Vegezzi Ruscalla

Posted on September 14th, 2009 by admin and filed under Uncategorized
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online article, reproduced here with permission from Serban Marin, © Şerban Marin, March 2004, Bucharest, Romania

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Giovenale Vegezzi Ruscalla between two Motherlands – Italy and Romania
Alin Ciupală,
University of Bucharest

Generally, the Romanian historiography tends to consider the French cultural and political space as a model for the formation of the Romanians in the 19th century. While the German culture is also acknowledged a certain role settled at a considerable distance and especially in connection with “Junimea”, Italy and Great Britain are neglected almost to oblivion. The efforts made by Ramiro Ortiz or Alexandru Marcu, in their case real works, or more recent attempts referring to the British influence on the Romanian culture[1], only prompted a relative interpretation of the issue by the small number of specialists.

The case of Giovenale Vegezzi Ruscalla is eloquent on this line. Almost forgotten today and recalled especially by Italianists in their studies, Ruscalla was an enduring friend devoted to the cause of the Romanians, at a time when Romania was in need of voices to make it known in Europe. He inaugurated in Italy the range of Romanophiles, which would include personalities such as Marc Antonio Canini or Angelo de Gubernatis, the good friend of B. P. Hasdeu whom he visited later on in his Câmpina castle.

He was born in Turin, in 1799, in an impoverished family, which pushed him to take his fate in his own hands at an early age. He chose a civil servant career in the diplomatic service[2], the place where he had most probably the opportunity to get in touch with the first information about the Romanians. His diplomatic career obliged him to unravel the meanings of the European policy in an era that heralded the definition of the principle of nationalities, which was later on applied in order to solve the unity of Italy and of Romania.

Like the Romanian militants of 1848, whom he largely knew and was in touch with, Ruscalla was not only a politician, but also a man of letters, the two aspects being happily intermingled in a whole easy to find everywhere in Europe at that time. The climax of his political career came up in 1860, when he was elected deputy in the Italian Parliament. He dedicated the last period of his life especially to the literary activity and the successful attempts to transmit to his elder daughter, Ida Melisurgo-Ruscalla, the sympathy for, and the interest in the Romanians. He passed away in 1885.

Ruscalla embarked upon a lengthy and fruitful series of contacts with the Romanians probably by the beginning of the fourth decade of the 19th century, during a

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trip to Transilvania and Banat, on which occasion he picked up the basics of the Romanian language. Passionate about Romance philology, the similarities between Italian and Romanian were to arouse his interest, as well as his wish to popularize in his country the Romanian literature unknown there. For that purpose, in November 1845 he asked George Bariţiu[3], the editor of “Gazeta de Transilvania” to which Ruscalla had subscribed, to set him in touch with someone willing to alleviate the difficulties connected with the absence of bibliography.

Actually, our author was perfectly aware of the point of view of the French and German scholars, and now he wanted to get acquainted also with the stand of the Romanian philologists. Bariţiu’s answer inaugurated a friendship continued through letters and direct meetings, as it happened during Bariţiu’s studies in Italy. He had the same relation with another 1848 militant from Transilvania, Alexandru Papiu-Ilarian, whom he had met during the latter’s studies in Padua, and whose paper “The constitutional independence of Transilvania” he published after 1848. From the beginning, the Romanians, too little known, were considered “outposts of the Latin Europe”[4], and similarly the Italian culture did not enjoy much attention from the Romanians, which rendered Ruscalla “twice happy if he could be the instrument likely to arouse the love for the Italian language and literature among the young men in Wallachia.”

His activity of popularization of the Romanian language and literature in Italy was important and it is not yet fully known, because his studies and articles were published in various newspapers and magazines, starting with “Rivista Contemporanea”, which chief editor he was, to magazines quite obscure today. As he himself wrote in a letter to V. Alecsandri, “I started speaking about the Romanians at a time when they were considered Turks, Slavs or Tartars here”[5], and his efforts were constants.

The change in the international policy, as it happened on the occasion of the Peace Congress in Paris, in 1856, when the Romanian and the Italian problems had become European issues, was a new opportunity for Ruscalla to make himself heard speaking in favor of the Romanians. The articles published in “Lo Spetattore” or “Il Mondo Letterario” are a proof thereof[6]. Even later on, when the independence was gained and the Romanian state was proclaimed, the Italian octogenarian carried on, “with the energy of a youngster”[7], the propaganda in favor of the Romanians. Mention would be worthy that today, the theory of the common origin of the two languages, Romanian and Italian, appears to us natural and self-evident, but at that time the situation was not

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similar at all, and Ruscalla’s pioneering work deserves once again to be considered at its real value.

Apart from the cultural propaganda in favor of the Romanians, Vegezzi Ruscalla provided an intense political activity in his double capacity, that of a publicist and a politician. As a publicist, he backed the national movement of the Romanians in Transilvania against the articles published by the Hungarians in Italy[8], in an epoch when the Government in Vienna had liberalized, after 1861, the political regime, in the attempt to reform the state.

The reform of the electoral law of the Empire gave the Romanians the chance of the Romanian “Dieta” of Sibiu in 1863, a chance which unfortunately failed but which would definitely open up the road to the moment 1867. The Hungarian pressure was directed not only against the Imperial Government, but also against the European diplomatic circles, especially through the media, and Ruscalla tried to offset this action in Italy. In the media confrontation, of whose importance the Romanians had become aware and which they were to use in the case of the Memorandum, their friend from Turin played an important part because he presented a different point of view.

The union of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859 and the emergence of the Romanian state occasioned to our hero an outburst of enthusiasm, which he transmitted to Vasile Alecsandri[9]. Concurrently, he proposed to intervene directly with the Italian Prime Minister, Count of Cavour, whose chief of staff was Ruscalla’s son in law, Constantino Nigra. He drew the attention to the complicate European political situation and recommended to exchange the messages through the Italian Legations in Berlin or Constantinople to prevent their falling into the hands of the Austrian police.

An understanding between Italy and Romania was necessary, in his opinion, especially that “the future is dark, but if the nations advance in unity, if France gets imbued with the importance of the hegemony of the Latin race, we shall surmount the obstacles.” Interesting to note appears the fact that Ruscalla drew the attention to the external policy waged by Napoleon III, ready to yield Romania to Austria, in exchange for the Veneto region[10].

In spite of the support granted by France to the Italian cause, the Italian diplomat remains the same cool observer of the European policy and notes, like his contemporary C. A. Rosetti and in spite of some passionate Francophiles, the danger that accompanies France’s attempt to pursue its interests of a great power. His prudence in relation with the attitude of Emperor Napoleon III is due also to his repeal of the excessive authority of the latter, which displeased him also in the case of Alexandru Ioan Cuza.

His liberal spirit prompted him to oppose the methods through which Cuza censured the press, which explains why, like the Italians, the Romanians rebelled against the Prince in February 1866[11]. The information, learnt also through his son-in-law C. Nigra, who now represented Italy in Paris, was communicated to the Romanian

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politicians, and he considered himself “happy to be able to contribute to Romania’s development.”

Of the numerous Romanians with whom he was in contact, 1848 militants or from the period of the Constitutional monarchy, some of them being known to him personally, he had a special relation with Vasile Alecsandri. He knew the work of the latter; actually he had translated and published excerpts of it as early as 1855, and had been enticed by the literary gift of the poet. He had also expressed his admiration directly, through letters mediated by Ioan Bălăceanu who had preceded Alecsandri as a diplomat in Italy.

The trip made by the poet to the Peninsula was determined by the diplomatic efforts made by the new ruler Al. I. Cuza to obtain the acknowledgement of the union and of his double election in January 1859. Arriving in Turin and received with all the due honors, V. Alecsandri was introduced in the political Italian circles by Ruscalla who was to back him also in his future missions until 1861. The relation between Ruscalla and Nigra was important because the latter had become one of the decision-makers in the Italian policy, and remained active also after the death of Cavour. The Romanian poet was grateful to his Turin friend both for the unconditional political support granted to him, and the unreserved admiration declared in the articles dedicated to him.

A less known detail is that Alecsandri had enthusiastically embraced Ruscalla’s idea regarding the Italian origin of the poet’s family. Ruscalla’s wife originated in a family called Alessandrini of Monferrat, which made him write in a letter to Alecsandri “we are connected in one more way”[12]. The similarity of the two names was accidental, but what mattered for Vasile Alecsandri was only the substance of the argument advanced by his friend, ultimately a philologist. The intention of Ruscalla was to find one more argument to strengthen an already sound friendship, although it also determined the poet to re-write his biography, even if that stirred the irony of some of his contemporaries. Back to his country, Alecsandri made known the effort of his Italian friend in favor of the cause of the Romanians and had a laudable initiative that we will mention hereafter. If the Romanian had an ally in the person of Ruscalla in the relations with Cavour, the latter also introduced the Italian to Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza who recognized his merits.

In the autumn of the year 1865, Giovenale Vegezzi Ruscalla requested Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza to be granted the position of unofficial agent, in order to have the possibility to approach “all the ministries, and initiate useful treaties between the two states”[13], which would have conferred more importance to the steps taken by him with the Italian authorities. His arguments were related not only to the sincerity of his feelings towards the Romanians, but also to the political and diplomatic experience in an epoch which announced a new, decisive war between Russia and Austria, with important consequences for the European policy. The rushing events in Romania and

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the changing of the political regime in Bucharest prevented him from receiving an official answer.

But not the same thing happened with the collaboration between the Moldavian Government of Cuza and Ruscalla on the issue of the Romanian students in Italy. Actually, a review of the Romanophile activity of the Italian cavalier can be the starting point of an investigation of the Italian archives in view of a solid study of the importance of Italy in the formation of the Romanian intellectuality of the 19th century.

The Minister of Religious Affairs and Public Instruction of Moldavia, Cuciureanu, aware of the activity of the Turinese, approached him in May 1861 with the request to accept the position of inspector of the Romanian students sent with scholarships to study in Turin, the first group leaving in the autumn 1860[14]. Ruscalla accepted the proposal and declared himself “always able to satisfy the wishes of your government and to be, in case of need, the advocate and trustee of the young Romanian students”[15]. He said he was willing to take care of the Wallachian students to fulfill in that way “an intimate wish of the two nations of ours.”

Among the students he had already known he mentioned Alexandrescu Urechia, to whom he added later on, in a letter to Vasile Boerescu dated 1863, the names of Vernescu and Rosiu. Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza was to send to him in June 1861 the decree by which he was appointed “the correspondent of Our Government in the relations of the country with the establishments in Italy” as a sign of “gratitude for the brotherly feelings which inspire him for our national interests”[16]. Probably, the person who contributed not only to sending the Romanian students to Italy[17] but also to choosing Ruscalla to act as an inspector with them had been Vasile Alecsandri. The contact with the Romanian students also inspired him to organize a course in Romanian language and literature starting in 1863 at the University of Turin, which he partially published later on[18]. His training as a Romance scholar was completed, also thanks to the documents sent by Romanian friends, with that of a scholar of the Romanian language, maybe the first one to have such interests.

The cultural and didactic activity did not determine him to abandon the political action, enhanced by the outburst of the Russian-Turkish war of 1878-1879, to which Romania, pushed by its wish to obtain its independence, was also a party. In Rome, in 1879, Ruscalla proposed to establish an Italian-Romanian committee[19], to support the cause of the Romanians. Once again he remained faithful to his slogan already quoted by us, chosen as early as his first letter to George Bariţiu: “we are a people of brothers.”

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The merits of Vegezzi Ruscalla have been severally acknowledged in Romania, where he was designated to represent Romania at Ravenna on the occasion of the celebration of 600 years since the birth of Dante Alighieri[20], declared honorary citizen of Romania through the law of March 8, 1863[21], elected as honorary member of the Romanian Academy in 1869 and decorated with “Steaua României” by King Charles I[22]. In all these occasions Ruscalla succeeded to assert himself as a landmark in the conscience of his Romanian contemporaries. Whether we refer to Dimitrie Bolintineanu who sent him his books and compared the French professor Chasles, another forgotten Romanophile, to Ruscalla[23], or to Titu Maiorescu who encouraged him to read “Anuarul României” of Iaşi, a gymnasium whose director he was[24], or even to Ion Ghica, Alexandru G. Golescu and many others, all of them saw a friend and a model in Ruscalla.

Italian by origin and Romanian through his work, Giovenale Vegezzi Ruscalla deserves the gratitude not only of his Romanian contemporaries, but also of our own.

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[1] Clara Liliana Dragoş, Anglia-model în cultura română (1800-1850), Bucharest: Tehnică, 1996; idem, Conexiuni româno-engleze şi ideea de Europa, Cluj-Napoca: Casa Cărţii de Ştiinţă, 2002.

[2] The most complete biography of G. V. Ruscalla is in Teodor Onciulescu, “G. Vegezzi Ruscalla e i romeni”, Ephemeris daco-romani 9 (1940): 351-445.

[3] Ioan Chindriş, “Scriitori străini în arhive româneşti. Giovenale Vegezzi Ruscalla”, Manuscriptum 9 (1978), 2: 170-171.

[4] Ibidem: 172.

[5] Scrisori către Vasile Alecsandri (edited by Marta Anineanu), Bucharest: Minerva, 1978: 422.

[6] Alexandru Marcu, Romanticii italieni şi românii, Bucharest: Cultura Naţională, 1924: 94.

[7] Costin Brăescu, L’Italia in Romania, Roma, 1881: 11.

[8] Marcu, op. cit.: 137.

[9] Scrisori către Vasile Alecsandri, cit.: 425; Marcu, V. Alecsandri şi Italia, Bucharest: Cultura Naţională, 1927: 98-99.

[10] Chindriş, op. cit.: 174-175.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Letter of January 6 ,1858 published by Marcu, op. cit.: 97.

[13] Chindriş, op. cit.: 173.

[14] Arhivele Naţionale Istorice Centrale, fund Ministerul Cultelor şi Instrucţiunii Publice, file 342/1861: 12.

[15] Ibidem: 3.

[16] Ibidem: 14.

[17] Marcu, “Mentorul studenţilor moldoveni de la Torino (1860-1861)”, in În amintirea lui Vasile Pârvan, Bucharest, 1934: 181.

[18] Idem, Romanticii italieni, cit.: 94.

[19] Ibidem: 139.

[20] Ibidem: 94.

[21] Onciulescu, op. cit.: 418.

[22] Brăescu, op. cit.: 11.

[23] Documente şi manuscrise literare (edited by Paul Cornea and Elena Piru), vol. I, Bucharest: Academiei, 1967: 112-115.

[24] Titu Maiorescu, Jurnal şi epistolar (edited by Georgeta Rădulescu-Dulgheru and Domnica Filimon), IV, Bucharest: Minerva, 1983: 155.

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