Italy – For The Schools Of The Dante Alighieri Society In London

IT is with the warmest sympathy that in the name of the ” Dante Alighieri ” Society I hail this volume, which holds in its pages the heart of two free peoples, both equally fervent in their love of all the ideals of civilisation.

The ” Dante Alighieri,” ever confident, ever vigilant and in arms, eagerly anticipated this day of Italian redemption, this day of alliance between our two countries.

Others may have wavered or gone astray, but we persevered. We thus kept burning the light that shines forth from Ravenna, and succeeded in upholding our language in the unredeemed lands of Italy, that language which numbers in England, more than in any other country in Europe, so many proficient scholars and ardent lovers.

Garibaldi, addressing the women of England in November 186o, said : ” O Britain, in all the vicissitudes inherent to the human race, Italy will look upon thee as her sister ! ” Such a natural bond Governments have no power either to tighten or loosen ; it is rooted in ideals, it links together the very souls of nations, it perpetuates itself immutably.

Was Dante ever in England ? Did he ever travel there from Paris, as we read in Boccaccio ?

W. E. Gladstone, in the last days of his life, repeated the contention, adding to it the enthusiastic support of his deep learning. But there is no real evidence to prove it. However, I love to figure to myself Dante at Oxford in search of the relics of Roger Bacon, who only a few years earlier had died of his prolonged sufferings for the freedom of the human intellect. Roger Bacon gave to the first period of the Middle Ages the great light of his bold scientific investigations ; Dante illuminated, mirrored, and enclosed in his sublime poem the whole of the Middle Ages.

In the name of Dante, Italy is now striving for her own natural boundaries, ” i termini suoi,” and, England’s sister now more than ever, she fights with her, aiming at the future.

If Shakespeare succeeded in reproducing our chronicles with colours so truly Italian, if Macaulay was able to penetrate so thoroughly the times, the mind, the national aspirations of Machiavelli, the reason is to be found in the genius of ideality, which is the common inheritance of the British and Italian peoples.

Are the pupils of the ” Dante Alighieri ” schools in London, which render such good service in fostering the spiritual intimacy between the two nations are these pupils ever shown the houses in which Foscolo, at times a disconsolate, scornful voluntary recluse, at times reckless and extravagant, meditated, wrote, prophesied, dreamt, and hoped ? It was there he gave his soul and heart to the study of the Divine Comedy, in the interpretation of which he may perhaps sometimes have given way to his fiery imagination. There, too, he composed his inspiring exhortations for the redemption of Italy, that most cherished of the aspirations of his soul from his earliest youth. May the pupils of our schools in their rambles through the great British metropolis also learn that in London was laid the first warp of the renovation of Italy. For it was in London that Mazzini, whose genius em-bodied the highest characteristics of the English and Italian minds, relentlessly worked for the attainment of his ideal of a unified Italy, comforted by the sympathy of devoted friends and followers, and encouraged by the support of eminent statesmen such as Mr. Stansfeld, who resigned his seat in the Cabinet rather than betray the friendship of the Italian exile.

May, again, the children in our schools learn how Sir Anthony Panizzi owed his fame to British hospitality, and how Crispi, the constant promoter of Anglo-Italian friendship, while going through the hardships of banishment, collected in England the historical and political evidence for the vindication of the rights of Italy, at the same time constantly preparing for resolute action of which he foresaw the future victories. Again, may they learn how Rossetti, who in 1821 had been saved from death in Naples through the devotion of an Englishwoman, found in London the necessary leisure for the continuation of his poetical and critical pursuits, and became the founder of a family of English poets and artists ; finally, how Giovanni Ruffini helped to spread the knowledge of Italian and wrote his famous Dottor Antonio.

But the most important character in the history of the spiritual relations of the two countries is that of Vittorio Alfieri, who, after having aimlessly wandered over the whole of Europe, went to England, where he was ” immediately struck by the genuine and rare qualities of that free and happy country.” His admiration for her public institutions was the main source of those elevated doctrines which contributed so much to form the political conscience of the Italians of the Risorgimento.

If I were asked what portraits should adorn the walls of the ” Dante Alighieri ” schools, I would strongly advise, next to Dante’s, those of Vittorio Alfieri, Lord Byron, and then Gladstone and Mazzini. At a time when Italy was more than ever politically oppressed, in consequence of the decisions of the Congress of Vienna, Lord Byron, inspired by his ardent love for our country, kindled the flame which, through the writings of his devotee, F. D. Guerrazzi, contributed so much to raise and maintain the enthusiasm of the new Italian generations. The canto of Ghilde Harold consecrated to Italy is the most vivid document of the Italian feelings of the English poet, feelings shared by the genius of his contemporary P. B. Shelley.

And in addition to the portrait of Dante, I should like to set before the eyes of our pupils the image of William Ewart Gladstone. Nothing could better acquaint them with the soaring genius of the Divine Poet, or with the mind and works of Leopardi, or with the most eminent modern writers on Italy, than some of Gladstone’s essays. We whose aim it is to uphold and diffuse the Italian tongue, we honour in Gladstone the scholar marvellously versed in all its beauties, who successfully spread the study of our language in England, where since the middle of the nineteenth century he seemed to think it was neglected. His name should therefore be prominent in our Society.

But many other considerations should induce us to revive and exalt the memory of Gladstone. In a scathing indictment he denounced to the civilised world the iniquitous tyranny of the Bourbons, tearing thus asunder the chains that tortured Poerio and other patriots in the dungeons of Naples. He openly opposed the Austrian leanings of the British Cabinet in 1859, and encouraged Count Cavour in the memorable interview at Turin. He was the champion of our rights and the defender of our achievements during the first years of the kingdom of Italy, and ardently wished a united Italy, her own mistress in Rome. His speeches in defence of Italy in the years 1862-64, uttered in that temple of Liberty in which the cause of our country had such eminent advocates as Lord Palmerston, and our still more valuable friend Lord John Russell, the husband of our staunch and active sympathiser, will live as long as miracles wrought by sheer eloquence are held in honour.

Garibaldi, in our people’s mind, is the personification of the epic of the Risorgimento. Let us then depict in our schools in London the hero who drew attention to ” the chivalrous action of England in a moment of difficulty and peril.” I should also love to revive in a picture the days of 1864, when Garibaldi drove in triumph through the crowded streets of London, and when thousands and thousands of British, thronging round him, from the Prince of Wales down to the humblest workman, enthusiastically hailed the future liberator of Venice and Rome.

But there is still another picture which I should like to see there, Garibaldi surrounded by the women of England, those women whom he greeted as ” his associates in the work of redemption,” and who ” followed and inspired him from Marsala to the Volturno ” : the Duchess of Sutherland presenting him with the New Testament, Emma Roberts, Mary Seely, his hostess in the Isle of Wight, Caroline Phillipson, and last, not least, Julia Salis Schwabe, an Englishwoman from her earliest youth, who nursed his wounds at the fort of Varignano and comforted him at Caprera. This last one was the friend of Richard Cobden, he himself a lover of Italy, whose tenets were adopted by Cavour in his work of reform.

But the memories of the past induce me to turn my eyes to the future. May the ” Dante Alighieri ” Schools always look to the future. The language we upheld in unredeemed Italy may our fully redeemed country always diffuse wherever Italians are to be found, and may this language ever convey noble and generous thoughts to that country where all that is noble and generous is specially revered.

Forward ! ever forward ! Such is the motto of New Italy, in its thoughts, in its deeds, in its social reforms. All that surrounds our children in England is a guarantee of civilisation and progress. Cattaneo said : ” In England progress is since Caesar’s time the constant law in moral as well as in material things.” In England the mystery of power, which in other countries remained for many centuries the secret of the dominating few, belonged from the earliest times to the people, giving rise to that model of political institutions which substituted violence and revolution with the lasting conquests of evolution and reform. The Reform Bill in 1832 inaugurated the era of ampler participation by the people in political power. Free trade not only wrought an economical and social renovation, but developed into a manifestation of faith in liberty and mutual love among all peoples. The classical idea of freedom blended wonderfully with the boldest social innovations, and it was thus possible for the very country where landed property was more than elsewhere effectively protected by privilege, to reform its institutions with a view of extending their benefits to the community at large.

Similar to England in the spirit of freedom and progress was the kingdom of Piedmont, that citadel of Italian Unity to which Lord Derby in 1859, in spite of Austria’s blandishments, applied the epithet of ” glorious.” Cavour, who was the leading spirit both of Piedmont and of New Italy in the decisive years of the Risorgimento, declared in Parliament : ” From England I have derived the greatest part of that political knowledge which has always guided me ; I worship England as the stronghold where freedom has found, and will always find, an impregnable refuge ; as minister and political writer I have always cherished an alliance with England ” (Feb. 9, 1859). And Lord Clarendon had already said, when announcing the alliance with Piedmont for the Crimean War : ” All that contributes to bind our countries more closely, England welcomes with a feeling akin to enthusiasm.”

The present alliance will enable England and Italy to establish a new order among nations and to give novel features to their finances, their economical and social legislation, and their commercial intercourse. At the same time this war will bring the people of England, whose soil has never been trampled upon by an armed foe, into closer touch with the vicissitudes of international life.

England has taught the world the free government of colonies, and the wisdom of her system is now proved by the unanimous and gallant response of all the Overseas Dominions to the call of the Mother Country.

And England will always be, we have no doubt, amongst the independent nations of the world, the great upholder of the principle of nationality. If that principle were again ignored, no peace could be lasting. The future must bring to us for the glory of civilisation, and for the benefit of humanity, the Federation of Free Nations. Such is the will of all peoples, and they will make it prevail.

May this formidable war engender the triumph of the principle of nationality and the federation of free nations. Two Italian precursors, both exiles on British soil, Mazzini and Crispi, invoked those principles, and their idea will not die ; the echo of their voices will ever ring in British and Italian hearts.