A Letter From Italy


THE wandering American finds it difficult to think of Italy as a modern state, a member of the club of European nations, which, after the method of fashionable clubs, has an impolite contempt for all who do not belong to it, and also allows little acts of rudeness among its members. All the mechanism of the Italian kingdom looks like stage furniture, hurriedly got; it seems as far from modern American life as her castled hills or the angels fluttering in Perugino’s pictures. What have the Po, hurrying " to seek peace,” the Arno, and the Tiber to do with winter wheat. Federal Steel Companies, or Edison’s discoveries ? Italian politics and ours have nothing in common. The sea of Italians is the Mediterranean, waters of the past, while we splash in the Atlantic and Pacific. They concern themselves with France, Austria, and Spain, whereas we challenge England, Germany, and Russia. They seem like schoolboys in the form below us, with bigness and littleness measured by a smaller scale, their muscles less vigorous, their sinews feebler, than ours. Modern Italy is almost as far away from us as Italy of the Renaissance. A land where the people are so polite that they will take great trouble for you and add their thanks, where all the coal is imported, where the churches are shut during the middle of Sunday because the day is a festa, where D’ Annunzio is acclaimed as a glory to his country, where to save is esteemed as respectable as to spend, where senators are appointed for their literary achievements, where the main industry is to provide food and lodging for temporary immigrants, — such a land, with its cathedrals, loggias, and pictures, seems the fiction of a story-teller.

To themselves the Italians are intensely modern. They have a young kingdom; the unity of Italy is their era ; the great actors have left the stage, but many men remember those glorious days, the beginnings of a new Italy, and so they deem themselves the youngest of nations. Fogazzaro named his novel, where the plot is laid not long before Magenta and Solferino, Il Piccolo Mondo Antico, The Little World of Old. The murder of Umberto Primo has given them a young king, who sits upon his throne very gallantly. Not much was known about him till last August, except that he had a strong will and was a learned collector of coins. It is not easy to judge a king in the blaze of that fierce light of falsehood that beats upon a throne, but a short speech which he then made to the senators and deputies gives a clue to his character. He said : “ Trembling, but confident, I mount the throne, with a consciousness of my rights and duties as king. Let Italy have faith in me, as I have faith in the destinies of our country, and no human power shall have strength, to destroy that which our fathers have wrought with such great self-denial. It is necessary to be vigilant and to use all our might to preserve inviolate the great conquests of unity and freedom. I shall never fail in serene confidence in our free institutions, and I shall never fail in effort and energy of action vigorously to defend our country’s glorious constitution, the priceless heritage from our forefathers.”

The young king and his ministers have a hard time before them; there are many knotty problems to be thought out. In the first place, there is the miserable question of livelihood. Italy paces to and fro, like an ambitious poor man with a large family, not knowing what to do. In her alliance with Germany and Austria, Italy has bargained to keep many thousands of soldiers ready to take the field: that army costs a great deal of money, though less for each soldier than in the other European armies, and not more than half as much as in the French army. Such expense means heavy taxes : many people are not able, and many are not willing, to pay them. In the south of Italy there has been great distress ; insects and bad weather have made fearful ravages in the vineyards and among the olive trees. Some districts have been compelled by distress to petition the government for remission of taxes and for help of various kinds. The bread which the peasants eat in the country south of Naples is food for horses. The Socialists, a small party, scattered about in the big cities, demand that the Triple Alliance, military establishment, battleships and cruisers, be given up, and taxes lessened : many poor people, some landowners and professors of political economy, think with them on this question. Moreover, the commercial treaties which Italy has with Germany and Austria will have run their course in a year or two, and this anti-military party demands that Italy refuse to renew the Triple Alliance, unless the other two countries will agree not to lay heavy duties upon Italian agricultural products. But north of the Alps there are contrary ideas on this matter. German farmers wish to have German markets to themselves, and the Kaiser wishes to keep the farmers obedient; and therefore, in Italy, a noisy murmur is abroad that Italy will not join Germany and Austria, but will make an alliance with France and Russia. The majority, however, if one can be sure in the storm of ayes and noes, are resolute that Italy shall renew the Triple Alliance, that the great sacrifices which she has made shall not be rendered vain. They say that France is very hostile, and would seek any pretext to dismember Italy, and that an alliance with France and Russia would cost quite as much as the Triple Alliance. They argue that Germany will not put a high tariff upon Italian agricultural products, because she would be afraid of a retaliatory tariff; for her manufacturers export $20,000,000 worth of goods into Italy annually, and would cry as loud as her farmers do now.

Out of these difficulties Socialists, Republicans, and politicians try to obtain advantage ; the poor express their opinions of taxation by an occasional riot or strike, but the laboring classes have little political influence. An American is constantly surprised by the imperfect organization of workingmen into labor unions, and by the slight public sympathy they receive. As the Germans say, with some little exaggeration, the Italians are one hundred years behindhand. This attitude of the Italian public is due to the division into classes. With us there are social divisions into rich and poor, and we are not surprised that the descendants of a rich man become day laborers, or that the grandson of a laborer becomes rich and respected ; but in Italy the incapable grandson of a noble is noble still, and the descendants of a peasant are pressed down and kept peasants by the whole force of society. Peasants are expected to remain poor, uneducated, and dirty; education and opportunity are given to them, if at all, as charity, not as rights. The progress of democracy, in the sense of equal education and equality of opportunity, is hindered also by the differences between the north and south of Italy. The men of Piedmont and Lombardy are of a different race from the men of the south : they have different ideas, different conceptions of law, labor, and religion ; they are wider apart than the puritans of Maine and the cotton planters of South Carolina, and therefore there cannot be a general united movement throughout the peninsula, whether democratic, socialist, educational, or whatever else it may be. The north acts alone; the middle of Italy, with its indifferent Romans, acts alone ; and the south acts fitfully by itself. Thus privileges are able to maintain themselves in greater permanence than with us ; even a strong and unselfish central government could not get a united public opinion throughout the country to support reforms.

Another difficulty, not so immediate as revenue, but more persistent, is the Church. It astonishes an outsider to see how the Church clings to its claim for temporal power ; the claim is so childish, so stupid, so unspiritual. Question a good Catholic, and he will say : “ Since the reign of Constantine, when Christianity became the state religion of the empire, temporal power has been the means by which the Church has been free and independent of secular domination. Maybe this means has had its day, and that, in the divine scheme for the maintenance of the Church, some other method will now be adopted; we cannot tell. We see a means over fifteen hundred years old : it is our duty, it is the Pope’s sworn duty, not to abandon that means. Moreover, to-day, members of the universal Church, Frenchmen, Germans, Irish, Spaniards, must have some certain guarantee that the Italian government will not interfere in the affairs of the Church ; how can they be sure that an ecclesiastical edict does not express the will of a Cavour or a Crispi ? ” The question of papal sovereignty has undoubtedly been settled not so much by the union of Italy as by the opinion of enlightened Catholic laymen all over the world, which acknowledges that temporal and spiritual matters must be kept separate.


The station master at Pæstum explained to me that Italy suffered from three evils, — the government, the gentry, and the Church. He said that the deputies squabbled and struggled for private gain, careless of Italy; that the gentry squeezed rack - rents from the peasants, and squandered the money in idleness and dissipation; and that the priests took no heed save to fill their bellies and keep their feet warm. I had heard similar opinions concerning the Chamber of Deputies and the aristocracy, and I had been told many things about the priests, and I wished to talk further on these matters ; but as the train was due, I contented myself with expressing the high respect which I entertained for the Pope. He replied that he had none; his reason was that he had been acolyte in the cathedral at Perugia when “ Papa Pecci ” was bishop there, long before his election to the papacy. I judged that the station master was inclined to pessimism; he held a mean opinion of the people of Pæstum, and deemed himself degraded by his southern post. Perhaps the ruins of the temple of Neptune made all things else look petty by comparison. At the time I thought him an atheist, but perhaps he was a pagan, and found nothing good in Christian doctrines.

The Church is a, political entity here, and it is hard to judge it as a religious body. No two men seem fully to agree. There are few Protestants in Italy, and educated men who have become agnostics or infidels are inclined to observe the ceremonies of the Church; the population therefore appears to be all Catholic, divided into adherents of the papacy and adherents of the government. The stanchest supporters of the latter proclaim themselves good Catholics, but they add that the Church must concern itself with spiritual matters only. Opinions about the Church are as plentiful as blackberries. There is the devout papist, who speaks of the terrible trials of the Church to-day, and of the wicked robberies by the government. Then there is the intelligent Catholic, who thinks that the Church should say as little as possible on matters of science, and the young bourgeois Catholic, who suspects that men do not confess all their doings to the priest. There is the liberal Catholic, who thinks that the Church is a living thing, and, though it needs purging, will continue to be a good and great body ; or maybe he despairs of the Church unless help shall come from America; for America is the bright spot on the Catholic horizon, and the best Catholics in Italy hope that that brightness may mean dawn.

In Rome itself, the impressions of the Church that crowd in upon a foreigner, as he wanders about, are very confusing. He goes into church after church : there is an old beggar at every door; within masses are mumbled, like “aina, maina, mona, mike ; ” be-Baedekered strangers are moving wearily about; and if there be a famous image of the Madonna, it is surrounded by a kneeling crowd, a mass of votive offerings, and children running to catch toddling babies. The Protestant residents of Rome, who attend the English and American churches, assure the visitor that the Roman Curia is a corrupt ring, Cardinal Rampolla a doubledealing politician, the Pope an old man who winks at far too much, and that all Catholics hate all Protestants, and deliver other compliments after the fashion of the expatriated. The next day the American perhaps will receive a visit from a man in long black dress, edged maybe with a little purple braid ; his stature short, his body of a certain infantile rotundity, and his smooth-shaven face also of an infantile quality ; but there is, too, a firmness in the chin, and a touch of resolution about the lips. This gentleman speaks in tolerable French, with a charming politeness which is oddly different from the politeness of the world. He declines an invitation to dinner, — the rules of his order do not permit, — but he is most willing to take a cup of tea without cream or sugar. He is not much interested in general subjects of conversation ; he does not read the news. But if, in an endeavor to draw him out, mention is made of St. Francis or of St. Gregory, or in some way the right chord is struck, his eyes brighten, his cheeks color, and the round infantile face becomes transparent to the enthusiasm within ; his whole being suddenly pours forth thanks for the great benefits that he has received from the dead saint. This man gets up at four o’clock in the summer, at five in the winter, and spends all day, with short intervals for prayer, in devotion to his routine interests, — a monastery in the Abruzzi, a nunnery in Palermo, a poor family in Via Coronari, a new sacristan, choristers, schoolboys and schoolgirls, besides a home for old women and a hospital for the blind. He detests Roman society, disapproves of Zola, has never heard of D’ Annunzio, admires America, likes a free country, and thinks that Protestants have their own way of finding the road to heaven.

Perplexed whether to think this man an exception to the general, the foreigner goes to St. Peter’s on one of the last days of the Anno Santo. The basilica is crowded with pilgrims : there are troops of Bavarians, companies of Irish, bands of peasants from Lombardy and Tuscany, husbandmen from Umbria, shepherds from the Campagna, young priests from Belgium, France, and Portugal, travelers from everywhere, dignified English clergymen and their brethren of the American Protestant Episcopal Church, careful not to overstep the line that fences off the polite and enlightened on-looker. The hour fixed for the Pope to come is long past, and every one is weary. Suddenly from the doors comes a noise ; then a slow procession winds up the passageway of ropes, and a storm of “ Viva ! Viva ! Il Papa Re ! Pa-pa Re ! ” keeps pace with the march. There the Pope sits, carried above the heads of the people, his aged face looking serene, as if he had lived through shrewdness into wisdom, and through policy into charity, — a kind old man, not unmindful of the true meaning of his title, Vicar of Christ.

In the Roman streets there are troops of theological students — come from all over Christendom, to be kept for five years in absolute ignorance of the world, and educated on Thomas Aquinas — marching in squads, never less than eight together, from the Propaganda to their dormitory, or perhaps to the Pincio for fresh air. Then there is the fat, unhealthy-looking priest, not well shaven, and unwilling to look you in the eye ; the preacher who warns women to keep themselves to household affairs, shunning education, literature, and more than all politics ; and a thousand others who fill the mind with a confused notion of what the Church is. One thing comes out clear : that it is the duty of every man to judge it justly, and then to work either for or against it. It is too tremendous a machine for us to sit indifferent.

The American is puzzled by the parental and pedagogical attitude of the Pope; he cannot understand how one man feels it his duty to prescribe to other men what they shall think on matters not directly connected with religion. For example, the Pope, in January last, wrote an encyclical letter on Social Democracy, a form of Socialism in Italy, in which he begins by referring to the troubles between rich and poor, and then says: “ From the beginning of Our pontificate We have been aware of the gravity of the peril which hung over society from this cause, and We have believed that it belonged to Our office solemnly to warn Catholics against the grave errors contained in the theories of Socialism, and against the ruin that follows in their train, — ruin not less disastrous to the prosperity of life than to good behavior and to religion.” He then speaks of prior letters on similar subjects and of a dispute arisen between good Catholics, and says: “ Now, considering that here and there this dispute is carried on even to acrimony, We feel that it is Our duty to put a limit to the present controversy, and to regulate the thought of Catholics on such a question; We intend besides to lay down certain rules that shall render their action larger and much more salutary to society.” He then describes Social Democracy : “It wishes the government to come into the hands of the plebs, so that by leveling all classes the step to economic equality shall be easy; it aims in that way to suppress all rights of property and to put everything in common, the patrimony of private individuals, and even the instruments of production.” To this Social Democracy he opposes “ Christian Democracy,” which wishes to maintain inviolate the rights of acquisition and of possession, and to preserve the difference between classes ; “ in a word, it demands that human society shall bear that form and disposition which God, its Creator, gave to it.” He then argues that, as these questions are necessarily connected with religion, it is the duty of all Catholics to obey the Church : “ He is most unchristian who refuses to submit to those who are clothed with authority in the Church. First (excepting the universal authority of the Roman pontiff) the bishops. . . . The man who does not submit in thought and act shows that he has forgotten the solemn precept of the apostle in Hebrews xiii. 17 : ‘ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves : for they watch for your souls.’ These are words which all the faithful ought to print deep in their hearts, and seek to put in practice in their conduct; more than ever, priests, considering these words diligently, should not fail to impress them on others, not only in preaching, but more by example.”

This process of reasoning, by which, from the right of direction in morals, the Pope deduces the right to ordain one kind of social structure, as established by God, and to condemn another, shows how far the Church has fallen from her position as universal; for if she cleaves to one form of society only, she must forsake all others. The time just ahead of her is critical; one might guess that this year of Jubilee marks a turning point in her history. Leo XIII. cannot live long; the selection of his successor is a matter of profoundest consequence. This mighty Church, with her immense possibilities for good, needs a young man of genius to direct her helm, and a college of cardinals that shall be a great council representing the Catholic world. Strong churches in strong countries will not submit to be dictated to by a handful of Italian priests. The cry of “ Los von Rom ! ” will not be confined to Germans. It is hard to read the signs of the times ; there are rumors of this cardinal and of that as papabile, but the fogs round the Vatican are too thick to let the face of the next pontiff shine through.


The drama in Italy is not very successful, — it is not what it should be; it lacks the very qualities that a foreigner expects, — conciseness, lightness, and dramatic force. The Italy which a traveler comes to see, the Italy of the Renaissance, both in art and personality, is so romantic that it seems to have been chiefly created to hold up a mirror to the stage ; we expect to find Italian dramatists reveling in this heritage of opportunity. The Italian nature, quick in action, violent in passion, ready in sympathy, grave and gay, looks the personification of the Tragic and the Comic Muse. But the stage has never appealed to Italian men of genius. Students, men of letters, gather themselves together and force their way through the early comedies ; for, like everything else, modern comedy seems to have begun in Italy, and to have been transplanted to other countries. There are certain literary reputations, — Alfieri, Metastasio, Carlo Gozzi; there is also one Pietro Cossa, to whom the Romans have put up a statue and a marble tablet to tell the passer-by that his plays are immortal.

In truth, there has never been but one Italian playwright, Carlo Goldoni. He is a marvel of dexterity : he takes the most trivial episodes, conversations, characters, light as froth, mixes them, flavors them, arranges them, and presto ! rolls up the curtain, as a magician rolls up his sleeves, to display a wonderful little comedy. Men and women touched by the weariness of life like their drama more highly flavored, plots freighted with greater seriousness, laughter more partisan, tears more bitter ; but they who like to get warm in the sunshine of life, simple folk, fond of mirth, sparkling if shallow, of situations which cannot unravel into unhappiness, of a world all grace and carelessness, find their recreation in Goldoni. The brilliant Duse sometimes plays La Locandiera or Pamela, but Goldoni has found a more passionate admirer in Ermete Novelli. This actor has taken a theatre on a little street off the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, in Rome, and has devoted his rare talents to the creation of a Casa di Goldoni on the model of the Maison de Molière. He has finished the first season of his experiment ; he has played for five months, acting half the time in Italian plays, and the other half in foreign plays, commonly translations from the French. One charm of his theatre is that the bill is changed almost every evening; a theatre lover can go night after night, each time to a new play. The theatre is very pretty, resplendent with red plush and electric lights ; the prices are most comfortable, — a seat in the front of the pit costs four francs. Except for Goldoni, the best plays are from the French. The dullness of Italian plays, even those of Ferrari, a name well known in Italy, is wonderful: no plot, no humor, no character ; an insipid medley of personages, talking as if to hold the floor for the requisite three hours. But no dullness daunts Novelli; this mobile face looks mean, intelligent, noble, pathetic, or petulant, out of the worst play as well as out of the best. It must be his confidence in his own ability to lug on his back the forlornest of plays that makes him so blind in his selection ; or it may be that, with a new bill every night, there are not enough good plays to go round. A nobler and a juster explanation for bringing out Italian plays is his passionate desire to uplift the Italian drama. He is inspired with the feelings of the Risorgimento, and headstrong for a national Italian drama. He is as gallant with his countrymen’s comedies as Garibaldi at Aspromonte. He spares no look, attitude, or motion, to retrieve the most disastrous evening. I like him best when he depicts some feeble character. Oh, the irresolution in his legs and the vocabulary of his shoulders ! They show forth hope, doubt, despair, expectation, benevolence, sympathy, incompetence, stupidity, irritation, alarm, timidity, effrontery, and forty meanings more. Novelli plays tragedy, too. In Tourgeniev’s story of The Bread of Others, he enacts the tragic part of a poor old country gentleman, who is made tipsy by some fellows from St. Petersburg; the fumes of wine pass off, and, in his anger at the insult put upon him, he bursts forth with a terrible secret. Novelli’s changes from the awkward, shy old rustic into the tipsy reveler, and then into the gentleman hot with anger, make a memorable scene.

On the opening night of the Casa di Goldoni the theatre was crowded. Novelli played Il Burbero Benefico. After the curtain fell he was called out amid a storm of applause. He spoke of the inferiority of the Italian stage in comparison with that of other countries, and attributed the inferiority to the fact that in Italy a theatrical company had no settled home, but wandered a vagrant from theatre to theatre ; he thought that the best he could do for the drama would be to form a stock company, and establish a theatre in Rome for the common good of the stage and of the public. Then he spoke of Goldoni, and said: “ The immortal Babbo [Papa] of our comedy died hungry in a garret, far from his native land ; and for that reason the idea came to me of taking the name ‘ Casa di Goldoni,’ that it might be of good augury to me, and that at least after his death he might have a home in his own country.” The words were sincere. Carlo Goldoni may rejoice that his plays have a worthy interpreter; it may be that his pleasant soul, weary of Elysian fields, has migrated and become incarnate in the delightful actor, and that his speech was another bit of comedy.

Excepting Verga’s Cavalleria Rusticana, the only plays of note in recent years are those written by D’ Annunzio, La Gioconda and La Città Morta. Duse and the famous tragic actor Zacconi act these plays to patchwork audiences, — people of fashion, dissipated young gentlemen, dissipated old gentlemen, curious foreigners, innocent American girls ignorant of the language, and a claque. The Dead City begins at half past eight, and ends at one. There are five, six, or seven acts, maybe more, with long monologues and dialogues, and but four characters, — four pennyworth of personages to this intolerable deal of talk. The great actress goes from city to city, arousing enthusiasm for the brilliant talents that can achieve a triumph in the most undramatic of plays. Her face in itself is a tragedy, and could carry an audience through forty thousand of D’ Annunzio’s lines. D’ Annunzio himself says of the play : “ I am sure that some melodies in my tragedy, independent of the literal signification, will ring in men’s souls whether they be cultivated or crude. I am sure that the greater part of the spectators from the beginning will recognize the unusual breadth of treatment in my work, and of its own accord will place itself in a position for forming a judgment that I may call uncommon. The first words that will resound in the silence of the theatre are words of Sophocles. I have faith in the potency of this introduction. The spectators will see, not a representation, but a transfiguration of life. When I compose a drama, I am in the way of truth, I believe, because I follow the teaching of the greatest masters. Some one will say, ' But in daily life men do not talk after this manner.’ Such an one shows that he does not understand what tragic art really is, nor what art is. It is time to make a breach in the mass of prejudice that walls us in on every side. It is time to reëstablish the privileges of poetry. The Dead City, which seems a work of attentive reflection, is the most spontaneous of my works, as it is undoubtedly the most original of my creations. I have written it in forty days, with an ease unusual to me, for I work laboriously. For this reason I am fond of it, and it seems to me that it ought to live.”

Nevertheless, The Dead City was not a success in Paris, Milan, or Bologna; it is three years old, and holds the stage through the genius of the great actress. D’ Annunzio himself is writing poems, — an ode to Verdi, a poem to Garibaldi. Of the latter the poet says : “ This canzone, in which an attempt has been made to combine two kinds of poetry, the epic and the lyric, is not so much intended to be read from the silent pages as to be listened to by an untrammeled multitude. It needs, in order to fulfill its full musical life, to come forth from the sonorous mouth of the speaker. At Turin, at Milan, at Florence, the assembled people gathered it in from the voice of the poet; and the great clamor of the people filled the intervals between the stanzas.” In view of the poet’s explanation, it was to be expected that, reading the poem in the silent pages, I did not find it very interesting.

It is hard to tell what Italians think of D’ Annunzio. His last novel, Fire, has caused very much talk. The story, as a whole and in its parts, is forbidden by every rule that affects the conduct of an American gentleman, and shuts us out from the right of criticism. Many people hate D’ Annunzio, and are greatly ashamed to have foreigners think that he represents Italy ; some say that his muchpraised style is mere tinsel; others admit that there is an element of poetry in his work, but think that he has exhausted it; his admirers are a band of young men who cry him up as a great poet. I tried to explain to a young Italian a Yankee opinion of D’ Annunzio, and that in our country he would not be allowed to land ; that he would be smothered in the hold, or thrown overboard, or whitewashed and returned. He looked at me, and said: " You Americans don’t care for poetry. We Italians love it; we love the stars, flowers, music, and poetry.”

The two most interesting men of letters are Carducci and Fogazzaro. The great poet is old and broken, and Fogazzaro has disappointed the public with his last novel, Piccolo Mondo Moderno, The Little World of To-Day. Its predecessor, The Little World of Old, was so charming, so skillfully composed, — barring a long antechamber, as it were, in which the reader had to pick his way through a north dialect, — and so interesting, that expectation was very curious for this novel, which is a kind of continuation of the first. The story concerns the son of the hero and heroine of The Little World of Old; but who that is interested in a mother takes as keen an interest in her son ?


An American is always impressed by the way in which the past keeps its hand heavy upon Italy. Here, more than in Germany, England, or France, the present is governed by preceding centuries. In Rome the Church still sits like “ the ghost of the Roman Empire.” Italy, in spite of her young kingdom and her hopes, is always struggling, not how best to do this thing or that, but to extricate herself from the yoke of the past. As one travels through Tuscany and Umbria, or between Rome and Naples, and watches from the train the little towns, walled and turreted, perching on the hilltops, the farmhouses, built for strongholds, the peasants pruning the olive trees, the friars tramping bareheaded along the road, everything looks as if it might step back four hundred years without the slightest inconvenience. Monk and peasant would not know the difference, and the towns would be cheered to have their citizens safe within the gates by nightfall. The bricks and stones of the fifteenth century are despots; they trammel and subdue the energy of the young generations. Sons live in their fathers’ houses, as their fathers had lived before them ; they cook in the same kitchens, climb the same stairs, sleep in the same beds, and enjoy the same lack of linen; they keep the same habits, they celebrate the same festivals ; with a happy resignation — “ Che vuole ? Dio è padrone ” — they must submit to the divine decree. It is touching to read by the street names how fresh the breath of the Risorgimento swept over these little towns. Young men and boys left their homes to join Garibaldi’s army ; the promised land of United Italy looked so bounteous and beautiful. After fighting was over, every municipality, shouting “ Evviva ! ” gave its old streets the new heroic names, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, Piazza Garibaldi, Via Cavour, Via Venti Settembre. Then the passion of the time died down ; the young soldiers turned back into peasants, like their fathers, and found it as hard as ever to make enough for both bread and taxes. But the material parts of the past — the little old houses, the ancient walls, the steep and crooked streets, the churches and monasteries — are not the greatest hindrance to the Italy of to-day ; rather the social ills, especially in the south, handed down from a misgoverned, uneducated, selfish past. In Naples, the largest city in Italy, where according to the saying all men are rascals or saints, there remains the Camorra. How to root it out is one of the chief moral problems before Italy. The Camorra is a social scurvy, caused by lack of fresh food. The ignorant classes of the Neapolitans belong to it, or entertain for it the friendly feeling for familiar things ; their fathers belonged to it or were accustomed to it, and their grandfathers likewise. The Camorra is to them an organ of society, like the law or the Church. It spreads here and there underground, reaching from the lowest strata of society up, some say, to the highest. The great interest for Americans is the light it throws upon similar social phenomena in New York city.

Nobody knows when the Camorra began, but it appears to have taken its present shape as a definite organization in the beginning of the last century. At that time it had grades, officers, laws, — all the machinery of a social body. Among the police archives there is the written report of a trial held in 1820, where a member of the Camorra was tried before a recognized tribunal of the society. This court was known as the “ Gran Mamma.” One Giovanni Esposito had murdered a chief of the Camorra ; he was caught by his fellow members, kept in confinement, brought before his judges and examined. The prisoner admitted the killing, but pleaded drunkenness as a defense. At the close of the examination one of the judges (using some slang) said: “For me as well as for my companions, further questions are useless ; the accused here present is confessedly guilty ; but if we wish to deliberate seriously, it is well to take him farther away. [The assassin was removed to a distance.] The statute, Mr. Superior and dear companions, if I am not mistaken, speaks plainly : it says, he who kills a superior must be killed ; the secretary can verify this article. If we don’t give an example of justice, this Society may call itself done for, and the respect for the Greater and Less Society [the higher and lower grades of the Camorra] becomes a dead letter.” After some discussion (for one of the judges held that intoxication was a good excuse) the prisoner was condemned. “ As the will of the Society, represented by us, except one judge against all the others, is for the condemnation to death of Heart-and-Dog [secret name of Giovanni Esposito], because on the evening of ―, without cause, he killed our superior, therefore we order and command the two young men who arrested him to kill him with two knife thrusts in the breast.” In this document, for the sake of secrecy, all names are represented by pictured signs. A young woman, however, in love with Heart-and-Dog, notified the police, and saved her lover.

The purpose of the society is livelihood by blackmail. The system of organized blackmail is said to have originated in the prisons. The habitués used to levy tribute upon newcomers, compelling them to give money to buy oil for the Virgin, and for various pious and other uses. This practice grew; and when the convicts had served their terms, they continued the same system, only to better advantage, outside the walls. Out of such beginnings a society was evolved, and became by degrees highly organized : there was a novitiate and one or two preliminary grades before a youth could become a camorrista ; there were officers of different ranks, and the districts of the city were assigned to local branches of the society. The conditions of Naples made the way easy for this organized system of blackmail. Idleness is put upon the people by the soil and climate ; for four cents a man can breakfast on macaroni, bread, and fruit. The government had been bad for hundreds of years, and under the Jesuitridden Bourbons it became worse than ever,with no purpose except to root out liberal thought and to maintain itself in comfortable power; it made no attempt to suppress the Camorra. So the Camorra developed and flourished, and, with some change in its methods, enjoys vigorous life to-day.

A Camorrista, a full-fledged member of the society in good standing, is a kind of bully, who makes a livelihood from the labor of others ; he levies tribute on all the people he can, especially on the most degraded class of women. In return, he refrains from robbing his clients, and protects them. For instance, in the days of the Bourbons (old instances are good to-day), not long after Napoleon’s overthrow, one of the streets of the city was notoriously bad ; various police regulations had been made in vain, and the decent people of the neighborhood petitioned the municipal officers to wall up the street in such a way that it might be shut off and its inhabitants locked in at night. The officer with whom the final decision rested received the following anonymous letter : —

NAPLES,September, 1829.

SIR, — Are you not aware that in confining these poor girls in walls you act as if they were condemned to the lowest depth of hell ? The prefect of police and the intendant who order this brutal act have no heart; but you who have to decide, whom nobody can oppose, ought to do justice to these poor girls, and prevent their being walled up like wild beasts. For years there has been a plan like that which is taken up again to-day, but no one of your predecessors thought best to execute it; because if those poor unfortunates have no relations to get justice for them, we are here who have much heart and are always ready to shed our own blood for them, and to cut the throats of those who shall do anything toward walling up that street.

With all humility I kiss your hands.

N. N.

The official decided not to build the wall. Many years afterwards such a wall was built, and in course of time fell into disrepair. The work of rebuilding was begun, but at night whatever had been built by day was pulled down. This happened several times. The head of the police summoned the Camorrista within whose jurisdiction the street lay, and threatened him with exile if the work should be interfered with again. There was no further trouble.

As things were then they are to-day. Round the prostitutes gathers a gang of ruffians : these ruffians have a large circle of acquaintances, who, for peace and a quiet life, and from admiration, endure and befriend them. The ignorant Neapolitans sympathize with them against the police, and vote as they direct. The control of votes is political power. The Camorra, naturally, is ready to support candidates for office who will not interfere with its habits of life, and officials are also ready to accept its support, winking and blinking in return.

The whole system was revealed in the famous trial held at Naples last autumn. A Socialist newspaper, La Propaganda, accused Casale, a famous politician, one of the deputies from Naples, of political corruption, in that he had used his influence and place for the advantage of his henchmen and for private gain. The accusation was such as the New York Evening Post has made a hundred times against the leaders of Tammany Hall. Casale brought suit for libel. For defense the newspaper pleaded the truth of its accusations. The case was tried after the Latin fashion, before judges, without a jury. Casale brought various witnesses to testify to his good character : the mayor of Casale’s native town said that Casale bore a good reputation there ; a senator and several commendatores declared that Casale’s conduct had been correct in all the offices he had held. Then the defense produced its evidence. One by one, various witnesses, many of them connected with the city government, testified that Casale had recommended for employment by the city men who had been charged with crime ; that places in the city departments had to be found for Casale’s friends; that offices were said to be bought and sold ; that creditors of the city were not paid promptly by the cashier unless they presented a recommendation from Casale ; that Casale, going to represent the city at a celebration held in honor of Garibaldi, took with him two ladies, a secretary, a journalist, and two young men, and charged the whole bill to the city; that justice found many impediments and hindrances in seeking to lay hold of Casale’s friends; that, when commissioner of the Octroi, for a bribe of 2000 francs he approved one tariff rather than another ; that, for his assistance in getting a subsidy, he had received from a steamship company 30,000 francs, and from a street railway company, in return for a favorable contract, he and two friends had received 60,000 francs ; and finally, that Casale was the city government, for the mayor did whatever Casale bade him do. All the witnesses were asked if in their opinion Casale was a galantuomo, and one portrayed his “ moral physiognomy.” This evidence against Casale, sounding so dull and stale in New York ears, produced great excitement. The judges retired, and in a short time brought in their judgment that the facts alleged by the newspaper were proved. Casale immediately resigned his seat in the Chamber of Deputies and the other official positions that he held.

The great effect of this judgment shows that, though the Neapolitan system of political favoritism and corruption has been well constructed by the ability of one man, who has made skillful use of the spirit of the Camorra, that system is inferior in efficiency, boldness, and money-making capacity to the great political organization established in New York city.


The Camorra belongs to the mainland, the Mafia to Sicily. It is hard for a foreigner to understand the differences between these famous bodies : the Camorra is a society founded on blackmail; the Mafia is a series of societies, the outgrowth of ignorance and impotent government. As the lawsuit between Casale and La Propaganda has brought the Camorra freshly before the public, so the legal investigations to unearth evidence against Notarbartolo’s murderer have made Italy aware that she has another great social problem in the Mafia. Some ten years ago the government banks “ got into politics,” as we say ; and among others the Bank of Sicily was made use of for private ends. It was enough to be a friend of a friend of a politician, for a man to get a loan on insufficient security or at a very low rate of interest ; and a great many scamps profited thereby. Public moneys were wasted, and the penal code set at naught. At last public sentiment was aroused, and an investigation was threatened. Signor Notarbartolo, an incorruptible, capable, energetic man, who, for unexplained reasons, had been removed from the direction of the bank just before this criminal misuse of its funds, was, by character and knowledge, the very man to ferret out the guilty and bring them to punishment. The public turned impetuously to him as the instrument of justice.

In January, 1893, investigation was ready to begin. On the afternoon of February 1 Notarbartolo was traveling to Palermo in the first-class carriage of an express train. About six o’clock the train passed the little town Ponte Curreri. A few minutes later, an officer of customs, going home at the end of his day’s work, crossed the tracks : there he saw a body lying outstretched on the ground. He ran back, calling for help. The body was Notarbartolo’s. Not far away, in a peasant’s house, the police discovered a bloody handkerchief and a pair of shoes splashed with blood. Some witnesses now say, a man’s boots rather long; others say, a man’s boots short ; and others, a woman’s shoes. Handkerchief and shoes soon disappeared ; nobody knew what became of them. One official said this, another that, a third something different. Two of the trainmen were arrested soon after the murder, but they were released by the officials in Palermo, for want of evidence. One Fontana was arrested ; he proved that he was in Tunis at the time of the crime, and was also released by the officials in Palermo. It is said that a Sicilian’s first step toward crime is to prepare an alibi. Fontana was well known to the police. He had been tried on many charges, — stealing cattle with incidental murder, threatening death in anonymous letters, assassination, a second assassination, stealing cattle and attempting to kidnap, extortion, complicity with felons, — but each time he had escaped, from lack of testimony. These three men have been rearrested, and the government has thought it well to hold the criminal proceedings in Milan. They are all members of the Mafia, and were obviously instruments in the hands of some powerful man.

One Palizzolo, an old politician, deputy from Palermo, rumor said, had had many dealings with the bank, by which he had been no loser. His reputation was not good ; it was charged that as far back as 1873 he was indebted to the municipality of Palermo in the sum of 1500 francs, for taxes which he, as commissioner, had collected and converted to his own use, and in the sum of 1550 francs, the price of a pump sold by the city to a neighboring town. This man was well known to be a bitter opponent of Notarbartolo, and suspicion pointed to him ; but for all these years, on account of the immense power of the Mafia, it has been impossible to collect enough evidence to put him on trial. Thanks to the testimony secured in Milan, he is now under arrest and awaiting trial.

Palizzolo may be regarded as bearing a relation to the Mafia similar to that which Casale bore to the Camorra. Of the Mafia there are different opinions : one man has defined it as a union of individuals of all classes, who like to live, not by work, but by violence, fraud, and intimidation; another, as the union of men of every rank, profession, and kind, without any permanent bond apparent, always united to further each other’s interest in disregard of law. It is, as I have said, a collection of societies existing throughout Sicily, but more common in some parts than in others, without any definite connection between them, except that the chiefs in the same neighborhood know one another, and are always ready to coöperate to their common advantage. A typical society is controlled by three or four leaders, men of force and resolution, who carry out their plans by the agency of some dozen young men, — part vigorous young ruffians, part lads lacking character and education, — who obey the leaders from want, fear, fashion, or love of excitement. These societies are not deliberately formed to earn a livelihood by stealing ; on the contrary, they seem to act more like savage tribes in difficult surroundings, thriving in the absence of civilization ; they are the product of a curious public opinion, which begets them, and on which they feed. When a man has received injury at the hands of another,by violence orsome insolent act which implies that the wrongdoer has a mean opinion of his victim, the latter must avenge himself personally as best he can, — by hamstringing a mule, burning a barn, or by a knife in the back ; if he appeal to the police, he is deemed a poor-spirited fellow, and becomes an outcast from public sympathy. Only in cases of theft on the sly, or such offenses as show that the perpetrator has a wholesome respect for the other, will public opinion justify recourse to the law. It is natural, where public opinion is against recourse to criminal law, that professional criminals should take advantage of this opinion and unite to act together. Criminals and rustic bullies form clubs for the purpose of good-fellowship and of bettering their fortunes. The actual club is ready enough to commit crimes, but there are many persons, not members, by no means criminals, who are on friendly terms with the club, — some from fear, some to secure themselves from harm, some for political support; so that, in one way or another, the criminal members of the Mafia have many friends, who shield and rescue them from justice. Even men of position, landowners, public officials, are among the allies of the Mafia. Thus very few are punished. It is most difficult to get evidence against the guilty, for even among honest folk is a strong feeling that recourse to the police, the sheriff, and the judge is contemptible. This sentiment comes down from an unjust past, when the poor man, with too good reason, thought law a means of tyranny devised by the rich ; it is fostered by ignorance and poverty. In the interior of the island many a peasant lives like the beasts. His hut is twenty-five feet square, with no flooring, no plaster. In one corner is the hearth; in another, the family bed, made of straw; in another, the ass, the pig, and the chickens : all live together in smoke and filth. His food consists of a little bread, soup made of vegetables or herbs, with little or no salt and pepper, and a small cup of wine. He is given the meat of animals that have died a natural death. He can neither read nor write. It is not strange that his notions of law and order are simple.

These institutions, the Mafia and the Camorra, serve to show how different the south of the kingdom is from the north. The south is agricultural, ignorant and poor ; the north is manufacturing, educated and well-to-do. This great difference between the ends of the kingdom is due, no doubt, first, to difference in race and climate ; secondly, to the difference in government during centuries ; but there are other causes, impossible to discover. Why should some dozen square miles by the Arno produce a harvest of the world’s great artists, and the whole kingdom of the two Sicilies exhaust itself with the birth of Bernini and one or two others ? The look of the two peoples is different, — the short, untidy, fitful people of the south, and the robust, long-limbed, steady men of the north. It is a fine sight to see a northern regiment swinging along: the soldiers look like great squads of Harvard football players, fresh, vigorous, well-behaving young men, as if in time of need they would do their duty (to quote the military phrase for shooting and bayoneting other fresh, well-behaving young men) ; but people say that the Italian officers are not equal to the officers in the German army in education, dash, endurance, or courage.

Let us hope that Italy will make a virtue of necessity, disband her soldiery, and create a precedent for disarmament that other nations may follow. In her poverty Italy may set an example that the United States might have set in its strength, and help abolish the spirit of Mafia and Camorra from international dealings.

H. D. Sedgwick, Jr.