Chapter I Introduction: Carlo Scipione, Historian
Introduction: Carlo Scipione, Historian
From the pen of Carlo Scipione, written at the Windmill Cottage, East Greenwich,
Rhode Island on August 24, 1877
I am Carlo Scipione, a friend and colleague of Professor George Washington Greene, and a guest in his house. I consider myself a linguist and historian and some day I shall be very famous, but as of now, you probably have never heard of me.
The Greene family, however, is famous and George Washington Greene is rather well known in his native state. The purpose of my writing at this time is to tell the story of the great State of Rhode Island. George W. Greene has said he would write an in- depth history of the state, but he is so involved in other things that it is never getting down on paper. When I indicated I would like to do this, George at first scoffed at the idea, but then agreed to let me look at the letters he has accumulated. I have been encouraged to do this by a number of our friends and relatives and especially by his dear friend and benefactor, Henry Wadswoth Longfellow.
The Rhode Island professor and I have recently returned from Italy. I am a native of that land and it is where Greene has spent much of his adult life. Not many Italians are aware of his illustrious family, or even of Rhode Island. Even the most educated are wont to confuse Rhode Island with Long Island, New York, and I fear even some Americans do as well. I, on the other hand, have come to know George Greene as a friend through my cousin Maria Carlotta Sforzosi. I am also a student of military history as one of my ancestors helped defeat Hannibal at Zama in 201 B.C. When I learned that Greene was the grandson of Major General Nathanael Greene of Revolutionary War fame our friendship grew. While he was in the position as American Consul in Italy, he made the acquaintance of those who have a high regard for his cousin, George Sears Greene, who so valiantly acquitted himself at Culp’s Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg .during the American Civil War. I helped Greene with his Italian, he with my English, and together we wrote of General George Sears Greene for my Italian newspaper and for the Providence Transcript What a magnificent friendship has resulted!
George's dear mother, Anna Maria Greene, bless her, who is now in her ninety-third year, has encouraged him to write not only about the military heroes of their family, but also of those who have served their native state so well. Because of time, the necessity to earn a living, and the lack of adequate publishers, George Washington Greene, thus far, has only written a short history of Rhode Island, which is not nearly any indication of that man's great talent or knowledge.
Fortunately, I, who have both the financial means and the time, can hope to expand on this. Greene, because of his intellect and knowledge of the English language, at times writes very complicated and erudite sentences which only scholars are comfortable with. I, on the other hand, have learned English as a second language and tend to keep my sentences and thoughts much simpler. If I have any talent, it is in taking the complicated and explaining it in terms more easily digested.
Carlo Scipione, historian.
August 24, 1882
Please excuse the long period from my last writing. Much has transpired over the last five years to bring about this hiatus. I have had to return to my native Italy to take care of my parents and to safeguard my investments and farming interests. I have also engaged in mercantile pursuits, but that is another story. Greene and Carlotta no longer live together and for a while this put a strain on our relationship, as I am as fond of her as I am of him. But, time heals many wounds. Carlotta is painting, which is what she wanted to do, and Greene has continued with his life in Rhode Island. Our friendship has proved to be stronger than ever and he confides a great deal in me.
Unfortunately, while I was away, Greene had a slight stroke. He tells me he felt numbness in his lip but kept shaving the same spot over and over, thinking something was wrong with the razor. Not long after that, he tells me, "I remember seeing the room spin. Since then, part of my mind drifts out of the present and sometimes vividly flashes to the past. Thoughts go back over the years, recalling what I did and what I should have done. So occasionally, I may write, Io mi ciamo, when I want to say 'my name is' or perhaps caro amico, rather than 'dear friend.'"
I can understand his dilemma,. His mind is still clear most of the time, however, and he remains a most fascinating man. For many years, English has been my second language and I am very proficient in it, but at times we confer in Italian, sometimes English, and once in awhile in French, and so too does our friend Henry Longfellow. For many years now our letters to each other are often in more than one language.
As I am back in Rhode Island, I again have access to much material about the state. Right now thoughts are flying through my mind much faster than my pen will track them on paper. Greene and I sometimes confer late into the night. He is prone to remembering the past in a most romantic fashion. He frequently talks about his boyhood days, especially of the time when he was 16 years old and went to Italy for the first time. His escapades, and those of his American friends, would have shocked the family in Rhode Island, but in actuality, they were mild in comparison to my own youthful indiscretions.
Greene lived in Italy for the next nineteen years and often resided in the home of my cousin, Fiorentino Sforzosi. It was there that I met his dearest, and life-long friend, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This is also the time when Greene fell in love with Maria Carlotta Sforzosi. She is my cousin, a dear and lovely girl, full of high spirits and with artistic talent.
During these wonderful years, flushed with the conceit of young manhood, he had vowed that he, and he alone, was capable of writing a true history of his illustrious grandfather, Major General Nathanael Greene. At that time, I agreed with him. But, that was then and this is now, and he has lost that vigor. Somehow that great promise was never quite fulfilled. He has written about the general and also about Rhode Island, but he hasn’t been satisfied. Now it is up to me, a stranger in this land to write a more spirited account.
What gives me the audacity to write of the past and to use the Greene family for my narration? For one thing, Robert Donne, who knew John Greene, Surgeon, whose family has played a most significant role in the founding and development of the state, married into my family. At 62 years of age Robert Donne fathered my grandmother Maria Guiseppe (Donne) Russo.
As there was but a small population throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, the family of Robert Donne's first wife intermarried with all the early Rhode Island families. As a result, while not a blood relative, I am related to the Gorton, Rhodes, Arnold, and Williams families through Donne.
Thanks to the works of many excellent local historians, I have gathered much information about Rhode Island. From my own recollections and stories I have heard, I have tried to make this both informative and entertaining.
The following stories have been passed on to me through family members and I can almost hear my great-grandfather, Robert Donne, tell his story.
Again, I remain
Carlo Scipione, historian