Recent Books on Italy

AMONG recent English works on the political development of Italy,1 the place of honor must undoubtedly be awarded to Mr. Bolton King’s History of Italian Unity. Mr. King has retold, with ample detail, the story, so familiar to the generation before our own, of the long and heroic struggle for Italian independence which ended in the seemingly complete triumph of 1870 ; and he has told it so forcibly, so clearly, and in the main so temperately, with so full a knowledge and so fine a sympathy, as to rekindle much of the enthusiasm with which the conflict was followed, while in progress, by all men of good will. The difficulties of a task like this are enormously increased by the very superabundance of material which lies ready to hand. He who undertakes to write recent history in these days has to develop a new faculty ; or rather, he must develop, to a hitherto undreamedof extent, a faculty always useful to the annalist. He has to deal with such a stupendous mass of printed matter bearing upon his subject that he needs, before everything else, a power of ruthless and unrepentant rejection. a The eagerness of the Italians,” observes Mr. King in his preface, “ to publish everything, however trivial, that bears on the Revolution, reaches almost to a literary mania ; ” and whoever has had occasion to dip, ever so lightly, into this ocean of patriotic literature must have been struck by the comparatively slight and ephemeral value of a great deal of it. Even the six monumental volumes of Cavour’s Correspondence, edited by the indefatigable Chiala in 1883, and supplemented by two more volumes in 1889 and 1895, though most interesting, always, for the light they shed on the reserved character and subtle mind of the great statesman himself, contain much irrelevant matter, and seem sometimes curiously to “ darken counsel ” concerning the story of Italian unification. The letters and ricordi of the lesser men are, naturally, even more diffuse and unsatisfactory. The memoirs of the d’ Azeglios, those of Urban Rattazzi by his wife, the polished monographs of Costa de Beauregard, and many more, not to mention Mazzini’s personal recollections and the artless and vehement Autobiography of Garibaldi, are all full of picturesque and affecting detail. But the serious inquirer has greatly needed, in the case both of these voluminous contemporary records and of the far more obscure and widely scattered annals of the earlier and later Carbonari, exactly such a lucid abstract as Mr. King has given us; and the bibliography of nearly a thousand volumes, appended to his history, shows the vast extent of the ground — he himself somewhere calls it the “ morass ” — which he has had to traverse.

Mr. King observes — and, we think, very justly — that it was Italy’s brief experience of something like decent government and uniform order, under the administration of the Code Napoléon, which first awoke in the peninsula “ a stronger national feeling than had flourished since the days of the Guelphs.” What he does not so clearly note is the striking fact that whenever, since the days of the Roman republic, there has been patriotism in Italy which deserved the name, — the patriotism which is a religion, and exacts an unreserved selfsurrender, — such patriotism has invariably been national, and not sectional. Guelph and Ghibelline, Black and White, petty state and petty state, have fought their small fights and taken their mean reprisals, and too often, to their lasting shame, have summoned the foreigner to arbitrate in their local disputes. But, none the less, the combatants upon either hand have always had, in their inspired moments, a higher vision. The image of the one integral and inviolate state has ascended clear above the mêlée of its warring members. The great revivalist leaders — Cola di Rienzi and Arnold of Brescia — dreamed and prayed and fought, in their transitory day, for the country, not the province. It was united Italy which was the object of Petrarch’s larger passion, — toward which he stretched out his arms from the top of Mount Ventoux, — not Rome where he was crowned, or Parma where he long resided, or Venice in whose territory he died. And how often, even in Dante, painfully mixed up as he was in the sectional strifes of his time, does the “ Deh Italia! ” 2 or some such impassioned adjuration, mark the rising within him of a tide of overmastering emotion for his entire fatherland ! “Now Jerusalem which is above is free.”

The secret society of the Carbonari, organized in the first instance to resist the paralyzing effects of the monarchical and orthodox reaction, was the legacy of Napoleon I. to that ancestral country with which, by race, tradition, family, maternal influence especially, and native temper of mind, he was more vitally identified than ever with France. Mr. King’s chapters on the Carbonari, and their various attempts at insurrection, are among the most interesting and valuable of his book. He notes the wide difference in character between the mystical tenets and ascetic rule of the society’s earlier members, who organized that rising of 1821 in which Carlo Alberto, the heir to the Piedmontese throne, was implicated, and the conspiracies hatched under its later auspices, after it had attracted to its lodges the impracticable dreamers and more or less criminal malcontents of all Europe, — Louis Napoleon Bonaparte among them. All these movements were promptly suppressed, as we know, often under circumstances of great barbarity. The best and bravest of two generations of Italians disappeared behind the gates of the Spielberg, or stood up, with a smile, to receive the bandage and the bullets of the military executioner. But the sacred fire was never suffered to go out. The work of the Carbonari, purged by the blood of martyrdom, was taken up and carried on by the Society of Young Italy, of which Giuseppe Mazzini was the head and soul. Mr. Bolton King is a man somewhat prone to erect idols. His book would be less fascinating than it is, were he of a colder disposition. But his hero in chief is Mazzini ; and his résumé of the character and career of the great radical agitator may be quoted as a good example of that balance of qualities which makes him a real master in the art of pen-and-ink portraiture: —

“ In old age he became, as many a conspirator tends to be, a mere mischiefmaker. Nor was he more successful in moulding his country to his ideal. The republic, the social reconstruction, have proved a dream. The former was probably neither possible nor desirable ; and, in time, Mazzini himself, save in moments of obstinate unreason, came to realize that Italy was too conservative, too monarchical, perhaps too stagnant, for his titanic schemes. None the less, he made Italy. His mistakes in action have been far outbalanced by his mighty and fruitful influence. . . . He stamped it [the nationalist movement] with his own moral fervor, and gave it the strength that could survive long waiting and disappointment, and struggle on to victory. He had the genius to see that men require unselfish motives to stir them to noble deeds; that they will never rise above themselves save for a great and good cause ; that it needs some sacred idea, which goes to the souls of men, to move them to action that means loss of love or home or life.”

It is true that Mr. King tells us elsewhere in his history that “ Garibaldi made Italy,” and even, alla fin’ fine, and almost grudgingly for so generous a soul, that “ Cavour made Italy.” But in the sense that each did a work without which that of the others would have been incomplete it is quite true ; and true not only of these most prominent leaders, but, in widely varying degrees, of many more : of Manzoni, who looked for the political regeneration of his country through the personal regeneration of her sons and daughters ; of Gioberti, the Jansenist priest of Turin, who invoked it under the leadership of a purified Church ; of Guerrazzi, the keen and cynical Leghorn lawyer, “ too full of hate of wrong to have room for love of good ; ” of Gino Capponi, the blind old Tuscan nobleman, who founded the Antologia as an organ of free thought, and welcomed both Mazzini and Leopardi among its earliest contributors ; of the elder Viesseux, who started, with a like educative purpose, the library in Florence, which everybody knows ; of Ridolfo Ricasoli, who made the desert blossom like the rose round the feudal towers of Brolio in the Sienese Maremma, and read the Bible like an old Scotch Covenanter to the peasants gathered in his hall ; and of Daniele Manin, the selfless and stainless Venetian, who seems, as Mr. King justly says, the very ideal of Wordsworth’s Happy Warrior ; nay, it is true even of those two royal soldiers, Carlo Alberto, who, after all, granted the statute which is the basis of Italian freedom, and who expiated the tergiversations and treacheries of his middle life on the gloomy field of Novara and the solitary deathbed at Oporto, and his son Victor Emmanuel, as phenomenally simple a nature as his father was distressingly complex, — the very type of the few in all times and places who “ do ” great deeds “ and know it not.” While always behind the theorists and reformers pressed the endless ranks of eager recruits, who asked no better fortune than to do and die in the common cause ; and still behind them waited and endured the unnamed millions of Italy’s humble and gentle creatures, — depressed even below the range of Austrian or papal bullets, — with their exquisite genius for suffering gayly, and the debonair piety of their perpetual watchword, “ Ci vuol pazienza per andare in Paradiso.”

From 1831 to 1845 the influence of Mazzini remained paramount among the more resolved revolutionists ; and his fond chimera of an Italian republic was the goal of all their dreams, and the object of many an ill-considered and illstarred rising. He was rightly held responsible, among many heart-breaking and seemingly futile tragedies, for the wild crusade of the young brothers Bandiera, — the Harmodius and Aristogeiton of Italian freedom, — and for the untimely sacrifice of those two brilliant lives. “ Young Italy ” died with them.

There was a moment in 1846, after Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti became Pope under the name of Pius IX., when it seemed as though the aspirations of that class of patriots who styled themselves the “ New Guelphs,” and who hoped for a federation of Italian states under the headship of the Holy Father, were about to be gloriously fulfilled. But the pontiff found his rôle of civic reformer untenable before he had fairly assumed it, and in his ninth chapter Mr. King writes of that great fiasco with uncommon picturesqueness and pith. To him, if the Pope be not, according to the simple creed of old - fashioned Protestantism, Antichrist in person, papal misrule was at all events the worst among the many forms of misrule with which Italy was afflicted in the earlier half of the century ; and the shadowy presence of the Pope in Rome, though shorn of the last shred of his temporal sovereignty, he still regards as a standing menace to the prosperity of the Italian state. It will readily be understood, therefore, that his portraits of Pio Nono and his reactionary premier, Cardinal Antonelli, are painted with no flattering brush, and he hardly hesitates to attribute to the Jesuits the assassination of the liberal minister, Pellegrino Rossi. But his discussion of the still smouldering Roman question is, upon the whole, a masterly one.

When, however, Mazzini had had his chance for three months as president of a Roman republic ; when Pius IX. had come back from Gaeta escorted by French troops, and sincerely repentant for his lapse into liberalism ; when the revolutions of 1849 in Venice and the south, and the feebler movement in Tuscany, had been effectually suppressed, and the romantic splendor of the Five Days of Milan had been quenched in the disaster of Novara, there came the calmer hour of the Constitutional Moderates and of Camillo Cavour. The Statuto, whose festival they still celebrate annually in Italy, and which is essentially identical with the present Italian constitution, had been wrung from Carlo Alberto in March of that year of glory and defeat. It gave representative government to Piedmont, along with a large share of intellectual and religious freedom ; and more and more, under the teaching of Cavour in the emancipated press, and on the floor of the Senate at Turin, it became clear to wise and temperate patriots all over Italy that in union with Piedmont lay their only reasonable hope of obtaining the same privileges. Decidedly, Cavour is not one of Mr. King’s heroes. The cast of his character and the temper of his mind are antipathetic to the English historian, who dislikes Cavour’s finesse, undervalues his diplomatic victories, and seriously questions the ultimate value to Italy of the French intervention which he secured in 1859. He barely notices Cavour’s great work as a journalist, though the collected articles which he contributed to the Risorgimento show how solid and invaluable that work was, and bear noble witness to both the keenness of his prophetic insight and the magnanimity of his personal views.

The death of Cavour in 1861 is, however, recognized by Mr. King for the “ staggering blow ” it really was to growing Italy, and there is something of the nature of a late and rueful amende in his final word concerning the one truly creative statesman of our century : —

“ Cavour went to the grave with his work half done. No fair criticism would charge to his account the backwash that came after him. . . . His were the consummate statesmanship, the unbending activity, the resourceful daring, that accomplished the seemingly impossible. . . . If he sometimes sacrificed to his political ends the bigger ends of truthfulness and honest dealing, he helped to create a national environment where shams throve less and a robuster virtue was possible. Despotism, whether in a state or village, is ever the most fruitful parent of dishonesty, and Cavour made truth and straightforwardness easier in Italy to all time. And nothing can obscure the tolerant, genial, humane spirit, which had no room for pride and pettiness, which hardly ever allowed personal rancor to guide it, which through all its devotion to Italy never lost sight of the larger welfare of humanity.”

That Italy was not paralyzed by this ghastly misfortune, but gathered herself up to carry on and complete the work of Cavour in the dull decade that followed his early departure, affords impressive proof of her essential soundness of heart and strength of purpose, and furnishes a hopeful augury even now for her heavily clouded future. Her greatest moral progress has hitherto been made (perhaps it is so with all moral progress), not in her “ crowded hour of glorious life,” but in the sad and uneventful intervals when the outside world has all but forgotten her ; and there is a very real sense in which she has actually fulfilled the forlorn boast of Carlo Alberto, “ Italia farà da se.” No foreign power has ever materially assisted Italy. Individual Englishmen, usually men of genius, have loved the land for its beauty and pitied it for its sorrows, and warmly, if fitfully, espoused its cause. But England, as a nation, has always failed Italy at a crisis.

Nor has France proved herself much more helpful. French blood has indeed flowed freely in and for Italy at the bidding of both Bonapartes, —as where has it not flowed freely at their bidding ? But the sixty thousand Italians who fell in the ranks of the first Napoleon’s armies may help to offset that score ; while the French occupation of Rome, which propped up for twenty years the corrupt government of the Papal States, and effectually barred Italian progress that way, was initiated — let it not be forgotten ! — by the second French republic under the sentimental presidency of Lamartine. Again and again, and only too gladly, would Louis Napoleon have withdrawn those troops, but for his weak dread of a fanatical wife, the unsteadiness of a throne which was shaky at the best of times, and the social prestige of his ultramontane subjects. It was the man Louis Napoleon who was swayed by his Italian sympathies, and who bowed to the appeal from the scaffold of Felice Orsini, the man who tried to murder him. Mrs. Browning was but a disheveled and moonstruck though devoted Muse of Italian freedom, and abounds in pages of foolishly exaggerated panegyric. But the instinct was right, after all, which led her to separate the sovereign from his people, and to call the strangest of all her rhapsodies Napoleon III. and Italy.

In a work only less important than Mr. King’s, — The Union of Italy, 18151895, written by our countryman, Mr. W. J. Stillman, for the Cambridge [England] Historical Series, and edited by Mr. Prothero, Fellow of King’s College in that university, — the ground is unhesitatingly taken that France has been, from first to last, the worst of Italy’s enemies, and French influence the most baneful which has been exercised there in recent times. But here it seems to me that Mr. Stillman goes too far. He is at all times a graphic and an interesting writer ; as titular correspondent for many years both of the Times and the Nation, he may be supposed to represent the best order of journalism ; and nothing comes from his pen which is not abundantly readable. His narrative of events during the period covered by his history — a period coming down almost twenty-five years later than Mr. King’s — is more condensed, of course, than the latter, but it is animated, and in the main trustworthy. Mr. Stillman has lived long in Italy, and has never any need laboriously to study the circumstances and scenery of events there. But he is essentially a partisan, — a man of partis pris. His parti pris, in the case of this and other late writings of his upon Italian themes, is Francesco Crispi, and the blessings to Italy of the Triple Alliance. Whatever glimmering hope Mr. Stillman can yet discern for Italy lies in the maintenance of the Dreibund. But he will hardly, without better proof than he has yet offered, persuade his readers that the nascent state was not forced by the exigencies of that compact into the raising of entirely disproportionate armaments, both naval and military, the cost of whose support has terribly aggravated the financial distresses of the last two decades. Mr. Stillman’s faith in United Italy is, however, but feeble at the best. He takes up in his preface a frankly pessimistic attitude, and closes his narrative of a contest maintained with rare tenacity through three generations with the disheartening and ominous quotation, “ Too easily and too quickly was Italy made.”

Happily, the more hopeful and, as I think, much more healthful view of Mr. Bolton King is shared to the full by a third writer, who has attempted less than the others, but has accomplished her comparatively restricted task in a more perfect style than either. The Countess Evelyn Martinengo-Cesaresco’s life of Cavour is so entirely excellent a piece of biography that one can hardly speak of it fairly without seeming fulsome. The author, an Englishwoman by birth, and inheriting the best kind of civic traditions, has also lived in Italy, if not so long as Mr. Stillman, to better purpose than he. She understands her Italians more thoroughly than he will ever do, by virtue of a finer penetration and a warmer and more intimate sympathy. If Mr. King’s faculty for happy selection out of a bewildering mass of material seems remarkable, the Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco’s is little less than miraculous. She often says in a few lines all that need ever be said to the general reader concerning matters which have called forth tomes of controversy. Take as an illustration her laconic summing up of the position of the King of Piedmont in 1848 : “ Charles Albert’s heart was with the growing cry for independence, but he wished for independence without liberty. This was the ‘ secret of the King ’ which has been sought for in all kinds of recondite suppositions; this was the key to his apparently vacillating and inconsistent character.”

Here we have the truth, and the whole essential truth, concerning that unfortunate monarch, the intricacies of whose mind and the waywardness of whose career have proved so endlessly inviting to the morbid psychologist.

The subject of this beautiful character sketch, widely disliked and perversely misunderstood, both in his own day and since he died, has now been limned once for all in a modest monograph, and lives there, as he trod the earth for too brief a period : wise and wary, adroit and yet candid, haughty and yet tender ; seemingly ruthless at times, but inexhaustibly humane ; reckless of self to the last degree, and sometimes of the means he used, but always magnanimous in the ends he pursued ; the greatest, surely, take him for all in all, among modern Italians, with not many greater among modern men. The commonwealth whose bases he gave his life to lay solidly, and which accepted his dedicatory sacrifice, is in a difficult pass to-day. No one denies it. United Italy, after so many searching and scathing tests, is yet on trial. But while she has sons who can see her faults as clearly and confess them as unflinchingly as Pasquale Villari lately has done in the Antologia, her case is assuredly not hopeless ; and I cannot do better than close this inadequate review with a few words of soberly cheering presage from the concluding pages of Mr. Bolton King and the Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco : —

“ [Italy] needs to keep clear of the temptations of a Great Power, to renounce charlatanry and adventure and militarism, to forswear showy ambitions that only drain her strength. But she has youth, she has calmness and docility and devotion, she has humane ideals, a comparatively generous foreign policy. If her political virtues are less than those of some other nations, she is free from some of their vices. She perhaps has neither the population nor the wealth to play a great part in the European polity. But she stands in it, on the whole, for a sane and liberal policy when sanity and liberalism are at a discount.”

“ Only those who do not know the past can turn away from the present with scorn or despair. In this century a nation has arisen, which, in spite of all its troubles, is alive with ambition, industry, movement ; which has ten thousand miles of railway ; which has conquered the malaria at Rome; which has doubled its population and halved its death rate ; which sends out great battleships from Venice and Spezzia, Castellamare and Taranto. This nation is Cavour’s memorial ; si monumentum requiris circumspice.”

Harriet Waters Preston.

  1. A History of Italian Unity. 1814-1871. By BOUTON KING, M. A. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1899.
  2. The Union of Italy. 1815-1895. By W. J. STILLMAN. Cambridge [England] Historical Series. New York : The Macmillan Company. 1899.
  3. Cavour. By the Countess EVELYN MARTINENGO-CESARESCO. Library of Foreign Statesmen. New York : The Macmillan Company. 1899.
  4. See notably the passage at the end of the VI. Purgatorio, after his soul has been shaken by witnessing the tearful meeting of the two Mantovani, Virgil and Sordello.