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Garibaldi in England, 1864

The Italian patriot’s visit to England was extraordinarily successful. But Queen Victoria deplored the scenes it provoked; and Karl Marx described them as “a miserable spectacle of imbecility”.

No one seemed quite sure why Garibaldi had come to England.

He said himself at Malta, where he called on his way, that the purpose of his visit was “to obtain the benefit of medical advice and to pay a debt of gratitude he considers he owes to the English people.”

The Italian Government, however, felt sure that there must be some other reason. He had long been publicly complaining that the Government had denied freedom of speech to some of his friends and had imprisoned others.

Indeed, ever since his march on Rome had been checked at Aspromonte he had been complaining that the Ministers in Turin were, to use his own words published later in his Memorie, “preparing a nauseous reaction, and spending the riches of Italy in hiring spies, police agents, priests and similar rabble.”

The thought that he might express such opinions in London, that he might collect money for some new adventure, that he would be received with an enthusiasm which would encourage his revolutionary supporters, filled the Italian Government with foreboding.

The British Government were nervous enough themselves. Lord Palmerston had made it clear to Garibaldi’s sponsors that the visit must be a private one, that the General should be discouraged from accepting invitations to public entertainments at which he might be induced to make embarrassing speeches.

He had already appealed to England to help the American North against the Southern slave owners, and was known to have received Polish emissaries at his cottage on the island of Caprera and to have said that he wished his health were strong enough for him to join in their fight against Russia.

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