My Italian Year – Some Roman Characteristics

ONE of the principal charms of Rome, if such a paradox may be allowed, consists in the getting out of it. The old Romans found it so ; and the modern Romans, though they no longer build stately villas in its vicinity, are by no means insensible to the attractions of the many beautiful districts which are now brought within comparatively easy distance of the city. The middle and lower classes have traditional seasons when a scampagnata is considered absolutely necessary—during, for instance, the lovely days of May, and again during the vintage. A jaunt without the city gates in the golden days of October is known among them as an Ottobrata ; and it is perhaps in this latter season that one may best study the habits and customs of the Roman populace. I cannot conscientiously say that these habits and customs are always edifying. Indeed, they are apt to be very much the reverse. Mention has already been made of the excessive number of spacci di vino where wine and other more harmful beverages are sold ; and a weakness for over-indulgence in his native vintages is, unfortunately, a widespread failing among the Romans not only of the lowest classes, but also among those in which one would scarcely expect to find it. In this respect the Romans compare badly with the far more sober Tuscans ; and the consequence is that whereas a Tuscan family out for a day’s holiday will conduct itself almost invariably in an orderly and decorous manner, a Roman family of the same class too frequently turns what should be a healthy and happy pleasure excursion into an orgy, which is apt to end in quarrels, and, sometimes, among the less reputable, in the use of the knife.

As I have broached this disagreeable subject, I may say at once that the stereotyped British idea that every Italian carries a knife in his pocket which he will use on the slightest provocation is an enormously exaggerated one. To begin with, the law prohibits the carrying of any knife the blade of which measures more than seven centimetres in length, and the police have the right, which is frequently exercised, of searching any individual whom they may suspect of infringing this law. It cannot be denied, however, that the knife still figures far too prominently in Italian quarrels, and especially among the Romans and the inhabitants of the Latin province. Its use, luckily, has greatly diminished in recent years ; and there can be no doubt that were Italian juries to refuse to admit any extenuating circumstances in cases in which it is employed, and were the punishment for its use to be made ruthlessly severe, this barbarous means of aggression or defence would soon be-come, if not extinct, at all events as rare as it is with us or in other countries north of the Alps. Murderers, of course, there will always be, in all countries ; but in the majority of cases among the Italian lower orders in which the knife is used in a quarrel there is little or no premeditation, and by no means always a desire to kill. In nine cases out of ten, wounding and homicide are the direct results of drink. The strong Roman wines go quickly to the head, and an uneducated man under its influence loses all sense of control, and becomes practically insane for the moment. I am, of course, only referring to such crimes as are committed in the heat of passion ; for it is these which Italian justice is apt to treat with surprising lenity. Homicides, on the other hand, in which premeditation can be proved, are often punished by life-long imprisonment, under conditions which make capital punishment merciful in comparison.

The curse of the Roman population is—wine. The number of places in which it is sold is nothing less than a public scandal, and men, women, and children are ruined in health and character by excessive drinking at all hours of the day and night. A visit to any one of the Roman hospitals affords ample proof that it is altogether a fallacy to believe, as many do believe, that the results of abuse of wine are less deleterious than those of spirituous liquors. The latter may destroy more quickly, but the former, though more insidious, is equally fatal in the long-run. Tuberculosis in all its forms rages among the lower classes in Rome and the Roman provinces—and this is in almost every case traceable to intemperance—which, in a country where wine is the common drink, does not imply what is usually implied by the term alcoholism. The crying evil of the multiplicity of osterie has been seriously occupying the attention of the late Government ; and measures were to be taken to mitigate it. But it is to be feared that much water will flow under the Ponte San Angelo before anything is really done in the matter.

The unstaple condition of Italian governments, owing to the numerous party groups and dissensions in the Camera, is a serious obstacle to any consecutive policy of social reforms ; and many excellent measures are framed which are destined to be shelved while party intrigues are making and unmaking Cabinets and Ministers. There can be no doubt that a Minister who had the determination to introduce a drastic law under which a great percentage of the wine-shops—the chief propagators of disease and crime throughout the country—could be suppressed would have conferred a signal benefit on the Italian race. It is to be feared, however, that, as in the case of the late Prime Minister, Signor Luzzatti, no sooner had such a measure been decided upon, than he would find himself out of office, and his bill abandoned or its consideration by the Camera adjourned sine die.

Another evil, which has been introduced into Italy from abroad, is that of drinking-bars. These pernicious institutions have spread rapidly through all the towns, great and small. They are, of course, frequented by a higher clientele than the osterie ; but their effect is equally deteriorating, and their number is becoming nearly as excessive in proportion as the more humble places of their kind. The testimony of the leading Italian doctors and surgeons on the incalculable harm done to the public health both physical and mental by the introduction of these baneful foreign institutions is unanimous. The fact is, that neither the Italian constitution nor the Italian climate permits of abuse of alcoholic drinks in any form ; and in-temperance, which may be injurious to a minor degree to those belonging to Northern races, becomes positively dangerous in the case of those born south of the Alps.

It is to be feared that Rome will never become an industrial city, unless the temperament of the Roman lower classes should alter considerably. The ancient love for feasting and amusement seems to have survived most of the old Roman traditions. Work of all kinds is constantly interrupted on the slightest of excuses ; and almost every conceivable article which could perfectly well be supplied by the Romans themselves has to be brought from other cities, or from abroad. The large shops which maintain their own manufactories or workshops are extremely few. It does not pay them to do so ; for the Roman workman will cheerfully abandon his occupation and sacrifice his day’s wages in order to keep the festa of some more or less imaginary saint, which he usually does by spending a great deal more than he can afford in the osterie. The State has for long combated this entirely pseudo-religious spirit, and only the greatest festivals of the Church are recognised as public holidays. But the clergy, of course, do all in their power to insist upon all useful occupation being abandoned in honour of saints and madonnas, and quite fail to realise, or, perhaps, refuse to realise that a day’s honest work is far better than twenty minutes spent in listening to the gabbling of a Mass and the remaining hours in eating, drinking, and gambling.

I have no wish to enter into controversial subjects in these pages ; but when I hear people at home descanting upon the marvellous unity to be found in the Roman Church, and contrasting it with the divergence of opinion existing among Protestants, I cannot help wondering whether they have ever taken the trouble to test for themselves the genuineness of this asserted unity. I would ask any one, for instance, to pick out at hazard ten Italian Catholics belonging to the middle and lower classes who would be able to give any comprehensible definition of the Mass, and still less to give the meaning of any portion of its language. I have spoken with countless individuals in all parts of Italy belonging to those classes, individuals who were regular in their attendance at Mass on Sundays and holidays, and I have seldom found anything but the most naïve and profound ignorance as to what the priest had been saying or doing beyond “making the Santissimo.” I have found, in the majority of cases, the most contemptuous disbelief in every one of the dogmas of that Faith which it is the custom to consider as held by all classes of the Roman communion. It is not unity of faith which constitutes the power of the Church in Italy, but unity of interest. Of faith there is extremely little, and of the most cynical scepticism a great deal ; but of vested interests in a powerful national and racial institution there is, as I have already attempted to show in the chapters in this book dealing with Tuscan life, an altogether preponderating amount.

And if this deeply rooted scepticism is particularly noticeable in the central Italian provinces it is even more so in Rome itself.

The priests, of course, and the clerical organs in the Press, attempt to attribute the indifference to dogmatic belief which permeates all classes of modern Italian society to the corrupting influences of the Freemasons. As a matter of fact, however, Freemasonry has very little to do with it. The revolt against dogma is the natural revolt of the intellect against that which ever seeks to stultify thought and render it barren. Moreover, the revolt is, in Italy as in Germany, no longer confined to the laity, but, as exemplified by ” Modernism,” it is spreading rapidly among the ranks of the younger and more enlightened clergy. In vain the present Pope and his advisers attempt to stem this intellectual revolt against medieval frauds and superstitions forced upon the world by the Vatican. Their dread of the emancipation of the human intellect from the bonds of medieval dogma was clearly displayed by Pius the Tenth’s recent at-tempt to compel each individual priest to subscribe to a form of oath declaring himself to hold the ” Modernist” views in anathema. The clergy, doubtless, will have to give way. Their bread and butter depends upon their so doing. But papal fulminations no longer have any effect upon the great mass of the Italian laity ; and the days are for ever gone by, except among women, and among the most ignorant and illiterate of the population, when threats or applications of spiritual penalties in this world or the next are seriously regarded.

As to Italian Freemasonry, like Italian Socialism, it must not be confounded with its English counter-part. Unlike Freemasonry in England, Freemasonry in Italy is little better than a species of Tammany. It is an organisation born of bureaucracy which, under the mask of fighting the corruption and tyranny of the priests, is itself tyrannical and corrupt to the last degree. The Jacks-in-office of Italian bureaucracy are its mainstay and support—but the average Italian of the working-classes is too shrewd to be entrapped by its specious pretensions, and he regards it with as much distrust as he does the priests.

Although the average Roman—I am speaking entirely of the mass of the people—concerns himself but little with dogma, he attends Mass fairly regularly; but his attendance is rather due to custom than to any special belief in, or, indeed, genuine comprehension of, the stupendous mystery therein represented. Having, as a well-known lady of society in mid-Victorian times was wont to express it, done the civil thing by the Almighty, he feels himself at liberty to dispose of the remainder of the day as he pleases. Perhaps this impression exists equally among many of the most outwardly orthodox in the Anglican communion, only they do not happen to be possessed of Lady —’s cynical frankness. The doings of the Vatican trouble him not at all ; except, perhaps, so far as they may regard his politics. He knows very well that the Spirito Santo has little enough to do with the making of Popes, and he is quite likely to smile quietly at the idea while the whole category of Catholic dogma contained in the Creeds, excepting only the confession of faith in the First Person of the Trinity, he will probably dismiss with a shrug of the shoulders and the observation—” Storie dei preti.” For him, the semi-divine atmosphere with which foreign Catholics believe the Vatican to be surrounded does not exist. His seat is too near the stage, and the working of the mise en scène is too familiar to him. He cannot in the least understand why you, or any one, should trouble to reason on questions of belief. He himself takes them as he finds them — or, rather, he passes them by with that supreme indifference to which, I think, only the Latin mind can successfully attain in matters of religious faith. He is not by any means atheistic — it is rare in Italy to find a genuine atheist, though many profess to be so. He merely regards the numberless doctrines and dogmas of the Church as part of the stock-in-trade of an institution in which he feels he has some inherited and traditional stake, and he looks upon them in his secret heart as inventions necessary to the maintenance of that institution.

I am quite aware that all I have said here will be indignantly contradicted by many of my possible readers, who will accuse me of writing against the Church. I am, however, not concerned with the Church, but merely with certain features of the Italian attitude towards its teachings. That this attitude is characteristic of the Latin mind, or at any rate of the Italian mind, cannot be denied.

It can be traced throughout the Middle Ages, and even Popes themselves have not always been free from it. Nor, I submit, can any one who has interested himself in these matters sufficiently to discuss them not only with his own class, but with individuals of all classes and in all parts of Italy, honestly assert that among the mass of the Italian people there exists any unity of religious belief, or any real understanding of the dogmas and doctrines taught by the Church. The unity is external only ; and to attempt to prove that among thirty-seven millions of Italians who are nominally Catholics more than a limited proportion could be found who not only believed but under-stood the dogmas of their supposed faith, would be to attempt to prove a theory which has no existence in fact.

At the same time, ridiculous indeed are those Protestant “missions ” which believe that they can bring the sceptical Italian Catholic into the folds of Protestantism. Such a presumption displays on the face of it a complete ignorance of the Italian mind, and of the Latin attitude towards dogmatic faith. Let me hasten to add that the Anglican Church in Italy cannot be justly accused of any organised attempts of the kind ; though individual members of it, generally of the female sex, are occasionally seized with the mania of convert-making. The Nonconformist bodies are the chief offenders. They have considerable wealth at their command, and in Rome especially they are very active in their attempts to make proselytes. It must be owned that their methods are of an extremely objectionable nature. At their conferences and in their churches abuse of the Roman Church and of the Roman Pontiff is carried to an extent altogether unpardonable, while the doctrines of Catholicism are so misrepresented as to be unrecognisable. What abuse will not effect is effected by bribery. Money is freely given in order to entice the Roman youth of both sexes to frequent Methodist conventicles, and so-called charities are instituted the real object of which is to compel the families assisted by them to attend services and lectures. I am afraid that the ” converts” regard the whole affair as an excellent joke. They gladly profit by the folly of the protestanti, accept their money and their bibles, and most likely are careful to go to Mass before they repair to the Methodist churches to have their ears tickled by diatribes against the scarlet woman and that lady of Babylon who was no better than she should be.

An Italian loves a sermon, and so long as it is delivered with sufficient oratorical violence and a proper accompaniment of gesticulation, he is comparatively indifferent to the opinions that may be expressed in it. I regret to say that I know of an instance in which a preacher, famed for the energy of his movements in the pulpit, was the victim of a practical joke perpetrated by some extremely naughty boys of my acquaintance. Knowing that this priest was going to preach in their parish church, they took occasion previously to fix a number of tin tacks with the points uppermost round the ledge of the pulpit. By degrees the preacher warmed to his subject, and it was not long before he brought down both hands violently on the prepared spot, in order to emphasise a point in his discourse. It certainly was emphasised ; I believe that ” figli di cani ” was quite the mildest of the expressions which brought the sermon to an abrupt close. This, however, is a digression.

It can scarcely be wondered at if the Vatican resents a state of things which permits foreign busy-bodies a licence of language and procedure which both honour and good taste, if nothing else, ought to render impossible. Moreover, if Protestants would but believe it, the Italians who abandon an official conformity with Catholicism are extremely unlikely to become genuine members of any other religious community. The Italian is far too shrewd to exchange one system of dogmatic belief for another ; and if he troubles himself sufficiently about such matters as to reject dogma instead of contenting himself with ignoring it, he rejects it in all its forms and varieties. A very few, possessed of unusual education and a taste for theology, may perhaps make the exchange, but they are merely regarded as “cranks” by their neighbours, and their ” conversion” carries with it no weight or influence upon their surroundings.

I am told that it is the custom among certain Methodist bodies to pay their ministers in accordance with the size of the congregations in the churches which these control. Whether this be the case I do not know but, if it is, it sufficiently explains the barefaced bribery which is exercised in order to induce Italians of the poorer classes to attend the Methodist conventicles and lecture-rooms. That such bribery is largely practised I know by experience, for I have had servants and others in my employ who have been subjected to it. It is quite possible, of course, that these tactics to attract the Roman youth to their conventicles are pursued rather by fanatical members of their congregations than by the Methodist ministers themselves. But however this may be, nothing can excuse the vilification of the Roman Church and its dignitaries, and the gross caricatures of Roman Catholic doctrine, which form so principal a feature of the Protestant propaganda in Rome and other Italian cities.

No interference, however, on the part of the civil authorities with the vagaries of foreign religious sects could be anything but injurious to that complete liberty of thought and action in all matters of religious faith, which is not the least of the blessings which have resulted from the suppression of the temporal jurisdiction of the Papacy in Italy. It is only to be regretted that those foreign religious bodies, who so largely profit by this liberty, should so often abuse it in a wholly unworthy manner. But where, it must be confessed, it is a matter of surprise that the Italian Government does not interfere, is in the case of such flagrant outrages on all decency as are committed week after week by certain scurrilous publications which shelter themselves under the shield of the liberty of the Press. A journal such as l’Asino, for instance, which is edited by a deputy of parliament, is an offence against those feelings of respect for sacred things which are entertained by all decently minded people of all nationalities and creeds. It is nothing less than revolting to see such a publication as l’Asino, in which blasphemous caricatures representing the most sacred subjects figure in almost every number, exposed to view on the newspaper stalls and in shop windows. All respectable Italians, however much they may be opposed to the Vatican and to the Church, deplore these examples of ignorance and bad taste in their midst. These are surely cases in which interference on the part of the authorities would safeguard rather than injure the liberty of the Press, and any action which tended to recall to order and to a sense of decency such publications as that which I have named, would not only earn the sympathy of the vast majority of the Italian community at large, but would be welcomed by decently minded people of all nationalities and creeds who are naturally unable to understand why in Italy alone should publications so opposed to all ideas of refinement or good taste, and so offensive to the susceptibilities of all but the coarser-minded among the public, be tolerated.

The travesty of the most sacred subjects, how-ever, is by no means due, as the clerical party would have it believed, to modern infidelity and to the propaganda of the Freemasons. It existed in Italy even in the Middle Ages. Indeed, the greater the observance of religious forms and ceremonies, the less would appear to have been the reverence for the persons and objects those forms and ceremonies were supposed to commemorate—and this, I think, is one of the many details in which it is impossible to judge the Latin frame of mind from an Anglo-Saxon standpoint. There is a considerable difference, however, between the often witty irreverences spoken or written, and the scurrilous illustrations parodying the most sacred mysteries of the Christian faith, which, to the astonishment even of those who do not profess that faith, disgrace the pages of certain Italian journals.

It is frequently said by foreigners that Italy is a country in which what is called public opinion is strangely lacking. In a sense this criticism is true ; but it would be truer still to say that Italian public opinion is dormant through lack of suitable organs through which it could find expression. That it does not exist to the same extent as in countries which have been for centuries united is inevitable ; but, all the same, it is slowly but surely in process of formation. Unfortunately, the Press, which in all countries is, or should be, the chief factor in the forming of a healthy public opinion, and the chief instrument of its expression and influence, has hitherto been rather an impediment than otherwise to its development. Of newspapers, daily and weekly, there are no end in Italy. Not only the cities, but almost all little country towns have their own journals, and the number of professional journalists and newspaper correspondents must form quite a considerable fraction of the Italian population. The greater number of these newspapers can only keep themselves alive with difficulty. Their capital, as a rule, is extremely small ; and they are not, therefore, in a position to furnish their readers with much that is really useful or instructive. Local affairs and municipal politics are given far more prominence in their pages than more important questions affecting the interests of the nation at large ; and these last are frequently dismissed in a few lines, while columns are devoted to sensational accounts of crimes, suicides, and love-affairs ! Even the more authoritative organs of the capital and the great towns are apt to present what might be termed imperial questions from the point of view of some limited and perhaps ephemeral group in the Camera ; and they, too, in common with their provincial col-leagues, devote a large portion of their space to matters which might often, with advantage to the public, be suppressed, or dismissed in a few words. The consequence is that public opinion is deprived of its chief and most valuable instrument, and that it lacks, as I have already said, both guidance and channels of expression. The Italians of all classes are such keen readers of newspapers, that it seems strange that the Italian Press should not be more fully alive to the great opportunities and the lofty mission which is its inheritance.

As matters stand, it would be difficult to name any Italian journal which exercises a genuine or consistent influence on public opinion ; and the public has become so accustomed to regarding its newspapers as representing merely the ideas and interests of this or that politician or group of politicians, that the value of articles bearing upon anything but trivial subjects is largely discounted. I should like to add that I am not advancing theories of my own on this subject, but merely repeating opinions which have been frequently expressed to me by Italians themselves. It may naturally be suggested, as a refutation of these opinions, that, in a country in which the parliamentary system obtains, public opinion possesses far more efficacious means of expression than those which could be afforded to it by the Press. Unluckily, however, no Italian would even pretend to admit that the Chamber of Deputies really represents the feelings and wishes of Italy. Before any such admission could be honestly made, the whole system of parliamentary elections would have to be revised, and certain well-known corruptions and abuses, into which it is not necessary to enter in these pages, eradicated. We know, in our own case, how much, or how little, our House of Commons really represents the best and most honest political opinions of the country ; and we, perhaps, may still pride ourselves on the reflection that our electoral system is the least tainted by Government interference or influence of any in the world, though recent and present events would seem scarcely to justify such a reflection. I have never yet met an Italian of any class who would not at once smile incredulously at the idea of the Camera being in any way representative of Italian public opinion, and certainly none regard the Press as in any way voicing it.

Massimo d’Azeglio’s famous saying, ” Ora cha è fatta Italia, bisogna fare gli Italiani,” still, in a sense, holds good. The wide divergence of ideas, customs, and character naturally existing among a people for centuries under the domination of so many different forms of government, must obviously require more than the comparatively brief space of fifty years to be reduced to anything like uniformity. But this uniformity is steadily increasing, and with it, and with the spread of education among the lower classes, is gradually arising that spirit of public opinion which only needs a better organised and more disinterested Press to enable it to gather strength and influence.

The majority of English people elect to come to Rome at a season when they see little or nothing of the real life of the city. ” Easter in Rome ” is still a catch-phrase of the tourist agencies ; and for the few who spend Christmas in the Eternal City there are thousands who flock to it for the Holy Week and Easter. Is is extraordinary how difficult it is to kill ancient traditions. Numberless foreigners, especially English and Americans, hasten to Rome at Easter-time under the impression that they will be able to assist at papal functions which have been discontinued for forty years. As a matter of fact, the churches of Rome during the Settimana Santa present a sorry enough spectacle, and by no means an edifying one.

The crowds of idle sightseers which throng the basilicas are attracted by no spirit of devotion, and the few who come to join in the religious ceremonies are hustled hither and thither by Anglo-Saxons and Teutons, who have no scruple in fighting their way to every possible coign of vantage. The Teutons, I think, usually have the best of it. When the German finds his progress in St. Peter’s or the Lateran barred, he generally employs his elbows and feet to good purpose. The German women, too, have an al-together admirable method of clearing a path in front of them. Judicious digs of their hat-pins, which I have seen them conceal in their muffs for the purpose, compel even the most obstinate to move aside. I imagine that, except in Jerusalem at the same season, there is no city in which Christianity cuts so sorry a figure as it does in Rome at Easter-tide.

Irreverence, however, is by no means confined to the foreign visitors—though one wonders why many of one’s own compatriots, for instance, who would be horrified were a foreigner to behave in St. Paul’s Cathedral as they themselves unblushingly do in St. Peter’s, should so frequently make themselves conspicuous for a total disregard of the respect due to their surroundings.

I have sometimes been amused at the comments made by Englishwomen, who would cheerfully seat themselves on the balustrade surrounding the Confessional in St. Peter’s and read aloud from their guide-books, or tramp about during the elevation of the Host, on the irreverence of the Romans. At least Roman irreverence is passive rather than active—tranquil rather than aggressive. As a matter of fact, the altogether unedifying attitude of a Roman crowd at a religious function—and it is an attitude often shared by the clergy themselves—is due not to irreverence, but to that carelessness and indifference begotten of intimacy with the scenes and ceremonials in progress.

It is not to the great basilicas that the devout Romans repair during the Settimana Santa, or at other great festivals of the Church—or rather, they repair to them as a kind of afterthought ; their real devotions having been paid in churches in which the sublime offices of those days are not ” shows,” and therefore do not attract either the tourists or native sightseers. During the office of Tenebrae, and the subsequent exposition of the great relics in St. Peter’s, for example, the whole of Rome walks up and down the vast basilica, and settles what it is going to do during the feste of Easter. Nobody pays any particular attention to the religious part of the performance, and if the murmur of voices, which sounds like that of the waves of the sea, be hushed for a few minutes during the chanting of the Miserere, this is only to enjoy, and immediately afterwards to criticise, the music and the singing.

Those who make a point of absenting themselves from Rome during the Holy Week and Easter are wise, and very many of the Romans betake them-selves elsewhere during those days. Christmas, on the other hand, I, for one, would rather spend in Rome than in any other city in the world. So far as the ceremonies of the Church are concerned, these are, to my mind, far more impressive than the theatrical shows of the Holy Week, and they seem to strike a far more genuine note. Perhaps it is because the note of tragedy and the trappings of stereotyped woe are too exaggerated during the Settimana Santa that they fail to touch anything deeper than the imagination. Perhaps, too, one would feel more impressed were it possible to forget the fact that almost precisely similar scenes of grief and mourning, of joy and triumph, were enacted year after year in honour of deified men who lived and died, and rose again from the dead, centuries before the tragedy of Calvary. The student of the ancient rituals connected with Adonis-worship and the cult of Osiris—to name only two out of the many examples of God-men who were deliberately slain by proxy in order that they might be born again—is well aware how largely Christianity has borrowed from these rituals. He may, perhaps, not illogically consider that in the mournful ceremonies of the Settimana Santa and the exultant offices of the Pasqua di Risurrezione he is, after all, merely assisting at an evolved form of Nature-worship and the relevancy of this consideration will not be diminished by the knowledge that he is in Rome, whither all the great cults of the East were trans-planted and eventually absorbed by Latin Christianity. The said student, of course, would not have far to seek in order to discover the pagan prototype of Christmas. A Roman Christmas, however, is not accompanied by that enforced merriment which is considered in England to be appropriate to the season. Its joy, I think, is altogether more natural and spontaneous, while, from the purely spiritual point of view, the religious ceremonies in connection with it are far more impressive than the theatrical displays and the mock shows of mourning which attract foreigners to the churches during the Holy Week.

Unfortunately, some of the old customs associated with the Nativity have ceased to exist, and among them the particularly appropriate and pleasing one of the descent into Rome of shepherds from the mountains with their bagpipes. For centuries, on Christmas Eve, and, indeed, during the Christmas season, the pifferari played their pastoral melodies in honour of the Holy Child—and the soft notes of their shepherd pipes certainly seemed to bring the scene at Bethlehem more vividly to the imagination than any of our Northern carols. Unluckily, the shepherds come no longer, or, if they do, they leave their pipes behind them. They are fearful, perhaps, of being arrested by the modern guardie communali as a nuisance. Once or twice of late years I have heard them playing on Christmas Eve in some remote quarter of the city, or in the vicinity of Piazza Montanara, where the peasants from the Campagna, and the Alban Hills are wont to congregate. I fear, however, that on these occasions the bagpipes were playing rather in honour of the wine-flask than in that of the Nativity. Nevertheless, one could pre-tend to forget the vicinity of the wine-shops, and the pastoral strains of the pipes carried the imagination back to those other shepherds watching over their flocks under the Syrian stars, and to the manger outside the little inn at Bethleham.

Christmas Eve is, of course, a strict fast-day and even those who do not observe it as such, adhere to the tradition by eating fish instead of meat. The cottio, as the Christmas fish-market is called, is a time – honoured institution dating from remote centuries. The market is open through the entire night preceding Christmas Eve, and huge quantities of fish are exposed for sale for consumption the following day. On Christmas Eve the Presepî, or holy cribs, in the various churches are visited by the same crowds who, on the Thursday in the Holy Week, visit the sepulchres ; but the tourist element is almost entirely absent. Often the Presepio is most artistically arranged, and there is nothing of the theatrical and artificial note which makes the mock funeral ceremonies of the Settimana Santa so little edifying.

Rome, however, can scarcely vie with Naples in realistic representations of the birth of Christ. In Naples live figures, both human and animal, are grouped round the manger, and the cows and asses play their proper part. Occasionally it happens that the animals become restive, and then comic scenes are apt to occur. It is sometimes the custom in large farms and country houses to have the mid-night Masses on Christmas night celebrated on a special altar near the Presepio. I have never myself had the good-fortune to be in Naples or its environs at Christmas-time ; but a lady I know, who lives in Naples, once gave me an amusing account’ of her experiences on that night. She had been invited to be present at the midnight Masses in the Presepio, and her hosts and their guests were waiting to go down to the chapel, when servants rushed into the room in a great state of excitement. One of the cows had broken loose from the manger and, as they expressed it—” stava faccendo l’ira di Dio in cucina ! ” and indeed Mass could not be commenced until the exasperated cow had been pre vailed upon to cease playing havoc in the adjoining kitchen.

In certain of the churches in Rome the three Masses in succession, celebrated immediately after midnight on Christmas Eve, are accompanied by beautiful music, notably in that of San Luigi dei Francesi—the special church of the French Catholics. In the little church of the Sudario—the church of the Piedmontese, which is much frequented by the royalties and the Court—the midnight Masses are the more impressive on account of their quiet simplicity, and here, of course, the merely curious do not penetrate. After midnight the fast of the vigil ends, and the restaurants are crowded with supper-parties, while in the private houses families assemble and make merry over Christmas fare. It is at the Epiphany, however, that the children have their good time.”

In Italy the Befana takes the place of Father Christmas and Santa Claus. Stockings and other receptacles are hung by the bedside on the eve of the Epiphany, to be filled with presents and toys by the Befana, a witch-like old woman who is supposed to bring to all good children—and to many naughty ones also—delightful and longed-for gifts, and great is the excitement when the little ones wake up and examine their shoes and stockings to see what the Befana has brought them during the night. The Christmas-tree, too, is becoming a popular institution in the Italian cities, though of course it is an exotic, as, indeed, it is in our own country, since it was not, I think, heard of in England before early Victorian times, when it was introduced by the Prince Consort from Germany. The Befana is undoubtedly the presiding genius of an Italian Christmas, and a very human, kindly, and good-natured old lady she is ; indeed, the whole spirit of an Italian Christmas, from its very simplicity and kindliness, and the absence from it of artificial joy, forced merriment, and sentimentality, is far more sympathetic, and at the same time far more poetical, than that coarser and more material one which reigns in England at the same season, and which, no doubt, we English owe largely to Germany and to Charles Dickens. It is also, I cannot help thinking, a far more truly religious one, and it seems to touch chords in the hearts of even the roughest and most ignorant of the population in a way which the mock mourning of the Settimana Santa and the theological mystery of the Resurrection entirely fail to do. The first are regarded as pure ceremonials by the average Italian, the second as commemorative of a supernatural event as to the truth of which he has very grave doubts, even if he do not reject it (which he frequently does) as a tale of the priests.

But childbirth and motherhood are natural, human events which appeal to all humanity, and in Italy the love for children is carried to an extent which, it must be confessed, is often injurious to the characters of its objects, especially among the lower orders. The Italian child is very often roughly spoilt in early childhood, and so great is the natural tenderness of Italians for children that instead of ruling them, they are apt to be ruled by them. Unfortunately, this excess of tenderness is injurious not only to the characters, but also to the health of the little people. It is too common a sight in Italy to see young children being dragged about the streets, or taken to places of amusement at hours of the night when they ought to be sound asleep in bed. This practice, and an astonishing carelessness as to diet, undoubtedly accounts for the extraordinary prevalence of anemia among Italian children. Among the upper classes, of course, the children are more sensibly brought up, and, indeed, they frequently receive a far better and more useful education than is the case in England. The chief offenders are the middle and lower classes. The children of these are too often ruined by over-kindness. Discipline and obedience are things rarely imposed ; and the result, in later years, is unruly ” students ” and discontented members of society. Fortunately, in the case of the majority of the boys, military service steps in at a critical moment of their lives, and they find themselves compelled to recognise some other master than their own will and caprices.

It is not for English people, however, to criticise the Italian methods of dealing with children. I well remember the incredulity, that turned to horror-stricken amazement when I had sadly to admit that such a Society not only existed in England, but was a very necessary and valuable institution,—with which some Italian friends learned of the existence of an English Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Nevertheless, a very horrible form of cruelty to children does exist in certain parts of Italy, and, strangely enough, English people are largely responsible for its existence. If only the foreigner in Italy would inexorably refuse to give in the streets or the churches in certain cities to the deformed or mutilated, he would be assisting in stamping out a terrible evil. It is a well-known fact that in places in which tourists abound children are wilfully mutilated in order that they may appeal to the sympathies of the passers-by, and in after life become successful professional beggars. The individual who thrusts a mutilated stump or a deformed limb in one’s face is happily becoming rarer every year, thanks to the energy of the police. That he pursues his trade at all, or that unfortunate children are still sacrificed to provide him with successors, is entirely due to the folly, to call it by no stronger term, of those who give money to him, and to the indifference of the priests who, instead of aiding the Italian authorities in their efforts to stamp out professional mendicancy, encourage it by permitting every kind of impostor to ply his or her trade in and around the churches.

The New Year ushers in the Carnival season—though the true Carnival, of course, is confined to the few days immediately preceding the commencement of Lent. Throughout Italy, however, the Carnival is a moribund institution ; and no one, save the dregs of the population, appears to regret its gradual disappearance. Spasmodic efforts are made to revive it—but they meet with scant encouragement. The fact is, that the modern Italians are a far graver and more seriously minded people than their ancestors were. The problems of life have become more pressing, and the old, traditional idea that Italians are a race which takes no thought for to-morrow and is content to bask in the sunshine is an entirely erroneous one so far as its present representatives are concerned. The only difference which Lent makes in the social life in Rome or other Italian cities is that marriages are not celebrated during it, and dancing, at all events among the upper classes, is tabooed. In Roman society the forty days’ fast resolves itself, in point of fact, into thirty-seven days, on which one may dine out every evening ; and if dancing is considered to be an irreligious act, eating is certainly not so ! Excepting on the four last days of the Settimana Santa, there is no cessation in the round of luncheon and dinner-parties, and of evening entertainments of all kinds save feste da ballo.

As the spring advances, expeditions into the country become the fashion in the smart world. But it is not necessary to be ” smart ” in order to enjoy the lovely country which surrounds Rome on all sides. The uninitiated are usually content with excursions among the Castelli Romani—as the primitive little towns perched upon the Alban Hills are called. They are picturesque enough, certainly, but their population, the reverse of pleasing in disposition and manners, has been also greatly corrupted by tourists and the close proximity of the capital. The beautiful villas, too, until recently the property of Roman princes, have many of them been sold, and are now used as resorts in which the students of the various clerical colleges in Rome pass the summer and early autumn months.

As everybody, I suppose, is aware, almost every nation, England and America included, has its national seminary or training college for priests in Rome. It by no means follows, however, that all the young men who study at these colleges eventually become priests. The large majority, no doubt, do so, but a certain number, after going through a course of study, return to the world and embrace other professions. My acquaintance with seminarists in Rome, I confess, has been chiefly among these last ; and it is for this reason that I refrain from attempting to describe the life in these institutions, since to quote the impressions of those who found themselves unable to conform to its conditions might be unfair. The seminaries of Rome form a world of their own ; and perhaps it may not be unjust to say that unless a young fellow be content to sacrifice his reason to his faith he is scarcely likely, if he be endowed with honesty as well as intellect, to go through his years as a seminarist without being exposed to considerable mental misgivings and searchings of heart.

What, I believe, is not so generally known is the fact that since the fall of the Papal Government the number of monastic establishments and religious ” congregations” has increased in Rome to an extent which would have been impossible when the city was under the temporal sovereignty of the Popes. The Papal Government very wisely placed very severe restrictions on the number of such institutions, and a jealous watch was kept that monastic and conventual establishments did not acquire any undue amount of property within the walls of Rome, or, indeed, of any other city in the States of the Church. The Vatican, while ever eager to support and encourage such establishments elsewhere, was always much too shrewd to allow the religious orders to become too rich or too powerful in the Eternal City.

Fearful of any action which should be supposed to be prompted by intolerance, the Italian Government has allowed the laws regulating the property of the religious orders to become practically a dead letter. At the present time many of the most valuable buildings and sites in Rome are in the hands of monastic bodies, while the religious orders may be said to represent a very large proportion of Italian capitalism. As was the case in France, many of the convents are little else than trading establishments carried on under the mask of religion. Shops and even hotels are “floated” by wealthy ” congregations,” and there can be little doubt that in the perhaps not distant future the Italian Government will find itself compelled to meet the problems which similar ” religious ” abuses recently created in France. The question is a thorny one, for it would be doubtless nothing short of an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of the subject to deny to any body of persons the right to live in community. But any one acquainted with the real nature and scope of a large proportion of monastic and conventual establishments of all creeds may well reflect whether the law of every State should not render it impossible for these establishments to acquire more than a restricted amount of property ; whether they should not be open to proper Government inspection ; and whether it should not be made illegal for them to compete in any way in trade. To describe any such measures as intolerant or irreligious is absurd. No one will deny the inestimable services to sick and suffering humanity which have been and are rendered by many communities of monks and nuns ; but nobody, again, can truthfully deny that these communities are in the minority compared with others which are in reality merely political, financial, or trading communities posing as religious institutions.