Grand Firmament

Gioacchino (Giovacchino) Prati (1790-1863), who spent most of his life as an exile, and a poor one at that, was born in the Trentino, studied in Vienna, Landshut, and Milan, and became a medical doctor and a lawyer. During his study he was already engaged in various secret societies, but his revolutionary activity really took shape after he fled (probably because of debts) to Chur, Switzerland, in 1816. There, with the German exiles Carl Follen and Wilhelm Snell, he established a political triumvirate that tried to link French, German, and Italian organizations in a European underground centre. This fitted well with the efforts of Filippo Buonarroti (1761-1837), an Italian-French revolutionary whose experience went back to the conspiracy of Gracchus Babeuf in 1796 and whom Prati greatly admired. Living in Geneva since 1806, Buonarroti frequently attempted to submit other secret societies to his own in order to steer them on the right path. In the early 1820s, this fed into speculations, both in revolutionary and police circles, about the existence of one over-arching revolutionary committee, the Grand Firmament, with its seat in Paris or Geneva. Though nothing indicates that the project of a 'secret International' ever attained any substance, the Holy Alliance took it quite seriously. It put more and more pressure on Switzerland, which was increasingly considered a 'failed state' because of the many fugitives it harboured. In 1823 the Swiss finally gave in: Buonarroti was forced to move to Brussels, where in 1828 he published his Conspiration pour l'Egalité on the events of 1796, and Prati departed for London, where he would become an ardent adherent of Saint-Simonism.

It should be noted that their position had become all the more compromised after Alexandre Andryane (1797-1863), one of Buonarroti's lieutenants, had been arrested in Milan in January 1823 with letters and documents intended for Italian acquaintances. This gave the Austrian police a wealth of information on the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits, and proof of the existence of a conspiracy. Andryane was condemned to death, but his sentence was modified to life imprisonment in the castle of Spielberg at Brünn (Brno). In 1832 he was pardoned. He returned to France and wrote two volumes of memoirs, which went through several printings, but are not always to be trusted. Still, his tale provides a glimpse of how Buonarroti recruited the members of his secret societies and what went on at their meetings.

Read Andryane's story: vol I, pp 129-137 (Pdf 576 Kb), vol II, pp 1-15 (Pdf 1 Mb), vol II, 52-54 (Pdf 5 Mb), vol II, 127-135 (Pdf 632 Kb).
Source: Alexandre Andryane, Souvenirs de Genève: complément des Mémoires d'un prisonnier d'Etat, 2 vols, Bruxelles: Meline, Cans et Cie, 1839. (Call number: 2002/649-650).

>> See also Wit von Dörring's opinion of Prati and the Grand Firmament in the chapter Burschenschaften.