon the books of the Old Testament. To the astonishment of his entertainer and the priest, this was a subject where the Frenchman was completely at home; he quoted innumerable passages, he compared detached parts, and showed a profound acquaintance not merely with the letter but the spirit of the sacred volume. If rare in Protestant countries, such a thing, for a layman, in Catholic countries is altogether extraordinary.
It was not without regret that Signor left Mo
dena and the society of the Frenchman, to return to the country. Some two or three months after, he was again called to Modena on business. He went to the same hotel, and had scarcely dismounted, when the host, with an air of uneasiness, asked whether he had heard what had become of his associate. He had not; but this was the story: about a month before, the Frenchman had been suddenly arrested in the city and carried to the state-prison, where he was placed under the care of Signor , who had strict orders to treat him with no more fit for the new form of government than they were for Sir Thomas More's Utopia. Any sudden change of rule, or subversion of old authorities, in a country so uncivilized as Naples then was, is sure to offer a favourable field for the exercise of imposture and all kinds of villany; and though there were honourable and conscientious men on both sides, the republicans as well as royalists certainly had among them an abundant supply of astute and remorseless rogues, who only looked to their own advantages, and delighted to fish in troubled waters, being alike insensible to justice and patriotism. The heroes of this tale were not Neapolitans; but there were Neapolitans who committed far worse though less amusing, villanies.
While the Bourbon court was waiting events in Sicily, four Corsican adventurers, De Cesare, Boccheciampe, Corbara, and Colonna, stirred up the important provinces of Apulia against the French-Neapolitan republic. The rank of these ingenious fellows was not very elevated. De Cesare had been a livery servant in his own island, Boccheciampe an artilleryman and deserter, while the other two, Colonna and Corbara, had never been anything so respectable as a footman or a soldier. They had all been living for some time in the city of Naples by the practice of obscene and dishonourable arts, but fled thence into the provinces on the approach of the French army. Their intention at first seems to have been merely to embark at some sea-port of Apulia, and pass over to Sicily or Corfu; but their views enlarged as they went on and saw the turbulent state of the country, and a new friend and ally determined them to take upon themselves the parts of royalty. At the small town of Montejasi, they chanced to take up their lodgings for the night in the house of a small farmer called Gerunda; and it happened that this farmer was not only a Bourbonist, but an experienced arranger of plots and intrigues. According to Gerunda, nothing was more easy than to raise the Pugliesi, or Apulians, up in arms, provided only they could be made to believe that a bit of royal Bourbon blood had come among them to solicit their help. The gain to themselves would not be merely prospective and dependent on the chances of a counter-revolution, but immediate and sure, as money might be obtained from the royalists, to say nothing of other kinds of donations.
"And what is to hinder you," said the farmer to Corbara, one of the Corsicans, "from representing Don Francesco, our Hereditary Prince?"
The proposition would have been startling to most rogues, for there was no likeness in the case,—the Hereditary Prince was fat, the Corsican thin; and unluckily the prince had been in that part of the kingdom, and seen by thousands of the inhabitants not many months before. In spite of these considerations, however, Corbara resolved to try his luck as Hereditary Prince; and in the course of the night it was further determined that Colonna should represent the Grand-Constable of the kingdom in attendance on the prince; that Boccheciampe, the soldier and deserter, should represent the brother of the King of Spain ; and De Cesare, the footman, his royal highness the Duke of Saxony.
Gerunda, the Neapolitan, who knew the country well, and who were royalists and who not, who gullible and who acute, undertook to be the avant-coureur, the swearing witness and the trumpeter of this glorious piece of imposture. The bold impudence which this man afterwards displayed was astonishingly great; but he was well aware that a magazine of ignorance, stupidity, superstition, and credulity was garnered in Puglia.
"Before day broke," says General Colletta, "he went through the town of Montejasi to reveal in a mysterious manner the arrival of the royal princes, and to excite men's minds with the prospect of the honours and fortune that would attend those who should be the first to follow their highnesses. He was believed everywhere, and a numerous crowd of common people (and, the author might have added, of respectable citizens), running to the humble house where the grand personages were lodged, offered themselves with loud acclamations as servants and soldiers. Colonna, the pretended Grand-Constable, came forth into the street, thanked them in the name of the Hereditary Prince for their loyal zeal, but begged them to retire and be quiet for the present. In the meanwhile Gerunda had procured a carriage; and as Corbara stepped into it, the other three Corsicans paid the reverence and etiquette due to the Prince Francesco. His royal highness then said to the spectators in the street, " I throw myself into the arms of my people;" after which he graciously saluted them, and the carriage drove off towards the city of Brindisi.
"The Corsicans make most excellent adventurers: thus these men adopted, as circumstances might require, the haughtiness, the magnanimity, the greatness of princes. They set out from inhabited places before day, and arrived at them at the fall of night; and Gerunda always went on several miles before them to prepare lodgings and banquets. Thus a thousand voices certified the presence of the princes, everybody saying, 'I have seen them!' and adding, as is usual in narrating wonders, things which were not at all true, but readily believed. Success increased the hopes and boldness of the Corsicans: armed men followed the carriage, and kept guard round the house of the impostors; and, pulling down the emblems and scutcheons of the republic, re-established royalty and the arms of the Bourbons. The feigned Prince Francesco dismissed magistrates and appointed new ones; emptied the chests of the fiscal receivers, and laid heavy fines on the families of the rebels or republicans; and, because much bolder, he was obeyed more than if he had been a true prince, and was seconded by a people prompt to execute. The Archbishop of Otranto, who had long known the Prince Francesco, and who, the year before, had been with him in the ceremonies of the church and palace, now participated in the deceit, and became himself a deceiver, solemnly asserting from the pulpit that Corbara was the Hereditary Prince, although much changed in appearance by the fatigues of war and cares of state he had undergone during the past twelvemonth."
General Colletta, as we have shown, states confidently that the Archbishop of Otranto favoured the plan, with his eyes open to the imposture, which some churchmen as well as laymen undoubtedly did. We remember, however, that several persons at Otranto assured us that the Archbishop, who was a dreaming old man, was a dupe, and really believed that the Corsicans were what they gave themselves out for. Whether this were the case or not, we cannot decide; but that sequestered, out-of-theway district, called the " Terra d'Otranto," which is a narrow peninsula standing between the gulf of Taranto and the mouth of the Adriatic, covered with olive woods and rather thickly studded with small primitive towns, «as certainly the field where the Corsicans reaped the easiest and most abundant harvest. The inhabitants had very little intercourse with the rest of the kingdom, almost their only journeys being to Lecce, the capital of the province, or to the sea-port of Gallipoli, where they sold their oil to merchants, who in their turn shipped it in foreign vessels. This trade had brought very considerable wealth into the country; and there were many men there, ignorant and credulous, with little wit in their heads, but with abundance of gold in their coffers, who were ready to give a round sum even for the sight of a prince royal; for royalty is always most reverenced where it is least seen. There was no end to the genuflections and kissing of hands the Corsican rogues met with in these remote little towns; and a most amusing fact is, that Corbara, as heir to the throne and provisional regent, distributed and sold titles and patents of honour, for which the oil-growers were very eager, as social distinctions were strongly marked there, and a fellow who could call himself a baron, or the son of a baron, though he could scarcely read, and had hardly got a coat to his back, would by no means condescend to associate with an industrious farmer or untitled merchant, however rich he might be. There was one simple fellow, who lived near the little town of Presici, and whom we afterwards had the honour of knowing, that distinguished himself by the sacrifices he made for a title.