The Life of Benito Mussolini

by Margherita Sarfatti, with an introduction by Signor Mussolini. Translated by Frederick Whyte. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1925. 8vo. viii+339 pp. Illustrated. $5.00.
THIS book resembles the campaign biographies of distinguished presidential candidates that shed a subdued and transient glow from the obscurer nooks of American literature, except that its hero is a far more picturesque and dramatic character than usually stalks across our own political stage, and that it is written con amore with the spontaneity and fervor of the Latin and the feminine temperament combined. Furthermore the writer, sometimes we imagine unconsciously, gives us glimpses into the prejudices and prepossessions developed by Mussolini’s rude conflict with the world that have determined his policies in several of Italy’s recent crises.
The story she tells of how a turbulent and unruly blacksmith’s son, whose Socialist father combined the Italian equivalent of a barroom with his forge, and whose mother taught a country school over the establishment and probably bequeathed to her boy his intellectual bent, fought his way as a hod-carrier, errand-runner, and stonemason through his Swiss and German Wanderjahre—picking up languages, attending university courses, writing for Socialist and revolutionary sheets, having romances with Russian Studentinen, fighting a duel with a fellow countryman for the favor of a pretty lodginghouse mistress, ‘rough-housing’ a placid Swiss restaurant in a dispute over a dinner bill, becoming familiar with the inside of several common jails, until, having been deported from one canton to another, he was at length exiled from all Switzerland—seems hardly to record a promising training for the future disciplinarian of a nation. But out of this toil and turmoil emerged a man callous to hard knocks, familiar with the hardships and the feelings of the humble, and yet conversant with the greatest literature of Europe and with the pioneers of human thought — of whom two, Nietzsche and Machiavelli, exercised a lasting influence over him.
This life of movement and colorful experience abroad alternated with periods of equally troubled residence in Italy, where Mussolini taught school, edited Socialist newspapers, served a term or so in prison for political offenses, and gradually rose to prominence as a party speaker and writer until he became editor of Avanti. Later he broke with his former comrades upon the issue of joining the Allies during the war, served as a private and noncommissioned officer at the front, and founded the newspaper through which he sowed the seeds of Fascism, from whose editorial office he went to Rome to assume the premiership. One interlude in this career, his service in 1908 as editor of a Socialist newspaper in the Tyrol, where he was imprisoned and deported handcuffed by the Austrian authorities, may explain his recent temperamental deliverances upon the issues there.
The earlier chapters of the book, dealing with Mussolini’s life before lie became an international figure, are the most interesting and the least tinged with Fascist apologetics. A short preface by il Duce himself is an interesting and pleasing document of character. It is informing to know that ‘Mussolini has not ceased to be a journalist.’ Does this explain the sensational character of some of his public pronouncements? A controversialist might drive through some of the later chapters with a coach and four without encountering serious impediments; but sono ben trovati, and he is a hold man who would presume to pass final judgment upon the contemporary phase of Italy’s history.