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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio (1798–1866)

MASSIMO TAPARELLI, Marquis d’Azeglio, like his greater colleague and sometime rival in the Sardinian Ministry, Cavour, wielded a graceful and forcible pen, and might have won no slight distinction in the peaceful paths of literature and art as well, had he not been before everything else a patriot. Of ancient and noble Piedmontese stock, he was born at Turin in October, 1798. In his fifteenth year the youth accompanied his father to Rome, where the latter had been appointed ambassador, and thus early he was inspired with the passion for painting and music which never left him. In accordance with the paternal wish he entered on a military career, but soon abandoned the service to devote himself to art. But after a residence of eight years (1821–29) in the papal capital, having acquired both skill and fame as a landscape painter, d’Azeglio began to direct his thoughts to letters and politics.

After the death of his father in 1830 he settled in Milan, where he formed the acquaintance of the poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, whose daughter he married, and under whose influence he became deeply interested in literature, especially in its relation to the political events of those stirring times. The agitation against Austrian domination was especially marked in the north of Italy, where Manzoni had made himself prominent; and so it came to pass that Massimo d’Azeglio plunged into literature with the ardent hope of stimulating the national sense of independence and unity.

In 1833 he published, not without misgivings, ‘Ettore Fieramosca,’ his first romance, in which he aimed to teach Italians how to fight for national honor. The work achieved an immediate and splendid success, and unquestionably served as a powerful aid to the awakening of Italy’s ancient patriotism. It was followed in 1841 by ‘Nicolo de’ Lapi,’ a story conceived in similar vein, with somewhat greater pretensions to literary finish. D’Azeglio now became known as one of the foremost representatives of the moderate party, and exerted the potent influence of his voice as well as of his pen in diffusing liberal propaganda. In 1846 he published the bold pamphlet ‘Gli Ultimi Casi di Romagna’ (On the Recent Events in Romagna), in which he showed the danger and utter futility of ill-advised republican outbreaks, and the paramount necessity of adopting thereafter a wiser and more practical policy to gain the great end desired. Numerous trenchant political articles issued from his pen during the next two years. The year 1849 found him a member of the first Sardinian parliament, and in March of that year Victor Emmanuel called him to the presidency of the Council with the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. Obliged to give way three years later before the rising genius of Cavour, he served his country with distinction on several important diplomatic missions after the peace of Villafranca, and died in his native city on the 15th of January, 1866.

In 1867 appeared d’Azeglio’s autobiography, ‘I Miei Ricordi,’ translated into English by Count Maffei under title of ‘My Recollections’ which is undeniably the most interesting and thoroughly delightful product of his pen. “He was a ‘character,’” said an English critic at the time: “a man of whims and oddities, of hobbies and crotchets…. This character of individuality, which impressed its stamp on his whole life, is charmingly revealed in every sentence of the memoirs which he has left behind him; so that, more than any of his previous writings, their mingled homeliness and wit and wisdom justify the epithet which I once before ventured to give him when I described him as ‘the Giusti of Italian prose.’” As a polemic writer d’Azeglio was recognized as one of the chief forces in molding public opinion. If he had not been both patriot and statesman, this versatile genius, as before intimated, would not improbably have gained an enviable reputation in the realm of art; and although his few novels are—perhaps with justice—no longer remembered, they deeply stirred the hearts of his countrymen in their day, and to say the least are characterized by good sense, facility of execution, and a refined imaginative power.