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When you look up, the eye loses itself in a reddish, bell-shaped vault, which always gives me, I don’t know why, an idea of the phosphorescent light of the Inferno. The whole city seems under a kind of spell, and reminds me of the Witches’ Scene in Macbeth or the Brocksberg or the Witch of Endor. The passers-by look like ghosts, — one feels almost a ghost oneself.
Giuseppe Mazzini on London

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Leicester Square

London, 12th January, 1837. Thursday.

Finally, in Leicester Square. Four Italians arrive at the Sabloniere Hotel after a long journey and the overnight crossing of the Channel. It was not easy: because of the heavy sea, the four men are exhausted, and the most tired is a thirty-one year old from Genoa, that the others call Pippo. He is always dressed in black, in mourning for his country, which is under a foreign rule. His real name is Giuseppe Mazzini, and the other three are Giovanni Ruffini, Agostino Ruffini and Angelo Usiglio. The proprietor of the hotel is also an Italian, Carlo Pagliano.

The Sabloniere was the first place where most Italians used to go as soon as they arrived in London. Almost all of them, in fact, knew no English, and that was one of the few places where they were sure to eat and speak Italian. Another famous Italian who found accommodation in this hotel as soon as he arrived in the English capital, some years before, was Ugo Foscolo, of whom I hope to be able to write about on another occasion.

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Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), the so-called apostle and prophet of Italian freedom, arrived in London after being expelled from Switzerland with the excuse that his presence was compromising Swiss neutrality. He decided to leave for England reluctantly, but he had no choice and at least in London he would no longer have to hide. The Sabloniere (the correct spelling should be “Sablonnière“) was unfortunately demolished in 1870 and it no longer exists. From British History Online, this is what we know:

Hogarth’s house, or, at all events, part of it, was afterwards converted into the “Sablonnière Hotel,” which was kept by an Italian named Pagliano, and largely frequented by foreigners. The building was pulled down in 1870, and on its site was erected the new school-house and library of Archbishop Tenison, which were removed thither from their old quarters at the back of the National Gallery (…).
(Source: ‘Leicester Square’, Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 160-173. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45144)

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London is a strange town in its atmospheric conditions. We have had night at mid-day three or four times since our arrival, complete night during which all the lamps are lit. Imagine an immense cotton cap falling suddenly over the eyes of the town; it is a cloud of smoke mixed with mists blown down by the wind. I am alone in my opinion, but I find something poetic in this phenomenon… One might believe the entire town subject to a sort of enchantment… passers-by resemble spectres, and one feels himself to be somewhat spectral. All this has the merit of giving free course to the imagination; and I am utterly weary of the positive, of the definite of our towns, where nothing escapes you. The mysterious side of the soul which secrets a life so powerful has nothing there in which it can find its part, but here it is quite the contrary. And this vagueness, this indefiniteness, pleases me at least as much as does the coldly complete perception which one has elsewhere… This is a reaction which I experience against the positive, the utilitarian, the prose which make of every individual of our mean generation a being not reasonable, but a reasoner, a calculator, figuring out everything – one is such in London even more than elsewhere. Nature and climate are better than men.
Giuseppe Mazzini on London

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24 Goodge Street

1837

Outside the Sablonnière the fog was so thick that you could not even see the other side of Leicester Square. Let alone the traffic: a mayhem of omnibuses, carriages of all sizes and hackneys that made it difficult to cross the roads. The day after his arrival, Mazzini went to Holland Street in Kensington in order to visit Scipione Pistrucci, one of his dearest friends. Then, the following day he met Giovan Battista Ruffini, who had been living for some time in Goodge Street, off Tottenham Court Road, with the hope that he would help him and his other friends to find lodging somewhere. And it was just here, at 24 Goodge Street, that Mazzini lived for a few weeks together with Giovanni Ruffini, Agostino Ruffini and Angelo Usiglio.

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9 George Street, now 187 North Gower Street

1837 – 1840

This is one of the houses that still exist today in which we know that Mazzini lived. In March 1837 the Italians moved to 9 George Street (now 187 North Gower Street), near the Euston Road, a four story house with ten rooms. To do the housework for them, an Irish housemaid lived in the house. All of them used to spend their days in their rooms, probably because of the continuous tension deriving from the lack of money and the straits of London life.

Mazzini lived here as if he was still undercover in Switzerland, even though he did not need to do that in liberal London. He behaved like a cloistered monk: he used to wake up at 9 o’clock, when the housemaid brought him coffee in bed, then he lighted a cigar and lay daydreaming on the bed until 11 when he went downstairs for breakfast and then upstairs again to read and write for the rest of the day. Sometimes he played his guitar, studying and writing until dinner at 6 pm before returning to his room again. He couldn’t afford a good meal and mainly lived on potatoes or rice. It is easy to understand how little of London he could see living in this way, and even missed seeing Queen Victoria’s coronation on 28 June 1838. He seldom went out of doors, but used to go to the nearby British Museum, mainly to warm himself in the big reading room, as well as to find books, as he had no money to buy them.

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187 North Gower Street has been used by the BBC TV series Sherlock, for which the street sign was changed into 221B Baker Street, while the area was used for external shots of Sherlock Holmes’s flat.

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10 Laystall Street

1864

This is another of the historical buildings connected with Mazzini that still exist in London today, and that played an important role with the Anglo-Italian Community living in Clerkenwell and Holborn since the mid 19th century.

From the information that I could gather, in the mosaic floor at the entrance to this house you can read the words “Italian Operatives Society”, the organization run by Giuseppe Mazzini for the local community.

Wherever I walk in front of this building, and read the plaque, I cannot avoid thinking about the meeting between the two most famous Italians of the 19th century (excluding Cavour and Victor Hemmanuel II) which took place here on Sunday 21 April 1864, when a large crowd gathered in the whole area to welcome Giuseppe Garibaldi who was visiting London at the time. And it was just on 10 Laystall Street where he met Giuseppe Mazzini on the first floor of the Club to address a meeting, where both he and Mazzini were elected Co-Presidents of the newly formed “Mazzini-Garibaldi Italian Working Men’s Society” (later to become a Registered Friendly Society as the “Mazzini-Garibaldi Club”), an organisation that has been central to the lives of many people in Little Italy, Holborn’s old Italian quarter.

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26 Clarendon Square and 4 York Buildings
Chelsea, King’s Road, next to the World’s End tavern

July 1840 – September 1843

I have met a Scotchman of heart and of mind, the first of this people with whom I sympathize, and who has sympathized with me. We differ in almost all our opinions, but his are so sincere and disinterested that I respect them. He is good, good, good! …I have knit up closer relation with him, I believe, because of an article which I wrote here, after having known him, against his historical work. Perhaps, surrounded as he is with foolish praise to which he is indifferent, my frankness pleases him.
Giuseppe Mazzini on Thomas Carlyle

In 1840, after living for a brief period at 26 Clarendon Square, not very far from the George Street house, Mazzini and Giovanni Ruffini moved to 4 York Buildings, which at the time stood in the angle between King’s Road, Chelsea, and Riley Street. The reason for moving there was to be near the Carlyles (Thomas and Jane Carlyle were his best friends in London), and far from the noise and sadness of London, as well as to isolate himself and avoid visitors. An Italian exile from Perugia and his English wife were the house-keepers.

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47 Devonshire Street, Queen Square, Bloombsury

1843

From 28 September 1843 he lived in Bloomsbury, in a comfortable four-room flat at 47 Devonshire street, Queen Square. He kept two rooms for himself and two for the Tancioni, who helped him not only in the house keeping, but also in bouncing anyone who wanted to see him (except on Sundays). He paid a weekly rent, just in case he had to run away from London without notice. Mazzini was sure that he could leave quickly and without fuss, because in London at the time an identity card was unnecessary, there was no need to register your address at the police, and you did not have to notify the authorities in case of residence change. Also, London was the perfect city to hide oneself, as there was an hotel at every corner and the city had more than two million inhabitants.

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5 Hatton Garden

1841

This is the original address of the first Italian school founded in London on 10 November 1841 by Mazzini, which was soon moved to 5 Greville Street, off Leather Lane (of which I could not find the original building, as it was probably demolished). The upper floor room was used to teach younger students on late evenings, while in another room more grown up students were taught history and geography on Sundays, as many of them did not even know where Italy was. I hope to write more about this school on a specific article on another occasion. Some sources say that Mazzini used this building as his home for a couple of months before starting the Italian school.

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10 Cropley Street

1844

Another address known is 10 Cropley Street, near the New North Road. While living here, Mazzini was already famous in London, he was happier and more hopeful, with a more active life that left little time for sadness. He also joined the Whittington Club, as he liked to play chess (at which he did not like being beaten).

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15 Radnor Street, Chelsea

February 1851

In February 1851 Mazzini returned to London after the experience of the Roman Republic in 1849, having lived hidden in Switzerland for ten months and a month in Paris. At first he lived at Cromwell Lodge, Old Brompton, in a little house in the middle of orchards and gardens, in an area that at the time was in the extreme western end of London. Then, Mrs Carlyle found him lodgings in a four-room flat over a post-office at 15 Radnor Street, near his old rooms in York Buildings, where he lived together with his friends Saffi, Quadrio, Mazzoleni and Campanella. Here he lived with his friends for a period and then alone, still in a condition of frugality.

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Lansdowne Place and then Cedar Road, next to Fulham Road

Around 1853-1856

During the Crimean War, Mazzini lived in a small room first in Lansdowne Place and then in Cedar Road, next to Fulham Road, where he spent his days at his desk. Here he felt like a lion in a cage, because the Austrians needed to deploy huge military forces on the border with Turkey, and he planned to take advantage of the situation and organize rebellions against Austra-Hungary.

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24 Cheyne Row

From 1840 onwards

I cannot forget to mention the house of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, of whom Mazzini said “They love me as a brother, and would like to do me more good than it is in their power to do“. Their common love of Dante brought them together, and their friendship lasted throughout their lives. Mazzini lodged here from time to time, as he used to stay there overnight when it was too late to go back to his home. Again, this house will deserve a separate article in order to deal about it properly.

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Letters from the Exile by Massimo Vangelista is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at byronico.com.
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