A History of Italian Literature/Chapter XXIV
That only one of the distinguished writers reviewed in the last chapter should have given free expression to the Italian craving for liberty and national unity, may be accounted for in the simplest possible manner. Foscolo was the only one in exile; the unexpatriated, writing under a censorship, said not what they would, but what they could. Apart, nevertheless, from this consideration, it is true that the national movement was slow in acquiring energy and consistency, inasmuch as it was not in the first instance an indigenous growth. The conception of an Italian nation under a single political head had not been too clearly formulated, even by Petrarch and Machiavelli, and since the latter's time had been in great measure the exclusive possession of the finest minds. As an upbursting bubble may hint at what is passing in the depths of the sea, so Gernando's scoff in the Gerusalemme Liberata at Rinaldo as a native of la serva Italia reveals the hidden workings of Tasso's spirit, and vindicates him from the charge of ludicrously servile adulation. Nothing more ridiculous can be conceived than the poet's notion that his patron Alphonso might well lead either the armies or the fleets of Europe in a new crusade if he was to be no more than a Duke of Ferrara; not so if the headship of a united and regenerated Italy was to fall to him.
The next generation reposed hopes premature, indeed—yet, as the far-off event was to show, not irrational—in the house of Savoy; but as time wore on and material circumstances improved, these patriotic aspirations waned, and the call for liberty which came from France in the revolutionary era had to create the sentiment to which it appealed. Any prospect of such a response seemed destroyed by the behaviour of the French propaganda itself—its infamous betrayal of the Venetian Republic, its exactions from private fortunes, pillages from public treasuries, and wholesale robbery of Italian works of art. Yet by an extraordinary turn of events the chief perpetrator of these iniquities, himself an Italian, became most undesignedly on his own part the father of Italian unity and freedom. By crowning himself King of Italy, Napoleon Bonaparte gave her a national existence. After a few years of his rule the inhabitants of the peninsula could not but perceive that the visions of their seers and the aspirations of their statesmen had in great measure come to pass.
Notwithstanding the existence of some nominally independent principalities, for the first time since Theodoric the Italians of the North at all events actually were Italians—not Lombards, or Tuscans, or Piedmontese. They were indeed ruled by a despot; but to this, with the practical instinct of their race, the Italians submitted in the prevision that Napoleon's empire must be dissolved by his death, and the hope that the national unity would survive it and him. Such might well have been the case had his authority been peacefully transmitted to a successor; but the circumstances of his downfall inevitably brought back the Austrians and the exiled princes, to reign no longer over a contented or an indifferent people, but over one which had taken the idea of national unity to its heart. The effect oh literature is illustrated by a passage in one of Byron's letters from Italy: "They talk Dante, write Dante, and think and dream Dante to an extent that would be ridiculous but that he deserves it." It was not so much the recognition of Dante's literary desert which occasioned this reaction from eighteenth century neglect, as the incarnation of the sufferings and the genius of his country in his person.
A generation thus nurtured on Dante, and on Dante studied from such a point of view, could not but grow up serious and patriotic. Nor were other literary influences wanting. The fourth canto of Childe Harold, and even more Madame de Staël's Corinne, contrasted in the most forcible manner the past artistic and intellectual glories with the actual political degradation, and showed Italy how far she had fallen, but also how high she might hope to reascend. Such influences imbued the youthful generation with a more impassioned and enthusiastic character than its fathers. The new aspirations embodied themselves most distinctly in three men—Mazzini, type of physical resistance to oppression; Giusti, of relentless opposition in the intellectual sphere; Leopardi, of the passive protest of martyrdom. In him, as by an emblem, the beauty and the anguish of the suffering country are shown forth, and on this account no less than from the superiority of his literary genius, though no active insurgent against the established order of things, he claims the first place in his hapless but glorious generation.
The tragical yet uneventful life of Giacomo Leopardi was little else than ardent cultivation of the spirit and constant struggle with the infirmities of the body. Born in 1798 at Recanati, a small dull town near Rimini, the son of a learned and high-minded, but unfortunately bigoted and retrograde Italian nobleman, of anti-national politics and antiquarian tastes, whose embarrassed circumstances and incapacity for business had induced him to assign his property to a practical but parsimonious wife, Leopardi solaced the forlornness of existence in a spiritual desert by intense study, favoured by his father's extensive library, in which he immured himself to a degree propitious to neither bodily nor mental health. So extraordinary were his powers that at nineteen, besides many excellent bonâ fide translations, he produced imaginary versions of lost Greek authors which deceived accomplished classical scholars. But the maladies from which he was to suffer all his life had already made progress; he could follow no profession, and was entirely dependent upon well-intentioned but uncongenial parents, whose dread of the liberal and free-thinking opinions he had imbibed, chiefly from correspondence with Pietro Giordani, induced them to imprison him at home.
Though solaced by the affection of his brother Carlo and his sister Paolina, Leopardi's position was most uncomfortable, and the chief external events of his history for many years are his temporary escapes and his enforced returns. He sought refuge successively at Rome, Bologna, and Florence, meeting with friends everywhere, especially at Rome, where he won the esteem and excited the wonder of Niebuhr and Bunsen. His craving for deeper sympathy twice involved him in love affairs, both fruitful in humiliation and disappointment. Nothing else, indeed, could be expected for the suit of the pallid, deformed youth, whose blood barely circulated, whose feeble limbs bent beneath the weight of a body even so attenuated, and whose heart and lungs scarcely discharged their office. All active life seemed concentrated in his brain, which throve and energised at the expense of every other organ. He executed some work for the booksellers, especially his condensed but invaluable comment on Petrarch, and from time to time gave expression to some slowly-maturing thought, in literary form meet for immortality, but unvalued and unrecompensed by his contemporaries.
Neither Leopardi's patriotic sentiments nor his speculative opinions could be disclosed under the pressure of Austrian and Bourbon despotism; the King of Sardinia had not yet declared himself on the side of liberty, and there was literally no spot in Italy where an Italian could write what he thought. Emigration to France or England would have been forbidden by his parents, upon whom he was entirely dependent. At length, in September 1833, he was able to establish himself at Naples, where for a time his health and spirits seemed marvellously improved; but from the summer of 1836 these retrograded, and he succumbed to a sudden aggravation of the dropsy which had long threatened him, on June 14, 1837. His unpublished philological writings were bequeathed to a Swiss friend, Professor de Sinner, who neglected his trust. The MSS., however, were bought from his heirs by the Italian Government, and have been partially published. Leopardi's other works were faithfully edited by Antonio Ranieri, a friend whose devoted kindness to him during his life renders it utterly incomprehensible how he should have sought to blacken his memory after his death by the publication of a number of painful and humiliating circumstances, which, if they had been facts, should have been consigned to oblivion, but which Dr. Franco Ridella has shown to be mere invention.
While he still posed as Leopardi's Pythias, Ranieri summed up his friend's titles to renown as, "first a great philologer, next a great poet, at the last a great philosopher." Great poet he unquestionably was; his refined classical scholarship might have earned him the distinction of a great philologer in a sense disused since comparative philology has taken rank among the exact sciences; if he was a great philosopher, so Voltaire and Lucian must be esteemed. The keen sensibility to pain which dominated his mental constitution was as little associated with any constructive faculty or capacity for systematic thought as was their hatred of pretence and perception of the ludicrous; but while their endowments were brilliantly serviceable to mankind, Leopardi's moral pathology, if it had any potency at all, could operate only for ill. Mischievous attempts have indeed been made to accredit the pessimism of our times by exalting the cries wrung by anguish from a wretched invalid into the last and ripest fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever may be the case in Oriental countries, there has seldom been a pessimist in the West without some moral or physical malady which ought to have withheld him from assuming the part of an instructor of mankind; but Leopardi's pessimism is not only morbid, but unmanly. The stress which he lays upon merely physical evils, such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst, would have moved the contempt of an ancient sage of any sect; and the contemporary of so many martyrs for their country admits no spring of human action but naked egotism. The grandeur and beauty of material nature, the sublime creations of man's spirit, the teeming harvest of human virtues and affections, the tranquillising recognition of eternal order and controlling law, the marvellous course of the world's history, when not ignored, are treated as the mere mockery and aggravation of the entirely imaginary background of blackness—a shining leprosy upon a hideous countenance. And yet the real nature of the man was quite different; his pessimism and egotism are simply the product of bodily suffering, of the wounded self-esteem and disappointed affections which followed in Its train, and of the absence of any outlet for his surpassing intellectual powers.
It was a cruel injury to Italy that her greatest modern genius should have done so little for her regeneration, and that his writings, instead of inspiring a healthy public spirit, should rather tend to foster the selfish indifference and the despair of good which continue to be her principal bane. In two points of view, nevertheless, Leopardi rendered his country essential service. His sufferings, and the moral infirmities which they entailed, enabled him to represent in his own person, as no soundly-constituted man could have done, the unhappy Italy of his day. He seemed the living symbol of a country naturally favoured beyond all others, but racked and dismembered by foreign and domestic tyrants, the counterparts in the body politic of the maladies which crippled Leopardi's energies, and distorted his views of man and nature. At the same tilne the transcendent excellence of his scanty literary performances raised Italian literature to a height which, Alfieri and Monti notwithstanding, it had not attained since Tasso, and in the midst of an epoch of servitude and subjugation gave Italians at least one thing of which they might justly be proud.
The bulk of Leopardi's writings, indeed, is diminutive, and the range ot his ideas narrow; but within these limits he has approached absolute perfection more closely, not only than any other Italian, but than any modern writer. He is one of that small and remarkable class of men who have arisen here and there in recent Europe to reproduce each some peculiar aspect of the ancient Greek genius. Shelley is a Greek by his pantheism, Keats by his feeling for nature, Platen by the architectonic of his verse, so is Leopardi by his impeccability. All the best Greek productions, whether of poetic or of plastic art, have this character of inevitableness; they can neither be better nor other than they are. It is not the same in romantic poetry. Shakespeare no doubt always chose the best path, but he always seems to have had the choice among a thousand. In almost everything of Leopardi's, whether verse or prose, form and thought appear indissolubly interfused without the possibility of disjunction. This is eminently the case with his poems, perfect examples of lofty and sustained eloquence entirely uncontaminated by rhetoric. There are few thoughts which strike by their hovelty, few elaborated similes, few phrases which stand forth in isolation from the environing text. All seems of a piece; but the words chosen are invariably the most apt to express the idea sought to be conveyed, and the stream of sentiment is as pellucid as it is impetuous. The same mastery is evinced in the descriptive passages, which never appear to exist for their own sakes, but as depicting the inner feeling of the poem by a visible symbol. Be the subject small ot great, from the disappearance of a vast landscape at the setting of the moon, or the terrified peasant listening sleeplessly to the roar of Vesuvius, down to the rain pattering at the poet's window, or the rattle of the carriage resuming its journey after the storm, these descriptions impress by their perfect adequacy and their complete fusion of speech and thought, and it can only be objected to them that they are finer than the moralities they usher in. So wrote the Greeks, and the recovery of an apparently lost type makes amends for the monotony of Leopardi's dismal message to mankind and the extreme limitation of his range of thought. In his later days his horizon seemed to expand; his serio-comic Paralipomeni, already noticed with other examples of its class, displays an unexpected versatility, and his last ode, La Ginestra, inspired by the hardy and humble broom-plant flourishing on the brink of the lava-fields of Vesuvius, is more original in conception and ampler in sweep than any of its predecessors. It somewhat resembles Shelley's Mont Blanc; as Shelley's Triumph of Life, with equal unconsciousness on the author's part, approximates to Leopardi's first important poem, the Appressamento alia Morte. They had here a common model in Petrarch.
Leopardi's poems, though the majority are in blank verse, may generally be defined as canzoni, either odes in the strict sense of the term, addresses to friends, impassioned outpourings of lonely thought akin to Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," or apostrophes to inanimate objects, such as the moon, the natural friend of the melancholy poet, or the Vesuvian broom-plant, already mentioned. A few pieces, such as Il Primo Amore, Il Risorgimento, are autobiographical; in these Leopardi usually adopts terza rima or the ordinary rhymed metres. Personal as these pieces are in subject, they are not really more subjective than the rest. Leopardi is entirely devoid of inventive power: the wandering shepherd of Asia, mouthpiece for one of his finest poems, is the author in everything but costume. Three of the most celebrated odes. To Italy, On the Florentine Monument to Dante, and To Angelo Mai on the Recovery of Cicero De Republica, may be styled patriotic; but although the love of Italy is clearly and eloquently expressed, the scorn of her actual condition, the fault of no one then breathing, is so bitter and contumelious that the effect is anything but Tyrtæan. These are nevertheless masterpieces of noble diction, and little short of miraculous for the age of twenty, at which they were produced. It is perhaps a defect that lines are frequently left unrhymed, and that the ear is thus defrauded of an anticipated satisfaction.
Leopardi's blank verse is the finest in Italian literature. If it has neither the "wood-note wild" of Shakespeare's sweetest passages, nor the voluminous harmony of Milton's organ-music, nor the dainty artifice of Tennyson, it is fully on a par with the finest metrical performances of Shelley and Coleridge; and perhaps the English reader could hardly obtain a better idea of it than by imagining a blending of the manner of Coleridge's idylls with that of Shelley's Alastor. It admits of translation into English; while an adequate rendering of the strictly lyrical poems, so smooth and yet so muscular, like the marble statue of an athlete, would be an achievement of very great difficulty. Perhaps the following little piece may convey some idea of Leopardi's manner in blank verse. Few are the poems in which a mere triviality has been made the occasion of a meditation so sublime:
"Dear to me ever was this lonely hill,
And this low hedge, whose potent littleness
Forbids the vast horizon to the eye.
For, as I sit and muse, my fancy frames
Intermimble space beyond its bound,
And silence more than human, and secure
Unutterable and unending rest,
Where even the heart hath peace. And as I hear
The faint winds breath among the trees, my mind
Compares these lispings with the infinity hush
Of that invisible distance, and the dead
And unborn hours of dim eternity
With this hour and its voices. Thus my thought
Gulfing infinity doth swallow up;
And sweet to me is shipwreck in this sea."
Leopardi's prose works, his correspondence and philological essays excepted, are, like his poetry, limited in extent and in range of subject, but incomparable for refinement and beauty of form. He deemed a perfect prose more beautiful and more difficult of achievement than poetry of like rank, and related to it as the undraped figure to the figure clothed. The most remarkable of his prose writings are the Dialogues, which almost all turn upon the everlasting theme of the misery of mankind, varied in the exposition with a grace and fanciful ingenuity, recjilling the little apologues in Turgenev's Senilia. In one, Mercury and Atlas play at ball with the earth, become light as tinder by internal decay and the extinction of life; in another, the earth and the moon compare notes on the infelicity of their respective inhabitants; in another, Momus and Prometheus descend to earth to investigate the success of the latter's philanthropic inventions, which have answered Momus's expectations better than his; in another, Tasso's familiar genius promises to make him happy in the only possible manner, by a pleasing dream. Comparison is continually suggested with two great writers, Lucian and Pascal, and Leopardi sustains it worthily. Inferior to Lucian in racy humour, to Pascal in keenness of sarcasm, he surpasses both in virtue of the poetical endowment which nature had utterly denied to them. In form he comes nearest to Lucian, in spirit to Pascal. Lucian, a healthy four-square man, robust in common-sense, little given to introspection and untroubled by sensitiveness, is constitutionally very unlike Leopardi; but it might be difficult to establish a closer parallel than between the Italian and the French recluse; both very sparing but very choice writers; exquisite scholars in classics and mathematics respectively; both hopeless pessimists because hopeless invalids; the keenest and most polished intellects of their time, and yet further astray on the most momentous subjects than many a man "whose talk is of bullocks." Leopardi has the advantage in so far that his scorn of man never degenerates into misanthropy, and his negation is better than Pascal's superstition.
Leopardi's strictly ethical writings (Storia del Genere Umano; Parini, or On Glory; Bruto Minore; Filippo Ottonieri) are necessarily devoid of imaginative form, and hence want the peculiar charm of his Dialogues, but are not inferior in classical finish. They bring out a more serious defect of his thought than even his pessimism—his ultra-hedonism in definition of happiness as a succession of momentary pleasurable emotions, each to be enjoyed as something complete in itself without reference to antecedents or consequences. This theory, said to have originated with Aristippus of Cyrene, is precisely that put forth by Walter Pater at the beginning of his career, but afterwards virtually retracted. There is one human condition, and but one, which it actually does suit, and that is Leopardi's own—the condition of the chronic invalid. To the sufferer whose life is a continual physical agony, the brief intervals of ease actually are the utmost bliss he is capable of conceiving, and he may well be forgiven if he makes a succession of such thrills of pleasure the ideal of life. From any other point of view this hedonism is the doctrine of a voluptuary, which Leopardi assuredly was not. His mode of thought, nevertheless, increased his infelicity by depriving him of solace from the anticipation of posthumous fame, for which, as no ingenuity could prove it a pleasurable sensation, his hedonistic materialism left no place. With his low estimate of men, he could repose little hope in their justice; nor, though perfectly aware of the supreme literary excellence of his own writings, could he feel the assurance of- their immortality which is only possible to him who regards the universe as incarnate Reason. His verdict upon himself and them, widely at variance with the truth, but logical from his own point of view, is pathetically summed up in his epitaph on the imaginary Filippo Ottonieri, his own ideal portrait: "Here lies Filippo Ottonieri, botn for renown and virtuous deeds; who lived without profit and died without fame; ignorant neither of his nature nor of his fortune."
Many of Leopardi's detached meditations and aphorisms evince great subtlety and accuracy of observation, distorted by his persistent determination to think ill of the human race as a whole, while amicably and often affectionately disposed towards its individual members. His philological writings are those of an accomplished scholar, but their themes are generally of minor importance. His letters are frequently most pathetic in their references to his wretched situation, which alone can excuse the frequent insincerity of those addressed to his father. On the whole, his faults and his virtues are such as to render him the most lively representation of the Italy of his day, superior to the Italy of a past age in so far as awakened to a consciousness of her abject condition, but not yet nerved to struggle for her redemption.
While Leopardi, although at heart a patriot, was virtually proclaiming patriotism a phantom, a poet of a very different cast was assailing abuses and preparing a better day by dint of humorous indignation and sturdy hopefulness. The Italy of the time stands between Leopardi and Giuseppe Giusti (1809–50) like Garrick between tragedy and comedy. Giusti's gifts were less sublime than Leopardi's, but not less original. What Leopardi was to the Italian language in its most classical form, Giusti was to the peculiar niceties of the most idiomatic Tuscan. What Leopardi was to the most elevated description of poetry, Giusti was to political satire. Indeed he was more, for Leopardi merely carried recognised form to more consummate perfection, while Giusti's style was actually created by him. Rich as Italy had been in most kinds of humorous and burlesque poetry, she had achieved little in political satire for very evident reasons. Campanella and Alfieri had verged upon it; and Casti's Animali Parlanti and Leopardi's Paralipomeni may, from one point ot view, be regarded as political satires, though rather belonging to the mock-heroic epic. But no political satirist had yet reached the heart of the people, partly because few had the courage to make the attempt, partly because metrical satire was as yet restricted to refined and artificial forms. The gallantry with which Giusti, living under the absolute government of Tuscany, itself wholly subservient to Austria, launched shaft after shaft against the oppressors of his country, is paralleled by the boldness of the literary innovation he made in discarding the time-honoured forms of blank verse and terza rima, and conveying satire in easy and familiar lyric.
Giusti has been compared to Béranger, but certainly falls short of the Frenchman as a master of song, while he has more of the sacred fire of poetical indignation. The Anacreontic side of Béranger's genius has no counterpart in him. As a master of idiomatic Tuscan he stands alone; but his poems require a glossary, and what helps his fame with his countrymen hinders it with foreigners. His satires are sometimes called forth by the occurrences of the day, but are more frequently directed at some persistent evil or misfortune of the country; and although the expulsion of the foreigner and his vassals is the idea most commonly in the background, not a few of the best pieces treat of the defects of the Italian people itself, the frivolity of some classes of society, the ignorance and superstition of others, and not least the pretentious emptiness of much modern liberalism. The general tone of Giusti's compositions is easy and humorous; but under the impulse of emotion he is capable of rising into high poetry, as in the description of the corruption of Florentine society in his Gingillino, or in the palinode to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, when (October 1847) the poet for a moment believed that Leopold was about to pursue a liberal course.
Giusti would have found it difficult to reconcile this attitude with the aspirations for the unity of Italy which he had expressed in his Stivale in 1836, but it soon appeared that Leopold's constitutionalism was of a piece with the monastic inclinations attributed to invalid devils, and Giusti went back into opposition, more annoyed and dispirited by the follies and vagaries of his own party than by the iniquities of the enemy. The French Revolution of February 1848 gave the upper hand to the Tuscan liberals, who had superabundantly manifested their incapacity ere, in March 1849, the fate of Tuscany was decided on the battlefield of Novara. The heart-broken poet, already suffering from grievous illness, could not survive until the better day, dying on 31st March 1850. Chi dura vince. His profession had been that of an advocate, and, until his last days, his life was uneventful except for an unfortunate attachment. It certainly speaks for the lenity of the Tuscan Government that he should not have spent much of it in prison, for his satires from 1833 to 1847 circulated widely in manuscript, and some were printed in Switzerland in his lifetime. They must suffer with posterity for their general relation to temporary circumstances; but Giusti will ever retain the honour of having been the first to apply ordinary Italian speech to the poetical expression of new ideas and new needs, thus enlarging the domain both of language and of literature.
The best English translations from Giusti are the brilliant renderings by Mr. W. D. Howells, especially that of the striking poem of St. Ambrose, where an Italian is represented as moved to sympathy with the Austrian soldiers by the beauty of
"A German anthem that to heaven went
On unseen wings, up from the holy fane;
It was a prayer, and seemed like a lament,
Of such a pensive, grave, pathetic strain,
That in my soul it never shall be spent;
And how such heavenly harmony in the brain
Of those thick-skulled barbarians should dwell,
I must confess it passes me to tell.
In that sad hymn I felt the bitter sweet
Of the songs heard in childhood, which the soul
Learns from beloved voices, to repeat
To its own anguish in the days of dole:
A thought of the dear mother, a regret,
A longing for repose and love—the whole
Anguish of distant exile seemed to run
Over my heart and leave it all undone.
When the strain ceased, it left me pondering
Tenderer thoughts, and stronger and more clear;
These men, I mused, the selfsame despot king
Who rules on Slavic and Italian fear,
Tears from their homes and arms that round them cling,
And drives them slaves thence, to keep as slaves here;
From their familiar fields afar they pass,
Like herds to winter in some strange morass.
Poor souls! far off from all that they hold dear,
And in a land that hates them! Who shall say
That at the bottom of their hearts they bear
Love for our tyrant? I should like to lay
They've our hate for him in their pockets! Here,
But that I turned in haste and broke away,
I should have kissed a corporal, stiff and tall.
And like a scarecrow stuck against the wall."
Affinities with Browning may be observed in these stanzas, and Browning meets Giusti half-way in Up at a Villa—Down in the City.
Another popular poet claims a high and exceptional place in Italian letters, not so much from his poetical gift as from his vivid and uncompromising realism. The peculiar domain of Gioacchino Belli (1791–1863) is the populace of Rome, whose humours, joys, and tragedies he has made his own. He has indeed competitors, but, as his editor Morandi observes, these are but as rivers to the sea in comparison with the fabulous opulence of Belli, who has depicted the life around him in more than two thousand sonnets, each in its way a little masterpiece. Almost all represent some scene in the life of the people, observed in his daily ramble, and versified upon his return home. For spirit and truth to nature most of them are almost comparable to Theocritus's portrait of Praxinoe, and there is probably not another instance in the world of the life of a great city so perfectly delineated in verse, or of such an enormous collection of sonnets of so high an average of merit. The drawback to their general enjoyment is their inevitable composition in the Roman dialect, lively, coloured, and full of comic phrases, but uncouth and corrupt. Another important division of Belli's work is the political sonnet, full of mordant satire on the abuses of the Papal government under Gregory XVI., not the less veracious because the author wished to recall it when the Catholic in him ultimately overcame the Liberal.
The patriotic work of Giusti and of Belli was thus in a measure local; one took charge of Tuscany, and the other of Rome. Another distinguished man took all Italy (the impossible kingdom of the Two Sicilies excepted) for his province, and deserves to be enumerated among the more eminent Italian writers of the nineteenth century who have powerfully contributed to the regeneration of their country. Pietro Giordani (1774–1848) is nevertheless not a great author, and perhaps his highly interesting correspondence is the only portion of his writings which will retain a permanent value. But he was almost the mainspring of the literary movement of his time. Italian authors resorted to him for ideas, as English authors resorted to Samuel Rogers for breakfasts, and neither went empty away. But for him Leopardi might have wasted his life on classical philology and verbal criticism; he helped Manzoni and Giusti to their fame; he lived familiarly with Niccolini, Capponi, and Colletta, and was the intimate friend of Monti and Canova. The first forty years of his life, spent in various official employments, had been troubled and needy, but he ultimately inherited a fortune, and during the Thirty Years' Peace his activity incessantly pervaded Italian letters like an unseen sap, save when he came forward to promote a savings-bank or an infant-school, or got himself expelled from the territories of some petty prince. His style is highly finished and polished, but is the chief recommendation of his writings, the epistolary excepted.
Finally, among the more distinguished authors of the period who systematically laboured for the deliverance and regeneration of their country must be named two most illustrious men, both called upon to deal with practical affairs, yet chiefly efficacious through their writings, Vincenzo Gioberti and Giuseppe Mazzini. Both were subjects of the King of Sardinia—Gioberti a royal chaplain at Turin; Mazzini a man of letters at Genoa writing essays in defence of the romantic school. Both were incarcerated and banished—Gioberti through the animosity of the Jesuits, Mazzini as a Carbonaro. Gioberti betook himself to France, Mazzini to England. Gioberti soon obtained an European reputation by his philosophical writings, but does not appear to have materially influenced French opinion in favour of his country. Mazzini, on the other hand, produced great effects by his mission to England, where the "swift, yet still, Ligurian figure; merciful and fierce; true as steel, the word and thought of him limpid as water " (Carlyle), fascinated the best men and women, and made the emancipation of Italy a cause dear to the heart of the people. On the other hand, he misused the liberality of his friends by promoting a number of petty revolts and foolish expeditions which commonly ended in the destruction of all who participated in them.
Gioberti accomplished infinitely more for the national cause by his great book; Il Primato d'Italia (1845), which dissuaded Italy from abortive conspiracies, and preached spiritual as a preparation fof political unity. It also, by its own merits and the reputation which the author had already gained as a thinker, compelled men of intellect to look into her case. Unfortunately, Gioberti had not grasped the necessity of absolute administrative concentration, and advocated confederacy among the various Italian states; an idea irreconcilable with that of unity, and moreover utterly impracticable on account of the centrifugalism of the sovereigns concerned. This made it possible for Gioberti, when at length he had himself become minister at Turin, to propose that Piedmont should anticipate the inevitable restoration of the sovereigns of Central Italy by Austria or France by restoring them herself; a step which would have ruined the house of Savoy in public opinion, and consequently have destroyed all hope of an united Italy. Gioberti soon retired to Paris, where he died suddenly in 1852, just as a new chapter of events was opening, in which, taught by experience, he would probably have performed a more efficient part.
It would have been well for the political, though not the literary reputation of Mazzini if he had died about the same time in the good odour of the courage and capacity he had shown in the defence of Rome against the French. Although he had a great advantage over Gioberti in his perception of the need of national unity, he was unable to conceive of this otherwise than under Republican forms. He was hence almost as ready to thwart the Piedmontese as to expel the Austrian; he opposed every practical scheme for the redemption of Italy, from the Crimean expedition downwards; and his public career down to his death in 1872 is a series of lamentable mistakes. He could not see that his mission was performed when he had once breathed life into the dry bones, and he had no appreciation of the practical genius of a man like Cavour, fully as indispensable to the common cause as his own ideal enthusiasm. Happily there was another and more extensive field in which this enthusiasm was perfectly in place. Mazzini was much more than a conspirator, more even than a patriot. As a man of letters, he concerned himself with German, English, and Slavonic literature, and opened up new horizons to Italian thought. Polish literature was especially congenial to him, for at that period its inspiration came from worlds beyond mortal ken, and Mazzini, recoiling from the prosaic common -sense of the eighteenth century, possessed the vein of mysticism common to contemporaries otherwise so dissimilar as Lamennais, Balzac, George Sand, Newman, Mickiewicz. This gave a singular elevation to his ethical thought. A severe thinker, he meditated much on human rights and human duties, and assigned precedence to the latter. "Think less of your rights and more of your duties" is the burden of much ethical admonition addressed, especially during his later years, to the working classes, and containing some of the noblest and most dignified teaching to be found in the world. Mazzini had little sympathy with some of the more recent developments of democracy; his life had been one of disinterested privation for great ends, and he thought little, perhaps too little, of merely material ameliorations. His mysticism, his austere magnanimity, and his deeply religious feeling find their most perfect expression in his noble epistle to the members of the Œcumenical Council of 1869, which, along with President Lincoln's oration on the battlefield of Gettysburg, crowns the public eloquence of our time; nor needs the age which has produced two such deliverances to envy in this respect the age of Pericles.
Time has worked and is working for Mazzini; the fanaticism and unreason of one side of his character, having produced no permanent ill effect, fall more and more into oblivion, or are recognised as the necessary conditions of his unique gifts. His failings were the failings of a prophet: little as he was qualified to guide the movement he had evoked, none but such an one as he could have brought about the national resurrection truly described by Mr. Swinburne in the poem where he as truly hails in Mazzini the third Italian prophet after Dante and Michael Angelo:
"And the third prophet standing by her grave,
Stretched forth his hand and touched her, and her eyes
Opened as sudden suns in heaven might rise,
And her soul caught from his the faith to save:
Faith above creeds, faith beyond records, born
Of the pure, naked, fruitful, awful morn."
There is an ancient story of a princess carried off by a dragon and confined on a desert island in the most remote recesses of the ocean, who owed her deliverance to the joint exertions of three most eminent brothers, none of whom could have accomplished anything without the other two. One, an astrologer, discovered the place of her captivity; the second, a mechanician, made a winged horse; upon which the third, a Soldier, proceeded to the spot and slew the dragon. In the liberation of Italy the part of the astrologer fell to Mazzini, that of the mechanician to Cavour, and that of the soldier to Garibaldi.
- There is a lively portrait of him in Ruffini's Lorenzo Benoni, where he is introduced as "Fantasio."