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  • The Nation and Giuseppe Mazzini, 1842–48
  • Michael Huggins

For many years, since the pioneering work of such historians as Kevin Nowlan, it was assumed that the nationalist movement of Giuseppe Mazzini known as “Young Italy” had a direct and potent impact upon the romantic nationalist movement that emerged in the 1840s around the Young Ireland movement and its mouthpiece, the Nation newspaper. In 1960, Nowlan, Robert Dudley Edwards, and Thomas Desmond Williams published a series of lectures under the title Ireland and the Italian Risorgimento. In the introduction, Edwards stated bluntly that the Irish movement “had been strongly influenced by the ideas of Mazzini and their gospel of Irish Nationalism was largely based on his theories.”1 While positing a more qualified relationship between Mazzinian ideas and Young Ireland in the 1840s, Nowlan nevertheless averred that “the Young Irelanders in their newspaper, the Nation, came close enough to Mazzini’s position.”2

In a 1973 article on the relationship between Irish and European romantic nationalism, Giovanni Costigan made a similar point, noting that Mazzini sometimes wrote of Italy in “language almost identical with that of the Nation.” Costigan listed some of the characteristics of romantic or Mazzinian nationalism: the development of a “powerful mystique of the nation”; a sense of history and idealization of “folk culture”; an enthusiasm for the revival of ancient languages; an emphasis on the need for blood sacrifice; a cult of the hero (in the Irish case, Tone and Emmet were those most often deployed to this end); the personification of the nation, often as a forlorn, suffering female; the importance of virtue; and a predilection for failure.3 In a similar list, Alberto Mario Banti has said that “in Mazzinian rhetoric we find an appeal to history, geneaology, blood, land and the nation’s honour . . . we also find key references to symbols [End Page 15] and figures drawn from the Christian tradition and them transposed to a new order of discourse, that of the patriotic religion.”4 Banti also notes the depiction of the Italian nation as a suffering female in the allegory of sexual and national humiliation developed in romantic depictions of the Sicilian Vespers of 1282.5 This political culture, as Paul Ginsborg has recently suggested, owes much to European romanticism. Ginsborg’s claim that the anthropocentric perspective on the natural world of Italian nationalists “often translated into a heightened love and awareness of the physical features of the Italian homeland” might just as easily have been made in relation to the regular evocation of the Irish landscape in the pages of the Nation.6 Ginsborg identified additional motifs derived by Italian nationalists from romanticism, including a view of the past as more harmonious than the present, an emphasis on self-sacrifice, and admiration for individual heroism.

Most of these characteristics can be detected in the narratives of Ireland published in the Nation between 1842 and 1848. This is not to say that Mazzini was solely responsible for such narratives; for example, the failure motif was a common enough romantic trope. Indeed, Eva Stöter has suggested that the Grimm brothers’ demand for a national folkloric German literature was an important influence on Thomas Davis.7 Similarly, the influence of Johann Gottfried von Herder’s thought on fostering the volksgeist through education might be detected in Mazzini, as well as in Davis and Duffy. It is more profitable to see both Mazzini and Young Ireland as part of a Europe-wide cosmopolitan cultural and intellectual matrix that developed after the revolutionary years of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As Nowlan noted, Young Ireland was “inspired by the new trends in thought which inspired nationalists in other lands.”8

In a recent essay, Colin Barr questioned the extent of Mazzini’s influence on Young Ireland. According to Barr, “Young Ireland had precious little to do with Young Italy in particular or continental concerns in general.” Barr argues that Archbishop Paul Cullen’s crusade during the early 1850s against the “Mazzinian” Nation newspaper and its owner and editor Charles Gavan Duffy was wrongly [End Page 16] premised: Duffy, he states, “was no disciple of Mazzini; Young Ireland was not Young Italy.”9...


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