Linton- Life in the Collections
Richard Hengist Horne:
52) Laura Dibalzo Or The Patriot Martyrs. A Tragedy.
Horne had dedicated this late play “to the Illustrious Memory of Washington, and to the equally pure patriotic Names of Kosciusko, Kossuth, Mazzini and Garibaldi.” In his preface he called it “my only work that can be designated as of direct political bearing. (...) These scenes were written, for the most part, during the lifetime of Joseph Mazzini, from whom I derived much information; availing myself also of what is contained in his published writings, and in the narratives of Silvio Pellico, Baron Carlo Poerio, and other Italian martyrs to political liberty.” Furthermore he states that several of the characters of this tragedy, which is set in Sicily during the despotic reign of Ferdinand II., are portraits. “The faithfulness of which will easily be recognized by those readers who are conversant with the history of Naples during the time in question.” As a leading member of Mazzini’s People’s International League, who had lectured there on the Italian cause, he was indeed well informed, and thus his play not only reflects the brutality of Ferdinand’s autocratic police state and “the herioc fortitude of resistance,” but also the inner dividedness and the resulting failure of Mazzini’s republican movement.
Although such a subject matter must have been quite to Linton’s taste, he did not refer to this work in his reminiscences on Horne. Maybe he had agreed with Robert Browning’s critique, who held the piece for outdated. In a letter to his old friend Horne, Browning had stated that the play should have appeared “at the time”, that is twenty years beforehand, whereupon the recipient had replied: ”I’m sure if you give this a second thought you will admit that while no tragedy (...) can be too old it may easily be too young.” Concerning the lacking readiness to a differentiated dealing with the Giovane Italia movement, Horne’s Risorgimento tragedy in fact came rather too prematurely. The reviews were accordingly and Horne’s special liking for theatrical bang effects may have contributed to the slating.
Whereas Ann Blainey perpetuated this critical reception, characterizing the play as being “as poor as all his later offerings,” Cyril Pearl in 1960 admitted, though “Laura Dibalzo is not the best of Horne’s tragedies, it is certainly the one that has dated least. Much of it is peculiarly topical today. The discussions of `ends and means´, of the justification of terror, of the value of individual life, of personal versus political loyalities, are in the spirit of Koestler and Orwell. There are scenes that prefigure Darkness at Noon and 1984.”
Like most of Horne’s plays it had never been performed on stage, although he had emphasized in his preface that “the present tragedy, like all my previous dramas, is systematically constructed for stage representation.” One can only regret this, not least because Laura Dibalzio is most likely the first and only play, before Albert Camus’ Le Malentendu, that ended with a most decided and haunting exclamation of negation.