THE WORLD DECISION
I. ITALY HESITATES
II. THE POLITICIAN SPEAKS
III. THE POET SPEAKS
IV. THE PIAZZA SPEAKS
V. ITALY DECIDES
VI. THE EVE OF THE WAR
I. THE FACE OF PARIS
II. THE WOUNDS OF FRANCE
III. THE BARBARIAN
IV. THE GERMAN LESSON
V. THE FAITH OF THE FRENCH
VI. THE NEW FRANCE
I. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO US?
II. THE CHOICE
THE WORLD DECISION
Last April, when I left New York for Europe, Italy was "on the verge" of entering the great war. According to the meager reports that a strict censorship permitted to reach the world, Italy had been hesitating for many months between a continuance of her precarious neutrality and joining with the Allies, with an intermittent war fever in her pulses. It was known that she was buying supplies for her ill-equipped army—boots and food and arms. Nevertheless, American opinion had come to the somewhat cynical belief that Italy would never get further than the verge of war; that her Austrian ally would be induced by the pressure of necessity to concede enough of those "national aspirations," of which we had heard much, to keep her southern neighbor at least lukewarmly neutral until the conclusion of the war. An American diplomat in Italy, with the best opportunity for close observation, said, as late as the middle of May: "I shall believe that Italy will go into the war only when I see it!"
The process of squeezing her Austrian ally when the latter was in a tight place—as Italy's negotiating was interpreted commonly in America—naturally aroused little enthusiasm for the nation, and when suddenly, during the stormy weeks of mid-May, Italy made her decision and broke with Austria, Americans inferred, erroneously, that her "sordid" bargaining having met with a stubborn resistance from Vienna, there was nothing left for a government that had spent millions in war preparation but to declare war. The affair had that surface appearance, which was noisily proclaimed by Germany to the world. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg's sneer concerning the "voice of the piazza having prevailed" revealed not merely pique, but also a complete misunderstanding, a Teutonic misapprehension of the underlying motives that led to an inevitable step. No one who witnessed, as I did at close range, the swift unfolding of the drama which ended on May 23 in a declaration of war, can accept such a base or trivial reading of the matter. Like all things human the psychology of Italy's action was complex, woven in an intricate pattern, nevertheless at its base simple and inevitable, granted the fundamental racial postulates. Old impulses stirred in the Italians as well as new. Italy repeated according to the modern formula the ancient defiance by her Roman forefathers of the Teutonic danger. "Fuori i barbari"—out with the barbarians—has lain in the blood of Italy for two thousand years, to be roused to a fresh heat of hate by outraged Belgium, by invaded France, by the Lusitania murders. Less conscious, perhaps, but not less mighty as a moving force than this personal antagonism was the spiritual antagonism between the Latin and the German, between the two visions of the world which the German and the Latin imagine and seek to perpetuate. That in a large and very real sense this world agony of war is the supreme struggle between these two opposed traditions of civilization—a decision between two competing forms of life—seems to me so obvious as to need no argument. In such a struggle Italy must, by compulsion of historical tradition as well as of political situation, take her part on the side of those who from one angle or another are upholding with their lives the inheritance of Rome against the pretensions of force—law, justice, mercy, beauty against the dead weight of physical and material strength.
* * * * *
One had no more than put foot on the quay at Naples before the atmosphere of fateful hesitation in which Italy had lived for eight months became evident to the senses of the traveler. Naples was less strident, less vocal than ever before. That mob of hungry Neapolitans, which usually seizes violent hold of the stranger and his effects, was thin and spiritless. Naples was almost quiet. The Santa Lucia was deserted; the line of pretentious hotels with drawn shutters had the air of a summer resort out of season. The war had cut off Italy's greatest source of ready money—the idler. Naples was living to itself a subdued, zestless life. Cook's was an empty inutility. The sunny slopes of Sorrento, where during the last generation the German has established himself in all favorable sites, were thick with signs of sale.
In other respects there were indications of prosperity—more building, cleaner streets, better shops. In the dozen years since I had been there, Italy had undoubtedly prospered, and even this beggar's paradise of sun and tourists had bettered itself after the modern way. I saw abundant signs of the new Italy of industrial expansion, which under German tutelage had begun to manufacture, to own ships, and to exploit itself. And there were also signs of war-time bloat—the immense cotton business. Naples as well as Genoa was stuffed with American cotton, the quays piled with the bales that could not be got into warehouses. It took a large credulity to believe that all this cotton was to satisfy Italian wants. Cotton, as everybody knew, was going across the Alps by the trainload. Nevertheless, our ship, which had a goodly amount of the stuff, was held at Gibraltar only a day until the English Government decided to accept the guarantees of consul and Italian Ambassador that it was legitimately destined for Italian factories—a straw indicating England's perplexity in the cotton business, especially with a nation that might any day become an ally! It would be wiser to let a little more cotton leak into Germany through Switzerland than to agitate the question of contraband at this delicate moment.
The cotton brokers, the grain merchants, and a few others were making money out of Italy's neutrality, and neutralista sentiment was naturally strong among these classes and their satellites. No doubt they did their best to give an impression of nationalism to the creed of their pockets. But a serious-minded merchant from Milan who dined opposite me on the way to Rome expressed the prevailing beliefs of his class as well as any one,—"War, yes, in time.... It must come.... But first we must be ready—we are not quite ready yet"; and he predicted almost to a day when Italy, finding herself ready, would enter the great conflict. He showed no enthusiasm either for or against war: his was a curiously fatalistic attitude of mind, an acceptance of the inevitable, which the American finds so hard to understand.
* * * * *
And this was the prevailing note of Rome those early days of May—a dull, passive acceptance of the dreaded fate which had been threatening for so many months on the national horizon, ever since Austria plumped her brutal ultimatum upon little Serbia. There were no vivid debates, no pronounced current of opinion one way or the other, not much public interest in the prolonged discussions at the Consulta; just a lethargic iteration of the belief that sooner or later war must come with its terrible risks, its dubious victories. Given the Italian temperament and the nearness of the brink toward which the country was drifting, one looked for flashes of fire. But Rome, if more normal in its daily life than Naples in spite of the absence of those tourists who gather here at this season by the tens of thousands, was equally acquiescent and on the surface uninterested in the event.
The explanation of this outward apathy in the public is simple: nobody knew anything definite enough as yet to rouse passions. The Italian newspaper is probably the emptiest receptacle of news published anywhere. The journals are all personal "organs," and anybody can know whose "views" they are voicing. There was the "Messagero," subsidized by the French and the English embassies, which emitted cheerful pro-Ally paragraphs of gossip. There was the "Vittorio," founded by the German party, patently the mouthpiece of Teutonic diplomacy. There was the "Giornale d'Italia" that spoke for the Vatican, and the "Idea Nazionale" which voiced radical young Italy. And so on down the list. But there was a perfectly applied censorship which suppressed all diplomatic leaks. So one read with perfect confidence that Prince von Buelow had driven to the Consulta at eleven-fifteen yesterday, and having been closeted with Baron Sonnino, the Italian Foreign Minister, or with the Premier, Signor Salandra, or with both, for forty-seven minutes, had emerged upon the street smiling. And shortly after this event Baron Macchio, the Austrian Envoy, arrived at the Consulta in his motor-car and had spent within the mystery of the Foreign Office twenty or more minutes. The reader might insert any fatal interpretation he liked between the lines of this chronicle. That was quite all the reality the Roman public, the people of Italy, had to speculate upon during weeks of waiting, and for the most part they waited quietly, patiently. For whatever the American prejudice against the dangers of secret diplomacy may be, the European, especially the Italian, idea is that all grave negotiations should be conducted privately—that the diplomatic cake should be composed by experts in retirement until it is ready for the baking. And the European public is well trained in controlling its curiosities.
It was sufficiently astonishing to the American onlooker, however, accustomed to flaming extras and the plethoric discussion in public of the most intimate affairs, state and personal, to witness the acquiescence of emotional Italians in this complete obscurity about their fate and that of their children and their nation, which was being sorted behind the closed doors of the Consulta. Every one seemed to go about his personal business with an apparent calm, a shrug of expressive shoulders at the most, signifying belief in the sureness of war—soon. There was little animation in the cafes, practically none on the streets. Arragno's, usually buzzing with political prophecy, had a depressing, provincial calm. Unoccupied deputies sat in gloomy silence over their thin consommations. Even the 1st of May passed without that demonstration by the Socialists against war so widely expected. To be sure, the Government had prudently packed Rome and the northern cities with troops: soldiers were lurking in every old courtyard, up all the narrow alleys, waiting for some hardy Socialist to "demonstrate." But it was not the plentiful troops, not even a lively thunderstorm that swept Rome all the afternoon, which discouraged the Socialists: they too were in doubt and apathy. They were hesitating, passing resolutions, defining themselves into fine segments of political opinion—and waiting for Somebody to act! They too awaited the completion of those endless discussions among the diplomats at the Consulta, at the Ballplatz in Vienna, and wherever diplomacy is made in Berlin. The first of May came and went, and the carabinieri, the secret police, the infantry, the cavalry with their fierce hairy helmets filed off to their barracks in a dripping dusk, dispirited, as if disappointed themselves that nothing definite, even violence, had yet come out of the business. So one caught a belated cab and scurried through the deserted streets to an empty hotel on the Pincian, more than half convinced that the Government meant really to do nothing except "negotiate" until the spirit of war had died from the hearts of the people.
Yet much was going on beneath the surface. There were flashes to be seen in broad daylight. The King and his ministers at the eleventh hour decided not to attend the ceremonies at Quarto of the unveiling of the monument to the Garibaldian "Thousand." Now, what could that mean? Did it indicate that the King was not yet ready to choose his road and feared to compromise himself by appearing in company with the Francophile poet D'Annunzio, who was to give the address? It would be a hard matter to explain to Berlin, to whose nostrils the poet was anathema. Or did it mean literally that the negotiations with reluctant Austria had reached that acute point which might not permit the absence of authority from Rome even for twenty-four hours? The drifting, if it were drifting, was more rapid, day by day.
There was a constant troop movement all over Italy, which could not be disguised from anybody who went to a railroad station. Italy was not "mobilizing," but that term in this year of war has come to have a diplomatic insignificance. Every one knew that a large army had already gone north toward the disputed frontier. More soldiers were going every day, and more men of the younger sort were silently disappearing from their ordinary occupations, as the way is in conscript countries. It was all being done admirably, swiftly, quietly—no placards. The carabinieri went from house to house and delivered verbal orders. But all this might be a mere "preparation," an argument that could not be used diplomatically at the Consulta, yet of vital force.
There was the sudden twenty-four-hour visit of the Italian Ambassador at Paris to Rome. Why had he taken that long journey home for such a brief visit, consumed in conferences with the ministers? And Prince von Buelow had rallied to his assistance the Catholic Deputy Erzburger. Rome was seething with rumor.
* * * * *
The remarkable passivity of the Italian public during these anxious moments was due in good part, no doubt, to its thorough confidence in the men who were directing the state, specifically in the Prime Minister Salandra and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Baron Sonnino, who were the Government. They were honest,—that everybody admitted,—and they were experienced. In less troubled times the nation might prefer the popular politician Giolitti, who had a large majority of the deputies in the Parliament in his party, and who had presented Italy a couple of years earlier with its newest plaything, Libya,—and concealed the bills. But Giolitti had prudently retired to his little Piedmont home in Cavour. All the winter he had kept out of Rome, leaving the Salandra Government to work out a solution of the knotty tangle in which he had helped to involve his country. Nobody knew precisely what Giolitti's views were, but it was generally accepted that he preserved the tradition of the Crispi statesmanship, which had made the abortion of the Triple Alliance. If he could not openly champion an active fulfillment of the alliance, at least he was avowedly neutralista, the best that Berlin and Vienna had come to hope from their southern ally. He was the great unknown factor politically, with his majority in the Chamber, his personal prestige. A clever American, long resident in Rome in sufficient intimacy with the political powers to make his words significant, told me,—"The country does not know what it wants. But Giolitti will tell them. When he comes we shall know whether there will be war!" That was May 9—a Sunday. Giolitti arrived in Rome the same week—and we knew, but not as the political prophet thought....
Meanwhile, there were mutterings of the thunder to come out of this stagnant hesitation. One day I went out to the little town of Genzano in the Alban Hills, with an Italian mother who wished to see her son in garrison there. The regiment of Sardinian Granatieri, ordinarily stationed near the King in Rome, had been sent to this dirty little hill town to keep order. The populace were so threatening in their attitude that the soldiers were confined in their quarters to prevent street rows. We could see their heads at the windows of the old houses and convents where they were billeted, like schoolboys in durance vile. I read the word "Socilismo" scrawled in chalk over the walls and half-effaced by the hand of authority. The hard faces of the townsfolk scowled at us while we talked with a young captain. The Genzanans were against the war, the officer said, and stoned the soldiers. They did not want another African jaunt, with more taxes and fewer men to till the fields.
Elsewhere one heard that the "populace" generally was opposed to war. "We shall have to shoot up some hundreds of the rats in Florence before the troops leave," the youthful son of a prefect told me. That in the North. As for the South, a shrug of the shoulders expressed the national doubt of Calabria, Sicily,—the weaker, less certain members of the family. Remembering the dire destruction of the earthquake in the Abruzzi, which wrought more ruin to more people than the Messina catastrophe, also the floods that had destroyed crops in the fertile river bottoms a few weeks before, one could understand popular opposition to more dangers and more taxes. These were some of the perplexities that beset the Government. No wonder that the diplomats were weighing their words cautiously at the Consulta, also weighing with extreme fineness the quid pro quo they would accept as "compensation" from Austria for upsetting the Balkan situation. It was, indeed, a delicate matter to decide how many of those national aspirations might be sacrificed for the sake of present security without jeopardizing the nation's future. Italy needed the wisdom of patriots if ever in her history.
The Salandra Government kept admirable order during these dangerous days, suppressing the slightest popular movement, pro or con. That was the wise way, until they knew themselves which road to take and had prepared the public mind. And they had plenty of troops to be occupied somehow. The exercise of the firm hand of authority against popular ebullitions is always a marvel to the American. To the European mind government means power, and power is exercised practically, concretely, not by writs of courts and sheriffs, but by armed troops. The Salandra Government had the power, and apparently did not mean to have its hand forced by the populace....
The young officer at Genzano had no doubt that war was coming, nor had the handsome boy whom we at last ran to ground in an old Franciscan convent. He talked eagerly of the "promise" his regiment had received "to go first." His mother's face contracted with a spasm of pain as he spoke, but like a Latin mother she made no protest. If his country needed him, if war had to be.... On our way back to Rome across the Campagna we saw a huge silver fish swimming lazily in the misty blue sky—one of Italy's new dirigibles exercising. There were soldiers everywhere in their new gray linen clothes—tanned, boyish faces, many of them fine large fellows, scooped up from villages and towns all over Italy. The night was broken by the sound of marching feet, for troop movements were usually made at night. The soldiers were going north by the trainload. Each day one saw more of them in the streets, coming and going. Yet Baron Macchio and Prince von Buelow were as busy as ever at the Consulta on the Quirinal Hill, and rumor said that at last they were offering real "compensations."
* * * * *
The shops of Rome, as those of every city and town in Europe, were hung with war maps, of course. In Rome the prevailing map was that highly colored, imaginative rearrangement of southern Europe to fit the national aspirations. The new frontier ran along the summits of the Alps and took a wide swath down the Adriatic coast. It was a most flattering prospect and lured many loiterers to the shop windows. At the office of the "Giornale d'Italia" in the Corso there was displayed beside an irredentist map an approximate sketch of what Austria was willing to give, under German persuasion. The discrepancy between the two maps was obvious and vast. On the bulletin boards there were many news items emanating from the "unredeemed" in Trent and Trieste, chronicling riots and the severely repressive measures taken by the Austrian masters. The little piazza in front of the newspaper office was thronged from morning to night, and the old woman in the kiosk beside the door did a large business in maps.
And yet this aspect of the Italian situation seems to me to have been much exaggerated. There was, so far as I could see, no great popular fervor over the disinherited Italians in Austrian lands, in spite of the hectic items about Austrian tyranny appearing daily in the newspapers—no great popular agony of mind over these "unredeemed." Also it was obvious that Italy in her new frontier proposed to include quite as many unredeemed Austrians and other folk as redeemed Italians! No; it was rather a high point of propaganda—as we should say commercially, a good talking proposition. Deeper, it represented the urge of nationalism, which is one of the extraordinary phenomena of this remarkable war. The American, vague in his feeling of nationalism, refuses to take quite seriously agitation for the "unredeemed." Why, he asks with naivete, go to war for a few thousands of Italians in Trent and Trieste?
I am not attempting to write history. I am guessing like another, seeking causes in a complex state of mind. We shall have to go back. Secret diplomacy may be the inveterate habit of Europe, especially of Italy. The new arrangement with the Allies has never been published, probably never will be. One suspects that it was made, essentially, before Italy had broken with Austria, before, perhaps, she had denounced her old alliance on the 5th of May at Vienna. And yet, although inveterately habituated to the mediaevalism of secret international arrangements, Italy is enough filled with the spirit of modern democracy to break any treaty that does not fulfill the will of the people. The Triple Alliance was really doomed at its conception, because it was a trade made by a few politicians and diplomats in secret and never known in its terms to the people who were bound by it. Any strain would break such a bond. The strain was always latent, but it became acute of late years, especially when Austria thwarted Italy's move on Turkey—as Salandra revealed later under the sting of Bethmann-Hollweg's taunts. It was badly strained, virtually broken, when Austria without warning to Italy stabbed at Serbia. Austria made a grave blunder there, in not observing the first term of the Triple Alliance, by which she was bound to take her allies into consultation. The insolence of the Austrian attitude was betrayed in the disregard of this obligation: Italy evidently was too unimportant a factor to be precise with. Italy might, then and there, the 1st of August, 1914, very well have denounced the Alliance, and perhaps would have done so had she been prepared for the consequences, had the Salandra Government been then at the helm.
There is another coil to the affair, not generally recognized in America. Austria in striking at Serbia was potentially aiming at a closer envelopment of Italy along the Adriatic, provision for which had been made in a special article of the Triple Alliance,—the seventh,—under which she had bound herself to grant compensations to Italy for any disturbance of the Balkan situation. Austria, when she was brought to recognize this commission of fault,—which was not until December, 1914, not seriously until the close of January, 1915,—pretended that her blow at Serbia was chastisement, not occupation. But it is absurd to assume that having chastised the little Balkan state she would leave it free and independent. It is true that in January Austrian troops were no longer in Balkan territory, but that was not due to intention or desire! They had been there, they are there now, and they will be there as long as the Teutonic arms prevail. It is a game of chess: Italy knew the gambit as soon as Austria moved against Serbia. The response she must have known also, but she had not the power to move then. So she insisted pertinaciously on her right under the seventh clause of the Triple Alliance to open negotiations for "compensations" for Austria's aggression in the Balkans, and finally with the assistance of Berlin compelled the reluctant Emperor to admit her right.
These complexities of international chess, which the American mind never seems able to grasp, are instinctively known by the man in the street in Europe. Every one has learned the gambits: they do not have to be explained, nor their importance demonstrated. The American can profitably study those maps so liberally displayed in shop windows, as I studied them for hours in default of anything better to do in the drifting days of early May. The maps will show at a glance that Italy's northern frontiers are so ingeniously drawn—by her hereditary enemy—that her head is virtually in chancery, as every Italian knows and as the whole world has now realized after four months of patient picking by Italian troops at the outer set of Austrian locks. And there is the Adriatic. When Austria made the frontier, the sea-power question was not as important as it has since become. The east coast of the Adriatic was a wild hinterland that might be left to the rude peoples of Montenegro and Albania. But it has come into the world since then. Add to this that the Italian shore of the Adriatic is notably without good harbors and indefensible, and one has all the elements of the strategic situation. All fears would be superfluous if Austria, the old bully at the north, would keep quiet: the Triple Alliance served well enough for over thirty years. But would Austria play fair with an unsympathetic ally that she had not taken into her confidence when she determined to violate the first term of the Triple Alliance?
All this may now be pondered in the "Green Book," more briefly and cogently in the admirable statement which Italy made to the Powers when she declared war on Austria. That the Italian Government was not only within its treaty rights in demanding those "compensations" from Austria, but would have been craven to pass the incident of the attack on Serbia without notice, seems to me clear. That it was a real necessity, not a mere trading question, for Italy to secure a stronger frontier and control of the Adriatic, seems to me equally obvious. These, I take it, were the vital considerations, not the situation of the "unredeemed" Italians in Trent and Trieste. But Austria, in that grudging maximum of concession which she finally offered to Italy's minimum of demand, insisted upon taking the sentimental or knavish view of the Italian attitude: she would yield the more Italianated parts of the territory in dispute, not the vitally strategic places. Nor would she deliver her concessions until after the conclusion of the war—if ever!—after she had got what use there was from the Italians enrolled in her armies fighting Russia. For Vienna to regard the tender principle of nationalism is a good enough joke, as we say. Her persistence in considering Italy's demands as either greed or sentiment is proof of Teutonic lack of imagination. The Italians are sentimental, but they are even more practical. It was not the woes of the "unredeemed" that led the Salandra Government to reject the final offering of Austria, and to accept the risks of war instead. It was rather the very practical consideration of that indefensible frontier, which Austria stubbornly refused to make safe for Italy—after she had given cause, by her attack upon Serbia, to render all her neighbors uneasy in their minds for their safety.
So much for the sentimental and the strategical threads in the Consulta negotiations. It was neither for sentiment nor for strategical advantage solely that Italy finally entered the war. Nevertheless, if the German Powers had frankly and freely from the start recognized Italy's position, and surrendered to her immediate possession—as they were ready to do at the last moment—sufficient of those national aspirations to safeguard national security, with hands off in the Adriatic, Italy most probably would have preferred to remain neutral. I cannot believe that Salandra or the King really wanted war. They were sincerely struggling to keep their nation out of the European melting-pot as long as they could. But they were both shrewd and patriotic enough not to content themselves with present security at the price of ultimate danger. And if they had been as weak as the King of Greece, as subservient as the King of Bulgaria, they would have had to reckon with a very different people from the Bulgars and the Greeks—a nation that might quite conceivably have turned Italy into a republic and ranged her beside her Latin sister on the north in the world struggle. The path of peace was in no way the path of prudence for the House of Savoy.
* * * * *
Lack of imagination is surely one of the prominent characteristics of the modern German, at least in statecraft. Imagination applied to the practical matters of daily living is nothing more than the ability to project one's own personality beneath the skin of another, to look around at the world through that other person's eyes and to realize what values the world holds for him. The Prince von Buelow, able diplomat though they call him, could not look upon the world through Italian eyes in spite of his Italian wife, his long residence in Rome, his professed love for Italy. It must have been with his consent if not by his suggestion that Erzburger, the leader of the Catholic party in the Reichstag, was sent to Rome at this critical juncture. The German mind probably said,—"Here is a notable Catholic, political leader of German Catholics, and so he must be especially agreeable to Italians, who, as all the world knows, are Catholics." The reasoning of a stupid child! Outwardly Italy is Catholic, but modern Italy has shown herself very restive at any papal meddling in national affairs. To have an alien—one of the "barbari"—seat himself at the Vatican and try to use the papal power in determining the policy of the nation in a matter of such magnitude, was a fatal blunder of tactless diplomacy. Nor could Herr Erzburger's presence at the Vatican these tense days be kept secret from the curious journalists, who lived on such meager items of news. No more tactful was it for Prince von Buelow to meet the Italian politician Giolitti at the Palace Hotel on the Pincian. There is no harm in one gentleman's meeting another in the rooms of a public hotel so respectable as the Palace, but when the two are playing the international chess game and one is regarded as an enemy and the other as a possible traitor, the popular mind is likely to take a heated and prejudiced view of the small incident. Less obvious to the public, but none the less untactful, was the manner in which the German Ambassador tried to use his social connection in Rome, his family relationships in the aristocracy of Italy, to influence the King and his ministers. He might have taken warning from the royal speech attributed to the Queen Mother in reply to the Kaiser: "The House of Savoy rules one at a time." He should have kept away from the back stairs. He should have known Italy well enough to realize that the elements of Roman society with which he was affiliated do not represent either power or public opinion in Italy any more than good society does in most modern states. Roman aristocracy, like all aristocracies, whether of blood or of money, is international in its sympathies, skeptic in its soul. And its influence, in a decisive question of life and death to the nation, is nil. The Prince von Buelow was wasting his time with people who could not decide anything. As Salandra said, with dignified restraint in answer to the vulgar attack upon him made by the German Chancellor,—"The Prince was a sincere lover of Italy, but he was ill-advised by persons who no longer had any weight in the nation"—as his colleague in London seems to have been ill-advised when he assured his master that Englishmen would not fight under any circumstances! The trouble with diplomacy would seem to be that its ranks are still recruited from "the upper classes," whose gifts are social and whose sympathies reflect the views and the prejudices of a very small element in the state. Good society in Rome was still out on the Pincian for the afternoon promenade, was still exchanging calls and dinners these golden spring days, but its views and sympathies could not count in the enormous complex of beliefs and emotions that make the mind of a nation in a crisis. Prince von Buelow's motor was busily running about the narrow streets of old Rome, the gates of the pretty Villa Malta were hospitably open,—guarded by carabinieri,—but if the German Ambassador had put on an old coat and strolled through the Trastevere, or had sat at a little marble-topped table in some obscure cafe, or had traveled second or third class between Rome and Naples, he might have heard things that would have brought the negotiations at the Consulta to an abrupter close one way or the other. For Italy was making up its mind against his master.
* * * * *
Rome was very still these hesitant days of early May, Rome was very beautiful—I have never known her so beautiful! The Pincian, in spite of its afternoon parade, had the sad air of forced retirement of some well-to-do family. The Piazza di Spagna basked in its wonted flood of sunshine with a curious Sabbatical calm. A stray forestieri might occasionally cross its blazing pavements and dive into Piale's or Cook's, and a few flower girls brought their irises and big white roses to the steps, more from habit than for profit surely. The Forum was like a wild, empty garden, and the Palatine, a melancholy waste of fragments of the past where an old Garibaldian guard slunk after the stranger, out of lonesomeness, babbling strangely of that other war in which he had part and mixing his memories with the tags of history he had been taught to recite anent the Roman monuments. As I wandered there in the drowse of bees among the spring blossoms and looked out upon the silent field that once was the heart of Rome, it was hard to realize that again on this richly human soil of Italy the fate of its people was to be tested in the agony of a merciless war, that even now the die was being cast less than a mile away across the roofs. The soil of Rome is the most deeply laden in the world with human memories, which somehow exhale a subtle fragrance that even the most casual stranger cannot escape, that condition the children of the soil. The roots of the modern Italian run far down into the mould of ancient things: his distant ancestors have done much of his political thinking for him, have established in his soul the conditions of his present dilemma.... I wonder if Prince von Buelow ever spent a meditative hour looking down on the fragments of the Forum from the ilex of the Palatine, over the steep ascent of the Capitoline that leads to the Campidolgio, as far as the grandiose marble pile that fronts the newer city? Probably not.
* * * * *
Germany wanted her place in the sun. She had always wanted it from the day, two thousand years and more ago, when the first Teuton tribes came over the Alpine barrier and spread through the sun-kissed fields of northern Italy. The Italian knows that in his blood. There are two ways in which to deal with this German lust of another's lands—to kill the invader or to absorb him. Italy has tried both. It takes a long time to absorb a race,—hundreds of years,—and precious sacrifices must be made in the process. No wonder that Italy does not wish to become Germany's place in the sun! Nor to swallow the modern German.
When the Teuton first crossed the Alpine barrier and poured himself lustfully out over the fertile plains of northern Italy, it was literally a place in the sun which he coveted. In the ages since then his lust has changed its form: now it is economic privilege that he seeks for his people. In order to maintain that level of industrial superiority, of material prosperity, to which he has raised himself, he must "expand" in trade and influence. He must have more markets to exploit and always more. It is the same lust with a new name. "Thou shalt not covet" surely was written for nations as well as for individuals. But our modern economic theory, the modern Teutonic state, is based on the belief: "Thou shalt covet, and the race that covets most and by power gets most, that race shall survive!" And here is the central knot of the whole dark tangle. The German coveting greater economic opportunities, knowing himself strong to survive, believes in his divine right to possess. It is conscious Darwinism—the survival of the fittest, materially, which he is applying to the world—Darwinism accelerated by an intelligent will. And the non-Germanic world—the Latin world, for it is a Latin world in varying degrees of saturation outside of Germany—rejects the theory and the practice with loathing—when it sees what it means.
* * * * *
What makes for the happiness of a nation? I asked myself in the mellow silence of ancient Rome. Is it true that economic conquest makes for strength, happiness, survival for the nation or for the individual?
This Italy has always been poor, at least within modern memory—a literal, actual poverty when often there has not been enough to eat in the family pot to go around. She has had a difficult time in the economic race for bread and butter for her children. There is neither sufficient land easily cultivable nor manufacturing resources to make her rich, to support her growing population according to the modern standards of comfort. The Germans despise the Italians for their little having.
Yet the Italian peasant—man, woman, or child—is a strong human being, inured to meager living and hardship, loving the soil from which he digs his living with an intense, fiery love. And poverty has not killed the joy of living in the Italian. Far from it! In spite of the exceedingly laborious lives which the majority lead, the privations in food, clothing, housing, the narrowness,—in the modern view,—of their lives, no one could consider the Italian people unhappy. Their characters, like their hillside farms, are the result of an intensive cultivation—of making the most out of very little naturally given.
A healthy, high-tempered, vital people these, not to be despised in the kaiserliche fashion even as soldiers. Surely not as human beings, as a human society. And their poverty has had much influence in making the Italians the sturdy people they are to-day. Poverty has some depressing aspects, but in the main her very lack of economic opportunity—the want of coal and factories and other sources of wealth—has kept most of these people close to the soil, where one feels the majority of any healthy, enduring race should be. Poverty has made the Italians hard, content with little, and able to wring the most out of that little. It has cultivated them intensively as a people, just as they have been forced to cultivate their rock-bound fields foot by foot.
There are qualities in human living more precious than prosperity, and in these Italians have shared abundantly—beauty, sentiment, tradition, all that give color and meaning to life. These are the treasures of Latin civilization in behalf of which the allied nations of Europe are now fighting....
* * * * *
I am well enough aware that all this is contrary to the premises of the economic and social polity that controls modern statecraft. I know that our great nations, notably Germany, are based on exactly the opposite premise—that the strength of a state depends on the economic development of its people, on its wealth-producing power. Germany has been the most convinced, the most conscious, the most relentless exponent of the pernicious belief that the ultimate welfare of the state depends primarily on the wealth-getting power of its citizens. She has exalted an economic theory into a religion of nationality with mystical appeals. She has taught her children to go singing into the jaws of death in order that the Fatherland may extend her markets and thus enrich her citizens at the expense of the citizens of other states, who are her inferiors in the science of slaughter. A queer religion, and all the more abhorrent when dressed out with the phrases of Christianity!
All modern states are more or less tainted with the same delusion—ourselves most, perhaps, after Germany. "We have all sinned," as an eminent Frenchman said, "your people and mine, as well as England and Germany." It is time to revise some of the fundamental assumptions of political philosophers and statesmen. Let us admit that peoples may be strong and happy and contented without seeking to control increasingly those sources of wealth still left undeveloped on the earth's surface, without cutting one another's throats in an effort for national expansion. The psychology of states cannot be fundamentally different from that of the individuals in them. And the happiness of the individual has never been found to consist wholly, even largely, in his economic prosperity.
Because the Latin soul divines this axiomatic belief, because the Latin world admits a larger, finer interpretation of life than economic success, all civilization waits upon the great decision of this war.
* * * * *
Suddenly in the calm of these drifting, hesitant days, when nobody knew what the nation desired, there came a bolt of lightning. I have said that the German people lack imagination by which to understand the world outside themselves. They do not cooerdinate their activities. Otherwise, why commit the barbarism of sinking the Lusitania, just at the moment when they were straining to keep Italy from breaking completely the frayed bonds of the Triple Alliance? Probably it never entered any German head in the "high commandment" that the prosecution of his undersea warfare might have a very real connection with the Italian situation. He could not credit any nation with such "soft sentimentality," as he calls it. Yet I am not alone in ascribing a large significance to the sinking of the Lusitania in Italy's decision to make war. Every observer of these events whom I have talked with or whose report I have read gives the same testimony, that Italy first woke to her own mind at the shock of the Lusitania murders....
The news came to me in my peaceful room above the Barberini Gardens. The fountain was softly dripping below, the spring air was full of the song of birds as another perfect day opened. The warm sunshine reached lovingly up the yellowed walls of the old palace opposite. All the little, old, familiar things of a long past, which pull so strongly here in Rome at the human heart, were moving in the new day. The life of men, so troubled, so sad, seemed beautiful this May morning, with the suave beauty of ideals that for centuries have coursed through the blood of Italy.... Luigi, the black-haired, black-eyed lad who brought the morning coffee and newspapers, was telling me of the horrid crime. With his outstretched fist clenched and shaking with rage he said the words, then, dropping the paper with its heavy headlines, cursed it as if it too symbolically represented the hideous thing that Germany had become. "Now," he cried, "there'll be war! We shall fight them, the swine!" A few days afterward Luigi departed to fight the "swine" on some Alpine pass.
Luigi's reaction to the sinking of the Lusitania was typical of all Rome, all Italy. The same burst of execration and horror was in every mouth. "Fuori i Barbari" was the title of a little anti-German sheet that was appearing in Rome: it got a new significance as it hung in the kiosks or was scanned by scowling men. It became the muttered cry of the street. I am not simple enough to believe that the sinking of the Lusitania of itself "drove Italy into the war." Nations no more than individuals, alas, are idealistic enough to sacrifice themselves simply for their moral resentments. But this fresh example of cynical indifference to the opinion of civilization, just at the critical point of decision for the Italian people, had much to do with the rousing of that war fury without which no government can push a nation into war. First there must be the spirit of hate, a personal emotion in the hearts of many. It must be remembered also that Italy had felt with the entire civilized world the outrage of Belgium. It has even been rumored that one of the hard passages between Italy and her German allies was the condition that Germany wished to attach to any Austrian concessions, by which Italy at the peace conference should uphold Germany's "claims" to Belgium. No one knows the truth about this, but if true it is in itself an adequate explanation of the failure of the negotiations. And now the Lusitania came with a fresh shock as an iterated example of German state policy. It proclaimed glaringly to the eyes of all men what the Teutonic thing is, what it means to the world. The Latin has been cruel and bloody in his deeds, like all men, but he has never made a cult of inhumanity, never justified it as a principle of statecraft. Italians, prone to hate as to love, prone especially to hate the Teuton, those aliens who have lusted after their richness and beauty all these centuries, felt the Lusitania murders to the depths of their souls. It was like a red writing on the wall, serving notice that in due season Germany and Austria would tear Italy limb from limb because of her "treachery" in not abetting them in their attack upon the peace of the world.
Prince von Buelow and Baron Macchio might as well have discontinued their daily visits to the Consulta after the 7th of May. Whatever they might have hoped to accomplish with their diplomacy to keep Italy neutral had been irretrievably ruined by the diplomacy of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. The smallest match, the scratch of a boot-heel on stone, can set off a powder magazine. The Lusitania was a goodly sized match. If the King and his ministers were waiting for the country to declare itself, if they wanted the excuse of national emotion before taking the final irrevocable steps into war, they had their desire. From the hour when the news of the sinking of the Lusitania came over the wires, Italy began to mutter and shout. The months of hesitation were ended. There were elements enough of hate, and Germany had given them all focus. "Fuori i Barbari!" I bought a sheet from the old woman who went hurrying up the street shouting hoarsely,—"Fuori i Barbari!" ... "Fuori i Barbari!" ... "Barbari!"....
The Politician Speaks
Giovanni Giolitti came to Rome, a few days after the Lusitania affair. Ostensibly he had come to town from his home in little Cavour, where he had been in retirement all the winter, to visit a sick wife at Frascati. Montecitorio, home of politicians, began to hum. Rome quivering with the emotions of its great decision muttered. What did Giolitti's presence at this eleventh hour signify? Remember what the shrewd American observer had said the week before,—"Giolitti will tell the Italians what they want."
The master politician, the ex-Premier, the heir to Crispian policies, was received at the railroad station by a few faithful friends, much as Boss Barnes or Boss Penrose, returning from a voluntary exile in New York or Pennsylvania, might be received by a few of the "boys." They were Deputies from Montecitorio frock-coated and silk-hatted, like politicians all the world over, not a popular throng of a hundred thousand Romans singing and shouting, such as a few days later was to gather in the piazza before the same station to greet the poet, D'Annunzio. It is well to understand the significance of this unobtrusive coming of the political leader at the moment, to realize what sinister meaning it had for the existing Government, for the Italian nation, for the Allies—for the world.
The Italian Deputies who had been elected two years before, long before even the astutest politician had any suspicion of the black cloud that was to rise over Europe, were Giolittian by a great majority. Giolitti was then the chief figure in Italian politics and controlled the Chamber of Deputies. The Giolitti "machine," as we should say, was the only machine worth mention in Italy. Rumor says that it was buttressed with patronage as American machines are, and, more specifically, that Giolitti when in power had diverted funds which should have gone into national defense to political ends, also had deferred the bills of the Libyan expedition so that at the outbreak of the war Italy found herself badly in debt and with an army in need of everything. Soldiers drilled in the autumn of 1914 in patent leathers or barefooted and dressed as they could, while the Giolittian clubs and interests flourished. Also it was said that the prefects of the provinces, who in the Italian system have large powers, especially in influencing elections, were henchmen of the politician. I do not know how just these accusations may be, nor how true the more serious accusation shortly to be hurled abroad that Giolitti had sold himself for German gold. The latter is easy to say and hard to prove; the former is hard to prove and easy to believe—it being the way of politicians the world over.
However dull or bright Giolitti's personal honor may have been, the Parliamentary situation was difficult in the extreme—one of those absurd paradoxes of representative government liable to happen any time. Here were five hundred-odd elected representatives of the people owing allegiance, really, not to the King, not to the nation, not to the responsible ministers in charge of the state, but to the politician Giolitti. If they had been elected under the stress of the war, after the 1st of August, 1914, they might not have been the same personal representatives of Giovanni Giolitti. We cannot say. Democracies are prone to be deceived in their chosen representatives: they discover them mortgaged to a leader, secret or open. The Salandra Government knew, of course, Giolitti's prejudices in favor of Italy's old allies, disguised as patriotically neutralista sympathies. He had discreetly retired to little Cavour in Piedmont all the winter, maintaining a disinterested aloofness throughout the prolonged negotiations. Yet he knew, the Salandra Government and the King knew, the people knew, that Giovanni Giolitti must be reckoned with before Parliament could be opened to ratify the acts of the ministers, to support them in whatever measures they had prepared to take. It would be simple political insanity to open the Chamber before Giolitti had been dealt with, leading to acrid discussions, scandal, the inevitable downfall of the ministry, and political chaos. The nation must be united and express itself unitedly by its legal mouthpieces before the world.
* * * * *
It has been said, I do not know with what truth, that Prince von Buelow had informed the ex-Premier of Austria's ultimate concessions even before they were presented to Salandra and Sonnino, and consequently that Giolitti was precisely aware of the situation when he reached Rome. It is easy to believe almost anything of a diplomacy that dealt with Giolitti in the private rooms of a hotel after the downfall of the Salandra Government.... At any rate, Giolitti went through the forms correctly: he called on the Premier Salandra, the Foreign Minister Sonnino, who laid before the ex-Premier the situation as it had shaped itself. Even the King received him in private audience. So much was due to the leading politician of Italy, who controlled, supposedly, a majority of the existing Parliament. In a sense he held the Salandra Government in his hand, after the opening of the Chamber, which could not be long delayed.
Then the politician spoke. Rather, to be precise, he wrote a little note to a faithful intimate, which was meant for the newspapers and got into them at once. It was a very innocent little note of a few lines in which he confided to "Caro Carlo" his opinion on the tense national situation: better stay with the old allies—the Austrian offers seemed sufficiently satisfactory. This may well have been a sincere, a patriotic judgment, as sincere and patriotic as Bryan's resignation from the American Cabinet a few weeks later. But Italians did not think so. Almost universally they gave it other, sinister interpretations. Giolitti had been "bought," was nothing more than the knavish mouthpiece of German intrigue. Giolitti became overnight traditore, the arch-conspirator, the enemy of his country! It must have staggered the politician, this sudden fury which his innocent advice had roused. And, to condemn him, it is not necessary to believe him to have been a knave bought by German gold.
It is important to realize what happened overnight. Giolitti had become the most hated, most denounced man in all Italy, and in so far as he represented honest neutralista sentiment the cause was dead. If that was what the Salandra Government wanted to achieve, they had got their desire. If, as the politicians say, they were "feeling out" popular sentiment, they need no longer doubt what it was. Columns of vituperation appeared in the anti-German newspapers, crowds began to form and shout in the streets. "Traditore," hissed with every accent of hate and scorn, filled the air. Giolitti's life was seriously in danger—or the Government preferred to think so. The great apartment house on the Via Cavour in which he lived was cordoned off by double lines of troops. Cavalry kept guard, all day and half the night, before the steps of Santa Maria Maggiore, ready to sweep through the crowded streets in case the mob got out of hand. Other troops poured out of the barracks over the city, doing piquet a mato on all the main streets and squares of the city.
Giolitti had, indeed, swayed events,—"told the people what they wanted,"—but not in the expected manner. He had revealed the nation to itself, drifting on the verge of war, and they knew now that they wanted nothing of Giolitti or neutrality or German compromises. They wanted war with Austria. The remarkable fact is that a nation which had submitted in passivity to absolute ignorance of the diplomatic exchanges, waiting dumbly the decision that should determine its fate,—of which it could be said that a large number, perhaps a majority, were neutral at heart,—suddenly overnight awoke to a realization of the political situation and rejected the prudent advice of their popular politician, denounced him, and inferentially proclaimed themselves for war. At last they had seen: they saw that the Salandra Government in which they had confidence had come to the parting of the ways with Austria, and they saw the hand of Giolitti trying to play the game of their ancient enemy.
Then the Salandra Government did a bold, a dramatic thing: it resigned in a body, leaving the King free to choose ministers who could obtain the support of the Giolitti following in Parliament. It was inevitable, it was simple, it was sincere, and it was masterly politics. The public was aghast. At the eleventh hour the state was left thus leaderless because its real desires were to be thwarted by a politician who took his orders from the German Embassy.
Thereupon the "demonstrations" against Giolitti, against Austria and Germany, began in earnest.
* * * * *
The first popular "demonstration" which I saw in Rome was a harmless enough affair, and for that matter none of them were really serious. The Government always had the situation firmly in hand, with many regiments of infantry, also cavalry, to reinforce the police, the secret service, and the carabinieri, who alone might very well have handled all the disorder that occurred. Never, I suspect, was there any more demonstrating than the Government thought wise. The first occasion was a little crowd of boys and youths,—not precisely riff-raff, rather like our own college boys,—and they did less mischief than a few hundred freshmen or sophomores would have done. They marched down the street from the Piazza Tritone, shouting and carrying a couple of banners inscribed with "Abasso Giolitti." They stoned a few signs, notably the one over the empty office of the Austrian-Lloyd company, then, being turned from the Corso and the Austrian Embassy by the police, they rushed back up the hill to the Salandra residence, to hang about and yell themselves hoarse in the hope of evoking something from the former Premier. The two poles of the following "demonstrations" were the Salandra and the Giolitti residences with occasional futile dashes into the Corso....
For the better part of a week these street excitements kept up, not merely in Rome, but all over Italy: for that one week, while the King sent for various public men and offered them the task of forming a new ministry, which in every case was respectfully declined—as was expected.
* * * * *
Why did the King not send for Giovanni Giolitti, the one statesman who under ordinary circumstances might have expected a summons? Neither Giolitti nor any of his intimates was invited to form a cabinet and reestablish constitutional government. Nothing would appear to be more natural than that the leader of the Opposition, controlling a majority of the Deputies, who avowedly represented a policy opposed to that of the ministers who had resigned, should be asked himself to take charge. But Giolitti was never asked, and daily the shouting in the streets grew louder, more menacing, and the mood of the public more tense. Nothing was plainer than that if Giolitti had a majority of the Deputies, the people were not for him and his policies. The House of Savoy, as the King so well put it, rules by expressing the will of the people. Each day it was more evident what that will was. Giolitti, the master politician, was being outplayed by mere honest men. They had used him—as Germany had used him—to try out the temper of the nation. With him they drew the neutralista and pro-German fire beforehand, prudently, not to be defeated by hostile party criticism in the Chamber. And when they got through with the politician, they threw him out: literally they intimated through the Minister of Public Safety that they would not be responsible any longer for his personal safety. There was nothing for him but to go—before Parliament had assembled!
As Italy seethed and boiled, threatening to break into revolutionary violence, while the King received one respectable nonentity after another, who each time after a very brief consideration declined the proffered responsibility, Giolitti must have thought that the life of the politician is not an easy one. He was stoned when he appeared on the streets in his motor. He had to sneak out of the city at dawn that last day. Where was all the neutralista sentiment so evident the first months of the war? And where was the German influence supposed to be so strong in the upper commercial classes? Germans as well as Austrians were scurrying out of Italy as fast as they could. Their insinuating multiplicity was proved by the numbers of shuttered shops. More hotels along the Pincian, whose "Swiss" managers found it prudent to retire over the Alps, were closed. Angry crowds swarmed about the Austrian and German consulates, also the embassies when they could get through the cordons of troops on the Piazza Colonna. Noisy Rome these days might very well give rise to pessimistic reflections on the folly of popular government to politicians like Giolitti and the Prince von Buelow, whose obviously prudent policies were thus being upset by the "voice of the piazza" led by a very literary poet! No doubt at this moment they would point to Ferdinand of Bulgaria and the King of Greece as enlightened monarchs who know how to secure their own safety by ignoring the will of their peoples. But the end for Ferdinand and Constantine is not yet.
* * * * *
The trouble with the politician as with the trained diplomat is that he never goes beneath the surface. He takes appearances for realities. He has often lost that instinct of race which should enable him to understand his own humanity. To a Giolitti, adept in the trading game of political management, it must seem insane for Italy to plunge into the war against powerful allies, who at just this time were triumphing in West and East alike—all the more when the sentimental and trading instincts of the populace might be partly satisfied with the concessions so grudgingly wrung from Austria. It was not only rash: it was bad politics!
But what Giolitti and men of his stripe the world over cannot understand is that the people are never as crafty and wise and mean as their politicians. The people are still capable of honest emotions, of heroic desires, of immense sacrifices. They love and hate and loathe with simple hearts. The politician like the popular novelist makes the fatal mistake of underrating his audience. And his audience will leave him in the lurch at the crisis, as Italy left Giolitti. Italy was never enthusiastic, as its enemies have charged, for a war of mere aggression, for realizing the "aspirations" because Austria was in a tight place, even for redeeming a million and a half more or less of expatriated Italians in Austrian territory. Politicians and statesmen talked of these matters, perforce; the people repeated them. For they were tangible "causes." But what Italians hated was Austrian and German leadership—were the "barbari" themselves, their ancient foe; and when told that they had better continue to make their bed with the "barbari," they revolted.
There are many men in every nation,—some of the politician type, some of the aristocratic type, some of the business type,—who by interest and temperament are timid and fundamentally cynical. They are pacifists for profit. About them gather the uncourageous "intellectuals," who believe in the potency of all established and dominating power whatever it may be. But these "leading citizens" fortunately are a minority in any democracy. They do most of the negotiating, much of the talking, but when the crisis comes,—and the issue is out in the open for every one to see,—they have to reckon with the instinctive majority, whose emotional nature has not been dwarfed. That majority is not necessarily the "rabble," the irresponsible and ignorant mob of the piazza as the German Chancellor sees them: it is the great human army of "little people," normal, simple, for the most part honest, whose selfish stake in the community is not large enough to stifle their deepest instincts. In them, I believe, lies the real idealism of any nation, also its plain virtues and its abiding strength.
The Italian situation was a difficult one, obviously. Public opinion had been perplexed. There were the classes I have just mentioned, by interest and temperament either pro-German or honestly neutral. There was the radical mob that the year before had temporarily turned Italy into republics. There was the unreliable South. And the hard-ground peasants who feared, justly, heavier taxes and the further hardships of war. And there were the millions of honest but undecided Italians who hated Teutonism and all its deeds, who were intelligent enough to realize the exposed situation of Italy, who felt the call of blood for the "unredeemed," and the vaguer but none the less powerful call of civilization from their northern kin—above all who responded to the fervid historical idealism of the poet voicing the longing of their souls to become once more the mighty nation they had been. These were the people whose change of hearts and minds surprised Giolitti and the Germans.
What had been going on in those hearts of the plain people all these months of the great war, Giolitti could not understand. It was another Italy from the one he had charmed that rose at his prudent advice and threw the bitter word "traditore" in his teeth and howled him out of Rome. Traitor, yes! traitor to the loftier, bolder, finer longings of their hearts to take their stand at all cost with their natural allies in this last titanic struggle with the barbarians. It was this sort of public that spoke in the piazza and whose voice prevailed.
* * * * *
The diplomat deals too exclusively with conventional persons, with the sophisticated. The politician deals too exclusively with the successful, with the commercial and exploiting classes. Giolitti's associations were of this class. Like any other bourgeoisie of finance and trade, "big business" in Italy was on the side of the big German battalions, who at this juncture were winning victories. Italy was peculiarly under the influence of German and Austrian finance. One of its leading lending banks—the Banca Commerciale—was a German concern. Most of its newer developments had been accomplished with German capital, were run by German engineers, equipped with German machines. Germany has bitterly reproached her former ally for the "ingratitude" of siding against the people who had brought her prosperity. Gratitude and ingratitude in business transactions are meaningless terms. The lender gets his profit as well as the borrower, usually before the borrower. If Italy has needed German capital, Germany has needed the Italian markets and Italian industries for her capital. The Germans surely have used Italy as their commercial colony. Italy bought her bathtubs, her electric machines, her coal, and her engines from Germany. For the past generation the German commercial traveler has been as common in Italy as the German tourist. In fact, was there ever a German tourist who was not in some sense a commercial agent for the Fatherland?
To the international financier all this is simply intelligible—a matter of mutually desirable exchange. No debtor nation should feel aggrieved with a creditor nation: rather it should rejoice that it has attracted the services of foreign capital. Is the international economist right in his reasoning? Why does the delusion persist among plain people that the creditor is not always a benefactor? It is a very old and persistent delusion, so strong in the Middle Ages that interest was considered illegal and the despised Jews were the only people who dared finance the world. Abstractly the economists are undoubtedly right, yet I am fain to believe that the popular notion has some ground of truth in it too. Obviously, according to modern notions a country rich in natural resources, but poor in capital, inherited savings, must borrow money to "develop" itself. But granting for the moment that material exploitation of a country is as desirable as our modern notions assume it to be, even then there are reasons for grave suspicion of foreign lenders. Take abused Mexico. Its woes are in good part traceable to the pernicious influence upon its domestic politics of the foreign capital which its riches have attracted. One might instance the United States as an example of beneficial exploitation by foreign capital, but with us it must be remembered the lender has had neither industrial nor political power. We have always been strong enough to manage our affairs ourselves and satisfy our creditors with their interest—if need be with their principal. We have drawn on the European horde as upon an international bank, but we have absolutely controlled the disposition of the moneys borrowed. A weak country can hardly do that. Mexico could not. It had to suffer the foreign exploiter, with his selfish intrigues, in person. Italy has never been as weak as Mexico: it has maintained its own government, its own civilization. But the increasing amount of foreign investment, the increasing number of foreign "interests" in Italy, has been evident to every Italian. The hotels, the factories, the shops all testify patently to the presence of the stranger within the gates looking after his own interests, breeding his money on Italian soil.
But why not? the dispassionate internationalist may ask. Why should not the Italian hotels be in the hands of Austrians, Germans, and Swiss; the new electrical developments be installed and run by Germans; the shops for tourists and Italians be owned by foreigners? There we cross the unconscious instinct of nationality, which cannot be ignored. Assuming that there is something precious, to be guarded as a chief treasure in the instinct of nationality, as I assume, there are grave dangers in too much friendly commercial "infiltration" from the outside. The indirect influences of commercial exploitation with foreign capital are the insidious, the dangerous ones. The dislike of the foreign trader, the foreign creditor, may voice itself crudely as mere envy, know-nothingism, but it has a healthy root in national self-preservation. For an Italian the German article should be undesirable, especially if its possession means accepting the German and his way of life along with his goods. The small merchant and the peasant express their resentments of foreign competition rawly, no doubt. Consciously it is half envy of the more efficient stranger. Unconsciously they are voicing the deep traditions of their ancestors, vindicating their race ideals, cherishing what is most enduring in themselves. They would not see their country given over to the stranger, whose life is not their life.
One unpleasant aspect of the commercial invasion of Italy by the Teuton was his liking to live there, and consequently the amount of real estate which he was collecting on the Latin peninsula—so much that the lovely environs of Naples were fast becoming a German principality! These invaders were not traders, nor workers, but capitalists and exploiters. The process is known now as "infiltration." The German had filtered into Italy in every possible way, was supplanting its own native life with the Teutonic thing, as it had in France so largely. Italy could well profit from that experience of its sister nation. The Germans who filtered into French life, commercial, industrial, social, were German first and last. When the crisis came they turned from their adopted land, where they had lived on terms of cordial hospitality for ten, twenty, thirty years, and took themselves back to Germany, in many cases to reappear as the invader at the head of armed troops. The experience of France proved that the peaceful German resident was a German all the years of his life, not a loyal, vital factor in his adopted country—too often something of a spy as well. Therefore Italy might well be disturbed over the presence of so much Teutonic "infiltration" in her own beloved land. And why should Germany call her ungrateful when she sought to rid herself of her unwelcome creditors? German capital had made its five per cent on its investments, and better: it should not expect to absorb the life of the nation also.
* * * * *
In every debtor nation there must be an element which profits directly from the creditor relation. It assumes, naturally, the aspects of "progress," and consists of the richer trading class and bankers, sustainers of politicians. Such, I take it, were the followers of Giolitti, and such was Giolitti himself, a sincere admirer of Teutonic success and believer in the economic help which Germany could render to his kind of Italian. Such men as Giolitti are easily impressed by evidences of German superiority: they identify progress with the rapid introduction of German plumbing, German hotel-keeping, German electric devices, German banks. All these, they believe, help a "backward country" to come forward. They do not understand the finer spiritual risks that such material benefits may involve. They are not as sensitive as the humble peasant, as simpler citizens, to the gradual sapping of the precious national roots, of the internal debasement that may be going on through the process of "infiltration." They are too prosperous, too cosmopolitan to feel losses in national individuality. They realize merely the better hotels, the better railways, the improved plumbing in their country. Their souls are already half-Teutonized.
In his dignified answer to the German Chancellor's vulgar attack on him in the Reichstag, Salandra referred to the long history of the Italian people, who "were civilized and leaders of the world" when the Teuton hordes were still savage. It was the spirit of that ancient civilization which did not consist primarily of industrial development that stirred in the souls of true Italians and made them scorn the advice of the Teutonized politician. He was "traditore" to all that nobler Italians hold dear—to the Latin tradition.
The Poet Speaks
The poet prophet has so long abdicated his rights among us moderns that we are incredulous when told that he has again exercised his function. That is the reason why the story of a poet's part in leading the Italian people toward their decision is received by Americans with such skeptical humor. And Gabriele d' Annunzio in the role! A poet who is popularly supposed to be decadent, if not degenerate, gossipingly known for his celebrated affair with a famous actress, whose novels and plays, when not denounced for their eroticism, are very much caviar to the "wholesome" man, so full are they of a remote symbolism, so purely "literary." "Exotic" is the chosen word for the more tolerant American minds with which to describe the author of "Il Fuoco" and "San Sebastian."
In recent years the Italian poet has abandoned his native land, living in Paris, writing his last work in French, having apparently exiled himself for the rest of his life and renounced his former Italianism. Circumstances were stronger than the poet. The war came, and D'Annunzio turned back to his native land.
* * * * *
He came to Italy at a critical moment and characteristically he filled the moment with all the drama of which it was capable. His reappearance in Italy, as every one knows, was due to the ceremonies in connection with the unveiling of a monument to the famous Garibaldian band,—the Thousand,—in the little village of Quarto outside of Genoa, from which Garibaldi and his Thousand set forth on their march of liberation fifty-five years ago. The monument had been long in the making. The opportunity for patriotic instigation was heightened by the crisis of the great war. The King and his ministers had indicated, previously, their intention of participating in this national commemoration, but as the day grew near and the political situation became more acute, it was announced that the urgency of public affairs would not permit the Government to leave Rome. It may have been the literal fact that the situation precipitated by the presence of Giolitti demanded their constant watchfulness. Or it may well have been that the King and the Salandra Government had no intention of allowing their hand in this dangerous game to be forced by any reckless fervor of the poet. They were not ready, yet, to countenance his inflammation. At any rate, they left the occasion solely to the poet.
How he improved it may best be gathered from his address. To the American reader, accustomed to a blunter appeal, the famous Sagra will seem singularly uninflammatory—intensely vague, and literary. One wonders how it could fire that, vast throng which poured out along the Genoa road and filled the little Garibaldian town. But one must remember that nine months of hesitation had prepared Italian minds for the poet's theme—the future of Italy. He linked the present crisis of choice with the heroic memories of that first making of a nation, "Oggi sta sulla patria un giorno di porpora; e questo e un ritorno per una nova dipartita, o gente d'Italia!"—A purple day is dawning for the Fatherland and this is a return for a new departure, O people of Italy! The return for the new departure—to make a larger, greater Italy, just as the Thousand had departed from this spot to gather the fragments of a nation into one. "All that you are, all that you have, and yourselves, give it to the flame-bearing Italy!" And in conclusion he invoked in a new beatitude the strong youth of Italy who must bear their country to these new triumphs: "O happy those who have more because they can give more, can burn more.... Happy those youths who are famished for glory, because they will be appeased.... Happy the pure in heart, happy those who return with victory, because they will see the new face of Rome, the recrowned brow of Dante, the triumphal beauty of Italy."
The youth of Italy avidly seized upon the poet's appeal. The Sagra was read in the wineshops of little villages, on the streets of the cities. The voice of the poet reached to that fount of racial idealism, of patriotism, that glows in the hearts of all real Italians. He tied their heroic past with the heroic opportunity of the present. And he did not speak of the "unredeemed" or of the "aspirations." Instead, "This is a return for a new departure, O people of Italy!"
The politician, awaiting in Rome the effect of his advice to choose the safe path, must have wondered, as too many Americans wondered, how this poet fellow could stir such mad passion by his fine figures of birds and sea! But there was a spirit abroad in Italy that would not be appeased with "compensations": the poet had the following of all "young Italy."
* * * * *
D'Annunzio came to Rome. Not at once. A whole week elapsed after the Sagra at Quarto, the 5th of May, before he reached Rome—a week of growing tumult, of anti-Giolitti demonstrations, in which his glowing words could sink like hot wine into the hearts of the people. The delay was well considered. If the poet had seized the occasion of Quarto, he made his appearance on the larger scene after the interest of the whole nation had been heightened by reading his address.
I was one of the immense throng that awaited the arrival of the train bringing D'Annunzio to the capital. The great bare place before the terminal station was packed with a patient crowd. The windows of the massive buildings flanking the square were filled with faces. There were faces everywhere, as far as the recesses of the National Museum, around the flamboyant fountain, up the avenues. There were soldiers also, many of them, inside and outside of the station, to prevent any excessive disturbance, part of the remarkable precaution with which the Government was hedging every act. But the soldiers were not needed. The huge throng that waited hour after hour to greet the poet was not rabble: it was a quiet, respectable, orderly concourse of Romans. There was a preponderance of men over women, of youth over middle age, as was natural, but so far as their behavior went, they were as self-contained a "mob" as one might find in Berlin.
The train arrived about dusk, as the great electric lamps began to shine above the sea of white faces. To most the arrival was evident merely from the swaying of the dense human mass, from the cadence of the Garibaldian Hymn that rose into the air from thousands of throats. As room was made for the motor-car, one could see a slight figure, a gray face, swallowed up in the surging mass. Then the crowd broke on the run to follow the motor-car to the hotel on the Pincian where the poet was to stay. The newspapers said there were a hundred and fifty thousand people before the Regina Hotel in the Via Veneto and the adjacent streets. I cannot say. All the way from the Piazza Tritone to the Borghese Gardens, even to the Villa Malta where Prince von Buelow lived, the crowd packed, in the hope of hearing some words from the poet. The words of Mameli's "L'Inno" rose in the twilight air. At last the little gray figure appeared on the balcony above the throng....
It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the effect of what D'Annunzio said. His words fell like moulded bronze into the stillness, one by one, with an extraordinary distinctness, an intensity that made them vibrate through the mass of humanity. They were filled with historical allusions that any stranger must miss in part, but that touched the fibers of his hearers. He seized, as he had at Quarto, on the triumphant advance of the liberating Thousand and recounted the inspiring incidents of that day fifty years and more ago. As I stood in that huge crowd listening to the poet's words as they fell into the thirsty hearts of the people,—who were weary with too much negotiation,—I realized as never before that speech is given to man for more than reason. The words were not merely beautiful in themselves: they flamed with passion and they touched into flame that something of heroic passion in the hearts of all men which makes them transcend themselves. The crowd sighed as if it saw visions, and there rose instinctively in response the familiar strains of the Garibaldian Hymn.
Italy had found its voice! The poet did not speak of "compensations," a little more of Trent and Trieste, of a more strategic frontier. He stirred them with visions of their past and their future. He voiced their scorns. "We are not, we will not be a museum, an inn, a picnic ground, an horizon in Prussian blue for international honeymoons!... Our genius calls us to put our imprint on the molten matter of the new world.... Let there breathe once more in our heaven that air which flames in the prodigious song of Dante in which he describes the flight of the Roman eagle, of your eagle, citizens!... Italy is arming, not for the burlesque, but for a serious combat.... Viva, viva Roma, without shame, viva the great and pure Italy!"
That was the voice which called Italy into the war: the will that Italy should live "ever grander, ever purer, without shame." The poet spoke to the Latin in the souls of his hearers.
* * * * *
He spoke again a number of times. In those feverish days when the nation was in a ferment, the restless youth of Rome would rush in crowds to the hotel on the Pincian and wait there patiently for their poet to counsel them. He gratified their desire, not often, and each time that he spoke he stung them to a fuller consciousness of will. He spoke of the larger Italy to be, and they knew that he did not mean an enlargement of boundaries. He spoke clearly, briefly, intensely. It was once more the indubitable voice of the poet and prophet raised in the land of great poetry.
D'Annunzio grew bolder. He recognized openly his antagonist—the traitor. The most dramatic of his little speeches was at the Costanzi Theater where a trivial operetta was being given, which was quickly swept into the wings. After the uproar on his entrance had been somewhat stilled, he spoke of Von Buelow and Giolitti and their efforts to thwart the will of the nation.