Arthur Clough’s Amours de Voyage and the Revolutions of 1848

Gwénaël Jouin

History, especially the revolution of 1848, considerably influenced the composition of Amours de Voyage, published ten years later in 1859. In the poem, Arthur Hugh Clough uses history as a background for his main character’s Grand Tour and failed love story. He also uses history to structure the plot since the revolution forces that character, Claude, along with the minor characters, Mary and Georgina, to leave Rome for Florence in Canto III, the central section of this five-canto verse-novel. Clough even proposes a philosophical reflection about history and time more generally. This paratextual essay focuses on the historical context of the verse-novel and explains the European Revolutions of 1848. Building on the works of various historians, it recounts the origins of the revolution and presents its different manifestations on the continent, particularly in Italy.

Preamble: From the Napoleonic Empire to the Order of Vienna

The situation in Europe during the decades that preceded the Revolutions of 1848 helps us measure the disruption these events exerted on the geography and the politics of the continent. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Napoleon the First dominated Europe, declaring himself Emperor of France on 2 December 1804.[1] Early in his career, he worked towards expanding his influence to other countries. By 1812, his empire extended to Russia's borders, the Ottoman Empire, and the English Channel. The country now called Italy was divided by states that were either French territorial acquisitions or dependent on Napoleon. 

In 1812, Napoleon and Alexander the First of Russia disagreed about the future of Poland, and Napoleon decided to invade Russia. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Empire of Russia, and the Empire of Austria formed a Sixth Coalition that eventually defeated Napoleon. Napoleon abdicated on 3 April 1814, and the Treaty of Paris, signed on 30 May 1814, re-established the borders France had in 1792. Napoleon, exiled in Elba, came back to France on 1 March 1815, beginning the Hundred Days period. Despite this desperate effort, on 18 June 1815, the Duke of Wellington, whose army was composed of British, German, and Dutch soldiers, defeated Napoleon during the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon abdicated again on 22 June 1815, marking the end of the Napoleonic empire. Monarchies subsequently reappeared everywhere in Europe. In this new geography of Europe, Italy was composed of seven independent states.

The Revolution of 1848 in Europe.

The Origins of 1848

The revolutions of 1848 began in Paris. In France, the regime that preceded the revolution was the Monarchy of July, led by Louis Philippe of Orléans (1830 to 1848). It was a constitutional monarchy that gave the right to vote only to wealthy people. In an effort to prevent the organization of insurrections by other classes, French Prime Minister François Guizot prohibited political reunions during this period. After 1840, however, liberals circumvented the law by inventing the banquet tradition,[2] thus enabling them to discuss the possibility of creating a republic and of giving the right to vote to more people. On 21 February 1848, Guizot prohibited such banquets; however, after negotiations between the people and the government, Guizot finally accepted the banquet and quit. On 23 February 1848, a crowd went to the foreign affairs ministry, where Guizot lived, and screamed “Down with Guizot!” People heard a loud noise that was interpreted as a gunshot from the army, leading to insurrections. On 24 February 1848, a crowd invaded the Tuileries, a royal palace, and the Second Republic was created three days after the first revolt.[3] Given the desire by some reformers to extend the right to vote to the entire population, the French Revolution of 1848 is a reenactment of the hope that guided the people during the French Revolution of 1789.

Three issues weakened the Second Republic. First, on 24 February 1848, revolutionaries created a provisional government composed of several groups that contradicted each other. These included Liberal Republicans Jacques Charles Dupont de L’Eure, François Arago, Armand Marrast, Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès, and Pierre Marie de Saint-Georges; Radical Republicans Alexandre Ledru-Rollin and Ferdinand Flocon; a Royalist, Adolphe Crémieux; a Socialist, Louis Blanc; a worker, Alexandre Martin, also known as “Albert”; and a poet, Alphonse de Lamartine.[4] This diversity of political orientations complicated the elaboration of a clear perspective for the country. Second, the notion of fraternity, on which revolutionaries focused more in 1848 than they did in 1789, revealed deeply rooted inequalities that challenged its concrete application. On the one hand, the idea of brotherhood between peoples bore an emotional value that strengthened the link between the notions of “liberty” and “equality” proposed in 1789. On the other hand, revolutionaries struggled to define the limits of fraternity, especially in a country where strong social, economic, and political gaps existed between rich and poor, men and women, citizens and slaves. Third, since April 1848, the National Assembly had become mainly conservative. In June, they voted to end national workshops, which were created on 25 February 1848 to support the people during an economic crisis caused by a bad harvest in 1845 and by the loss of several French colonies. People were given the “right to work,” at the time considered a fundamental right. This decision to abolish national workshops led to insurrections during which the army shot at the crowd, which the people perceived as a betrayal. Thus, the Second Republic was threatened by a division of the people—with, on the one hand, the wealthy supporting a Republic of the bourgeoisie and, on the other hand, the poor supporting a Republic of the people. The Parisian Revolution thus failed to fulfill its ideals, the most important one being to open the right to vote to every French citizen.

While the revolutions of 1848 started in Paris, they extended across Europe. One can look to Austria for a characteristic example. After the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, the treaty of Vienna re-established authoritarian monarchies all across Europe; for example, the prince of Metternich ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[5] However, on 13 March 1848, Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian nationalist, delivered a speech demanding a parliamentary government in Hungary. At the end of his speech, workers and students asked for Metternich’s resignation, which led the government to send the army to subdue the crowd. During this insurrection, the army killed five people before being ordered to leave the city. To tame the people’s anger, the government authorized the creation of a civil guard and an academic legion, which welcomed thirty thousand people in two days. Metternich ultimately decided to resign.

The revolutionary events that happened in Paris and Vienna had a remarkable impact on Europe and resonated throughout the continent. In the nineteenth century, Paris was the center of revolutionary and progressive ideas in Europe. Between February and March 1848, 300 journals were created in France,[6] which revolutionaries used to diffuse their ideas throughout the country. The political concept of democracy and the progressivist idea of a people ruling themselves spread everywhere in Europe. Paris inspired events in Rome, where Giuseppe Mazzini proclaimed the Roman Republic on 9 February 1848, and Florence, where he proclaimed the Tuscan Republic on 15 February 1848.[7] These last two cities are the places where Clough sets the action of Amours de Voyage.

Between February and May 1848, Europe entered a phase characterized by several revolutions: 17 March in Venice; 18 March in Milan, Berlin and Leipzig; 23 March in Holstei; 24 March in Parma and Modena; 27 March in Budapest; 31 March in Frankfurt; April in Munich, Prague, Zagreb, and Blaj. In less than two months, revolutions reached every corner of Europe.[8]  

Similarities and Differences

Although the Revolution of 1848 is a European movement, each country shaped this phenomenon in a specific way. The insurrections in different countries did not follow the same direction and revolutionary activities did not lead to the same results. Historians observe two distinct patterns: the first is characterized by a unification movement, which we see in both the north and south of Europe. Germany and Italy for example worked towards the unification of several states. The second pattern is one of implosion, which primarily surfaced in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire comprised provinces with different languages and cultures that all wanted to become independent. Because of these significant differences, it is necessary to analyze the revolution of 1848 within the context of the countries in which they took place. To think about the revolutions as the same everywhere would be an illusion.

The Geography of 1848 in Arthur Clough’s Amours de Voyage

In Italy, Pope Pius IX and Duke Leopold II of Tuscany took measures that paved the way for revolutionary ideas. On 16 June 1846, Cardinal Giovani Mastei Ferretti was elected Pope (Pius IX). Four weeks later, he published an Amnesty that released hundreds of political prisoners and allowed hundreds of fugitives and exiles to return home. The people interpreted this action as promoting liberty, political unity, and national independence. On 19 April 1847, he also published a Circular that initiated a state consulate. For the first time, the state of the church authorized laypeople to work in its administration. Once again, his decision was acclaimed.[9] Furthermore, on 7 March 1847, Duke Leopold II of Tuscany shepherded a law that protected the freedom of the press. These events instilled hope for more liberty in people’s minds, which led Italy to enter its first War of Independence from 23 March 1848 to 22 August 1849, with the goal of freeing the country from Austrian rule. 

Despite these rekindled hopes, the Italian revolution itself was characterized by mixed results, as illustrated by the cases of Milan and Venice. Undoubtedly, the insurrection of Milan, which lasted five days (18-22 March 1848), was a success since the people defeated the Austrian troops. This success encouraged Garibaldi and Mazzini, two exiled revolutionaries, to go back to Italy to continue the revolution. By contrast, the Venetian Revolution, which took place from 4 May to 22 August 1848, was a failure. Joseph Radetzky won the war and put an end to the insurrection.[10]

While Clough mentions Venice one time and Milan ten times in Amours de Voyage, the plot is mainly set in Rome and Florence. After Pope Pius IX left Rome for Gaeta on 24 November 1848, Giuseppe Mazzini, Carlo Armellini, and Aurelio Saffi proclaimed a Roman Republic or “Rome of the People” on 9 February 1849. Their ultimate goal was to build an independent Italian nation. However, their decision to lower taxes led to an economic crisis. The leaders’ solution, printing more money, in turn threatened the Republic of Rome with inflation. Pope Pius IX, then in Gaeta, asked for the help of Napoleon the Third to reclaim control of Rome. Thus, on 25 April 1849, General Charles Oudinot, leading eight to ten thousand French troops, landed at Civitavecchia to support Pope Pius IX against the revolutionaries. Between 1 June and 1 July 1849, Republicans and French soldiers fought each other. On 2 July 1849, Garibaldi capitulated and left for San Marino. On 3 July 1849, the French army, with the help of the Austrians, restored the Pope's power in Rome.[11] 

The revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini conquered the city of Florence on 8 February 1849 and proclaimed the Tuscan Republic on 15 February 1849. Grand Duke Leopold II took refuge in the city of Gaete. However, during the battle of Novara (22-23 March 1849), the Austrian Empire vanquished the Sardinian army. Fearing an invasion of the Austrian Army, moderate Tuscans overthrew the provisional government of Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, proclaimed Dictator of Tuscany on 27 March 1849. The moderate Tuscans asked Leopold II to come back and he was restored in April 1849. While the moderate Tuscans expected reforms from the Grand Duke, the reign of Leopold II proved to be particularly austere and was characterized by the revocation of the liberal constitution in 1852 and the repression of revolutionaries.[12] The case of Italy was similar to other revolutions of 1848 across Europe. While insurrections led to the creation of democratic regimes, these political experiments proved to be ephemeral and rapidly overthrown by conservative regimes.

One last point should be addressed given that the characters in Clough’s verse-novel are British. Britain was largely not impacted by the Revolution of 1848.[13] According to Miles Taylor, contrary to France, England did not lose its colonies and remained economically strong.[14] Indeed, the presence of a heavy military contingent in British colonies secured British imperialism and wealth. In the case of France, the loss of several territories, combined with an economic crisis caused by a bad harvest in 1845, weakened the regime and paved the way for insurrections. Nevertheless, the fact that Britain did not experience the revolution on its territory does not mean Britain did not react to the revolutions. Great Britain, in general, saw the revolution of 1848 as a threat to its interests. The Prime Minister, Lord John Russell (1792-1878), strongly encouraged European monarchies to initiate reforms that would satisfy the people and protect monarchy. Also, in England, the government firmly repressed Chartism (1838-1857), a movement that tried to make the political system more democratic through the proposition of six reforms. However, while the British government hoped that European leaders would protect the current order, Britain did not interfere in the revolutions that took place in Europe and preferred to remain neutral.[15] 

Just as the Revolution of 1848 started in Paris, the return to the status quo started in Paris as well. On 1 December 1851, after his coup d’état, Napoleon the Third put an end to the Second Republic and created the Second Empire (1851-1870). Following his example, conservative monarchies and regimes were re-established everywhere on the continent. 1848 ultimately presents us with the story of a failed revolution.

Works Cited

Agulhon, Maurice. 1848 ou l’apprentissage de la République (1848-1852) [1848 or The Apprenticeship of the Republic]. Paris: Seuil, 2002.

Banti, Alberto Mario. Il Risorgimento italiano. Rome: Editori Laterza, 2013. 

Béranger, Jean. L’Empire Austro-Hongrois: 1815-1918 [The Austro-Hungarian Empire.] Paris: Armand Collins, 2011.

Bidelux, Robert and Ian Jeffries. A History of Eastern-Europe: Crisis and Change. London: Routledge, 1998.

Boucheron, Patrick. “Quand l’histoire fait date: 1848, le printemps des peuples. [When Dates Make History: 1848, Springtime of the People]. Arte (18 Oct 2020); also available on YouTube:

Chase, Malcolm. Chartism: A New History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2007.

Gallo, Max. Napoléon. Paris: Robert Laffont, 2012.

Ginsborg, Paul. “Peasants and Revolutionaries in Venice and the Veneto, 1848.” The Historical Journal 17.3 (1974): 503-50.

Mack Smith, Denis. Mazzini. New Haven: Yale UP, 1996. 

---. Modern Italy: A Political History. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997.

Merriman, John. "Lecture 11—Why No Revolution in 1848 in Britain." Yale University, Open Yale Course, 2021,

Miles, Taylor. “The 1848 Revolution and the British Empire.” Past & Present 166.1 (Feb 2000): 146-80.

Sandiford, Keith A.P. "Great Britain and the Revolutions of 1848." 2004. In Chastain, James G., ed. The Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions.

Sellin, Volker. European Monarchies from 1814 to 1906. Boston: De Gruyter, 2017

Vigier, Philippe. 1848: Les Français et la République [1848: The French and the Republic.] Paris: Hachette, 1998.

Weyland, Kurt. “Crafting Counterrevolution: How Reactionaries Learned to Combat Change in 1848.” The American Political Science Review 110 (May 2016): 215-31.


[1] For a complete biography of Napoleon the First, see Max Gallo.

[2] Banquets were reunions organized in France between 1847 and 1848 by middle-class reformers. Banquets were festive events since they often started with a parade before people enjoyed a meal they had to pay for, thus preventing the poor from joining the event. Since banquets were presented as entertainments, they were not affected by the law Guizot created to prohibit political reunions. Banquets enabled middle-class reformers to share their ideas publicly while getting around the law.

[3] See Patrick Boucheron. For a more detailed account of the Revolution of 1848 in Paris, see Maurice Agulhon and Philippe Vigier.

[4] For this entire paragraph, I have been greatly aided by Patrick Boucheron.

[5] See Jean Béranger as well as Robert Bidelux and Ian Jeffries.

[6] See Boucheron.

[7] See Denis Mack Smith.

[8] This fact would appear to confirm Kurt Weyland's idea that revolutions behave like tsunamis. See Weyland, “Crafting Counterrevolution.”

[9] See Volker Sellin, especially the chapter, “Italy 1848.”

[10] See Paul Ginsborg, especially p. 542.

[11] See Alberto Mario Banti and Denis Mack Smith, Modern Italy.

[12] See Banti and Mack Smith, Modern Italy.

[13] See also John Merriman.

[14] See also John Merriman. France experienced an economic crisis because of bad harvests in 1845 and the loss of several colonies.

[15] See Malcolm Chase, John Merriman, and Keith A.P. Sandiford.