Page images
PDF
EPUB

I took good care to procure the visé necessary for that hour and a half's railway journey: unfortunately, though duly furnished with the visé, I forgot to take into account the rain, which obliged me to let two days go by before going on my trip. At length, on the third morning, a bright and sunny one, I started.

About half-way, passports were asked for, and I gave up mine with the utmost confidence; five minutes afterwards the official came and told me that I must return to Milan, as my passport was not in order. The visé, it appeared, was only good for forty-eight hours, which had expired the evening before. I was obliged to leave the railway carriage, and was consigned to the custody of a Croat soldier—the ugliest of his race. The idea of having him as a travelling companion back to Milan led me to make a last effort to soften the official, who, after some hesitation, allowed me to go on to Como; not, however, until I had given a solemn promise, which I kept religiously, to return within three days.

In 1859, some two months after the war, what a difference! On a beautiful September day I entered Lombardy, having crossed the Swiss frontier without even showing my passport. On arriving at Milan, I found the city holding high festival. ringing, crowds filled the streets bedecked with flags, the whole population was astir. Citizens and soldiers, nobles and plebeians, municipal authorities and private persons; in a word, all, from the highest to the lowest, had a frank and joyous look. They

Bells were

were laughing, talking, and discussing aloud political matters. As for me, I stared, walked about, and listened. More than once I looked up at the great Cathedral to make quite sure that I was in that same Milan which had formerly worn so gloomy an aspect, each one of whose citizens seemed to have something of a conspirator's look about him. What had come over these seditious Milanese? (ces frondeurs de Milan.) I asked one of them the question. “To-day,” said he, “are coming here the deputations from central Italy on their way to Turin, there to present to the King their votes of annexation.” “Are you pleased,” I asked, “to be under the government of Victor Emmanuel ?” “ Pleased! I should think so," replied the Milanese. Then he added, “Is not our most pressing interest the formation of a kingdom of North Italy capable of opposing Austria, unfortunately left in possession of Venetia ?” We talked thus freely in the open street, on the very spot, just in front of the Palace, where I had awakened, during my first visit, the suspicions of the Austrian sentinel, while quietly contemplating the Cathedral.

The arrival of the deputations was hailed with transports of joy by the Milanese. In the evening, the city and the Cathedral were illuminated. The theatre of the Scala re-echoed with enthusiastic shouts of applause upon the appearance of the deputations. The enthusiasm was of that pure and heart-stirring kind begotten by the first inspirations of freedom newly bestowed upon a people who had long been oppressed.

The next day I presented to one or two Milanese my letters of introduction, and so had the pleasure of entering, for the first time, into Italian society. The welcome I received was full of courtesy and cordial kindness. Politics were, as might be expected, the principal, indeed almost the only, subject of conversation. Every one discussed freely and earnestly, without, however, overstepping the limits of good manners or good sense. That which struck me above all, and pleased me much, was the practical and sensible way in which the questions of the day were dealt with. I heard no propounding of abstract propositions. No one talked about the “rights of man,” the origin of the social state, nor of any other of those abstractions which are well enough in philosophical disquisitions and during times of leisure. No one took interest in anything except the urgent questions of the day, such as the application of the constitutional system to Italy once emancipated. I have had many opportunities of associating with the Milanese, thanks to the charming kindness, free from all pride, which they lavish (the word is not too strong) upon foreigners whose stay is sufficiently prolonged to enable them to become acquainted with the society of Milan. My first impression has always been strengthened as regards the manner in which the Milanese treat political questions. I have joined in many discussions, some of which were very animated: the subject of them was always one of immediate and serious practical importance, such as the more or less extension of the suffrage, the relations to be established between the Church and the State, the limits of power to be accorded to the central and to local authorities, the prompt and surest remedies to be applied to brigandage. From what I have seen and heard in other parts of Italy I can affirm that it is not only in Milan that is to be found this happy tendency; rather is it a characteristic trait of the national mind. Much, therefore, may be hoped of a society which gives such proofs of good sense. It could not otherwise have effected in so short a time that which has been accomplished, and have already raised itself in no slight degree above the degradation of the past. It is a great misfortune to a nation when its statesmen and the leaders of its public opinion, instead of turning their attention to practical matters, allow themselves to be carried away by merely general theories and purely abstract questions. The Italians thoroughly understand the danger of abstractions ; they seem to agree in recognising (contrary to the received opinion of some other countries) that our modern societies are not like a sheet of blank paper, on which may be written what best pleases the theorist; but rather do they resemble a contest in which the claims of rival interests, ideas, and facts, often very diverse and even opposed, must be met and adjusted by seeking to effect that which is practically best.

The general election which took place in the beginning of 1861 gave me an opportunity of seeing how the Italians fulfilled that important function of constitutional life. I was present at several public meetings preceding the day of election. The discussions were free and animated, both as regards the candidates and as to political matters generally. Similar discussions filled the public papers without any official interference of any kind whatever. I neither heard nor read anything which could shock a friend of order and liberty. Milan, containing about 250,000 inhabitants, is divided into five electoral colleges or districts, each represented by one member, and containing each from 1500 to 2000 electors.* Every college or district has several large halls or rooms, where the voting takes place. The suffrage is not universal in Italy, but limited, as in England. The National Guard was on duty at the polling places. All the electoral operations took place with the greatest regularity and amidst the most complete order. The electors voted in perfect freedom, without its being possible for any one to know for which candidate any given elector recorded his vote.+ In the interior of the halls, even when full, reigned the most perfect quiet; indeed, silence was preserved almost without interruption. The general aspect of the town was as orderly as can possibly be imagined ; in truth, these seditious Milanese (ces

* Both population and electors have increased since 1861.

+ There is no nomination-day in the Italian electoral proceedings. A most complete and simple form of secret ballot is used in the parliamentary and municipal elections throughout the Italian kingdom, as was the case in Piedmont from 1848-59, under the constitution granted by King Charles Albert in March 1848. It is this same constitution which has been extended by his son and successor, Victor Emmanuel, to the whole of Italy.

« PreviousContinue »