Mazzini Begins London Exile

Nineteenth century London offered a safe haven to a number of European exiles seeking stable places in which to live. Prominent among these disaffected individuals, Guiseppe Mazzini was dedicated to working for the unification of Italy.

Summary of Event

An exiled Italian patriot and founder of the Young Italy Young Italy movement, Guiseppe Mazzini arrived in London on January 12, 1837. He could not have known at the time that, except for brief visits back to Italy, he would spend most of his remaining life in London. He found in the British capital the freedom he needed to continue working toward the realization of his dream of unifying his fragmented homeland. He found as well influential and respected British citizens, especially literary figures, who would join him in support of that cause. Mazzini, Giuseppe
Mazzini, Giuseppe
[p]Mazzini, Giuseppe;exile of
London;exiles in
[kw]Mazzini Begins London Exile (Jan. 12, 1837)
[kw]Begins London Exile, Mazzini (Jan. 12, 1837)
[kw]London Exile, Mazzini Begins (Jan. 12, 1837)
[kw]Exile, Mazzini Begins London (Jan. 12, 1837)
Mazzini, Giuseppe
Mazzini, Giuseppe
[p]Mazzini, Giuseppe;exile of
London;exiles in
[g]Italy;Jan. 12, 1837: Mazzini Begins London Exile[1990]
[g]Great Britain;Jan. 12, 1837: Mazzini Begins London Exile[1990]
[c]Government and politics;Jan. 12, 1837: Mazzini Begins London Exile[1990]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 12, 1837: Mazzini Begins London Exile[1990]
[c]Social issues and reform;Jan. 12, 1837: Mazzini Begins London Exile[1990]
Carlyle, Thomas
Carlyle, Thomas
[p]Carlyle, Thomas;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini]
Carlyle, Jane Welsh
Mill, John Stuart
Mill, John Stuart
[p]Mill, John Stuart;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini]

From its earliest days, London had been a city of diverse cultures and creeds, home to an ever-growing number of the world’s oppressed. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the city had more than 1 million inhabitants, who enjoyed many opportunities both for cultural enrichment and for gainful employment. Italians from every segment of society from the youths who sold white mice in London’s market stalls to the organ grinders who strolled the streets to the displaced intellectuals who worked in secret to bring about revolution all pursued their lives in the safety of this tolerant city. Many refugees, who like Mazzini were victims of political unrest, were drawn to London by the fact that the English Constitution, though not a written document, guaranteed residents basic human rights and freedoms.

Mazzini had escaped from prison in his homeland to the safety of Switzerland but was later sent into exile by the Swiss. He had no remaining options for sanctuary other than England or America, the latter of which was too far from the Italian politics he still hoped to influence. While he scorned the thought of taking up residence in a nation of shopkeepers, the exile’s first impression of London was positive. He approved of the bustling activity and the pervasive spirit of enterprise, the imposing public buildings that signaled affluence, and the hospitable and open communication with Londoners eager to point out to him the excellent features of their city. Mazzini took up lodgings with a group of Italian acquaintances who had already found refuge in London. They lived in a house near the British Museum, whose vast library was a decided bonus for one who planned to earn his living by continuing his writing career. Other exiled Italians had found employment teaching their native tongue in the recently established London University, but Mazzini’s innate reticence toward such public activities led him to prefer the writing life.

A handsome, well-mannered man from an upper-class Italian family, Mazzini inevitably made a favorable impression on the Londoners he met, all the while diplomatically concealing his own disapproval of what he saw as their narrow-minded stuffiness. His first writing assignment, a series of fifteen unsigned articles in Le Monde, Monde, La focused on society and politics in London. They were generally critical of the British, whom Mazzini judged to be at least a half century behind continental philosophical and critical thinking.

Robert Browning.

(R. S. Peale/J. A. Hill)

A chance meeting with John Stuart Mill Mill, John Stuart
Mill, John Stuart
[p]Mill, John Stuart;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] , then editor of the radical Westminster Review, Westminster Review led to an invitation from the charmed Mill for Mazzini to produce an article on recent Italian literature and another on recent Italian painters. Mazzini also wrote articles on historical and literary topics for the British and Foreign Review, Tait’s Magazine, and the Monthly Chronicle, seizing these opportunities to express his personal politics despite Mill’s urging that he write objectively. Mazzini cited as models for expressing the passion of politics the poetry of Dante, Victor Hugo, and Lord Byron. Ultimately, his stance appealed directly to England’s current group of literary, liberal-minded figures Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough Clough, Arthur Hugh , Charles Dickens, George Meredith Meredith, George , Algernon Swinburne Swinburne, Algernon
Swinburne, Algernon
[p]Swinburne, Algernon;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] , and Thomas Carlyle, among others.

Through his association with Mill Mill, John Stuart
Mill, John Stuart
[p]Mill, John Stuart;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] , Mazzini met the Carlyles Carlyle, Jane Welsh
Carlyle, Thomas
Carlyle, Thomas
[p]Carlyle, Thomas;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] Thomas and his wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle whose home in Chelsea was developing a reputation as a venue for good conversation and for genuine hospitality. London’s writers came originally for the stimulating talk with Thomas and returned, even when he was away on his travels, to visit with Jane, who was known for her quick wit, colorful expressions, and sensible opinions. Among the regular visitors to the Carlyle home was also a contingent of foreign refugees French, German, and Italian attracted by a warm welcome and the air of domesticity. Jane referred to these admirers affectionately as her “congregation.”

Although Mazzini and Carlyle often disagreed about politics, with Mazzini favoring power vested in the people and Carlyle, fearful of democracy, putting his faith in the leadership of an individual hero, they enjoyed sharing time together. When, in 1840, Mazzini was asked to review Carlyle’s The French Revolution
French Revolution, The (Carlyle)
French Revolution (1789);histories of (1837) for the Monthly Chronicle, he agreed with some trepidation, fearful that his critical opinion might cause a rupture in their friendship. Carlyle, Carlyle, Thomas
Carlyle, Thomas
[p]Carlyle, Thomas;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] however, when he eventually learned of Mazzini’s agonizings, responded with a good-natured laugh.

In 1844, the presumption that London was a safe haven was put to the test. Mazzini discovered that his mail to friends in Italy was being opened on orders from Lord Aberdeen Aberdeen, fourth earl of
Aberdeen, fourth earl of
[p]Aberdeen, fourth earl of;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] , then foreign secretary in the government of Sir Robert Peel. Following legal advice, Mazzini brought before Parliament a formal protest for this flagrant breach of individual rights, which led to a thorough and widespread investigation in both houses of Parliament.

The response of the British public to the news of this incident was heartwarming. People like Dickens, Dickens, Charles
Dickens, Charles
[p]Dickens, Charles;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] Robert Browning Browning, Robert
Browning, Robert
[p]Browning, Robert;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] , and the duke of Wellington Wellington, duke of
Wellington, duke of
[p]Wellington, duke of;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] spoke in outrage against their government’s invasion of an individual’s privacy and expressed their support for Mazzini and for the unification of Italy. In addition, Carlyle Carlyle, Jane Welsh wrote a powerful letter to The Times
Times, The (London) , attesting to Mazzini’s impeccable character and to the worthiness of his efforts. The Italian patriot could not have bought better publicity for his cause. Vendors sold his picture on the streets to a lively market, evidence that he had achieved hero status.

Another significant accomplishment credited to Mazzini was his founding of the Italian Free School, intended to provide education to the many working-class Italians residing in London. Patterned on the several Working Men’s Colleges that were springing up in various parts of London, the aim was to provide Italian workers with instruction in the English language, as well as basic mathematical skills and cultural orientation. The school provided evening classes, and Mazzini was able to engage his friends among the professional Italian community to donate their services as teachers. He also received gifts of money from his English friends to support the venture.

Among literary tributes to Mazzini and his efforts to bring unity to his homeland are Robert Browning’s Browning, Robert
Browning, Robert
[p]Browning, Robert;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] dramatic monologue “The Italian in England” (1845); Clough’s Clough, Arthur Hugh best-known poem, “Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth” (wr. 1849, pb. 1855); Swinburne’s Swinburne, Algernon
Swinburne, Algernon
[p]Swinburne, Algernon;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] collection of impassioned poems urging a crusade for freedom among nations, Songs Before Sunrise (1871); and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Casa Guidi Windows (1851), poems describing scenes she observed from her residence in Florence regarding the progress of Italian unity. George Meredith’s Meredith, George
Meredith, George
[p]Meredith, George;and Giuseppe Mazzini[Mazzini] novel Vittoria (1867), published serially in The Fortnightly Review in 1866, provides a detailed portrait of Mazzini in the character of Chief.


The favorable impression that Mazzini made on Londoners throughout the years he lived among them is reflected in the lasting friendships he formed among the literary figures, as well as with several members of Parliament who came to know him as a result of his protest regarding the mail incident. These influential persons shared his vision of a unified Italy and lent support to his efforts. Mazzini often spoke of the unification of Italy as an initial step toward the ultimate unification of Europe. His ideas found expression when Italy was in fact unified, and they find expression today in the European Union.

Further Reading

  • Mack Smith, Denis. Mazzini. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. The definitive biography of Mazzini by a widely acclaimed Italian historian.
  • Padoa-Schioppa, Tommasso. “Italy and Europe: A Fruitful Interaction.” Daedalus 130, no. 2 (1999): 13ff. A discussion of the historical and current relationship between Italy and Europe.
  • Rudman, Henry W. Italian Nationalism and English Letters: Figures of the Risorgimento and Victorian Men of Letters. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940. A detailed account of Mazzini’s interactions with London’s literary figures.
  • Sarti, Roland. Mazzini: A Life for the Religion of Politics. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. Comprehensive coverage of the life of this dedicated revolutionary and of the political scene of nineteenth century Italy.
  • Scudder, Townsend. Jane Welsh Carlyle. New York: Macmillan, 1939. A biography of Carlyle’s wife detailing her friendship with the literary figures and foreign refugees who frequently visited the Carlyle home.
  • Symons, Julian. Thomas Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952. A well-written study of Carlyle’s place in Victorian life in London.

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Mazzini, Giuseppe
[p]Mazzini, Giuseppe;exile of
London;exiles in