Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/The Carbonari

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CARBONARI, The (from the Italian carbonaro, charcoal- maker), were certain secret societies of a liberal and even, revolutionary tendency that took an active part in some events of Italian and French history during the first three decades of this century. Secret societies, calling themselves by this or a similar name, had indeed previously existed in various parts of Europe ; but it was in Italy, towards the close of the Napoleonic wars, that these first began to assume an historic importance. In 1808 many republi cans, discontented alike with the Bourbon and the Boua- partist government in Naples, had retired to the mountain recesses of the Abruzzi and Calabria. At first engaged only in an isolated resistance to the authorities, they began to organize themselves. They took the name of Carbonari, a name suggested by the trade of charcoal-burning extensively pursued in those regions, in which many of them were engaged. From this trade, too, but especially from the Christian religion, and above all from the crucifixion of Christ, they adopted a system of mystic rites and a symbolic phraseology, by which they concealed from the uninitiated, but all the more vividly expressed to the initiated, the real political aims of the society, while its apparently religious character served to attract many whom its revolutionary secrecy might have repelled. A lodge of Carbonari was baracca (a hut) ; an ordinary meeting, vendita (a sale) ; a meeting of importance, alia vendita ; these terms being borrowed from the trade of charcoal-burning. But for words to express the inner purpose of the society they borrowed from religion. Christ, as the highest victim of tyranny, was the lamb that had been put to death by the wolf ; they were sworn to avenge his death ; and so the destruction of the wolf to avenge the slaughter of the lamb became the symbolic watchword of the society. There were four grades in the society ; and the ceremonies of initiation were characterized by many mystic rites, through which the real meaning began only gradually to appear. Many efforts were made to bring about a complete organ ization of the Carbonari in Italy, by the institution of a central power which should control the separate societies of the various provinces, but they failed. Politicians soon discovered how easily capital could be made of such societies, and negotiations were entered into by the Bourbons to unite the Carbonari in an effort to overthrow the French Government in Naples. Accordingly, for two years they carried on a desultory warfare with King Murat, who at last, taking the matter thoroughly in hand, drove them into the mountains, from which they had emerged, and sup pressed them for a time. Capobianco, their leader, was treacherously arrested and put to death. Ere long, the Carbonari reappeared and helped towards the final over throw of the French power in Naples. But Ferdinand, who had courted them during his misfortunes, proved false to them on his return to power, though they were moderate enough in their political aims, being ready to content themselves with the establishment in Naples of the constitution that had been enjoyed in Sicily under English supremacy. Henceforward they began to conspire against the Bourbon Government, and indeed soon spread over the whole of Italy, being more and more regarded as the champions of the liberal and national cause. They were the principal authors of the Neapolitan revolution of 1820, of the disturbances in the Papal States of the same year, and of the Piedmontese revolution of 1821. Previously recruited chiefly from the lower classes, the Carbonari now counted in their ranks almost all the intelligent and patriotic population of Italy, especially the middle classes, the officers of the army, the students at the universities, the artists, and even the priests, to the number, it is said, of nearly 700,000. Unable, however, to resist the military power of Austria, backed by a European congress, the revolution and the Carbonari along with it were crushed, and many, such as Silvio Pellico, implicated or supposed to be implicated in their conspiracies, perished or languished in Austrian dungeons. They never quite revived in Italy ; though active again in 1330 and 1831, they were forthwith super seded by the more energetic and more extreme " young

Italy " of Mazzini.

It was about 1820 that Carbonarism began to take root in France. There the organization was more perfect, as in addition to what had been attained in Italy, there was a supreme board, presided over by the veteran Lafayette, and a complete hierarchy of societies, by which the will of the chief was communicated, from higher to lower, to the smallest lodges in the extremities of France ; these were ventes particulieres, ventes centrales, hautes ventes, ventes tupr ernes. It made great progress in France, especially among the students and sub-officers of the army. The example of Spain and Italy having incited the French Carbonari to immediate action, attempts to raise an insur rection were made in 1821 at Belfort, Thouars, La RoeheUe, and other towns. They were all immediately suppressed, but not without revealing to what extent the Carbonari had spread over France. It was at the trial of Bories, one of those concerned in the rising at La Rochelle, that the nature and organization of the Carbonari in France became publicly known, and attention was drawn to the mutual fide lity prevalent among them, as none but those immediately concerned in tha insurrection could be brought to trial. Though completely defeated in 1821, French Carbonarism did not die out, but continued to be an active centre of revolutionary discontent till 1830, when, after contributing to the July revolution, most of the members adhered to the government of Louis Philippe For several years after, traces of it existed in some French towns, but these are of no importance.


Heckethorn s Secret Societies ; Botta s History of Italy, vol. ii. ; Alison s History of Europe, vol. ii. ; Annuaire Historique.