Selected Writings

Selected Writings

Selected Writings

Selected Writings

Excerpt

The awakening of Italy in the nineteenth century dates from two great events, the French Revolution and the invasion by Napoleons. Till then Italy was, as a historian put it, 'like a comedy of Goldoni, dukes enjoying takes and mistresses, priests accepting oblations and snuff, nobles sipping chocolate and pocketing 'rent, while the poor peasants, kept behind the scenes, sweated and toiled for a bare subsistence.' Various currents now burst upon the Italian life and shook the foundations of mediaevalism and autocracy.

Although the influence of the French Revolution was confined to a small minority of thinkers, there were few outward indications of antagonism against the absolutist régime. Alarmed at the spread of revolutionary ideas, the Italian princes sought to reinforce their absolute power by encouraging 'the reformists and progressive activities of their governments. But it was not long before such activities were checked and a reaction set in. The ideals of liberty and progress, however, found expression in literature. Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803) was the poet of the new age. He embodied his ideas of Italy's destiny in classic tragedies and reminded the youth of their country;s virility in the past when she was 'twice mother of the European nations.' The influence of this literary genius was so great in inspiring noble and patriotic emotion that De Sanctis wrote as late as 1855 that 'every time Italy renews her strength and a new renaissance dawns in her modern history she returns with great enthusiasm to Alfieri.'

The nineteenth century in Italy opened with the invasion of Napoleon. We need not recount here the details of his conquests and of his despotic career in Italy; but he found the Italian states in such a condition that he could arrange the whole peninsula 'as a housekeeper shifts the furniture in an unsatisfactory room.' He detached Nice and Savoy from Piedmont, Lombardy from Austria, and grouped together the less important states south of the Po into a republic. In Rome he seized upon the temporal power of the Pope and set up a Roman Republic. He then converted Genoa into the Republic of Liguria. Under his domination, the Great Venetian Council had to resign and the Republic of St. Mark, after an existence of a thousand years, came to an end.

In 1805, having become Emperor of France, Napoleon transformed . . .

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