Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

Denis Mack Smith:

30) Mazzini.

New Haven and London, 1994

Although the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini constantly failed during his lifetime with his guerrilla tactics and attempted coups in his homeland he can be considered, in a wider historical perspective, as one of the most influential and successful ideologists of the 19th century. He was not only the architect and spiritus rector of the Italian unification, but also one of the driving ideological forces of the Republican insurgencies of 1848, which had changed the Eurasian map effectively, and in the end also his central vision of a Europe of democratic Republican nations became reality. Though he was one of the most prolific authors of the time, writing thousands of letters, political instructions and articles for his various Republican journals, mainly on ethical, economical, and aesthetical matters, he never developed a consistent political theory. His characteristic blend of theocratic, patriotic and liberal democratic views developed from the opposition to the autocratic system of the dawning restauration and the narrowed nationalism of the rising age of imperialism, and moreover in conflict with the materialistic system of his adversary Karl Marx. „Mazzini referred to Marx for the first time in an article of 1852, but before then there were dozens of uncomplimentary references to the ‘ultra-reactionary’ Mazzini in the correspondence between Marx and Friedrich Engels. This correspondence condescendingly referred to the ‘platitudinous parodies of his cosmopolitan-neo-Catholic-ideological manifestos.’  (...) Mazzini had invited this opposition by his own perceptive criticism of Communism between 1846 and 1851. (...) He knew that there were differences of opinion and emphasis inside communism, but basically it stood for government being ‘at once proprietor, possessor and distributor of all that exists’, organizing society ‘after the manner of beavers.’  Communism, he wrote, (...) precisely reproduced ‘the position of the masters of slaves in olden times,’ because ambitious and unscrupulous people would realise how to exploit communist ideas and use the gullibility of the masses to create another dictatorship as illiberal, cruel and inefficient as the ancient regime.“ (Denis M. Smith)


After a series of failed insurgencies and after being exiled from his refuges in Switzerland and France, he lived, from January 1837 onwards and for the rest of his life, predominantly in London, from where he organized his further conspiratory activities. The fascination he held for many representatives of the cultural elite like Dickens or Carlyle, but also for political activists like Linton or Holyoake, originates in no small part from his deep ties with the radical heritage of British puritanism and romanticism. „As a boy he had (...) copied out poems by Milton, Pope and Shelley. He was among the first Italians to appreciate Burns and Wordsworth, whom he took as exemplars of a new liberal romanticism that would replace the sometimes authoritarian stereotypes of the previous century.“ In later years  „a friend remembered that ‘he could never forgive England for her neglect and misappreciation of Byron,’ a writer he placed ‘far above Wordsworth and Coleridge whom he calls contemplative poets only, living remote from action amid their mountains and lakes’.“ (Denis M. Smith)  With the exiled Mazzini, England had another romantic champion for liberty and freedom of the type of Byron, but without his aristrocratic and egomanic deficiencies.

Denis Mack Smith mentions Linton repeatedly in his authoritative biography of Mazzini as a friend and follower. In his own autobiography, Linton specifies that he first met him around 1841 in his free secular school „for poor Italians in London, most of them the wretched organ-grinders and hawkers of plaster casts.“ The school of which Linton became a patron was just around the block of his own engraving workshop. „Mazzini, he believed, was a man born to level emperors and raise nations to their duty. He ranged Mazzini with Lamennais: the abbé as his rhetorical social inspiration, the Italian as the active protagonist of his apocalyptic hopes.“ (F.B. Smith)  Indeed there had been some connections between the dissident French priest and the mastermind of Italian guerilla war, not only in their impassionate solemn diction. At the request of Lamennais, Mazzini had, between March and June 1837,  anonymously written a series of articles for Le Monde in Paris, about class conflicts in England. Although Linton subordinated  his political activities for the next two decades almost completely to the Mazzinean cause, their socio-political conceptions differed substantially. The model of society, which Linton drafted in the early 1850s in his journal The English Republic was much less hieratical and authoritarian than Mazzini’s scheme.  Instead, Linton’s societal ideal comes closer to the self-organizing grass roots conception of Robert Owen’s cooperative movement.