Many know George
Perkins Marsh as a pioneering environmentalist, statesman, author, lawyer,
architect and linguist, but few know that he was an expatriate in Italy as the first and longest-serving American
ambassador to Italy appointed by Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
Marsh was first
stationed in Turin for four years. In 1865, when Florence became the capital of the
Italian kingdom, he relocated to the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. At
the time, Florence was a provincial town and was not prepared to become the
Italian capital. Marsh’s initial impressions of Florence were negative. He
wrote, ‘Florence is a mighty fine museum and a mighty poor residence.’ In time,
however, he grew to love the city and was opposed to leaving it in 1870 when
the capital was then moved to Rome. After serving as ambassador for 22 years,
Marsh decided to stay in Italy; he never returned to the United States. He died
at his residence in a town to the east of Florence, Vallombrosa.
During his stay in Florence, Marsh befriended numerous Florentine
intellectuals, aristocrats and artists. He also met many famous Americans
passing through Florence, among them Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry
James and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
While he was the
American ambassador in Florence, Marsh wrote daily letters to various people,
including his friend and acting secretary of state, William H. Seward, and
Lucia Ducci’s book, L’unità debole. Lettere dell’ambasciatore americano George P.
Marsh sull’Italia unita, recently
published by L’Ornitorinco, captures the history of Florence’s reign as the
capital of the Italian kingdom from 1865 to 1870 through Marsh’s insightful
correspondence. Marsh’s opinions and views of the unification of Italy as well
as the Italian government are still significant today. According to Marsh, Italy lacked the patriotism that allowed the country
to completely unite, which in his mind was directly related to the pope’s
presence in Rome and the Vatican being under the control of French rule.
political science at university and getting a Ph.D. in international relations,
Ducci developed a passionate interest in Marsh through a discussion with one of
her professors. Marsh’s letters fascinated her, and while she was teaching
Italian at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, she began researching him. From
Ducci’s hometown of Florence, she traveled to Washington D.C., College Park
(Maryland), Burlington (Vermont), Boston and New York to gather information
from the various archives. She studied reels and reels of Marsh’s letters on
microfilm to compile her book. During one of her stays in the States, Ducci
also visited Marsh’s home state of Vermont and got a sense of how his childhood home
influenced him to be the man that he later became.
letters, Ducci paints a picture of life in Florence as the political center of the country at a time
when many Americans were coming here to develop their artistic skills, immerse
themselves in the city’s beauty and explore the ‘Old World.’ Ducci writes that ‘Firenze offriva
allora un vivace clima culturale, a cui contribuì la crescente presenza di stranieri.’
(‘Florence offered a lively
cultural climate that contributed to the growing presence of foreigners.’)
After years of
researching Marsh and publishing her first book about him, Ducci’s interest in
him has escalated beyond his stay in Florence: she is now writing his biography.
L’Unità debole. Lettere dell’ambasciatore americano
George P. Marsh sull’Italia unita
Lucia Ducci –
L’Ornitorinco, € 25
On December 10
at 5:30 pm, Lucia Duccia will be
presenting her book in the Sala Ferri del Gabinetto Vieusseux in Palazzo