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vii “Fabulous” can have several meanings. One is that which is totally imaginary , as in a fable; another is “almost unbelievable.” In my estimation, Moreno’s life embodied both meanings. As his biographer, I have experienced both frustration and fascination seeking to determine where the imagined Moreno ends and where the “almost unbelievable” begins. Celso Caesar Moreno has been on my mind for quite a long time. I first encountered Moreno while researching my dissertation in the 1950s. A notice in Unione Italiana, an Italian-language paper published in Chicago, caught my eye. It reported that a “Prince from Malacca, Cesare Moreno,” had arrived in Washington to sell an island to the United States. Moreno’s letter, in response to that news, appeared in the issue of August 19, 1868: Dear sirs! I read in your paper on August 5th that you wished to honor me with the title Malaysian Prince, which I am not and do not wish to be. Only permit me to tell how it is that I am in America and what I intend to do. In the many voyages which I have made between the British Indies and China, I heard much talk of a very fertile island not yet known or possessed by Europeans. In 1862 I undertook an expedition on my own account and risk. I was successful, landed, and took possession in my name, becoming Capo e Padrone (Head and Master), but not Prince. I then went to Italy, mia Patria, and offered it to the Government to make it a colony, which would have meant a great future for commerce and the Italian Navy, but instead for two years the Ministries of Italy gave me nothing but vague promises, without ever reaching a decision. I am here to sell it to the American government . . .1 The letter was signed “Signore Cesare Moreno, Capitano Marittimo.” What manner of man was this, I asked myself, who had the fegato, the gall, to claim to be capo e padrone of a South Sea island and to present himself to the president and Congress with an offer to sell them an island off the coast of Sumatra? preface Rudolph J. Vecoli viii Rudolph J. Vecoli Preoccupied for the next half century with teaching and administration, as well as research on other subjects, I put Celso on the back burner. Following my retirement, I realized that, free at last, what I really wanted to do was to write Moreno’s biography. Over the years, I had caught glimpses of Moreno in various historical contexts: His campaign against “Italian slavery” in the United States, his exotic adventures in India, the East Indies, and China; his proposal for laying a transpacific telegraph cable; his brief tenure as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii; his candidacy for the Italian Chamber of Deputies , and so on. An intriguing figure indeed—but one, however, who has been almost totally ignored by historians in both Italy and the United States. In various studies of Italian colonization and of the Italian diplomatic service, he has been given only brief mention. Even in the field of Italian American history, although he was reputed in 1900 to be the most famous Italian in the United States, he has received only passing reference. Almost all these mentions portray Moreno as a pure scoundrel. Such characterizations did not lessen my interest in Celso Cesare Moreno. Instead, they whetted my appetite to know more about him. That Moreno kept an archive of his papers, of this there is no doubt. That it did not survive him meant that the research for this book was more difficult and more challenging. Happily, in his numerous polemics, he quoted extensively from correspondence, government records, and newspaper clippings, including his innumerable letters to newspapers. I am indebted to many archives and various databases of manuscript collections that allowed me to gather a goodly number of his letters. William Nevins Armstrong, who figures in the narrative that follows, knew Moreno in connection with his Hawaiian adventure. In a scrapbook in the Armstrong papers at the Yale University Library, I found a clipping of an obituary of Moreno. Beside it, Armstrong had written: “Someone should write a book about this fellow, but he was an absolute fake.”2 A harsh judgment, indeed. But Celso emerges from my research as a multifaceted , chameleon-like personality not reducible to a single epithet. ...


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