[ocr errors]

upon one which satisfied nobody. They accepted the principle of making Rome the capital of a united Italy; but they reserved to the Pope at the same time the required guarantees of liberty and independence, not excluding-if he continued to insist upon it-the temporal power itself.

This programme, as I have said, found no support anywhere. The Clericals stood firm on the non possumus of the Vatican, and the maxim of political abstention dictated by it, and ridiculed the efforts of the Conservative Nationals. The great Liberal party-if we except some few members of the Moderate fraction of it-took hardly any notice of the movement; while, as to the country, it concerned itself still less. To the best of my belief, not a single Conservative National presented himself as a candidate in any electoral assembly; and if any had done so the electors would assuredly have given him an answer

which would have discouraged others from repeating the experiment. Father Curci attributes this want of success to their having no single man in their ranks of the standing, for instance, of a Lamennais or a Montalembert. But this is a mistake. It is because the Italians are of all peoples the least apt to understand a policy which consists in trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Nobody in Italy cares to remember the “ Primato Morale" of Gioberti. It is looked upon as a political romance, and nothing more. The Conservative Nationals have taken their answer, and resolved to descend no more into the field of action, They admit that they must confine themselves to the ideal, since they cannot step down on firm ground without showing their weakness. This is equivalent to saying that as a political party they don't count ; for in politics a party goes for nothing unless it agitates, and keeps itself in readiness from moment to moment to seize the reins, and secure the triumph of its own ideas.

If I were asked what is likely to become of these Conservative Nationals, or Conservative Catholics, whichever they are to be called (who, nevertheless, have a considerable following in the country), I should say that they will sort themselves in time according to the various fortunes that may befall Italy or the Papacy. If Italy should definitively make good her claim to Rome, they will range themselves on the side of Italy. If, unfortunately for Italy, the cause of the temporal power should triumph, then they will go with the Pope. It is not a party destined to lead, but to be dragged along in the wake of others.

Meanwhile, of parties really active in this matter there are but two, the Liberals and the Clericals, –or perhaps rather, the Jesuit faction which rules in the Vatican. The cause of this faction has just found a vigorous defender in the Jesuit Father Zocchi, whose book* is based on the theory that the temporal power is indispensable to the exercise of the spiritual, and is never to be abandoned by the Church. Father Zocchi is naturally somewhat zealous against the Liberals; but he is still more indignant with the adherents of the policy of conciliation, for whom he has nothing but sarcasms, derision, and contempt.

It thus appears that Italy is governed, for the present, by a single party, the Liberals, who no doubt represent the great majority of the country, but who by no means represent the country as a whole. It * "Papa e Re; Esposizione delle teoriche di conciliazione politico-religiosa.”

might easily be inferred from this that the Italian legislation of the last quarter of a century would be marked by an appearance of onesidedness and injustice towards those classes which have taken nu part in political life. But this inference would not be altogether a true one--nay, it may very nearly be said that it would be altogether false. Of course the Clericals in their journals are daily representing everything that is done in Italy as the ne plus ultra of violence and the very work of the devil. Yet I think I have several times seen it admitted by the Conservative Nationals themselves that our legislation during this period may, on the whole, be considered fair and moderate, in spite of the temptation which the dominant party must often have felt to go to extremes against an enemy which, for all it is in a helpless minority, none the less carries on an implacable warfare against them. It may be observed, moreover, that the need of moderation on the part of the Liberals is felt as much by the Left as by the Right division of the party, and would be admitted even by Signor Bertani and his Radicals, were they to come into power. It is another mistake of Father Curci's to represent the members of the Left as so many desperadoes. Such an accusation is altogether belied by the facts. In ecclesiastical matters the Left has shown itself, when in power, perhaps even more moderate than the Right. For the Italian is essentially a politician. When he comes into office he forgets party prejudices, abstract theories, and indefinite aspirations, and thinks only of what is reasonably and practically possible. This, amidst all the difficulties that surround it, is the true strength of Italian Liberalism.

If the Vatican question affected Italy alone, it would long ago have been settled and done with, as far as we are concerned. Italians, who see the Vatican close at hand, know its vices well enough without the help of Father Curci's book. Their own good sense would serve them to distinguish between what are mere matters of worldly interest and what is truly Divine and immutable in the Church-in the words of Vincenzo Lirinese, “quod semper, ubique, et ab omnibus.” Unfortunately, the whole weight of Ultramontane influence is thrown into the scale against us; and it is this which bolsters up the Vatican régime and encourages it to hold out to the last. Nevertheless, the Italians are not dismayed. When the Florentines went to war with Pope Gregory XI., in 1375, they charged their seigniors to love their country better than God Himself. And these were the inhabitants of a city which was the centre of Guelphism, and known as perhaps the most religious in Italy in those days. In this matter of the conflict with the Papacy, the Italians of our own day think it no blasphemy to give the same charge to their representatives, and bid them love their country “better than God Himself.”

I have spoken at some length of these contributions to our political literature, because they gave me the opportunity of completing the picture of our political situation at home. I may now go on to say something of the strictly literary movement in our country.

Our most popular writer, Edmondo de Amicis, makes, in the new book he has published this year,* a great exhibition of that art of description in which he is a master, and which has made his literary fortune. Here are pictures of battles between French and Piedmontese, interwoven with stirring episodes; and enchanting landscapes, in which he spreads before us the majestic panorama of the Alps descending gently into the slopes and pleasant valleys of Piedmont. Nevertheless, the critics have—and I think not without reason-looked somewhat coldly on the book. They find that, even in the hands of the master, this descriptive style begins to pall, especially when he seems to be attempting the revival of a form of literature as antiquated among us as it is everywhere else—I mean the historical romance. The author's erudition, moreover, is not equal to the task he lays upon it; and the personages he brings on the scene, not being animated with any intense and vigorous historical life, seem little else than puppets conveniently placed there as a pretext for the descriptions which are the author's forte.

* " Alle Porte d'Italia."

But it is of another book of De Amicis, that I more particularly wish to speak; and that not so much on account of any literary value it may possess, as because he there portrays certain customs and characteristic features of Italian life to which no other author had, I think, as yet given literary expression. This book is “ The Friends," which he published last year.

The reader will remember that letter of Mrs. Shelley's in which she speaks of one Emilia Viviani, who at one time had seemed to her and her husband the very type of ideal perfection, and who, in fact, inspired the "Epipsychidion” of the great poet, but who ended by showing herself in her true colours as a very positive, and, to put it plainly, a somewhat vulgar person. In that letter Mrs. Shelley speaks of her friendship with this lady as having come to pass in the Italian fashion --that is to say, suddenly, and without any previous study of the lady's character, tastes, and real disposition. Now, in this book of De Amicis, the friendships are all formed more or less in the same fashion. There is perhaps no word so much abused in Italy as the word “friend." Our friendships in general are made, dropped, resumed, and dropped again, with hardly ever a serious thought, at the mere dictation of caprice or accident. To-day you find yourself in a place where you have not a single friend; to-morrow chance may put you in possession of a score, all of the most various ranks and classes, and you may

thus find yourself all of a sudden the centre of a group of friends, which on the one hand touches the highest ranks of society, and on the other the humblest and the lowest. This group, moreover, composed as it is of elements so diverse, will necessarily be in a state of perpetual transformation, and will give place within itself, according to the various characters, ages, professions, and sympathies of its members, to the composition of other small contractile groups which will be continually merging the one in the other, like the circles made by the drops of rain on the surface of a pond. It is the various phenomena attendant on these shallow and adventitious friendships which De Amicis describes in his book-surprises, repulses, mortifications, misunderstandings, disillusions, ranc urs and secret aversions, affronts, calumnies, fantastic refinements of punctilio, and all the rest of it. De Amicis has treated his subject--insipid, vulgar, and tiresome as in many ways it is—in all its ainplitude, bestowing on it much ana

later on.

lytical acumen and keenness of observation. Some of his passages are marvellously true and luminous. But he carries minuteness to a fault, and chisels away so finely as really to impair the clearness of his outlines. With a less prolix style, and less diffuseness in insignificant particulars, the book would have been a better study of those fugitive friendships of every-day life which certainly do not coincide with Cicero's or Montaigne's idea of friendship, but which none the less are a fact of human life, and, as such, are worthy of artistic representation.

But I must not linger over De Amicis. If these notices of Italian books and authors are to have any substantial value or interest, I must range our authors in the ranks in which they really move, must take note of the essential character and general tendencies of contemporary art among us, and show under what conditions, with what present fortunes and what probable success, the contest is being carried on between the two rival schools, realistic and idealistic, which are competing for the foremost place in the imaginative representation of thought. With us it was only a few years ago that the struggle really began in earnest, on the publication of a volume of poems of which I will speak

It has just received a fresh impulse from a novel by Rocco de Zerbi.* Rocco de Zerbi, a member of Parliament, a critic, a journalist, and a man of letters in general, who makes a speech on railway tariffs or treaties of commerce with the same ease with which he reviews a literary production, maintains in this new novel that art can now only be saved by allying itself with science ; that the sentimental novel is dead, that the metaphysical novel is dying, and that there is no place left for anything but the biological novel of the future, in which the actions of the personages and the development of the plot are the natural outcome of those general laws which regulate life.

Now let us turn back, and begin a little higher up the stream.

The generation which has made Italy, and of which only a few men advanced in years still remain amongst us, lived on a literature which supplied them with a strong ideal nutriment—a literature impregnated with one potent idea, that of the freedom of Italy and the expulsion of the foreigner. After 1815, when the first disappointment of the Restoration had worn off, this was the Italian's one aspiration, and all the forms of our literature-fiction, poetry, and the drama-vied with one another in giving expression, more or less ardent and enthusiastic, to this great national idea. Vittorio Alfieri, and after him Ugo Foscolo, were the first to awaken Italy from its lethargy, and to kindle the fire of patriotic sentiment. They were followed by Leopardi in his “Canzoni," by Giovanni Berchet in his “Romanze," by Prati and Aleardi in their political songs, by Giusti in his various poems, by Giambattista Niccolini in his tragedies (especially “ Arnaldo da Brescia” and “Giovanni da Procida," in which he makes a double assault on foreign and sacerdotal tyranny), and finally Guerrassi and Massimo d'Azeglio in their novels. Throughout all this period, the patriotic note is so dominant that even where the topic is anything but political it breaks out here and there, if only as an allusion, an aspiration, or a lament. Leopardi said of Alfieri, that he was all his

* “L'Avvelenatrice."


life making war on tyranny from the stage. Other poets did the same. Ugo Foscolo says :

“ A chi altamente oprar non é concesso,

Fama teutino almen libere carte." And Guerrassi, “Since I cannot fight a battle, I have written a book.” And Carducci, in imitation :

“ Or poi ch' altro n' è tolto, or guerra indica

Da' teatri la musa,
Gitti il flauto dolente e la lorica

Stringa, ed all' asta dia la man già usa." Italians in those days were not likely to adopt the principle of " Art for art's sake ;” and, to say the truth, they have hardly adopted it even yet. The generation of which I speak came to '48 and '59 aglow with the patriotic enthusiasms of its poets, and animated with all the passions and hopes and hatreds which they had embodied in their writings.

Down to 1870—that is, so long as the Italians were not yet in possession of Rome—the idealism thus inspired still lingered in the public mind. It is true that there were many Italians who, after the great annexations of 1860, were inclined to pause a little and take breath, and begin to reorganize the almost completed kingdom. But the militant national party headed by Garibaldi, acting undoubtedly in harmony with the deepest popular instinct, would endure no pause. Most daring, but, it must be owned, at the same time most judicious, they held that so long as Venice and Rome remained in the hands of the Austrians and the priests, it would never do to let the national enthusiasm evaporate. The literature of those years, therefore, is still dominated by the patriotic idea. Nor did this idea even begin to die out after the acquisition of Venice. The Italians felt that till Rome was theirs they still wanted their natural capital, the vero heart of the new Italy.

In the decade 1860–1870, there remained, as the champions of this literature of combat—to speak only of poets, and only of the chief of those-Aleardi and Carducci, Aleardi, however, was nearing the close of his career ; in 1863 he had written his last Canto Politico, “ Al Futuro Pontefice," in which he recounted the sad events of the pontificate of Pius IX., the obstinate opponent of liberty and of Italian independence, and ended with this apostrophe :

“ Ritirati, levita,

Perchè con la tua trista figura

Mi nascondi il Signore. But Carducci was still in the vigour of his age ; he had figured in 1859 as the poet of the Cross of Savoy, but he had since come to profess a sort of Platonic Republicanism; and during this period he gave free expression to his patriotic opinions in his “Decennalia” and in his “Giambi ed Epodi.” He dedicated his verse to the memory of the extraordinary political events of that period. Aspromonte, in particular, and that sad but glorious story of Mentana, kindled his poetic fervour, and evoked verses some of which will not soon be forgotten.

These longings for independence, for liberty, for unity, for Rome, had been the very sap of Italian literature down to 1870. With the

« ForrigeFortsett »