Giuseppe Mazzini, the leading Italian patriot, political theorist, and critic, was born in 1805, the son of Giacomo Mazzini, a physician and participant in the Ligurian Jacobin movement, and Maria Drago, a woman of strong Jansenist convictions who would exert an important influence on her son’s work and ideas. Mazzini’s literary talents developed early; in 1826, for instance, he submitted an article, “Saggio sul Dante Alighieri: ‘Amor Patria” (“Dante’s Love of Country”), to the Antologia, considered the best Italian literary review of the time. The subject is significant, since Mazzini represented Dante as one of the earliest advocates of Italian unity; and although the article was at first rejected, it was later printed in that journal. In 1827 he received a degree in law and joined the Carbonari, continuing meanwhile to write articles on literary topics for publication in such journals as Francesco Guerrazzi’s L’Indicatore Livornese (The Livornese indicator). A year later Mazzini assumed the editorship of a similar review, L’Indicatore Genovese (The Genoese indicator), in which several of his writings were published. One of his articles, on Sir Walter Scott, caused the small newspaper to be investigated by the police, the strong censorship of the period equating enthusiastic Romanticism with political extremism.
Mazzini was, of course, quite involved in revolutionary activity at this time, and in 1830 was arrested for conspiracy and imprisoned in the fortress of Savona. After a short time he was allowed to choose exile and went to Marseilles. There he founded Giovine Italia (Young Italy), an organization dedicated to the unification of Italy as a republic, with Rome as its capital. By 1832, Mazzini’s revolutionary and nationalistic ideas were well known throughout Italy. He left France the following year and moved to Switzerland, where he founded Young Europe as a broad international counterpart to Young Italy. Its purpose was to build a union of European republican nation-states, all based on the principles of equality and brotherhood and to be achieved by Mazzini’s central formula of “thought and action.” Forced to leave Switzerland after a failed political uprising, he went into exile in England, where he remained until 1848.
Settling in London, Mazzini continued writing and produced several incisive literary analyses of Dante, Goethe, Foscolo, Byron, Carlyle, and the Romantic movement. He also served as a correspondent for two liberal continental journals, the Paris-based Le Monde (The world) and the Swiss Helvétie, in which he gave lengthy observations on the social and political conditions in England as well as his first impressions on the politics of the working classes. During this period of exile he also made his living writing for John Stuart Mill’s London and Westminster Review, the Monthly Chronicle, the British and Foreign Review, Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, and the radical People’s Journal. In that last periodical, in a series of six essays entitled “Thoughts upon Democracy in Europe,” he traced the common utilitarian origins of various utopian movements of the time. When the revolutionary uprisings of 1848 erupted all over Europe, he returned to Italy where he experienced the attempt at insurrection in Milan and the establishment of the short-lived Roman Republic, serving as one of its governing triumvirs. Returning to England after the Republic’s fall, Mazzini continued his prolific output of literary and political writings, which were aimed, in part, at building support and sympathy for the Italian cause among the British public. He also helped to organize unsuccessful uprisings in various parts of the Italian peninsula, but was opposed to the policy of those moderates who sought to tie Italy’s unification to the Savoy monarchy.
In 1860 he published his major tome, Doveri dell’uomo (The Duties of Man), in which he outlined his main economic and social, as well as political, doctrines. In this work he urged the working classes in particular to abandon materialistic views such as Marxism and fulfill instead their obligations to God, the people, and the nation. In exile again in London from 1860 to 1868, Mazzini became a close friend of the poet A.C. Swinburne and the novelist George Meredith, both of whom used Mazzini and the central events of his life as themes in their works. Meredith’s serialized Vittoria (1864–65) descried Mazzini at the height of his Romantic revolutionary career, and Swinburne’s panegyric “Ode to Mazzini” (1857) and “Super Flumina Babylonis” (1869) praised him as the prophet who inspires his people to gain independence. Mazzini was also the subject of Robert Browning’s poem, “The Italian in England,” and his influence on English letters is further evident in the works of several of his British followers, including his translator Jessie White Mario and his biographer Emilie Ashurst Venturi. He was the inspiration for at least two novels, Clara Hopgood (1896) by William Hale White, in which his dealings with the British Chartist movement are described, and Benjamin Disraeli’s Lothair (1870), which emphasizes the political disappointments of Mazzini’s later years as well as his early idealism. The last four years of Mazzini’s life were spent in Italy where he founded a new journal, Roma del Popolo (The people’s Rome), and a working men’s association while continuing to write countless articles and political tracts.
While Mazzini is best known for his political activism, the critical writings themselves form an important contribution to Italian Romanticism. They serve, moreover, to demonstrate the close connection that often existed in 17th-century Italy between new literary styles and elements of social and political activity. In an early essay on Italian literature, for instance, Mazzini asserted that the character of Italian poetry reflected that country’s failure to produce independent and vital political movements, and called for the creation of a new Italian literature with “social man in action” as its theme. Additionally, he attacked Italy’s writers for their constant servile admiration of the powerful, their tragic separation of literature from Italian national life, and their imitation of foreign literary schools and styles.
The significant essay on Dante which Mazzini wrote during his early career, describing him as a forerunner of Italian unity, is an essentially political interpretation of the poet’s work. But it is still the result of Mazzini’s fresh reading of the poetry itself rather than of a scholarly analysis of Dante’s annotators or, as he puts it, “rummaging through the archives of monasteries.” The essay recalls an appeal made earlier by Ugo Foscolo for a new criticism of Italy’s greatest literary figure. In his study of Goethe and Byron, Mazzini sees the two writers as contrasting figures, each representing divergent intellectual views. “Goethe better expresses lives; Byron life. The one is more vast; the other more deep.” Mazzini himself described poetry as an endeavor which has a religious, popular, and visionary purpose and, while praising much of the new Romantic literature of his age, rejected Romanticism’s cult of the individual and the idea of art as a mere imitator of nature, or the formula “Art for art’s sake.” For this reason too, he placed Byron “far above” Wordsworth and Coleridge, whom he called “contemplative poets only, living remote from action amid their mountains and lakes.” His other incisive essays on the 16th-century Italian thinker Paolo Sarpi and on his own contemporaries, George Sand and Victor Hugo, are also written from this viewpoint. In a similar vein, he regarded historiography as having an essentially didactic purpose, the historian’s role to be essentially that of “a prophet of a higher social end,” quite in accord with his own guiding principle of “thought and action.”
Known as Joseph Mazzini while living in England. Born 22 June 1805 in Genoa. Studied privately; University of Genoa, from 1819, law degree, 1827. Editor, L’Indicatore Genovese, from 1828. Arrested and imprisoned for joining the Carbonari group of secret societies, 1830, and exiled to France, 1831, living in Marseilles; founder, Giovine Italia (Young Italy) political organization supporting Italian unification under republican form of government, 1831. Short liaison with Giuditta Sidoli: one child (died in infancy).
Moved to Switzerland, 1833; founder, Young Switzerland and Young Europe (counterparts to Giovine Italia); expelled from Switzerland and France, and lived in London, 1837–48, where he wrote for various periodicals and newspapers, and became friends with Thomas and Jane Carlyle. Returned to Italy, 1848, to witness revolts, and became triumvir of short-lived Roman Republic; returned to England after Republic’s fall; helped to organize unsuccessful uprisings in Milan, 1853, and Genoa, 1857; lived in London, 1860–68; lived in Lugano, from 1868, and secretly in Pisa. Founder, Roma del Popolo, 1871. Died in Pisa, 10 March 1872.
Essays and Related Prose
Doveri dell’uomo, 1860; edited by Giuliana Limiti and Alda de Caprarriis, 1972, Paolo Rossi, 1972, and Giovanni Spadolini, 1990; as The Duties of Man, translated by Emilie A.Venturi, 1862, and Ella Noyes, in The Duties of Man and Other Essays, 1907
Essays: Selected from the Writings, Literary, Political and Religious (various translators), edited by William Clarke, 1887
“God and the People”…Being Selections from the Writings, edited by C.W.Stubbs, 1891
Essays, edited by Bolton King, translated by Thomas Okey, 1894
The Duties of Man and Other Essays, translated by Ella Noyes, Thomas Okey, and L.Martineau, 1907
Selected Writings, edited by N.Gangulee, 1945
Dúna letteratura europea e altri saggi, edited by Paolo Mario Sipala, 1991
Other writings: correspondence.
Collected works editions: Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini, 6 vols., 1864–70;
Scritti editi ed inediti (Edizione Nazionale), 94 vols., 1906–43; Opere, edited by Luigi Salvatorelli, 2. vols., 1938.
Coppa, Frank J., and William Roberts, Modern Italian History: An Annotated Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990
Barr, Stringfellow, Mazzini: Portrait of an Exile, New York: Holt, 1935
Griffith, Gwilym O., Mazzini: Prophet of Modern Europe, New York: Fertig, 1970 (original edition, 1932)
King, Bolton, The Life of Mazzini, London: Dent, and New York: Dutton, 1902
Mack Smith, Denis, Mazzini, New Haven, Connecticut and London: Yale University Press, 1994
Morelli, Emilia, L’Inghilterra di Mazzini, Rome: Istituto per la Storia del Risorgimento Italiano, 1965
Roberts, William, Prophet in Exile: Joseph Mazzini in England, 1837–1868, New York: Lang, 1989
Salvemini, Gaetano, Mazzini, London: Cape, 1956; Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1957
Silone, Ignazio, The Living Thoughts of Mazzini, London: Cassell, and New York: Longman, 1939
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