ONCE again, after long centuries, the Capitol of Rome has been the scene of a Triumph. A long array of chained captives have followed the victor’s car. A motley procession ! Tyranny, Foreign Domination, Priestcraft, Ignorance, and the twin of IgnoranceSuperstitionall these have been represented among the captives ; and who shall say that they are not trophies of victory more glorious than any which graced the Triumph of a Caesar ?
But the Capitol has witnessed, in this present year, a scene of far deeper import than the triumphal progress of an individual. It has assisted at the national triumph of a race. Together with the whole of the civilised world it has looked down on the celebration not of one victorious campaign only, but of a series of hardly-fought battles waged for more than half a century against well-nigh overpowering forces. That the victory is not yet entirely complete in no way detracts from its significance, for none who have carefully watched the progress of the long fight, and who have marked the ground already won, can have any doubts as to its ultimate issue.
The events which led to the making of United Italy have been briefly glanced at in these pages ; but it may not be amiss to devote this concluding chapter of My Italian Year to some particulars of the immense task which devolved upon the modern Italians, in consequence of the successful trans-formation of a heterogeneous group of states and peopleswhich sixty years ago almost justified an Austrian politician in referring to Italy as being merely a geographical expression into a united monarchy and a people inspired by common national aims and interests.
I often have occasion to wonder whether my compatriots, who visit the country for a few weeks or months, realise, even to the most superficial degree, the true significance of what they see all around them, and whether they have the remotest conception of what has been accomplished in Italy in the course of the last fifty years. I imagine, from the remarks and criticisms I so frequently hear made by them, that they neither realise the one nor possess the other. Now, it is extremely easy to make unfavourable comparisons between a human organisation which has been in working order for several centuries, and which has had well-nigh a thousand years in which to perfect its machinery, and one that has but little over half a century of practical existence. Nevertheless, it is such a comparison which, albeit unconsciously, English people are too prone to make when they declaim against the shortcomings of the Italians in matters relating to everyday life. They forget that if Rome was not built in a day, neither was England ; and they do not reflect that it is entirely unfair, and not a little absurd, to judge a people that has fifty years of national life by the standards rightly appertaining to a people which lives under an organisation that has needed nearly twenty times as long a period in which to attain to its actual development. This neglect of proportion, if I may so call it, on the part of their foreign critics, certainly does not add to the value of such criticisms in the eyes of Italians. It merely arouses that sense of bitterness which all unjust criticism is apt to excite.
Let us glance at the social conditions of Italy when the Italians were at last free to place the coping-stone on the edifice they had raised, and to make Rome the capital of the United kingdom. The quarter of a century immediately preceding that moment had, of necessity, been devoted to a life-struggle with foreign foes settled in their midst. Yet, even during the period when the forces, physical and moral, of the newly formed nation were required to expel foreign domination, and the chances of success were more than doubtful, much was being done in anticipation ; and by the time the fraudulently acquired temporal sovereignty of the Papacy fell, and the chief internal foe to Italian liberty was, if not rendered impotent, at all events effectually muzzled, much had been given to Italy by the extraordinary energy of her liberators, seconded by the self-sacrifice of her sons. Railways, considerable concessions to the principles of Free Tradewhich in those days was certainly a greater boon to a nation than it has since become under altered conditions of industrynew and enlightened civil and penal codes, local government, protection against priestly persecutions and extortions, free education,these are only some of the provisions, created in the face of the greatest difficulties and carried into effect with surprising rapidity and indomitable resolution, that were being quietly matured in anticipation of the day when they should become national assets.
That these measures, necessary to national progress and civilisation, could not be put into operation without a heavy call on the purse of the Italian people was obvious ; and the way in which the young nation responded to that call, and still continues to respond to it, is certainly not the least among the factors contributing to the justification of that modern Roman Triumph which has taken place in the shadow of the capital to-day.
Returning to the critics, and especially to the English critics, of the way in which the Italians have managed their internal affairs, these, I think, are too ready to overlook the fact that the Italian battle for liberty and progress, for unity at home and peace and justice abroad, began rather than ended when she succeeded in expelling the foreigner from her gates. It was natural that, with so many weighty questions to be dealt with regarding foreign, ecclesiastical, and financial policy, the problems connected with social reform should have been momentarily relegated to a second place during the period immediately succeeding the final consolidation of the new Italian kingdom. As I have pointed out, how-ever, the machinery for a complete process of social reformation had already been prepared, and when in 1876, only six years after the transformation of Rome into the capital of United Italy, the then Minister of Finance, Marco Minghetti, was able to produce a budget which brought the revenue and expenditure of the country to a balance, this machinery was at once put into operation.
But it would be useless to deny, since Italians themselves would not deny it, that, from the year 1876 until late in the eighties, party ambition rather than the welfare of the country influenced the rulers of Italy. It is to this period that Italy owes the growth of that bureaucratic fungus which, when once permitted to take root in a nation, is with difficulty eradicated. Northern statesmen were replaced by politicians of a less patriotic character, who brought with them the shifty and corrupt practices and principles which had ever distinguished the political adventurers of the South. Under the Depretis administration, which practically lasted until 1887, reforms had to be paid for by votes to keep that administration in office. The Chamber of Deputies became little more than a committee of the Government, and its members were easily bribed to give consent to any measures calculated to secure to the Depretis Cabinet continuance in office.
Had this system of corruption been applied to the Parliament only, its effects, perhaps, would not have been so far-reaching or so detrimental to the true interests of the country. Unfortunately, however, the Civil Service fell a victim to similar methods of corruption. Posts in this service were unblushingly bestowed on those who had least qualification for the handling of public monies, or for the exercise of the powers entrusted to them. The number of impiegati in all the various departments of the State was increased to an altogether ridiculous extent ; and, in a word, the country was saddled with an army of ill-paid officials drawn from every class, whose sole raison d’être was that they were obedient creatures of an administration the only programme of which was office.
In those years Italy sowed the seed of that internal discontent which, together with the ceaseless animosity of the Vatican, has proved so serious an obstacle to the completion of her victory over the powers fighting against her. The national discontent very soon manifested itself in the appearance of various parties disaffected not only towards the Governmentwhich would in itself have been a healthy signbut towards the very Constitution which the patriotic and disinterested politicians of earlier years had evolved in the face of almost Insurmountable difficulties. Republicanism, Social-ism, Anarchismevery shade of extremist opinion found their supporters in a country still in its infancy and requiring neither parties nor programmes to guide its steps, but one compact and solid administrative power to direct it unswervingly towards that goal which the creators of United Italy had set before it.
Notwithstanding the entirely undeserved humiliation which he eventually brought upon his country at Adowa, and other transactions which need not be here recalled, the advent of Francesco Crispi to power, at the death of Depretis, was a blessing, albeit in disguise, to Italy. A strong man was needed, and Crispi, with all his defects, was a strong man and an able leader. If his methods were at times of the least scrupulous kind, he at all events had the excuse of finding himself confronted by a situation not far short of chaotic. The people instinctively felt that a strong hand was at last at the helm, although they neither loved nor trusted the owner of it. Perhaps Crispi’s worst error, apart from his allowing himself to be influenced by dishonest speculators and con-tractors into plunging his country into an unjust and disastrous war with Abyssinia, was his ruthless attitude towards Socialism.
I hasten to add that, personally, I am very far indeed from sympathising with Socialism, or any party the ultimate aims of which is to destroy the balance of society. But it would be a great mistake to confound Italian Socialism and the aims it has hitherto had in view with that advanced and exaggerated gospel of disintegration and destruction which has lately found adherents in England among individuals who, it may be supposed, have the effrontery to consider themselves statesmen.
The seeds sown during the Depretis administration had borne ample fruit by the time Crispi succeeded to office ; and Anarchism, imported from Russia and from America, was rapidly being propagated among the discontented ranks of the working classes. The stern repressive measures adopted by Crispi against the subversive parties in the State were unluckily applied in all their severity also to the Socialists, whose programma minimo was not only harmless, but positively beneficial in drawing attention to legitimate hard-ships and abuses from which the proletariat was suffering at the hands of unscrupulous employers of labour, and under the petty tyranny of bureaucracy.
As I have pointed out in a preceding chapter, the arch-enemy of the State, the Vatican, was not slow to take advantage of these measures, and to turn them to its own account ; and Crispi, who was at heart a bitter anticlerical, undoubtedly played into the priests’ hands by enforcing them. As is infallibly the case, persecution led to a greater diffusion of subversive doctrines, and flagrant instances of injustice bred an ever-increasing spirit of bitterness and discontent among the industrial classes, which may be said to have culminated when the ill-fated King Humbert fell a victim to the errors of his Ministers at the hands of an assassin who had received his instructions in America.
However little sympathy one may have with Socialism, it must be admitted that the influence of the leaders of that movement in Italy has been on the whole beneficial. Abuses long ignored, or openly countenanced, have been redressed owing to their action in and outside Parliament ; the passage of wise measures for improving the conditions of labour and education have been facilitated, and sometimes initiated by their energy ; whileand for this they deserve the gratitude of the enlightened of all countries they have systematically fought against the ignorance and superstition taught and encouraged by the Church, and have opened the eyes of a vast number of their compatriots to the corrupt practices of a considerable proportion of the priesthood.
In later years, and under the wise and liberal reign of Victor Emanuel III., of whom it may be perhaps permitted to say that he is a better statesman than many of his Ministers, political persecutions have ceased. The result has been that the extreme parties in the State have largely modified their programmes and their views. Although social problems are still acute, and perpetual strikes, industrial and agricultural, still bear evidence of a certain amount of discontent and unrest, the monarchy is ever gaining ground in the affections of the people. Even the Socialists are in their hearts convinced that the fall of the monarchy would mean the disruption and political annihilation of Italy ; while the Republicans, who at one time were a not inconsiderable party in the State, have now become a quantité négligeable.
Of all the criticisms to which modern Italy is subjected by the superior foreignerand, like all young people, she has to endure a good deal of criticism from her eldersperhaps the most shallow is that stock-in-trade one which taunts her with having lost the artistic spirit that might be supposed to be her especial patrimony. I hope I may escape the accusation of being a Philistine if I venture to suggest that the utilitarian rather than the artistic spirit is of primary importance to a young nation. It may be true that the modern Italians have not that artistic sense which so specially distinguished their forefathers. Indeed, the streets of Rome, and of other great Italian cities, bear painful witness to the surprising decay of that sense ; while the artistic output in what are known as the Fine Arts is, in the main, on a very deplorable level when compared with that of past centuries. But the critics in question are apt to forget, or to despise, the existence of what may be termed the utilitarian arts ; and in many of these Italy has shown herself to be second to none, and, in some, a pioneer. It would seem as though Italian intellect had been specially directed into other channels than those of purely creative art, in order successfully to deal with the new position in which the events of the last fifty years have placed the country. To produce distinguished men in the fields of social and applied science, of medicine, surgery, engineering, and invention, has indisputably been of greater practical use to modern Italy than a reincarnation of the entire company of those mighty artists of the cinque and seicento who made her so famous in the past.
A fairer criticism would be to admit that, while the higher ideals of creative art in all its branchessave that of musicare dormant in the Italians of the present day, they are nobly replaced by inventive and creative genius belonging to other domains of human intellect more important to a nation occupied in the supreme task of securing to itself its rightful position among the leading countries of the world.
And while I am discoursing on the subject of foreign criticism of Italian methods of conducting Italian affairs, I should like to point out how very invidious, not to say impertinent, are those explosions of indignation to which our English journals too often lend their columns whenever the authorities in Rome, or in other Italian cities, venture to carry out what, rightly or wrongly, they consider to be changes necessary to the requirements of their town. No one likes to be told by an outsider how he should manage his own house ; and interference of this nature seldom produces any result other than that of resentment, or amusement. If our indignant letter-writers to the newspapers would only believe it, Italy possesses plenty of eminent men as anxious as any foreigner can be to preserve, so far as possible, the beautiful and historic monuments of their own country; and to mount guard over the unique artistic heritage bequeathed to Italy by the past. They might also with advantage reflect that, in cases in which the protests of such eminent Italians pass unheeded, their own are scarcely likely to be regarded in any other light than that of an interference doubly unwarrantable, inasmuch as it proceeds from foreigners who have no logical right to impose it. Methods of government, and the habits and customs of another country are, of course, legitimate subjects for criticism. But when criticism is carried to the lengths of dictating to municipal authorities of foreign cities how they should manage their own concerns, it degenerates into what schoolboys would call ” infernal cheek.”
It is natural that the majority of visitors to Italy should form their opinions as to her national progress in the last fifty years chiefly by what meets their eyes in the larger towns. Well, we have only to compare the present conditions of such cities as Rome and Naples and Genoa with those of even twenty years ago to realise the immense improvements which have taken place in every direction. Some mistakes, no doubt, have been made, and great ones ; and some relics of the past have been too hastily swept away which might well have been spared without any considerable sacrifice of public convenience. Many of us know, however, to our cost, how difficult is the task of altering an old house so as to bring it into line with modern requirements without committing acts of archeological and esthetic sacrilege ; and the problem is certainly not easier of solution in the case of ancient cities which have to be remodelled in accordance with the requirements of vastly increased populations, and with those of modern and scientific hygienic principles. More-over, we are so accustomed in these days to accept as a matter of course all that modern science has placed at our disposal to add to the comfort and safety of our daily lives, that it may be doubted whether any but a very few among us pause to consider what these things really represent, or what has to be sacrificed in order to benefit by them.
As one who is accustomed to spend most of his Italian year in country districts, I venture to think that in these, even more than in the great cities, are to be found the most striking object-lessons in Italian national progress. It is in the small country towns and villages that comparisons may best be made with the old order of things by any one who re-collects them ; and it is in these that an idea may best be formed of the immense work accomplished by modern Italy in a couple of generations of national existence. This phase of Italian life very naturally escapes the attention of the average visitor to Italy, who is seldom brought into anything but passing contact with it. And yet, in all countries, it is to the rural districts and to the small local towns that one must look if one wishes really to judge of a nation’s progress, or of a people’s character. And, of all countries, this is especially the case with Italy. She has no great industrial cities on the scale to be found in coal-producing countries, with the exception of Milan, Genoa, and Naples. The remainder depend quite as much, or more, on their historic and artistic past for their importance and influence as on their present capacities for trade or manufacture, though several of lesser rank, such as Bari, Livorno, and others, must not be placed in this category.
Side by side with the spread of education in the country districts, with all its attendant advantages, one cannot help noticing a feature which, in the not remote future, is likely to prove an embarrassment to the nation, and which is already making itself felt in various ways. Together with education has come ambition on the part of the agricultural and operative classes to enter spheres of action very different from those with which their fathers were contented. We have seen how the intelligent member of a contadino’s family often became a priestas he often does to this day. Now, however, the priestly trade is none too well looked upon by the more respectable and self-respecting members of the peasant community. The lad who should be a peasant becomes a student, and his aim is to join the already overcrowded ranks of the bureaucracy, or to become a lawyer or a doctor. The universities are crowded with these young men, who for the most part pass the best years of their lives in being students, and nothing moreand very often unruly and ill-disciplined students at that ! Nothing could well be worse than the Italian system of university life. Unruly youths are treated as men, instead of being subjected to severe discipline when they show symptoms of insubordination. In. many agricultural districts the land is going out of cultivation, because peasants who should be following the plough are wasting their lives and their health in the cities.
A remarkable development in Italian rural life, and one that is wholly advantageous, is the movement in the direction of public thrift which has taken place during the last few years. Cooperative societies, savings banks, and people’s banks exist on a scale and are conducted on a system immeasurably superior to anything of the kind that we can show in England. Co-operative stores are to be found in even the most insignificant of villages, and I can vouch for the fact that the goods sold by them are often superior in quality to those one may buy at almost double the price in the shops of the large towns. Friendly societies are numerous, and many of these are wealthy enough to advance loans at a reasonable rate of interest to the agriculturist or peasant proprietor, who again finds assistance and encouragement in the agricultural syndicates. It is worthy of notice that this movement is largely due to the action of the Socialists, and that its initiation was the almost immediate result of the change in the policy of the Italian Government towards Socialism, which has been so prominent a feature in the wise reign of the present sovereign.
It would be hopeless, indeed, to attempt to enumerate within the limits of this volume the many victories won by the modern Italian energy and statesmanship in the rural districts over conditions, habits, customs, and traditions, which were not the less pernicious to the welfare of the country because they happened in many instances to be picturesque. These are victories which have been won silently and unostentatiously, and which have usually escaped the attention of foreigners. Nevertheless, they have contributed not a, little to the justification of that Triumph with which, among all nations, England has perhaps the prior right to sympathise. There are some who consider, and the present writer is among the number, that England might have done more to help the young nation at whose birth she assisted and, to a certain extent, facilitated ; and that there have been occasions when Italy might legitimately have complained of a certain discrepancy between the words and the deeds of her traditional friend. However this may be, it need not be dwelt upon here. The truest friendships do not invariably depend entirely upon services rendered or received.
An important factor in national life is still comparatively lacking in Italyand this is Public Opinion. I do not mean to imply that public opinion is altogether lacking in Italy. It would be more just to say that it is dormant, and this partly for want of any definite guidance, and partly because it possesses no real means of cohesion and expression.
The parliamentary elections, unfortunately, do not supply these means, for reasons which any one who is acquainted with the peculiarities of their procedure will readily understand. The Italian Press, as a whole, makes little or no effort to supply the deficit. Of newspapers there are no end. Each provincial town has one, and sometimes many more ; but these, as a rule, are content to give their readers articles dealing with local matters only, and the great questions of national importance are too often subordinated to municipal frictions or matter inspired by the deputy of the collegio. Even the great journals will dedicate columns to satisfying public curiosity concerning a murder or a suicide to the exclusion of other more healthy and useful material, while their political and social matter is handled rather with a view to furthering the interests of some parliamentary group or individual politician than to forming any compact body of public opinion on questions of vital interest to the State. The Giornale d’Italia may be said to be almost, if not quite, alone among the leading Italian newspapers in its steady and persistent endeavours to create a healthy and discriminating public opinion in the country, and to guide its readers towards a wider and more imperial view on subjects connected with politic and social and economic questions.
There can be no doubt that a dozen authoritative journals, inspired with such an aim as the one I have mentioned, however much they might differ among themselves in political theories, had they the capital necessary to build up a large circulation, would do more to further and educate public opinion in Italy than the innumerable minor publications which, in most cases, are launched with altogether inadequate meansfinancial, literary, and moral ; and the letterpress of which is apt to appeal rather to the morbid curiosity of the public than to its higher intelligence. That a strong desire exists in Italy for some recognised channels of public opinion I can assert from personal knowledge ; and I hasten to add that my remarks on this subject merely re-echo sentiments I frequently hear expressed by Italians of all classes.
No doubt the large proportion of illiterates which exists among the population, and more particularly in the south, renders any concrete formation of a public opinion, and any definite expression of it, difficult. It is no secret that the political elections do not in reality express the views or desires of the people. Hitherto the suffrage has not been granted to illiterates ; but one of the provisions of a reform now (June 1911) submitted to the Chamber of Deputies extends the parliamentary vote also to illiterates who shall have attained the age of thirty years, and to all who shall have performed their military service.
It will be curious to see what effect this extension will have, should it pass into law, and that it will so pass is practically certain. The total electorate of the country would be thus raised to 7,711,000, of whom 2,711,000 are illiterates. This measure is probably only a preliminary step to universal suffrage, which system has many supporters in Italy. There can be little question that extension of the franchise to illiterates, especially in the southern portions of the Italian kingdom, will greatly strengthen the hands of the clerical party and the priests, as it is among the ignorant and uneducated that these most easily maintain their influence. In all probability, therefore, a counter-acting check to the increased power which this extension will almost certainly give to clericalism in the management of the political affairs of the nation will only be found by making the suffrage universal.
Another trophy which might well be added to a future Triumph of Italy would be the establishment of a Poor Lawand here, again, I am only a critic at second hand, Among the many unjust and untrue assertions made by foreigners concerning Italy is one to the effect that no maintenance of or care for the poor exists in the country. Nothing could be further from fact. There is no legal obligation as yet binding on the State to maintain paupers, nor any taxes which can be directly levied for such a purpose. But Italy possesses an immense number of public charitable institutions, richly endowed by donations and legacies, many of which have descended from medieval times, and which are perpetually being supplemented by others from later and present benefactors. Moreover, provincial and municipal councils are empowered to make grants to any species of charitable institution. I believe that according to recent statistics the property of the secular charitable institutions alone amounts to nearly eighty millions of pounds sterling. This in itself should be sufficient refutation of the charge that Italy cares nothing for her sick and her poor.
If begging in the streets is still an abuse in certain towns in Italy, this is largely due to the folly of strangers who give to individuals who, in nine cases out of ten, are arrant impostorsas are street beggars everywhere. It is instructive to see how, so soon as the season for the forestieri is over in towns like Rome and Naples, the beggars disappear. The deserving poor in Italy are far too proud to beg the streets ; and the most grinding poverty, alas, -often goes about in a tidy gown or a neat suit, seeking to conceal itself from the eyes of the world. The greatest enemies to the public charities in Italy are the priests. These are ever seeking to divert the alms, donations, and bequests of the charitable and generous into ecclesiastical coffers. Every kind of pressure is brought to bear in order to effect this, not the least scandalous being that which exploits the affection of the living for the dead, and under the pretence of Masses for the souls of those in purgatory extorts sums of money which must in the aggregate reach an enormous total, and which might well be employed to relieve not theoretical but practical suffering. It is in the churches, be it noted, that beggars and maimed and deformed specimens of humanity most abound, notwithstanding the clerical appeals for charity. The public charities are, as a general rule, admirably managed, and their funds ably administered. But it is obvious that there are innumerable country districts into which their action cannot penetrate ; and this in itself would seem to necessitate the introduction of some State measure corresponding to our English Poor Law.
There is one department of the State which is in need of the most drastic reform and purificationnamely, that which controls the administration of Law and Justice. There is a great deal of Law in modern Italy ; but Justice is conspicuous by its absence. Indeed, the one aim and object of Italian lawyers and legal officials seems to be to impede and prevent to the best of their power that justice should be done. Heaven help the unfortunate individual who, with the clearest evidence of right on his side, appeals to Italian tribunals to obtain it ! If he be a poor man, the case will be given against him because he is poor ; if he be rich, unless he has means of ” squaring ” influential persons, it will be given against him because he is rich and therefore can pay. The consequence of the wholesale corruption and cumbersome machinery of Italian tribunals is that people will submit to any extortion or injustice rather than carry their case into the courts, unless it is impossible to do otherwise. I do not mean to say that there are not hundreds of honest lawyers in Italy ; but every honest Italian lawyer is the first to deplore and condemn the state of the Law as it now stands, and the corruption which forms so unpleasant a feature in its administration.
Individuals arrested on suspicion even of the most trivial criminal acts are in many cases, nay, in most cases, imprisoned for months, and sometimes for one or even two years before their trial comes on. If, as is often the case, they are proved to be innocent, they have no redress for the privation of their liberty and the moral, and also physical, suffering they have undergone. Justice in flagrant eases of murder is too often subordinated to sentiment, and the most brutal murderers are condemned to a few months’ imprisonment only, if some ” extenuating circumstance ” can be found, or if the murderer have the means of enlisting the sympathies of the jury in other ways. On the other hand, some poor wretch who steals because he is in want receives a severe sentence.
Sentiment has abolished capital punishment in Italy ; and perhaps this is in a way natural. The barbarous executions which for so many centuries were common spectacles, and the savage capital sentences carried out in Rome under the Papal Government, had disgusted a people naturally averse to such things. But the substitution for capital punishment in Italy is ten thousand times worse for the criminal than a merciful death. Condemnation to the ergastolo means condemnation to a living deathto silence, darkness, and perpetual despair. Hundreds of criminals become insane after a very few years of this form. Few who have long sentences live to come out of it ; and those who are imprisoned for a shorter period return to the world broken in health, and old men before they have reached the prime of life. One would imagine that capital punishment, carried out instantaneously and in private, would be far more creditable to a civilised nation than the more barbarous punishment of condemnation to the ergastolo.
It would ill become a writer on Italian life and on Italian subjects not to dwell for a space on the Literature of the countryI mean, of course, its contemporary literature ; since books have no unimportant share of one’s year in any land. It is unfortunate that in modern Italy literature should be something of una cosa di lasso, a luxury which only the privileged few enjoy. In this art again, as in others of the fine arts, the modern Italians can scarcely be said to be worthy of their inheritance ; or, rather, they have temporarily neglected that inheritance in order to cultivate intellectual creations of more practical utility. The modern Italian as a rule is not a great reader, except of his newspapers. The women of the leisured classes read much more than the men, and in the uppermost class they are usually far better educated. A vast scientific literature embracing all kinds of speculative research and social, historic, and economic studies has certainly arisen in the last fifty years in Italy ; and many of its chief exponents, such as the Professors Lombroso, Villari, Grassi, and others are of world-wide fame. This, however, is a literature which perforce appeals to the few, and leaves no mark on the thought or the character of the majority.
An Italian author of the present day, even one of the highest literary attainments, labours under great disadvantages as compared with his compeers in England, France, Germany, Sweden, or Russia. His public, in his own country, is at the best a comparatively small one ; and his earnings, I fear, would cut but a sorry figure compared with those of our own popular novelists who are possessed of every gift save that of literary art.
The greatest literary genius which modern Italy has producedand he was a giant is practically unknown except by name and fame to the vast majority of even his better educated compatriots. A great poet, and a prose writer of the first order, Giosue Carducci is practically unread even by those Italians who are proud of enumerating him among United Italy’s greatest men. There is, I think, only one of Carducci’s many splendid productions which has gained any-thing like popularityand this is his Hymn to Satan. Perhaps this popularity is rather due to the strangeness and unorthodoxy of the subject than to any profound appreciation of the sublime literary workmanship of the ode.
Probably the most popular of modern Italian authors has been Edoardo d’Amicis. He wrote chiefly for the young ; but his works have touched the hearts and the imaginations also of the old. The greatest of modern Italian novelists, Fogazzaro, whose death the country is still deploring, never succeeded in attaining that widespread popularity which was his due. And yet for purity of thought, style, and motive, for keenness of insight into human nature, for broad-mindedness coupled with a rigid adherence to his own principles and his own conceptions of the sacred responsibilities of his art, Antonio Fogazzaro possessed, and still possesses, no rival among modern Italian writers, and not many among their predecessors. A staunch Catholic, he was at the same time an ardent admirer of such bêtes noires to the Church as Darwin, and a grateful believer in the truths of modern science. Naturally enough, he soon drew upon himself the anger of the Vatican, though this fact would certainly not have diminished his popularity. He lacked, perhaps, the power of either Verga or the Sardinian novelist Grazia Deleddatwo very different writers, but two who stand out a head and shoulders above their colleagues in modern Italian fiction. To read Giovanni Verga’s I Malavoglia is to live in a Sicilian village. It is not pleasant reading, but it goes home. And yet it is not easy to find Italians out of the small section of the community which prides itself upon reading who have read it. Unlike Fogazzaro, both Verga and Grazia Deledda turn to the seamy side of life for their inspirationsbut they are none the less inspirations of a terrible suggestiveness powerfully, and sometimes ruthlessly, presented.
To the foreign public, I suppose, modern Italian literature is represented by the writer who calls himself by the telling nom de plume of Gabriele D’Annunzio, and whose real name is Rapagnetta. It is a pity, for there are a dozen others who should more worthily represent it. If the art of literature consists in raking in a muck-heap, then it must be admitted that Gabriele D’Annunzio is a great artist, for he rakes extremely thoroughly, and no piece of refuse is left covered. In his novels, as in his plays, he is unable to depict a normal human being, male or female. Even his historical villains of both sexes in his plays lose a considerable portion of their villainy, which must certainly have been impressive enough in real life, and become melodramatic individuals who are perpetually saying to us : “Look what a wicked person I am ! ” In his novels one longs for a breath of fresh, pure air. In other words, one longs for something which is to be found in even the most sordid and brutal of human beings unless they are insane human beings. But D’Annunzio’s characters are not presented to us as insane people, but rather as types of humanity which the author admires for their egoistic passions and the base and sordid means they employ to gratify those passions. As a poet, D’Annunzio might have been great. As a prose writer and a playwright his popularity is scarcely likely to pass beyond the bounds of those who like to rake in the mud for their mental refreshment. His style, as his own countrymen, who frankly declare that they have to search their encyclopædias to understand his language, is at once effeminate and bombastic ; and perhaps it is not only his readers who have had occasion to consult their dictionaries. Of spontaneousness there is none at all. Nevertheless, Gabriele D’Annunzio is the only living Italian writer of fiction or drama whose works are known to any appreciable extent out of Italy.
Such authors as those I have mentioned are, with the exception of Fogazzaro, scarcely known, at any rate to the English reading public. Of Ada Negri, I doubt if one English novel reader out of a thousand has heard. Of Giacosa, Arturo Graf, Pascoli, and a dozen other poets, how much has penetrated into the drawing-rooms in which D’Annunzio’s novels are discussed by those who, it may be suspected, are scarcely likely to be able to understand his laborious and archaic language better than his own countrymen ? His novels, doubtless, are usually read in translation by foreigners, and thus the effeminate affection of his style escapes observation.
But it would be too much to expect that the really artistic Italian writers of fiction and poetry of the present age should be extensively read abroad when they are so little read in their own land. Italian publishers, instead of encouraging native talent, flood the ” literary” market with cheap and bad translations of Zola and the representatives of the most fleshly and realistic school of French fiction ; and it is this mental food with which the average modern Italian, if he read at all, nourishes himself. A gifted young Tuscan writer has lately come to the front in Italy, Sem Benelli. His dramas contain fine and musical verses, and of his remarkable literary talent there can be no doubt. But, like D’Annunzio, he has hitherto chosen his subjects from the mud of human nature.
But the captives in the triumph of modern Italy are many and varied. She has no doubt other battles to fight and to win before their numbers are complete, and before she can rest in proud security in the place she has set herself to attain. In her Triumph of 1961, when a century of unity has passed over her head, other captives will swell the throng following the victor’s car. It is not, perhaps, for a foreigner to name them.
Italy and England have for centuries been bound to one another by ties of common sympathy. At the same time it is well to remember there is very little of the old sentimental feeling remaining on the Italian side ; nor is this altogether the fault of the Italians. Politics must not enter into this book, so this is not the place to discuss them. I will only repeat that it is not unnatural if the Italians have been shrewd enough to observe that in the course of the last five-andtwenty years the political friendship of England has been apt to show itself rather in words than in actionand this at more than one critical moment in contemporary Italian history. But of friendship and good friendship other than political, every English person will find no lack during his, or her, sojourn in Italy, if he really desires to obtain it. In order to do this, however, he must leave many of his pet prejudices at home. And, above all, he must remember that in almost every question relating to daily life the Latin point of view differs from that of the Anglo-Saxon. The differences are often not really as great as they would appear. They are often merely different roads leading to the same goal.
But when one is living in Italy, it is undoubtedly wiser to travel, so far as possible, along the Italian road. It takes one further, and one encounters less obstacles on the way. I have travelled that road, so far as it is permitted to a foreigner to travel it, for over twenty years, and I cannot say that I have ever met with any very serious obstaclesthanks to the many and excellent Italian friends who have helped me along it. If this volume should ever meet their eyes, it is to them I would make my excuses for its many shortcomingsand for the many things left unsaid in it, almost more than for the things said. For these last, and more especially in the case of such criticisms as I have allowed myself to make, I offer less excuse, for in them my Italian friends among whom I pass my Italian year will find embodied their own opinions regarding their own affairs.