Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

'Whose Cry Is Liberty, and Fatherland': Kossuth, Garibaldi and European Nationalism in Scottish Political Poetry

Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

'Whose Cry Is Liberty, and Fatherland': Kossuth, Garibaldi and European Nationalism in Scottish Political Poetry

Article excerpt

In 1855, the miserable, alienated and possibly insane speaker of Alfred Tennyson's 'monodrama', Maud, announced his total lack of sympathy for struggling European nations:

Shall I weep if a Poland fall? shall 1 shriek if a Hungary fail?
Or an infant civilisation be ruled with rod or with knout?
I have not made the world, and He that made it will guide. (1)

Tennyson's disaffected young man, his focus on nature red in tooth and claw, is defiantly at odds with his society. And, of course, the questions in these lines reflect this. Popular sympathy for revolutionary events in Poland and Hungary in the mid-Victorian period ran very high. As often in Maud, however, the speaker's attitude highlights a number of disturbing and, in its immediate context, urgent questions. What good did it do for an individual to 'weep' and 'shriek' over the affairs of foreign nations and peoples? To what extent should the British people as a whole care about the struggles of other nations? Should Britain intervene and assist in struggles against oppression or for national self-determination, and if so, how?

These are questions which engaged many Victorian poets, and their investments in European nationalisms have been substantially explored by critics, including in major studies by Matthew Reynolds and Alison Chapman. (2) However, with the exception of Chapman's consideration of expatriate, pro-Kisorgimento Scottish women writers in Italy, there has been little discussion of any differences within 'British' literary responses to European politics. (3) Nor do broader historical studies of British support for and engagement with European revolutionary causes and their heroes--especially Joseph Mazzini (1805-1872) and Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) of Italy and Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) of Hungary--have much to say about variations between Scotland and England; most solely focus on England. (4) Yet any investigation of the Scottish press in the period when these causes were most active displays a very strong perception that Scotland had a qualitatively and quantitatively different relationship to European nationalism than England, and that this was due to Scotland's unique history and culture.

Poetry was a vital part of this culture. Only a year after Tennyson's poem, the Hamilton Advertiser published a report of a speech welcoming Kossuth, then in exile, to Hamilton, where he was speaking as part of his 1856 lecture tour of Scotland. The lecture title was 'The Present State of Continental Europe in General, and the connection between European Liberty and British Interests'. The welcome speech was assigned to Samuel Simpson, a local banker. The paper transcribed it:

[Simpson] regarded [Kossuth] as the personification of patriotism, and
that love of Fatherland which breathes so fervently in Scotchmen. They
would forgive him if he gave utterance to the national feeling in those
burning words familiar to every school boy, but which no repetition
could weaken--

Breathes there a man with soul so dead.
Who never to himself hath said--
This is my own, my native land,
Whose heart within him ne'er hath burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned (Cheers)

Land of my sires, what mortal hand
Can e'er untie that filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand. (Loud cheers)

Our friend and fellow townsman, as I may call him, for he is our
youngest burgess, is a wanderer in a foreign land, but he is one well
entitled to adopt these words as his own; and I trust he shall yet be
restored to his native country, by his efforts renewed and regenerated,
and freed from the bonds of the oppressor. (Cheers). (5)

In this speech, Walter Scott's famous lines from 'The Lay of the Last Minstrel' are symbolically handed over to Kossuth, not simply in recognition of his continued devotion to Hungary, but as a justification for his ongoing efforts to raise a new revolution. The 'national feeling' that Scots have for Scotland, as summed up in Scott's lines, means that they have a unique sympathy with Kossuth and Hungary's position. …

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