ON the 9th of November, 1861, Garibaldi left Naples for Caprera. It was the turning point of his career. He had created an army and conquered a kingdom in a campaign so marvelous that its story reads more like an epic poem than a military history. He had silenced the cavils of men who called him only a brilliant leader of guerrilla bands, by defeating on the banks of the Volturno thirty-five thousand disciplined and well led troops with an army of half their number. He had achieved the last and greatest conquest that a man can make, — the conquest of himself, for sooner than sow dissension among Italian patriots he had given up his purpose of marching on Rome, and had surrendered his dictatorship to the Sardinian king.
Up to that time Garibaldi’s character was one of rare beauty. He was always perfectly honest and completely sincere ; but the sweetness of disposition, the unsuspicious nature leading him to believe other men to be as honest as himself, the infinite pity and tenderness towards the weak and suffering, the sublime and total self-forgetfulness—those qualities which made men love him more, if possible, than they admired him — waned sadly and steadily during his later years. He lost faith in God and in man. He became harsh, suspicious, misanthropic. He seemed to think that he was the only honest, intelligent patriot in Italy, and he tolerated no dissent from his opinions among his nearest and most devoted friends. He abused indiscriminately religion, government, and science ; the monarchists, the Mazzinians, and even the survivors of The Thousand ; and though he sometimes professed to love King Humbert, he publicly praised the crazy regicide Passanante as a hero. To this strange and pitiful change of Garibaldi’s whole moral nature, his writings give ample and saddening testimony.
Garibaldi was by no means an illiterate man. He was a good mathematician. He spoke German, Spanish, French, and English with fluency, and was familiar with the history of Rome and to some extent with that of modern Europe. He had read romances, poetry, military treatises, and books of science, theology, and philosophy. Intellectually, however, he always remained a child, and the effect upon his mind of this heterogeneous reading was what it would have been upon a school-boy. He could not understand why the frothy novels of Guerazzi were not as great as the romances of Victor Hugo, and he firmly believed Alexander Dumas, père, to be the greatest author the world had produced.
In addition to the innumerable letters which Garibaldi published during his later years, he wrote soon after the events of 1849 a brief autobiography. In 1867 he wrote his first historical romance, Clelia, or the Rule of the Monk, which was translated into English by Jessie White Mario. Two years later he wrote Cantoni the Volunteer, and after his campaign in France he wrote his third romance, entitled The Thousand. He also confided to his son Menotti a new autobiography, covering the period between 1850 and 1870, with the order that it should not be published until after his death. As yet, Menotti has not published it, and there can be little doubt that the fact is creditable to his good sense and filial piety.
Whatever Garibaldi wrote prior to the close of his Neapolitan campaign was worthy of him. His early autobiography was modest and simple. He had a story to tell, and he told it in a direct and forcible way. The writer evidently had no thought of his style, but thought only of what he had to say. The contrast between the simplicity of this autobiography and the turgidity of Garibaldi’s romances is as marked as that between the moral tone of his first and his latest writings.
In his addresses to his troops Garibaldi was always happy. Written by an enthusiast, they were adapted to kindle enthusiasm. At times they were genuinely eloquent, and the well-known order of the day issued on the eve of the retreat from Rome in 1849 will live forever. His speeches were always brief and often admirable, and though they were sometimes distasteful to the diplomatists, it was because diplomacy cannot always tolerate frankness.
Of the romances, while they were all miraculously bad, it may be said that their badness was progressive. Clelia is less utterly stupid than Cantoni, and The Thousand is even more preposterous than its predecessors. Clelia was written partly before and partly after Mentana, and the last chapters describe the affair of Villa Glori and the abortive attempt at insurrection in Rome. Cantoni is a romance of the Roman republic of 1849 ; and The Thousand purports to tell in the guise of a romance the true story of the Conquest of Sicily and Naples. The imaginative part of these romances might have been written by a boy of fourteen whose imagination had been fed by Dumas’s novels. The historical parts are thrust in chiefly as episodes, and with a complete disregard of what precedes and what follows them. The characters are colorless and lifeless. The heroines, of whom each book has several, are all precisely alike, — young women of great beauty and all possible virtues ; the heroes are brave young soldiers, each one of whom is precisely like all the others; and the villains are all priests of unspeakable depravity. In point of style, one would fancy that nothing could be more vicious and bombastic than Clelia, were it not that Cantoni and The Thousand are in this respect really and unmistakably worse. All three would long ago have been forgotten were it not that they contain what Garibaldi fancied were his ideas on religion, politics, and human society.
It was at one time the habit of good Protestants in this country to look on Garibaldi as a defender of the faith. There is no doubt that Garibaldi protested with great vigor against the rulers of the Roman church, but there was never a time when he could properly be classed as a Protestant. He early abandoned the Roman Catholic Church, but even throughout his wild career in South America, where his exploits bore a dangerously close resemblance to piracy, he retained a belief in God, and a respect for Christianity. His mother was a devout woman, and he could not but reverence her religious faith. In his autobiography he says of her, “ I have in fancy seen her on her knees before the Most High — my dear mother! pleading for the life of her son ; and I have believed in the efficacy of her prayers.” He says of Ugo Bassi, the patriot priest, “ Bassi was a true servant of Christ; one of the line of Christian apostleship, in all the purity and holiness of the divine institution,” and he exclaims, “We Italians wish to be of the religion of Christ.” He recognizes that God rules, and speaks of “ Those unforeseen and important events which, I love to say, are evidently brought about by the hand of Providence.” He even confesses that he sometimes prayed, for in describing the death of Anita, he says, “ I prayed for forgiveness, for I thought of the sin of taking her from her home.” Certainly these expressions of belief in God and of respect for the religion of Christ are not sufficient to form a creed that would be acceptable to any Protestant evangelical sect, but they are sufficient to show that at the time the autobiography was written Garibaldi was not an atheist, nor an enemy of revealed religion.
During the Sicilian campaign Garibaldi was accompanied by Father Pantaleo, a courageous and patriotic monk, under whose influence, perhaps, Garibaldi seemed for a time ready to believe that a man could be both priest and patriot. Says Guerzoni, the best of his biographers, “ He not only tried to win the ‘ good priests ’ with proclamations, but he searched them out, wished to have them about him, fêted them, followed them into their churches, and bowed before their altars.” In a proclamation issued at Naples he spoke of “ the good monks of La Gancia and the noble hearted priests of the Neapolitan continent.” He did not cease to denounce the Pope, but it was chiefly as the Italian ruler, who had brought in the hated French troops to oppress his people. No one can believe that Garibaldi, with his habitual hatred of intrigues and scorn of hypocrisy, was during this time trying to win the support of the priesthood by intrigue and hypocrisy. He had found Pantaleo an honest fellow and a great help to him, and he was ready to believe that there were other priests equally worthy of confidence. At the very time that he was thus striving to make friends with the priesthood, he presented Gavazzi, the most violent of Protestants, with a church in Naples. This was not the act of one who was hoping to buy the favor of the priests, but rather of one who respected religion, and dreamed of a “ free church in a free state.” He afterwards said during his triumphal tour of Lombardy : “It is in vain my enemies try to make me out an atheist, a blasphemer. I believe in God. I am of the religion of Christ, not of the religion of the Popes.” His knowledge of the religion of Christ was undoubtedly extremely vague, but he was so far from being an atheist that he was anxious to be known as a Christian.
In 1862, Garibaldi was lured by Rattazzi, the Prime Minister, into the net of Aspromonte. He felt that he had been betrayed, and he knew that it was in accordance with the order of the king to whom he had given half of Italy that he had been struck down by an Italian bullet. Lying on his couch in the prison-cell of Varignano he began his first “ historical romance,” and it is not strange that the book should show the bitterness of the writer’s disappointment. His faith in man was fatally shaken, but he still believed vaguely in God. He introduced himself as one of the dramatis personæ of Clelia, and described his home at Caprera as a place where “ God is worshiped as he should be, in purity of spirit, without formalism, fee, or mockery.” He no longer, however, believed in the possibility of the existence of an honest priest. The Garibaldi of Clelia “ hates the priesthood as a lying and mischievous institution, but is ready, so soon as they divest themselves of their malignity and buffoonery, to welcome them with open arms to a nobler vocation, a new and honest profession, and to urge men to pardon their past offenses, conforming in this, as in other acts, to a spirit of universal tolerance. Though not suffering them as priests, he pities and yearns toward them as men ; for priests he regards as the assassins of the soul, and in that light esteems them more culpable than those who slay the body.” This is a sufficiently sweeping condemnation of the church, but the man who a year before had said “I am of the religion of Christ ” asks the readers of Clelia, “Is it not surprising that, in spite of the light of the nineteenth century, a people should be found willing to believe the blasphemous fables called the doctrines of the church ? ” For some time after the publication of Clelia, Garibaldi retained his belief in the existence of a personal God, but he never again wrote of religion except with hatred and contempt.
There is a good deal of hearty abuse of the priests in Clelia ; but in Cantoni, the author gives a freer rein to his vituperation. He usually speaks of the church as “the shop,” though he occasionally calls it “ the cloaca,” or with more exactness of definition, “ the cloaca of prostitution and infamy.” The priests are “ wolves,” “ crocodiles,” “ ministers of Satan,” and “ vipers,” who “ cover every horrible crime with the mantle of hypocrisy.” Protestantism does not fare much better than Romanism, for Garibaldi describes it as “ that Babylon of sects called Protestantism, composed of shopkeepers who are perhaps a little less bad than those of the grand Roman cloaca, but who are nevertheless priests and enemies, and disturbers of human brotherhood.” Of Christ, he speaks in a rather kindly way, remarking that he “ contributed not a little to propagate the dogma of human emancipation,” but he adds : “ It is now proved that Christ never called himself God. On the contrary, to the flatterers . . . who wished to deify him, he replied, ‘ I am a son of man.’ ” In Cantoni, the existence of God is neither affirmed nor denied, but it is evident that Garibaldi had finally lost his belief in a personal God, for having spoken of “The Infinite,” he remarks, “ Time is infinite ; space is infinite ; matter is infinite. We may imagine an infinite intelligence, an hypothesis that might be of service to the cause of universal brotherhood.” This remark was repeated in substance in The Thousand, and it represented all that was left of the simple faith in God and the religion of Christ which the Garibaldi of the autobiography modestly professed. The Thousand is one prolonged howl against religion, but it contains few abusive epithets that had not been previously used in Cantoni, and there is therefore no sufficient excuse for quoting its wearisome billingsgate.
The Thousand was written in 1872. In 1879, Garibaldi wrote a letter to a crack-brained enthusiast known as Baron Swift, who had started an atheistic propaganda in Venice. In this letter he spoke of Swift and himself as “ we atheists.” About the same time he wrote, in the guise of a letter, what he evidently meant to be a proclamation. The letter was as follows, —
“ Dear Friends, — Man has created God, not God man.”
Garibaldi never retracted this open profession of atheism, and though Guerzoni says that his religion was the “philosophical deism of Jean Jacques,” he gives us no reason to believe that Garibaldi was insincere when he proclaimed himself an atheist.
Garibaldi’s political faith underwent as great a change as his religious faith. In his youth he was a follower of Mazzini, and called himself a republican ; but he concerned himself little with Mazzini’s political philosophy, and with the practical good sense which then characterized him, he recognized that the first duty of Italians was to drive out the foreigner. He once wrote, “I care not whether we have a republic or a monarchy, so long as United Italy is free to choose what government she wishes.” When Cavour invited him to serve under the Sardinian king against the Austrians, he gladly accepted the offer, and during the most glorious period of his life he was a loyal supporter of the monarchy.
But after the royal army attacked him at Aspromonte, Garibaldi began to denounce, in his writings, first the Moderates, or followers of Cavour and Ricasoli, and then the Italian government. In Clelia the Moderates were characterized as “ always indissolubly bound to the chariots of selfishness,” and as “ waiting at whatever cost until the manna of freedom should fall from heaven into their mouths, or the foreigner should come to their relief and set their country free ; ” and in Cantoni they were referred to as that “ caste of cowards that priestly education has implanted in Italy under the name of Moderates.” In the latter book the Italian government is “ a conventicle of wretched men,” unworthy to he called a government; “ a government always hypocritical, always perverse, and always hostile to, and ready to exterminate, the volunteers.” It is charged with having tried to induce the people of Palermo to stop the march of the volunteers, and thus “ to stifle in its cradle that stupendous enterprise that was destined finally to constitute Italy.” This “ miserable government,” after Garibaldi had passed the Straits, “ collected all its sycophants in Naples, and while it deceived the Bourbon king with crafty intrigues, it fomented a revolution in order to overthrow him, and to paralyze the army of the people that had already won ten victories.” “ We firmly believe,” exclaims the author of Clelia, “ that a more cowardly government than the Italian cannot be found in ancient or modern history.”
Not content with denouncing the Moderate party and the government, Garibaldi denounced Mazzini and his followers. In Naples, during his dictatorship, Garibaldi had spoken of Mazzini as his “ friend,” and during his visit to England he had toasted “ Mazzini, my master.” But in Cantoni he charges Mazzini with gross incompetence as virtual dictator of Rome in 1849. He was “ without the capacity to command, and he would not tolerate either the commands or the advice of any one; ” and with his followers was accustomed to say, “ We alone are pure, we men of republican principles, for we want the republic even when it is impossible to have it.” “ For them, as for the priests, Marsala was a defeat and Mentana a triumph.” In The Thousand, the Mazzinians are charged with having, on the eve of the battle of Mentana, induced thousands of volunteers to desert “ under the pretext of returning home to proclaim the republic and to raise barricades.”
Garibaldi’s own gallant soldiers, who had accepted commissions in the royal army, also had their share of abuse. In Cantoni, he asks, “ Where are the seventy of Cairoli, the thousand of Marsala ? ” and answers, “ To-day they are making love; they are crowding the cafés and the theatres; and many of them, thinking that they are serving the country, have put on a livery and serve a perverse government.” Ihe peasantry fail to please the author of The Thousand, who says, “ they do not belong to us, but to the priests,” and “there is no instance of one of them having been found among the volunteers.” Doctors, professors, and scientific men also fall under the ban. In The Thousand, he asks in reference to parliament, “ How can one have faith in five hundred individuals, most of whom are professors? ” and he adds, in a note, that while many of his friends have belonged to this class, “ they have hitherto proved so bad in governments and parliaments that I despair of them.” In Cantoni, not only scientific men, but science itself is denounced, and Garibaldi asks,
“ if learning and science are really any better than idiocy ? ” Having thus expressed his disapproval of nearly all classes of men, the aged misanthrope denounces the whole human race collectively as a “ family of apes,” and exclaims, “ I cover my face with shame at belonging to this race of asses.” In his last years Garibaldi praised no one except the cowardly assassins who tried to kill the Emperor of Germany, the King of Spain, and the King of Italy. It was in honor of these wretches that he wrote the most shameful of his many pitiable letters.
There was but one form of government which Garibaldi approved, and that was an elective despotism. “ The liberty of a nation,” he informs us in Clelia, “ consists in the people choosing their own government, and this government should be dictatorial or presidential; that is to say, directed by one man. . . . The dictatorship should be limited to a fixed period,” and “ it must be guarded by popular rights and public opinion from becoming either excessive or hereditary.” In The Thousand, the same idea is expressed: The dictator should have a guard of “ ten lictors,” and the country should be defended in time of war by “ the armed nation.” There should be no “ written laws,” but the dictator should administer justice “ in
the public piazza.” Judging from Garibaldi’s own writings, there was no man living in Italy, except himself, whom he could have regarded as fit to be dictator. If any other member of the “ family of apes ” had been made dictator, and ruled without laws, he would have been made very uncomfortable by the daily denunciations which Garibaldi would have hurled at him.
What were the causes which worked this unhappy change in the simpleminded noble leader of The Thousand ? Doubtless it was due to illness and disappointment working on a mind by no means strong. Garibaldi undoubtedly had a genius for war. He was an able tactician, as his dispositions made on the field of the Volturno showed. General Manteuffel, who was assuredly a competent critic, wrote of him : “ The tactics of General Garibaldi were characterized by great rapidity in movements, by wise dispositions during the heat of battle, and by an energy and brilliancy of attack that depended in part on the moral qualities of his soldiers, but that also showed that the general never forgot for a single instant the objective point of a battle, which is to dislodge the enemy from his positions by a rapid, vigorous, and resolute attack ; ” and Manteuffel also added, speaking of the campaign in the Vosges: “ The successes of the general were partial, and had no results, but had General Bourbaki followed his counsels, the campaign of the Vosges would have been the most fortunate of those fought by French armies in 1870 — 71.” Nevertheless, Garibaldi’s real greatness was moral and not intellectual, and the pitiable follies which he committed whenever he attempted to meddle in matters of administration and statesmanship sufficiently proved his total lack of judgment outside of purely military affairs.
He was bitterly disappointed when the arrival of the Sardinian army at Naples compelled him to abandon his intended march on Rome. He was again disappointed when the royal government in 1862 interfered to put a stop to his mad attempt to make private war on Austria at Sarnico. He was again disappointed when Pallavicini captured his band of red-shirts on the heights of Aspromonte, and his last and heaviest disappointment was the defeat of Mentana. He could not comprehend that a citizen of Italy, however popular he might be, had no right to raise armies and declare war against Austria, France, or the Papal government, and he could not but feel exasperated against the monarchy which. thwarted his wild expeditions, and the sober citizens who supported it.
During the last years of his life, Garibaldi was a martyr to rheumatism. He suffered incessant pain, and was for much of the time a helpless cripple. He lay on his bed and thought of the failure of his efforts to liberate Venice and Rome, and of the later successes of diplomacy and Prussian armies, which gave to Italy the coveted cities, and opened an era of peaceful and prosaic prosperity in which no place was found for the leader whose life had been spent in the camp of enthusiastic volunteers. The old man felt that he had lived too long; that Italy no longer needed him ; and that there was nothing left for him but to endure his physical tortures, and the humiliations put upon him by those members of his family who lacked the good sense and honesty of his elder son Menotti. A strong-brained man might have grown stronger and better in the furnace of pain and disappointment, but it made Garibaldi a bitter misanthrope, — a furious blasphemer of God and man.
But the splendor of a unique career cannot be marred by a brief old age embittered by pain and disappointment. The Garibaldi who led the thousand from Marsala to Naples was an ideal hero, and his fame is and will be forever one of the noblest treasures of the race. The Garibaldi of those last sad years at Caprera was another man, and one can
feel nothing but pity when listening to the wild cries wrung from him by the sharpest of bodily, and the bitterest of mental pain.
W. L. Alden.