Fragments Of An Autobiography Part 19
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Mazzini and he, then, would often discuss politics and political economy of the past, present, and future, and I sometimes ventured to join in their conversation. To-day I see the presumption of my ways, but then I was younger, and whilst reverencing the master-mind, and feeling infinitesimally small next to the great man, I yet was bold enough to advance where many besides angels would have feared to tread. I had lived in France for some years under the second Empire, and had, perhaps, more respect for the successful than I have now. I had witnessed the rebuilding of Paris, the revival of art, and many evidences of increasing prosperity, and--always allowing for the needs of France and the French of that day--I looked upon Louis Napoleon as rather the right man in the right place.
But Mazzini reviled him, and at the mention of his name would burst forth into a passionate philippic, crushing "the adventurer, the perjurer, the tyrant" with all the weight of his glowing indignation.
"But apart from all that," he would say, "we hate each other personally."
He was certainly the most uncompromising enemy of royalty, disdaining threats and blandishments alike, and preferring exile to the acceptance of such favours as the amnesty which at a later period recalled him and his friends to their native land. "He who can debase himself," he said, "by accepting the royal clemency will some day stand in need of the people's clemency."
If he was grand in his wrath, he was grand also in his ideal aspirations; whether he thundered with the withering eloquence of a Cicero, or pleaded for the Brotherhood of Man with the accents of love; whether he bowed his head humbly before the power of one great God, or rose fanatically to preach the new Gospel: "Dio e il popolo," God the first cause, the People sole legitimate interpreter of His law of eternal progress.
The conviction that spoke from that man's lips was so intense, that it kindled conviction; his soul so stirred that one's soul could not but vibrate responsively. To be sure, at the time I am speaking of, every conversation seemed to lead up to the one all-absorbing topic, the unification of Italy. She must be freed from the yoke of the Austrian or the Frenchman; the dungeons of King Bomba must be opened and the fetters forged at the Vatican shaken off. His eyes sparkled as he spoke, and reflected the ever-glowing and illuminating fire within; he held you magnetically. He would penetrate into some innermost recess of your conscience and kindle a spark where all had been darkness. Whilst under the influence of that eye, that voice, you felt as if you could leave father and mother and follow him, the elect of Providence, who had come to overthrow the whole wretched fabric of falsehoods holding mankind in bondage. He gave you eyes to see, and ears to hear, and you too were stirred to rise and go forth to propagate the new Gospel, "The Duties of Man."
What he wrote, what he spoke, was something beyond revealed religion, the outcome of a faith that looked upwards to gather a new revelation of the eternal law that governs the universe. Gospel, Koran, Talmud, merged in his mind in the new faith, rising over the horizon to illuminate humanity.
There was another side of his nature that many a time deeply impressed me. The enthusiast, the conspirator, would give way to the poet, the dreamer, as he would speak of God's nature, and of its loveliest creation, Woman; of innocent childhood, of sunshine and flowers.
I have heard much said about Woman and Woman's Rights since the days of Mazzini, from pulpit and platform, from easy-chair and office-stool. It often seemed to me to be said in beautiful prose; but still in prose.
Mazzini spoke the language of poetry; not in hexameters or blank verse, but still it was poetry. We of to-day look forward, create a new ideal, a new woman; he looked backward to the days of his childhood, and conjured up a vision of Maria Mazzini, his mother.
He loved children, too, and they him. There were boys and girls of all ages in the Roche family, clever and active, and, consequently, what wise and sapient parents call naughty. Some of these now ex-children tell me they have a distinct recollection of having been on more than one occasion turned out and sent to bed prematurely. "We often got into trouble," they say, "when Louis Blanc was there, but we were always good for Mazzini; that was because he was so kind, and never failed to inquire after the dolls; and then we loved to sit and listen to him. To be sure we sometimes didn't understand a word of the conversation going on, but his voice was so beautiful that it fascinated us."
Overawed, I think, would frequently have been more correct, when I remember how they must have heard him denouncing the Austrian rule, or holding up to execration his crowned enemies. I always looked upon him, as I certainly believe he did upon himself, as the ordained champion of the oppressed, and as a menacing tool in the hands of an unflinching Providence. He was as unflinching as the Fates themselves, and, regarding himself as the embodiment of a good cause, he cared little for the obloquy his opponents ever heaped upon his head. To name but one instance: When Orsini attempted the life of Napoleon III., throwing a bomb at the imperial carriage as it was approaching the Opera House in the Rue Drouot, killing, not the object of his hatred, but so many innocent people, a cry of horror went through the civilised world, and Mazzini got his full share of execration. Nobody entertained a doubt that he was at the bottom of the plot. It could only be he who had organised it; he had supplied the bombs, and Orsini was but a tool sent to the post of danger, whilst he himself remained on the safe side of the water that separated hospitable England from the realm of the French Emperor and his ever-watchful police.
The world was mistaken. Mazzini may have hatched plots and prepared _coups_; indeed, to do so was his daily task, and sometimes when I asked him: "Eh bien, comment ca va? Qu'est ce que vous faites?" he would pleasantly answer: "Je conspire"; but in this case we knew that he could not have had any communication with Orsini. What had happened between them had led to an irreparable breach. During one of Mazzini's secret visits to the Continent, his friend Sir James Stansfeld, then Mr.
Stansfeld, had undertaken to open his letters for him, and to forward what he deemed desirable. Among others a letter from Orsini thus came into his hands, which contained the vilest accusations against two most deservedly respected ladies, friends both of Mr. Stansfeld and of Mazzini. The indignant answer with which the former met the slander led in true Continental fashion to a challenge from Orsini, which, it is needless to say, was treated with contempt. Mazzini, to whom woman was ever an ideal to be looked up to and revered, was deeply incensed. He never met Orsini after the incident, and he never forgave him the libels he had penned.
Alluding to these circumstances, I asked him why he did not publicly contradict the reports that accused him of complicity; knowing, as I did, that they were untrue, I wondered that he did not repudiate the charge. To that he answered: "It matters nothing, or rather it is well the world should believe me implicated. I never protest. Europe needs a bugbear, a watchword that threatens, a name that makes itself feared.
The few syllables that go to make up my name will serve the purpose as well as any others."
Mr. Stansfeld was one of his earliest friends. He has often told me how great was the personal influence Mazzini exercised over him. "What could be loftier," he writes, "than his conception of duty as the standard of life for nations and individuals alike, and of right as a consequence of duty fulfilled. His earnestness and eloquence fascinated me from the first, and many young men of that time have had their after-lives elevated by his living example."
There were two associations of which all the most active members were young men, Mr. Stansfeld amongst the number: "The People's International League," and "The Society of the Friends of Italy;" the latter especially exercising considerable influence in accentuating and bringing to the front the expression of British public opinion in favour of the emancipation and unification of Italy. At the close of the revolution that in 1848 shook the very foundations on which rested European thrones, many of the most prominent leaders and revolutionary personalities of the period sought shelter in the sanctuary of the British Islands, and it was at this time that Mazzini's more intimate friends found a hospitable and cordial reception at Mr. Stansfeld's house. Mazzini himself had come to London when he was obliged to leave Switzerland in 1841. One or two of the incidents that arose out of his presence in England are worth recalling.
In 1844 a petition from Mazzini and others was presented to the House of Commons, complaining that their letters had been opened in the Post Office. Sir James Graham, under whose instructions as Secretary of State this had been done, defended his action, and roundly abused Mazzini, as did Lord Aberdeen in the House of Lords. They, however, afterwards apologised for their words. A Bill was introduced to put a stop to the power of opening letters by the Secretary of State, but was dropped. It was on this occasion that Carlyle wrote to _The Times_ his famous defence of Mazzini "I have had the honour to know Mr. Mazzini for a series of years, and, whatever I may think of his practical insight and skill in worldly affairs, I can with great freedom testify to all men that he, if ever I have seen one such, is a man of genius and virtue, a man of sterling veracity, humanity, and nobleness of mind, one of those rare men, numerable unfortunately but as units in this world, who are worthy to be called martyr souls."
Twenty years later the subject of Mazzini's letters once more led to heated controversy in the House of Commons. At that time Mr. Stansfeld was a Junior Lord of the Admiralty. His friendship for the champion of Italy's rights had ripened as years went on, and he was ever ready to serve him and the good cause. It happened that the French Procureur-Imperial, while engaged in prosecuting a State conspiracy, discovered that one of the accused persons had been found in possession of a letter telling him to write for money to Mr. Flowers, at 35 Thurloe Square, S.W. This was Mr. Stansfeld's address, and he did not hesitate to admit that he had allowed Mazzini to have his letters addressed there, under the name of M. Fiori (Anglice, Flowers), to prevent those letters from being opened, while at the same time he knew nothing of their contents. The incident was used by Disraeli to make an attack on the Palmerston Government, for containing in its ranks so dangerous a man as Stansfeld--a man actually engaged in sheltering a conspirator, and "the great promoter of assassination," as he was pleased to call Mazzini. Bright made a strong speech, defending Stansfeld and Mazzini, and declaring that Disraeli himself had justified regicide, as he had in the "Revolutionary Epic." Stansfeld also spoke, saying that he was proud of the intimate friendship of Mazzini, and denying that the great patriot could be properly described in the scurrilous language Disraeli had used.
It was in consequence of this incident that Mr. Stansfeld resigned office, "perfectly satisfied," he says in a letter on the subject, "in being able by so doing, to reconcile the duties of private friendship with my obligations to the Government, of which I was the youngest member." In his long and honourable career, whether as Mr. or Sir James, Stansfeld was always a good knight and true, labouring with the zeal of the reformer and the foresight of the statesman. In Mazzini he admired not only the patriot who served his own country with passionate devotion, but the teacher who, seeing far beyond the narrow limits of each separate nation, could realise the ideal of international unity, and foreshadow a future, in which the aim of statesmanship among free nations would no longer be to perpetuate the weakness of others, but "to secure the amelioration of all, and the progress of each, for the benefit of all the others."
Thus impressed with the solidarity of nations, and the community of their interests, Stansfeld at all times advocated the cause of international unity and the establishment of tribunals of arbitration; and, if a powerful figure-head was wanted to represent those causes, be it to preside over a meeting or to introduce a deputation to the prime minister, we looked to Sir James as the man round whom the best and most influential politicians would rally, and whom they would cordially support, confident as they were both of his strength and of his discretion.
From the arena of politics, national and international, to the four walls of my little studio is an abrupt transition; but with the name of Mazzini as a connecting link, it needs no apology. So I make straight for Cadogan Gardens, in order to mention a pleasant recollection I have of a certain October evening in 1862, when Mazzini unexpectedly dropped in. My cousin, Ernst Jaques, and two friends, Felix Simon and Herr von Keudell, had met there on a short visit to London to "make music."
Mazzini and myself formed an appreciative audience, as well we might, for they played Mendelssohn's D Minor Trio in masterly fashion, von Keudell at the piano, Simon taking the violin, and my cousin the violoncello part. Mazzini loved music and was in full sympathy with the performers, so naturally the conversation first turned on the beauties of Mendelssohn's work and on the excellence of its interpretation; but it soon gravitated to the subjects always uppermost in his mind. Herr von Keudell was particularly successful in drawing him out, perhaps because he held views opposed to those of the great patriot, and was well prepared to discuss them. He was soon to become Bismarck's confidential secretary, and as such to take an active and influential part in the chapter of history that was ere long to be enacted. In later years he rose to occupy the post of ambassador to Italy. There was much in his aspirations that interested Mazzini, and when presently my cousin asked him for his autograph, he wrote, "Ah, si l'Allemagne agissait comme elle pense." Then it was on matters revolutionary that he talked, on the organisation of secret societies, on his clandestine visits to countries in which a price had been set upon his head, and finally, as he got up to leave us, on the detectives he would not keep waiting any longer. They had shadowed him as usual from his house, and would not fail to shadow him back. Very sensational stories were current in reference to those clandestine visits and the disguises under which Mazzini was supposed to have travelled, but they were mere inventions, he told us. To keep his counsel about the end of his journey and the time of his leaving, to shave off his moustache, sometimes to wear spectacles, and to travel quickly, were his sole precautions.
He always carried a certain walking-stick with a carved ivory handle, a most innocent-looking thing, but in reality a scabbard holding a sharply pointed blade. This is now in the possession of Mr. Joseph Stansfeld, to whom it was given by Mr. Peter Taylor, the old and trusted friend of Mazzini. He also preserves a volume of "The Duties of Man" with the dedication in his godfather's hand: "To Joseph, in memoriam of Joseph Mazzini." There is too a portrait of Maria Mazzini (Giuseppe's mother).
It is a very poor production, and whilst it may, perhaps, give us some idea of her features, it certainly in no way reflects her lovable nature. When I knew Mazzini he was living in the simplest of lodgings, at 2 Onslow Terrace, Brompton. His room was littered with papers and pamphlets. Birds were his constant companions; the room was their cage, wire netting being stretched across the windows. They flew around and hopped about most unceremoniously on the writing-table amongst the conspirator's voluminous correspondence. He had a curious way of holding his pen, the thumb not closing upon it as he wrote, a peculiarity which accounts for the crabbed character of his handwriting. Being an inveterate smoker, he and the birds were mostly enveloped in a cloud.
Smoking cheap, but many, Swiss cigars was the only luxury he allowed himself. He was the austerest of Republicans, had few wants, and but slender means with which to satisfy them. Whatever he may have possessed in early life he had spent for the cause he was devoted to; afterwards he lived on a small annuity which his mother had settled on him.
When he sat for me I always took good care to place a box of cigars, and wherewith to light one after the other, on a little table by his side.
Thus equipped he proved an admirable model; he sat, or rather stood, with untiring energy, dictating, as it were, the character of the picture, and enabling me to put every touch from nature; posing for those nervous, sensitive hands of his, for the coat and the black velvet waistcoat buttoned up to the chin--he never showed a trace of white collar or cuff--and for the long Venetian gold chain, the only slender line of light I could introduce in the sombre figure. He was indeed, I felt, a subject to stir up an artist, and to sharpen whatever of wits he might have at the end of his brush.
From Mazzini I first heard of the new enterprise Garibaldi had embarked on in August 1862. He had once more left Caprera, and had crossed over to Calabria with the avowed intention of driving the French garrison from Rome. Mazzini was most emphatic in his condemnation of the scheme, and used strong and uncomplimentary language in censuring the action of his colleague. "But the die is cast," he said, "and under the circumstances I cannot do otherwise than give instructions to all our groups and societies to support him."
How disastrously the expedition ended we all remember. It was denounced as treasonable by the Italian Government in a royal proclamation, and Garibaldi was wounded at Aspromonte in an encounter with troops sent to stop his advance. Great and spontaneous was the outburst of sympathy in England for the hero of Marsala. A small group of his friends arranged, at a cost of 1000, to send out an English surgeon, Mr. Partridge, to attend him. It was not by him, however, but by the eminent French surgeon Nelaton that the bullet was found and extracted.
More than once Mazzini's impulsiveness, not to say navete, struck me.
Thus one day he rushed breathlessly into my studio, with the words, "Have you heard the news? We are going to have Rome and Venice." I forget what particular news he alluded to, but remember pulling him up with unwarrantable audacity. "At what o'clock?" I asked. "Ah," he answered, "go on, go on. I am too well accustomed to jeers and epigrams to mind." I humbly apologised for my disrespectful retort, uttered on the spur of the moment; but to do so seemed scarcely necessary, for the lion evidently did not mind my taking liberties with his tail; and presently, when I said, "Well, if not at what o'clock, tell me in how much time you will have Rome and Venice," he answered, "Within a twelvemonth. You will see." I made a note of this date, but never reminded him of the incident. In his enthusiasm he had been over-sanguine. "Id fere credunt quod volunt," says Caesar in his "De Bello Gallico" ("they readily believe what they wish"), and Mazzini was the man of faith and aspirations. Four years were yet to elapse before Venice was liberated, and eight before the Italians gained possession of Rome.
One of the subjects on which he felt strongly was that of compulsory insurance. I cannot remember that he favoured any particular scheme, but he was wedded to the principle that no man has a right to become a pauper, and that he should be compelled by law to save a fraction of his earnings, to be entrusted to the State. In old age he should be able to draw upon a fund thus constituted, and in doing so he would be under no greater obligation to the State than any man is to the banker with whom he has opened an account.
Some little notes which I received from him mostly refer to the sittings for his portrait. On one occasion I must have written that I was again conspiring against his peace, and wanted him to make an appointment. In allusion to this he answers, addressing me as "Mon cher conspirateur."
On another occasion I had put that I was one of the several tyrants who were clamouring for his head, to which his answer commenced, "Mon cher tyran." That autograph I always particularly prized, the juxtaposition of the words "Dear" and "Tyrant" in Mazzini's handwriting being, I believe, unique. In my album he quotes Goethe, "Im Ganzen, Guten, Wahren resolut zu leben," words that strike one as the appropriate motto for the man who ever sought to live resolutely for all that is good and true. His quotation, however, was not quite correct, for he had substituted, characteristically perhaps, the "True" for the "Beautiful."
Some letters addressed to his friend, Allessandro Cicognani, which have recently come into my possession, are characteristic. He writes:--
"FRATELLO MIO,--La vostra lettera mi e giunta carissima; ora tanto piu che io sento il bisogno di riannodare intelligenze coi buoni della citta di Romagna e stava cercandone i modi; dopo tre anni d'agitazione nelle quali abbiamo lasciato fare perche l'esperimento fosse intero e i fatti parlassero, noi ci troviamo a un dipresso la donde eravamo partiti, colla Lombardia rioccupata, coi principi piu o meno proclivi a retrocedere.
"e tempo che ci dichiariamo in faccia all'Europa inetti a essere liberi, o che cominciamo ad agire da per noi. Noi vogliamo _cacciare lo straniero d' Italia_, e vogliamo _che il paese intero decida liberamente delle proprie sorti_. Guerra dunque e costituente. Se vi e chi dissenta da quegli due punti, merita condanna da ogni Italiano che ama il Paese. Non si tratta piu di un partito o dell' altro, si tratta di esistere come nazione e di riconoscere nella nazione la sovranita. In questi limiti noi vogliamo stare, al di qua noi non diamo ormai piu tregua ad alcuno.
"Questa posizione che noi repubblicani abbiamo presa io la esprimer nettamente in un opuscolo, che escira fra cinque o sei giorni e che vorrei mandarvi; vogliate indicarmi il modo piu conveniente e se io debba via via scrivere al vostro o ad altro indirizzo. Su quel terreno intanto e necessario che rapidamente ci organizziamo per l'azione concentrata a raggiungere il doppio intento. Io vi mander tra due giorni una circolare della nostra Giunta centrale contenente appunto le norme d'organizzazione generale che dovremmo dare uniforme a quanti consentano in quella bandiera. Voi farete il meglio che potrete.
"Vi suppongo in contatto con Malioni ed amici. Fra qualche giorno giungera tra voi un amico mio, Lauri di Forli col quale desidero vi teniate in perfetto accordo.
"Addio, possiam noi far davvero un ultimo sforzo che levi il Paese da questa vergognosissima via di ciarle di progetti impossibili e di transazione fra il fianciullesco ed il gesuitico, che ci fanno parere decrepiti all' Europa quando si tratta di ringiovanire ed iniziare una nuova era di vita!--Amate il vostro,
_15 Novembre 1849_."
"MY BROTHER,--Your letter received was most welcome, all the more so, as I feel the want of putting myself once more in communication with the good friends of the cities of the Romagna, and I was seeking for the best means of doing so. After three years of agitation, during which we have let things take their course in order to allow the experiment to be complete, and facts to speak for themselves, we find ourselves about at the point from which we started, with Lombardy re-occupied and the princes more or less inclined to retrogression. It is time that in the sight of Europe we should either openly avow ourselves incapable of being free, or that we should begin to act for ourselves. We are resolved to _drive the foreigner from Italy_, and to let the whole country be the free arbiter of its own destiny.
"This means war. If there is any one who dissents from these two points he deserves the condemnation of every Italian who loves his country. It is no longer a question of one party or another; it is a question of existing as a nation, and of recognising the sovereignty of the nation. Within these limits we will stand; beyond them we will henceforth concede no truce to any one.
"The position which we Republicans have thus taken I shall define in unequivocal terms in a pamphlet which will appear in five or six days, and which I should like to send you. Please let me know which is the best way of doing so, and whether I should for the present write to your address or to another. In the meanwhile it is, however, necessary that we should rapidly organise in order to attain by concentrated action the two objects in view. I shall send you in two days a circular issued by our Central Giunta, containing definite instructions for general organisation, which must be made uniform for all those who rally round this banner. You will do the best you can.
"I take it that you are in touch with Melioni and friends. In a few days you will receive the visit of a friend of mine, Lauri di Forli, with whom I wish you to hold yourself in perfect agreement.
"Good-bye. May we in full earnest make a final effort that shall lead the country out of that most disgraceful rut of useless chatter of impossible schemes and of compromises between the childish and the jesuitical, that make us appear decrepit in the eyes of Europe when we speak of regeneration and of the introduction of a new era in our lives. Love me.--Yours,
_Nov. 15, 1849_."
Fragments Of An Autobiography Part 19
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