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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 Frank Sewall (1837–1915)

By Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872)

AMONG the liberators of modern Italy, ranking in influence with Victor Emmanuel, Cavour, and Garibaldi, Joseph Mazzini was unique in his combination of deep religious motive, philosophic insight, and revolutionary zeal. His early studies of Dante inspired in him two ideals: a restored Italian unity, and the subordination of political government to spiritual law, exercised in the conscience of a free people. Imprisoned in early life for participation in the conspiracy of the Carbonari, he left Italy in his twenty-sixth year, to spend almost the entire remainder of his life in exile. While living as a refugee in Marseilles and in Switzerland, from 1831 to 1836, he fostered the revolutionary association of young Italian enthusiasts, and edited their journal, the Giovine Italia, its purpose being to bring about a national revolution through the insurrection of the Sardinian States. In Switzerland he organized in the same spirit the “Young Switzerland” and the “Young Europe,” fostering the idea of universal political reform, and the bringing in of a new era of the world, in which free popular government should displace the old systems both of legitimate monarchy and despotic individualism. Banished from Switzerland under a decree of the French government, in 1836 Mazzini found refuge in London; and for the remainder of his life the English press was the chief organ of his worldwide influence as a reformer, while his literary ability won him a place among the most brilliant of the modern British essayists. Only for brief intervals did Mazzini appear again in Italy; notably in the period of 1848 and 1849, when, on the insurrection of Sicily and Venetian Lombardy and the flight of Pio Nono from Rome, like a Rienzi of the nineteenth century he issued from that “city of the soul” the declaration of the Roman Republic, and was elected one of the triumvirs. He led in a heroic resistance to the besieging French army until compelled to yield; and he was content to have brought forth from the conflict the unstained banner, “God and the People,” to be the standard for all future struggles for the union of free Italy under the rightful leadership of Rome. In 1857 he again took part in person in the insurrections in Genoa and in Sicily, and was laid under sentence of death, a judgment which was removed in 1865. In 1870, on his attempting to join Garibaldi in Sicily, he was arrested at sea and imprisoned at Gaëta, to be released in two months, as the danger of a general insurrection disappeared. During all this time he had been carrying on, mainly from England, his propaganda through the press; publishing in 1852, in the Westminster Review, the essay ‘Europe, its Conditions and Prospects,’ completing in 1858 ‘The Duties of Man,’ and addressing open letters to Pio Nono, to Louis Napoleon, and to Victor Emmanuel. In 1871 he contributed to the Contemporary Review an essay on ‘The Franco-German War and the Commune.’ The last production of his pen was his essay on Renan’s ‘Reforme Morale et Intellectuelle,’ finished in March 1872, and published in the Fortnightly Review in 1874.

It was shortly after the completion of this essay at Pisa, whither he had gone in the hope of regaining his health, that he was seized with the illness that closed his earthly life on March 10th, 1872. Honors were decreed him by the Italian Parliament, his funeral was attended by an immense concourse of people, and his remains were laid away in a costly monument in the Campo Santo of Genoa.

If Mazzini is entitled to be called the prophet of a new political age, it is because he sought for a new spiritual basis for political reform. What is remarkable is, that his bold and ingenuous insistence on the religious motive as fundamental in the government that is to be, did not diminish his influence with his contemporaries of whatever shades of opinion. Even so radical a writer as the Russian anarchist Bakunin, in an essay on the ‘Political Theology’ of Mazzini, speaks of him as one of the noblest and purest individualities of our age.

The two fundamental principles for which Mazzini stood were collective humanity as opposed to individualism, and duty as opposed to rights. His position was, that the revolutionary achievements of the past had at most overcome the tyranny of monarchy in asserting the principle of the rights of the individual. But this is not in itself a unifying motive. The extreme assertion of this leads to disunion and weakness, and makes way only for another and more hopeless despotism. The rights of the individual must now be sacrificed to the collective good, and the motive of selfish aggrandizement must yield to the sacred law of duty under the Divine government. It is this undeviating regard for the supreme principle of duty to the collective man, under the authority of the Divine law, that alone can make the perpetuation of the republic possible.

Mazzini’s devotion to this principle accounts for his apparent lukewarmness in many of the boldest and most conspicuous movements in the progress of Italian liberation and unity. It was because he saw the preponderance of sectional aims rather than the participation of all in the new federation, that he criticized the Carbonari king, Charles Albert, in 1831, and that he fought against the policy of obtaining at the cost of Savoy and Nice “a truncated Italy of monarchy and diplomacy, the creation of Victor Emmanuel, Louis Napoleon, and Cavour.” He lived to see Italy, nominally at least, a united nation, freed from foreign control; but far from being the ideal republic whose law is from above, and whose strength is in the supreme devotion of each citizen to the good of all, and to the realization in this manner of a Divine government in the world. Toward the attainment of this ideal by progressive governments everywhere, the influence of Mazzini will long be a powerful factor, and his mission more and more recognized as that of a true prophet of a new political era of the world.

Among Mazzini’s literary writings may be mentioned his essays on ‘Victor Hugo,’ ‘George Sand,’ ‘Byron and Goethe,’ ‘The Genius and Tendency of the Writings of Thomas Carlyle,’ and that on ‘M. Renan and France.’ His ‘Life and Writings,’ in six volumes, were published in London in 1870; and a volume of ‘Essays, Selected,’ in 1887.