Mazzini on Italy, from the Examiner

1851

We may—we do differ from Mazzini in many of his political views, and in our estimate of what may be the wisest policy for Italian liberals in existing circumstances. We think that he seeks to impart to politics a mathematical precision of which they are not susceptible, and does not sufficiently regard a principle the correctness of which has been admitted by himself, that the fact of a thing being true in principle cannot give the right of suddenly enthroning it in practice. But his errors are all on the large and generous side. He is too apt to attribute to society the precise convictions and spirit he feels within himself, and so to expect impossibilities, by impossible means. But there is a power of reasoning in Mazzini, an unsullied moral purity, a chivalrous veracity and frankness, an utter abnegation of self, and a courage that has stood the severest trials, which command not only respect but veneration. He belongs to the martyr age of Italian liberalism, and possesses himself the highest qualities of the martyr.

His declared object in publishing the small volume before us is to correct public opinion in England as to the Italian movement in which he took part. But it is a statement of principles rather than a narrative of details. It is always dignified in tone, often singularly eloquent, and substantially it contains little which would be likely to draw forth an expression of willing disagreement from any well-educated, high-minded, liberal Englishman.

Mr. Mazzini thus declares his reasons

WHY THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE REPUBLICAN.

The Italian tradition is eminently republican. In England, the aristocratic element has a powerful influence, because it has a history: well or ill, it has organized society: it has created a power, snatched from royalty, by conquering guarantees for the rights of the subject; it has founded in part the wealth and the influence of England abroad. The monarchical element has still great influence over the tendencies of France, because it also claims an important page in the national history; it has produced a Charlemagne, a Louis XI., a Napoleon; it has contributed to found the unity of France; it has shared with the communes the risks and the honors of the struggle against feudalism; it has surrounded the national banner with a halo of military glory. What is the history of the monarchy and of the aristocracy of Italy? What prominent part have they played in the national development? What vital element have they supplied to Italian strength, or to the unification of the future existence of Italy? The history of our royalty in fact commences with the dominion of Charles V., with the downfall of our liberties; it is identified with servitude and dismemberment; it is written on a foreign page, in the cabinets of France, of Austria, and of Spain. Nearly all of them the issue of foreign families, viceroys of one or other of the great powers, our kings do not offer the example of a single individual redeeming by brilliant personal qualities the vice of subalternity, to which his position condemned him; not a single one who has ever evinced any grand national aspiration. Around them in the obscurity of their courts, gather idle or retrograde courtiers, men who call themselves noble, but who have never been able to constitute an aristocracy. An aristocracy is a compact independent body, representing in itself an idea, and from one extremity of the country to another, governed, more or less, by one and the same inspiration: our nobles have lived upon the crumbs of royal favor, and if on some rare occasions they have ventured to place themselves in opposition to the monarch, it has not been in the cause of the nation, but of the foreigner, or of clerical absolutism. The nobility can never be regarded as an historical element: it has furnished some fortunate Condottieri, powerful even to tyranny, in some isolated town; it has knelt at the feet of the foreign emperors who have passed the Alps or crossed the sea. The original stock being nearly everywhere extinct, the races have become degenerated amidst corruption and ignorance. The descendants of our noble families at Genoa, at Naples, at Venice, and at Rome, are, for the most part specimens of absolute intellectual nullity. Almost every thing that has worked its difficult way in art, in literature, or in political activity, is plebeian.

In Italy the initiative of progress has always belonged to the people, to the democratic element. It is through her communes that she has acquired all she has ever had of liberty: through her workmen in wool or silk, through her merchants of Genoa, Florence, Venice, and Pisa, that she has acquired her wealth; through her artists, plebeian and republican, from Giotto to Michael Angelo, that she has acquired her renown; through her navigators,—plebeian,—that she has given a world to humanity; through her Popes—sons of the people even they—that until the twelfth century she aided in the emancipation of the weak, and sent forth a word of unity to humanity. All her memories of insurrection against the foreigner are memories of the people: all that has made the greatness of our towns, dates almost always from a republican epoch: the educational book, the only book read by the inhabitant of the Alps or the Transteverin who can read, is an abridgment of the history of the Ancient Roman Republic. This is the reason why the same men who have so long been accused of coldness, and who had in fact witnessed with indifference the aristocratic and royal revolutions of 1820 and 1821, arose with enthusiasm and with a true power of self-sacrifice at the cry of St. Mark and the Republic, God and the People! These words contained for them a guarantee. They awoke in them, even unconsciously to themselves, the all-powerful echo of a living past, a confused recollection of glory, of strength, of conscience, and of dignity.

With such elements how would it be possible to found a monarchy surrounded with an aristocracy? How can one speak of a balance of powers, where there are but two forces—foreign absolutism, and the people? How could one organize a constitutional monarchy where the aristocracy is without a past, and where royalty inspires neither affection nor respect?

It will surprise many candid readers to find Mr. Mazzini repeatedly declaring in this book that the republican, or, as he calls it, the national party, are not responsible for the disunion, which, at a time when the whole nation was armed against the foreigners and might have driven them from the country, turned its forces against its own citizens. He gives proof that his own advice was for union till the day of victory, and not till then for discussion as to what party should reap its fruits. Whether to monarch, or to people, he affirms that he was ready to submit; he asserts repeatedly that it was only after having been betrayed that the national party set up for themselves; and he expresses his belief that even now, when a union of princes has been seen to be impossible, the leadership of a single prince would be accepted by all, supposing such a fitting leader could be found. He thus describes

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND THEIR DETRACTORS.

They have said, and they say again, without taking advantage of the favorable position in which events have placed them:—Let the nation arise; let her make herself mistress of her own territory; then, the victory once gained, let her freely decide who shall reap the fruits. Monarch or People, we will submit ourselves to the power she herself shall organize. Is it possible that so moderate and rational a proposition should be the object of such false interpretations, in a country which reveres the idea of right and of self-government? Is it possible that its leaders should be the object of so much calumny?

It is time that these calumnies should cease. It matters little to us, who act as our conscience dictates, without troubling ourselves as to the personal result; and to whom faith and exile have given the habit of looking higher than the praise or blame of this earth. But it should be recognized as most important by all who believe that political questions agitated by whole nations, are questions eminently religious. For religion, to all those who see more in it than the mere materialism of forms and formulæ, is not only a thought of heaven, but the impulse which seeks to apply that thought, as far as possible to government on earth, our rule of action for the good of all, and for the moral development of humanity. Politics then are like religion—sacred; and all good men are bound to see them morally respected. Every question has a right to serious, calm, and honest discussion. Calumny should be the weapon of those only who have to defend not ideas, but crimes.

It is immoral to say to men who have preached clemency throughout the whole of their political career, who have initiated their rule by the abolition of capital punishment, who, when in power, never signed a single sentence of exile against those who had persecuted them, nor even against the known enemies of their principle.—"You are the sanguinary organizers of terror, men of vengeance and of cruelty." It is immoral to ascribe to them views which they never had, and to choose to forget that they have, through the medium of the press here and elsewhere, attracted and refuted those communistic systems and exclusive solutions which tend to suppress rather than to transform the elements of society; and to say to them, "You are communists, you desire to abolish property." It is immoral to accuse of irreligion and impiety men who have devoted their whole lives to the endeavor to reconcile the religious idea, betrayed and disinherited by the very men who pretend to be its official defenders, with the National movement. It is immoral to insinuate accusations of personal interest and of pillage, against men who have serenely endured the sufferings of poverty, and whose life, accessible to all, has never betrayed either cupidity or the desire of luxury. It is immoral continually to proclaim, as the act of a whole party, the death of a statesman killed by an unknown hand, under the influence of the irritation produced by his own acts and by the attacks of another political party, many months before the Republican party recommenced its activity.

Mr. Mazzini charges no direct treachery against Carlo Alberto. He declares him to have been himself the victim of the weakness which caused others as well as himself so much loss and misery. For the impossible political project of a Kingdom of the North he was content to surrender the grand reality of a United People which fate had placed within his hands.

CHARLES ALBERT.

Genius, love, and faith were wanting in Charles Albert. Of the first, which reveals itself by a life entirely, logically, and resolutely devoted to a great idea, the career of Charles Albert does not offer the least trace; the second was stifled in him by the continual mistrust of men and things, which was awakened by the remembrance of an unhappy past; the last was denied him by his uncertain character, wavering always between good and evil, between to do and not to do, between daring and not daring. In his youth, a thought, not of virtue, but of Italian ambition—the ambition however which may be profitable to nations—had passed through his soul like lightning; but he recoiled in affright, and the remembrance of this one brilliant moment of his youth presented itself hourly to him, and tortured him like the incessant throbbing of an old wound, instead of acting upon him as an excitement to a new life. Between the risk of losing, if he failed, the crown of his little kingdom, and the fear of the liberty which the people, after having fought for him, would claim for themselves, he went hesitating on, with this spectre before his eyes, stumbling at every step, without energy to confront these dangers, without the will or power to comprehend that to become King of Italy he must first of all forget that he was King of Piedmont. Despotic from rooted instinct, liberal from self-love, and from a presentiment of the future, he submitted alternately to the government of Jesuits, and to that of men of progress. A fatal disunion between thought and action, between the conception and the faculty of execution, showed itself in every act. Most of those who endeavored to place him at the head of the enterprise, were forced to agree to this view of his character. Some of those intimate with him went so far as to whisper that he was threatened with lunacy. He was the Hamlet of Monarchy.

A characteristic passage of the volume has relation to

LAMARTINE'S VIEWS OF ITALIAN INDEPENDENCE.

The war between the two principles was general in Europe—the enthusiasm excited by the movements in Italy, especially the Lombard insurrection and the prodigies of the five days, was immense; and Italy could, had she willed it and known how, have drawn thence sufficient force to counterbalance all the strength of hostile reaction. But to do this, it was necessary, whatever the mean policy of the Moderates might fear, to give to the movement a character so audaciously national as to alarm our enemies, and to offer the most powerful element of support to our friends. Both felt the time was ripe, and began to believe that Italy would be but Italy, and not the Kingdom of the North. I remember the consoling words Lamartine addressed to me, at his house, on the eve of my departure for Italy, and in presence, amongst others, of Alfred de Vigny, and of the same Forbin Janson whom I was afterwards to meet preaching the papal restoration, and getting up various petty conspiracies and ridiculous intrigues at Rome.

"The hour has struck for you," said the minister, "and I am so firmly convinced of it, that the first words with which I have charged Monsieur d'Harcourt for the Pope are these; Holy Father, you know that you ought to be the President of the Italian Republic." But Monsieur d'Harcourt had quite other things to say to the Pope, on the part of that faction which involved Lamartine in its snares whilst he imagined that he could control it. For myself I attached no importance, except as a symptom, to these words of Lamartine, a man of impulse and of noble instincts, but unstable in belief, without energy for a fixed purpose, and without real knowledge of men and things. He was indeed the echo of a tendency all-powerful, in those moments of excitement, upon the French mind; and every re-awakening nationality, every political programme, which, if not absolutely republican, was like that, at least, of the Italian constituent, would have compelled the support of the most hesitating government in France.

From great things great things are born. The dwarfish conception of the Moderates froze up all souls, and imposed an utter change of politics upon France. The Italian People was an ally more than sufficiently powerful to preserve the Republic from all danger of a foreign war; a Kingdom of the North, in the hands of princes little to be relied upon, and hostile, by long tradition, to the Republicans of France, did but add a dangerous element to the league of kings. The French nation became silent, and left its government free to exist without any foreign policy, and to leave the destinies of the republic to the impenetrable future.

The incidents described in most detail are those immediately preceding and following the fatal surrender of Milan; and it is impossible not to be struck by the contrast of the royal and the republican party, assuming the statement to be in all respects correct. But passing this ignominious period, there ought to be small difference of opinion in a free and educated country as to where the right lay in the subsequent Roman struggle. What sensible or honest Protestant would not sympathize with the indignant eloquence of this earnest Italian protesting against the flimsy oratory of a Jesuit Frenchman?

MAZZINI TO MONTALEMBERT.

"You base your argument upon the void; you discuss that which was, not that which is. The Papacy is dead, choked in blood and mire; dead, because it has betrayed its own mission of protection to the weak against the oppressor; dead, because for three centuries and a half it has prostituted itself with princes; dead, because in the name of egotism and before the palaces of all the corrupt, hypocritical, and skeptical governments, it has for the second time crucified Christ; dead, because it has uttered words of faith which it did not itself believe; dead, because it has denied human liberty and the dignity of our immortal souls; dead, because it has condemned science in Galileo, philosophy in Giordano Bruno, religious aspiration in John Huss and Jerome of Prague, political life by an anathema against the rights of the people, civil life by Jesuitism, the terrors of the inquisition, and the example of corruption, the life of the family by confession converted into a system of espionage, and by division introduced between father and son, brother and brother, husband and wife; dead, for the princes, by the treaty of Westphalia; dead, for the peoples, with Gregory XI., in 1378, and with the commencement of the schism; dead, for Italy, since 1530, when Clement VII. and Charles V., the Pope and the Emperor, signed an infamous compact, and extinguished, at Florence, the dying liberties of Italy, as to-day you have attempted to extinguish her rising liberties in Rome; dead, because the people has risen, because Pius IX. has fled, because the multitude curses him, because those very men who for fifteen years have made war upon the priests, in the name of Voltaire, now hypocritically defend them, because you and yours defend them, with intolerance and by force of arms, and declare that the Papacy and liberty cannot live side by side? You ask Victor Hugo to point out to you an idea which has been worshipped for eighteen centuries. It is that idea which you have declared irreconcilable with the Papacy, and which was breathed into humanity by God; the idea which has withdrawn from Catholicism the half of the Christian world, the idea which has snatched from you Lammennais and the flower of the intellects of Europe, the idea of Christ, that pure, holy, and sacred liberty which you invoked for Poland some years back, which Italy invokes for herself to-day, under the form, and with the guarantee of nationality, and which you cannot pretend to be good for one country and bad for another, unless you believe it a part of religion to create a pariah people in the bosom of humanity."

Very admirably, too, and nobly written, are Mr. Mazzini's later remarks on the republican and anti-papal administration of Rome, and the coldness it met with in England and elsewhere. We must admit that it is hard for a people to struggle, suffer, and bleed alone, yet hold themselves in this temperate attitude. It is not generous, as Mr. Mazzini too truly complains, in a nation having the enjoyment and the consciousness of liberty herself, to wait until the hour of victory has sounded for another nation before she stretches out a sister's hand towards her.

WHAT THE REPUBLICANS DID AND ENGLAND MIGHT HAVE DONE.

I affirm that with the exception of Ancona, where the triumvirate were obliged energetically to repress certain criminal acts of political vengeance, the republican cause was never sullied by the slightest excess; that no censorship was assumed over the press before the siege, and that no occasion arose for exercising it during the siege. Not a single condemnation to death or exile bore witness to a severity which it would have been our right to have exercised, but which the perfect unanimity which reigned amongst all the elements of the state rendered useless. I affirm that, except in the case of three or four priests, who had been guilty of firing upon our combatants, and who were killed by the people during the last days of the siege, not a single act of personal violence was committed by any fraction of the population against another, and that if ever there was a city presenting the spectacle of a band of brothers pursuing a common end, and bound together by the same faith, it was Rome under the republican rule. The city was inhabited by foreigners from all parts of the world, by the consular agents, by many of your countrymen; let any one of them arise and under the guarantee of his own signature deny, if he can, the truth of what I say. Terror now reigns in Rome; the prisons are choked with men who have been arrested and detained without trial; fifty priests are confined in the castle of St. Angelo, whose only crime consists in their having lent their services in our hospitals; the citizens, the best known for their moderation, are exiled; the army is almost entirely dissolved, the city disarmed, and the "factious" sent away even to the last man; and yet France dares not consult in legal manner the will of the populations, but re-establishes the papal authority by military decree. I do not believe that since the dismemberment of Poland there has been committed a more atrocious injustice, a more gross violation of the eternal right which God has implanted in the peoples, that of appreciating and defining for themselves their own life, and governing themselves in accordance with their own appreciation of it. And I cannot believe that it is well for you or for Europe that such things can be accomplished in the eyes of the world, without one nation arising out of its immobility to protest in the name of universal justice. This is to enthrone brute force, where, by the power of reason, God alone should reign; it is to substitute the sword and poniard for law—to decree a ferocious war without limit of time or means between oppressors rendered suspicious by their fears, and the oppressed abandoned to the instincts of reaction and isolation. Let Europe ponder upon these things. For if the light of human morality becomes but a little more obscured, in that darkness there will arise a strife that will make those who come after us shudder with dread.

The balance of power in Europe is destroyed. It consisted formerly in the support given to the smaller states by the great powers: now they are abandoned. France in Italy, Russia in Hungary, Prussia in Germany, a little later perhaps in Switzerland; these are now the masters of the continent. England is thus made a nullity; the "celsa sedet in Eolus in arce," which Canning delighted to quote, to express the moderating function which he wished to reserve for his country, is now a meaningless phrase. Let not your preachers of the theory of material interests, your speculators upon extended markets deceive themselves; there is history to teach them that political influence and commercial influence are closely bound together. Political sympathies hold the key of the markets; the tariff of the Roman Republic will appear to you, if you study it, to be a declaration of sympathy towards England to which your government did not think it necessary to respond.


And yet, above the question of right, above the question of political interest, both of which were of a nature to excite early the attention of England, there is, as I have said, another question being agitated at Rome of a very different kind of importance, and which ought to have aroused all those who believe in the vital principle of religious reformation—it is that of liberty of conscience. The religious question which broods at the root of all political questions showed itself there great and visible in all its European importance. The Pope at Gaeta was the theory of absolute infallible authority exiled from Rome for ever; and exiled from Rome was to be exiled from the world. The abolition of the temporal power evidently drew with it, in the minds of all those who understood the secret of the papal authority, the emancipation of men's minds from the spiritual authority. The principle of liberty and of free consent, elevated by the Constituent Assembly into a living active right, tended rapidly to destroy the absolutist dogma which from Rome aims more than ever to enchain the universe. The high aristocracy of the Roman Catholic clergy well know the impossibility of retaining the soul in darkness, in the midst of light inundating the intelligence of men; for this reason they carried off their Pope to Gaeta; for this reason they now refuse all compromise. They know that any compromise would be fatal to them; that they must re-enter as conquerors, or not at all. And in the same way that the aristocracy of the clergy felt this inseparability of the two powers, the French government, in its present reactionary march, has felt that the keystone of despotism is at Rome—that the ruin of the spiritual authority of the middle ages would be the ruin of its own projects—and that the only method of securing to it a few more years of existence was to rebuild for it a temporal domination.

England has understood nothing of this. She has not understood what there was of sublime and prophetic in this cry of emancipation, in this protestation in favor of human liberty, issuing from the very heart of ancient Rome, in the face of the Vatican. She has not felt that the struggle in Rome was to cut the Gordian knot of moral servitude against which she has long and vainly opposed her Bible Societies, her Christian and Evangelical Alliances; and that there was being opened, had she but extended a sisterly hand to the movement, a mighty pathway for the human mind. She has not understood that one bold word, "respect for the liberty of thought," opposed to the hypocritical language of the French government, would have been sufficient to have inaugurated the era of a new religious policy, and to have conquered for herself a decisive ascendency upon the continent.

The writer of such passages as these may nevertheless be of good heart. Though we may not think him exactly qualified to conduct to a successful issue practical political movements in the existing state of Italian society, we think him qualified for something far higher and nobler. Like Knox and Wicliffe, Huss and Luther, Mr. Mazzini is no maker of ephemeral arrangements and compromises; but like them he is the uncompromising asserter of principles, and the creator of a national sentiment, that will in time give law to the makers of such arrangements. Looking to the yet weak and timid condition of public opinion in Italy—looking to the narrow provincial views which still hamper general society—above all, looking to the limited power of its princes and prelates, and to the imbecile and demoralized characters of its Pio Nonos and Antonellis, we must confess that we see no hope of any immediate political settlement, the attainment of which need make it worth while for Mr. Mazzini to compromise or abandon for a moment his most extreme political opinions. Nothing is to be accomplished at present; and he is therefore more usefully employed in rallying his party by fervent reiteration of his principles, and in forming a pure and elevated public sentiment alike by his precepts and his example.

How masterly is this sketch of the career of

PIO NONO.

A Pope arose, by his tendencies, his progressive instincts and his love of popularity, an exception to the Popes of later times: to whom Providence, as if to teach mankind the absolute powerlessness of the institution, opened, in the love and in the illusions of the people, the path to a new life. So great is the fascination exercised by great memories—so great is the power of ancient customs—so feverish, in these multitudes who are said to be agitated by the breath of anarchy, is the desire for authority as the guide and sanction of their progress, that a word of pardon and tolerance from the Pope's lips sufficed to gather round him, in an enthusiasm and intoxication of affection, friends and enemies, believers and unbelievers, the ignorant and the men of thought. One long cry, the cry of millions ready to make themselves martyrs or conquerors at his nod, saluted him as their father and benefactor, the regenerator of the Catholic faith and of humanity. The experience of three ages and the inexorable logic of ideas, were at once forgotten; writers, powerful by their intellect and doctrines, until then dreaded as adversaries, employed themselves in founding around that One man systems destined to prepare for him the way to a splendid initiative. The many advocates of liberty of conscience, weary of the spectacle of anarchy revealed by the Protestant sects, remained in doubt. The few believers in the future church remained silent and thoughtful. It might be that history had decided too rashly, it might be amongst the secrets of Providence that an institution, which had for ten centuries at least given life and movement to Europe, should rise again, reconciled with the life and movement of humanity, from its own tomb. The minds of the whole civilized world hung, troubled and excited, upon the word which was to issue from the Vatican.

And where now is Pius IX.?

In the camp of the enemy: irrevocably disjoined from the progressive destinies of humanity; irrevocably adverse to the desires, to the aspirations which agitate his people and the people of believers. The experiment is complete. The abyss between Papacy and the world is hollowed out. No earthly power can fill it up.

Impelled by the impulses of his heart to seek for popularity and affection, but drawn on by the all-powerful logic of the principle that he represents, to the severity of absolute dictatorship; seduced by the universal movement of men's minds, by living examples in other countries, by the spirit of the age, to feel, to understand the sacred words of progress, of people, of free brotherhood, but incapable of making himself their interpreter; fearful of the consequences, and trembling like one who feels himself insecure, lest he should see the people, raised to a new consciousness of its own faculties and of its own rights, question the authority of the pontificate—Pius IX. vacillated contemptibly between the two paths presented to him, muttered words of emancipation, which he neither knew how nor intended to make good, and promises of country and independence to Italy which his followers betrayed by conspiring with Austria. Then, struck with sudden terror, he fled before the multitudes who cried aloud to him courage; he sheltered himself under the protection of a Prince whom he despised—the executioner of his subjects; he imbibed his tendencies, and in order to revenge himself for the quiet with which Rome, provoked in vain to a civil war, was organizing a new government, he solicited foreign aid; and he who had, from a horror of bloodshed, shortly before endeavored to withdraw Roman assistance from the Lombard struggle, agreed that French, Austrian, Neapolitan, and Spanish bayonets should rebuild his throne. He now wanders amidst the fallacies of secret protocols, the servant of his protectors, the servant of all except of duty and of the wish of those who hoped in him, turning to the frontiers of Rome and yet not expecting to re-enter there, and as if kept back by the phantoms of the slain. The Louis XVI. of Papacy, he has destroyed it for ever. The cannon ball of his allies discharged against the Vatican, gave the last blow to the institution.

Whilst these things were happening, a Prince was pursuing in the north of our peninsula a similar course, accompanied by the same hopes, by the same illusions and delusions of the people. He was saluted by the title of the Sword of Italy. The choicest spirits from all parts pointed out to him Austria and the Alps, and suspended, in order to make the last trial of monarchy, the propagandism of their most cherished ideas. He was preceded by the encouragement of all Europe, and followed by a numerous and valiant army. Where died Charles Albert?

Thus has Providence shown to our people, desirous of the right, but lukewarm in faith and too credulous in the illusions of the old world, the powerlessness of monarchy to insure the safety of Italy, and the irreconcilability of papacy with the free progress of humanity. The dualism of the middle ages is henceforward a mere form without life or soul; the Guelph and Ghibelline insignia are now those of the tomb. Neither Pope, nor King! God and the people only shall henceforth disclose to us the regions of the future.


Future times—nay the present will do ample justice to Mazzini, as well as to Pio Nono. In the first will be frankly recognized one of those iron men who are able to beard tyranny and profligacy even while they stand alone, the apostles of reformation, the originators and heralds of after change. In the other—but the words just quoted anticipate as it seems to us, and in no ungenerous spirit, the verdict and language of history.