Monday, 4 August 2014


 Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini, Vol I.

Autobiographical and Political,  London; Smith, Elder, and Co.

THE time has not yet come for the formation of a just judgment upon the character of Mazzini. He has not yet fully emerged from the storm clouds in which his spirit has been matured. Like all men who have taken a leading part national revolutions, he has for years been subject of violent opinions directly contradictory one of another. By some he is regarded as a dangerous conspirator against legitimate authority, a leader of assassins, a cold-hearted homicide, in whose eyes human life is of no value compared with the realisation of a favourite scheme. By others he is held in fervent esteem little short of worship, as a man of antique virtue, who has devoted his life, his affections, his property, and his very reputation to the noblest cause that can inspire the human breast. They look upon his whole life as a consistent and heroic protest against the worst forms of tyranny, and as an effort unparalleled in constancy under the bitterest trials to vindicate human freedom. Which of these is the true sentence? Which of them will be accepted by posterity? It is not for us to decide a matter which still occupies the minds of men inflamed by the passing interests of the day and the passions which they generate, but there are certain facts connected with this conflict of opinions which cannot be omitted in any judicial view which may be taken of it hereafter. The most furious opponents of Mazzini are evidently those who know nothing of him personally, but are content to take their views of him from second hand sources, whilst his most ardent admirers are those who have known him intimately and long. This is a most important fact, and should have its weight in the formation of a final judgment The character and position of his friends and of his enemies should also to be taken into consideration, for it may depend much upon this whether their opinions are impartial or not. Now it must be admitted that Mazzini's enemies in every land, not excepting our own, are also the foes of freedom and progress, persons who have everything to fear from the final success of efforts to emancipate mankind ; but his friends are men of all ranks and conditions in life, many of them distinguished for philanthropy and high principle, men who have nothing to gain by his success, and nothing of a material kind to lose by his failure. From these circumstances, we think it impossible for any candid and judicious mind to concur in the base representations of Mazzini which have been made current by his avowed enemies. To agree with his most ardent friends may not be altogether so easy as to reject the calumnies of his opponents. There are many things said of him which arrest even a favourably disposed mind when concurring in the highest estimate of his character. To set these matters right, not so much by special explanation and the refutation of particular calumnies as by an authentic record of his whole life, is the object of this publication. The author has these grave and noble words in his preface :—

The rare joys and many sorrows of my private life are of no moment says to the few whom I love and who love me with deep individual affection. What public life I have had is all summed up and contained in my writings, and how far those writings may have influenced present events is a question to be judged by the public not by me.

. . . . .
Whatever value my writings may have will be the value of a historical document, and hence the relation of any circumstance that tends to confirm their truth, and prove their intimate connection with the true tendencies of Italy, may—sooner or later—be of use.

These are not the words of an assassin, nor of a thoughtless trifler with human life ; they become much better the character of a man of grand ideas and enthusiastic patriotism. Nor will this idea of him be altered by the contents, of the present volume. It places before us the figure of a man in whom the love of country has swallowed up all the minor passions and emotions of the heart. He lives, and feels, and acts for Italy, yet with the conviction that the assertion of human rights in Italy would be the kindling of a beacon for mankind, and the lifting up for an example which oppressed humanity could look upon as capable of imitation. The state of Italy in Mazzini's early days was such as to stir the heart of every thoughtful Italian with indignation and shame ; trampled upon in every direction by the abhorred strangers ; abused, insulted, denied the most elementary rights by the puppet princes who ruled them according to the will of aliens ; the glorious traditions of their country despised, ridiculed, made, in short, a conspicuous standard to measure their mournful decadence. We cannot wonder if, under such circumstances, there were many minds amongst a naturally quick and ingenious people in which the long tyranny, instead of utterly prostrating the energies, had by its very pressure kindled aspirations for freedom. The Carbonari had, for many years before Mazzini's time, been agitating the question of national freedom in secret ; but, like all secret societies, there was much more power and influence attributed to them than they actually possessed. Their very existence, however, was enough to throw the cruel spirit of Austrian rule into ecstasies of terror, which relieved itself by such cruelties as Silvio Pellico has for ever associated with the name of Austria. The severity of Austrian persecution, and the inaptitude of the system itself in relation to the circumstances of the country, caused Carbonarism to degenerate into a mere secret club, in which the original principle of union was forgotten in the elaborate ceremonies of initiation. Mazzini very soon became convinced that Italy had nothing to hope from this groping in the dark, and turned his attention to the press, the great instructor, and to the rising generation of Italians, whose minds, as yet unsubdued by the frightful oppression under which their fathers groaned, might be imbued with practical ideas of their own rights, and of their ability to vindicate them. This was the process by which the idea of Italian unity was to be disseminated in public, and the minds of men prepared for the practical measures which were to make the idea a fact. The practical measures were secret by the very necessity of the case; the dynastic and priestly interests opposed to Italian independence were utterly inexorable to the cry of patriotism ; even its faint irrepressible sighs were suppressed in blood and ruin. Nothing remained therefore but war, internecine war, between the two principles. If republicanism, union, and independence, which formed the programme of Young Italy, could grow to maturity, dynastic pretensions must necessarily perish, and cease to divide Italy between a number of petty rulers ; and since the dukes and princes were possessed of the power of the country there remained only to Young Italy the one resource of recruiting its strength and gathering up its forces in secret until it was prepared to declare its hostility openly. The first number of the manifesto of Young Italy contained a declaration of the political faith of the party of which Mazzini was the head :—

Now, in this nineteenth century, Italy does know that unity of enterprise is a condition without which there is no salvation; that all true revolution is a declaration of war unto death between two principles ; that the fate of Italy must be decided upon the plains of Lombardy, and that peace may only be signed beyond the Alps.

Italy does know that there is no true war without the masses; that the secret of raising the masses lies in the hands of those who show themselves ready to fight and conquer at their head ; that new circumstances call for new men—men untrammelled by old habits and system with souls virgin of interest or greed, and in whom the Idea is incarnate ; that the secret of power is faith ; that true virtue is sacrifice, and true policy to be and to prove one's self strong.

Young Italy knows these things. It feels the greatness of its mission, and will fulfil it. We swear it by the thousands of victims that have fallen during the last ten years to prove that persecutions do not crush, but fortify conviction; we swear it by the human soul that aspires to progress ; by the youthful combatants of Rimini ; by the blood of the martyrs of Modena.

There is a whole religion in that blood ; no power can exterminate the seed of liberty when it has germinated in the blood of brave men. Our religion of to-day is still that of martyrdom ; to-morrow it will be the religion of victory.

This was issued in 1831, and the clearness with which it predicts the direction in which the moral forces of the country were operating and the conclusions to which they were tending cannot fail to impress the reader with a high estimate of Mazzini's political sagacity. He has never in all these intervening years swerved from the doctrines then laid down. Through evil report and through good report, an impoverished exile, pursued even in his distant refuge by the deadly hate of kings and emperors, a triumvir with supreme power, in long sorrows and brief joys, he has clung to his belief, unshaken, unseduced, unterrified. An enthusiast he may be, but this is not a reproach if the enthusiasm be not wrongly directed. No great public object was ever yet accomplished without enthusiasm, without that passionate fire that burns like the glow of steel—not the momentary flame that shoots up for an instant and then becomes extinct. Whether Mazzini's enthusiasm has been rightly or wrongly directed, there is something admirable in the spectacle of such immutable loyalty to a great principle in these ages of expediency. The maxims of political organisation issued by Young Italy in its earliest days are as far removed as is conceivable from the Machiavellian rules practised for centuries by the petty rulers of Italy, for the sole object of keeping down the masses and securing the power of their own families. Mazzini, like Jeremy Bentham, teaches men how to manage themselves, so that the greatest amount of happiness may be secured, for the greatest number. The following might have been written by our own legal sage :

" The nation is the sole sovereign,

" All power not issuing from the nation is usurped.

"Every individual who oversteps the powers with which he has been invested by the nation is an unfaithful servant. The nation alone possesses the inviolable right of choosing her own institutions, and of improving or altering them when no longer in accordance with her wants, and with the progress of the social intellect. 

"But as the whole nation cannot meet in assembly to discuss and decree its institutions, it sets by means of delegation ; elects a certain number of men in whom it has confidence, and deputes them to receive the expression of the national wants and the national will, and to represent and constitute that will in the form of law.

"The will of the nation, expressed by delegates chosen by the nation to represent it, will be law to her citizens.  The nation being one, the national representation must be one. The unity of the first involves the unity of the second.

" The vast, association of the nation includes all the social elements and all the social forces. A truly national system of representation must therefore be the expression of the will of all these elements, and of all these forces. 

"Whenever a single one of these forces is neglected there exists no national representation, and the tendency and desire of that force to be represented will create the necessity of radical change. Hence strife and revolution take the place of tranquil and pacific progress." 

. . . .     

" National representation is not founded upon any description of properly qualification, but upon the basis of the population.

" The vote of every citizen is required to constitute a truly national representation, The man who does not exercise the right of election in any form is no longer a citizen. The pact of association is broken in regard to him by the fact that it has not included the expression of his will, and every law is therefore to him tyrannous. 

" The objection to universal suffrage, arising from inequality of capacity or education, will be met by a double system of election, in which the electors, having first been chosen by universal suffrage, will proceed to elect the representatives, 

"The representatives of the nation will be paid by the nation, and every other public office will be forbidden them during the exercise or their representative functions;

"The number of representatives to be as large as possible. A great obstacle is thus offered to corruption. 

The decrease of liberty in France has always corresponded to the diminution in the number of deputies.

The electors when gathered together, performed the functions of the nation. The power of the nation is unlimited, and hence all restrictions placed upon the exercise of this power, in the choice of representatives, are opposed to the principle of national sovereignty. 

Whilst we admire the steadfastness of Mazzini's faith we cannot entirely approve of his notion that guerilla warfare is the best method of utilising a popular force against a hateful Government, or even against foreign influence. Although Mazzini may have imagined that his Italian compatriots would have warred for the noblest objects, and been actuated by the highest principles of patriotism, he ought to have remembered that to give men authority to carry on war irregularly is to commission them too often to work the widest possible ruin, both moral and material, in the name of a holy cause. The labours of Mazzini whilst propagating the principles of Young Italy were prodigious. He and a few others did all the work themselves, both the manual and intellectual. La Cecilia worked as a compositor ; Lamberti corrected the press ; another carried the parcels, to save porterage for they were very poor. They worked with hands during their day, and sat up at night to write articles, criticism, appeals. Their burning devotion carried them through everything, supplied the place of money, strength, numbers, and waxed more fervent as their labours increased. All this did not go on without some odour of it transpiring and reaching the authorities. The brotherhood laboured in Marseilles, and sent their publications into Italy by whatever means they could command. . . . . .
Unable to put a stop to the diffusion of our writings in Italy, the Italian Governments addressed themselves to the Government of France, in order to stifle our voice in Marseilles; and the French Government having now been recognised by all the others, and having therefore no longer any occasion to seek to alarm the despots of Europe, complied with their request.

The spirit which pervaded these writings penetrated the mass of the Italian people in spite of the precautions and persecutions of Austria. The idea of Italian unity became the centre of thought to the whole people of the peninsula, and Italian independence became their passion.

The germination of this national life, and the feeling of autonomy was so strong in 1848, that it carried Charles Albert with it in the war against the hated Austrians. The feeble and uncertain character of Charles Albert was not equal to the position of Italian leadership ; his enterprise was shipwrecked, and he went down with it, leaving to his son Victor Emmanuel a heritage of irreconcilable enmity to Austria.  

We shall look to the succeeding volumes for the fuller exposition of the principles from which has sprung the greatest political marvel of our age—the uprising of Italy as one nation.—

 Empire 26 October 1864,

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