Source: English Review, Vol 9, 1910, pp. 713-714;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when the “great man” theory pervaded the entire historical firmament. Carlyle forced this doctrine upon the world with all the dour dogmatism of a literary Covenanter. The Positivists, whose principles are all wrong and their practice all right, put the same idea with considerable vigour from a very different point of view. Quoth the German Professor to some much-believing Englishmen: – “Before ze Bopsius zere vas some doubt about der Christus. Bopsius he come and finish him up.” The role here attributed to a forgotten gelehetir in reference to Christianity was accorded to missioners and conquerors of varying degrees of capacity at different critical epochs until the development of human society was made to appear as a series of kangaroo-jumps from one eminent personage to another. The Superman had an excellent innings. It was all quite unscientific, but perhaps none the less interesting on that account.
Then came the natural revulsion against this deification of prominent individuals and the attribution of miraculous powers to the chosen vessels of our common humanity. The evolution of sociology was considered as an inevitable process quite independent of any personalities whom accident might push to the front at a particular moment. All the prophets, priests and kings, generals, administrators and charlatans, but now eulogised and glorified, were engulfed in the great flood of universal destiny, and only a head bobbing up here and there recalled the conception of personal influence by the swirl it momentarily created. Men disappeared: man was all in all. The conception was doubtless sound enough: its expression in parts of speech was apt to be dry, not to say dull.
Mr. G.M. Trevelyan in his Garibaldi and the Making of Italy and his other works has reverted mainly to the earlier method, while not overlooking the inevitable tendencies of the time. His present book, though rather too long for its subject, is interesting, and brings into relief some important points which have either been neglected or not sufficiently insisted upon. Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, stand out as the three great “makers of Italy” during the whole of the nineteenth century up to 186o, with the fortunate son of the luckless Carlo Alberto, Victor Emmanuel, close behind them. At the period Mr. Trevelyan deals with in this volume Mazzini was already a great influence of the past, barely surviving into the new development; Cavour, though really the master-spirit of the whole combination, was not as yet understood; and Garibaldi was the popular hero, whose achievements in Sicily savoured of the miraculous, and had conquered the admiration of the whole civilised world. The capture of Palermo by the thousand of Marsala was a marvellous feat of arms, and at the point at which Mr. Trevelyan now takes up his narrative Garibaldi was making ready for a still more extraordinary and apparently hopeless venture.
Garibaldi’s desperate rush, and the inconceivable ineptitude of the fatuous Francis IL and his generals, put the revolutionary party in control of the city of Naples and its surroundings. The King telegraphed to the Pope five times for his blessing in one day, Antonelli taking upon himself to say ditto to his Holiness for the last three applications on his own authority without disturbing that ecclesiastical potentate. Garibaldi and his army, resorting to more material methods, gulled and fooled the Royal commanders into believing that they had really a formidable expedition to encounter, and after a great deal of floundering, the fortunate battle of the Volturno making up for previous mistakes, Garibaldi got the upper hand and constituted himself dictator of Naples.
All this, with the difficulties and sufferings of the Garibaldini, Mr. Trevelyan treats very well, and the part which the Piedmontese army played in the invasion of the Papal States, acting upon Napoleon’s directive frappez vite et frappez fort, is ably presented. So also is the unfortunate attitude of the Piedmontese commander-in-chief and even of Victor Emmanuel himself towards Garibaldi and his brave band, which, but for Garibaldi’s own humility and self-sacrifice, might have rendered peaceful unification impossible. The Piedmontese were not popular: Garibaldi and his volunteers naturally were.
On the other hand, Cavour scarcely gets the full credit even now from Mr. Trevelyan to which he was entitled. He seems to think with d’Azeglio that the Italian statesman carried his duplicity too far. But what was Cavour to do? He had been compelled to use all sorts of underhand devices in order to sap the Bourbon rule in Sicily and Naples. He was all the time encouraging the volunteer movement in aid of Garibaldi from Northern Italy, while pretending that any attempt to check it would lead to a popular rising. In general European politics it was by no means certain that he could even rely upon England in the long run. And at the same time he was perfectly well aware that some of Garibaldi’s most powerful friends were in favour not of Italian consolidation but of Italian federation, which was a serious feeling in view of the condition of the Papal States. Never in modern history had any statesman so difficult a game to play as had Cavour, and the admirable manner in which he played it has not been fully recognised by his own countrymen until fifty years after his death. Frequently, indeed, in speaking of these stirring years Cavour’s name has been kept quite in the background. There are passages in which Mr. Trevelyan practically admits that Cavour prevented Garibaldi from rushing headlong into disaster; but in his natural desire to give prominence to his hero he belittles somewhat the inestimable services rendered by the aristocratic democrat of Turin. It is the duty of a statesman to be utterly unscrupulous when the emancipation or independence of his country is at stake.
Mr. Trevelyan, however, has written an excellent book, well supplied with maps and illustrations, which recalls one of the great episodes of the nineteenth century, and is well worth study to-day.