Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini

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LONDON, SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 1864.
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LITERATURE
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Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini.  Vol.  I.

Autobiographical and Political.  (Smith, Elder & Co.)

Joseph Mazzini.
(1805-72)

Signor Mazzini has been, for years, the best abused man in Europe.   He has the misfor­tune to be a republican; and, as if in illustration of Napoleon's remark, that seems quite enough to turn a great many other people into Cossacks, at the mere mention of his name.   This, to some extent, was shown in our own House of Commons lately, when a young, able and eloquent servant of the state made a hundred sudden foes by proclaiming himself Mazzini's friend.   In the domain of politics, it too often happens that names and  nicknames,   words   and  watchwords,  are  accepted in place of facts, and it is so much easier to do a great deal of wrong on the surface of things than to penetrate to the real truth, and ascertain the right which may underlie appearances.   We should not dream of going to our House of Commons, enlightened as it is, for the true character of a man like Signor Mazzini.   He will appear better in history than in life.  Such a man's chance is greater in the literary than the political arena.   We are somewhat calmer; we can afford to be fairer.   We remember that a great Englishman, named John Milton, was a republican.  We know that another English, republican, Algernon Sidney, was a political exile.   These men had no justice from politicians in their own day.   They ap­pealed to letters, and in literature their names became immortal.   It is before a literary tribunal that Signor Mazzini now lays the facts of his public life.

    According to his enemies this man answers to the description of Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner,' passing "like night from land to land," and laying hands on any enthusiastic youth he may meet; holding him with his glittering eye whilst he tells his strange story, and, at parting, placing a poisoned dagger in the hand of the youth, and pointing out the despot in whom the dagger is to find a sheath.   He is an ominous thing of darkness, like the Miltonic eclipse, perplexing monarchs with fear of change—the red spectre of revolution—the stormy petrel that heralds the tempest, and shrieks for joy as the tide of destruction comes rising, rolling in.   On the other hand, his friends tell you that he has been as the dawn of a better day for Italy.   Around no modern name have opposing hosts rushed to battle with a fiercer zeal.   Many are the martyrs who have gone to death proudly shouting this name coupled with that of their beloved Italy.   All who have known the man in our country think nobly of him, and better of Italy for Signor Mazzini's sake.   In truth, we believe it was personal respect for him which kept alive hope and effort for his country when times were dark enough to make the English friends of Italy despair for the cause they had at heart.   Some of those who have known Signor Mazzini best,—and these are not French policemen, but English gentlemen,—are only too glad of an opportunity for testifying, with Mr.  Carlyle, that the calumniated exile is a man of genius and virtue, a man of sterling veracity, humanity, and nobleness of mind.

    In our opinion it is not too great a thing to say that Signor Mazzini has done as much for the regeneration and unification of Italy as his more famous compeer, General Garibaldi, although it is not so easy to sum his work.   All the world can appreciate the man of action who does the great deed and sets it shining in the dazzle of a great renown.   His victory is visible; we can see the work done.   It is different with the man of thought, whose greatest labour is accomplished in the dark; who is compelled to work in secret, and keep himself as well as his doings out of sight.   The man of thought spends himself in giving rootage to that new life which is destined to burst into full flower in the victories of a man of action like Garibaldi.   The many can appreciate the glory of the flower, only the few think of the rootage taken in the dark.   Yet Signor Mazzini is to the thinking few just what General Garibaldi is to the unthinking many.

    Signor Mazzini was the first Italian of modern times who saw that his country had a great future of new life before her.   He was one of the first to perceive that it was only sleep, not death, which kept his country in her grave-clothes,—the first who had suf­ficient faith to believe that she would wake and rise erect and become a free nation.   When most others despaired, or became sceptical, he had faith that under the ruins of the past, the weedy desolation of the present, there were springs of new life in the land.   He felt that, however effete the upper classes might be, however helpless the doctrinairés, there was still something sound in the heart of the people; healthy blood enough to renew the whole body.   He was the first man in whom the idea of Italian unity became incarnate.   He saw and proclaimed the means of Italy's redemption, and devoted his life to the attain­ment of that end.   Through years of suffering has he done desperate and determined battle for his idea, given up friends and country and all the kindly comforts of home, clasping to his heart a duty which to most men would be drear and cold as a stone statue; fighting on from defeat to defeat, or sternly biding his time in forced and desperate calm.   For thirty years he was the banner-bearer and lender of the forlorn hope for the unity of Italy, before the flag waved out so triumphantly in the grasp of Garibaldi.   The successful fighter comes to remodel a country and alter the map of Europe, but the exiled thinker marshalled the forces and even sketched the plans of attack.   It was Mazzini's thought that leaped out in Garibaldi's deed; and it must have been a proud moment for the thinker when the victor came to say how much he owed to the lonely exile—making his way gently through the vast crowds that embraced him so lovingly, and, with the world's eyes on him, he went to pay his tribute to Mazzini, own how much he owed to his teaching, and track the unity of Italy back to an almost forgotten source.

    It is now some forty-three years since Mazzini, then a boy, was walking one day in the Strada Nuova of Genoa, with his mother and an old friend of the family, when they were stopped by a tall black-bearded man, with a stern countenance and a flaming eye, who held out towards them a white handkerchief, merely saying, "For the refugees."  The Piedmontese insurrection had just been crushed, and the wrecks of it, the revolutionists, came drifting to Genoa by sea.  Henceforth the boy was haunted by the thought of these men; and he used to search them out and detect them by their appearance, their dress, their warlike air, or by the signs of deep and silent sorrow on their faces.   He would have given anything to follow them; and they awoke in him those dim yearnings which in after years caused him to follow their footsteps, visibly printed in blood, along the path to martyrdom.   He began to study the history of their struggle, and fathom the causes of its failure, until at length he fancied he had found out how the obstacles might have been con­quered; for boyhood supplies wings to surmount all obstacles.   He thought and thought, became sombre and absorbed, and appeared to have suddenly grown old.  Childishly enough, he determined to dress always in black, fancying himself in mourning for his country.

    Signor Mazzini's early tendencies and aspi­rations were towards literature.   Visions of his­torical dramas and romances had floated before his mind's eye; poetic and artistic images had wooed and caressed his spirit, but his long broodings over the condition of his country led him to consecrate himself to sterner patriotic work.   He looked upon life as being more than literature, and felt convinced that a free coun­try and a noble national life must precede any real vital Art, any worthy Literature.   He did not care to lend an artistic hand towards deco­rating a grave, by flinging a few flowers to wither there; so he renounced all thought of a literary career and struck into the rockier paths of political action.   This, he tells us, was his first great sacrifice.   It was his pen, however, that first drew attention to his name.  He soon became a member of the Carbonari, although no great admirer of their complex symbolism and hierarchical mysteries.

    So terrified, he says, were the govern­ments of that day at the revival of any memories calculated to make Italians think less meanly of themselves, that they would have abolished history itself if it had been in their power.   He visited Guerrazzi, then confined at Montepulciano for the offence of having recited a few solemn pages in praise of a brave Italian soldier.   The eye of authority was soon fixed upon the young Mazzini, and he was speedily within four prison walls, contriving to correspond with his friends through the help of a little pencil which he had found betwixt his teeth when eating the food sent to him front home.   When his father asked what the son was accused of, he was told that the time had not arrived for answering that question, but that his son was a young man of talent, very fond of solitary walks by night, and habitually silent as to the subject of his meditations, and that the government was not fond of young men of talent the subject of whose musings was unknown to it.

    It was in his little prison-cell at Savona, up in a tower, suspended betwixt sea and sky, that Mazzini got his first glimpse of a great future for Italy.   Looking through those prison-bars, the first immature conception of Italian Unity and the mission of his country inspired him with a mighty hope, that flashed before his spirit like a star.   It was then he saw the possibility of a regenerate Italy becoming the missionary of a religion of progress, unity and brotherhood, far grander and vaster than any that she has given to humanity in the past.   A new Italy with a new Rome at its head, giving a new life to her people; a new word to our world!   The prison-walls faded away, but the dream stayed, and the morning star of the patriot's life that rose so large and beautiful still shines on as the evening star of the Exile's later day.   He says, "If ever—though I may not think it—I should live to see Italy One, and to pass one year of solitude in some corner of my own land or of this land where I now write, and which affection has rendered a second country to me, I shall endeavour to develop and reduce the consequences which flow from that idea, and which are of far greater importance than most men believe."

    Signor Mazzini found it was poor work trying to strike a spark of life out of Carbonarism.   His acquaintance with Italian exiles in Francemade him feel sad and dispirited to find how they were always looking for external help, always expecting the great deliverance of one nation to come from another, instead of be­lieving that each must work out its own.   The Carbonari, he says, were mere sectarians, not the apostles of a national religion.  Intellectually, they were materialist and Machiavellian.   The ardour and energy of youth were intrusted to the direction of cold precisionists, who had neither faith nor future.   When the time came for action on a national scale, they felt the want of a sufficient bond of unity, and, not having a principle on which to found it, they were always seeking for a prince.   With leaders like these, the Italian people, however ready to be led, never knew where they were going!  Signor Mazzini determined on starting his Society of Young Italy.   He believed that the salvation of his country lay with the youth of it who would act, and not with a "class of old-fashioned conspirators, who would diplomatize on the edge of the grave."  Nationality was to be the soul of his enterprise, and Young Italy was to work for the nation's redemption, not be taught to look for it elsewhere.  It is true that Signor Mazzini placed the Republic as a symbol beside the Unity of Italy on his banner.   He did not then, and, he tells us, does not now, believe that the salvation of Italy can be accomplished by monarchy.  "All that the Piedmontese monarchy can give us, even if it can give so much, will be an Italy shorn of provinces which ever were, are, and will be Italian, though yielded up to foreign domination in payment of the services rendered; an Italy the abject slave of French policy, dishonoured by her alliance with despotism, weak, corrupted, and disinherited of all Moral mission, and bearing within her the germs of provincial autonomy and civil war."

    Signor Mazzini had to begin his work, as he has had to continue it, in exile.   He had to erect on a foreign shore his battery, wherewith he pounded the enemies of his own land who were in possession.   This was to fight at an im­mense disadvantage.   He was compelled to be an invisible leader of men; a man of action almost shut up, far away from the scene, in a realm of thought, and driven to work by sub­terranean means to the place where he ought to have been openly in person; often doomed to marshal his forces, plan the battle, and stand aloof to watch the failure, because he was an exile.

    In spite of all difficulties, however, Young Italy was a success.   Young men with souls virgin of interest or greed, full of faith and chivalrous self-sacrifice, gathered round the young chief, and they did a notable work.   They sowed some imperishable seed, and watered it lavishly with their blood.   They gave martyrs to their cause.   And there is a time in the history of enslaved nations when martyrs are not to be despised, however these may be sneered at in later days.   At least they enhance the value of land, patriotically, by making some portions of the soil sacred, and they leave an influence that works on in the minds of men long after they are gone.

    Signor Mazzini declares, "I never saw any nucleus of young men so devoted, capable of such strong mutual affection, such pure enthusiasm, and such readiness in daily, hourly toil, as were those who then laboured with me."  Their battery—the Press—was set up at Marseilles, and Signor Mazzini's writings had to be smuggled into Italy, sometimes inside barrels of pumice-stone, and even of pitch.   The little band baffled their ursuers and persecutors as they best could, in many ingenious ways.   Then, says Signor Mazzini, "there began for me the life I have led for twenty out of thirty years—a life of voluntary imprisonment within the four walls of a little room.   They failed to discover me.   The means by which I eluded search; the double spies who, for a trifling sum of money, performed the same service for the prefect and for me—sending me copies of every order issued by the authorities against me; the comic manner in which, when my asylum was at last discovered, I succeeded in persuading the prefect to send me away quietly, under the escort of his own agents, in order to avoid all scandal and disturbance, and in substituting and sending to Geneva in my place a friend who bore a personal resemblance to me, whilst I walked quietly through the whole row of police­officers dressed in the uniform of a national guard;—it were useless to relate in these pages, written, not for the satisfaction of the curiosity of the idle reader, but simply to furnish such historical information or examples as may be of service to my country."

    In the year 1832, a certain Emiliani had been attacked and wounded in the streets of Rodez, in the department of L'Aveyron, by some Italian exiles.   The men who wounded him were sentenced to five years' imprisonment.   In the year following, on the 31st of May, this Emiliani and another person, both being spies of the Duke of Modena, were mortally wounded by a young exile of 1831, named Gavioli.   At the time this deed was done, Signor Mazzini avers that he had never heard of the existence of these men; their aggressors were equally unknown to him.   He had nothing whatever to do with the affair.   Nevertheless he was charged with it, as leader of Young Italy, and the Moniteur published the sentence of a secret tribunal with Signor Mazzini's name as President and Secre­tary.   This is noticeable as the first calumny pinned with a dagger to his name.   At a later period, in 1845, Signor Mazzini reminds us, an English Minister, Sir James Graham, who had revived the calumny, was compelled by the in­formation he received from the magistrates of L'Aveyron, to ask Signor Mazzini's pardon in Parliament.   But it was a lie that took a good deal of killing, even if it be dead yet!

    "Young Italy" was enthusiastically received by some who have since been at enmity with it and its originators.   Gioberti chanted to it a sort of hymn of welcome.

    There are working men, says Signor Mazzini, yet living in Bologna, who well remember Farini loudly preaching massacre in their meetings, and his habit of turning up his coat-sleeves to his elbow, saying—"My lads!  we must bathe our arms in blood."  Signor Mazzini writes a letter to Frederick Campanella concerning Signor Gallenga, well known as a writer on Italy; not so well known as the would-be assassin of the King, Charles Albert:—


    "Towards the close of 1833, a short time before the expedition of Savoy, a young man quite un­known to me presented himself one evening at the Hotel de la Navigation in Geneva.   He was the bearer of a letter from L.  A.  Melegari, enthusiasti­cally recommending him to me as a friend of his who was determined upon the accomplishment of a great act, and wished to come to an understanding with me.   This young man was Antonio Gallenga.  He had  just arrived from Corsica, and was a member of Young Italy.   He told me that from the moment when the proscription began, he had decided to avenge the blood of his brothers, and teach tyrants once for all that crime is followed by expiation; that he felt himself called upon to destroy Charles Albert, the traitor of 1821, and the executioner of his brothers; and he had nourished this idea in the solitudes of Corsica until it had obtained a gigantic power over him, and become stronger than himself; and much more in the same strain.   I objected, as I have always done in similar cases.   I argued with him, putting before him everything calculated to dissuade him.   I said that I considered Charles Albert deserving of death, but that his death would not save Italy.   I said that the man who assumed a mission of expiation, must know himself pure from every thought of vengeance, or of any other motive than the mission itself.   He must know himself capable of folding his arms and giving himself up as a victim after the execution of the deed, and that anyhow the deed would cost him his life, and he must be prepared to die stigmatized by mankind as an assassin.   And so on for a long while.   He answered all I said, and his eyes flashed as he spoke.   He cared nothing for life; when he had done the deed, he would not stir a step, but would shout Viva l' Italia, and await his fate—tyrants were grown too bold, because secure in the cowardice of others—it was time to break the spell, and he felt himself called to do so.   He had kept a portrait of Charles Albert in his room, and gazed upon it until he was more than ever dominated by the idea.   He ended by persuading me that he really was one of those beings whom, from the days of Harmodius to our own, Providence has sent amongst us from time to time to teach tyrants that their fate is in the hands of a single man.   And I asked him what he wanted with me—A passport and a little money.   I gave him a thousand francs, and told him that he could have a passport in Ticino.   Until then he did not even know that the mother of Jacopo Ruffini was in Geneva and in the same hotel.  Gallenga remained there that night and part of the next day.   He dined with Madame Ruffini and me, but not a word passed between the two.  I allowed her to remain in ignorance of his intentions.   She was habitually silent from grief, and hardly ever spoke.  During the hours we passed together, I suspected that he was actuated by an excessive desire of renown rather than by any sense of an expiatory mission.   He continually reminded me that since the days of Lorenzino de Medici no such deed had been performed, and begged me to write a few words explanatory of his motives after his death.   He departed and crossed the St.  Gothard, whence he sent me a few lines full of enthusiasm.   He had prostrated himself on the Alps, and renewed his oath to Italy to perform the deed.   In Ticino he received a passport bearing the name of Mariotti.   When he reached Turin he had an interview with a member of the association, whose name he had had from me.   His offer was accepted, and measures were taken.   The deed was to be done in a long corridor at the court, through which the king passed every Sunday on his way to the royal chapel.   The privilege of entering this corridor to see the king pass was granted to a few persons, who were admitted by tickets.   The committee procured one of these tickets.   Gallenga went with it unarmed to study the locality.  He saw the king, and felt more determined than ever—at least he said so.   It was decided that the blow should be struck on the following Sunday.   Then it was that, fearful of obtaining a weapon in Turin, a member of the committee named Sciandra, since dead, came to me at Geneva to ask me to give them a weapon and tell them that the day was fixed.   A little dagger with a lapis lazuli handle, a gift, and very, dear to me, was lying on my table.   I pointed to it.  Sciandra took it and departed.   Meanwhile, as I did not consider this act as any part of the insurrectionary work upon which I was engaged, and in no way counted upon it, I sent a certain Angelini one of our party, to Turin, upon business connected with the association, under another name.  Angelini, knowing nothing of Gallenga or the affair, happened to take a lodging in the same street where he lodged.   Shortly afterwards having through some imprudence, awakened the suspicions of the police, he was returning one night to his lodging, when he perceived that the house was surrounded by carabineers.   He passed on, and succeeded in escaping to a place of safety.   But the committee, knowing nothing about Angelini, and seeing the carabineers at only two doors' distance from the house of the regicide, supposed that the government had information of the scheme, and were Search of Gallenga.   They therefore caused him to leave the city, and sent him to a country-house some distance from Turin, telling him that the attempt could not be made on the next Sunday, but that if all things remained quiet they would send for him on one of the Sundays following.   A few Sundays after they did send for him, but he was nowhere to be found."


The first volume of Signor Mazzini's works ends with the memorable march of the exiles into Savoy, under Ramorino, in the year 1834.

 



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