Giuseppe Mazzini: 1805-1872

E.E.Y. Hales describes Europe's premier revolutionary between the years 1835 and 1860, who was inspired by patriotism, belief in democracy, and lofty religious ideals.

Mazzini was Europe’s premier revolutionary in the period between the years 1835 and 1860; during the mid-nineteenth century, whenever the bogey of red revolution was discussed, his was the name that immediately sprang to mind. By the ’sixties there were other names, such as Marx or Bakunin; and by 1872, when Mazzini died at Pisa, middle-class Europe was less frightened of him than of the First International.

Yet, in contrast to the ruthlessness of his distinguished predecessor, Robespierre, and in still sharper contrast to the materialism of his powerful successor, Marx, Mazzini’s preaching and practice were both charged with the loftiest religious idealism. His appeal was always to God, to faith, and to duty. In some ways, he had much in common with the higher-minded puritan commander, bible in one hand and sword in the other; though, in place of the bible, we must put his own treatise, Faith and the Future, and, in place of the sword, rifles at forty francs apiece, hidden in the mountains of Savoy or Sicily.

But in the extent of his writings and the range of his activities he was probably unique among European revolutionaries. His collected works fill one hundred quarto-sized volumes—the edition is not yet complete. And no known revolutionary has organized so many uprisings. He was also sui generis in his humour, his sensitivity, and his generosity. To Italians he is II Profeto, II Santo and above all II Nostro.

He was born in the year 1805, at Genoa, of middle-class parents, his father being a doctor and a professor at the university. The chief influence upon his youth was his mother, an austere Jansenist, who early developed the idea that her son was the Elect of God and never abandoned this consoling notion. Jansenism, in northern Italy, generally meant republicanism; and it was from his mother that Giuseppe acquired his passionate devotion to that form of political society.

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