From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston
I have not written for six months, and within that time what changes have taken place on this side “the great water,”—changes of how great dramatic interest historically,—of bearing infinitely important ideally! Easy is the descent in ill.
I wrote last when Pius IX. had taken the first stride on the downward road. He had proclaimed himself the foe of further reform measures, when he implied that Italian independence was not important in his eyes, when he abandoned the crowd of heroic youth who had gone to the field with his benediction, to some of whom his own hand had given crosses. All the Popes, his predecessors, had meddled with, most frequently instigated, war; now came one who must carry out, literally, the doctrines of the Prince of Peace, when the war was not for wrong, or the aggrandizement of individuals, but to redeem national, to redeem human, rights from the grasp of foreign oppression.
I said some cried “traitor,” some “imbecile,” some “wept,” but in the minds of all, I believe, at that time, grief was finally predominant. They could no longer depend on him they had thought their best friend. They had lost their father.
Meanwhile his people would not submit to the inaction he urged. They saw it was not only ruinous to themselves, but base and treacherous to the rest of Italy. They said to the Pope, “This cannot be; you must follow up the pledges you have given, or, if you will not act to redeem them, you must have a ministry that will.” The Pope, after he had once declared to the contrary, ought to have persisted. He ought to have said, “I cannot thus belie myself, I cannot put my name to acts I have just declared to be against my conscience.”
The ministers of the people ought to have seen that the position they assumed was utterly untenable; that they could not advance with an enemy in the background cutting off all supplies. But some patriotism, and some vanity exhilarated them, and the Pope, having weakly yielded, they unwisely began their impossible task. Mamiani, their chief, I esteem a man, under all circumstances, unequal to such a position,—a man of rhetoric, merely. But no man could have acted, unless the Pope had resigned his temporal power, the Cardinals been put under sufficient check, and the Jesuits and emissaries of Austria driven from their lurking places.
A sad scene began. The Pope,—shut up more and more in his palace, the crowd of selfish and insidious advisers darkening round, enslaved by a confessor,—he who might have been the liberator of suffering Europe, permitted the most infamous treacheries to be practiced in his name. Private letters were written to the foreign powers, denying the acts he outwardly sanctioned; the hopes of the people were evaded or dallied with; the Chamber of Deputies permitted to talk and pass measures which they never could get funds to put into execution; legions to form and manœuvre, but never to have the arms and clothing they needed. Again and again the people went to the Pope for satisfaction. They got only—benediction.
Thus plotted and thus worked the scarlet men of sin, playing the hopes of Italy off and on, while their hope was of the miserable defeat consummated by a still worse traitor at Milan on the 6th of August. But, indeed, what could be expected from the “Sword of Pius IX.,” when Pius IX. himself had thus failed to his high vocation. The king of Naples bombarded his city, and set on the Lazzaroni to rob and murder the subjects he had deluded by his pretended gift of the Constitution. Pius proclaimed that he longed to embrace all the princes of Italy. He talked of peace, when all knew for a great part of the Italians there was no longer hope of peace, except in the sepulchre, or freedom.
The taunting manifestoes of Welden are a sufficient comment on the conduct of the Pope. “As the Government of His Holiness is too weak to control his subjects,”—“As, singularly enough, a great number of Romans are found fighting against us, contrary to the expressed will of their prince,”—such were the excuses for invasions of the Pontifical dominions, and the robbery and insult by which they were accompanied. Such invasions, it was said, made his Holiness very indignant; he remonstrated against these; but we find no word of remonstrance against the tyranny of the King of Naples,—no word of sympathy for the victims of Lombardy, the sufferings of Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Mantua, Venice.
In the affairs of Europe there are continued signs of the plan of the retrograde party to effect similar demonstrations in different places at the same hour. The 15th May was one of these marked days. On that day the king of Naples made use of the insurrection he had contrived to excite, to massacre his people, and find an excuse for recalling his troops from Lombardy. The same day a similar crisis was hoped in Rome from the declarations of the Pope, but that did not work at the moment exactly as the foes of enfranchisement hoped.
However, the wounds were cruel enough. The Roman volunteers received the astounding news that they were not to expect protection or countenance from their prince; all the army stood aghast, that they were no longer to fight in the name of Pio. It had been so dear, so sweet, to love and really reverence the head of their Church, so inspiring to find their religion for once in accordance with the aspirations of the soul! They were to be deprived, too, of the aid of the disciplined Neapolitan troops and their artillery, on which they had counted. How cunningly all this was contrived to cause dissension and dismay may easily be seen.
The Neapolitan General Pepe nobly refused to obey, and called on the troops to remain with him. They wavered, but they are a pampered army, personally much attached to the king, who pays them well and indulges them at the expense of his people, that they may be his support against that people when in a throe of nature it rises and strives for its rights. For the same reason, the sentiment of patriotism was little diffused among them in comparison with the other troops. And the alternative presented was one in which it required a very clear sense of higher duty to act against habit. Generally, after wavering a while, they obeyed and returned. The Roman States, which had received them with so many testimonials of affection and honor, on their retreat were not slack to show a correspondent aversion and contempt. The towns would not suffer their passage; the hamlets were unwilling to serve them even with fire and water. They were filled at once with shame and rage; one officer killed himself, unable to bear it; in the unreflecting minds of the soldiers, hate sprung up for the rest of Italy, and especially Rome, which will make them admirable tools of tyranny in case of civil war.
This was the first great calamity of the war. But apart from the treachery of the king of Naples and the dereliction of the Pope, it was impossible it should end thoroughly well. The people were in earnest, and have shown themselves so; brave, and able to bear privation. No one should dare, after the proofs of the summer, to reiterate the taunt, so unfriendly frequent on foreign lips at the beginning of the contest, that the Italian can boast, shout, and fling garlands, but not act. The Italian always showed himself noble and brave, even in foreign service, and is doubly so in the cause of his country. But efficient heads were wanting. The princes were not in earnest; they were looking at expediency. The Grand Duke, timid and prudent, wanted to do what was safest for Tuscany; his ministry, “Moderate” and prudent, would have liked to win a great prize at small risk. They went no farther than the people pulled them. The king of Sardinia had taken the first bold step, and the idea that treachery on his part was premeditated cannot be sustained; it arises from the extraordinary aspect of his measures, and the knowledge that he is not incapable of treachery, as he proved in early youth. But now it was only his selfishness that worked to the same results. He fought and planned, not for Italy, but for the house of Savoy, which his Balbis and Giobertis had so long been prophesying was to reign supreme in the new great era of Italy. These prophecies he more than half believed, because they chimed with his ambitious wishes; but he had not soul enough to realize them; he trusted only in his disciplined troops; he had no nobleness enough to believe he might rely at all on the sentiment of the people. For his troops he dared not have good generals; conscious of meanness and timidity, he shrank from the approach of able and earnest men; he was inly afraid they would, in helping Italy, take her and themselves out of his guardianship. Antonini was insulted, Garibaldi rejected; other experienced leaders, who had rushed to Italy at the first trumpet-sound, could never get employment from him. As to his generalship, it was entirely inadequate, even if he had made use of the first favorable moments. But his first thought was not to strike a blow at the Austrians before they recovered from the discomfiture of Milan, but to use the panic and need of his assistance to induce Lombardy and Venice to annex themselves to his kingdom. He did not even wish seriously to get the better till this was done, and when this was done, it was too late. The Austrian army was recruited, the generals had recovered their spirits, and were burning to retrieve and avenge their past defeat. The conduct of Charles Albert had been shamefully evasive in the first months. The account given by Franzini, when challenged in the Chamber of Deputies at Turin, might be summed up thus: “Why, gentlemen, what would you have? Every one knows that the army is in excellent condition, and eager for action. They are often reviewed, hear speeches, and sometimes get medals. We take places always, if it is not difficult. I myself was present once when the troops advanced; our men behaved gallantly, and had the advantage in the first skirmish; but afterward the enemy pointed on us artillery from the heights, and, naturally, we retired. But as to supposing that his Majesty Charles Albert is indifferent to the success of Italy in the war, that is absurd. He is ‘the Sword of Italy’; he is the most magnanimous of princes! he is seriously occupied about the war; many a day I have been called into his tent to talk it over, before he was up in the morning!”
Sad was it that the heroic Milan, the heroic Venice, the heroic Sicily, should lean on such a reed as this, and by hurried acts, equally unworthy as unwise, sully the glory of their shields. Some names, indeed, stand out quite free from this blame. Mazzini, who kept up a combat against folly and cowardice, of day by day and hour by hour, with almost supernatural strength, warned the people constantly of the evils which their advisers were drawing upon them. He was heard then only by a few, but in this “Italia del Popolo” may be found many prophecies exactly fulfilled, as those of “the golden haired love of Phœbus” during the struggles of Ilium. He himself, in the last sad days of Milan, compared his lot to that of Cassandra. At all events, his hands are pure from all that ill. What could be done to arouse Lombardy he did, but the “Moderate” party unable to wean themselves from old habits, the pupils of the wordy Gioberti thought there could be no safety unless under the mantle of a prince. They did not foresee that he would run away, and throw that mantle on the ground.
Tommasso and Manin also were clear in their aversion to these measures; and with them, as with all who were resolute in principle at that time, a great influence has followed.
It is said Charles Albert feels bitterly the imputations on his courage, and says they are most ungrateful, since he has exposed the lives of himself and his sons in the combat. Indeed, there ought to be made a distinction between personal and mental courage. The former Charles Albert may possess, may have too much, of what this still aristocratic world calls “the feelings of a gentleman” to shun exposing himself to a chance shot now and then. An entire want of mental courage he has shown. The battle, decisive against him, was made so by his giving up the moment fortune turned against him. It is shameful to hear so many say this result was inevitable, just because the material advantages were in favor of the Austrians. Pray, was never a battle won against material odds? It is precisely such that a good leader, a noble man, may expect to win. Were the Austrians driven out of Milan because the Milanese had that advantage? The Austrian would again have suffered repulse from them, but for the baseness of this man, on whom they had been cajoled into relying,—a baseness that deserves the pillory; and on a pillory will the “Magnanimous,” as he was meanly called in face of the crimes of his youth and the timid selfishness of his middle age, stand in the sight of posterity. He made use of his power only to betray Milan; he took from the citizens all means of defence, and then gave them up to the spoiler; he promised to defend them “to the last drop of his blood,” and sold them the next minute; even the paltry terms he made he has not seen maintained. Had the people slain him in their rage, he well deserved it at their hands; and all his conduct since how righteous would have been that sudden verdict of passion.
Of all this great drama I have much to write, but elsewhere, in a more full form, and where I can duly sketch the portraits of actors little known in America. The materials are over-rich. I have bought my right in them by much sympathetic suffering; yet, amid the blood and tears of Italy, ‘t is joy to see some glorious new births. The Italians are getting cured of mean adulation and hasty boasts; they are learning to prize and seek realities; the effigies of straw are getting knocked down, and living, growing men take their places. Italy is being educated for the future; her leaders are learning that the time is past for trust in princes and precedents,—that there is no hope except in truth and God; her lower people are learning to shout less and think more.
Though my thoughts have been much with the public in this struggle for life, I have been away from it during the summer months, in the quiet valleys, on the lonely mountains. There, personally undisturbed, I have seen the glorious Italian summer wax and wane,—the summer of Southern Italy, which I did not see last year. On the mountains it was not too hot for me, and I enjoyed the great luxuriance of vegetation. I had the advantage of having visited the scene of the war minutely last summer, so that, in mind, I could follow every step of the campaign, while around me were the glorious relics of old times,—the crumbling theater or temple of the Roman day, the bird’s-nest village of the Middle Ages, on whose purple height shone the sun and moon of Italy in changeless lustre. It was great pleasure to me to watch the gradual growth and change of the seasons, so different from ours. Last year I had not leisure for this quiet acquaintance. Now I saw the fields first dressed in their carpets of green, enamelled richly with the red poppy and blue corn-flower,—in that sunshine how resplendent! Then swelled the fig, the grape, the olive, the almond; and my food was of these products of this rich clime. For near three months I had grapes every day; the last four weeks, enough daily for two persons a cent! Exquisite salad for two persons’ dinner and supper cost but a cent, and all other products of the region were in the same proportion. One who keeps still in Italy, and lives as the people do, may really have much simple luxury for very little money; though both travel, and, to the inexperienced foreigner, life in the cities, are expensive.
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