About this document
This document was published in Venice in 1867 by Luigi Filippo Bolaffio, who was a school companion of Luigi Scolari. It recounts the events of June 14th, 1859, when Scolari was killed by Austrian soldiers.
The original is hard to find, but several reprints are in circulation and it is available online on Google Books.
The text below is translated into English from the original. The Italian text is here.
June 14th 1859 – memories by Luigi Filippo Bolaffio (1867)
(translated by René Seindal)
LUIGI FILIPPO BOLAFFIO
JUNE 14th 1859
Printed by Edoardo Sonzogno
I don’t want anybody to accuse me of being immodest, if my poor name is placed at the head of this most wretched little book. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have to reveal a few names in it and maybe take off the mask of someone. Therefore it would have been my dishonesty not to let the accused know the accuser.
It pains me if I often have to pronounce my name, but this is indispensable, as the few friends who will read these lines will be able to judge it.
In spite of some accusations I will certainly not want to pose as a martyr or an Italian hero, for if there is one thing that I regret it is that I have sacrificed too little for my country.
L. F. BOLAFFIO.
JUNE 14th, 1859
Eight years have passed, as long as eight years of exile, yet I still remember that day which had such a happy beginning, but ended in such universal sadness.
At the time I was studying at the Ginnasio di S. Catterina directed by the strong intelligence of Prof. Corradini, who, entirely intent as he was on the rigorous studies of the language of Latium, left the care of the institute to the abbot Adriano Merlo, vice director.
On the morning of June 14th, we went to school with merry faces, joy in our hearts, since we knew that the Franco-Sardinian fleet was close to our lagoons and we had all seen it, from the heights of the bell towers on which we had climbed and with the help of lenses we had looked and with the wave of the hands and waving of handkerchiefs we had greeted those sacred ships on whose bows were flying the flags of two nations that were going to be placed at the head of European civilisation.
In those days, the German teacher did not dare come to school alone, he was always accompanied by some other teacher, because beans and paper arrows had sometimes rained on his face. Poor fellow! They had broken his leg in Milan and he was afraid that we would break his good leg. And in fact, if I’m being honest, the proposal was made and almost accepted.
On the morning of that day, an Austrian cadet had passed under the cloisters and was on his way to greet one of his brother boarding at the school. Instead of finding his relative there, he had found a volley of very loud whistles.
There really was courage in us youngsters in thus facing the wrath of the Austrians who, after a few beatings received on the fields of Lombardy, became more furious in Venice than ever.
Yet we played some good ones!
How many white officers’ trousers stained by our flasks of ink that fell by chance on the ground and broke, sending black splashes on those white clothes.
How many snowballs you throw at those poor Bohemians lodging at the Jesuits!
How many whistles! How many laughs behind their backs! How many writings on the walls!
But I distract myself too much from the subject and I’m almost weaving a story of scholastic impertinences then, when reason entered very little in our deliberations.
So on the morning of June 14th 59 we were content.
In Venice, before coming to the school, we had noticed a greater number of people in the streets, a murmur, a forming of crowds in the streets, in short, something unusual.
Under the cloisters of the former convent, now the Liceale Gymnasium, the children were missing of some Austrians who, living among us, sent his offspring to our school.
School time had come and these blond sons of the North hadn’t come, those who are never truant!
What had happened?
We began to draw some conclusions, to make some conjectures, to let our imagination run wild.
Fortuitously twelve o’clock struck and the janitor, the most beautiful type of janitor that mother nature has created, rang that nice bell which freed us from uncertainties by giving us the means to gather information.
The rumour was circulating in Venice that Austria had surrendered, that the Commissioners of the King of Italy had come to negotiate the surrender. An unusual movement had been seen in the blocking fleet.
At that news, it was a miracle the heart did not explode! We all ran up the high points, up the bell towers to see; in the streets, in the squares to hear, to inform us.
All appearances were deceiving. Not one Austrian soldier was seen. A very rare officer, having resigned his traditional boldness, despondently turned the streets to go and join his companions.
Some of them, when insulted, did not answer.
Only one who was thrown to the ground said in good Italian: gentlemen, I am an honourable soldier and as such you should respect me! He was an Italian and he was spat in the face. And he got up and was silent.
So something big was sure up in the air. It was generally believed that this would been the last day of foreign domination and that the next day when we woke up, we would see our fine marksmen burst into the streets.
With what dispositions of mind we returned to school after lunch it is easy to imagine.
Some professors who had black consciences were as white in the face as the snow that falls on the lofty peaks of Himalaya, others were laughing and smiling.
The poor prof. Pizzo, who died a few days ago, and prof. Rossi also buried in S. Cristoforo, I remember that they sweated happiness from all pores.
We entered the school and began lessons with that reluctance which was brought about by exceptional circumstances.
It hadn’t yet struck three when an immense cry, starting from the side of the bell tower, echoed under the cloisters.
A shiver ran through our veins. We were anxiously waiting.
A new scream shook us. The cry of Long Live Italy had been pronounced and we responded franticly to that cry Long Live Italy!
We jumped down from the desks, threw open the school door and joined the students in the seventh and eighth grades who had given us the signal. Behind us followed all the classes.
The cheers were then endless, deafening. In the midst of that uproar, the cheers for Italy to Vittorio Emanuele were heard incessantly!
“Get out, everybody out, and death to the Germans!” a voice cried.
Death! we repeated, and grabbing our penknives, the only weapon we had on us, we started running through the streets.
In Spaderia the tricolour was waving from a house. The people who met us crowded around us and also began to follow us and shout.
Strange thing, from one instant to the next, without knowing where it came from, we wore the tricolour cockade on our caps and hats!
We reached the Merceria clattering. There I met a relative of mine who, when he saw me with my well sharpened penknife, with the tricolour cockade planted on my hat, posing like a hero, forced me to descend to the harshest reality and rudely took me by the arm and dragged me home. I struggled, but an iron wrist squeezed my arms and any opposition was useless.
A few minutes after he found me, I was at home, I heard the clatter of people fleeing. I sat at the window to watch. They were my companions scattered.
An instant later, a short distance away, the sound of a shot hit me!!!…
My God, how many of my fellow students died?…
One of the promoters of the demonstration had been Luigi Scolari, a seventh grade student, who was barely twenty years old.
Known among his fellow disciples for his liberal and restless spirit, he enjoyed the esteem and affection of all.
The leaders of the high school had first sent him away from the schools because he celebrated the name day of Vittorio Emanuele at Murano with a few friends.
It was then that he tried to cross the borders to reach the Italian ranks and enlist.
He was rejected and fortunately for him that he had already fulfilled the conscription obligations at home, otherwise he would have been severely punished.
On that day, as I said among the first, he shouted: Long live Italy.
Around four o’clock with a group of friends he went to the Frezzeria and from there he ran to the Piscina S. Fantin. He was met by a Croatian patrol who levelled their rifles at the few youngsters. At that sight they fled. Only Scolari remained, who, looking back near the Altar of the Madonna which is between the Piscina itself and the Calle that leads to Frezzeria, laughed in the face of the oppressors of his homeland.
In response, the soldiers who made up the patrol unloaded their rifles and Luigi Scolari was mortally wounded in the leg. His only words were: My God, I’m dead!
After an hour of atrocious spasms, abandoned on the public street, in a pool of blood, he was finally picked up and taken to the Civilian Hospital.
The sufferings of the poor young man were unspeakable. Yet the complaints were rare. From his lips were heard only a few curse words to his killers. He asked about his mother, his father, his brother and he could not see them.
They, unaware of what happened, did not witness his agony.
With an bleeding heart, without a friend beside his deathbed, he passed away the same night at a quarter past two, and someone claims that his last words were those he had first uttered in high school: Long live Italy!
The same day, others were killed or wounded. One at the Rialto bridge, one in St Mark’s basilica, one in Calle Larga.
The streets were deserted and trampled only by the slow steps of the patrols. Access to Piazza San Marco is prohibited.
During the night, a great many Liberals were arrested; Surrounded by about twenty thugs, young people of all conditions, from the elegant lion of the Café Florian to the humble worker, they came in droves, handcuffed and transported to San Severo.1
In the places where the blood had left traces, some individuals were busy washing and scraping.
At a late hour two proclamations were issued, one from the Podestà and the other from the Lieutenant.
Nobody read them.
To narrate the pain of the family when it learned of the atrocious misfortune befallen them would be something beyond human capacity. The mother, who adored her son, no one from that time would see her in the streets. The father no longer attended to his business and was reduced in very critical conditions.
It was all the work of the Austrian government.
That government even had the infamous intolerance of not allowing the following very simple epigraph or mortuary announcement, if you prefer, to be hung on the walls in those days, which was already ready:
THE DAWN OF JUNE 15TH MDCCCLIX
IT WAS THE LAST FOR THE YOUNG MAN
LUIGI SCOLARI DI STEFANO
TWENTY YEARS OLD
STUDENT IN VII CLASS IN THE I.R. LICEALE GYMNASIO
HIS IMMATURE END IS LAMENTED
BY EVERYONE WHO KNEW HIM
AND IN PARTICULAR BY THE YOUTH
TO WHICH HE WAS FRIENDLY.
THE INCONSOLABLE PARENTS .
Under the Madonna where Scolari was wounded, there is a hole perhaps larger than a rifle ball could make. It is caused by the scrapings to remove the traces of the blood that he had sprayed on the wall.
Austria never thought of making that sign disappear which remains as evidence of an act of her barbarism.
Some young friends and acquaintances of the victim decided to affix a modest commemorative stone near the place where the unfortunate student fell.
Messrs. Arrigo Rebussini – G. S. Filippini – Giacomo Polacco – L. F. Bolaffio formed themselves into a commission and collected subscriptions that should not surpass 25 centesimi so that all the friends of the deceased could take part.
The pious idea was universally praised and in just three days this Commission collected 400 offers.
The stone bears the following inscription:
HERE HIT BY AUSTRIAN LEAD FELL INNOCENT VICTIM LUIGI SCOLARI ON JUNE 14th 1859 IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIS SACRIFICE TO THE FATHERLAND IN CURSED MEMORY OF THE EXECUTIONERS SOME CITIZENS DEDICATED 1867.
Passing through that street, where the piousness of the citizens placed the stone as a cursed memory of the executioners, one’s thoughts will necessarily have to run to the nefarious times in which the yellow and black banner flew from our flag posts.
Times in which anyone who spoke the Alemannic language could insult an Italian with impunity.
Times in which a Lieutenant of Austria was master of the possessions and lives of the citizens, in which every police commissioner was a despotic princeling, in which it was illicit to speak of one’s country, in which the press, this paladin of freedom, was either gagged, or with unbridled reins insulted the most sacred aspirations, the warmest affections, the most sublime ideas.
Times in which the best were locked up in prisons or deported to fortresses, or enlisted in the militias as punishment, and the most wicked roamed the streets puffed up and proud, for whom prison would have been a slight punishment for the many crimes committed, for the many ruined families.
The right of the strongest then obtained its most ferocious allowance.
The sabre of a Croatian corporal was worth more than the protests of a thousand citizens.
By God! And is there anyone who establishes comparisons and almost regrets the past?
He deserves to be pilloried!
Two years later, almost at the same time as the narrative that I have sketched, Count Cavour died, the most solid pillar of freedom, of Italian unity.
By linking the two painful occasions, the students of Santa Catterina resolved to wear mourning on a fixed day. That day, Physics Professor Rossetti entered the class where I was studying, also dressed in brown. A unanimous applause greeted him. I had written a poem for the occasion.
Frightened by that outburst of sympathy, fearing his daily bread would be taken from him, he tried to show us how he was dressed in brown by a mere coincidence.
In fact, he took the poem from me and after a few days six friends and I were expelled from all the gymnasiums of the Austrian monarchy for serious insubordination.
My career was ruined.
I would have been arrested if Prof. Rossi hadn’t burned the body of the crime and if Professors Pizzo and Matcheg hadn’t spoken in my favour, against the opinion of abbot Merlo, a very sad soul, more Austrian than the Emperor of Austria.
Professors Rossi and Pizzo both died, the first after an interview with Lieutenant Toggemburg, in which he had been insulted without being able to answer, the second for the persecutions suffered by Austria, not protected by the Italian government.
Professors Merlo and Rossetti are alive and very healthy. The first as editor of a clerical paper continues with impunity to insult everything that is dear to the Italians; the second holds the chair of Physics at the University of Padua.
Faced with these and other similar facts, public opinion asks a terrible question:
That is, if it hadn’t turned out to be more useful to be servants of the foreign government, rather than having consumed life either among the dangers of conspiracies, or on the fields of battles for the fatherland.
- The Austrians had built a ‘political’ prison on the site of the church and monastero of San Severo (Castello). ↩︎