He was born in Milan, the second son of The Marchese Emilio Visconti-Venosta  [1829-1914] who was Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Italy for five terms between 1863-1901.

Known as Rori, he was up at Christ Church from 1906 until 1907.

He was a writer and letters from him written between 1921 and 1937, are held in the Bernard Berenson Collection at Harvard University.

He was a member of the Chess Club of Rome.

He was attached to the 15th Army Group when he was killed in action against the Germans in the Apennines on 4 March 1945.

His elder brother the Marquess Giovanni Visconti Venosta, died in 1947. He had inherited the Villa Cavour and left it to the city of Turin in his will. It is surrounded by a 19-hectare estate, which still contains labourers’ cottages, the chapel of the Madonna della Neve, a vineyard and “la Margherita” farmstead. The funeral chapel of the Bensos of Cavour and the Cavouriano Museum can also be visited here. The extensive English-style garden, with centuries-old trees, is particularly delightful.


It was thus with sorrow rather than with surprise that I read the other day of the death in action of Enrico Visconti Venosta at the age of sixty-two. He had been attached with the rank of major to the 5th Army Group fighting the Germans in the Appenines; he had applied to be transferred to a front-line unit; his request was granted, and almost immediately he was killed.

Never have I known a man less combative by temperament. Even when he was a young man at Oxford his gentleness was only equalled by his lethargy. Bearing a name which had been honourably identified with the finest chapters in the history of the Risorgimento, descended as he was both from Alfieri and Cavour, he adopted a Hamlet attitude towards this tremendous heritage. He was older in years, and far older in experience, than his contemporaries at Christ Church, and he observed their undergraduate frolics with amused if sleepy eyes. He acquired a deep liking, rare in an Italian, for the unemphatic beauty of the English countryside, and felt himself specially attuned to the soft somnolence of the Thames Valley. During one Long Vacation he took a cottage at Iffley, where he lived on bread and cheese and beer, and spent summer hours reading Hegel in a punt.

Dreamy and somewhat solitary he strolled through life, enjoying beauty with effortless placidity, staying very quietly in lovely places, reading many books and studying many pictures, surrounded by an easy circle of agreeable friends. Never in his middle years did he seem to take any ardent interest in politics; his distaste for the Fascist system appeared in the early Mussolini years to go no deeper than the vague dislike felt by the fastidious for the crude. It was only gradually that this aloof contempt developed into ardent hatred. The vulgarity and vaunting of the whole system aroused in him unsuspected resources of energy and courage; and in the end, when long past the age of combative adventures, he died, as he would have wished it, fighting by our side. It was the least wasteful thing that he had ever done. By this sacrifice, apparently futile, he has reminded us that the great Italian tradition, in which Fascism was but an episode, is akin to our own.

* * * * For in the end he rose to his birthright. His father, the Marchese Emilio Visconti Venosta, had been a follower both of Mazzini and Cavour. He had held the post of Foreign Secretary during the difficult years of unification between 1863 and 1876. When he again became Foreign Minister in 1896 he sought to adjust Italy's position as an ally of Germany and Austria to a close understanding with France. He believed with Garibaldi that Italy would lose her soul if she became a mere satellite of the Central Powers, and he sought by every means to loosen the bonds which connected Rome and Berlin and to seek for some accommodation with the west.

At the age of seventy-seven this magnificent veteran appeared suddenly at the Algeciras Conference as chief Italian delegate. It was a time when the new balance of power created by the Anglo-French Entente of 1904 was being subjected to a Kraft probe on the part of Germany. With superb and imperturbable dignity the aged Visconti Venosta dissociated himself from the violent menaces and objurgations in which Graf Tattenbach indulged. He made it abundantly clear that the principles which had inspired the Risorgimento ',ere the principles which inspired the policies of Great Britain and the United States. Through him Italy displayed independence of action and a belief that expediency and opportunism were unworthy either of her past or of her future.

As a demonstration it was superb. This leonine old man did not live to see Italy's entry into the last war by the side of France and Britain: he died in November, 1914. But the tradition which he personified and transmitted was consistent, liberal and dignified. It is by that tradition that Italy, through all her terrible sufferings, will live and prosper again. Whatever trials may await her, whatever discords may arise, there can be no need for pessimism so long as she recalls the heroes of her own Risorgimento, and remembers that for them principles were more important than ingenuity, and the respect of neighbours more vital to Italy than any temporary success. The high hopes which our English liberals placed in Italy's achievement of unity have not all been falsified; nor do the paeans of Swinburne's " Songs before Sunrise" ring entirely false. The spirit of Mazzini and Cavour, of Alfieri and Carducci is still a living spirit; it was in such a spirit that Enrico Visconti Venosta fought and died.