From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston
IN the Spring, when I first came to Rome, the people were in the intoxication of joy at the first serious measures of reform taken by the Pope. I saw with pleasure their childlike joy and trust. With equal pleasure I saw the Pope, who has not in his expression the signs of intellectual greatness so much as of nobleness and tenderness of heart, of large and liberal sympathies. Heart had spoken to heart between the prince and the people; it was beautiful to see the immediate good influence exerted by human feeling and generous designs, on the part of a ruler. He had wished to be a father, and the Italians, with that readiness of genius that characterizes them, entered at once into the relation; they, the Roman people, stigmatized by prejudice as so crafty and ferocious, showed themselves children, eager to learn, quick to obey, happy to confide.
Still doubts were always present whether all this joy was not premature. The task undertaken by the Pope seemed to present insuperable difficulties. It is never easy to put new wine into old bottles, and our age is one where all things tend to a great crisis; not merely to revolution but to radical reform. From the people themselves the help must come, and not from princes; in the new state of things, there will be none but natural princes, great men. From the aspirations of the general heart, from the teachings of conscience in individuals, and not from an old ivy-covered church, long since undermined, corroded by time and gnawed by vermin, the help must come. Rome, to resume her glory, must cease to be an ecclesiastical capital; must renounce all this gorgeous mummery, whose poetry, whose picture, charms no one more than myself, but whose meaning is all of the past and finds no echo in the future. Although I sympathized warmly with the warm love of the people, the adulation of leading writers, who were so willing to take all from the hand of the prince, of the Church, as a gift and a bounty, instead of implying steadily that it was the right of the people, was very repulsive to me. The moderate party, like all who, in a transition state, manage affairs with a constant eye to prudence, lacks dignity always in its expositions; it is disagreeable and depressing to read them.
Passing into Tuscany, I found the Liberty of the press just established, and a superior preparation to make use of it. The Alba, the Patria, were begin, and have been continued with equal judgment and spirit. Their aim is to educate the youth, to educate the lower people; they see that this is to be done by promoting thought fearlessly, yet urge temperance in action, while the time is yet so difficult, and many of its signs dubious. They aim at breaking down those barriers between the different states of Italy, relics of a barbarous state of polity, artificially kept up by the craft of her foes. While anxious not to break down what is really native to the Italian character,—defences and differences that give individual genius a chance to grow and the fruits of each region to ripen in their natural way,—they aim at a harmony of spirit as to measures of education and for the affairs of business, without which Italy can never, as one nation, present a front strong enough to resist foreign robbery, and for want of which so much time and talent are wasted here, and internal development almost wholly checked.
There is in Tuscany a large of corps of enlightened minds, well prepared to be the instructors, the elder brothers and guardians, of the lower people, and whose hearts burn to fulfill that noble office. Before, it had been almost impossible to them, for the reasons I have named in speaking of Lombardy; but, during these last four months that the way has been opened by the freedom of the press and establishment of the National Guard,—so valuable, first of all, as giving occasion for public meetings and free interchange of thought between the different classes,—it is surprising how much light they have been able to diffuse already.
A Bolognese, to whom I observed, “How can you be so full of trust when all your hopes depend, not on the recognition of principles and wants throughout the people, but on the life of one mortal man?” replied: “Ah! but you don’t consider that his life gives us a chance to effect that recognition. If Pius IX. be spared to us five years, it will be impossible for his successors ever to take a backward course. Our nation is of a genius so vivacious,—we are unhappy but not stupid, we Italians,—we can learn as much in two months as other nations in twenty years.” This seemed to me no brag when I returned to Tuscany and saw the great development and diffusion of thought that had taken place during my brief absence. The Grand Duke, a well-intentioned, though dull man, had dared to declare himself “an ITALIAN Prince,” and the heart of Tuscany had bounded with hope. It is now deeply as justly felt that the curse of Italy is foreign intrusion; that if she could dispense with foreign aid, and be free from foreign aggression, she would find the elements of salvation within herself. All her efforts tend that way, to re-establish the natural position of things; may Heaven grant them success! For myself, I believe they will attain it. I see more reason for hope, as I know more of the people. Their rash and baffled struggles have taught them prudence; they are wanted in the civilized world as a peculiar influence; their leaders are thinking men, their cause is righteous. I believe that Italy will revive to new life, and probably a greater, a more truly rich and glorious, than at either epoch of her former greatness.
During the period of my absence, the Austrians had entered Ferrara. It is well that they hazarded this step, for it showed them the difficulties in acting against the prince of the Church who is at the same time a friend to the People. The position was new, and they were probably surprised at the result,—surprised at the firmness of the Pope, surprised at the indignation, tempered by calm resolve, on the part of the Italians. Louis Philippe’s mean apostacy has this time turned to the advantage of freedom. He renounced the good understanding with England which it had been one of the leading features of his policy to maintain, in the hope of aggrandizing and enriching his family (not France, he did not care for France); he did not know that he was paving the way for Italian freedom. England now is led to play a part a little nearer her pretensions as the guardian of progress than she often comes, and the ghost of La Fayette looks down, not unappeased, to see the “Constitutional King” decried by the subjects he has cheated and lulled so craftily. The King of Sardinia is a worthless man, in whom nobody puts any trust so far as regards his heart or honor; but the stress of things seems likely to keep him on the right side. The little sovereigns blustered at first, then ran away affrighted when they found there was really a spirit risen at last within the charmed circle,—a spirit likely to defy, to transcend, the spells of haggard premiers and imbecile monarchs.
I arrived in Florence, unhappily, too late for the great fête of the 12th of September, in honor of the grant of a National Guard. But I wept at the mere recital of the events of that day, which, if it should lead to no important results, must still be hallowed for ever in the memory of Italy, for the great and beautiful emotions that flooded the hearts of her children. The National Guard is hailed with no undue joy by the Italians, as the earnest of progress, the first step toward truly national institutions and a representation of the people. Gratitude had done its natural work in their hearts; it has made them better. Some days before the fête were passed by reconciling all strifes, composing all differences between cities, districts, and individuals. They wished to drop all petty, all local differences, to wash away all stains, to bathe and prepare for a new great covenant of brotherly love, where each should act for the good of all. On that day they all exchanged in sign of this,—strangers, foes, all exchanged the kiss of faith and love; they exchanged banners as a token that they would fight for, would animate, one another. All was done in that beautiful poetic manner peculiar to this artist people; but it was the spirit, so great and tender, that melts my heart to think of. It was the spirit of true religion,—such, my Country! as, welling freshly from some great hearts in thy early hours, won for thee all of value that thou canst call thy own, whose groundwork is the assertion, still sublime though thou hast not been true to it, that all men have equal rights, and that these are birth-rights, derived from God alone.
I rejoice to say that the Americans took their share in this occasion, and that Greenough—one of the few Americans who, living in Italy, takes the pains to know whether it is alive or dead, who penetrates beyond the cheats of tradesmen and the cunning of a mob corrupted by centuries of slavery, to know the real mind, the vital blood, of Italy—took a leading part. I am sorry to say that a large portion of my countrymen here take the same slothful and prejudiced view as the English, and, after many years’ sojourn, betray entire ignorance of Italian literature and Italian life, beyond what is attainable in a month’s passage through the thoroughfares. However, they did show, this time, a becoming spirit, and erected the American eagle where its cry ought to be heard from afar,—where a nation is striving for independent existence, and a government to represent the people. Crawford here in Rome has had the just feeling to join the Guard, and it is a real sacrifice for an artist to spend time of the exercises; but it well becomes the sculptor of Orpheus,—of him who had such faith, such music of divine thought, that he made the stones move, turned the beasts from their accustomed haunts and shamed hell itself into sympathy with the grief of love. I do not deny that such a spirit is wanted here in Italy; it is everywhere if anything great, anything permanent, is to be done. In reference to what I have said of many Americans in Italy, I will only add, that they talk about the corrupt and degenerate state of Italy as they do about that of our slaves at home. They come ready trained to that mode of reasoning which affirms that, because men are degraded by bad institutions, they are not fit for better.
For the English, some of them, are full of generous, intelligent sympathy;—indeed what is more solidly, more wisely good than the right sort of Englishmen!—but others are like a gentleman I travelled with the other day, a man of intelligence and refinement too as to the details of life and outside culture, who observed, that he did not see what the Italians wanted of a National Guard, unless to wear these little caps. He was a man who had passed five years in Italy, but always covered with that non-conductor called by a witty French writer “the Britannic fluid.”
Very sweet to my ear was the continental hymn in the streets of Florence, in honor of Pius IX. It is the Roman hymn, and none of the new ones written in Tuscany have been able to take its place. The people thank the Grand Duke when he does them good, but they know well from whose mind that good originates, and all their love is for the Pope. Time presses, or I would fain describe in detail the troupe of laborers of the lower class, marching home at night, keeping step as if they were in the National Guard, filling the air, and cheering the melancholy moon, by the patriotic hymns sung with the mellow tone and in the perfect time which belong to the Italians. I would describe the extempore concerts in the streets, the rejoicings at the theatres, where the addresses of liberal souls to the people, through that best vehicle, the drama, may now be heard. But I am tired; what I have to write would fill volumes, and my letter must go. I will only add some words upon the happy augury I draw from the wise docility of the people. With what readiness they listened to wise counsel, and the hopes of the Pope that they would give no advantage to his enemies, at a time when they were so fevered by the knowledge that conspiracy was at work in their midst! That was a time of trial. On all these occasions of popular excitement their conduct is like music, in such order, and with such union of the melody of feeling with discretion where to stop; but what is wonderful is that they acted in the same manner on that difficult occasion. The influence of the Pope here is without bounds; he can always calm the crowd at once. But in Tuscany, where they have no such idol, they listened in the same way on a very trying occasion. The first announcement of the regulation for the Tuscan National Guard terribly disappointed the people; they felt that the Grand Duke, after suffering them to demonstrate such trust and joy on this feast of the 12th, did not really trust, on his side; that he meant to limit them all he could. They felt baffled, cheated; hence young men in anger tore down at once the symbols of satisfaction and respect; but the leading men went among the people, begged them to be calm, and wait till a deputation had seen the Grand Duke. The people, listening at once to men who, they were sure, had at heart their best good, waited; the Grand Duke became convinced, and all ended without disturbance. If they continue to act thus, their hopes cannot be baffled. Certainly I, for one, do not think that the present road will suffice to lead Italy to her goal. But it is an onward, upward road, and the people learn as it advances. Now they can now seek and think fearless of prisons and bayonets, a healthy circulation of blood begins, and the heart frees itself from disease.
I earnestly hope for some expression of sympathy from my country toward Italy. Take a good chance and do something; you have shown much good feeling toward the Old World in its physical difficulties,—you ought to do so still more in its spiritual endeavor. This cause is OURS, above all others; we ought to show that we feel it to be so. At present there is no likelihood of war, but in case of it I trust the United States would not fail in some noble token of sympathy toward this country. The soul of our nation need not wait for its government; these things are better done by individuals. I believe some in the United States will pay attention to these words of mine, will feel that I am not a person to be kindled by a childish, sentimental enthusiasm, but that I must be sure that I have seen something of Italy before speaking as I do. I have been here only seven months, but my means of observation have been uncommon. I have been ardently desirous to judge fairly, and had no prejudices to prevent; beside, I was not ignorant of the history and literature of Italy, and had some common ground on which to stand with its inhabitants, and hear what they have to say. In many ways Italy is of kin to us; she is the country of Columbus, of Amerigo, of Cabot. It would please me much to see a cannon here bought by the contributions of Americans, at whose head should stand the name of Cabot, to be used by the Guard for salutes on festive occasions, if they should be so happy as to have no more serious need. In Tuscany they are casting one to be called the “Gioberti,” from a writer who has given a great impulse to the present movement. I should like the gift of America to be called the AMERIGO, the COLUMBO, or the WASHINGTON. Please think of this, some of my friends, who still care for the Eagle, the Fourth of July, and the old cries of hope and honor. See, of there are any objections that I do not think of, and do something if it is well and brotherly. Ah! America, with all thy rich boons, thou hast a heavy account to render for the talent given; see in every way that thou not be found wanting.
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