PELLICO WON FAME FOR HIS ACCOUNT OF HIS PRISON SUFFERINGS
[ABOVE—Carlo Felice Biscarra (1823–1894),The Arrest of Silvio Pellico and Piero Maroncelli—public domain, Museo Civico, Casa Cavassa, Saluzzo / Wikimedia File:Arresto di Silvio Pellico e Piero Maroncelli - Carlo Felice Biscarra.jpg]
FOR SUPPORTING an organization called the “Charcoal Burners” (the Carbonari) which conspired to bring revolution to Naples, Silvio Pellico was arrested in 1820 by the Austrians and thrown into prison. Austria, which then controlled Naples, had decreed death to anyone who belonged to a secret organization and severe punishment to supporters. Pellico did not know whether he would be jailed or executed. Indeed, he was sentenced to death in 1822, but the sentence was eventually commutated to fifteen years with hard labor.
Until then he had been a playwriter, professor of the French language, tutor, manager of a newspaper, the Conciliatore—short-lived because suppressed by the Austrians. In 1818 he authored the successful play, Francesca da Rimini. Only the last work had given him a name above the average.
His stint in prison, however, brought him to Christ and increased his international literary recognition. As one critic wrote, he won “fame by his misfortunes rather than by his genius.” His account of his sufferings, Le Mie Prigioni, literally means My Prisons, but is known through its English translation as My Ten Years’ Imprisonment. “To awake the first night in a prison is a horrible thing,” he wrote in a moving passage, and described how his thoughts brought him to think of Christ and to resolve to live as a Christian.
Then be a Christian! No longer let corruption and abuses, the work of man, deter you; no longer make stumbling-blocks of little points of doctrine, since the principal point, made thus irresistibly clear, is to love God and your neighbor.
In prison I finally determined to admit this conclusion, and I admitted it. The fear, indeed, of appearing to others more religious than I had before been, and to yield more to misfortune than to conviction, made me sometimes hesitate; but feeling that I had done no wrong, I felt no debasement, and cared nothing to encounter the possible reproaches I had not deserved, resolving henceforward to declare myself openly a Christian.
My Prisons was translated into every major European language. Following Pellico’s realease, he issued more plays (some of them written in prison), but none reached the level of Francesca. He also published a book of Christian maxims and worked for Christian causes under the sponsorship of prison reformer Marchesa di Barolo. None of these efforts was notable for its success.
Pellico died in Turin, Italy, on this day, 31 January 1854. Francesca and My Prisons remain his enduring contributions. The latter helped unify opposition against the Austrian occupation that held parts of Italy.
For another true story of someone whose faith was strengthened in prison, stream Bless You Prison. from RedeemTV. This documentary is also available as a DVD and as a digital download from Vision Video.
For more on Christian prisoners, peruse Christian History #123, Captive Faith