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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
no next
page: 357


MARK TWAIN has said that an appendix gives a great dignity to a book. Despite this joke at it, it does not scare readers away, perhaps, as greatly as a preface does. At any rate, I will risk the addition, because I want to assure all who take up this story that there is no kind of exaggeration in it.

No doubt the public will be tempted to think that the municipal tyrannies, here depicted, are over‐coloured, but I can assure them that I have in not the slightest degree overdrawn the power of those little communal councils, and the terrible suffering that they entail upon the poor people of this beloved country.

Travellers, and even foreign residents, do not, as a rule, know anything about this. You must know the language intimately, and you must have gotten the people’s trust in you, before you page: 358 can understand all that they endure. The system is, as I have said, professedly autonomous, but practically it works in the manner I have depicted. The frightful taxation of the noble and gentle is bad; the taxation of the commercial interest, of the shipping and the trades is still worse; but more cruel by far than all is the municipal extortion by tax, by fine, and by penalty, that crushes out the very life‐blood of the peasant part of the nation. There are, of course, communes where some good and wise man is chief proprietor, and then it is fairly well governed. There are others in which the blacksmith or the carpenter is at the head of affairs, and then, though things may go ill, the populace cannot complain. But these are few exceptions, and, in the main part, the twopenny Gessler that I have endeavoured to sketch disposes of the destinies at his will.

It is entirely useless to change the ministries of Italy so long as this municipal system remains what it is. It has ruined Venice, Florence, and Naples, and is ruining Rome; as it has done on a great scale in the cities, so it does on a little one in the small towns and villages. An enormous page: 359 bureaucracy enriches itself at the public cost, and the people perish.

I believe that these municipal tyrannies might often legally be combated, but the populace cannot afford to do this. I won a cause lately against a municipality, and a shoemaker said to me, ‘Oh, there is one law for you rich folks, and another law for us poor!’

And practically it is so; the poor man cannot afford to employ an advocate, and his pleading against false charges or extortion is never attended to; the tax‐gatherers or the communal clerks are believed, and the poor man is beggared at a blow. Against the decisions of these small courts also, there is no appeal.

It is no question of the Right, or of the Left; it is a question of a method of so‐called self‐government, which goes on and impoverishes and distracts the country just the same, whether Cairoli or Sella, Minghetti or Nicotera, rule at Montecitorio.

It is this which the public of other countries never understand, and which the correspondents of the foreign Press never endeavour to point out. Here Garibaldi does in vain rail against it; nobody page: 360 attends to him. In vain has he again and again declared the misery of Italy to arise from the locust‐swarms of the impiegati, and the crowds of pensioners who live on and bleed the State to death. If I ruled Italy, I would ship nine‐tenths of the impiegati and the pensioners to New Guinea: we might then get public business done, and the public coffers filled, without wrenching his last coin from the day‐labourer. When the pensioner dies, his pension dies with him; but when the accursed impiegato leaves his stool of office, another of his breed is ready to spring on to it. He is an alligator that the hot sands of sinecure and corruption generate, and he multiplies without end. All political parties nourish him alike, as all alike continue to allow the local despotisms to cramp and starve the body politic.

One man arose and said this nobly in Montecitorio in the last session: no one listened to him; he was even shouted down; all they care to hear about there is Tunis or Albania, or a new loan.

It is a common remark that Italy wants a Bismarck: she wants nothing of the kind: she wants a minister, temperate, just, indifferent to bombast or display, resolute to destroy corrup‐ page: 361 tion, and convinced of the great truth that the first duty of a State is the prosperity of her children. But, alas! when a good man comes, he has no chance; his party split into schisms; the Disssidenti, disappointed of place, sting him like wasps; to be popular with Parliament and the Press, he must talk big of armies, of ships, and the councils of Europe, and, even if he be premier, it is fifty to one that the great bulk of the populace never even know his name. Harassed, weary and impotent, he will leave his good intentions to pave a lower deep than Dante ever visited, and, out of heart with all things, will let them drift on in their old fashion, knowing that you must be a demigod ere you can sweep clean this Augean stable.

I know the Italian people well; I mean the poor, the labouring people; I am attached to them for their loveableness, their infinite natural intelligence, their wondrous patience; they are a material of which much might be made.

They are but little understood by foreigners, even by foreign residents; they are subtle and yet simple; of an infinite good nature, and yet sadly selfish; they are very docile, yet they have great page: 362 sensitiveness, and I see no more greed in them than in the poor of all countries; if we had not bread for our hungry children, I daresay we should be greedy too. There are sundry people, very, very poor, to each of whom I give a little sum weekly; not one of these people has ever asked for more than the allotted sum, not one has ever made it an excuse to plead for further gifts. Dear readers of mine, can you say as much of your countrymen?

They are ignorant, no doubt, and they are likely to remain so, for the public free education is a farce; the communal schools, when they have taught a boy his letters, set him to teach some smaller boy, and so on ad infinitum. They are ignorant, no doubt, and it is the interest of the municipalities, as much as ever it was that of the priesthood, to keep them so. As it is, they endure all these extortions and tyrannies that I have endeavoured in some measure to depict; endure them patiently, knowing no remedy, and incapable of the general action that can alone make a people’s strength felt. Now and then there are clamourers for bread, but very few and gentle ones; there are troops and carabiniers page: 363 everywhere ready to shoot them down, and if they murmur they are clapped in the Murate, where poor diet and low fever do the rest for most of them.

The nobility and gentry are supine, where they are not tyrannical.

Consequently, the municipalities conduct all affairs high over the heads of the persons concerned, and all sorts of important public works, sales, demolitions, or constructions are effected against the will of the people, who stand helpless.

The Left is inclined to make each commune still more self‐governing and independent of the State: should this be done, the effects will be distressing on the populace; on the contrary, it would be far better to confine the syndics of all districts within the limits of imperial law. Their changes and caprices are a source of continual distraction to the country; for instance, at Genoa, a syndic (a well‐known general) forbade dogs being given by the city to the vivisectors; a few weeks after came another syndic, who decreed that all dogs found loose should be seized and sent to the vivisectors’ laboratories. This is only one instance out of many.

The illimitable and captious powers of these page: 364 momentary rulers are a source of worry, grief, and extortion to the people, greater than I can hope to make anyone believe. The whole system is execrable, and leads to endless abuses.

The greater number of the nobles are so absorbed in their own grievance of paying 45 per cent. impost, that they have no ear and no inclination to pity any woes of the poor. The inexhaustible generosity of France has no counterpart in Italy. Even subscriptions for a charitable purpose are very niggardly given, and when given are usually filtered through so many hands in their passage to the poor that little reaches them. Save here and there an asylum, to which it takes strong interest and recommendation to get admitted, there is nothing for the poor; the man or woman who is starving has nothing to do except to die. The great difficulty in Italy is the apathy of the higher classes, and their absolute indifference to the state of the poor. When they do take interest in public affairs, it is too often only for the sake of the personal advantages, the nepotism, the contracts, or the kudos that may grow out of it. An Italian, in office of any kind, will always hear you amiably and courteously page: 365 but when you plead for the people he will only think you a fool, and say, ‘Cara mia, why trouble yourself? They do very well, and they are all of them cheats.’

‘How can you write books about these birbonaccie?’ said an Italian nobleman to me, meaning about the contadini in Signa. ‘They spend their whole lives in fleecing us. You should never believe a word that they say.’

Now, I would be far from declaring that this is the only view that the proprietor takes in Italy, but it is, alas! a very general one.

The number of vagrants and idlers is largely increased by the absurd law of the code which forces every parent to maintain a son, every brother a brother, every husband a wife, &c., however vicious, vile, or incurably lazy they may be; a law which indeed puts a premium on idleness, and attaches a penalty to industry; a law which in its effects on the youth of the country, is beginning to be dangerous. On those who are industrious and saving, the insatiable taxes bring oftentimes wholesale ruin; every trade and every employment is taxed as if it were a crime; every labouring man must pay his quota, and if he page: 366 do not pay, his tools and all that he has are forfeited.

A recent Italian writer on the terrible state of the Romagna and the Marches observes very rightly that the great bulk of the people derive no sort of benefit from all the mass of money thrown away in the alterations of the old streets, and introductions of new methods in the cities. He justly observes that where the pilgrimages, once so continual, took money into all the villages and small towns, the railways take it all away, and render nine‐tenths of the provinces through which they pass poverty‐stricken. The tunnels of the Alps have the effect of drawing away the food that the nation itself requires. A few contractors are enriched; but the markets of the populace are denuded, and only the worst of the products of the soil, and of meat and poultry, finds its way to the nation’s mouth. Any night that you go down to any railway station when the goods‐trains pass, you will see tons on tons of vegetables, fruits and butcher’s meat going to France or Germany. What can be more disastrous, also, for a country whose populace chiefly depend for all their bodily strength on wine, to page: 367 sell their grapes to French and German merchants? Yet this is what the landowners have been doing this year right and left. Dazzle the eyes of an Italian with a little immediate profit, and alas! you may plunge him headlong into any folly, make him consent to any speculation.

It is irritating to see the foreign press, which knows nothing actually of the conditions of things, laying down the law on Italian affairs. The English press attributes all the official evils of new Italy to the transmitted vices of the old régimes. Now I did not live during the old régimes, and cannot judge of them; but this I do know, that the bulk of people regret passionately the personal peace and simple plenty that were had under them. The vices of the present time are those of a grasping and swarming bureaucracy everywhere, and of the selfishness which is the worst note of the Italian character.

‘Why do you care for that horse being hurt? It is not your horse,’ everyone will say to you; an impersonal interest is a thing they cannot conceive.

Una vanità enorme, un’ aspro cinicismo ed i suoi interessi,’ says an Italian journalist of a living Italian minister, alone govern his page: 368 conduct. Substitute for the bitter cynicism an indolent amiability that never exerts itself, and you have the characters of most Italian public men. The well‐meaning have no power to cope with the vast inert mass of nepotism and corruption that block the way to all real economy, to all true justice. Whatever names and parties change in the government, these always remain the same. Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.

As an ounce of example is said to be worth a pound of precept, I will cite the following cases which have come under my eyes in the last three months:

1. A man living in one commune, but on the borders of another, having paid his taxes in the first, naturally refused to pay them over again in the second. As he would not submit to be twice taxed, the commune got a summons out against him with its usual result of distraint. He had nothing of any value but a gun; they seized that. A gentleman took the case up, and obliged them to confess the man had been in the right; they promised to return the gun, but as yet they have ‘not been able to find it.’

2. A contadino was going up a steep hill with page: 369 some very heavy barrels of wine. Being a merciful man, to lighten his beast, he placed two barrels by the roadside, meaning to fetch them later. He was seen by a rural guard, though it was in a wild and lonely part of the hills. He was subsequently summoned and fined ten francs! There is a rule in rural police laws that a man must never let his horse pause in the road to rest; it would be an obstruction.

3. The wife of a navvy who remains in a city of central Italy while her husband is gone to work in Sardinia is in very great necessity and almost penniless; she has only a few sticks of furniture in a wretched room. One of her children fell ill with fever, and a gentleman sent her in a little bed for the sick child. The officers of the law saw the bed going in, and immediately assessed her for eight francs tassa di famiglia. She had not eight pence for the week’s bread. They might as well have asked her for a million.

What can one say of a municipal government in which such a state of things is possible?

Meanwhile, in the public offices, tens of thousands of dawdling youngsters lounge in for a page: 370 few hours, and are subsidised at from a thousand to two thousand francs a year, to be entirely useless and grossly impudent.

A respectable man went the other day to pay something at a public office. Three young men were gossiping on the ground floor. They said, ‘it is not our business, go to the first floor;’ the first floor sent him to the second, the second to the third; the third to the fourth; the fourth told it was business for the ground floor. When he returned there they yawned and bade him ‘come back to‐morrow.’

At the customs‐offices, again, no one can be seen till nine; at three a great bell rings, and away they all go and the place is shut; a gardener of mine went to get a little parcel weighing half a chilo, and pre‐paid from Germany. They kept him four hours, then sent him away without it because the bell rang. He was kept from eleven to two the next day, and finally, with a sheaf of signed papers long enough to sign away a kingdom, he got the little parcel, which was only a book. Garibaldi used to curse the ‘black shoals’ of the priesthood; the ‘black shoals’ of the impiegati are a more ravenous, more idle, and far more cruel class; they are page: 371 an unredeemed curse to the country, and if I could I would send nine‐tenths of them to hard labour to‐morrow. When a poor man goes to pay a tax for a dog there are all sorts of excuses from the impiegati; it is not the time to pay it, the books are being revised, he may come in a month, the streets are being renumbered, he had better call again when they are finished; anyhow, he cannot get his receipt. A little later down comes the Esattore of the commune for arrears of the dog tax. In vain the poor man protests; no one believes him. When he has paid, the demand is made over and over again. They assessed a poor baker the other day for two years’ dog tax with penalties; happily, I had paid the tax for him and so worsted them, as I produced the receipts. But if he had been alone, his receipts would have been insufficient to protect him.

This whole, enormous, and insatiable bureaucracy is like a sytaris; a sytaris, as you know, hides on a bee’s back, gets taken into the hive, then slips into the cell where the bee larva lies steeped in honey, and tucking itself snugly up in the cell, kills the larva and sucks all the honey; page: 372 one fine day, having grown fat and mature, it flies away.

To the bureaucracy the whole public is what the bee larva is to the sytaris grub; a means of growing plump and living in sweetness. This is no question of ministries; it is a much deeper question; that of a gangrene putrefying in the body politic of the nation.

There is a little Almanac sold for a soldo and bought by tens of thousands of the poor of Italy, which, in a very well‐written little article addressed ‘Ai Signori Ministri,’ speaks of the unutterable misery brought on the industrious and honest classes by the frightful taxation which makes the peasant of Italy scarcely better than the fellah of Egypt.

Referring to the projected law of Seismet Doda for relieving the poor of these burdens (a law which is for ever being ‘considered’ by the Chambers, but never passed), it proceeds to point out how all the small proprietors and the respectable poor are being utterly destroyed off the land. All the working people who are ordered to pay fines, six, seven, eight, or ten lire to the tax‐ page: 373 gatherer, or the municipal police, are sold up if they cannot pay—sold up to the very tools of their trade.

The Esattore (examiner of taxes) published in one day for the little borghetto of Rocca Magna no less than fourteen forced sales¹ of the houses or land of very poor men, which had been seized in the name of the State; little houses of three hundred or two hundred lire in worth, and in one instance the tax‐gatherer seized and sold a piece of arable ground at the price of a hundred and ten francs. Everything is confiscated, because, to the simple tax due, there are added all the expenses of fine, or execution, of law‐dues, and the costs of auction!

Let no one think that my poor old Pippo is an exaggeration. Pippo has a thousand, and ten thousand suffering likenesses of himself all over the land.

The little Almanac adds, bitterly and justly:

‘If all these working people, once content and labourious, thus dispossessed and driven out, cumber the prison, whose fault will it be? Who has caused them to change from peaceful, happy, country folks to despairing beggars? In the last

¹ Vendita all’asta, or, al incanto.

page: 374 few years, nearly two million small proprietors have been ruined and sent into beggary; at the same time all beggary is treated as a crime deserving imprisonment.’

It concludes with the threat, Guai a voi, Deputati e Ministri se meriterete la maledizione dei poveri!

This is no vice of an old régime. In the old régime there was scarcely any taxation; it is the vice of a hard, grasping, and greedy bureaucracy, and of the fatal appetite for devouring public money, and manner of regarding every public place as a mere opportunity and occasion for private enrichment, which are the characteristic of all the public and political life of the country.

In addition to this overwhelming taxation, there is the black mail incessantly levied from the poor by the penalties that the municipalities assess at their pleasure and discretion. Half of these go to the municipal guard, and in the advertisements in newspapers inserted by communes who want a candidate for this noble office, this share of the fines is advertised as one of the attractions and perquisites of the post. It is easy to imagine what the public suffer page: 375 three or four of these legalised and interested spies are allowed to stalk about every country lane, and peer into every hedge and spinney.

The timid purchase immunity from their torment at heavy cost of bribes; the courageous suffer incessantly from their espionage and hatred. By the police regulations of these gentlemen every harmless act in a day of country life may furnish food for fine and penalty. The testimony of the guard is taken as witness enough; and the poor man, harassed and fleeced by those set over him, and who should protect him, has no resource but to submit and pay. It is not too much to say that this daily and hourly tyranny and extortion of the myrmidons of the municipalities are, all over Italy, sowing the seeds of a bitter hatred of the Law.

The honest peasant sees himself ceaselessly spied on, worried, summoned, fined for all sorts of of harmless little things; his dog barks on his wall, his child spins a top on the road, or bathes in a river, he lays an armful of brushwood on a lonely forest path, he rests his old horse a moment by the wayside; forthwith the spy is down on him, and he has to deliver over all his wages for page: 376 the day, perhaps all his wages for the week, to the petty officers and judges who are banded together in a body to pillage him. If he will bribe, he will be let alone: if he will not, he will be persecuted for all time till they make him a beggar.

Until the system is entirely abolished and replaced by something of real freedom for all honest men, I see no peace possible for the people; and were their rulers not blind as moles they would hasten to pluck out this ‘thorn from the foot’ ere its canker spreads over the whole body.

But alas! no one in office cares about any of these things. A week ago a famous Italian doctor rose in the Chambers and drew attention to the destruction of the woods of Latium and the rural guards’ connivance at these repeated infringements (for base reasons) of forest‐law. He was listened to with apathy; and the minister concerned coldly said—he would inquire!

But all those present could see that this inquiry would be the last thing that he would deem it worth his while to make.

It is strange that with the present state of Ireland before their eyes the whole of the public page: 377 men of Italy should be as indifferent as they are to the perpetual irritation of all the industrious classes at the hands of the municipalities and their organisation of spies and penalties. But indifferent they are: whether Bismarck approve of their Greek policy, or Gambetta do not oppose their doings at Tunis is all they think about; the suffering of a few million of their own people is too small a thing to catch their attention; they think like Molière’s doctor—‘Un home mort n’est qu’un homme mort, et ne fait point de conséquence, mais un formalité negligée porte un notable préjudice à tout le corps de médecins.’

No one can accuse me of any political prejudices. My writings have alternately been accused of a reactionary conservatism and a dangerous socialism, so that I may, without presumption, claim to be impartial; I love conservatism when it means the preservation of beautiful things; I love revolution when it means the destruction of vile ones.

What I despise in the pseudo liberalism of the age is that it has become only the tyranny of narrow minds vested under high‐sounding phrases, and the deification of a policeman. I would page: 378 give alike to a Capucin as to a Communist, to a Mormon as to a Monk, the free choice of his opinions and mode of life. But this true liberty is nowhere to be found in Europe, and still less to be found in America; and this pseudo liberty meddles with every phase of private life, and would dictate the rule of every simple act.

Every noble‐hearted theorist of a future of freedom has died in heart‐broken disillusion; from the Girondists of the past century to those, who, with high hopes, shouted in chorus to Silvio Pellico the Bianca croce di Savoia! Thousands of gallant and goodly lives are thrown away like water in the effort to create a fair Utopia of free action and untroubled peace; and all that, in the end, is born of their sacrifice is a horde of weazels and of leeches, who suck the body of the nations dry; vermin who bear upon their backs a swarm of smaller parasites as pestilent as themselves.

Gianbattista Niccolini, walking with Centofanti one day in Florence, shouted to two monks:

‘Go and get a spade and dig, you good‐for‐noughts!’

This is what, nowadays, the poor man—laborious and honest—seeing the idle eaters of page: 379 the public funds swarming in and out of every public office, every municipality, every custom house, mutters in his soul against the accursed impiegato.

It is a change of masters, it is true, but it is no deliverance. It is the old tale of Jeannot’s knife; blade and handle have both been changed, but it is the same knife still, and here it cuts the hand that forged it.

Yet again one of the deepest sins of the State against the public is the Government lottery.

It is difficult to imagine a more absurd anomaly, a more entirely indefensible contradiction, than the severity exercised by the State towards all private games and street games, and the selfishness with which it continues to be itself the centre of the most demoralising system of gaming that can be devised for the ruin of the people. The interference of the State with private gambling is carried to an inquisitive and impertinent excess; yet at the same time, for sake of profit, the Government carries on a gigantic machinery more fatal in its effects on the populace than any Casino like Monte Carlo. In the Casino it may be said that none are victims save those who page: 380 voluntarily seek the pernicious attraction, and they are most of them people, who, if they could not play there, would play at home. Paris baccarat is ten times worse than Monte Carlo’s roulette; but the public lottery is ten times worse than Paris baccarat, because the State comes out and seeks the poor man as he takes his hard‐earned wages, descends amidst the populace, wooes, entices, enervates, intoxicates, and beggars them.

‘Ah! the State is a clever one,’ said a working man to me the other day. ‘It sells everything else to the Hebrews, but it takes good care to keep the lottery itself.’

And this is true; everything else, down to the rights of Octroi at the gates of cities, are sold to the Jew syndicates, but the Government retains the lottery; and it may be safely affirmed that so long as it does retain this vile thing, so long will the sin and the sorrow of the multitudes lie at its doors. Not merely does it foster the fatal superstition which makes the study of ‘lucky numbers’ and ‘dream omens’ the sole thought of the people, but in the rare cases where the poor man wins, the sudden delirium of riches has an effect like poison on him, and he spends all in a brief summer page: 381 phrenzy to perish afterwards in beggary or a madhouse. The lottery takes all the earnings of the labouring classes in all the cities, usurps all their mind and hopes, keeps them for ever in that fever of longing which is in itself a moral disease, and encourages in them alike the lowest greed and the most enervating indolence.

No one seems to dare to lift up a voice against it, but until a minister shall arise who will destroy it, the nation will have no faithful public servant.

I would sooner see a Casino like Monte Carlo in every city of Italy, if thus the lottery could be abolished, than I would see as I do, daily and hourly, the legalised publicity of this accursed destroyer of the people allowed all over the land, whilst boys playing morra for coppers are seized by the police!

The system, too, to which I alluded above, of selling the Octroi and other public taxes to individuals or companies, is productive of evils which it would be impossible without volumes of statistics, fully to describe. A grasping speculator, or group of spectators, buys up the rights of taxation over a city or a province, and makes the most out of the speculation that can be made. I ask the page: 382 reader to think over for a moment all that this implies, all that this permits.

Yet who speaks of all these terrible and frightful evils—evils by which the country is impost‐laden till it sinks like the over‐weighted camel?

No one. The journals write beautiful threnodics over the grave of Ricasoli, and Rochefort shakes hands with Garibaldi, and who amidst the mouthing and the posturing of it cares one straw for the nation, for the people?

The ranting demagogues of Milan care as little as the amnistié of the Cité Malesherbes or the satrap of the Palais Bourbon.

The one shriek for Universal Suffrage and the others shriek for the Commune or for the March Decrees and the Scrutin de Liste; but when does the one speak of abolishing the lottery or the other of abolishing the conscription?

When Madame Roland spoke her farewell words to liberty, she prophesied the whole hypocrisy of the century to come.

I want people to get these facts that I have narrated well into their minds; to turn their eyes a moment from the Italian men‐of‐war joining the Naval Demonstration of the Powers, and the page: 383 Italian troops deploying in the Val d’Aosta and the Mugello, ¹ and look into these million humble homes, darkened and naked, and see these children without food, these men without hope, who suffer that the pomp and parade of an empty boast may throw dust in the eyes of Europe.

I cannot think to make you care for these people as I care for them; I, who know that they see their radiant sun for ever through a mist of tears, who know that their hard‐won bread is eaten with the gall of fear and of oppression tainting the sour crust, who know that their little children tremble in their town alleys and country lanes, and fly with their hunted dog from the armed myrmidon of a relentless and ignominious law; I cannot think to make you suffer for them as I do, but still I think you will not refuse to feel some pity for them and some pain.

Italy is essentially a pastoral country. Those who would turn it into a manufacturing one would be as those who should turn a tabernacle

¹ The manœvres in the Mugello alone cost the country two millions of lire; yet the men had but one ration in twenty‐four hours, and were on one occasion kept from one noon to the next fasting, and without even a drop of wine. These few days of sham battles cost precisely as many francs as there have been small proprietors ruined by the taxes!

page: 384 of Giotto’s into a breeding hutch of swine. The people thrive on their pure ambient air, they pass their lives under their unsullied skies, they love laughter, song, dance; and still—with the pipe of Corydon and the smile of Adonis—welcome the harvest night and the vintage morn. Up in the hills and in the green places remote from cities, the old, simple, contented, pastoral life still prevails, and there the husbandman follows Christ and recites Tasso; maybe he cannot read the words of either, what of that? Raoul Rigault and Passantante, the murderer Prevost, and the murderess Virginie Dumaine, could all of them read. Were they the better for it?

In its simplicity, in its freedom, in its purity of family affection, and in its Greek‐like habits of husbandry, I believe the unspoiled country life of Italy to be the best that remains to humanity on the face of the earth. When the childish pettifoggers of the new school scream with puerile ecstasy at the sight of a tramway, of a steam thresher, they know not all the beauty, content and pious peace that they destroy only to enrich some Scotch contractor or some Hebrew usurer. There are 40,000 Jews in Italy, and to them are page: 385 going all the old estates, all the old palaces, and all the old heirlooms; the Italian noble, no more content to dwell as dwelt his forefathers, aspires to be beggared by the belles petites of Paris or the baccarat of some fashionable hell; the Italian people beholding all their old plenty and ancient rights slipping away from them, stand sullen and full of futile wrath to see all that for twice a thousand years has been their own, passing into the coffer of the foreign speculator or moneylender. This ruin is called Progress—and the whole land groans, and the whole people curse.

Beyond all else, I repeat, is Italy a pastoral country. All its peace and its joy lie amidst its smiling fields. The conscription that takes all its country lads from plough and spade, from vineyard and chestnut wood because its leaders are bitten with the mania of meddling and marring in the councils of Europe, does the same evil to the land that do the foreign speculators who cover the country with unfinished rails and demolished buildings in that cruellest of all greeds, the greed of the hungry gambler of the stock‐exchange. The page: 386 temptations to the peasant to leave his hillside for the cities, which those gamblers for their own ends put before him as improvement, is as merciless and fatal as any tempting of Satan to innocent souls of old. Most unhappily the rural life all the world over is spoken of now with scorn; yet it is certain that the rural life is the safest, the healthiest, the sweetest, and above all it is so here where the climate makes the mere living out‐of‐doors a poem and a picture.

Compare the mechanic of Wakefield or Blackburn with the pall of black soot hung for ever between him and the sun, and his superficial repetitions of Darwin or Bradlaugh urged as evidence of an enlightened mind; compare his automatic hideous toil, his hard hatred of all classes save his own, his dwelling one amidst rows of a thousand similar, his wilderness of dark, foul‐scented streets, his stench of smoke, his talk of agnosticism and equality narrow as the routine of his life, his shallow sophisms, his club, his strikes, his tommy‐shop; compare him and these with the Italian labourer of the Luchese hills, or the Santa Fiora forests, or the Val d’Arno page: 387 farms, rising to see the glorious sky glow like a summer rose, dwelling in his wide, stout, stone‐built house old as the trees around him, following in their course as the seasons change his manly and healthful labours, reaping and binding, sowing and mowing, guiding his oxen through the vines, having for ever around him the gladdest and most gracious nature; at noontide sitting down as the patriarch sat amidst his family and labourers to a homely plenty; at eventide resting to see the youths and maidens dance, and listen to the old pastoral love songs sung to the thrum of the guitar or the story of the Gerusalemme Liberata passed down by word of mouth from sire to son. Compare these two lives; they are no fancy pictures. You may see either of them any day you will; and tell me whether I am wrong when I dread, as the plague was dreaded of old, the false teachers, who, to fill their own purse try to persuade the southern peasant to covet the northern workmen; who try to say gas is fairer than the sun, and the oiled piston sweeter than the honey breath of the cattle, and the anathema of Fourier page: 388 and Bakounine lovelier and wiser than the strophe of Ariosto and of Dante.

Italy for the Italians! yes; with the municipal extortions made a thing of the past like the Inquisition, and the Jew usurer, and the English and American speculator, denied the soil they covet and pollute. This would well be the fitting war‐cry of the Italy of to‐day, who has darker foes made welcome in her midst than even the Austrian and the Bourbon that she banished.

Let me give but one example of the delightful natural intelligence which the new schools are striving to replace with the scientific smattering of the factory and foundry mechanic, and I will weary you no more.

In a letter published in 1859 to the celebrated Tommaseo, Professore Giulianni narrates the story of a woman called Beatrice in the Pistoiese Apennines—a woman he knew well—a poor, hard‐working, country‐bred creature, who knew not a single letter of the alphabet, but who improvised on the death of a beloved son, in a passion of grief and weeping, the most perfect poem in the page: 389 always difficult ottave. This woman was but one amidst others, who all had, in a greater or a lesser degree, this grand poetical faculty, and harmony of ear, and who, when asked to teach their power to a stranger, would answer with a smile.

Volete intender lo mio imparare? Andar per legna or starmene a zappare.

What can the communal schools substitute for that one half so ennobling, so inspiriting, so sublime, as those natural bursts of song amidst the solitudes of the everlasting hills?

‘If you would learn to sing like me,’ she says, ‘come with me to gather the hillside wood, or stay beside me to hoe the earth; this rich and kindly earth which flowers for ever for you, making the almond bloom in the winter cold, and the cyclamen in the autumn mists, and all spring and summer shower on you blossoms with both hands.’

How right she is, this wise old woman eloquent!

What can the schools give us that will equal what Nature offers? Let us dwell, as she does, face to face with the blue sky, the mountain solitude, the forest freedom, and we shall see as page: 390 she sees. This is what I would keep for this lovely land which has become mine, for these beloved people who are now my own, this fresh, natural intelligence, this healthful Greek‐like life. And this is what day by day is perishing, crushed out under the weight of the impost of the municipalities and the engine wheels of the greedy contractor. As an Italian writer¹ has said aright: ‘As little by little our beautiful forests and green woodland growth fall before love of lucre and greedy desire, and give place to the smoke and the stench of the machine and the shaft, as our hillsides crumble and fall away, and our flowering meadows and our fair cultured fields vanish with them, so does equal craze for gain possess our people in the cities, and, bringing amidst them a strange and foreign element, corrupts our hearts as it corrupts our tongue.’

She, who on the mountain side mourned for her son as Tasso might have mourned, is ordered to give place to the parrot‐phrase and automaton‐learning of the school‐crammed puppet; the old happy innocent nights in the valley and on the hills, when the youths came with violin and

¹ Professore Tigri.

page: 391 mandoline to bid the maidens dance trescone or galletta in the moonlight, or gathered about the wood fire in the winter time singing romanzetti and strombetti,and telling the old‐world tales of the Queen of Cyprus, and the Ginevra, and Piramo and Tisbe, are bidden to change and render up their place to wordy dispute of windy politics, and feverish suppers in crowded winehouses, where the pure juice of the grape is lost in alcohol and chemicals.

The peasant‐improvisatrice is to become the hollow‐cheeked toiler of mill or machine; the happy husbandman is to become the sullen and savage mechanic with rotten lungs and watery blood; the songs, sweet and strong as wild birds’ notes, are to be drowned in the hoarse shouts of the proletariate; and the luxuriant, vigorous, natural intelligence is to be poisoned with the false logic of communism or stifled in the lifeless mechanical repetition of the schools.

Forbid it, O Apollo Cytherœdus! here, where the echo of thy divine lute still may be heard at evenfall, when the shepherd pipes, and the maiden sings, in the green myrtle hollows and on the pine‐ page: 392 crowned heights! Arise and protect these thine offspring!

Let the false guides not take from thy children alike the bread that is life, and the pure air that is health, and the music that is laughter and is love!



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