Old Calabria
Norman Douglas

Part 6 out of 7

loathed of all men, and thrust at last, with abhorrence, into some
common festering pit of abominations. . . . The Northern type--a mighty
bond, again; a tie of blood, this time, between our race and those
rulers of the South, whose exploits in this land of orange and myrtle
surpassed the dreamings of romance.

Strange to reflect that, without the ephemeral friendship of that
evening, Messina of to-day might have represented to my mind a mere
spectacle, the hecatomb of its inhabitants extorting little more than a
conventional sigh. So it is. The human heart has been constructed on
somewhat ungenerous lines. Moralists, if any still exist on earth, may
generalize with eloquence from the masses, but our poets have long ago
succumbed to the pathos of single happenings; the very angels of Heaven,
they say, take more joy in one sinner that repenteth than in a hundred
righteous, which, duly apprehended, is only an application of the same
illiberal principle.

A rope of bed-sheets knotted together dangled from one of the upper
windows, its end swaying in mid-air at the height of the second floor.
Many of them do, at Messina: a desperate expedient of escape. Some pots
of geranium and cactus, sadly flowering, adorned the other windows,
whose glass panes were unbroken. But for the ominous sunlight pouring
through them from _within,_ the building looked fairly intact on this
outer side. Its ponderous gateway, however, through which I had hoped to
enter, was choked up by internal debris, and I was obliged to climb,
with some little trouble, to the rear of the house.

If a titanic blade had sheared through the _palazzo_ lengthwise, the
thing could not have been done more neatly. The whole interior had gone
down, save a portion of the rooms abutting on the street-front; these
were literally cut in half, so as to display an ideal section of
domestic architecture. The house with its inmates and all it contained
was lying among the high-piled wreckage within, under my feet; masonry
mostly--entire fragments of wall interspersed with crumbling mortar and
convulsed iron girders that writhed over the surface or plunged sullenly
into the depths; fetid rents and gullies in between, their flanks
affording glimpses of broken vases, candelabras, hats, bottles,
birdcages, writing-books, brass pipes, sofas, picture-frames,
tablecloths, and all the paltry paraphernalia of everyday life. No
attempt at stratification, horizontal, vertical, or inclined; it was as
if the objects had been thrown up by some playful volcano and allowed to
settle where they pleased. Two immense chiselled blocks of stone--one
lying prone at the bottom of a miniature ravine, the other proudly
erect, like a Druidical monument, in the upper regions--reminded me of
the existence of a staircase, a _diabolical_ staircase.

Looking upwards, I endeavoured to reconstruct the habits of the inmates,
but found it impossible, the section that remained being too shallow.
Sky-blue seems to have been their favourite colour. The kitchen was
easily discernible, the hearth with its store of charcoal underneath,
copper vessels hanging in a neat row overhead, and an open cupboard full
of household goods; a neighbouring room (the communicating doors were
all gone), with lace window-curtains, a table, lamp, and book, and a
bedstead toppling over the abyss; another one, carpeted and hung with
pictures and a large faded mirror, below which ran a row of shelves that
groaned under a multitudinous collection of phials and bottles.

The old man's embrocations. . . .



After such sights of suffering humanity--back to the fields and
mountains! Aspromonte, the wild region behind Reggio, was famous, not
long ago, for Garibaldi's battle. But the exploits of this warrior have
lately been eclipsed by those of the brigand Musolino, who infested the
country up to a few years ago, defying the soldiery and police of all
Italy. He would still be safe and unharmed had he remained in these
fastnesses. But he wandered away, wishful to leave Italy for good and
all, and was captured far from his home by some policemen who were
looking for another man, and who nearly fainted when he pronounced his
name. After a sensational trial, they sentenced him to thirty odd years'
imprisonment; he is now languishing in the fortress of Porto Longone on
Elba. Whoever has looked into this Spanish citadel will not envy him. Of
the lovely little bay, of the loadstone mountain, of the romantic
pathway to the hermitage of Monserrato or the glittering beach at
Rio--of all the charms of Porto Longone he knows nothing, despite a
lengthy residence on the spot.

They say he has grown consumptive and witless during the long solitary
confinement which preceded his present punishment--an eternal night in a
narrow cell. No wonder. I have seen the condemned on their release from
these boxes of masonry at the island of Santo Stefano: dazed shadows,
tottering, with complexions the colour of parchment. These are the
survivors. But no one asks after the many who die in these dungeons
frenzied, or from battering their heads against the wall; no one knows
their number save the doctor and the governor, whose lips are sealed. . . .

I decided upon a rear attack of Aspromonte. I would go by rail as far as
Bagnara on the Tyrrhenian, the station beyond Scylla of old renown; and
thence afoot via Sant' Eufemia [Footnote: Not to be confounded with the
railway station on the gulf of that name, near Maida.] to Sinopoli,
pushing on, if day permitted, as far as Delianuova, at the foot of
the mountain. Early next morning I would climb the summit and descend to
the shores of the Ionian, to Bova. It seemed a reasonable programme.

All this Tyrrhenian coast-line is badly shattered; far more so than the
southern shore. But the scenery is finer. There is nothing on that side
to compare with the views from Nicastro, or Monte-leone, or Sant' Elia
near Palmi. It is also more smiling, more fertile, and far less
malarious. Not that cultivation of the land implies absence of
malaria--nothing is a commoner mistake! The Ionian shore is not
malarious because it is desert--it is desert because malarious. The
richest tracts in Greece are known to be very dangerous, and it is the
same in Italy. Malaria and intensive agriculture go uncommonly well
together. The miserable anopheles-mosquito loves the wells that are sunk
for the watering of the immense orange and lemon plantations in the
Reggio district; it displays a perverse predilection for the minute
puddles left by the artificial irrigation of the fields that are covered
with fruit and vegetables. This artificial watering, in fact, seems to
be partly responsible for the spread of the disease. It is doubtful
whether the custom goes back into remote antiquity, for the climate used
to be moister and could dispense with these practices. Certain products,
once grown in Calabria, no longer thrive there, on account of the
increased dryness and lack of rainfall.

But there are some deadly regions, even along this Tyrrhenian shore.
Such is the plain of Maida, for instance, where stood not long ago the
forest of Sant' Eufemia, safe retreat of Parafante and other brigand
heroes. The level lands of Rosarno and Gioia are equally ill-reputed. A
French battalion stationed here in the summer of 1807 lost over sixty
men in fourteen days, besides leaving two hundred invalids in the
hospital at Monteleone. Gioia is so malarious that in summer every one
of the inhabitants who can afford the price of a ticket goes by the
evening train to Palmato sleep there. You will do well, by the way, to
see something of the oil industry of Palmi, if time permits. In good
years, 200,000 quintals of olive oil are manufactured in the regions of
which it is the commercial centre. Not long ago, before modern methods
of refining were introduced, most of this oil was exported to Russia, to
be burned in holy lamps; nowadays it goes for the most part to Lucca, to
be adulterated for foreign markets (the celebrated Lucca oil, which the
simple Englishman regards as pure); only the finest quality is sent
elsewhere, to Nice. From Gioia there runs a postal diligence once a day
to Delianuova of which I might have availed myself, had I not preferred
to traverse the country on foot.

The journey from Reggio to Bagnara on this fair summer morning, along
the rippling Mediterranean, was short enough, but sufficiently long to
let me overhear the following conversation:

A.--What a lovely sea! It is good, after all, to take three or four
baths a year. What think you?

B.--I? No. For thirteen years I have taken no baths. But they are
considered good for children.

The calamities that Bagnara has suffered in the past have been so
numerous, so fierce and so varied that, properly speaking, the town has
no right to exist any longer. It has enjoyed more than its full share of
earthquakes, having been shaken to the ground over and over again. Sir
William Hamilton reports that 3017 persons were killed in that of 1783.
The horrors of war, too, have not spared it, and a certain modern
exploit of the British arms here strikes me as so instructive that I
would gladly extract it from Grant's "Adventures of an Aide-de-Camp,"
were it not too long to transcribe, and far too good to abbreviate.

A characteristic story, further, is told of the methods of General
Manhes at Bagnara. It may well be an exaggeration when they say that the
entire road from Reggio to Naples was lined with the heads of
decapitated brigands; be that as it may, it stands to reason that
Bagnara, as befits an important place, was to be provided with an
-appropriate display of these trophies. The heads were exhibited in
baskets, with strict injunctions to the authorities that they were not
to be touched, seeing that they served not only for decorative but also
moral purposes--as examples. Imagine, therefore, the General's feelings
on being told that one of these heads had been stolen; stolen, probably,
by some pious relative of the deceased rascal, who wished to give the
relic a decent Christian burial.

"That's rather awkward," he said, quietly musing. "But of course the
specimen must be replaced. Let me see. . . . Suppose we put the head of
the mayor of Bagnara into the vacant basket? Shall we? Yes, we'll have
the mayor. It will make him more careful in future." And within half an
hour the basket was filled once more.

There was a little hitch in starting from Bagnara. From the windings of
the carriage-road as portrayed by the map, I guessed that there must be
a number of short cuts into the uplands at the back of the town,
undiscoverable to myself, which would greatly shorten the journey.
Besides, there was my small bag to be carried. A porter familiar with
the tracks was plainly required, and soon enough I found a number of
lusty youths leaning against a wall and doing nothing in particular.
Yes, they would accompany me, they said, the whole lot of them, just for
the fun of the thing.

"And my bag?" I asked.

"A bag to be carried? Then we must get a woman."

They unearthed a nondescript female who undertook to bear the burden as
far as Sinopoli for a reasonable consideration. So far good. But as we
proceeded, the boys began to drop off, till only a single one was left.
And then the woman suddenly vanished down a side street, declaring that
she must change her clothes. We waited for three-quarters of an hour, in
the glaring dust of the turnpike; she never emerged again, and the
remaining boy stoutly refused to handle her load.

"No," he declared. "She must carry the bag. And I will keep you company."

The precious morning hours were wearing away, and here we stood idly by
the side of the road. It never struck me that the time might have been
profitably employed in paying a flying visit to one of the most sacred
objects in Calabria and possibly in the whole world, one which Signor N.
Marcene describes as reposing at Bagnara in a rich reliquary--the
authentic Hat of the Mother of God. A lady tourist would not have missed
this chance of studying the fashions of those days. [Footnote: See next

Finally, in desperation, I snatched up the wretched luggage and poured
my griefs with unwonted eloquence into the ears of a man driving a
bullock-cart down the road. So much was he moved, that he peremptorily
ordered his son to conduct me then and there to Sinopoli, to carry the
bag, and claim one franc by way of payment. The little man tumbled off
the cart, rather reluctantly.

"Away with you!" cried the stern parent, and we began the long march,
climbing uphill in the blazing sunshine; winding, later on, through
shady chestnut woods and across broad tracts of cultivated land. It was
plain that the task was beyond his powers, and when we had reached a
spot where the strange-looking new village of Sant' Eufemia was
visible--it is built entirely of wooden shelters; the stone town was
greatly shaken in the late earthquake--he was obliged to halt, and
thenceforward stumbled slowly into the place. There he deposited the bag
on the ground, and faced me squarely.

"No more of this!" he said, concentrating every ounce of his virility
into a look of uncompromising defiance.

"Then I shall not pay you a single farthing, my son. And, moreover, I
will tell your father. You know what he commanded: to Sinopoli. This is
only Sant' Eufemia. Unless----"

"You will tell my father? Unless----?"

"Unless you discover some one who will carry the bag not only to
Sinopoli, but as far as Delianuova." I was not in the mood for repeating
the experiences of the morning.

"It is difficult. But we will try."

He went in search, and returned anon with a slender lad of unusual
comeliness--an earthquake orphan. "This big one," he explained, "walks
wherever you please and carries whatever you give him. And you will pay
him nothing at all, unless he deserves it. Such is the arrangement. Are
you content?"

"You have acted like a man."

The earthquake survivor set off at a swinging pace, and we soon reached
Sinopoli--new Sinopoli; the older settlement lies at a considerable
distance. Midday was past, and the long main street of the town--a
former fief of the terrible Ruffo family--stood deserted in the
trembling heat. None the less there was sufficient liveliness within the
houses; the whole place seemed in a state of jollification. It was
Sunday, the orphan explained; the country was duller than usual,
however, because of the high price of wine. There had been no murders to
speak of--no, not for a long time past. But the vintage of this year, he
added, promises well, and life will soon become normal again.

The mule track from here to Delianuova traverses some pretty scenery,
both wild and pastoral. But the personal graces of my companion made me
take small heed of the landscape. He was aglow with animal spirits, and
his conversation naively brilliant and of uncommon import. Understanding
at a glance that he belonged to a type which is rather rare in Calabria,
that he was a classic (of a kind), I made every effort to be pleasant to
him; and I must have succeeded, for he was soon relating anecdotes which
would have been neither instructive, nor even intelligible, to the
_jeune fille;_ all this, with angelic serenity of conscience.

This radiantly-vicious child was the embodiment of the joy of life, the
perfect immoralist. There was no cynicism in his nature, no cruelty, no
obliquity, no remorse; nothing but sunshine with a few clouds sailing
across the fathomless blue spaces--the sky of Hellas. _Nihil humani
alienum;_ and as I listened to those glad tales, I marvelled at the
many-tinted experiences that could be crammed into seventeen short
years; what a document the ad-verttures of such a frolicsome demon would
be, what a feast for the initiated, could some one be induced to make
them known! But such things are hopelessly out of the question. And that
is why so many of our wise people go into their graves without ever
learning what happens in this world.

Among minor matters, he mentioned that he had already been three times
to prison for "certain little affairs of blood," while defending
"certain friends." Was it not dull, I asked, in prison? "The time passes
pleasantly anywhere," he answered, "when you are young. I always make
friends, even in prison." I could well believe it. His affinities were
with the blithe crew of the Liber Stratonis. He had a roving eye and the
mouth of Antinous; and his morals were those of a condescending tiger-cub.

Arriving at Delianuova after sunset, he conceived the project of
accompanying me next morning up Montalto. I hesitated. In the first
place, I was going not only up that mountain, but to Bova on the distant
Ionian littoral----

"For my part," he broke in, "_ho pigliato confidenza._ If you mistrust
me, here! take my knife," an ugly blade, pointed, and two inches in
excess of the police regulation length. This act of quasi-filial
submission touched me; but it was not his knife I feared so much as that
of "certain friends." Some little difference of opinion might arise,
some question of money or other argument, and lo! the friends would be
at hand (they always are), and one more stranger might disappear among
the clefts and gullies of Montalto. Aspromonte, the roughest corner of
Italy, is no place for misunderstandings; the knife decides promptly who
is right or wrong, and only two weeks ago I was warned not to cross the
district without a carbineer on either side of me.

But to have clothed my thoughts in words during his gracious mood would
have been supremely unethical. I contented myself with the trite but
pregnant remark that things sometimes looked different in the morning,
which provoked a pagan fit of laughter; farewelled him "with the
Madonna!" and watched as he withdrew under the trees, lithe and buoyant,
like a flame that is swallowed up in the night.

Only then did the real business begin. I should be sorry to say into how
many houses and wine-shops the obliging owner of the local inn conducted
me, in search of a guide. We traversed all the lanes of this straggling
and fairly prosperous place, and even those of its suburb Paracorio,
evidently of Byzantine origin; the answer was everywhere the same: To
Montalto, yes; to Bova, no! Night drew on apace and, as a last resource,
he led the way to the dwelling of a gentleman of the old school--a
retired brigand, to wit, who, as I afterwards learned, had some ten or
twelve homicides to his account. Delianuova, and indeed the whole of
Aspromonte, has a bad reputation for crime.

It was our last remaining chance.

We found the patriarch sitting in a simple but tidy chamber, smoking his
pipe and playing with a baby; his daughter-in-law rose as we entered,
and discreetly moved into an adjoining room. The cheery cut-throat put
the baby down to crawl on the floor, and his eyes sparkled when he heard
of Bova.

"Ah, one speaks of Bova!" he said. "A fine walk over the mountain!" He
much regretted that he was too old for the trip, but so-and-so, he
thought, might know something of the country. It pained him, too, that
he could not offer me a glass of wine. There was none in the house. In
his day, he added, it was not thought right to drink in the modern
fashion; this wine-bibbing was responsible for considerable mischief; it
troubled the brain, driving men to do things they afterwards repented.
He drank only milk, having become accustomed to it during a long life
among the hills. Milk cools the blood, he said, and steadies the hand,
and keeps a man's judgment undisturbed.

The person he had named was found after some further search. He was a
bronzed, clean-shaven type of about fifty, who began by refusing his
services point-blank, but soon relented, on hearing the ex-brigand's
recommendation of his qualities.



Southern saints, like their worshippers, put on new faces and vestments
in the course of ages. Old ones die away; new ones take their place.
Several hundred of the older class of saint have clean faded from the
popular memory, and are now so forgotten that the wisest priest can tell
you nothing about them save, perhaps, that "he's in the
church"--meaning, that some fragment of his holy anatomy survives as a
relic amid a collection of similar antiques. But you can find their
histories in early literature, and their names linger on old maps where
they are given to promontories and other natural features which are
gradually being re-christened.

Such saints were chiefly non-Italian: Byzantines or Africans who, by
miraculous intervention, protected the village or district of which they
were patrons from the manifold scourges of medi-aevalism; they took the
place of the classic tutelar deities. They were men; they could fight;
and in those troublous times that is exactly what saints were made for.

With the softening of manners a new element appears. Male saints lost
their chief _raison d'etre,_ and these virile creatures were superseded
by pacific women. So, to give only one instance, Saint Rosalia in
Palermo displaced the former protector Saint Mark. Her sacred bones were
miraculously discovered in a cave; and have since been identified as
those of a goat. But it was not till the twelfth century that the cult
of female saints began to assume imposing dimensions.

Of the Madonna no mention occurs in the songs of Bishop Paulinus (fourth
century); no monument exists in the Neapolitan catacombs. Thereafter her
cult begins to dominate.

She supplied the natives with what orthodox Christianity did not give
them, but what they had possessed from early times--a female element in
religion. Those Greek settlers had their nymphs, their Venus, and so
forth; the Mother of God absorbed and continued their functions. There
is indeed only one of these female pagan divinities whose role she has
not endeavoured to usurp--Athene. Herein she reflects the minds of her
creators, the priests and common people, whose ideal woman contents
herself with the duties of motherhood. I doubt whether an
Athene-Madonna, an intellectual goddess, could ever have been evolved;
their attitude towards gods in general is too childlike and positive.

South Italians, famous for abstractions in philosophy, cannot endure
them in religion. Unlike ourselves, they do not desire to learn anything
from their deities or to argue about them. They only wish to love and be
loved in return, reserving to themselves the right to punish them, when
they deserve it. Countless cases are on record where (pictures or
statues of) Madonnas and saints have been thrown into a ditch for not
doing what they were told, or for not keeping their share of a bargain.
During the Vesuvius eruption of 1906 a good number were subjected to
this "punishment," because they neglected to protect their worshippers
from the calamity according to contract (so many candles and festivals =
so much protection).

For the same reason the adult Jesus--the teacher, the God--is
practically unknown. He is too remote from themselves and the ordinary
activities of their daily lives; he is not married, like his mother; he
has no trade, like his father (Mark calls him a carpenter); moreover,
the maxims of the Sermon on the Mount are so repugnant to the South
Italian as to be almost incomprehensible. In effigy, this period of
Christ's life is portrayed most frequently in the primitive monuments of
the catacombs, erected when tradition was purer.

Three tangibly-human aspects of Christ's life figure here: the
_bambino-cult,_ which not only appeals to the people's love of babyhood
but also carries on the old traditions of the Lar Familiaris and of
Horus; next, the youthful Jesus, beloved of local female mystics; and
lastly the Crucified--that grim and gloomy image of suffering which was
imported, or at least furiously fostered, by the Spaniards.

The engulfing of the saints by the Mother of God is due also to
political reasons. The Vatican, once centralized in its policy, began to
be disquieted by the persistent survival of Byzantinism (Greek cults and
language lingered up to the twelfth century); with the Tacitean _odium
fratrum_ she exercised more severity towards the sister-faith than
towards actual paganism. [Footnote: Greek and Egyptian anchorites were
established in south Italy by the fourth century. But paganism was still
flourishing, locally, in the sixth. There is some evidence that
Christians used to take part in pagan festivals.]

The Madonna was a fit instrument for sweeping away the particularist
tendencies of the past; she attacked relic-worship and other outworn
superstitions; like a benignant whirlwind she careered over the land,
and these now enigmatical shapes and customs fell faster than leaves of
Vallombrosa. No sanctuary or cave so remote that she did not endeavour
to expel its male saint--its old presiding genius, whether Byzantine or
Roman. But saints have tough lives, and do not yield without a struggle;
they fought for their time-honoured privileges like the "daemons" they
were, and sometimes came off victorious. Those sanctuaries that proved
too strong to be taken by storm were sapped by an artful and determined
siege. The combat goes on to this day. This is what is happening to the
thrice-deposed and still triumphant Saint Januarius, who is hard pressed
by sheer force of numbers. Like those phagocytes which congregate from
all sides to assail some weakened cell in the body physical, even so
Madonna-cults--in frenzied competition with each other--cluster thickest
round some imperilled venerable of ancient lineage, bent on his
destruction. The Madonna dell' Arco, del Soccorso, and at least fifty
others (not forgetting the newly-invented Madonna di Pompei)--they have
all established themselves in the particular domain of St. Januarius;
they are all undermining his reputation, and claiming to possess his
special gifts. [Footnote: He is known to have quelled an outbreak of
Vesuvius in the fifth century, though his earliest church, I believe,
only dates from the ninth. His blood, famous for liquefaction, is not
mentioned till 1337.]

Early monastic movements of the Roman Church also played their part in
obliterating old religious landmarks. Settling down in some remote place
with the Madonna as their leader or as their "second Mother," these
companies of holy men soon acquired such temporal and spiritual
influence as enabled them successfully to oppose their divinity to the
local saint, whose once bright glories began to pale before her
effulgence. Their labours in favour of the Mother of God were part of
that work of consolidating Papal power which was afterwards carried on
by the Jesuits.

Perhaps what chiefly accounts for the spread of Madonna-worship is the
human craving for novelty. You can invent most easily where no fixed
legends are established. Now the saints have fixed legendary attributes
and histories, and as culture advances it becomes increasingly difficult
to manufacture new saints with fresh and original characters and yet
passable pedigrees (the experiment is tried, now and again); while the
old saints have been exploited and are now inefficient--worn out, like
old toys. Madonna, on the other hand, can subdivide with the ease of an
amoeba, and yet never lose her identity or credibility; moreover, thanks
to her divine character, anything can be accredited to her--anything
good, however wonderful; lastly, the traditions concerning her are so
conveniently vague that they actually foster the mythopoetic faculty.
Hence her success. Again: the man-saints were separatists; they fought
for their own towns against African intruders, and in those frequent and
bloody inter-communal battles which are a feature of Italian
medievalism. Nowadays it is hardly proper that neighbouring townsmen,
aided and abetted by their respective saints, should sally forth to cut
each others' throats. The Madonna, as cosmopolitan Nike, is a fitter
patroness for settled society.

She also found a ready welcome in consequence of the pastoral
institutions of the country in which the mother plays such a conspicuous
role. So deeply are they ingrained here that if the Mother of God had
not existed, the group would have been deemed incomplete; a family
without a mother is to them like a tree without roots--a thing which
cannot be. This accounts for the fact that their Trinity is not ours; it
consists of the Mother, the Father (Saint Joseph), and the Child--with
Saint Anne looming in the background (the grandmother is an important
personage in the patriarchal family). The Creator of all things and the
Holy Ghost have evaporated; they are too intangible and non-human.

But She never became a true cosmopolitan Nike, save in literature. The
decentralizing spirit of South Italy was too strong for her. She had to
conform to the old custom of geographical specialization. In all save in
name she doffed her essential character of Mother of God, and became a
local demi-god; an accessible wonder-worker attached to some particular
district. An inhabitant of village A would stand a poor chance of his
prayers being heard by the Madonna of village B; if you have a headache,
it is no use applying to the _Madonna of the Hens,_ who deals with
diseases of women; you will find yourself in a pretty fix if you expect
financial assistance from the Madonna of village C: she is a
weather-specialist. In short, these hundreds of Madonnas have taken up
the qualities of the saints they supplanted.

They can often outdo them; and this is yet another reason for their
success. It is a well-ascertained fact, for example, that many holy men
have been nourished by the Milk of the Mother of God, "not," as a
Catholic writer says, "in a mystic or spiritual sense, but with their
actual lips"; Saint Bernard "among a hundred, a thousand, others." Nor
is this all, for in the year 1690, a painted image of the Madonna, not
far from the city of Carinola, was observed to "diffuse abundant milk"
for the edification of a great concourse of spectators--a miracle which
was recognized as such by the bishop of that diocese, Monsignor Paolo
Ayrola, who wrote a report on the subject. Some more of this authentic
milk is kept in a bottle in the convent of Mater Domini on Vesuvius, and
the chronicle of that establishment, printed in 1834, says:

"Since Mary is the Mother and Co-redeemer of the Church, may she not
have left some drops of her precious milk as a gift to this Church, even
as we still possess some of the blood of Christ? In various churches
there exists some of this milk, by means of which many graces and
benefits are obtained. We find such relics, for example, in the church
of Saint Luigi in Naples, namely, two bottles full of the milk of the
Blessed Virgin; and this milk becomes fluid on feast-days of the
Madonna, as everybody can see. Also in this convent of Mater Domini the
milk sometimes liquefies." During eruptions of Vesuvius this bottle is
carried abroad in procession, and always dispels the danger. Saint
Januarius must indeed look to his laurels! Meanwhile it is interesting
to observe that the Mother of God has condescended to employ the method
of holy relics which she once combated so strenuously, her milk
competing with the blood of Saint John, the fat of Saint Laurence, and
those other physiological curios which are still preserved for the
edification of believers.

All of which would pass if a subtle poison had not been creeping in to
taint religious institutions. Taken by themselves, these infantile
observances do not necessarily harm family life, the support of the
state; for a man can believe a considerable deal of nonsense, and yet go
about his daily work in a natural and cheerful manner. But when the body
is despised and tormented the mind loses its equilibrium, and when that
happens nonsense may assume a sinister shape. We have seen it in
England, where, during the ascetic movement of Puritanism, more witches
were burnt than in the whole period before and after.

The virus of asceticism entered South Italy from three principal
sources. From early ages the country had stood in commercial relations
with the valley of the Nile; and even as its black magic is largely
tinged with Egyptian practices, so its magic of the white kind--its
saintly legends--bear the impress of the self-macerations and perverted
life-theories of those desert-lunatics who called themselves Christians.
[Footnote: These ascetics were here before Christianity (see Philo
Judaeus); in fact, there is not a single element in the new faith which
had not been independently developed by the pagans, many of whom, like
Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, were ripe for the most abject
self-abasement.] But this Orientalism fell at first upon unfruitful
soil; the Vatican was yet wavering, and Hellenic notions of
conduct still survived. It received a further rebuff at the hands of men
like Benedict, who set up sounder ideals of holiness, introducing a
gleam of sanity even in that insanest of institutions--the herding
together of idle men to the glory of God.

But things became more centralized as the Papacy gainedground. The
strong Christian, the independent ruler or warrior or builder saint, was
tolerated only if he conformed to its precepts; and the inauspicious
rise of subservient ascetic orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans,
who quickly invaded the fair regions of the south, gave an evil tone to
their Christianity.

There has always been a contrary tendency at work: the Ionic spirit,
heritage of the past. Monkish ideals of chastity and poverty have never
appealed to the hearts of people, priests or prelates of the south; they
will endure much fondness in their religion, but not those phenomena of
cruelty and pruriency which are inseparably connected with asceticism;
their notions have ever been akin to those of the sage Xenocrates, who
held that "happiness consists not only in the possession of human
virtues, but _in the accomplishment of natural acts."_ Among the latter
they include the acquisition of wealth and the satisfaction of carnal
needs. At this time, too, the old Hellenic curiosity was not wholly
dimmed; they took an intelligent interest in imported creeds like that
of Luther, which, if not convincing, at least satisfied their desire for
novelty. Theirs was exactly the attitude of the Athenians towards Paul's
"New God"; and Protestantism might have spread far in the south, had it
not been ferociously repressed.

But after the brilliant humanistic period of the Aragons there followed
the third and fiercest reaction--that of the Spanish viceroys, whose
misrule struck at every one of the roots of national prosperity. It is
that "seicentismo" which a modern writer (A. Niceforo, "L'Italia
barbara," 1898) has recognized as the blight, the evil genius, of south
Italy. The Ionic spirit did not help the people much at this time. The
greatest of these viceroys, Don Pietro di Toledo, hanged 18,000 of them
in eight years, and then confessed, with a sigh, that "he did not know
what more he could do." What more _could_ he do? As a pious Spaniard he
was incapable of understanding that quarterings and breakings on the
rack were of less avail than the education of the populace in certain
secular notions of good conduct--notions which it was the business of
his Church not to teach. Reading through the legislation of the
viceregal period, one is astonished to find how little was done for the
common people, who lived like the veriest beasts of earth.

Their civil rulers--scholars and gentlemen, most of them--really
believed that the example of half a million illiterate and vicious monks
was all the education they needed. And yet one notes with surprise that
the Government was perpetually at loggerheads with the ecclesiastical
authorities. True; but it is wonderful with what intuitive alacrity they
joined forces when it was a question of repelling their common
antagonist, enlightenment.

From this rank soil there sprang up an exotic efflorescence of holiness.
If south Italy swarmed with sinners, as the experiences of Don Pietro
seemed to show, it also swarmed with saints. And hardly one of them
escaped the influence of the period, the love of futile ornamentation.
Their piety is overloaded with embellishing touches and needless
excrescences of virtue. It was the baroque period of saintliness, as of

I have already given some account of one of them, the Flying Monk
(Chapter X), and have perused the biographies of at least fifty others.
One cannot help observing a great uniformity in their lives--a kind of
family resemblance. This parallelism is due to the simple reason that
there is only one right for a thousand wrongs. One may well look in
vain, here, for those many-tinted perversions and aberrations which
disfigure the histories of average mankind. These saints are all
alike--monotonously alike, if one cares to say so--in their chastity and
other official virtues. But a little acquaintance with the subject will
soon show you that, so far as the range of their particular Christianity
allowed of it, there is a praiseworthy and even astonishing diversity
among them. Nearly all of them could fly, more or less; nearly all of
them could cure diseases and cause the clouds to rain; nearly all of
them were illiterate; and every one of them died in the odour of
sanctity--with roseate complexion, sweetly smelling corpse, and flexible
limbs. Yet each one has his particular gifts, his strong point. Joseph
of Copertino specialized in flying; others were conspicuous for their
heroism in sitting in hot baths, devouring ordure, tormenting themselves
with pins, and so forth.

Here, for instance, is a good representative biography--the Life of
Saint Giangiuseppe della Croce (born 1654), reprinted for the occasion
of his solemn sanctification. [Footnote: "Vita di S. Giangiuseppe della
Croce . . . Scritta dal P. Fr. Diodato dell' Assunta per la
Beatificazione ed ora ristampata dal postulatore della causa P. Fr.
Giuseppe Rostoll in occasione della solenne Santificazione." Roma,

He resembled other saints in many points. He never allowed the "vermin
which generated in his bed" to be disturbed; he wore the same clothes
for sixty-four years on end; with women his behaviour was that of an
"animated statue," and during his long life he never looked any one in
the face (even his brother-monks were known to him only by their
voices); he could raise the dead, relieve a duchess of a devil in the
shape of a black dog, change chestnuts into apricots, and bad wine into
good; his flesh was encrusted with sores, the result of his fierce
scarifications; he was always half starved, and when delicate viands
were brought to him, he used to say to his body: "Have you seen them?
Have you smelt them? Then let that suffice for you."

He, too, could fly a little. So once, when he was nowhere to be found,
the monks of the convent at last discovered him in the church, "raised
so high above the ground that his head touched the ceiling." This is not
a bad performance for a mere lad, as he then was. And how useful this
gift became in old age was seen when, being almost incapable of moving
his legs, and with body half paralysed, he was nevertheless enabled to
accompany a procession for the length of two miles on foot, walking, to
the stupefaction of thousands of spectators, at about a cubit's height
above the street, on air; after the fashion of those Hindu gods whose
feet--so the pagans fable--are too pure to touch mortal earth.

His love of poverty, moreover, was so intense that even after his death
a picture of him, which his relatives had tried to attach to the wall in
loving remembrance, repeatedly fell down again, although nailed very
securely; nor did it remain fixed until they realized that its costly
gilt frame was objectionable to the saint in heaven, and accordingly
removed it. No wonder the infant Jesus was pleased to descend from the
breast of Mary and take rest for several hours in the arms of Saint
Giangiuseppe, who, on being disturbed by some priestly visitor,
exclaimed, "O how I have enjoyed holding the Holy Babe in my arms!" This
is an old and favourite motif; it occurs, for example, in the Fioretti
of Saint Francis; there are precedents, in fact, for all these divine

But his distinguishing feature, his "dominating gift," was that of
prophecy, especially in foretelling the deaths of children, "which he
almost always accompanied with jocular words _(scherzi)_ on his lips."
He would enter a house and genially remark: "O, what an odour of
Paradise "; sooner or later one or more of the children of the family
would perish. To a boy of twelve he said, "Be good, Natale, for the
angels are coming to take you." These playful words seem to have weighed
considerably on the boy's mind and, sure enough, after a few years he
died. But even more charming--_piu grazioso,_ the biographer calls
it--was the incident when he once asked a father whether he would give
his son to Saint Pasquale. The fond parent agreed, thinking that the
words referred to the boy's future career in the Church. But the saint
meant something quite different--he meant a career in heaven! And in
less than a month the child died. To a little girl who was crying in the
street he said: "I don't want to hear you any more. Go and sing in
Paradise." And meeting her a short time after, he said, "What, are you
still here?" In a few days she was dead.

The biography gives many instances of this pretty gift which would
hardly have contributed to the saint's popularity in England or any
other country save this, where--although the surviving youngsters are
described as "struck with terror at the mere name of the Servant of
God"--the parents were naturally glad to have one or two angels in the
family, to act as _avvocati_ (pleaders) for those that remained on earth.

And the mention of the legal profession brings me to one really
instructive miracle. It is usually to be observed, after a saint has
been canonized, that heaven, by some further sign or signs, signifies
approval of this solemn act of the Vicar of God; indeed, to judge by
these biographies, such a course is not only customary but, to use a
worldly expression, _de rigueur._ And so it happened after the decree
relative to Saint Giangiuseppe had been pronounced in the Vatican
basilica by His Holiness Pius VI, in the presence of the assembled
cardinals. Innumerable celestial portents (their enumeration fills
eleven pages of the "Life") confirmed and ratified the great event, and
among them this: the notary, who had drawn up both the ordinary and the
apostolic _processi,_ was cured of a grievous apoplexy, survived for
four years, and finally died on the very anniversary of the death of the
saint. Involuntarily one contrasts this heavenly largesse with the
sordid guineas which would have contented an English lawyer. . . .

Or glance into the biography of the Venerable Sister Orsola Benincasa.
She, too, could fly a little and raise men from the dead. She cured
diseases, foretold her own death and that of others, lived for a month
on the sole nourishment of a consecrated wafer; she could speak Latin
and Polish, although she had been taught nothing at all; wrought
miracles after death, and possessed to a heroic degree the virtues of
patience, humility, temperance, justice, etc. etc. So inflamed was she
with divine love, that almost every day thick steam issued out of her
mouth, which was observed to be destructive to articles of clothing; her
heated body, when ice was applied, used to hiss like a red-hot iron
under similar conditions.

As a child, she already cried for other people's sins; she was always
hunting for her own and would gladly, at the end of her long and
blameless career, have exchanged her sins for those of the youthful
Duchess of Aquaro. An interesting phenomenon, by the way, the theory of
sinfulness which crops up at this particular period of history. For our
conception of sin is alien to the Latin mind. There is no "sin" in Italy
(and this is not the least of her many attractions); it is an article
manufactured exclusively for export. [Footnote: "Vita della Venerabile
Serva di Dio Suor Orsola Benincasa, Scritta da un cherico regolare,"
Rome, 1796. There are, of course, much earlier biographies of all these
saints; concerning Sister Orsola we possess, for instance, the
remarkable pamphlet by Cesare d'Eboli ("Caesaris Aevoli Neapolitan!
Apologia pro Ursula Neapolitana quas ad urbem accessit MDLXXXIII,"
Venice, 1589), which achieves the distinction of never mentioning Orsola
by name: she is only once referred to as "mulier de qua agitur." But I
prefer to quote from the more recent ones because they are
authoritative, in so far as they have been written on the basis of
miracles attested by eye-witnesses and accepted as veracious by the
Vatican tribunal. Sister Orsola, though born in 154.7, was only declared
Venerable by Pontifical decree of 1793. Biographies prior to that date
are therefore ex-parte statements and might conceivably contain errors
of fact. This is out of the question here, as is clearly shown by the
author on p. 178.]

Orsola's speciality, however, were those frequent trance-like conditions
by reason of which, during her lifetime, she was created "Protectress of
the City of Naples." I cannot tell whether she was the first woman-saint
to obtain this honour. Certainly the "Seven Holy Protectors" concerning
whom Paolo Regio writes were all musty old males. . . .

And here is quite another biography, that of Alfonso di Liguori (born
1696), the founder of the Redemptorist order and a canonized saint. He,
too, could fly a little and raise the dead to life; he suffered
devil-temptations, caused the clouds to rain, calmed an eruption of
Vesuvius, multiplied food, and so forth. Such was his bashfulness, that
even as an aged bishop he refused to be unrobed by his attendants; such
his instinct for moral cleanliness that once, when a messenger had
alighted at his convent accompanied by a soldier, he instantly detected,
under the military disguise, the lineaments of a young woman-friend.
Despite these divine gifts, he always needed a confessor. An enormous
batch of miracles accompanied his sanctification.

But he only employed these divine graces by the way; he was by
profession not a _taumaturgo,_ but a clerical instructor, organizer,
and writer. The Vatican has conferred on him the rare title of "Doctor
Ecclesia," which he shares with Saint Augustine and some others.

The biography from which I have drawn these details was printed in Rome
in 1839. It is valuable because it is modern and so far authentic; and
for two other reasons. In the first place, curiously enough, it barely
mentions the saint's life-work--his writings. Secondly, it is a good
example of what I call the pious palimpsest. It is over-scored with
contradictory matter. The author, for example, while accidentally
informing us that Alfonso kept a carriage, imputes to him a degrading,
Oriental love of dirt and tattered garments, in order (I presume) to
make his character conform to the grosser ideals of the mendicant
friars. I do not believe in these traits--in his hatred of soap and
clean apparel. From his works I deduce a different original. He was
refined and urbane; of a casuistical and prying disposition; like many
sensitive men, unduly preoccupied with the sexual life of youth; like a
true feudal aristocrat, ever ready to apply force where verbal
admonition proved unavailing. . . .

In wonder-working capacities these saints were all put in the shade by
the Calabrian Francesco di Paola, who raised fifteen persons from the
dead in his boyhood. He used to perform a hundred miracles a day, and
"it was a miracle, when a day passed without a miracle." The index alone
of any one of his numerous biographies is enough to make one's head swim.

The vast majority of saints of this period do not belong to that third
sex after which, according to some, the human race has ever striven--the
constructive and purposeful third sex. They are wholly sexless, unsocial
and futile beings, the negation of every masculine or feminine virtue.
Their independence fettered by the iron rules of the Vatican and of
their particular order, these creatures had _nothing to do;_ and like
the rest of us under such conditions, became vacuously introspective.
Those honourable saintly combats of the past with external enemies and
plagues and stormy seasons were transplanted from without into the
microcosm within, taking the shape of hallucinations and
demon-temptations. They were no longer actors, but sufferers; automata,
who attained a degree of inanity which would have made their old
Byzantine prototypes burst with envy.

Yet they vary in their gifts; each one, as I have said, has his or her
strong point. Why? The reason of this diversity lies in the furious
competition between the various monastic orders of the time--in those
unedifying squabbles which led to never-ending litigation and complaints
to head-quarters in Rome. Every one of these saints, from the first
dawning of his divine talents, was surrounded by an atmosphere of
jealous hatred on the part of his co-religionists. If one order came out
with a flying wonder, another, in frantic emulation, would introduce
some new speciality to eclipse his fame--something in the fasting line,
it may be; or a female mystic whose palpitating letters to Jesus Christ
would melt all readers to pity. The Franciscans, for instance, dissected
the body of a certain holy Margaret and discovered in her heart the
symbols of the Trinity and of the Passion. This bold and original idea
would have gained them much credit, but for the rival Dominicans, who
promptly discovered, and dissected, another saintly Margaret, whose
heart contained three stones on which were engraven portraits of the
Virgin Mary. [Footnote: These and other details will be found in the
four volumes "Das Heidentum in der romischen Kirche" (Gotha, 1889-91),
by Theodor Trede, a late Protestant parson in Naples, strongly tinged
with anti-Catholicism, but whose facts may be relied upon. Indeed, he
gives chapter and verse for them.] So they ceaselessly unearthed fresh
saints with a view to disparaging each other--all of them waiting for a
favourable moment when the Vatican could be successfully approached to
consider their particular claims. For it stands to reason that a
Carmelite Pope would prefer a Carmelite saint to one of the Jesuits, and
so forth.

And over all throned the Inquisition in Rome, alert, ever-suspicious;
testing the "irregularities" of the various orders and harassing their
respective saints with Olympic impartiality.

I know that mystics such as Orsola Benincasa are supposed to have
another side to their character, an eminently practical side. It is
perfectly true--and we need not go out of England to learn it--that
piety is not necessarily inconsistent with nimbleness in worldly
affairs. But the mundane achievements, the monasteries and churches, of
nine-tenths of these southern ecstatics are the work of the confessor
and not of the saint. Trainers of performing animals are aware how these
differ in plasticity of disposition and amenability to discipline; the
spiritual adviser, who knows his business, must be quick to detect these
various qualities in the minds of his penitents and to utilize them to
the best advantage. It is inconceivable, for instance, that the
convent-foundress Orsola was other than a neuropathic nonentity--a blind
instrument in the hands of what we should call her backers, chiefest of
whom (in Naples) were two Spanish priests, Borii and Navarro, whose
local efforts were supported, at head-quarters, by the saintly Filippo
Neri and the learned Cardinal Baronius.

This is noticeable. The earlier of these godly biographies are written
in Latin, and these are more restrained in their language; they were
composed, one imagines, for the priests and educated classes who could
dispense to a certain degree with prodigies. But the later ones, from
the viceregal period onwards, are in the vernacular and display a marked
deterioration; one must suppose that they were printed for such of the
common people as could still read (up to a few years ago, sixty-five per
cent of the populace were analphabetic). They are pervaded by the
characteristic of all contemporary literature and art: that deliberate
intention to _astound_ which originated with the poet Marino, who
declared such to have been his object and ideal. The miracles certainly
do astound; they are as _strepitosi_ (clamour-arousing) as the writers
claim them to be; how they ever came to occur must be left to the
consciences of those who swore on oath to the truth of them.

During this period the Mother of God as a local saint increased in
popularity. There was a ceaseless flow of monographs dealing with
particular Madonnas, as well as a small library on what the Germans
would doubtless call the "Madonna as a Whole." Here is Serafino
Montorio's "Zodiaco di Maria," printed in 1715 on the lines of that
monster of a book by Gumppenberg. It treats of over two hundred
subspecies of Madonna worshipped in different parts of south Italy which
is divided, for these celestial purposes, into twelve regions, according
to the signs of the Zodiac. The book is dedicated by the author to his
"Sovereign Lady the _Gran Madre di Dio"_ and might, in truth, have been
written to the glory of that protean old Magna Mater by one of Juvenal's
"tonsured herd" possessed of much industry but little discrimination.
[Footnote: The Mater Dei was officially installed in the place of Magna
Mater at the Synod of Ephesus in 431.] Such as it is, it reflects the
crude mental status of the Dominican order to which the author belonged.
I warmly recommend this book to all Englishmen desirous of understanding
the south. It is pure, undiluted paganism--paganism of a bad school; one
would think it marked the lowest possible ebb of Christian spirituality.
But this is by no means the case, as I shall presently show.

How different, from such straightforward unreason, are the etherealized,
saccharine effusions of the "Glories of Mary," by Alfonso di Liguori!
They represent the other pole of Mariolatry--the gentlemanly pole. And
under the influence of Mary-worship a new kind of saintly physiognomy
was elaborated, as we can see from contemporary prints and pictures. The
bearded men-saints were extinct; in the place of them this mawkish,
sub-sexual love for the Virgin developed a corresponding type of
adorer--clean-shaven, emasculate youths, posing in ecstatic attitudes
with a nauseous feminine smirk. Rather an unpleasant sort of saint.

The unwholesome chastity-ideal, without which no holy man of the period
was "complete," naturally left its mark upon literature, notably on that
of certain Spanish theologians. But good specimens of what I mean may
also be found in the Theologia Moralis of Liguori; the kind of stuff,
that is, which would be classed as "curious" in catalogues and kept in a
locked cupboard by the most broad-minded paterfamilias. Reading these
elucubrations of Alfonso's, one feels that the saint has pondered long
and lovingly upon themes like _an et quando peccata sint oscula_ or _de
tactu et adspectu corporis;_ he writes with all the authority of an
expert whose richly-varied experiences in the confessional have been
amplified and irradiated by divine inspiration. I hesitate what to call
this literature, seeing that it was obviously written to the glory of
God and His Virgin Mother. The congregation of the Index, which was
severe in the matter of indecent publications and prohibited Boccaccio's
Decameron on these grounds, hailed with approval the appearance of such
treatises composed, as they were, for the guidance of young priests.

Cruelty (in the shape of the Inquisition) and lasciviousness (as
exemplified by such pious filth)--these are the prime fruits of that
cult of asceticism which for centuries the Government strove to impose
upon south Italy. If the people were saved, it was due to that
substratum of sanity, of Greek _sophrosyne,_ which resisted the one and
derided the other. Whoever has saturated himself with the records will
marvel not so much that the inhabitants preserved some shreds of common
sense and decent feeling, as that they survived at all--he will marvel
that the once fair kingdom was not converted into a wilderness, saintly
but uninhabited, like Spain itself.

For the movement continued in a vertiginous crescendo. Spaniardism
culminated in Bourbonism, and this, again, reached its climax in the
closing years of the eighteenth century, when the conditions of south
Italy baffled description. I have already (p. 212) given the formidable
number of its ecclesiastics; the number of saints was commensurate,
but--as often happens when the quantity is excessive--the quality
declined. This lazzaroni-period was the debacle of holiness. So true it
is that our gods reflect the hearts that make them.

The Venerable Fra Egidio, a native of Taranto, is a good example of
contemporary godliness. My biography of him was printed in Naples in
1876, [Footnote: "Vita del Venerabile servo di Dio Fra Egidio da S.
Giuseppe laico professo alcantarino," Napoli, 1876.] and contains a
dedicatory epistle addressed to the Blessed Virgin by her "servant,
subject, and most loving son Rosario Frungillo"--a canon of the church
and the author of the book.

This "taumaturgo" could perform all the ordinary feats; I will not
linger over them. What has made him popular to this day are those
wonders which appealed to the taste of the poorer people, such as, for
example, that miracle of the eels. A fisherman had brought fourteen
hundredweight of these for sale in the market. Judge of his
disappointment when he discovered that they had all died during the
journey (southerners will not pay for dead eels). Fortunately, he saw
the saint arriving in a little boat, who informed him that the eels were
"not dead, but only asleep," and who woke them up again by means of a
relic of Saint Pasquale which he always carried about with him, after a
quarter of an hour's devout praying, during which the perspiration oozed
from his forehead. The eels, says the writer, had been dead and slimy,
but now turned their bellies downwards once more and twisted about in
their usual spirals; there began a general weeping among the onlookers,
and the fame of the miracle immediately spread abroad. He could do the
same with lobsters, cows, and human beings.

Thus a cow belonging to Fra Egidio's monastery was once stolen by an
impious butcher, and cut up into the usual joints with a view to a
clandestine sale of the meat. The saint discovered the beast's remains,
ordered that they should be laid together on the floor in the shape of a
living cow, with the entrails, head and so forth in their natural
positions; then, having made the sign of the cross with his cord upon
the slaughtered beast, and rousing up all his faith, he said: "In the
name of God and of Saint Pasquale, arise, Catherine!" (Catherine was the
cow's name.) "At these words the animal lowed, shook itself, and stood
up on its feet alive, whole and strong, even as it had been before it
was killed."

In the case of one of the dead men whom he brought to life, the
undertakers were already about their sad task; but Fra Egidio, viewing
the corpse, remarked in his usual manner that the man was "not dead, but
only asleep," and after a few saintly manipulations, roused him from his
slumber. The most portentous of his wonders, however, are those which he
wrought _after his own death_ by means of his relics and otherwise; they
have been sworn to by many persons. Nor did his hand lose its old
cunning, in these posthumous manifestations, with the finny tribe. A
certain woman, Maria Scuotto, was enabled to resuscitate a number of
dead eels by means of an image of the deceased saint which she cast
among them.

Every one of the statements in this biography is drawn from the
_processi_ to which I will presently refer; there were 202 witnesses who
deposed "under the rigour and sanctity of oath" to the truth of these
miracles; and among those who were personally convinced of the
Venerable's rare gifts was the Royal Family of Naples, the archbishop of
that town, as well as innumerable dukes and princes. An embittered
rationalist would note that the reading of Voltaire, at this period, was
punished with three years' galley-slavery and that several thousand
citizens were hanged for expressing liberal opinions; he will suggest
that belief in the supernatural, rejected by the thinking classes, finds
an abiding shelter among royalty and the proletariat.

It occurs to me, a propos of Fra Egidio, to make the obvious statement
that an account of an occurrence is not necessarily true, because it
happened long ago. Credibility does not improve, like violins and port
wine, with lapse of years. This being the case, it will not be
considered objectionable to say that there are certain deeds attributed
to holy men of olden days which, to speak frankly, are open to doubt; or
at least not susceptible of proof. Who were these men, if they ever
existed? and who vouches for their prodigies? This makes me think that
Pope Gelasius showed no small penetration in excluding, as early as the
fifth century, some few _acta sanctorum_ from the use of the churches;
another step in the same direction was taken in the twelfth century when
the power of canonizing saints, which had hitherto been claimed by all
bishops, became vested in the Pope alone; and yet another, when Urban
VIII forbade the nomination of local patron saints by popular vote.
Pious legends are supposed to have their uses as an educative agency. So
be it. But such relations of imperfectly ascertained and therefore
questionable wonders suffer from one grave drawback: they tend to shake
our faith in the evidence of well-authenticated ones. Thus Saint Patrick
is also reported to have raised a cow from the dead--five cows, to be
quite accurate; but who will come forward and vouch for the fact? No
one. That is because Saint Patrick belongs to the legendary stage; he
died, it is presumed, about 490.

Here, with Saint Egidio, we are on other ground; on the ground of bald
actuality. He expired in 1812, and the contemporaries who have attested
his miraculous deeds are not misty phantoms of the Thebais; they were
creatures of flesh and blood, human, historical personages, who were
dressed and nourished and educated after the fashion of our own
grandfathers. Yet it was meet and proper that the documentary evidence
as to his divine graces should be conscientiously examined. And only in
1888 was the crowning work accomplished. In that year His Holiness Leo
XIII and the Sacred Congregation of Cardinals solemnly approved the
evidence and inscribed the name of Egidio in the book of the Blessed.

To touch upon a few minor matters--I observe that Fra Egidio, like the
Flying Monk, was "illiterate," and similarly preserved up to a decrepit
age "the odorous lily of purity, which made him appear in words and
deeds as a most innocent child." He was accustomed to worship before a
favourite picture of the Mother of God which he kept adorned with
candles; and whenever the supply of these ran out, he was wont to
address Her with infantile simplicity of heart and in the local dialect:
"Now there's no wax for You; so think about it Yourself; if not, You'll
have to go without." The playful-saintly note. . . .

But there is this difference between him and earlier saints that whereas
they, all too often, suffered in solitude, misunderstood and rejected of
men, he enjoyed the highest popularity during his whole long life.
Wherever he went, his footsteps were pursued by crowds of admirers,
eager to touch his wonder-working body or to cut off shreds of his
clothing as amulets; hardly a day passed that he did not return home
with garments so lacerated that only half of them was left; every
evening they had to be patched up anew, although they were purposely
stitched full of wires and small chains of iron as a protection. The
same passionate sympathy continued after death, for while his body was
lying in state a certain Luigi Ascione, a surgeon, pushed through the
crowd and endeavoured to cut off one of his toe-nails with the flesh
attached to it; he admitted being driven to this act of pious
depredation by the pleading request of the Spanish Ambassador and a
Neapolitan princess, who held Fra Egidio in great veneration.

This is not an isolated instance. Southerners love their saints, and do
not content themselves with chill verbal expressions of esteem. So the
biographer of Saint Giangiuseppe records that "one of the deceased
saint's toes was bitten off with most regret-able devotion by the teeth
of a man in the crowd, who wished to preserve it as a relic. And the
blood from the wound flowed so copiously and so freely that many pieces
of cloth were saturated with it; nor did it cease to flow till the
precious corpse was interred." It is hard to picture such proofs of
fervid popularity falling to the lot of English deans and bishops.

He was modern, too, in this sense, that he did not torment himself with
penitences (decay of Spanish austerity); on the contrary, he even kept
chocolate, honey and suchlike delicacies in his cell. In short, he was
an up-to-date saint, who despised mediaeval practices and lived in a
manner befitting the age which gave him birth. In this respect he
resembles our English men of holiness, who exercise a laudable
self-denial in resisting the seductions of the ascetic life.

Meanwhile, the cult of the Mother of God continued to wax in favour, and
those who are interested in its development should read the really
remarkable book by Antonio Cuomo, "Saggio apologetico della belezza
celeste e divina di Maria S.S. Madre di Dio" (Castellamare, 1863). It is
a diatribe against modernism by a champion of lost causes, an
exacerbated lover of the "Singular Virgin and fecund Mother of the
Verb." His argument, as I understand it, is the _consensus gentium_
theory applied to the Virgin Mary. In defence of this thesis, the book
has been made to bristle with quotations; they stand out like quills
upon the porcupine, ready to impale the adventurous sceptic. Pliny and
Virgil and the Druids and Balaam's Ass are invoked as foretelling Her
birth; the Old Testament--that venerable sufferer, as Huxley called
it--is twisted into dire convulsions for the same purpose; much evidence
is also drawn from Hebrew observances and from the Church Fathers. But
the New Testamentary record is seldom invoked; the Saviour, on the rare
occasions when He is mentioned, being dismissed as "G. C." The volume
ends with a pyrotechnical display of invective against non-Catholic
heretics; a medley of threats and abuse worthy of those breezy days of
Erasmus, when theologians really said what they thought of each other.
The frank polytheism of Montorio is more to my taste. This outpouring of
papistical rhetoric gives me unwarrantable sensations--it makes me feel
positively Protestant.

Another sign of increasing popularity is that the sacred bacchanals
connected with the "crowning" of various Madonnas were twice as
numerous, in Naples, in the nineteenth as in the eighteenth century. Why
an image of the Mother of God should be decked with this worldly symbol,
as a reward for services rendered, will be obscure only to those who
fail to appreciate the earthly-tangible complexion of southern religion.
Puerility is its key-note. The Italian is either puerile or adult; the
Englishman remains everlastingly adolescent. . . .

Now of course it is open to any one to say that the pious records from
which I have quoted are a desolation of the spirit; that they possess
all the improbability of the "Arabian Nights," and none of their charm;
that all the distempered dreamings to which our poor humanity is subject
have given themselves a rendezvous in their pages. I am not for
disputing the point, and I can understand how one man may be saddened by
their perusal, while another extracts therefrom some gleams of mirth.
For my part, I merely verify this fact: the native has been fed with
this stuff for centuries, and if we desire to enter into his feelings,
we must feed ourselves likewise--up to a point. The past is the key to
the present. That is why I have dwelt at such length on the subject--in
the hope of clearing up the enigma in the national character: the
unpassable gulf, I mean, between the believing and the unbelieving
sections of the community.

An Anglo-Saxon arriving at Bagnara and witnessing a procession in honour
of that Sacred Hat of the Mother of God which has led me into this
disquisition, would be shocked at the degree of bigotry implied. "The
Hat of the Virgin Mary," he would say--"what next?" Then, accosting some
ordinary citizen not in the procession--any butcher or baker--he would
receive a shock of another kind; he would be appalled at the man's
language of contemptuous derision towards everything which he, the
Anglo-Saxon, holds sacred in biblical tradition. There is no attempt,
here, at "reconciliation." The classes calling themselves enlightened
are making a clean sweep of the old gods in a fashion that bewilders us
who have accustomed ourselves to see a providential design in everything
that exists (possibly because our acquaintance with a providentially-
designed Holy Office is limited to an obsolete statute, the genial
_de haeretico comburendo)._ The others, the fetishists, have
remained on the spiritual level of their own saints. And there we stand
today. That section so numerous in England, the pseudo-pagans,
crypto-Christians, or whatever obscurantists like Messrs. A. J. Balfour
and Mallock like to call themselves (the men who, with disastrous
effects, transport into realms of pure intelligence the spirit of
compromise which should be restricted to practical concerns)--that
section has no representatives hereabouts.

Fully to appreciate their attitude as opposed to ours, we must also
remember that the south Italian does not trouble himself about the
objective truth of any miracle whatever; his senses may be perverted,
but his intelligence remains outside the sphere of infection. This is
his saving grace. To the people here, the affair of Moses and the
Burning Bush, the raising of Lazarus, and Egidio's cow-revival, are on
the identical plane of authenticity; the Bible is one of a thousand
saints' books; its stories may be as true as theirs, or just as untrue;
in any case, what has that to do with his own worldly conduct? But the
Englishman with ingenuous ardour thinks to believe in the Burning Bush
wonder, and in so far his intelligence is infected; with equal ardour he
excludes the cow-performance from the range of possibility; and to him
it matters considerably which of the miracles are true and which are
false, seeing that his conduct is supposed to take colour from such
supernatural events. Ultra-credulous as to one set of narratives, he has
no credulity left for other sets; he concentrates his believing energies
upon a small space, whereas the Italian's are diffused, thinly, over a
wide area. It is the old story: Gothic intensity and Latin spaciousness.
So the Gothic believer takes his big dose of irrationalism on one fixed
day; the Latin, by attending Mass every morning, spreads it over the
whole week. And the sombre strenuousness of our northern character
expects a remuneration for this outlay of faith, while the other
contents himself with such sensuous enjoyment as he can momentarily
extract from his ceremonials. That is why our English religion has a
_democratic_ tinge distasteful to the Latin who, at bottom, is always a
philosopher; democratic because it relies for its success, like
democratic politicians, upon promises--promises that may or may not be
kept--promises that form no part (they are only an official appendage)
of the childlike paganism of the south. . . .

Fifteen francs will buy you a reliable witness for a south Italian
lawsuit; you must pay a good deal more in England. Thence one might
argue that the cult of credulity implied by these saintly biographies is
responsible for this laxness, for the general disregard of veracity. I
doubt it. I am not inclined to blame the monkish saint-makers for this
particular trait; I suspect that for fifteen francs you could have
bought a first-class witness under Pericles. Southerners are not yet
pressed for time; and when people are not pressed for time, they do not
learn the time-saving value of honesty. Our respect for truth and fair
dealing, such as it is, derives from modern commerce; in the Middle Ages
nobody was concerned about honesty save a few trading companies like the
Hanseatic League, and the poor mediaeval devil (the only gentleman of
his age) who was generally pressed for time and could be relied upon to
keep his word. Even God, of whom they talked so much, was systematically
swindled. Where time counts for nothing, expeditious practices between
man and man are a drug in the market. Besides, it must be noted that
this churchly misteaching was only a fraction of that general shattering
which has disintegrated all the finer fibres of public life. It stands
to reason that the fragile tissues of culture are dislocated, and its
delicate edges defaced, by such persistive governmental brutalization as
the inhabitants have undergone. None but the grossest elements in a
people can withstand enduring misrule; none but a mendacious and servile
nature will survive its wear and tear. So it comes about that up to a
few years ago the nobler qualities which we associate with those old
Hellenic colonists--their intellectual curiosity, their candid outlook
upon life, their passionate sense of beauty, their love of nature--all
these things had been abraded, leaving, as residue, nothing save what
the Greeks shared with ruder races. There are indications that this
state of affairs is now ending.

The position is this. The records show that the common people never took
their saints to heart in the northern fashion--as moral exemplars; from
beginning to end, they have only utilized them as a pretext for fun and
festivals, a means of brightening the cata-combic, the essentially
sunless, character of Christianity. So much for the popular saints, the
patrons and heroes. The others, the ecclesiastical ones, are an
artificial product of monkish institutions. These monkeries were
established in the land by virtue of civil authority. Their continued
existence, however, was contingent upon the goodwill of the Vatican. One
of the surest and cheapest methods of obtaining this goodwill was to
produce a satisfactory crop of saints whose beatification swelled the
Vatican treasury with the millions collected from a deluded populace for
that end. The monks paid nothing; they only furnished the saint and, in
due course, the people's money. Can we wonder that they discovered
saints galore? Can we wonder that the Popes were gratified by their
pious zeal?

So things went on till yesterday. But now a large proportion of the ten
thousand (?) churches and monasteries of Naples are closed or actually
in ruins; wayside sanctuaries crumble to dust in picturesque fashion;
the price of holy books has fallen to zero, and the godly brethren have
emigrated to establish their saint-manufactories elsewhere. Not without
hope of success; for they will find purchasers of their wares wherever
mankind can be interested in that queer disrespect of the body which is
taught by the metaphysical ascetics of the East.

It was Lewes, I believe, who compared metaphysics to ghosts by saying
that there was no killing either of them; one could only dissipate them
by throwing light into the dark places they love to inhabit--to show
that nothing is there. Spectres, likewise, are these saintly caricatures
of humanity, perambulating metaphysics, the application _in corpore
vili_ of Oriental fakirism. Nightmare-literature is the crazy recital of
their deeds and sufferings. Pathological phantoms! The state of mind
which engenders and cherishes such illusions is a disease, and it has
been well said that "you cannot refute a disease." You cannot nail
ghosts to the counter.

But a ray of light . . .



Day was barely dawning when we left Delianuova and began the long and
weary climb up Montalto. Chestnuts gave way to beeches, but the summit
receded ever further from us. And even before reaching the uplands, the
so-called Piano di Carmelia, we encountered a bank of bad weather. A
glance at the map will show that Montalto must be a cloud-gatherer,
drawing to its flanks every wreath of vapour that rises from Ionian and
Tyrrhenian; a west wind was blowing that morning, and thick fogs clung
to the skirts of the peak. We reached the summit (1956 metres) at last,
drenched in an icy bath of rain and sleet, and with fingers so numbed
that we could hardly hold our sticks.

Of the superb view--for such it must be--nothing whatever was to be
seen; we were wrapped in a glacial mist. On the highest point stands a
figure of the Redeemer. It was dragged up in pieces from Delianuova some
seven years ago, but soon injured by frosts; it has lately been
refashioned. The original structure may be due to the same pious
stimulus as that which placed the crosses on Monte Vulture and other
peaks throughout the country--a counterblast to the rationalistic
congress at Rome in 1904, when Giordano Bruno became, for a while, the
hero of the country. This statue does not lack dignity. The Saviour's
regard turns towards Reggio, the capital of the province; and one hand
is upraised in calm and godlike benediction.

Passing through magnificent groves of fir, we descended rapidly into
anothsr climate, into realms of golden sunshine. Among these trees I
espied what has become quite a rare bird in Italy--the common
wood-pigeon. The few that remain have been driven into the most secluded
recesses of the mountains; it was different in the days of Theocritus,
who sang of this amiable fowl when the climate was colder and the
woodlands reached as far as the now barren seashore. To the firs
succeeded long stretches of odorous pines interspersed with
Mediterranean heath (brayere), which here grows to a height of twelve
feet; one thinks of the number of briar pipes that could be cut out of
its knotty roots. A British Vice-Consul at Reggio, Mr. Kerrich, started
this industry about the year 1899; he collected the roots, which were
sawn into blocks and then sent to France and America to be made into
pipes. This Calabrian briar was considered superior to the French kind,
and Mr. Kerrich had large sales on both sides of the Atlantic; his chief
difficulty was want of labour owing to emigration.

We passed, by the wayside, several rude crosses marking the site of
accidents or murders, as well as a large heap of stones, where-under lie
the bones of a man who attempted to traverse these mountains in
winter-time and was frozen to death.

"They found him," the guide told me, "in spring, when the snow melted
from off his body. There he lay, all fresh and comely! It looked as if
he would presently wake up and continue his march; but he neither spoke
nor stirred. Then they knew he was dead. And they piled all these stones
over him, to prevent the wolves, you understand----"

Aspromonte deserves its name. It is an incredibly harsh agglomeration of
hill and dale, and the geology of the district, as I learned long ago
from my friend Professor Cortese, reveals a perfect chaos of rocks of
every age, torn into gullies by earthquakes and other cataclysms of the
past--at one place, near Scido, is an old stream of lava. Once the
higher ground, the nucleus of the group, is left behind, the wanderer
finds himself lost in a maze of contorted ravines, winding about without
any apparent system of watershed. Does the liquid flow north or south?
Who can tell! The track crawls in and out of valleys, mounts upwards to
heights of sun-scorched bracken and cistus, descends once more into dewy
glades hemmed in by precipices and overhung by drooping fernery. It
crosses streams of crystal clearness, rises afresh in endless gyrations
under the pines only to vanish, yet again, into the twilight of deeper
abysses, where it skirts the rivulet along precarious ledges, until some
new obstruction blocks the way--so it writhes about for long, long
hours. . . .

Here, on the spot, one can understand how an outlaw like Musolino was
enabled to defy justice, helped, as he was, by the fact that the vast
majority of the inhabitants were favourable to him, and that the officer
in charge of his pursuers was paid a fixed sum for every day he spent in
the chase and presumably found it convenient not to discover his
whereabouts. [Footnote: See next chapter.]

We rested awhile, during these interminable meanderings, under the
shadow of a group of pines.

"Do you see that square patch yonder?" said my man. "It is a cornfield.
There Musolino shot one of his enemies, whom he suspected of giving
information to the police. It was well done."

"How many did he shoot, altogether?"

"Only eighteen. And three of them recovered, more or less; enough to
limp about, at all events. Ah, if you could have seen him, sir! He was
young, with curly fair hair, and a face like a rose. God alone can tell
how many poor people he helped in their distress. And any young girl he
met in the mountains he would help with her load and accompany as far as
her home, right into her father's house, which none of us would have
risked, however much we might have liked it. But every one knew that he
was pure as an angel."

"And there was a young fellow here," he went on, "who thought he could
profit by pretending to be Musolino. So one day he challenged a
proprietor with his gun, and took all his money. When it came to
Musolino's ears, he was furious--furious! He lay in wait for him, caught
him, and said: 'How dare you touch fathers of children? Where's that
money you took from Don Antonio?' Then the boy began to cry and tremble
for his life. 'Bring it,' said Musolino, 'every penny, at midday next
Monday, to such and such a spot, or else----' Of course he brought it.
Then he marched him straight into the proprietor's house. 'Here's this
wretched boy, who robbed you in my name. And here's the money: please
count it. Now, what shall we do with him?' So Don Antonio counted the
money. 'It's all there,' he said; 'let him off this time.' Then Musolino
turned to the lad: 'You have behaved like a mannerless puppy,' he said,
'without shame or knowledge of the world. Be reasonable in future, and
understand clearly: I will have no brigandage in these mountains. Leave
that to the syndics and judges in the towns.'"

We did not traverse Musolino's natal village, Santo Stefano; indeed, we
passed through no villages at all. But after issuing from the labyrinth,
we saw a few of them, perched in improbable situations--Roccaforte and
Roghudi on our right; on the other side, Africo and Casalnuovo. Salis
Marschlins says that the inhabitants of these regions are so wild and
innocent that money is unknown; everything is done by barter. That comes
of copying without discrimination. For this statement he utilized the
report of a Government official, a certain Leoni, who was sent hither
after the earthquake of 1783, and found the use of money not unknown,
but forgotten, in consequence of this terrible catastrophe.

These vales of Aspromonte are one of the last refuges of living
Byzantinism. Greek is still spoken in some places, such as Rocca-forte
and Roghudi. Earlier travellers confused the natives with the Albanians;
Niehbuhr, who had an obsession on the subject of Hellenism, imagined
they were relics of old Dorian and Achaean colonies. Scholars are
apparently not yet quite decided upon certain smaller matters. So
Lenormant (Vol. II, p. 433) thinks they came hither after the Turkish
conquest, as did the Albanians; Batiffol argues that they were chased
into Calabria from Sicily by the Arabs after the second half of the
seventh century; Morosi, who treats mostly of their Apulian settlements,
says that they came from the East between the sixth and tenth centuries.
Many students, such as Morelli and Comparetti, have garnered their
songs, language, customs and lore, and whoever wants a convenient resume
of these earlier researches will find it in Pellegrini's book which was
written in 1873 (printed 1880). He gives the number of Greek inhabitants
of these places--Roghudi, for example, had 535 in his day; he has also
noted down these villages, like Africo and Casalnuovo, in which the
Byzantine speech has lately been lost. Bova and Condofuri are now the
head-quarters of mediaeval Greek in these parts.

From afar we had already descried a green range of hills that shut out
the seaward view. This we now began to climb, in wearisome ascension; it
is called _Pie d'lmpisa,_ because "your feet are all the time on a steep
incline." Telegraph wires here accompany the track, a survival of the
war between the Italian Government and Musolino. On the summit lies a
lonely Alp, Campo di Bova, where a herd of cattle were pasturing under
the care of a golden-haired youth who lay supine on the grass, gazing at
the clouds as they drifted in stately procession across the firmament.
Save for a dusky charcoal-burner crouching in a cave, this boy was the
only living person we encountered on our march--so deserted are these
mountain tracks.

At Campo di Bova a path branches off to Staiti; the sea is visible once
more, and there are fine glimpses, on the left, towards Staiti (or is it
Ferruzzano?) and, down the right, into the destructive and dangerous
torrent of Amendolea. Far beyond it, rises the mountain peak of
Pentedattilo, a most singular landmark which looks exactly like a molar
tooth turned upside down, with fangs in air. The road passes through a
gateway in the rock whence, suddenly, a full view is disclosed of Bova
on its hill-top, the houses nestling among huge blocks of stone that
make one think of some cyclopean citadel of past ages. My guide stoutly
denied that this was Bova; the town, he declared, lay in quite another
direction. I imagine he had never been beyond the foot of the "Pie

Here, once more, the late earthquake has done some damage, and there is
a row of trim wooden shelters near the entrance of the town. I may add,
as a picturesque detail, that about one-third of them have never been
inhabited, and are never likely to be. They were erected in the heat of
enthusiasm, and there they will stay, empty and abandoned, until some
energetic mayor shall pull them down and cook his maccheroni with their

Evening was drawing on apace, and whether it was due to the joy of
having accomplished an arduous journey, or to inconsiderate potations of
the Bacchus of Bova, one of the most remarkable wines in Italy, I very
soon found myself on excellent terms with the chief citizens of this
rather sordid-looking little place. A good deal has been written
concerning Bova and its inhabitants, but I should say there is still a
mine of information to be exploited on the spot. They are bilingual, but
while clinging stubbornly to their old speech, they have now embraced
Catholicism. The town kept its Greek religious rites till the latter
half of the sixteenth century; and Rodota has described the "vigorous
resistance" that was made to the introduction of Romanism, and the
ceremonies which finally accompanied that event.

Mine hostess obligingly sang me two or three songs in her native
language; the priest furnished me with curious statistics of folklore
and criminology; and the notary, with whom I conversed awhile on the
tiny piazza that overlooks the coastlands and distant Ionian, was a most
affable gentleman. Seeing that the Christian names of the populace are
purely Italian, I enquired as to their surnames, and learned what I
expected, namely, that a good many Greek family names survive among the
people. His own name, he said, was unquestionably Greek: _Condemi;_ if I
liked, he would go through the local archives and prepare me a list of
all such surnames as appeared to him to be non-Italian; we could thus
obtain some idea of the percentage of Greek families still living here.
My best thanks to the good Signor!

After some further liquid refreshment, a youthful native volunteered to
guide me by short cuts to the remote railway station. We stepped
blithely into the twilight, and during the long descent I discoursed
with him, in fluent Byzantine Greek, of the affairs of his village.

It is my theory that among a populace of this kind the words relative to
agricultural pursuits will be those which are least likely to suffer
change with lapse of years, or to be replaced by others.

Acting on this principle, I put him through a catechism on the subject
as soon as we reached our destination, and was surprised at the relative
scarcity of Italian terms--barely 25 per cent I should say. Needless to
add, I omitted to note them down. Such as it is, be that my contribution
to the literature of these sporadic islets of mediaeval Hellenism, whose
outstanding features are being gnawed away by the waves of military
conscription, governmental schooling, and emigration.

Caulonia, my next halting-place, lay far off the line. I had therefore
the choice of spending the night at Gerace (old Locri) or Rocella
Ionica--intermediate stations. Both of them, to my knowledge, possessing
indifferent accommodation, I chose the former as being the nearest, and
slept there, not amiss; far better than on a previous occasion, when
certain things occurred which need not be set down here.

The trip from Delianuova over the summit of Montalto to Bova railway
station is by no means to be recommended to young boys or persons in
delicate health. Allowing for only forty-five minutes' rest, it took me
fourteen hours to walk to the town of Bova, and the railway station lies
nearly three hours apart from that place. There is hardly a level yard
of ground along the whole route, and though my "guide" twice took the
wrong track and thereby probably lost me some little time, I question
whether the best walker, provided (as I was) with the best maps, will be
able to traverse the distance in less than fifteen hours.

Whoever he is, I wish him joy of his journey. Pleasant to recall,
assuredly; the scenery and the mountain flowers are wondrously
beautiful; but I have fully realized what the men of Delianuova meant,
when they said:

"To Montalto, Yes; to Bova, No."



Musolino will remain a hero for many long years to come. "He did his
duty ": such is the popular verdict on his career. He was not a brigand,
but an unfortunate--a martyr, a victim of the law. So he is described
not only by his country-people, but by the writers of many hundred
serious pamphlets in every province of Italy.

At any bookstall you may buy cheap illustrated tracts and poems setting
forth his achievements. In Cosenza I saw a play of which he was the
leading figure, depicted as a pale, long-suffering gentleman of the
"misunderstood" type--friend of the fatherless, champion of widows and
orphans, rectifier of all wrongs; in fact, as the embodiment of those
virtues which we are apt to associate with Prometheus or the founder of

Only to those who know nothing of local conditions will it seem strange
to say that Italian law is one of the factors that contribute to the
disintegration of family life throughout the country, and to the
production of creatures like Musolino. There are few villages which do
not contain some notorious assassins who have escaped punishment under
sentimental pleas, and now terrorize the neighbourhood. This is one of
the evils which derange patriarchalism; the decent-minded living in fear
of their lives, the others with a conspicuous example before their eyes
of the advantages of evil-doing. And another is that the innocent often
suffer, country-bred lads being locked up for months and years in prison
on the flimsiest pretexts--often on the mere word of some malevolent
local policeman--among hardened habitual offenders. If they survive the
treatment, which is not always the case, they return home completely
demoralized and a source of infection to others.

It is hardly surprising if, under such conditions, rich and poor alike
are ready to hide a picturesque fugitive from justice. A sad state of
affairs, but--as an unsavoury Italian proverb correctly says--_il pesce
puzza dal capo._

For the fault lies not only in the fundamental perversity of all Roman
Law. It lies also in the local administration of that law, which is
inefficient and marked by that elaborate brutality characteristic of all
"philosophic" and tender-hearted nations. One thinks of the Byzantines.
. . . That justices should be well-salaried gentlemen, cognizant of
their duties to society; that carbineers and other police-functionaries
should be civilly responsible for outrages upon the public; that a
so-called "habeas-corpus" Act might be as useful here as among certain
savages of the north; that the Baghdad system of delays leads to
corruption of underpaid officials and witnesses alike (not to speak of
judges)--in a word, that the method pursued hereabouts is calculated to
create rather than to repress crime: these are truths of too elementary
a nature to find their way into the brains of the megalomaniac
rhetoricians who control their country's fate. They will never endorse
that saying of Stendhal's: "In Italy, with the exception of Milan, the
death-penalty is the preface of all civilization." (To this day, the
proportion of murders is still 13 per cent higher in Palermo than in

Speak to the wisest judges of the horrors of cellular confinement such
as Musolino was enduring up to a short time ago, as opposed to capital
punishment, and you will learn that they invoke the humanitarian
Beccaria in justification of it. Theorists!

For less formidable criminals there exists that wondrous institution of
_domicilio coatto,_ which I have studied in the islands of Lipari and
Ponza. These evil-doers seldom try to escape; life is far too
comfortable, and the wine good and cheap; often, on completing their
sentences, they get themselves condemned anew, in order to return. The
hard-working man may well envy their lot, for they recuve free lodging
from the Government, a daily allowance of money, and two new suits of
clothes a year--they are not asked to do a stroke of work in return, but
may lie in bed all day long, if so disposed. The law-abiding citizen,
meanwhile, pays for the upkeep of this horde of malefactors, as well as
for the army of officials who are deputed to attend to their wants. This
institution of _domicilio coatto_ is one of those things which would be
incredible, were it not actually in existence. It is a school, a
State-fostered school, for the promotion of criminality.

But what shall be expected? Where judges sob like children, and jurors
swoon away with emotionalism; where floods of bombast--go to the courts,
and listen!--take the place of cross-examination and duly-sworn
affidavits; where perjury is a humanly venial and almost praiseworthy
failing--how shall the code, defective as it is, be administered?
Rhetoric, and rhetoric alone, sways the decision of the courts. Scholars
are only now beginning to realize to what an extent the ancient sense of
veracity was tainted with this vice--how deeply all classical history is
permeated with elegant partisan non-truth. And this evil legacy from
Greco-Roman days has been augmented by the more recent teachings of
Jesuitry and the Catholic theory of "peccato veniale." Rhetoric alone
counts; rhetoric alone is "art." The rest is mere facts; and your
"penalista" has a constitutional horror of a bald fact, because _there
it is,_ and there is nothing to be done with it. It is too crude a thing
for cultured men to handle. If a local barrister were forced to state in
court a plain fact, without varnish, he would die of cerebral
congestion; the judge, of boredom.

In early times, these provinces had a rough-and-ready cowboy justice
which answered simple needs, and when, in Bourbon days, things became
more centralized, there was still a never-failing expedient: each judge
having a fixed and publicly acknowledged tariff, the village elders, in
deserving cases, subscribed the requisite sum and released their
prisoner. But Italy is now paying the penalty of ambition. With one foot
in the ferocity of her past, and the other on a quicksand of
dream-nurtured idealism, she contrives to combine the disadvantages of
both. She, who was the light o' love of all Europe for long ages, and in
her poverty denied nothing to her clientele, has now laid aside a little
money, repenting of her frivolous and mercenary deeds (they sometimes
do), and becoming puritanically zealous of good works in her old
age--all this, however, as might have been expected from her antecedent
career, without much discrimination.

It is certainly remarkable that a race of men who have been such ardent
opponents of many forms of tyranny in the past, should still endure a
system of criminal procedure worthy of Torquemada. High and low cry out
against it, but--_pazienza!_ Where shall grievances be ventilated? In
Parliament? A good joke, that! In the press? Better still! Italian
newspapers nowise reflect the opinions of civilized Italy; they are mere
cheese-wrappers; in the whole kingdom there are only three
self-respecting dailies. The people have learnt to despair of their
rulers--to regard them with cynical suspicion. Public opinion has been
crushed out of the country. What goes by that name is the gossip of the
town-concierge, or obscure village cabals and schemings.

I am quite aware that the law-abiding spirit is the slow growth of ages,
and that a serious mischief like this cannot be repaired in a short
generation. I know that even now the Italian code of criminal procedure,
that tragic farce, is under revision. I know, moreover, that there are
stipendiary magistrates in south Italy whose discernment and integrity
would do honour to our British courts. But--take the case out of their
hands into a higher tribunal, and you may put your trust in God, or in
your purse. Justice hereabouts is in the same condition as it was in
Egypt at the time of Lord Dufferin's report: a mockery.

It may be said that it does not concern aliens to make such criticism. A
fatuous observation! Everything concerns everybody. The foreigner in
Italy, if he is wise, will familiarize himself not only with the
cathedrals to be visited, but also, and primarily, with the technique of
legal bribery and subterfuge--with the methods locally employed for
escaping out of the meshes of the law. Otherwise he may find unpleasant
surprises in store for him. Had Mr. Mercer made it his business to
acquire some rudiments of this useful knowledge, he would never have
undergone that outrageous official ill-treatment which has become a
byword in the annals of international amenities. And if these strictures
be considered too severe, let us see what Italians themselves have to
say. In 1900 was published a book called "La Quistione Meridionale"
(What's Wrong with the South), that throws a flood of light upon local
conditions. It contains the views of twenty-seven of the most prominent
men in the country as to how south Italian problems should be faced and
solved. Nearly all of them deplore the lack of justice. Says Professor
Colajanni: "To heal the south, we require an honest, intelligent and
sagacious government, _which we have not got."_ And Lombroso: "In the
south it is necessary to introduce justice, _which does not exist, save
in favour of certain classes."_

I am tempted to linger on this subject, not without reason. These people
and their attitude towards life will remain an enigma to the traveller,
until he has acquainted himself with the law of the land and seen with
his own eyes something of the atrocious misery which its administration
involves. A murderer like Musolino, crowned with an aureole of
saintliness, would be an anomaly in England. We should think it rather
paradoxical to hear a respectable old farmer recommending his boys to
shoot a policeman, whenever they safely can. On the spot, things begin
to wear a different aspect. Musolino is no more to be blamed than a
child who has been systematically misguided by his parents; and if these
people, much as they love their homes and families, are all potential
Musolinos, they have good reasons for it--excellent reasons.

No south Italian living at this present moment, be he of what social
class you please--be he of the gentlest blood or most refined
culture--is _a priori_ on the side of the policeman. No; not _a
priori._ The abuses of the executive are too terrific to warrant such an
attitude. Has not the entire police force of Naples, up to its very
head, been lately proved to be in the pay of the camorra; to say nothing
of its connection with what Messrs. King and Okey euphemistically call
"the unseen hand at Rome"--a hand which is held out for blackmail, and
not vainly, from the highest ministerial benches? Under such conditions,
the populace becomes profoundly distrustful of the powers that be, and
such distrust breeds bad citizens. But so things will remain, until the
bag-and-baggage policy is applied to the whole code of criminal
procedure, and to a good half of its present administrators.

The best of law-systems, no doubt, is but a compromise. Science being
one thing, and public order another, the most enlightened of legislators
may well tremble to engraft the fruits of modern psychological research
upon the tree of law, lest the scion prove too vigorous for the aged
vegetable. But some compromises are better than others; and the Italian
code, which reads like a fairy tale and works like a Fury, is as bad a
one as human ingenuity can devise. If a prisoner escape punishment, it
is due not so much to his innocence as to some access of sanity or
benevolence on the part of the judge, who courageously twists the law in
his favour. Fortunately, such humane exponents of the code are common
enough; were it otherwise, the prisons, extensive as they are, would
have to be considerably enlarged. But that ideal judge who shall be paid
as befits his grave calling, who shall combine the honesty and common
sense of the north with the analytical acumen of the south, has yet to
be evolved. What interests the student of history is that things
hereabouts have not changed by a hair since the days of Demosthenes and
those preposterous old Hellenic tribunals. Not by a single hair! On the
one hand, we have a deluge of subtle disquisitions on "jurisprudence,"
"personal responsibility" and so forth; on the other, the sinister
tomfoolery known as _law--_ that is, babble, corruption, palaeolithic
ideas of what constitutes evidence, and a court-procedure that reminds
one of Gilbert and Sullivan at their best.

There was a report in the papers not long ago of the trial of an old
married couple, on the charge of murdering a young girl. The bench
dismissed the case, remarking that there was not a particle of evidence
against them; they had plainly been exemplary citizens all their long
lives. They had spent five years in prison awaiting trial. Five years,
and innocent! It stands to reason that such abuses disorganize the
family, especially in Italy, where the "family" means much more than it
does in England; the land lies barren, and savings are wasted in paying
lawyers and bribing greedy court officials. What are this worthy couple
to think of _Avanti, Savoia!_ once they have issued from their dungeon?

I read, in yesterday's Parliamentary Proceedings, of an honourable
member (Aprile) rising to ask the Minister of Justice (Gallini) whether
the time has not come to proceed with the trial of "Signori Camerano and
their co-accused," who have been in prison for six years, charged with
voluntary homicide. Whereto His Excellency sagely replies that "la
magistratura ha avuto i suoi motivi"--the magistrates have had their
reasons. Six years in confinement, and perhaps innocent! Can one wonder,
under such circumstances, at the anarchist schools of Prato and
elsewhere? Can one wonder if even a vindictive and corrupt rag like the
socialistic "Avanti" occasionally prints frantic protests of
quasi-righteous indignation? And not a hundredth part of such accused
persons can cause a Minister of the Crown to be interpellated on their
behalf. The others suffer silently and often die, forgotten, in their

And yet--how seriously we take this nation! Almost as seriously as we
take ourselves. The reason is that most of us come to Italy too
undiscerning, too reverent; in the pre-critical and pre-humorous stages.
We arrive here, stuffed with Renaissance ideals or classical lore, and
viewing the present through coloured spectacles. We arrive here, above
all things, too young; for youth loves to lean on tradition and to draw
inspiration from what has gone before; youth finds nothing more
difficult than to follow Goethe's advice about grasping that living life
which shifts and fluctuates about us. Few writers are sufficiently
detached to laugh at these people as they, together with ourselves, so
often and so richly deserve. I spoke of the buffoonery of Italian law; I
might have called it a burlesque. The trial of the ex-minister Nasi:
here was a _cause celebre_ conducted by the highest tribunal of the
land; and if it was not a burlesque--why, we must coin a new word for
what is.



A black snake of alarming dimensions, one of the monsters that still
infest the Calabrian lowlands, glided across the roadway while I was
waiting for the post carriage to drive me to Caulonia from its
railway-station. Auspicious omen! It carried my thoughts from old
Aesculapius to his modern representatives--to that school of wise and
disinterested healers who are ridding these regions of their curse, and
with whom I was soon to have some nearer acquaintance. We started at
last, in the hot hours of the morning, and the road at first skirts the
banks of the Alaro, the Sagra of old, on whose banks was fought the
fabled battle between the men of Croton and Locri. Then it begins to
climb upwards. My companion was a poor peasant woman, nearly blind (from
malaria, possibly). Full of my impressions of yesterday, I promptly led
the conversation towards the subject of Musolino. She had never spoken
to him, she said, or even seen him. But she got ten francs from him, all
the same. In dire distress, some years ago, she had asked a friend in
the mountains to approach the brigand on her behalf. The money was long
in coming, she added, but of course it came in the end. He always helped
poor people, even those outside his own country. The site of the
original Caulonia is quite uncertain. Excavations now going on at
Monasterace, some ten miles further on, may decide that the town lay
there. Some are in favour of the miserable village of Foca, near at
hand; or of other sites. The name of Foca seems to point, rather, to a
settlement of the regenerator Nicephorus Phocas. Be that as it may, the
present town of Caulonia used to be called Castelvetere, and it
appropriated the Greek name in accordance with a custom which has been
largely followed hereabouts. [Footnote: It is represented with two
towers in Peutinger's Tables. But these, says an editor, should have
been given to the neighbouring Scilatio, for Caulon was in ruins at the
time of Pliny, and is not even mentioned by Ptolemy. Servius makes
another mistake; he confuses the Calabrian Caulon with a locality of the
same name near Capua.] It contains some ten thousand inhabitants,
amiable, intelligent and distinguished by a _philoxenia_ befitting the
traditions of men who sheltered Pythagoras in his hour of need. As at
Rossano, Catanzaro and many other Calabrian towns, there used to be a
ghetto of Jews here; the district is still called "La Giudeca"; their
synagogue was duly changed into a church of the Madonna.

So much I learn from Montorio, who further informs me that the
ubiquitous Saint Peter preached here on his way to Rome, and converted
the people to Christianity; and that the town can boast of three
authentic portraits of the Mother of God painted by Saint Luke ("Lukas
me pinxit"). One is rather bewildered by the number of these
masterpieces in Italy, until one realizes, as an old ecclesiastical
writer has pointed out, that "the Saint, being excellent in his art,
could make several of them in a few days, to correspond to the great
devotion of those early Christians, fervent in their love to the Great
Mother of God. Whence we may believe that to satisfy their ardent
desires he was continually applying himself to this task of so much
glory to Mary and her blessed Son." But the sacristan of the church at
Caulonia, to whom I applied for information regarding these local
treasures, knew nothing about them, and his comments gave me the
impression that he has relapsed into a somewhat pagan way of regarding
such matters.

You may obtain a fairly good view of Caulonia from the southeast; or
again, from the neighbouring hillock of San Vito. The town lies some 300
metres above sea-level on a platform commanding the valleys of the Amusa
and Alaro. This position, which was clearly chosen for its strategic
value, unfortunately does not allow it to expand, and so the inhabitants
are deprived of that public garden which they amply deserve. At the
highest point lies a celebrated old castle wherein, according to
tradition, Campanella was imprisoned for a while. In the days of
Pacicchelli, it was a fine place--"magnifico nelle regole di Fortezza,
con cinque baloardi provveduti di cannoni di bronzo, ed una riccha
Armeria, degna habitazione di don Carlo Maria Carrafa, Prencipe della
Roccella, che se ne intitola Marchese." Mingled with the stones of its
old walls they have recently found skeletons--victims, possibly, of the
same macabre superstition to which the blood-drenched masonry of the
Tower of London bears witness. Here, too, have been unearthed
terra-cotta lamps and other antiquities. What are we to surmise from
this? That it was a Roman foundation? Or that the malaria in older times
forced Caulonia to wander towards healthier inland heights after the
example of Sybaris-Terranova, and that the Romans continued to occupy
this same site? Or, assuming Castelvetere to date only from mediaeval
times, that these ancient relics found their way into it accidentally?
The low-lying district of Foca, at this day, is certainly very
malarious, whereas the death-rate up here is only about 12 per 1000.

Dr. Francesco Genovese of Caulonia, to whom I am indebted for much
kindness and who is himself a distinguished worker in the humanitarian
mission of combating malaria, has published, among other interesting
pamphlets, one which deals with this village of Foca, a small place of
about 200 inhabitants, surrounded by fertile orange and vine plantations
near the mouth of the Alaro. His researches into its vital statistics
for the half-century ending 1902 reveal an appalling state of affairs.
Briefly summarized, they amount to this, that during this period there
were 391 births and 516 deaths. In other words, the village, which in
1902 ought to have contained between 600 and 800 inhabitants, not only
failed to progress, but devoured its original population of 200; and not
only them, but also 125 fresh immigrants who had entered the region from
the healthy uplands, lured by the hope of gaining a little money during
the vintage season.

A veritable Moloch!

Had the old city of Caulonia, numbering perhaps 20,000 inhabitants,
stood here under such conditions of hygiene, it would have been expunged
off the face of the earth in fifty years.

Yet--speaking of malaria in general--a good deal of evidence has been
brought together to show that the disease has been endemic in Magna
Grsecia for two thousand years, and the customs of the Sybarites seem to
prove that they had some acquaintance with marsh fever, and tried to
guard against it. "Whoever would live long," so ran their proverb, "must
see neither the rising nor the setting sun." A queer piece of advice,
intelligible only if the land was infested with malaria. Many of their
luxurious habits assume another import, on this hypothesis. Like the
inhabitants of the malarious Etruscan region, they were adepts at
draining, and their river is described, in one of the minor works
attributed to Galen, as "rendering men infertile"--a characteristic
result of malaria. What is still more significant is that their new town
Thurii, built on the heights, was soon infected, and though twice
repeopled, decayed away. And that they had chosen the heights for their
relative healthfulness we can infer from Strabo, who says that Paestum,
a colony from Sybaris, was removed further inland from the shore, on
account of the pestilential climate of the lowlands.

But the Ionian shores cannot have been as deadly as they now are. We
calculate, for example, that the town walls of Croton measured eighteen
kilometres in circumference, a figure which the modern visitor to
Cotrone only brings himself to believe when he remembers what can be
actually proved of other Hellenic colonies, such as Syracuse. Well, the
populace of so large a city requires a surrounding district to supply it
with agricultural produce. The Marchesato, the vast tract bordering on
Cotrone, is now practically uninhabitable; the population (including the
town) has sunk to 45 to the square kilometre. That is malaria.

Or rather, only one side of the evil. For these coastlands attract rural
labourers who descend from the mountains during the season of hay-making
or fruit-harvest, and then return infected to their homes. One single
malarious patient may inoculate an entire village, hitherto immune,
granted the anophelines are there to propagate the mischief. By means of
these annual migrations the scourge has spread, in the past. And so it
spreads to-day, whenever possible. Of forty labourers that left Caulonia
for Cotrone in 1908 all returned infected save two, who had made liberal
use of quinine as a prophylactic. Fortunately, there are no anophelines
at Caulonia.

Greatly, indeed, must this country have changed since olden days; and
gleaning here and there among the ancients, Dr. Genovese has garnered
some interesting facts on this head. The coast-line, now unbroken sand,
is called _rocky,_ in several regions, by Strabo, Virgil and Persius
Flaccus; of the two harbours, of Locri, of that of Metapontum, Caulonia
and other cities, nothing remains; the promontory of Cocynthum
(Stilo)--described as the longest promontory in Italy--together with
other capes, has been washed away by the waves or submerged under silt
carried down from the hills; islands, like that of Calypso which is
described in Vincenzo Pascale's book (1796), and mentioned by G.
Castaidi (1842), have clean vanished from the map.

The woodlands have retired far inland; yet here at Caulonia, says
Thucydides, was prepared the timber for the fleets of Athens. The
rivers, irregular and spasmodic torrents, must have flowed with more
equal and deeper current, since Pliny mentions five of them as
navigable; snow, very likely, covered the mountain tops; the rainfall
was clearly more abundant--one of the sights of Locri was its daily
rainbow; the cicadas of the territory of Reggio are said to have been
"dumb," on account of the dampness of the climate. They are anything but
dumb nowadays.

Earth-movements, too, have tilted the coast-line up and down, and there
is evidence to show that while the Tyrrhenian shore has been raised by
these oscillations, the Ionian has sunk. Not long ago four columns were
found in the sea at Cotrone two hundred yards from the beach; old
sailors remember another group of columns visible at low tide near
Caulonia. It is quite possible that the Ionian used to be as rocky as
the other shore, and this gradual sinking of the coast must have
retarded the rapid outflow of the rivers, as it has done in the plain of
Paestum and in the Pontine marshes, favouring malarious conditions.
Earthquakes have helped in the work; that of 1908 lowered certain parts
of the Calabrian shore opposite Messina by about one metre. Indeed,
though earthquakes have been known to raise the soil and thereby improve
it, the Calabrian ones have generally had a contrary effect. The
terrific upheavals of 1783-1787 produced two hundred and fifteen lakes
in the country; they were drained away in a style most creditable to the
Bourbons, but there followed an epidemic of malaria which carried off
18,800 people!

These Calabrian conditions are only part of a general change of climate
which seems to have taken place all over Italy; a change to which
Columella refers when, quoting Saserna, he says that formerly the vine
and olive could not prosper "by reason of the severe winter" in certain
places where they have since become abundant, "thanks to a milder
temperature." We never hear of the frozen Tiber nowadays, and many
remarks of the ancients as to the moist and cold climate seem strange to
us. Pliny praises the chestnuts of Tarentum; I question whether the tree
could survive the hot climate of to-day. Nobody could induce "splendid
beeches" to grow in the _lowlands_ of Latium, yet Theophrastus, a
botanist, says that they were drawn from this region for shipbuilding
purposes. This gradual desiccation has probably gone on for long ages;
so Signor Cavara has discovered old trunks of white fir in districts of
the Apennines where such a plant could not possibly grow to-day.

A change to a dry and warm atmosphere is naturally propitious to
malaria, granted sufficient water remains to propagate the mosquito. And
the mosquito contents itself with very little--the merest teacup fui.

Returning to old Calabria, we find the woods of Locri praised by
Proclus--woods that must have been of coniferous timber, since Virgil
lauds their resinous pitch. Now the Aleppo pine produces pitch, and
would still flourish there, as it does in the lowlands between Taranto
and Metaponto; the classical Sila pitch-trees, however, could not grow
at this level any more. Corroborative evidence can be drawn from
Theocritus, who mentions heath and arbutus as thriving in the marine
thickets near Cotrone--mountain shrubs, nowadays, that have taken refuge
in cooler uplands, together with the wood-pigeon which haunted the same
jungles. It is true that he hints at marshes near Cotrone, and, indeed,
large tracts of south Italy are described as marshy by the ancients;
they may well have harboured the anopheles mosquito from time
immemorial, but it does not follow that they were malarious.

Much of the healthy physical conditions may have remained into the
Middle Ages or even later; it is strange to read, for example, in
Edrisius, of the pitch and tar that were exported to all parts from the
Bradano river, or of the torrential Sinno that "ships enter this
river--it offers excellent anchorage"; odd, too, to hear of coral
fisheries as late as the seventeenth century at Rocella Ionica, where
the waves now slumber on an even and sandy beach.

But malaria had made insidious strides, meanwhile. Dr. Genovese thinks
that by the year 1691 the entire coast was malarious and abandoned like
now, though only within the last two centuries has man actively
co-operated in its dissemination. So long as the woodlands on the plains
are cut down or grazed by goats, relatively little damage is done; but
it spells ruin to denude, in a country like this, the steep slopes of
their timber. Whoever wishes to know what mischief the goats, those
picturesque but pernicious quadrupeds, can do to a mountainous country,


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