The Close of Garibaldi's Career

THE death of Count Cavour in 1861 was an injury to Garibaldi, though he little suspected it; and henceforth, while we remember that Garibaldi’s devotion to the national cause was never slackened, we must pronounce him to have hindered the consummation of Italian unity. He condemned the delays of international negotiators, and saw how easily the knot could be cut by one bold stroke. Victor Emmanuel’s ministers (he persuaded himself) were either puppets of Napoleon or cowards ; and since the result was the same, no matter what was the cause, Garibaldi determined to take the initiative upon himself. Had he realized that the establishment of order in the recently annexed provinces of the centre and south was of greater importance than the immediate liberation of Rome and Venice, had he learned from experience or history that an ecclesiastical system which required centuries to reach its height cannot be uprooted in a day, he would have spared himself much mortification and Italy much danger. But Garibaldi was not a reasoner; he kept to the last the delusion of very young men and very zealous dreamers, — that what you would like to have happen will happen, because you wish it.

In 1862, in Sicily, he enrolled another Thousand, whose war-cry was “ Rome or death.” They crossed to the mainland, fondly believing that the Italian government would allow them to pass unimpeded through the Neapolitan territory, gather volunteers, and attack Rome, which was then protected by a French garrison. Rattazzi, the Prime Minister, connived at first at the scheme, hoping to profit by it as Cavour had profited by the Sicilian expedition, two years before ; but he was soon convinced that the European Powers (and particularly France) would interfere, and so he changed his policy. General Pallavicino was instructed to prevent the march of the Garibaldians. At Aspromonte (August 29, 1862) the royal troops met the volunteers : a few shots were exchanged ; then Garibaldi and his followers laid down their arms and submitted to arrest. Garibaldi had been severely wounded in the foot. He was placed on a man-of-war and taken to Varignano, near Spezia, whence, after an easy confinement, attended by romantic women and devoted men from all parts of Europe, he was allowed to return to Caprera. Popular sympathy of course sided with him, — had he not set out on an enterprise whose success would have rejoiced every Italian ? — but the soberminded perceived that public order and constitutional government would come to an end, were every patriotic enthusiast to levy troops and make war whenever his zeal prompted.

In 1864, Garibaldi visited England, ostensibly for the purpose of consulting English surgeons about his wounded foot; but many persons not unnaturally suspected a deeper motive. The Duke of Sutherland was his host; the aristocracy and the working-classes rivaled each other in idolizing him. No hero since Wellington had been so splendidly entertained. Very different was this from his treatment in England ten years betore, when he was only a poor, exiled sea-captain! He had planned a triumphal progress through the provinces and Scotland, when the announcement was suddenly made that he had been advised by his physicians to forego further excitement and return to Caprera. The cause of this hasty change was much disputed at the time, and it cannot even now be positively unraveled.1 Garibaldi went home, and for the next two years remained outwardly inactive, though in his mind he was revolving many schemes.

In 1866, that war was fought which raised Prussia to the leadership of the Teutonic states, and, as events soon proved, to the arbitership of Europe. Having joined together in a robber’s raid upon Denmark, Prussia and Austria fell out, as thieves will, over the division of the plunder, and Bismarck used the quarrel as a pretext for bringing to an issue his long-meditated plan of destroying the supremacy of Austria. Italy formed an alliance with Prussia, and while the Prussian armies, under Roon and Moltke, were marching towards Vienna, the Italian armies prepared to drive the Austrians out of Venetia. Garibaldi again took command of the Hunters of the Alps, and pushed operations into the Tyrol. But whereas the Prussians won a decisive victory at Sadowa (July 3), the Italians had been defeated by Archduke Charles at Custozza (June 24), owing to a defect in the plan of the campaign, by which their divisions were carelessly separated instead of being united against the Austrians, whom they outnumbered three to one. Austria, nevertheless, being threatened in her capital, agreed to a peace. She ceded Venetia to Napoleon, who handed it over to Italy. The purpose of the war was thus attained, but it could not have been attained in a manner more humiliating to the Italians, who had expected to win the coveted province by their own prowess, and were chagrined that it had been won by their allies.

The states of Italy were now free and united, except Rome and the papal territory ; but without Rome the nation would be incomplete. Tradition, history, location, and political interests all required that Rome should be the capital of Italy. But Rome was in the control of the Pope, the most insidious of enemies, whose influence as head of the most numerous sect in Christendom was exerted to tighten His grip on temporal power, against the wishes of nine tenths of the Italians. The tremendous paradox of the professed “ Vicar of Christ” being a worldly sovereign at all, of his dwelling in the most magnificent palace on earth, of his being surrounded by courtiers and condescending to the tricks and intrigues of diplomacy, need not be pointed out. It is one of the most significant facts in history.

All Italians, and the Romans most of all, yearned to be released from the Pope’s sway. But how could this be done ? In these later times, as we have seen, Napoleon had played the double rôle of ally of Italian independence in the north, and of protector of the temporal sovereignty of the Pope at Rome. On September 15, 1864, he had signed a convention with Victor Emmanuel, by which he agreed, after two years, to withdraw the French garrison from the Holy City, provided the Italian king pledged himself to respect the integrity of the Papal States. So far as we can judge, this was Napoleon’s disingenuous method of retaining the good-will of both parties. He seems to have intimated to Victor Emmanuel that, should a favorable moment occur for quietly occupying Rome, the French government would limit itself to making a formal protest for the sake of appearances; for of course Napoleon would not have Europe suppose that he abandoned his ostentatious protection of the Pope through weakness.2 This uncandid performance pleased nobody. The Pope complained that this desertion would ruin him. The Radical Italians were incensed that their king should hamper his future action by any pledges, however vague. The king and his ministers could not, of course, divulge their reasons for signing the convention. “Italy is now a nation of twenty-four million inhabitants,” clamored the impetuous: “ she is strong enough to do as she sees fit. It is ignominious that she should still submit to dictation from Paris.” Internal discontent seethed and sputtered, and when, in 1865, the Italian capital was removed from Turin to Florence, there were not lacking agitators to whisper that this was the preliminary step to the cession of Piedmont to France. The war of 1866 temporarily diverted attention to the conquest of Venice ; that accomplished, the acquisition of Rome became the sole object of plots and deliberation.

In due time the French troops were recalled from the Holy City. The Pope, had he been left to himself, would very soon have been unable to control his subjects. There would have been a revolution which he could not have put down; there would have been a plebiscite, declaring the wish of an overwhelming majority of Romans to be united to Italy; European diplomates, bowing at last to the inevitable, would have consented to the peaceable entry of the Italians into Rome, and then the weary Italian question would have been set at rest. But the “ party of action ” was too impatient to wait a year, or longer, for this probable solution. In the summer of 1867, Garibaldi attended a convention of the League of Peace and Liberty, in Switzerland, and there determined to organize a crusade against the Pope. He was allowed for a while to conduct his agitation openly, for Rattazzi, the Prime Minister, again deluded himself with the hope that he could ape Cavour’s policy successfully. Unfortunately, Rattazzi was not Cavour : it makes a world-wide difference whether the lion put on the ass’s skin, or the ass put on the lion’s. Rattazzi’s trick was easily fathomed. Louis Napoleon, who for fifteen years had flattered himself, and tried to persuade the world, that he was a latter-day, waxed-mustached Jove, without whose nod the affairs of mortals could not go on, had already made so many un-Olympian blunders that many of his easily gulled subjects had begun to whisper to each other, “ This is no Jove, after all, but a vulgar interloper.” He had meddled in Mexico, and Europe was laughing at his failure, — laughing at him, and commiserating his poor dupe, just shot at Queretaro. He had suddenly awaked to the fact that a mighty enemy had come into power across the Rhine; and when he hurled his thunders, that enemy, instead of quailing, defied him in veritable Jove fashion. Napoleon, therefore, could not risk fresh ridicule; and Europe would surely mock should he, who had always boasted that he would protect the Pope, stand by impassively whilst agitators accomplished what he had so long forbidden. There was, besides, a deeper reason : already he felt the need of leaguing himself with the Jesuits, a certain indication of his declining strength and a presage of his fall.

The cabinet at Florence was instructed, accordingly, that the agitation must cease. M. Rouher, the mentor of French imperialism, bluntly declared, ‘‘The Italians shall never go to Rome, never ! ” Rattazzi perforce resigned. Garibaldi was arrested, and conducted under guard to Caprera, and a squadron of Italian cruisers patrolled the island to prevent his escape. French regiments were dispatched from Toulon to reoccupy Rome. But the agitators would not desist. Volunteers assembled on the papal frontier, and lo ! one day late in October, Garibaldi, in red shirt and slouch hat, appeared to take command of them. He had slipped by the men-of-war in a little skiff at night, crossed to Maddalena, and passed thence to Sardinia and Tuscany, before the government could hinder him. The campaign was brief. The Garibaldians captured Monte Rotondo, and advanced to within a short distance of Rome. But at Mentana (November 3) they were routed by the French troops who had come to the assistance of the polyglot regiments of the papal army.3 “ The chassepots have done wonders,” telegraphed General Failly to Napoleon, as if the purpose of the skirmish had been no more than to test the new French arms, and as if Italians existed merely to furnish a living target for them. “ Late events have drowned every remembrance of gratitude in the heart of Italy,” wrote Victor Emmanuel to the Emperor. “ Alliance with France is no longer in the hands of the government : the chassepot gun at Mentana has mortally wounded it.” After their defeat, the Garibaldians had fled in disorder behind the lines of the regular Italian army, which had crossed the frontier in the hope of warding off an encounter. Garibaldi was confined at Varignano; but when the excitement had sufficiently subsided, he was permitted to return to Caprera. This, his last adventure in the cause of Italy, was a humiliating failure, leaving the situation more difficult than it had been before. It restored the French garrison to Rome, and so seriously embarrassed the king’s government in internal affairs that a general outbreak was hardly averted. Had Garibaldi reflected, he must have regretted the injury which his rashness had done to the cause dearest to him. He must also have realized how much of his earlier success had been due to Cavour, the man he had distrusted and abused.

Once again, however, in spite of years and rheumatism, he girded on his sword. As soon as the news reached Caprera that the Napoleonic Empire had ignobly (but how appropriately!) collapsed at Sedan (September 4, 1870), Garibaldi telegraphed, to the French provisional government that he would be glad to serve the new Republic. Nearly a month elapsed before his offer was accepted. Then he hastened to Marseilles, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the populace, which fancied that the magic of his name would suffice to check the advance of the Germans. At Tours, he conferred with the Committee of National Defense. It was decided that he should organize a corps, enlisting as many Italians as possible from the southeastern departments, and defend the country around Dôle. The Army of the Vosges, as this corps was called, served well, but it could not cope with the superior Prussian forces under Werder and Manteuffel. There were gallant combats at Dijon, Paques, and Autun, but when Paris capitulated (January 28, 1871) resistance ceased in the rest of France. Garibaldi was elected deputy to the National Assembly, convened at Bordeaux, but, being refused a hearing on a question he wished to present, he resigned his office, and retired to his home.

The Franco-Prussian war marked the close of a period dating from Waterloo, in which the powers of reaction struggled desperately to repress those two dominant modern ideas, the principle of constitutional government and the principle of nationality. Metternichism and Napoleonism, based on shams and trickery, were the embodiments of this reaction. Napoleon, indeed, talked bravely of the rights of nationalities, but in practice he was as persistent as Metternich in opposing them whenever they seemed to menace his personal ascendency. If he helped them incidentally, it was because he hoped to profit thereby. By encouraging the Italians he transferred the balance of power from Austria to France ; but this proved a delusive victory, because out of it grew the independence of Italy and the independence of Germany, with whose existence the supremacy of Napoleon was incompatible. As I read the history of the Second Empire, it is a record of failures, each temporarily hidden by skillful bravado. Louis Napoleon resembles those adventurers in finance who make a dazzling show upon borrowed millions, and when suddenly they become bankrupt disclose the fact that they never had any capital except their brass, and kept their accounts on their shirt-cuffs. He gambled on a great name, and had no assets when his creditors demanded more than a name in payment. He was beaten in France, where a revolution was nearly ripe at the moment when he declared war against Prussia. He was virtually beaten in the Crimea, whatever artifices may have been resorted to in order to make the Crimean war appear a splendid success. He was beaten in Mexico. He was beaten by Cavour. He was beaten by Bismarck. The fall of Napoleon secured national unity for Germany; she has still to develop a really constitutional government. For Italy it secured both. On September 20, 1870, Victor Emmanuel entered Rome, after a petty resistance by the Pope’s foreign mercenaries. The dream of Garibaldi’s youth had come to pass. Rome was the capital of an emancipated and united Italy.

Garibaldi took his seat in the national Parliament, but he had neither the training nor the temperament of a legislator. With one beneficent measure, indeed, his name is associated. He proposed to reclaim and colonize the Pontine marshes, a scheme which could not he undertaken from lack of funds. Now that the nation was established, he urged his republican doctrines more persistently than ever. He criticised the monarchy, and denounced what he regarded as its unwarranted wastefulness. He encouraged the plots of the Irredentists, those hot-brained extremists who will not be satisfied until Trieste. Trent, the Canton of Ticino. Savoy, and Nice are restored to Italy. He joined in the clamor that the government should furnish a million guns for the accomplishing of this “redemption.” He eulogized Hödel, Nobiling, Passanante, Hartmann, and other assassins who aimed at the lives of Emperor William and King Humbert. He decried the guarantees which the Italian government had given to allow the Pope, unmolested, to occupy the Vatican, and freely to exercise his spiritual functions. Political wisdom, we perceive, shed but little light on these later counsels of Garibaldi. Yet his popularity did not wane. His countrymen treated him as a privileged person, whose senile extravagances were not to be taken seriously. They loved his intentions ; they were grateful for the achievements of his prime. Wherever he went, immense enthusiasm greeted him; and when, on June 2, 1882, he fell asleep peacefully at his home in Caprera, all Italy put on mourning, and the world grieved at the departure of a hero.

Garibaldi’s character is so evident that it needs no searching analysis. He was a man of action, guided by but few principles, which sprang from his emotions rather than from his reason. His instinct decided for him whether a line of conduct was good or bad, and, the decision once made, arguments could rarely move him or obstacles deter. Hence the single-minded zeal with which he plunged into every enterprise; hence, also, his inability to measure the value of any policy but his own, and his distrust, often intensified into unreasoning prejudice, of those who differed from him as to the means to the common end. He seemed not always candid in his relations with the monarchy, but the cause was not so much intentional insincerity as the starting up of a new impulse which led Him in another direction, and which he did not deem it necessary to explain. Neither did he willfully misrepresent facts ; he simply reiterated his statements, even when they had been disproved by incontestable evidence, because his opinion had not changed, and the fact ought to have been what he believed it was. His kindly, frank nature often made him the dupe of less honest men. “ He is,” wrote Massimo d’Azeglio, in 1864, “ one of the choicest natures created by the Almighty ; a lover of his country, enterprising, humane, generous, averse from cupidity. But, after all, no deserts, no extent of service, entitle the citizen to set himself above the laws of his country, to create an imperium in imperio, to treat with his sovereign as an equal, and to assume the decision of peace and war. By instinct shy and mild, he has been thrust forward by rogues for their own purposes, and they have intoxicated him with flattery which would have turned the brain of the hardest head, much more his.” The wonder is that he was not beguiled into irreparable excesses. He was saved partly by a thread of common sense strangely interwoven in his emotional tissue, and partly by a self-respect akin to vanity, which made him suspicious of being used as a tool. Although modest, and unwilling to accept material rewards for himself, he was fully conscious of the heroic part he was playing, and he took no pains to dissemble the childlike delight which he felt at demonstrations of his popularity. He possessed, to an almost unrivaled degree, that indefinable quality called magnetism, which attracts the devotion of multitudes, and binds them by ties stronger than those of blood or interest to the person of their hero. Rarely, indeed, has there been a man more worthy of such devotion than Garibaldi. Simple in his life, fearless in his courage, disinterested in his deeds, immutable in his patriotism, the people knew that he was wholly consecrated to them.

His religious belief was vaguely theistic. He was not one to speculate on theological problems, or to formulate a creed. He early rejected revelation, and was inclined to treat the forms of worship in existing churches as superstitious. It was sufficient for him that his instinct distinguished between good and evil, and that he was conscious of striving after the good. Why should anybody need more than this ? seems to have been a question he often asked himself. Nevertheless an afterglow of religions sentiment glimmered at times within him. “ Oh, although certainly not superstitious,” he exclaims, “ not infrequently, in the most perilous moments of my turbulent existence, as I issued unharmed from the billows of the ocean, from the hail of the battle-field, there came to me the vision of my loving mother on her knees, and, bowing before the Infinite, imploring for the life of her son. And I, although believing little in the efficacy of prayer, was touched thereat, happy and less unfortunate.” He had a vein of mysticism, which he could not define, but which was as real to him as any of his emotions. Especially was he impressed by the mystery of sympathy, by the meeting of friends whose paths seem to be brought together through the immediate intervention of destiny. Thus, when he was walkingone day in Rio Janeiro, he fell in, casually, with Rossetti. “ Our eyes met,” he says, “ and it seemed not for the first time, as it really was. We smiled reciprocally, and were brothers for life, inseparable for life. May this not be one of the many emanations of that infinite intelligence which can probably animate space, and worlds, and the insects which flutter on their surfaces ? Why should I deprive myself of the gentle delight which blesses me, as I think of communion with my mother’s affections, returned to the infinite source whence they sprang, and of that of my beloved Rossetti ? ” And in another place the memory of a battle and of the vast untamed nature of South America begets a similar strain. “ There is something,” he muses, " beyond the intelligence in our being, which we cannot discern, which we cannot explain, but which exists ; and its effects, although confused, are a prophecy, be the word understood how you will, — a prophecy which brings you contentment or bitterness. Perhaps that infinitesimal spark, emanating from the Infinite, and which has its abode in our miserable husk, — but immortal as the Infinite, — foresees beyond the contact of our senses and beyond the reach of our vision.”

In constructive politics, as we have seen, Garibaldi was unpractical. He had the dreamer’s inability to comprehend that human societies cannot be lifted from a lower to a higher condition by a mere manifesto or patriotic resolution. It is not enough to say to an evil system, Thou art bad. Begone ! You must replace it by a better through the slow process of education. But Garibaldi was as impatient at the gradual methods by which alone the morals of a nation can be regenerated as at the devices and circumlocutions of diplomacy. The intensity of his opinions made him intractable. He could not serve; he must command. This explains what he could not explain to himself: that is, he says, “ the unfavorable reception given me by those men who may justly be called the lights of the modern period of our national resurrection, of which they deserved well; as, for example, Mazzini, Manin, Guerrazzi, and some of their friends. The same fate befell me in France, in 1870 and 1871. And yet in France, as in Italy, I have enjoyed, among the populace, an enthusiastic sympathy certainly much above my deserts.” He maintained that the ignorance and debasement of the peasantry, and the corruption of a large part of the upper classes, were due to the pernicious influence of priestcraft. His remedy was to shut up all churches and convents, and either to exile the priests in a body to Siberia, or to set them to work, like galley-slaves, to reclaim the Pontine marshes. Take away the instigators of corruption, and society would immediately become virtuous. A fine theory, but only a theory.

It was as a popular soldier that Garibaldi won his fame, and as such he has had no equal. The forces he captained were insignificant in numbers compared with the great armaments of modern times. His tactics were those of the Rio Grande guerrillas ; nevertheless his success was astonishing, because he was peculiarly adapted to lead a revolutionary uprising like the Italian. From the minuteness with which he describes the plans of his campaigns and the disposition of his troops in each battle, and from the copiousness of the military precepts which he sprinkles over his memoirs, it is evident that he deemed himself a master of the art of war ; but the captains of the future will not turn to him for instruction in tactics or strategy. His strength lay in his personal valor, and in the unbounded confidence and devotion which he inspired in his comrades ; and these are qualities without which excellence of discipline, or numbers, or technical skill can win victories. His favorite dream, that the Italians could emancipate themselves without foreign assistance, by rising en masse and arming themselves with a million muskets, was impracticable for two reasons, which he ought to have understood: first, the peasantry (as he states many times) were too subservient to the priests to be easily aroused;4 and, second, a multitude of raw volunteers could not have overthrown the trained armies of Austria. The god of battles decides for justice and patriotism, provided they marshal the best regiments. When we have stripped from Garibaldi his eccentricities and flaws, transient in their nature; when we look into the heart of the man and contemplate his achievements, we behold a hero of the Homeric brood. We are again in the presence of a man of a few simple but elemental qualities, brave, disinterested, and outspoken, whose habit it was to exhibit his passions without that reserve which belongs to our later, sophisticated age. Like Achilles, he did not disguise his feelings ; he wept when he was moved, sulked when he was angry. He was inspired by two ideals, and those two the noblest, — love of liberty and love of his fellow-men; ideals which he might not cherish in secret, but which he must proclaim before a hostile world ; ideals for which he endured poverty, exile, fatigues, and the perils of battle. He believed that in every man there dwells a consciousness of right which needs only to be quickened in order to produce righteous acts. His career, which typifies in the large that of thousands of his contemporaries, confounds those materialists who assert that the age of emotions, of high-souled unselfishness, of romance, of true tragedy, has been left behind, and that we have entered the Sahara of egotism and commonplace. In the history of modern Europe, which is the history of the reconstruction of society upon the principles of nationality, political equality, and commercial equity, feudalism having crumbled into ruins, there is no nobler chapter than that in which the unification of Italy is told. Garibaldi was the popular hero of that episode. The race whose heart beat true in Garibaldi, arid whose head thought wisely in Cavour, if its character weakens not, will contribute generously to the civilization of the future.

William R. Thayer.

  1. An interesting account of this trip, and of the intrigues which cut it short, will be found in a volume called Politica Segreta Italiana, 1863-1870, chapter iii.
  2. M. Drouyn de Lhuys, Napoleon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said to the Italian ambassador at Paris, when negotiations in this matter were opened: “Naturally, the result of all this will be that you will end by going to Rome; but it is important that between this fact and that of our evacuation there pass such an interval of time and such a series of events as to prevent any one from establishing a connection between them, and that France may not be held responsible.” (Massari, Vita di Vittorio Emanuele, page 415.)
  3. The Pope had to depend upon Poles, Irishmen, Austrians, and Frenchmen, who volunteered in his service, to fight for him against his own countrymen.
  4. Not one peasant, he says, volunteered among the Thousand.