I THINK I am not mistaken in believing that there are many persons to whom Mazzini is little more than a name. That he was a patriot concerned in the various revolutions in the Italian States, somehow connected with Garibaldi, though supposed to be a less important figure than he, — this is about the sum of what is known of Mazzini even among many educated people. Though one or two biographies of him have appeared, they have not been commonly read ; and the general public has remained more or less ignorant, and therefore indifferent, concerning him. It seems to me that this is much to be regretted, and I hope to give in this sketch of his life, brief as it necessarily is, some true notion of the character of the great Italian.
Carlyle has said the hero is the man who succeeds ; for this is really all that is meant by his phrase about the hero being the able man, the man who can. Mazzini’s life of self-abnegating devotion to a noble idea constitutes him a hero according to a truer definition of the word. In the accomplishment of one cherished desire, the establishment of an Italian republic, Mazzini did not succeed ; and the unification of the Italian States, in fact chiefly brought about by his tireless efforts toward that result, has been very generally credited, not to him, but to those who entered into the fruits of his labors. Neither the military talent of the head of the house of Savoy nor the policy of Cavour would have sufficed to create a kingdom of Italy but for the desire of freedom and of national unity in the Italian people, which Mazzini had known how to kindle and keep alive. It was a republic, not a monarchy, that Mazzini would have founded. He learned, with sad patience, that his countrymen, newly roused to shake off a foreign yoke, were not yet ripe for a republic; none the less he strove to keep that idea before them, and to educate them in the principles of free self-government. If he were the mere visionary, the builder of dream-fabrics, he has been so often called, we might respect his pure and noble spirit, but we could not call him great. A great man does not construct irrational theories, attempt impracticable things, or endeavor after possible ones by impossible methods. This is what has been charged against Mazzini; mostly, it is true, by Englishmen, who have a natural dislike to republican principles, and an inborn aversion from a rational systematization of political or any other ideas. There is no great need to wonder, however, that Mazzini should have met with the same fortune as others of the world’s best and greatest, the loftiness of whose ideals raises them above the comprehension of the average man. In Mazzini’s case, moreover, as one of his biographers has pointed out, his contemporaries have been the less able to grasp an idea of his character as a whole owing to the fact that his astonishing influence over his own countrymen and the whole democracy of Europe was exerted mysteriously and chiefly from a distance, and they have been compelled to judge him from “ the remote effects of an inspiration often misinterpreted by those who were its instruments.”
Not all who called upon Mazzini’s name were therefore his true disciples. His image has been colored, and too often distorted, by the medium through which it was dimly seen.
There is a memoir of Mazzini which is virtually an autobiography, being largely made up of writings left at his death in charge of the English family who were the exile’s chief friends and consolers during his residence in their country. Such a record as this is of infinite value, especially when we have the opportunity of comparing his words with his deeds. To be able to set off against each other a man’s utterances and his actions helps us to a more accurate measure of both. In these self-revelations of Mazzini there is the unmistakable accent of sincerity; they make clear his motives and convictions, and show that his life was but the simple and consistent exemplification of his principles.
His biographer, Miss Ashurst, afterwards Mrs. Venturi, was a close personal friend of Mazzini, and speaks with authority, certain of the facts she relates having been taken down from his own lips.
Born in Genoa in 1805, the son of a distinguished physician and professor of anatomy, Giuseppe (or Joseph) was the best loved child of his mother, a woman of vigorous intellect and deep affections. The boy was extremely fragile, so much so that he could not walk firmly until he was six years old. The first time that he was able to walk beyond the walls of their garden, the mother and child came upon an old beggar, white-bearded and in rags, sitting on the steps of a church. Joseph stood gazing at him, transfixed, and his mother, thinking he was frightened, stooped to carry the child away; but he broke from her, ran to the man, and threw his arms about his neck, kissing him and crying out, “ Give him something, mother,—give him something ! ” The beggar returned the boy’s caresses, and said to Signora Mazzini, “ Love him well, lady ; he is one who will love the people.” The mother kept this thing in her heart, and forty years afterwards, with tears in her eyes, related to Mrs. Venturi the “ symbolical anecdote.” Joseph showed that precocity in learning which is often observed in delicate children of serious dispositions. At thirteen, being sent to the University of Genoa, he was noted among his fellowstudents not only for the ease with which he acquired everything, but for the generosity and gentleness of character : he gave away not merely his money, but books and clothes, to needy comrades. He began the study of anatomy, but found himself unable to attend the lectures of the dissecting-room. His natural bent was toward literature, and when he was but thirteen some of his compositions were so well thought of by a literary association at Savona that, without suspecting the author of being a child, he was elected a member of their body.
His first “conscious and definite aspiration toward a nobler future for Italy ” he himself dates from the year 1821, after the execution in Genoa of two revolutionists, and the sight of alms collected in the streets of that town, in aid of exiles banished after the insurrection of that year.
At eighteen years of age Joseph was admitted to practice as an advocate, but having already inwardly devoted himself to the regeneration of his country, the youth was depressed by the sense that he must disappoint his father’s hopes for him. The first two years of an Italian advocate’s life are given to pleading gratuitously the causes of the poor. Joseph’s ready sympathy and his reputation for success were so well known that it was the effort of every poor man in Genoa to secure the services of l’avocatino (the little advocate). Mazzini had already joined the secret society of the Carbonari. Young as he was, he was not impressed, but only amused, at their “ bowl and dagger ceremonies ” of initiation. He did not admire Carbonarism, but knowing the importance of organization, and unable at that time to found an association of his own, he joined himself to the Carbonari, because, as he says, they were men who, “ although inferior to the idea they represented (Italian independence of foreign rule), were yet earnestly bent on reducing thought to action, belief to works.” His chief reason for dissatisfaction with them was that they founded their hopes on the aid of France. Mazzini believed that Italy must win her freedom for herself. Soon after the French revolution of 1830 Mazzini was arrested by order of the King of Piedmont and Sardinia, and was imprisoned in the fortress of Savona. His father, hastening to inquire of the governor of Genoa of what crime his son was accused, was answered that “ he was a young man of talent, fond of solitary walks at 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.” Mazzini’s cell was at the top of the fortress, whence he could look out upon the sea and the sky, — “ two symbols of the infinite. This was a comfort to me.” By means of a method of secret correspondence which he had contrived, he learned that his arrest had struck terror among the Carbonari, and after trying in vain to hearten them he became convinced that, instead of “ wasting time and energy in attempting to galvanize a corpse,” he must “ address himself to the living:” from this time, then, dates the conception of his plan for the association called “Young Italy,” the aim and purpose of which was to be public, though its operations were necessarily secret. Mazzini’s trust was in the people, and he meant to appeal to the “ instincts and tendencies of the national Italian heart.” He alone “ intuitively perceived that the slumber of his nation was not death.” Upon these things he mused in his cell at Savona. Looking back in 1861, he wrote, “ The vision which brightened my first dream of country has vanished for as much as concerns my own life ; even if that vision be fulfilled — as I believe it will be — I shall be in the tomb. Yet I think the same thoughts still, on broader grounds and with maturer logic, in the little room, no larger than that cell, wherein I now write.” And such were his thoughts forty years after this first imprisonment in his cell at Gaeta.
Six months later Mazzini was banished, and went to France. This was the beginning of his long years of exile, that “lingering, bitter, agonizing death which none can know but the exile himself.” Among the other exiles he knew, he did not find, he tells us, “a single man who dreamed of the possibility of the unity of Italy.” Marseilles being a convenient place for carrying on his secret correspondence, Mazzini remained there to found the association of Young Italy, and to issue a journal bearing the same name, in which he published much of his religious and political philosophy. “ It was from studying the ill-fated movements of 1820-21 and 1831,” Mazzini says, “that I learned what errors to avoid in the future. The greater number of Italians derived only a lesson of profound discouragement. To me they brought the conviction that success was a problem of direction. The error lay in entrusting the government of the insurrection to those who had no share in making it. . . . As soon as all obstacles were overthrown the preliminary conspirators were thrust aside, and others undertook the development of an idea not their own, a design they had not matured, in the sacrifices for which they had had no share.” The two years spent at Marseilles were a time of such “ pure and glad devotedness as I could wish the coming generation to know.” In less than one year Young Italy became the dominant association throughout the whole of Italy.
But in spite of precautions the attention of the authorities was aroused; large rewards for the seizure of the conspirators’ papers were offered, and tremendous punishment threatened against all who should aid their introduction into Italy. Unable to stop the diffusion of Mazzini’s writings, the Italian governments appealed to Louis Philippe to stifle the exile’s voice. Tracked from place to place, Mazzini eluded search for two years. Discovered at last in his asylum, he escaped by the substitution of a friend bearing a personal resemblance to him, and took refuge in Switzerland, where he organized the first armed attack of the party of Italian unity upon the party of “ princely subdivision.” The attack failed through the treachery of the military leader, and the government of Charles Albert took bloody revenge upon the conspirators of the interior who had plotted to support the expedition by insurrection. Mazzini’s dearest friend at this time was Jacopo Ruffini. To induce this young man to confess, a denunciation of his fellow-conspirators was put into his hands, bearing the forged signature of Mazzini. Ruffini resisted the temptation, but committed suicide that night in prison.
Many now recommended Mazzini to retire from the unequal struggle. A tremendous “ clamor of blame ” arose from all the worshipers of success ; news from Italy told of nothing but imprisonments, flights, desertions, disorganization. The Swiss government was terrified into persecuting the exiles, the majority of whom were without the means of carrying on the struggle, or even the necessaries of life. “ More powerful upon me than anything,” says Mazzini, “ were the grief and anxiety of my poor mother. Had it been possible for me to yield, I should have yielded to that.” Mazzini had discovered in the Italian people no lack of desire for freedom, but a want of constancy of purpose. He felt that the moral education of his countrymen through the press was impossible in an enslaved country, and that a “ living apostolate” was required, a nucleus of men capable of defying persecution, ever full of faith in the final victory. He determined to persist, in spite of adverse fortune. In the words of Mrs. Venturi, it was his “ unshaken adherence to the resolution thus made in youth which converted a life-long martyrdom of incessant defeat into a lifelong victory.” The work of insurrection was for a time at an end; that of propaganda was retarded. Mazzini gave himself to preparing the minds of the exiles from many lands, then gathered in Switzerland, for “ the only idea that he believed had the power to resuscitate the vanquished peoples,— the idea of nationality.” Of these exiles he formed an association, called “ Young Europe,” similar to that of Young Italy.
The Swiss Diet, however, now ordered his perpetual banishment from that country, and Mazzini went to England. This was in 1837, a year rendered memorable to him by a crisis of moral suffering. “Were I to live for a century,” he says, “ I could never forget the close of that, year, nor the moral tempest that passed over me. I speak of it now with reluctance, and solely for the sake of those who may be doomed to suffer what I then suffered. It was the tempest of doubt, which I believe all who devote their lives to a great enterprise are doomed, once at least, to Hattie through. During those fatal months there darkened round me such a hurricane of sorrow, disillusion, and deception as foreshadowed to me the old age of my soul, solitary, in a desert world. It was not only the overthrow, for an indefinite period, of every Italian hope and the dispersion of the best of our party ; . . . it was the failure of faith in those who had solemnly bound themselves with me, the distrust I detected in those most dear to me as to my motives and intentions. The adverse opinion of the majority was a matter of little moment to me, but to see myself suspected of ambition or other ignoble motives by the one or two beings upon whom I had concentrated my attachment prostrated me in despair. Without entering into details, I will merely say that it was in my hour of greatest need that these fraternal souls withdrew from me. When I felt that I was alone in the world but for my poor mother, far away and unhappy for my sake, I drew back in terror at the void before me. Then, in that moral solitude, doubt came upon me. Perhaps I was wrong, and the world right. Perhaps my idea was indeed a dream. Perhaps I had been led, not by an idea, but by my idea, — by the pride of my own conception. ... I felt myself not only unutterably wretched, but a criminal. The forms of those shot at Alexandria and Chambery rose up before me, like the phantom of a crime and its unavailing remorse. I could not recall them to life. . . . At times I was impelled to go into the next room, fancying I should see some friend whom I really knew to be in prison or hundreds of miles away. The slightest thing, a word, a tone, moved me to tears. ... I will not dwell on this longer; I will simply say that had that state of mind lasted but a little longer I must either have gone mad or ended with the selfish death of the suicide. While I was struggling and sinking beneath my cross, I heard a friend, whose room was a few doors distant from mine, answer a young girl, who, having some suspicion of my unhappy condition, was urging him to break in upon my solitude, by saying, Leave him alone: he is in his element, — conspiring and happy.
“One morning I woke to find my mind tranquil. The first moment of waking had always been one of great wretchedness with me, but now it seemed as though nature smiled a smile of consolation on me. The first thought that came to me was, Your sufferings arise from a misconception of life. I saw that though the instincts of my heart had rebelled against the false definition of life as a search after happiness, yet I had not completely freed myself from its influence : it had thrown off the baser stamp of material desires, and had centred itself in the affections. I ought to have regarded them as the blessing of God, to be accepted with gratitude, not demanded them either as a right or a reward. . . . I came to myself alone through the help of a religious thought. From the idea of God I descended to the conception of progress, and from this to a true conception of life, to faith in a mission and its logical consequence, duty. I bade farewell to all individual hopes for me on earth. ... I bless God the Father for what consolations of affection lie has vouchsafed to my later years, but were these denied me I believe I should still be what I am.”
In connection with this account of a moral crisis in Mazzini’s life, I cannot refrain from quoting a passage from one of Mrs. Carlyle’s letters, which shows how one who knew Mazzini familiarly could misconceive the motives which actuated him. She writes, “ Mazzini came, and all he had to tell me of ‘our doings,’ as he calls them, was that he had been for weeks expecting private information that would take him away at an hour’s notice, but that now there seemed no prospect of anything immediate taking effect. I asked if he had meant to put himself at the disposal of the Pope. ‘ Oh, no,’ he said; what he aimed at was ‘ to organize and lead an expedition into Lombardy, which would be better than being an individual under the Pope,’—in which words seemed to me to lie the secret of Mazzini’s vie manquée.” In the opinion of this friendly Englishwoman, Mazzini’s want of success was due to his ambition for personal leadership and distinction, not to the fact that he was a man before his time, striving to lead his countrymen toward a promised land, “ the remoteness of which none knew so well as he.”
It is characteristic of the man, his biographer says, that while he thus writes of the moral trial he underwent with an emotion as intense as it is dignified and restrained, he recounts the material sufferings of this first period of English exile with absolute indifference. His mother secretly forwarded to her son a quarterly remittance, sufficient for his frugal way of life had it been expended on himself alone, but which was totally inadequate to supply the necessities of the three other exiles whom Mazzini helped to maintain. His mother kept him in ignorance of the manifold privations of herself and his sister Francesca, by which the quarterly sum was gathered together, and of the paternal harshness which made them necessary; years after, with mingled tears and laughter, she related them to Mrs. Venturi. Mazzini endeavored to eke out the insufficient support by writing for the reviews, choosing Italian subjects that English attention might be called to the Italian question. He founded a school for poor Italians in England, — many of them organ-grimlers, — personally supplying the greater part of the funds and sharing in the teaching. “ On Sunday evenings we gathered our scholars together to listen to an hour’s lecture on Italian history, the lives of our great men, the outlines of natural philosophy, any subject calculated to elevate their unformed minds.”This labor of love lasted from 1841 to 1848, when he left England. It was a period of fraternal labor, he says, “refreshing to my own heart and to the hearts of other weary exiles.” During all these years an extended secret correspondence was carried on, a web of conspiracy was woven, and such accounts were spread of Garibaldi’s exploits in South America as prepared the people to accept him as a hero and leader, on his arrival in Europe in 1848.1 In 1846, Mazzini was repeatedly urged to give the support of his approval to the new Pope, Pius IX., hailed as the “initiator of the future destiny of Italy.” Mazzini replied, “Any policy which does not begin and end with the word unity I consider not only useless, but harmful. In the Pope I see nothing but a well-disposed man wavering between the influence of Austria and his own tendencies. ... If I am wrong, the first fact will correct me, and I am ready to be convinced.”Six months afterwards the play was played out; the Moderates, as the monarchists called themselves, were declaring that the Sword of Italy (meaning Charles Albert) was the sole salvation of Italy. The people, however, “ unsheathed the only sword able to save Italy ” in Sicily and Lombardy in 1847 and 1848. The insurrectionary movement, which spread over the whole country in 1848, was declared by Austrian statesmen to be the work of Mazzini’s seventeen years’ apostolate. In a Plan for the Pacification of Italy, discussed at Vienna and sent, to Lord Palmerston, that document speaks of “ the germ of Italian nationality, so long buried, but resuscitated by the efforts of Young Italy,” as having “ brought on the events we have witnessed.” The insurrections of 1821 and 1833 had failed, because the leaders had not appealed to the masses; the revolutions of 1847, 1848, and 1849 succeeded, because they were the work of the people, roused to new life by Young Italy. But the enemies of popular rights were grouping round the King of Piedmont and organizing the “ Moderate ” party, which gradually diverted the Italian people from that “ straight march to a republic ” which the clear-sighted Metternich declared that they were making. The highest ambition of the Moderates was to divide Italy into three states : a kingdom of the north (that is to say, an aggrandized Piedmont), a kingdom of the south under the Bourbon, and an enlarged Papal principality in the centre. “The Pope having failed them, they are going mad about the first captain of Italy,” wrote Mazzini; “ and when he fails them they will go mad about the Grand Duke, or God knows whom.” When asked to countenance this king-worship, he answered, “ Notwithstanding my aversion to Charles Albert as the executioner of my best friends, and the contempt I feel for his weak and cowardly nature, and notwithstanding the democratic yearnings of my own heart, yet could I believe him to possess enough even of ambition to unite Italy for his own advantage. I could cry Amen.”
But the Moderates had no hope or desire to form a compact nation out of the divided populations. They were utterly unprepared for the national insurrection at Milan in 1848. The people went on lighting, without heeding the upper classes and the municipal authorities, and on the fifth day the Austrians fled in disorder. leaving 4000 dead. The Venetian insurrection followed. Plainly, the people had learned the first lesson taught by Young Italy, — the duty of winning back their country from the foreign usurper. Should they be left to conquer alone, they would feel their power, and put in practice the second lesson of popular rights. The Moderates therefore sent messengers to Charles Albert, imploring him to take direction of the movement, or he “ would hear the republic proclaimed.” When it became evident that the revolution would he victorious, the king sent to offer assistance, on condition that a provisional government should be formed, which should draw up a proposal to give Lombardy to the crown of Piedmont. When to hold back longer would have lost him not only the chance of acquiring Lombardy, but his Piedmontese crown, the king declared war against Austria. To the people, of course, the Moderates said that “after the struggle it will belong to the people to decide its own destinies : when all are free, all will speak.” Mazzini accepted this programme of neutrality, though he had no belief that the king would prove equal to the task before him. No portion of Mazzini’s career, says his biographer, has been more persistently misrepresented and misunderstood than this period of noble self-abnegation, when he put aside his own hopes of a republic to work with the monarchy for the unity of Italy, for which he thought it the first and foremost duty of all to labor. The Moderates imagined that the way to bring about the cession of Lombardy was for the king to conquer alone, and thus compel the people to choose between him and the hated Austrians.
The republican volunteers were disbanded, the passes of the Alps left open, and General Radetsky thus enabled to revictual and reinforce his army at his leisure. When the Austrians had taken Udine, the provisional government, struck with terror, sent at midnight to Mazzini, asking him for counsel. He implored them to make known the whole truth and call for a levée en masse. Consent was given, but immediately withdrawn by the king’s secretary, Castagneto. Mazzini now declared publicly the truth as to the failure of the war. To quiet his voice, a messenger was sent to say that if he would further the scheme of uniting Lombardy to the crown, power should be given him to draw up the constitution of the new “ kingdom of the north,” and himself be made first minister of the crown. Mazzini replied that war with Austria was now the allimportant question ; that the aggrandizement of Piedmont would open up endless jealousies among the princes of Italy; that if the king would risk his Piedmontese crown for an Italian crown, and become really the Sword of Italy, Mazzini would use every effort to aid him with all the revolutionary elements of Italy. The monarch refused.
Space is wanting to recount in full the betrayal of Milan that followed; the victory of the Austrians ; the despairing appeal of the Moderates, too late convinced of their error, to Mazzini for advice and help ; his organization of a committee of defense ; the destruction of his renewed hopes of a people’s war by the advance of the king in person ; the king’s entrance into the city, promising to defend it, though he had already signed an armistice with Radetsky in which the surrender of Milan was agreed on ; his swearing from the palace window to fight with them to the death, and his flight by night, by a back way ; the withdrawal of his army, and the abandonment of the city to the Austrians.
Garibaldi was then at Bergamo with a small body of republican volunteers. Colonel Medici relates Mazzini’s coming among them, rifle on shoulder, asking to join the ranks. “Though accustomed to a life of study, and little fit for the exertion of forced marches, his constancy and serenity never forsook him for a moment. Hearing the fatal news of the surrender of Milan, Garibaldi ordered his band to fall hack, my column. as rearguard, covering the retreat. In this march, full of danger and difficulty, Mazzini’s strength of soul, intrepidity, and decision were the admiration of the bravest. His presence, his words, animated our young soldiers.” But Milan having fallen, all Lombardy fell. “Treason and imbecility,” as Mazzini said, had done their work too well. Mazzini went by way of France to Tuscany. “ We republicans had offered ourselves as loyal allies to the royal camp; we never declared that camp our own. We ceased from preaching our own principle in order to avoid all disunion likely to endanger the success of the enterprise against the foreign foe ; but we never preached in favor of the opposite principle.” From this time began Mazzini’s struggle against the internal foes of his country’s unity, which ceased only with his life.
The Pope, meanwhile, terrified at the national feeling excited among his own subjects, fled from Rome in the disguise of a footman. Rome was free to govern herself. The Roman Assembly, however, hesitated and temporized, dispatching messengers to the Pope asking for instructions. Mazzini wrote, telling them that the anxiety he was in was not for the republic, but for the unity of Italy; that the Pope, however, being an elected prince, and his flight an abdication, Rome was, for the time being, de facto a republic, though bound in duty to call together an assembly of delegates from all the Italian provinces to decide upon the form of government to be adopted by the nation. February, 1849, the Roman Parliament proclaimed Rome a republic, and Mazzini, elected a member of the Assembly, hastened to Rome. On his way through Tuscany, he urged upon the provisional government to take the first step toward making Italy one by uniting Tuscany with Rome. “The people,” he says, “voted for it unanimously, but the provisional government refused to ratify the decree.” We all know something of the history of the short-lived republic, which was “ shamefully stifled in blood by France.” The Roman people, though long crushed and degraded, displayed the true virtues of citizen soldiers.
This period of Mazzini’s career, says his biographer, was too brilliant for even calumny to obscure. His first care was to make ready for war with Austria. The vigorous preparations for action on the part of the little republic drove Charles Albert to redeem his lost popularity by himself declaring war against Austria, — a war, however, brought to an abrupt end by the shameful battle of Novara, immediately after which the king abdicated, and his son, Victor Emmanuel, ascended the throne. The Roman Assembly now decreed that the supreme executive power should be invested in three citizens. Mazzini was the life and soul of this triumvirate. Rome, he thought, was the natural centre of Italian unity, and it was important to direct the attention and the reverence of his countrymen to her. No one but Mazzini believed that the Roman people would dare to resist the power of France. When news came of the arrival of the French at Civita Vecchia, he was told by the officers of the National Guard that the main body of them would refuse to defend the city. Mazzini “ thought he understood the Roman people better than they,” and gave orders that the question should be put to the troops. A universal shout of War rose from the ranks, and put an end to the doubts of the leaders. After a two months’ siege by the French troops sent by Louis Napoleon, then President of the French Republic, during which the Italians performed prodigies of valor, the French mastered the heights about Rome, and were able to destroy the city by artillery. The Assembly declared further resistance impossible, and ordered the triumvirate to come to terms with the French general. Mazzini refused to do so, and sent in his resignation, his colleagues following his example. In his indifference to personal danger, Mazzini remained in Rome more than a week after the French entered it, wandering about the city, “ absorbed.” as he says, “ in the thought of rebellion against the brute force that had thus come down upon us, unprovoked, to destroy one republic in the name of another. How it was that neither the priests nor the French took the chance afforded them of killing or imprisoning me is a mystery.” He left at last on a little steamer for Marseilles, whence he traversed the enemy’s country, and took shelter in Switzerland. For many years a vast secret correspondence kept alive the republican spirit of the reënslaved Romans, but the leaders were finally discovered and imprisoned, agents of the King of Piedmont were sent among the Romans, and, " whether from sloth or fear, they sank again into the indolence begotten of slavery.” Mazzini was compelled to direct his energies elsewhere. With regard to the many insurrections planned or assisted by Mazzini, Mrs. Venturi declares that without an exception he was ever on the spot, taking personal part in the danger of every movement initiated by himself. This, she avers, is a truth well known to his personal friends, who, during his lifetime, were often compelled to conceal their knowledge of his peril, and speak with outward serenity of the absent one, for whom they were trembling in their hearts.
Piedmont had now been free for ten years, and had won no inch of ground from the foreign rulers of Italy. To Mazzini’s appeals to the Piedmontese to awake to a sense of their duty, the king answered by condemning him to death. To counteract his “fatal influence,” which might endanger the throne by leading the people to fight their own battle, and also in order to win Lombardy for his master, Cavour declared war against Austria. Louis Napoleon, now emperor, finding it necessary to divert the minds of the French from the recent overthrow of their republican freedom by exciting their greed of military glory, was willing enough to aid Victor Emmanuel, but at the price of Nizza and Savoy. The “ royal Esau ” sold his Savoyard birthright for the Lombard pottage. In vain did Mazzini, six months before the event, tell the people, “ Napoleon seeks Nizza and Savoy, the throne of Naples for Murat, and of the centre for his cousin. Cavour has agreed to these things.” The people were deluded by the emperor’s proclamation that Italy should be “ freed from the Alps to the sea ; ” they forgot Victor Emmanuel’s share in the betrayal of Milan, and the treachery of Novara.
Mazzini’s whole energies were now directed to Italianizing the war. He wrote to the king, assuring him that if he would put himself at the head of the nation to unite Italy, the republicans would loyally support and aid him. “ All parties would be then extinguished; the only things left in Italy would be the people and yourself.” The excitement caused by this letter was such that the king found it impossible to ignore it. He offered Mazzini an interview. The latter replied that it was as well to speak plainly on both sides before meeting. Convinced that the majority desired Victor Emmanuel for their king, he himself bowed to the will of the nation, and would help the king to the utmost, could he have Victor Emmanuel’s promise not to sheathe his sword till he was victorious. “ He who wrote this,” says his biographer, “ was under sentence of death, and obliged to remain concealed in the dominions of the king with whom he made these stipulations,” — a sufficient testimony to the weight of his “fatal influence.” While the king was still hesitating, Cavour, lately out of favor, returned to power, and began plotting the division of Italy into three kingdoms with Napoleon and Bomba of Naples. All negotiation with Mazzini was broken off. Garibaldi’s brigade was still in arms. Many even of the Moderates favored an invasion of the south, but were anxious that the movement, though planned by Mazzini, should not be connected with his name, which, they said, was so identified with republicanism that it would insure the hostile intervention of Napoleon. Mazzini, always indifferent to things personal, wrote to Garibaldi, detailing the preparations already made in the south. He promised that should the movement prove successful he would leave the whole glory and credit to Garibaldi, while in case of failure he would bear the obloquy himself, and allow the expedition to be called a “ Mazzinian dream.” To this proposal Garibaldi agreed in writing. Notwithstanding a promise of secrecy, he privately informed the king of the plan. The monarch feigned approval. The general had given the order to march on the following day, when, on receipt of a private telegram from the king, he abruptly broke faith with Mazzini, and left the camp by night. Those who knew Mazzini intimately “ perceived a deeper sadness in his smile after every such wrong or delusion ; but there was no other change in him.”
Pilo, a young Sicilian nobleman, educated by Mazzini in republican virtue, resolved to head the insurrection of the south, having first written to Garibaldi, and obtained his promise to join the expedition should Pilo hold out for eight days. The insurrection was to begin at Palermo on the third. Pilo started thither with a few thousand francs and some pistols furnished by Mazzini, but was detained by stress of weather until the eleventh, and arrived to find the movement suppressed in the city, but the country people still in arms. He took the command, beat the royal troops in every encounter, maintained the insurrection with growing power against an enormous disparity of numbers, not for eight days, but for six weeks, and, having beaten the troops of King Bomba in a decisive encounter, fell by a gunshot wound, and died with a smile on his face, having in that instant received the news that Garibaldi had landed. Facts like these have something to say in answer to such remarks as occur in Mr. Dicey’s Life of Victor Emmanuel about the absurdity of supposing that the liberation of Italy was to be effected by Mazzini’s “ high-flown language and grandiloquent proclamations,” and the “ short-lived illusion that it is possible for regular troops to be worsted by undisciplined levies and fortresses captured by popular enthusiasm.”
The Moderates now gave out that the whole movement had been secretly promoted by Cavour, with the king’s approval, and dispatched agents to Naples to prepare the way for annexing the kingdom to the Piedmontese throne.
Mazzini, meanwhile, was ceaselessly at work preparing the three expeditions which he successively fitted out, with the help of a committee of war formed in Genoa, intending them to carry help into the Papal States ; but owing to the obstacles placed in his way by the government, and the eagerness of the volunteers to join the popular hero, Mazzini was reluctantly compelled to dispatch upwards of twenty thousand men, and the arms, steamers, etc., thus collected, to Garibaldi. Then, recommencing his labors, he equipped and officered a body of eight thousand men to enter the Papal States, where the population was ready to support them by a rising. Garibaldi, whom the Neapolitans had proclaimed dictator, approved this plan, and, having exacted a promise that the republican banner should not be raised, the king and the most influential Moderates consented to it. Mazzini’s plan was that, as soon as victory should be had over the Pope’s general, the Romans should be left, as he would have had the Neapolitans left, to maintain their newly acquired freedom, while Garibaldi should join the victorious volunteers and push on to free Venice. The king agreed to everything, but two hours after sent an autograph letter, to be shown, not given, to the military leaders and authorities, forbidding the movement. As Mazzini publicly declared at the time, Victor Emmanuel’s policy was " always to endeavor to prevent any popular movement, but always to turn every popular victory to account for the enlargement of his own dominions.” Garibaldi still held in his hands the whole resources of the late kingdom of Naples. The cry of the betrayed populations and the appeals of all true patriots decided him to issue a proclamation announcing his immediate intention of marching upon Rome. This determined the government to act. “ If we are not in the Cattolica before Garibaldi, we are lost,” said Cavour to the French minister. “The revolution will invade central Italy. We are constrained to act.” Mazzini wrote to Garibaldi at the time, saying, “ If you are not on your way to Rome or Venice before three weeks are over, your initiative will be at an end.” He himself left Tuscany and hastened to Naples, but in vain. Garibaldi’s initiative was already practically at an end. Pallavicini, a distinguished monarchist, addressed a letter nominally to Mazzini, but intended as an appeal to the authorities to drive him out of Italy. In it he acquitted him of evil intentions, but called on him to prove his patriotism by withdrawing into voluntary exile, since he was so associated with republicanism that his mere presence was a source of anarchy. The decrees condemning Mazzini to death had never been revoked, and it was only in consequence of the overthrow of the King of Naples that he was able to show himself by daylight in that part of his native land. He answered Pallavicini by refusing to leave Naples. “ The greatest sacrifice it was possible for me to make I made, from love of unity and civil concord, when I declared that I accepted the monarchy out of reverence for the will of the majority of the Italian people (no matter how deluded). I will not voluntarily make any other. I have declared that if at any time I should feel myself bound in conscience to raise again our old banner, I would frankly declare my intention to friends and foes. If my enemies do not believe a man who for thirty years has sought only his country’s good — so be it with them.” Having thus answered, he calmly pursued his course. He saw “Death to Mazzini” written on the walls, and smiled. He felt no bitterness toward the people, knowing that the responsibility of their ignorant injustice did not lie with them. He repeated to the rulers that duties are in proportion to means, and that Naples, being strong and free, was bound to labor for the common freedom of Italy. Garibaldi, however, suddenly blighted the hopes of all enlightened patriots by presenting the Neapolitan provinces to Victor Emmanuel, and then retired to Caprera, lauded by all the monarchical press of Europe. Mazzini, too, departed, seeing that all hope was at an end for the time.
The instincts of the Italian people were true and noble, but they had been corrupted by long ages of servitude. The seventeen years’ propaganda of Young Italy had waked the splendid outburst of national feeling in 1848, but it was easier to rouse the instinct of unity and the sense of their right to Rome, Venice, and the Trentino than to inspire them with constancy to win their right for themselves. Yet so long as Mazzini lived the spirit of nationality and the instinct of unity could never wholly expire in their hearts ; and as time went on, and it gradually became clear that Victor Emmanuel had no real intention of undertaking the national duty, demonstrations and émeutes recommenced in all the chief towns of Italy. To avert a revolution, the servile Parliament voted Rome the capital of Italy, without taking steps, however, to make it such. Garibaldi, urged on every side by his old companions in arms, assembled volunteers in the Neapolitan provinces, for an expedition to Rome. Mazzini, knowing that the king would not allow Garibaldi to compromise him with Louis Napoleon by attempting anything against the Pope, wrote to Garibaldi, offering, as once before, that if he would initiate a Venetian insurrection he himself would take all the blame if it should fail. Venetia still belonging to Austria, the king would not dare to oppose a popular rising against the foreigner. Garibaldi persisted in the Roman scheme, and again Victor Emmanuel, after promising to shut his eyes till the work was done, sent troops to bar Garibaldi’s passage ; and when the latter advanced to parley with the king’s commander, he was fired upon, and then carried off a wounded prisoner to Varignano.
In November. 1863, Mazzini received a message from the king, begging to form a compact with him “in furtherance of our common object.” Mazzini replied that he would not bind himself by any compact. He reminded the king that more than a year before he had openly declared that he had resumed complete independence. He felt no confidence in any who followed the inspirations of the French emperor. “ I therefore renounce a compact which is useless. I remain free.” In 1864, the king entered into a convention with Louis Napoleon, in which a secret protocol provided for the cession of a large portion of Piedmont to France, as payment for the expenses of the French occupation of Rome, and guaranteed the rights which Austria had usurped over Venetia in 1815. The success of this intrigue would have been perfect but for Mazzini, who was aware of it and divulged its contents. A storm of indignation arose, and the minister who had signed the convention was obliged to deny the truth, giving Mazzini the lie, the monarchical press heaping abuse upon the patriot’s head. In 1865, the citizens of Messina elected Mazzini (over whom the death sentence was still hanging) as their representative in the Italian Parliament. He refused to swear fidelity to the monarchy. In 1866, the signs of a coming struggle between Austria and Prussia made it impossible for the king to resist the popular demand for war. Mazzini published some masterly letters, urging the assembling of volunteers, that the war might be a national one. The journals in which they were printed were sequestrated by the government, but the burst of enthusiasm they caused was shown in the offer to the minister of war of ninety-five thousand Volunteers. The minister exclaimed in terror, “This cannot be allowed to go on! This is a levée en masse.” The greater number were dismissed, but the state of public feeling was such that the king was compelled to declare war, June, 1866. The collapse of the Austrian army before Prussia might have inspired the king to defy France and carry on the war alone, but this would have called forth the popular element, which he feared far more than Austria. The success of Prussia having made it impossible for Napoleon to seize on the Rhenish provinces, he wished to put an end to the war ; accordingly the Italian general-in-chief and the high admiral obediently allowed themselves to be beaten at Custoza and Lissa. These defeats were so unaccountable that the cry of treachery was raised on all sides. Napoleon dared not seize upon the huge slice of Piedmont bargained for, but flung Venice — ceded by Austria, not to Italy, but to him — to the Italian people, “ like a bone to quiet a hungry dog.”An amnesty was granted to Mazzini, possibly in the hope of silencing the voice which told the people that Venice ought not to have been thus accepted as alms from the French emperor, nor their true frontier, the Trentino, abandoned. He refused to accept an offer of “ pardon and oblivion for having loved Italy above all earthly things.” The Italian government now accused him of a vast conspiracy of assassination and pillage, demanding that the Swiss government should order his expulsion from that country. In a public letter he wrote, “ Since you compel me to speak of myself, I say that I am and always shall be your irreconcilable enemy. . . . You have crucified the honor of my country, and done all that in you lay to cause the future assigned her by God to recede. . . . But neither the love I feel for Italy, nor the deep anger I feel toward all who corrupt or mislead her, has ever made me employ disloyal weapons against you, stoop to accusations which I did not believe, or deny you that liberty of experiment you invoked with hypocritical promises some years back. . . . I would not wear out the uncertain remnant of life left to me for a question merely political. I would leave it to time and your errors to do the work for us. But a question of honor cannot he left to time. . , . A people which, though able to do otherwise, resigns itself to foreign insult . . . abdicates its power and its future.”
In 1870 Mazzini went to Sicily. His support had frequently been asked for an insurrection intended to separate Sicily from the rest of Italy, and form of it a Sicilian republic; Mazzini had opposed this in the name of Italian unity. At last he was informed that with or without him the attempt would be made. He had no faith in the success of this scheme, but decided to go to Sicily to throw his influence into the scale of unity. Some of those near him at the time fancied that they detected in him the half-unconscious hope that he might die in the struggle.
The Judas who betrayed him was one who had often been denounced to him as a spy. Mazzini was arrested at sea, and conveyed in a ship of war to Gaeta, to be imprisoned in “ the most inaccessible tower of the stupendous fortress built upon that portion of the rock which stretches farthest into the sea.” The whole of the rocky peninsula bristled with cannon and was crowded with troops, while five iron-clad war steamers lay beneath the tower in which the prisoner was confined.
The insurrection of Palermo was also rendered impossible, the governor having been reinforced and put upon his guard. That danger over, the government was embarrassed with its prisoner, dreading that, should any mischief happen to him in his frail state of health, it would be attributed to design. The birth of a prince two months after gave the government the opportunity it wished for opening the gates of Gaeta.
After visiting his mother’s grave at Genoa, Mazzini returned to England for a few months, and thence went to Lugano to conduct a republican journal. On the eve of departure he wrote, “ The Italian question, which I believed might ere this have become a question of action and realization, is still a question of education.” After a year of literary labor, carried on in defiance of incessant illness and recurring attacks of intense physical pain, he set out for England, where he was anxious to spend a cherished anniversary. This induced him to cross the Alps at a season very dangerous for one in his state of health. He was seized with acute pleurisy, of which he died at Pisa on the 10th of March, 1872. His body was carried across the Apennines to Genoa, and eighty thousand of his countrymen followed it to the tomb.
In the following lines, written of Dante, Mazzini has unconsciously described himself, says his biographer, as no words but his own could have done: “ His was indeed a tragical life, — tragical from the real ills that constantly assailed him, from the lonely thought that ate into his soul, because there were none whom he could inspire with it. . . . He who bore within himself the soul of Italy was misunderstood by all ; but he did not yield ; he wrestled nobly with the external world, and ended by conquering it. . . . Endowed with an immense power of will and a patience beyond all proof, inflexible from conviction and calmly resolute, he was of those who recognize no law but conscience, and recur for aid to none but God. . . . The grand thought of a mutual responsibility, uniting in one bond the whole human race, was ever before his eyes; the consciousness of a link between this world and the next, between one period of life and the remainder. . . . Life was not dear enough to him for him to attach much importance to anything personal, but he loved justice, and hated wrong. . . . He concerned himself not about the length or the shortness of life, but about the end for which life is given. . . . He had gone through every stage of the growth of an idea, from the moment when it arises for the first time in the soul’s horizon down to that when it incarnates itself in the man, takes possession of all his faculties, and cries to him, ‘Thou art mine.’ . . . His was the dream of an Italy, the leader of humanity and angel of light among the nations.”
At a time when he thought himself dying, Mazzini wrote from his sick-bed a letter of reply to an address, full of reverence and honor, sent him by his Genoese fellow-citizens : “ God has offered you the grand mission of creating the Europe of the nationalities. Would that the memory of my name might perish, so might I dying hail you, my brothers, on the path toward its fulfillment.”
But Mazzini’s life was not spent in vain, and his name cannot perish; it must rather brighten as time goes on, and the mists of ignorance and misconception clear away.
Is to have been a hero.”
It gratifies me to find these lines, which have seemed to me so expressive of the truth of Mazzini’s life, were applied to him by the author herself at the moment of his death. George Eliot cites them in a letter to a friend, and adds, “I must be excused for quoting my own words, because they are my Credo. Such a man leaves behind him a wider good than the loss of his personal presence can take away. I know how deeply you will be feeling his death. I enter thoroughly into your sense of wealth in having known him.”
It, as Wordsworth tells us, we live by admiration, wisely fixed, it is surely good for us to know of men like Mazzini. His was the greatness " all whose strength was knit with constancy.” Thinking of his life of ceaseless effort and unwearied patience of hope, we share the feeling so finely expressed by Mr. Myers in the closing passage of his essay on the great Italian: “Is there not something within us which even exults at the thought that Mazzini’s years were passed in imprisonment and exile, in solitude and disappointment, in poverty and pain ? Are we not tempted to feel triumph in the contrast between such a man’s outer and his inward fortunes ? . . . We may be well content that he has missed the applause of the unworthy and all that is vulgarizing in a wide renown. Yet we are bound to use the memory of a good man’s life as he used the life itself, as an example to whom it may concern; and for this reason I may be pardoned this imperfect picture of one whom we would not willingly that base men should so much as praise.”
I have not left myself space for citation from Mazzini’s published essays on Democracy in Europe and The Duties of Man. They are in the informal style of addresses to the working classes, but though not systematic in shape, they are based on clearly conceived constructive principles. In his conception of freedom, progress, and the sovereignty of the people ; his idea of the nation as of divine origin, having a divine end in history, as a moral person, having duties as well as rights, Mazzini’s teaching corresponds essentially with that of our American thinker, the late Dr. Mulford, as put forth in his volume on The Nation.
Maria Louise Henry.
- It was during this first sojourn in England, in 1844, that English statesmen stooped to the infamy of violating Mazzini’s correspondence, the crime being concealed by falsification of seals, imitation of stamps, etc. This thing went on for months, but was finally detected and exposed in the House of Commons. Through the revelations made in Mazzini’s letters, the English ministers were aide to transmit to Austria such information as led to the capture and execution of the brothers Bandiera, who in that year attempted to rouse Naples against the Bourbon.↩