Italy – Present And Future

No impartial spectator can deny that Italy, since it has again taken its place among the nations of Europe, promises great things for the future. Even its political regeneration has brought to the surface men of’ the highest intellect, courage, zeal, and public spirit. There are some amongst them whom posterity will look upon as a credit to all mankind. Possibly this period of excitement and nervous activity may be succeeded by a sort of moral collapse, such as generally takes place after every great crisis in the life of a nation. But this need not render us anxious for the future, for generations exhausted by the efforts they have made will be succeeded by others eager to continue the work their predecessors have begun.

In sciences and arts the native country of Volta, Cialdi, Secchi, Rossini, Verdi, and Vela occupies es en now a position of equality with the most advanced nations of Europe. The Italian of the present day is able to refer without shame to the two great centuries of the renaissance, for he has entered upon a second period of regeneration, and the names of contemporaries can be mentioned by the side of the great names of the past. Italy has its skilful painters and sculptors, its celebrated architects and unrivalled musicians. The great works achieved by its engineers are deserving the study of foreigners. Amongst its physicists, geologists, astronomers, and mathematicians there are some of the brightest ornaments of the age, and the assiduity with which universities are frequented insures their having worthy successors. A geographical society only recently established has successfully taken up the work of exploration so gloriously carried on by the Genoese and Venetians. It is not just, therefore, to say ironically that ” Italy has been made, but not Italians.” Individually the Italians are inferior to no other race of Europe, and the reorganization of the country would have been impossible had there been any deficiency in men of mark.

Italy is more densely inhabited than any other of the great states of Europe, in spite of vast extents of almost uninhabitable mountain tracts and swamps. The population, however, increases less rapidly than in Russia, England, or Germany. It doubles in about a century, whilst that of Russia doubles in fifty, and that of France in two bundled years. Italy thus occupies an intermediate position. In Apulia and Calabria, which are amongst the poorest provinces, the birth rate is highest, whilst in the wealthy Marches and Umbria it is lowest. On an average the Italian dies when he is thirty-two, and his life is consequently much shorter than that of the average Frenchman or Englishman.

Agriculture and the development of the natural resources of the soil and the sea engage much more attention than industry properly so called. Nearly fifty per cent. of the total area is under cultivation. The cereals raised do not suffice for the wants of the inhabitants, but other products are exported in considerable quantities. In its production of oil Italy holds a foremost rank as regards quantity, but not always with respect to quality. The amount of fruit grown. such as figs, grapes, almonds, and oranges, is greater than in any other country of Europe. The chestnut forests in the Apennines and Alps yield rich harvests. Its mulberry plantations are four times more extensive than those of France, and the raw silk produced in favourable years exceeds in quantity that exported from China. The peninsula is still entitled to its ancient epithet of OEnotria (wine land), but, apart from certain districts of continental Italy and Sicily, the quality of wine produced, owing to carelessness on the part of the growers, is inferior to what it is in France. The cultivation of cotton is comparatively of small importance. The breeding of animals yields large profits, and Italy is noted throughout Europe for the quality of some kinds of cheese.

The working of the iron mines of Elba, the quarrying of marble and granite in the Alps and Apuanic Alps, the extraction of borax and boracic acid in the Tuscan Sub-Apennines, the mining for lead and zinc in Sardinia, and for sulphur in Sicily, lead up to industrial pursuits properly so called. These latter extend nearly to everything, from the manufacture of pins to the construction of steam-engines and ships. Italy, however, is eminent only in the production of certain articles de luxe, such as straw bonnets, cameos, coral jewellery, glass, and in the preparation of macaroni and other farinaceous pastes. The manufacture of silk, however, has taken a rapid development in recent years, and Milan has become a dangerous rival of Lyons. In the province of Novara, and more especially at Biella, there are hundreds of woollen factories. The cotton manufacture is not of much importance, and linen-weaving is for the most part carried on as a domestic industry. Italy, in fact, cannot yet be called a manufacturing country. The number of workmen is largo, but they mostly labour at home or in small workshops, and a division of labour, such as exists in England, France, or Germany, is hardly known. Manufactories, however, are rapidly increasing, and economical conditions are gradually becoming what they are already in most other countries of Europe.

Italy possesses a powerful mercantile marine, manned by 150,000 seamen ; but its foreign commerce is far less than might have been expected from its tonnage. i Most of the vessels are engaged in the coasting trade. The first Italian vessel was seen in the Pacific in 1847, and even now the Italian flag is very inadequately represented in the navigation of the great oceans. Italian patriots are anxious to see the commerce of the country extended to the most distant regions. For the present Italy enjoys a sort of monopoly in the Mediterranean, and any increase of population or wealth in Northern Africa must prove of immediate advantage to it. But there can be no doubt that the proposed railway from Antwerp or Calais to Saloniki or Constantinople will seriously affect the transit trade of Italian ports. Nor are Italian shipowners able to compete with their rivals of Marseilles or Trieste when it is a question of speed, for the number of their steamers is very small.

The facilities for carrying on coasting trade have, in some measure, interfered with the development of the inland trade of the country. The construction of railways, however, is gradually bringing about a change, Already five lines of rails cross the Apennines, others are projected, and one of the Italian railways, namely, that which pierces the Alps in the tunnel of Mont Cenis, and finally follows the eastern coast to Rimini, has become a portion of the great European highway to India. Nor must the political importance of these railways be under-rated, for they knit together the most distant provinces of Italy, and make the country really one.

The commerce of’ Italy has increased rapidly of late, but it is still inferior not only to that of England, France, Germany, Austria, and Russia, but, likewise to that of much smaller countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands. In 187-i the imports, including transit, were estimated at £48,614,280, the exports at £:42,301,800 France participates in this commerce to the extent of 31 per cent., England is represented by 23, Austria by 20, and all the other countries of the world share in the remainder. Recently the commerce with North and South America has assumed considerable proportions, and efforts are being made to obtain a footing in Eastern Asia.

The great scourge of Italy consists in the poverty of its peasantry even in the most fertile provinces, as in Lombardy and the Basilicata. These peasants live in foul hovels, and the united earnings of a whole family are hardly sufficient to procure bread. Chestnuts, and a polenta of maize and paste made of damaged flour, are the principal articles of food, and nothing is left for luxuries, or even comfortable clothing. Rickets and other diseases brought about by an insufficiency of food are common, and, in fact, mortality is very great. Emigration is under these circumstances of immense advantage to the country, for the thousands of Italians who seek work or found new homes in South America, the United States, France, Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere, not only earn their bread, but also render some assistance to those of their relatives who remain behind. It is said that out of 500,000 Italians living abroad, no less than 100,000 are engaged in art, either as painters, sculptors, or musicians, the latter being frequently mere street-singers or organ-grinders.

Ignorance, the usual companion of poverty, is still very great throughout the peninsula. We might err in condemning the Italians because of their ignorance of the arts of reading and writing, for, as the heirs of an ancient civilisation, they are more polished in their manners than the educated peasants of the North. Still this ignorance is most deplorable, for it precludes all progress. Nearly two-thirds of the population over ten years of age are unable to read, and fifty-nine men and seventy-eight women ont of every hundred are unable to sign the marriage registers. There are several thousand parishes without elementary schools, and the number of pupils, instead of amounting to the normal proportion of one to every six or seven inhabitants, is only one to about eleven.. Education, however, is making fair progress, but its influence upon the diminution of crimes of violence has hitherto been small. In 1874 Signor Cantelli, the Home Secretary, stated that there occurred annually 3,000 homicides, 4,000 cases of highway robbery. and 30,000 violent assaults.

The permanent confusion of the finances of Italy, attended as it is by heavy and vexatious taxes, must be looked upon as one of the principal causes which retard the development of the country. The national debt may appear a small matter if we compare it with that of France, but it has been raised in the course of a single generation, and is augmenting from year to year. The revenue increases, but the expenditure does so likewise, and the additional income resulting from an increase of taxation and the sales of Church property is not sufficient to cover the deficiency. The heavy cost of the army, an absence of sustained efforts in carrying on public works, waste and fraud by public servants. have hitherto prevented the establishment of a balance between income and expenditure, and the paper money issued by Government is nowhere accepted at its nominal value.

This disorganization of the finances places Italy at the mercy of foreigners, and the arrangements which have to be made from time to time with foreign capitalists are not always of a purely financial nature. The inefficiency of her military and naval organization, moreover, compels her to cultivate foreign alliances as expediency may direct, and to these alliances Italy is, in a large measure, indebted for her political unity.

Nor is this unity even now as perfect as could be desired. The Pope has been deprived of his temporal power; he resides at the Vatican as a guest; and the money offered him by the Italian Government, but which has never been accepted, is not tribute, but a gratuity. But, in spite of this, the Pope is still a real power, and his very presence interferes substantially with the permanent establishment of the state. The Catholics of the world have not yet acquiesced in his disestablishment, and they allow no opportunity for attacking the new order of things to escape them. Political Europe is consequently much interested in the home affairs of Italy, and feels tempted frequently to intervene. The most expert diplomacy may not be able to avert this danger, and if there is a struggle it will certainly not he confined to the peninsula.

In the end Italy will no doubt escape from the anomalous position of basing for her capital a city which is the seat of a theocratic government claiming the allegiance of the Roman Catholics of the entire world. The geographical conditions of no other country are equally favourable to the development of national sentiments and the maintenance of a national individuality. At the same time the well-defined boundaries of the country deprive it of all force of expansion. Italy will never play a great part beyond the bounds of the Mediterranean, and though Italian may obtain a certain preponderance in Tunis, Egypt, and the Levant, the noble language of Dante has no chalice, as regards universality, when opposed to English, French, Spanish, German, or Russian.