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Literary and Philosophical Essays.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Giuseppe Mazzini

Introductory Note

GIUSEPPE MAZZINI, the great political idealist of the Italian struggle for independence, was born at Genoa, June 22, 1805. His faith in democracy and his enthusiasm for a free Italy he inherited from his parents; and while still a student in the University of Genoa he gathered round him a circle of youths who shared his dreams. At the age of twenty-two he joined the secret society of the Carbonari, and was sent on a mission to Tuscany, where he was entrapped and arrested. On his release, he set about the formation, among the Italian exiles in Marseilles, of the Society of Young Italy, which had for its aim the establishment of a free and united Italian republic. His activities led to a decree for his banishment from France, but he succeeded in outwitting the spies of the Government and going on with his work. The conspiracy for a national rising planned by Young Italy was discovered, many of the leaders were executed, and Mazzini himself condemned to death.

Almost at once, however, he resumed operations, working this time from Geneva; but another abortive expedition led to his expulsion from Switzerland. He found refuge, but at first hardly a livelihood, in London, where he continued his propaganda by means of his pen. He went back to Italy when the revolution of 1848 broke out, and fought fiercely but in vain against the French, when they besieged Rome and ended the Roman Republic in 1849.

Defeated and broken, he returned to England, where he remained till called to Italy by the insurrection of 1857. He worked with Garibaldi for some time; but the kingdom established under Victor Emmanuel by Cavour and Garibaldi was far from the ideal Italy for which Mazzini had striven. The last years of his life were spent mainly in London, but at the end he returned to Italy, where he died on March 10, 1872. Hardly has any age seen a political martyr of a purer or nobler type.

Mazzini’s essay on Byron and Goethe is more than literary criticism, for it exhibits that philosophical quality which gives so remarkable a unity to the writings of Mazzini, whether literary, social, or political.