THE would-be student of Italian life must expect to find himself confronted by a probably unforeseen difficulty. Political Unity is one thing ; but Social Unity is quite another. It is precisely the curious lack of Social Unity which is apt to create so many pitfalls in the path of the foreign investigator into the habits and customs of Modern Italy. Indeed, when we talk of Italy, we are unconsciously using a merely geographical expression ; for as each part of the Italian kingdom differs in natural characteristics, so each differs from its neighbour not only in the character but also in the traditions and the language of its inhabitants. It would be a strange thing, for instance, were a Londoner to be unable to understand what the inhabitants of, we will say, Manchester or Liverpool were talking about should he find himself taking a walk in the streets of the last-named cities. And yet this is exactly the position in which the average citizen of Rome or Florence finds himself when business or pleasure takes him to Naples, to Bologna, to Milan, or to half a score of other important Italian centres. Italian, of course, is the common language spoken by all the educated classes in the country, and understood by those whose education is little or none. Each city and each great province of Italy has its own dialect, howeverand the use of this dialect is by no means limited to the lower orders. A more or less refined edition of it is frequently almost exclusively employed not only by the commercial classes, but also among the local aristocracy, and it often happens that Italian is only spoken when a foreigner or a stranger from another part of Italy is present.
I must here sound a note of warning. The Lombard is proud of his language, and is by no means prepared to admit that it is a dialect. The Milanese, indeed, is not a dialect, but has its own dialects, which are spoken in various parts of Lombardy and especially in the provinces of Como and Bergamo. It must be confessed, however, that the Milanese tongue grates painfully on any ear accustomed to Italian ; and though, unlike the utterly incomprehensible Bolognese, it is fairly easy to understand, it is extremely difficult to talk and to pronounce correctly. To speak of the Milanese ” dialect ” to a Lombard would be an error which he would certainly courteously but firmly correct.
This linguistic difficulty is perpetually confronting us in every part of Italy, from her northern frontiers to her far Sicilian shores. The foreigner who may possess even an intimate knowledge of Italian, and no knowledge of the many diverse tongues spoken in Italy with which Italian has often little to do, will assuredly find himself seriously impeded, not only in his intercourse with the people, but also in his attempts to study their customs and character with any degree of accuracy. Even in those regions where the Italian language is spoken in all its purity and musical beauty such as Tuscany and the Roman provincesthe dialects used by the lower classes when conversing among themselves are by no means easy to follow, although, unlike the Lombard, Bolognese, Sardinian, and Sicilian, they are in reality varieties of Italian patois. In Tuscany, and particularly in the province of Siena, the contadini’s Italian is far purer and more free from dialect than in any other part of Italy. Indeed, many words in common use by them, although no longer employed by educated Italians, belong to the classical Italian of Dante’s times ; and we may perhaps find a parallel to this at home, if, as philologists assure us is the case, we must go to Essex if we would hear our English tongue spoken as it was in the Middle Ages.
It is obvious that in a country where so much diversity of language exists, considerable diversity of character and customs must exist also ; and this, I think, is a fact seldom taken into account by foreign writers recording their impressions of Italy and the Italians. It is for this reason, then, that I am quite unable to settle my readers comfortably down in some city such as Rome, Florence, or any one Italian centre. They must resign themselves to travel with me through the Northern, Central, and Southern portions of the Italian kingdomthough even this vagabond expedition will not, I fear, reveal more than the principal characteristics of these regions. The truth is that in very many districts the inhabitants even of towns and villages within sight of one another vary not only in their language, but also in their dispositions and customs. In more than one instance that I could mention, paesi gazing at each other across a narrow stream are divided by elements much more stable than water by subtle distinctions of character and temperament, by dialect, by hereditary traditions and superstitions, and last, but by no means least, by that instinct which is expressively defined by Italians as campanilismo, the spirit which causes the dweller in each little town or village to look down on all individuals who have not the luck to have been born under the shadow of his own church belfry, and to regard them as forestieri, or back-woodsmen ! Even in Rome, the capital, we have a striking example of this in the quarter of the city known as the Trastevere. The Trasteverini pride themselves on being a different race from the dwellers on the other shore of Tiber ; they claim, indeed, to be the sole possessors of the old Roman blood, while the tone of complacent superiority in which a Roman announces ” Son’ Romano di Roma ” is quite unrivalled of its kind. It is quite hopeless, then, for a foreigner to succeed in sifting all the many and complicated ingredients which go to form the Italian race. And here, I believe, we have the true cause of the Italian resentment to foreign criticism. To my mind, he is certainly fully justified in resenting the hastily formed and often entirely erroneous impressions of outsiders as to his compatriots. He knows that he himself is more often than not unable to form a correct judgment, and is fully aware that he is the citizen of a State which, though politically a united nation, is not, and, in all probability, never can be united socially. It is natural, therefore, that he should regard the vague generalities concerning his country which he too often hears or reads, not as criticisms deserving of attention, but as the expression of opinions founded on insufficient observation. I shall ever remember a remark made to me, now many years ago, by a very prominent Italian statesman and savant. ” You English,” he said, ” are always writing books about Italy and the Italiansbut it never seems to strike you that there are many Italies and many Italians ; and you forget that the plebiscites which gave us political unity and liberty did not at the same time miraculously create a new race.”
And so, after these little disquisitions, which perhaps the reader will allow me to ask him to bear in mind until, if he does not cast it aside forthwith, the very end of this volume, we will make our entry into Italy at Turin, which is perhaps, with the exception of the modern quarters of Rome, the least Italian-looking of any of the hundred cities of Italy. Montesquieu described it as “le plus beau village du monde “but that was in or about the year 1728, when Turin had but recently become the capital of the newly formed kingdom of Sardinia. We have not, as I have before hinted, to concern ourselves too deeply with the past ; but a glance at the Turin of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries may not be amiss, since from the overgrown village nestling under the shadows of the Alps proceeded the spark which set the whole of the Italian peninsula in a blaze, and finally secured to the Italians freedom from the foreigners and the priests. On reflection, it is not a little strange that this should be. Modern Italy, al-though a monarchy, is without doubt the most genuinely democratic of the great countries of Europe. Her monarchical government, however, sprang from the most autocratic, and, in the true sense of the word, tyrannical of all the European courts at that period, not excepting even that of France. In Montesquieu’s days, and for long afterwards, the Court of Turin was a miniature Versailles. Not only was the sovereign the centre of a Court numbering nearly four hundred dignitaries of greater and lesser degree, but all ministers and public officials were exclusively chosen from this band. Its members were regarded as eligible for the most important posts in the Church, and took very good care not to allow these posts to be bestowed elsewhere than among themselves or among the aristocracy. The Army, too, may be said to have been exclusively reserved to those of noble birth, since none other could obtain to the rank of an officer. The sovereigns of the House of Savoy, in those days (17131730) represented by Vittorio Amadeo II., were absolute despots, maintaining a rigid rule over their little kingdom and over the private and domestic matters appertaining to their subjects. The aristocracy, especially, might have compared with a large family circle dominated by an exacting if benevolent pater-familias in the person of the monarch, who knew every one’s little secrets and dealt out rewards and punishments as circumstances demanded. The etiquette of the Court of Turin was as formal and unbending as that of Madrid. The House of Savoy, however, were ever benevolent despots and wise and enlightened rulers, as well as being astute diplomatists, and their capital of Turin, which in those days only numbered a population of seventy thousand or so, must, if contemporary accounts of its social life and conditions be true, have been a far more pleasant place of residence than the majority of European centres.
But” sicut erat in principium, et nunc, et semper “the Church by its greed and persecutions sowed discord in an otherwise happy and prosperous community. In Piedmont alone there were nearly forty thousand priests, and over fifteen thousand monks and nuns.’ The Church not only had her own courts of justice and prisons, but she was perpetually asserting her right to deal not only with ecclesiastical offenders against her pretensions, but also with matters pertaining to the rights of private citizens. Although by far the most wealthy class in the State, the clergy were exempt from almost all taxationas, indeed, for a considerable period were the nobles. The latter, however, were comparatively poor, and performed at least some services to their country ; while the former merely accumulated ill-gotten riches at the expense of the entire population. Between the nobles and the priests, the unfortunate bourgeoisie was altogether left out in the cold. Nevertheless, from its midst sprang many distinguished writers and thinkers, who immediately fell under the odium of the priests, whose all-powerful influence speedily obliged them to seek the protection of other countries. The more enlightened and progressive doctrines of these pioneers of reform soon spread through not only Piedmont but the whole of Italy ; and from such men as Giuseppe Baretti, who emigrated to England, and the historian Carlo Denina, who flung his Rivoluzioni d’ltalia in the faces of the priests, there flowed a stream of new ideas into Italy which eventually was destined to form the torrent that swept tyranny, both priestly and aristocratic, into the dust-heap of the past. It was a Piedmontese noble, however, Count Vittorio Alfieri, who, late in the eighteenth century, devoted his poetic and dramatic talents to the cause of Italian liberty and consolidation. His works are certainly dull reading to-day ; but at the time they were acclaimed with enthusiasm by the Italian public, and throughout Italy the theatre, thanks to Alfieri’s foresight in choosing it as the most efficacious channel through which to disseminate liberal ideas, became a political factor more powerful than the numerous secret societies then springing into existence. Even Alfieri, a hater of the monarchical system, had little fault to find with the sovereigns of the House of Savoy as rulers. He declared that their ” good intentions” placed them above criticism, and that their rule brought far more good than evil to their dominions. It was the Re Tentennaas he was called on account of his vacillating policyCarlo Emmanuele III., who after much hesitation finally threw himself heart and soul into the national movement towards liberty, and caused the eyes of all patriotic Italians to turn to the House of Savoy as the race from which the future heads of that united Italy which had yet to be formed were to be chosen.
Montesquieu’s village has now a population of over 380,000 and is a stately city enough. The atmosphere of a royal court still clings to it, for various members of the reigning House have their residence here and in the immediate neighbourhood ; and Turin, like all the large Italian cities, has a social season of its own. But in Turin, as in Milan, one scarcely feels that one is in Italy. Both cities lack many of the special characteristics which one is accustomed to look for in an Italian town, and with them that peculiar and subtle charm which the majority among them possess, of the kind that one loves to recall in Italy. Turin, particularly, seems to be wanting in associations, while the wide, rectangular streets, so reminiscent of French boulevards, and the spacious piazze, are rather oppressive than interesting. The Torinesi, too, have a certain brusqueness about them which is perhaps a trifle disconcerting to one used to the gentler and more sympathetic manners obtaining in the regions farther removed from the Alps. But beneath the surface they are a kindly race, and at the same time an extremely shrewd and hard-headed one. After all, however, what unaccountable and trivial things associations are sometimes apt to be ! Now I come to think of it, I am a little ashamed to confess what first stirs my imagination and causes me to feel that I am in the beloved land of Italy when I finally alight at Turin after a tedious journey through the most uninteresting part of France. It is the sight of a couple of smart, good-looking Carabinieri, in their quaint three-cornered hats, pacing leisurely up and down the platform of the railway station. Now, this is absolutely puerile. Moreover, associations in connection with Carabinieri are, as a rule, not given to be of the pleasantest nature. They suggest frictions with the lawheated discussions as to the veracity of some charge connected with one’s motor-car, with the almost inevitable sequel of a summons to attend before the local Pretore in order to be mulcted of a fineor, if one is not a fairly respectable member of society willing to conform at least outwardly to its usages, other matters of a more compromising kind. I am perfectly aware of all this, but nevertheless I repeat that when my glance falls on the inevitable Italian Carabinieri after a prolonged absence from Italy, I experience a certain sensation of satisfaction which (and I hope I am not unpatriotic) I never remember to have felt on landing at Dover and seeing the useful if prosaic form of an English policeman.
But we must not linger in Turin, though to pass it by altogether would have been an act wanting in respect to the makers of modern Italy. No doubt the city is still a pleasant enough place of residence ; but of this I can be no judge, as my visits to it, though frequent, have been of short duration. Moreover, I must admit that Lombardy has far more attractions for me than Piedmont, and it is in Lombardy that I trust my readers will have the patience to spend some time with me. Naturally, Milan must be our first halting-place ; though it is not in Milan that one must look for the charms of Lombardy. There are, to be sure, quiet nooks in the city, in which one may escape for a while from its aggressive noise,for assuredly it is the noisiest town of its size in all Europe,and inside the cool Duomo, among its forest of pillars and in its subdued, mysterious light a mortal may find peace. I hope I may not be accused of irreverence, but often have I taken a bookselecting, by the way, one with a sober bindingand enjoyed a tranquil hour in Milan Cathedralan hour all the more soothing for the turmoil and glare of the streets outside. Occasionally I have been approached by an individual whom I suppose in England we should call a verger, who, with a glance at my altogether secular volume, has no doubt imagined me to be a far better Catholic than I am. He has suggested that I should like to see the shrine of St. Charles Borromeo, the great Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, who lies in splendid state and gleaming with priceless jewels beneath the high altar. But to pay one’s respects to the saint entails an expenditure of five francs. Moreover, as the correct Catholic phrase runs, I have no devotion to San Carlo Borromeo. No doubt he was a great man, and a man, too, of splendid courage and full of the spirit of self-sacrifice and charitytowards those who thought as he did. But he was also a very cruel mantowards those who differed from him in matters of faith and politics. Certain of the saint’s letters to the Pope, who was also his uncle, smugly enumerating the names of those whom he had caused to be put to death as ” heretics ” and certain letters, too, written to the authorities of his vast diocese, in which he complains that heads are falling too scarcely, and executions by fire and otherwise are occurring too rarelystick in my throat. ” It was the fashion of the times,” say the apologists, and of course they are perfectly right. All the same, a saint is nothing if not superior to the fashions of his times ; and, though I should refrain from saying so to a verger of Milan Cathedral in particular and to Lombards in general, I quite agree with the distinguished historian, Lord Acton, himself a Roman Catholic, who characterised San Carlo Borromeo as a murderer. And so I say gently to the verger that I have already visited San Carlo’s shrine, and as he retires he again darts a suspicious glance at my open book. He is evidently not quite sure whether I am engaged in religious exercises or whether it may not be the question of the five francs which is troubling me. I can see him hesitate and look round the vast nave of the cathedral, and I know perfectly well what is in his mind. I am the only forestiero in the churchor, at any rate, the only one visible. A few women and a few old men are saying their prayers ; and a couple of Milanese citizens are talking eagerly to each other in low voices in one of the transepts, presumably discussing not theology, but current prices. I am unquestionably the only individual within range of the verger’s vision who looks like five francs. Presently he returns to my side noiselessly. This time he addresses me in bad French, which annoys me. ” As monsieur is alone,” he murmurs per-suasively, ” perhaps three francs.” ” A thousand thanks ! ” I reply affably, in Italian. ” I will mention your kindness to the monsignore I saw just now in the sacristy.” The veiled threat has an immediate and satisfactory effect. In a, moment the verger has vanished among the columns. But I must not be unjust. This verger was an exception to the general rule, for the officials of the Duomo of Milan are on the whole dignified personages whom one would be sorry to think exploited for their own benefit the pathetic remnant of mortality wrapped in its gorgeous, bejewelled vestments and lying in its shrine beneath the high altar. Rather does the stranger suffer from the importunities of would-be guides, who fasten upon him without the cathedral doors and offer to show him its treasures. I do not know if these harpies receive a commission on the visitors they bring to San Carloand I have no means of knowing, for these little matters are not for the public ear. Knowing, however, the universal functions of the ubiquitous sensale, or middle man, in Italy, I should not be surprised or even scandalised were it to be so. Concerning this same sensale I shall have something to say later on, for he is a very important factor in Italian life, and blessed, though rare, indeed, is the man who does not sooner or later fall into his clutches. Of course, like all large cities, Milan has its various grades of what is called ” society,” and until comparatively recent years its alta society was a brilliant one. The great and historic Milanese families of the past, such as the Borromeo, Belgioioso, d’Adda, Trivulzio, and several others, are still represented in Milan, and nearly all of them possess large estates and considerable wealth. Rome, however, of late years has naturally become the yearly rendezvous of the Italian aristocracy in general, and the great families, instead of entertaining on the magnificent scale they used to do in their palaces in their native cities, now resort to the capital for the Roman season. The rich Milanese bourgeoisie, on the other hand, entertain largely, and this not only in Milan but also in their villas in the country and on the Lakes. Into whatever grade of society a stranger may enter, he will find an entire absence of formality, and a kindliness which is all the more pleasant on account of its simplicity and sincerity. To be sure, the rapid transition from one language to another, which has always struck me as being more noticeable in Milanese society than in that of any other of the Italian cities, is not a little bewildering to a foreigner who, if he be English, in all probability is but slightly acquainted with any language but his own. To find oneself a guest at a dinner-party, in the course of which Italian, French, English, German, and Milanese are all hurled promiscuously across the table, is, to say the least of it, not a little perplexing to the stolid Britisher who has been brought up to think it bad manners to talk across the table, and whose notion of conversation at dinner is limited to dividing his attention between the ladies on either side of him. A topic begun, perhaps, out of compliment to you in English, is caught up by your neighbour in French, flung back at you from the end of the table in Italian, given a sudden and disconcerting twist in German or Milanese, until the whole affair resembles nothing so much as a hotly contested game of tennis in which the ball must on no account be allowed to drop. But there is a ” go,” and at the same time a simple bonhomie about it all which disarms British shyness, and is very refreshing when compared with, we will say, German efforts at entertaining a stranger. After all, however, these things are the result of temperamentand if the German tempera-ment is more given to formalities, the kindliness and hospitality of its owner are not the less genuine and well-meant. As to an English dinner-party,, I confess that in the matter of conversation I sadly miss the give and take and the amusing sallies which can only exist when, as in Latin countries, the conversation round the table is general. One never experiences that dreary thought, so paralysing to the brain, of ” Good heavens ! what can I talk about next?” when all possible topics have been exhausted with the neighbour on one’s right, and the British standard of what the books on etiquette call ” table manners ” precludes one from joining in the conversation taking place elsewhere. And one is certainly spared the sight of that agonised look so often to be seen on the face of an English hostess when a pause is becoming perilously long, as well as the gallant banalite with which the most courageous among the guests comes to his or her hostess’s rescue.
The Milanese gentlemen are, as a rule, keen sportsmen, good shots, and still better riders ; and as many among them have plenty of money they can afford to gratify their hobbies. With a few exceptions, however, the greatest wealth is to be found among the upper bourgeoisie, to which Milan owes her commercial and industrial importance. Very many of the families belonging to this section of society are of Swiss and German origin ; and, indeed, German capital and German goods are almost aggressively prominent not only in Milan but in every part of Italy. As to the Milanese populace, it has, no doubt, its virtues and its vices like any otherand of the latter, an increasing fondness for strong drinks, and especially for the pernicious spirit known as grappa, is an un-pleasing feature. Probably the climate is to some degree responsible for the intemperate habits of the working-classes in Milan. It is, to say the least of it, a trying climatefor in summer the temperature in Milan is almost always higher than in any other Italian city, and it has happened to me more than once to leave Milan in the dog-days in a state of limpness from the enervating heat, and to find Rome, and even Naples and Palermo, cool and bracing in comparison. In winter the atmosphere has a peculiar cold rawness which seems to penetrate the marrow of one’s bones, while very often the city is enveloped in a clinging white fog resembling a curtain of damp cotton-wool. Unluckily, the spirit-drinking Italian, whether of the north or the south, usually pays bitterly for his folly. His warmer blood, it may be supposed, cannot stand any habitual abuse of alcohol, and the penalty he pays is too often that most terrible one of tuberculosis and, it must be added, insanity. So rapid has been the increase, especially in the north of Italy, of tubercular and mental diseases, and so convincingly has this increase been proved to be due to alcoholism, that the matter had occupied the serious attention of the late Italian Prime Minister, Signor Luzzatti, who had prepared a measure whereby the present appalling proportion of osterie and places where intoxicating liquors are sold may be reduced to more reasonable limits. As things stand at present, the proportion of such places is, in Milan, one to every one hundred and twenty in-habitants of the city, while in Rome it is almost as large. Fortunately, both Rome and Milan are exceptions in this matter, for the Italians as a whole are probably by far the most sober people in Europe, and drunkenness is regarded with disgust by the average Italian. It is not, moreover, only the deleterious effect upon the race, but the vast number of homicides and fatti di sangue for which alcoholism is responsible which made the late wise and philanthropic Prime Minister eager to grapple with the question so far as the law can deal with so subtle and menacing an evil. There already exist in Italy many societies for the promotion of temperance among the lower classes which are doing excellent work, while all the most distinguished doctors and surgeons are unanimous in preaching abstention from spirituous drinks on the part of those who would keep themselves healthy and transmit their good health to their descendants. It is much to be wished that the priests would preach the same useful doctrine ! But unluckily they do nothing of the kind. The religious festivals, on the contrary, are the cause of far more drunkenness and crimes of violence than they are of sober and peaceful living ; and the priests themselves, in very many instances, set anything but a good example to their flock, since it is their custom to celebrate their holy days by long and heavy feasts, during which an enormous quantity of wine and other drinks are often consumed, and the effects of which are sometimes very apparent when the reverend fathers reappear among the faithful.
Now, I am quite aware that in venturing to say this I shall be at once accused by my English critics as writing with a preconceived bias against the clergy. May I say at once that I am accustomed to this accusation ! I have invariably found that if I have in any novel of mine given to the best of my powers a description of a good Italian priest, such a character has passed unnoticed by the critics. Whereas, whenever I have had occasion to portray, I believe with equal fidelity, a bad specimen of the type, I have invariably been supposed to be actuated by prejudice or hostility to the Roman Church, and to have been writing ” with a purpose.” I frankly admit that in this volume on Italian life I am writing with a purpose, and that this purpose is precisely similar to that which actuated my novels dealing with the same subjectnamely, to present my readers with as true a picture of that life as my pen and my competency will allow of my doing. Neither qualifications, I fear, are sufficient to enable me to do justice to my subject ; but at least I can say with truth that if I have erred in my portraiture of the Italian clergy, my errors are shared in common with the very large majority of Italians of all classes, from whom, far more than from my own personal observation and experience,although I believe I have had somewhat more opportunity of studying the methods of Italian ecclesiastics than falls to the lot of most foreigners,I have preferred to derive any impressions I have ventured to put into print. The fact is that we in England see the very best side of Catholicismthe true and genuine sideand, whatever our own religious opinions may be, the Roman Catholic clergy in our own country have taught us both to admire and respect them. Unfortunately no one, Catholic or Protestant, who has lived long in Italy and with the Italians can honestly assert that the clergy in that country are either admired or respected as a body; and. no one, I think, unless he have eyes that see not, and ears that hear not, can be long in Italy with-out realising that this want of respect is by no means due merely to irreligion or hatred of the Church.
Let us change this seamy subject, however, for the present, and return to our Milanese. Apart from her commerce and her ever – increasing industries, there is a feature of Milanese life which is a very remarkable one. It is not to be found in the workshops, nor in the world of society, and it is altogether unobtrusive. The visitor to the bustling city, whose inhabitants appear to be entirely concentrated in their own affairs and on the engrossing business of money-making, may not be aware that Milan possesses an enormous number of charitable institutions, some of which are not only extremely richly endowed by legacies which have been handed down from the Middle Ages, and which are being perpetually augmented by modern bequests, but are also admirably organised and managed. There would seem, indeed, to have been no limit to the charitable and humanitarian spirit of the Milanese in past centuries, and it is a curious fact that even in the days when the most appalling outrages against humanity were regarded as comparatively insignificant details of everyday life, large sums of money were being constantly left for the benefit of the sick and the suffering. The Ospedale Maggiore at Milan, for instance, is one of the finest and most completely equipped hospitals in the world, and constantly over three thousand patients and out-patients are treated by its staff. But Milan is not satisfied even with this institution, and the Cassa di Risparmio, or popular Savings Bank of the city, has just (February 1911) voted the large sum of twelve millions of lire to be applied to providing the hospital with a new building capable of containing two thousand beds, and to the perfection of its various medical and surgical equipments in accordance with the most recent scientific discoveries. This magnificent donation, it may be added, is intended also to commemorate the fiftieth year of Italian Unity. But the Ospedale Maggiore is by no means the only important charitable institution in Milan, and there are few cities in which the sick and the poor are so well cared for. In all the principal towns, too, of the ancient Milanese Duchy, a similar spirit of charity towards, and sympathy with, distress may be found.
While we are dwelling upon this subject I should like to mention a curious detail, of the existence of which I believe many Milanese are themselves unaware. In the famous theatre La Scalawhich, with the San Carlo at Naples, is the largest opera-house in the worldthere is a mysterious box immediately above the stage on the fifth tier which appears to be always unoccupied. As a matter of fact, however, this box is never empty when opera is being performed. Screened from the gaze of the public, the most appreciative of all among the audience are following every note of the music from its recesses. Men and women sit in that box entranced transported temporarily into another world, a world in which they can forget that they are not as the majority of their fellow-creatures, and are able, if only for a few hours, to feel that no dark and hopeless veil exists between them and the rest of humanity. They are all blind, the occupants of this box. Some sixty years ago a Milanese lady, who was the proprietress in freehold of a box in La Scala, bequeathed her rights to the then Archbishop of Milan, and the archbishop made them over to an asylum for the blind on the condition that the box should for ever be devoted to the exclusive use of its inmates. In order that these should enjoy to the full the intentions of the donor, the directors of the theatre accorded to the blind tenants of the box the privilege of free entry into the theatrea grant in itself sufficiently generous, since in all Italian theatres an entrance fee of sums ranging up to five francs is demanded in excess of the sum paid for the place occupied. I wonder if any spot in the wide world contains so much concentrated happiness as this box in La Scala on an opera night. The blind are sent there in rotation, so that all the inmates of the Institution may have one or more evenings bliss in the course of the season. To them an evening at the Scala is an evening spent in Paradise. That they cannot see what is passing on the stage appears to concern them not at all. The music takes entire possession of their senses, and in some mysterious way seems fully to supply that sense in which they are lacking. Who shall say that the ear, trained with a bitter training, does not succeed in annexing to itself something of the powers of vision ? I leave this problem to the scientific ; but whatever its solution may be it is certain that the blind listeners to opera at La Scala seem to be fully conscious of every action passing on the stage. They will lean forward eagerly and hold their breath just as you or I might do at a critical moment in the drama. I say as you or I might dobut in all probability we should be guilty of no such exhibition of emotion. We have seen all these things so often ; but the blind have only heard them ! Between the acts, too, the occupants of this box will fall to discussing critically, and even passionately, every detail of the operathe rendering of every famous passage and even the action of the singers. They seem to be ever under the spell of the music, even when the orchestra is silent and the musicians have disappeared, and are completely indifferent to the fact that they are in a brilliantly lighted theatre and surrounded by a crowd of fellow-creatures. And of all music, that of Wagner appeals to them the most.
They will listen with placid enjoyment to operas by other composers, but deep is the disappointment if Wagner is not included in the repertoire of the season. A Wagner opera is looked forward to with feverish impatience, and the mighty harmonies and deep, tender melodies, especially in such works as the three principal portions of the Ring, have the effect of sending this poor blind audience into what can only be described as a kind of ecstatic trance. I think that such a convincing proof of the magic power of Wagner to appeal by sound alone to the profoundest emotions of the human temperament may be regarded as a fairly conclusive reply to those whose nature lacks the responsive chords which alone can respond to its touch, and who for this reason assert that his music largely depends upon spectacular effect for its influence on the masses. Perhaps, after all, it is not to the happiest or to the most prosperous that Wagner most forcibly appeals and herein lies the true power and significance of his music. In the case of our blind friends at Milan, I am told that the slightest hint on the part of the authorities at the asylum at depriving an unruly inmate of his or her ” Wagner night” at La Scala is sufficient immediately to quell any attempt at in-subordination. I have often wished, when thinking of the blind members of a La Scala audience, that some systematic series of experiments might be made as to the influence of music on those suffering from physical pain and disease, and also on the insane. I fear, however, that an advocate of any such measure would be regarded as being himself only fitted for a lunatic asylumor at the best as an intolerable ” crank.” But all this is by the way, and has nothing whatever to do with Italy.
I should strongly advise any stranger who has exhausted the sights of Milanwho has ” done ” the Duomo, the various churches, and the Brera picture-galleries, and is weary of observing Milanese life as represented by the idlers who at all hours of the day and night congregate in the vast Galleria and in the birrerie and restaurants adjoining itto make friends with some one who can procure him permission to visit one of the great dairy-farms in the neighbour-hood of the city. Such an establishment as that at Locate Triulzi, for instance, a small paese some six or seven miles distant from Milan, well repays an expedition thither. Like many other vast farms of the kind in Lombardy, it is owned and worked by a company, and a considerable amount of capital is invested in it. Everything is conducted in the most scientific and up-to-date manner ; and the scrupulous cleanliness and regard for all sanitary precautions are a pleasure to behold. In these Lombard dairies, which not only supply the most excellent milk and butter to Milan itself, but export them, the butter especially, in large quantities to foreign countries, are to be seen no dirty, greasy milk-tins such as convey our English milk, and probably a good deal else besides, to its consumers. Every receptacle for the dispatch of dairy produce is subjected to rigorous disinfection and sterilisation, and hermetically closed against the invasion of foreign germs. Machinery, wherever practicable, takes the place of unwashed hands ; and where, as in the process of milking, the direct contact with humanity is unavoidable, every care is taken that the humanity should at least be clean ; while great attention, too, is paid to the keeping of the cows in healthy and fitting surroundings. These dairies dispatch their butter in any quantity by post to even the most distant parts of Italyand any one who, like myself, happens to live in a remote country district of Tuscany, where pasturage is practically non-existent, and sweet, fresh butter, therefore, hard to obtain, appreciates the luxury of receiving it once or twice a week in its spotlessly clean boxes, for which, in the hot weather, sterilised and hermetically sealed tins are substituted. But besides milk and butter, enormous quantities of cheese of many varieties are made and exported to all parts of the world, while poultry, and eggs by the million, find their way from Lombard farms to the British markets, which surely, were it not for British improvidence and want of initiative, ought not to be compelled to go so far afield to purchase them. This particular dairy-farm of Locate Triulzi has various succursali in Milan and let me strongly advise any of my readers who may come to realise that to pay two francs at their hotel for the, as a rule, stale caffè-latte, butter, and scanty supply of rolls that are brought to their bedrooms in the morning is an insult to their common-sense, to rise half an hour earlier and breakfast at one of these little establishments. They will be well and quickly served, and everything is scrupulously neat and clean ; while for less than a third of what they pay in their hotel they will be able to breakfast off the richest and purest of milk, from which the cream has not been abstracted, the freshest of rolls but a short time out of the oven, the sweetest of butter, and, if they wish, eggs which were inside the hen that same morning. I hasten to add that I am not a share-holder either in the Locate Triulzi Dairy or any other, and I only mention this establishment as typical of many similar Lombard institutions.
These latterie are much used by the Milanese for their early morning meal ; and certainly the quality of the fare is far preferable to that provided by the hotels, while, as I have pointed out, the economy is considerable. Perhaps, as I have mentioned the word economy, this will be the moment to attempt to combat the idea, firmly rooted in the minds of most English people, that Italy is an economical country in which to live. Never was there a more mistaken idea, at any rate so far as the Italy of the present day is concerned. Alas, I speak from personal experience ; for in the course of the last ten or fifteen years the cost of living has more than doubled itself, and in some ways it is far cheaper to live in London than in even a country district in Italy. As to Rome, and the Italian cities generally to which foreigners resort, these have become extraordinarily expensive dwelling-places. I am not, of course, alluding to the cost of the hotels, which is necessarily extravagant and in some cases prohibitive, except to those who do not care how much they spend, but to the expenses of daily life, which any one who wishes to reside in the country must expect to encounter. On the English and American sufferers from the high prices for inferior articles at present obtaining in Italy I am not inclined to waste any sympathy.
Like Georges Dandinils l’ont voulu ! The Italian is only now beginning to find out that the English and Americans belong to different nations, and this discovery is still limited to the tradespeople and men of business of the large towns. The general idea that an inglese wallows in riches is as deeply rooted in the mind of the average Italian as the idea that Italy is a place in which to economise is one of the most cherished beliefs of the average Englishman. This lamentable misapprehension of the real state of the case on both sides is, I am convinced, the cause of much heartburning, and also of much indiscriminate and hasty judgment on the part of the British visitoror shall I call him victim ? The original offender, however, has undoubtedly been the inglese.
As far back as a hundred years ago, and no doubt long before, the English milord would make his periodical descents upon the country, accompanied by his retinue of servants, his carriages and horses, his couriers and his cooks. He flung his gold about and bought largelyand he also bribed largely in order to have things all his own way. Not very long ago, while looking through some old papers in a certain English country-house, I came upon memoranda of the expenses of a journey to Rome, under-taken by its proprietors of that day with a view to spending the winter in the Eternal City. The cost of that journey alone was fifteen hundred pounds ! Imagination reels at the thought of what the family must have spent in Rome during that winter. They were great people, certainly, and a proper amount of state when travelling was in those days considered to be necessary to rank and importance ; but they were in no way exceptional, and many such pezzi grossi from foggy England must have astonished the Italians by their methods both before and since. But the traditions left by the English milord of a hundred and more years ago have never perished in the Italian mind. They have been handed down from father to son, and it is of no matter if the English milord of the present day is usually a modest and often impecunious person who has no desire to pay more than his fellow-creatures, and who is quite content with a bedroom on the third floor of his hotel, instead of a suite on the first. I firmly believe, how-ever, that these pestilent traditions were in a fair way to decay, had it not been for the American invasion of Italy. For the English milord there was an excuse, and it was not the excuse of mere riches. He had, probably, to maintain the state and dignity of high rank, and of a name well known in the Italian society he frequented. The American, on the other hand, has nothing to maintain except a reputation for dollars. By degrees it was beginning to dawn on the Italians that English people, even though they might be of noble birth, were not necessarily rolling in riches. Moreover, the English themselves were beginning to adopt a more sensible attitude, and not to allow themselves to be fleeced simply because of their nationality. Unluckily, however, the American appeared upon the scene ; and, more unluckily still, he talked a language not to be distinguished from English by the ordinary Italian. In the eyes of the last he was the re-incarnation of the milord of their fathers ; and, indeed, it has happened to me on more than one occasion to be asked for information concerning ” un grande milord americanoma proprio un signorone,” who had evidently committed some intolerable act of stupidity in paying a fabulous price for a picture which both I and the dealer who questioned me well knew to be comparatively worthless. Now, I have no fault to find with mere stupidity. We have all of us displayed it in our time. What I resent is vulgar stupiditythe paying of exorbitant and dishonest prices for no other reason than to impress the spectators with the length of one’s purse. So long, too, as our American friends confine them-selves to the bric-à-brac shops and to the purchase of works of art, they are fairly harmless. It is not the American tourist, be he millionaire or not, who plays thewell, plays havoc with Italian honesty, but the American resident. In whatever part of Italy he plants himself he demoralises the people by his insistence on going, at all costs, ” one better ” than his neighbours, which means that he will readily pay double for any article he may require, whether that article be a butler or a chicken. The worst of it is, too, that his reputation has not followed but preceded him even into remote country districts of Italy, such as that in which I dwelldistricts in whichshall I say, mercifully ?he has never yet been seen in the flesh. In Rome, for instance, his vagaries are astounding. It is as well rigidly to avoid all shops and other places where they sell with which the Americans deal. It is as well, too, never to take an Italian servant who has been in the employ of Americans or English. Last year I had occasion to part with a lad of sixteen or seventeen who performed the humble though useful duties of kitchen-boy in my Roman establishment. He asked me to give him a letter to an American resident who required a similar servant, which I very readily did. He returned some hours afterwards and informed my butler that he had got the place, and informed him also that his wages were to be seventy francs a month, and extras. With me he received thirty francs a month, and considered himself handsomely paidand seventy francs, I may mention, are the monthly wages of a well-trained butler. Naturally, my own servant must have wished that fate had taken him to an American, instead of to an English padrone, who happened to know Italian ropesbut I am bound to say that he never even hinted at this feeling, but merely observed, with a compassionate smile, ” Mah ! gli americani si sa ! ” I had a suspicion that my ex-kitchen boy might have been, so to speak, pulling the leg of his former chief, so I took an opportunity of asking his new employer if he had really increased the boy’s wages to such an extent, for in my letter of recommendation I had mentioned the sum I gave per month. The boy had not lied ; and I have little doubt that if I had told my American acquaintance that he had received forty francs a month in my service, he would instantly have given him a hundred. On the other hand, there is no one so parsimonious in the matter of tips as the average American. I remember on one occasion at Cadenabbia I was waiting to go out in my boat on the lake, while the boatman whom I always employed was engaged in carrying up to the first floor of the Bellevue Hotel hecatombs of heavy trunks belonging to one of the very wealthiest men in the United States who had just arrived with his family. In about half an hour my boatman returned to me considerably exhausted, though he was a young fellow of remarkable strength. One of his shoulders was badly cut and bruised by the iron-bound corners of the millionaire’s trunks. I made him sit down and rest in the stern of the boat while I took the oars.
Presently he held out his hand to me with an amusing smile, and in its palm laythree copper coins. ” What are these for ? ” I asked wonderingly. He laughed outright. ” They are for me ! ” he replied. “Signor has just given them to me for carrying up his luggage from the steamer.”
That the Americans are very largely responsible for the continuance of the deplorable error that all inglesi have only to put their hands in their pockets to pull out gold and bank-notes is indisputable ; and, as I observed just now, this error is in its turn responsible for a great deal of very unfortunate misunderstanding not only on the part of the Italians, but also on that of we Anglo-Saxons. It is perfectly natural that, smarting under a sense of having too often been “done” by a native of Italy, the Englishman is apt to infer that the Italians are by nature dishonest in their dealings. Let us consider the question for a moment from the Italian point of view. In the first place he has heard from his youth upward, and his fathers have heard before him, that the inglesi are the richest people in the world, and that money is nothing to them. I verily believe that many among them are convinced that London is a city displaying the same deplorable vulgar characteristics as those attributed, we will hope erroneously, to a far more sacred locality, and that its streets are paved with gold. In the next place, he has seen for himself, and his fathers have seen before him, that the inglesi (for how can he differentiate between them and the americani ?) more than live up to their reputation. Is it to be wondered at, then, if he tries to benefit by the good fortune the gods have thrown in his way ? It is of no moment whether the article he may have to dispose of be a sham Raffaele or a real cauliflower. If its would-be purchaser be an inglese, he will ask treble its value, or more, and he will in all probability get what he asks. He makes his demand in the honest conviction that not only does it not signify to the inglese how much he pays, but that it is right and fitting he should pay more than if he belonged to any other race. A Frenchman or a German, for instance, even if he be known to be a gran signore, is never asked the same prices as an inglese, who may be known to be of a far humbler station in life. Now, I contend that this is not dishonesty, but that it is an engrained custom, born of tradition, and carefully nurtured by that very race which is its principal victim. You cannot deliberately encourage and educate a people to act according to a certain idea, and then proceed to accuse them of immorality because they do so. I am not, be it understood, upholding the commercial honesty in general of Italian life. I greatly fear that were I to do so unreservedly I should not be faithful to my subject, and that Italians themselves would be the first to shake their heads more than dubiously. Where money passes, Italians are not given to demonstrate any remarkable confidence in one anotherunless they thoroughly know their man. I am merely venturing to suggest that in their daily dealings with foreigners the Italians are very much what the foreigners have made themand that the modern Italian is very much what the American has made him.
There is, however, another side to the picture, and one that I believe has come into evidence only within the last few years. It is of exclusively English painting, and with it the Americans have nothing at all to do. Rigid in his adherence to his own national tradition that Italy is a country in which he can economise, the Englishman, I think, has never yet recognised the fact that the Italy of to-day is not the Italy of the days when his father and his grandfathers made the grand tour, or shut up their houses at home in order to save a year’s income or so in Rome, Florence, or Venice. He cannot realise, or perhaps does not know, that so costly has the scale of living become in Italy during the last twenty years as to hit very hardly all but the wealthiest Italians, and most especially the small tradespeople on whom, if he be anything but a mere tourist in the country taking his ease at his inns, he will find himself most dependent for the comforts and necessities of his daily life.
Far from displaying the careless prodigality which caused the Englishman of even five-and-twenty years ago to be regarded by Italians as a combination of a gold mine and a lunatic, his more modern representative is now apt to feel aggrieved if he cannot obtain all he wants at prices which may have been current in Italy previous to 1870, but certainly have ceased to be so for a considerable period. He still, it is true, will pay exorbitantly for objets de vertu and works of art which may take his fancy in the antiquity shops ; but he expects to be provided with the necessaries of everyday life, and with the produce of industrial labour at prices very far below those he would cheerfully pay in England. It is quite in vain to tell him that conditions have changed in Italy ; that labour in all its branches demands, and is obliged to receive, far higher remuneration in order that the labourers may not starve ; and that the cost of food and of every article produced by labour has risen in proportion to the increase of wages. He overlooks the fact that the working-classes have to meet an increase in their daily expenditure quite as large as, and often, indeed, far more oppressive than his own casethat their food is taxed as heavily as his, and that a very large proportion of their earnings go to pay the enormously increased house-rent which the serious lack of accommodation for artisans in the towns, and for agricultural labourers in the country has entailed upon them. Nohe has been brought up to regard Italy as a cheap country. He has read that it is so, and, there-fore, cheap it must be. That he finds it exactly the reverse is due, in his opinion, to barefaced extortion on the part of the Italians. Now, I am quite prepared to admit that when an Englishman first settles in Italy every man’s hand, financially speaking, is against him, and that for reasons which I think I have sufficiently explained. But when he has bought his experience he will, provided that he be willing to lay aside his British exclusiveness and consort with the people among whom he has elected to dwell, find that a firm and good-humoured disclaimer on his part to be treated as an inglese will be productive of satisfactory results, at any rate so far as his dealings with his tradesmen are concerned. As to his possible dealings with the Italian bureaucracy, or with Italian justice, I fear that I cannot guarantee him any such happy issue out of his afflictions. All that I can hope is that he may not have occasion to transact any but the most trifling business with either of thembut on this subject I shall have more to say later on. Unluckily, when we English have taken a fixed idea into our heads, it is extremely difficult for us to get it out again ; and the average Englishman settled in Italy certainly shows no exception to the rule. He continues to expect food to be sold to him, and work to be done for him at prices often absolutely unfair to the providers. ” Why,”I have heard him exclaim indignantly” I should pay as much for this in England ! ” Precisely, my good friend. And you are lucky if you do not pay more than you would in England ! The days are long passed, and will never return, when you received twenty-seven and twenty-eight lire instead of twenty-five and a few centimes for your English sovereign ; and the days are passed, too, when an Italian lira could buy as much as a shilling. At the present time it can only buy some twenty-five to thirty per cent. less than it could a dozen years ago, and who knows how much it may still further decrease in purchasing value in the near future ?
Vain arguments ! Italy is a cheap country to live inand if it is not, it is the fault of these ” damned Italians.”
I may tell you, my friend, that these damned Italians, as you call them, would be only too de-lighted if your imaginary prices were those which they themselves were under the necessity of paying. You are a quarter of a century behind the times, and are suffering under a very painful delusion, largely due, I am afraid, to writers of fiction whose know-ledge of Italy is based on hotel life at so much a head per day. Resent extortion as much as you like and can, but for Heaven’s sake be fair to the Italians. Try to realise that for them, too, every-thing has risen in price, and that, though the nation is richer and more prosperous than it ever was, individuals have become poorer in proportion to the increased struggle for existence which is yearly becoming more severe. In this present year in my own neighbourhood the people have to pay a lira and a half for a flask of local wine which last year cost sixty centimes, an increase of more than cent. per cent. on an article which is not a luxury, but, to the Italian working-man who eats little meat and does hard manual labour, far more of a necessity than beer is to his English comrade. Other necessities of life have increased in price in proportions which, if not so alarming, are at any rate alarming enough, though, in the case of wine, the present enormous increase in price is probably of a temporary nature, and due to the general failure of the vintage of 1910 throughout Italy, as well as in France, who largely depends on the rougher Italian wines for ” blending ” her own clarets and burgundies.
I must apologise for this long excursion into the dull realms of household economics ; but I have frequently been surprised, and sometimes a little indignant, at the way in which many of my compatriots who, have lived long enough in Italy to know better deliberately refuse to recognise the altered conditions of the people among whom they dwell, and who assuredly cannot be blamed if circumstances compel them to meet increased liabilities by raised prices. I believe that the entirely detached lives, led in the miniature England which they have brought with them, accounts for this refusal on the part of the great majority of English residents to expel from their minds certain worn-out traditions regarding Italy. As a rule, they are not on sufficiently intimate terms with their Italian neighbours of their own class to be able to discuss household problems with them, and their Italian domestics are not, perhaps, always a trustworthy source from which to derive information and advice. The German resident, on the other hand, adopts a very different policy. He sets himself, with all his indomitable perseverance, to the task of making himself thoroughly acquainted with the language, thereby acquiring a most indispensable asset which our Englishman often contemptuously dismisses as superfluous, and, indeed, is apt to regard as in some way derogatory to his dignity as a British subject. Having made himself at home in the Italian tongue, the German proceeds to make himself at home with the Italians. He studies their customs and their character, and no detail of their lives is too insignificant for his attention. Nor does he pursue his studies among one class only, but, if his circumstances permit of his doing so, he establishes friendly relations with all classes. The consequence is that, although the German is not nearly so sympathetic to the Italians as the Englishman, he succeeds where the latter fails. Personally, I would far prefer to take the opinion or advice as to things Italian of a German who had lived five years in the country to that of an English resident of forty years’ standing.