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'La spada dei tuoi vecchi eroi
There is no real rupture between the vision of the future and the teaching of the past. The Cross and the sword!' he exclaims; 'never was the Cross a more manifest oriflamme, nor ever have Pity and Piety, with tenderer eyes, upheld another race':
'Con la Croce e la Spada! La Croce
Con occhi più belli,
La Pietà sostentare altro popolo !'
And of the 'umili soldati' of the line:
'paion meno nobili
d'un mendicante, e son così vicino
And so their foes themselves cannot fail to feel that within the heart of these humble soldiers dwells the very God unknown to them:
i cuori di questi umili soldati
è il vero Dio che essi non connobbero.'
Just as the national ideal colours the religious fervour of the race, so, too, it guides and informs their temporal aspirations; it is the light towards which those aims are directed and by which they steer. It may savour of presumption that a stranger, even if he can claim the clairvoyance of affection, should venture to attempt their demonstration; yet, if one lives and converses with a people, it is not difficult to see where one pleases and where one hurts, and thus to divine the innermost core of their hopes and desires. The consciousness of her historical self, the continuity of the Latin idea through the centuries, from the ancient unity of Rome to the modern unity of Italia nuova, is the dominant factor in the ideal and the aspirations of the race. A people that has made so much history could not but dream of making more; and no Italian has ever lost faith in the rejuvenescent powers of the Latin blood. The majestic vision of Virgil-'Salve, magna parens
frugum, Saturnia tellus, Magna virum'-the rage of Dante, the wail of Filicaia, the despair of Leopardi, all mean that the sense of Italy's historical past as the pledge and hope of her historical future. The Virgilian note of pomp and strength and illustrious lineage
'Hæc genus acre virum, Marsos pubemque Sabellam
Extulit, hæc Decios, Marios, magnosque Camillos'
is resumed in d'Annunzio's Laudi,' in the lists of heroic names that echo from the pages of the 'Gesta d'Oltremare.' In d'Annunzio, indeed, the appeal to the past is carried to extreme lengths; the 'Laudi' and the ‘Nave' require a commentary hardly less erudite than that demanded by the Divina Comedia'; and there are not many Italians, however patriotic, who could explain, on the spur of the moment, the innumerable allusions to local and national history which it contains.
If there is continuity in the historical appeal, there is continuity, too, in the sentiment of passionate affection aroused by the patria bella. Tu ci donasti la patria bella,' say the soldiers in the trenches to-day; and Rutilius, leaving Rome in A.D. 417, for his native Gaul, addresses the Eternal City in language whose fervour is identical in quality with the paan to Italy sung by Benelli on the Carso in 1916:
'Crebra relinquendis infigimus oscula portis ;
Exaudi, nutrix hominum genetrixque deorum
Mitigat armatas victrix clementia vires,
convenit in mores numen utrumque tuos. Hinc tibi certandi bona parcendique voluptas ; quos timuit, superat; quos superavit, amat.'
Benelli might almost be paraphrasing these last linesand yet he is not-when he writes:
'ogni milite può gridare il tuo
nome, poi che tu rechi gentilezza.'
Nor are the poets wrong in their insistence on the historical continuity of the Italian spirit. Italy is indeed the semprerinascente. She has witnessed the great epochs of Rome, the Renaissance and the Risorgimento. This is the Third Italy. Her history has, in a certain sense, been the age-long effort to carry the spiritual continuity out into a material unity, not yet achieved in full. 'We have made Italy; we must now make Italians,' inspired by the past, looking forward to the future.
Through the Dark Ages and the Renaissance down to our own day, this historical sense was chiefly a local inspiration. The unity and continuity were broken in the political, though not in the spiritual sphere, by the political subdivisions of the peninsula. The inspiration of Venetian, Genoese, Florentine, Pisan achievements was stimulant and binding only, or chiefly, for Venetians, Genoese, Florentines or Pisans. But, now that Italy is a political unit once more, these local achievements become part of the spiritual patrimony of the whole race. They take on a wider significance; a new mould is created into which the precious metal of these glowing deeds can now be poured to make the spiritual coinage of the newer race. The desire for such a political and spiritual union was never absent from the minds of Italian statesmen, throughout the Renaissance; the dream of a united Italy floated before the eyes of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, of Cesare Borgia, and of Machiavelli. But it was reserved for the Italians who followed Victor Emanuel, Cavour, Mazzini and Garibaldi, to realise that dream, and to create a new Italy 'non meno bella ed assai più forte.'
For the first time since the days of Rome, an Italian army, drawn from the whole peninsula, as distinguished from a Florentine, Venetian or Piedmontese army, taking part in a European conflict. In the war of 1866, the Veneto was not yet Italian; and the wars in Abyssinia and Tripoli, important as they were for Italy, were not European wars. The political union of Italy has made the country conscious of its past as a whole. And behind the dream, the aspirations which animate the 'giovincello Regno,' loom two great names, Rome and Venice, with all the hopes and suggestions those names imply. Not that in the region of practical politics,
of possible achievement, the Italians, as a nation, allow the dream to carry them too far. They are eminently a practical people; and the vision of Italy's future rôle on the world-stage, if its indulgence threatens to lead beyond the bounds of reason, is quickly corrected and checked by the homely Venetian phrase, massa roba, 'o'er much,' and the warning of their own proverb 'chi troppo abbraccia nulla stringe.'
But the dream is there, nevertheless. If one hears the words usque ad fines' used to indicate the scope of the war, it is not difficult to guess what 'fines' are at the back of the speaker's mind; and the latest map of the war-zone marks the watershed of the Alps as the Vetta d'Italia, the crest of Italy. Nor has the name of Venice a less potent, it has indeed a more practical, inspiration and content, the lure of the sea. No one who was present at the early performances of 'La Nave' will ever forget the thrill that ran through the house, and thence through the country, at such lines of inspired challenge as
'Arma la prora e salpa verso il mondo'
There was the hope of the future, boundless as the ocean, based on the achievement of the past. Massa roba, perhaps, but who has ever achieved much that did not dream of more? And then the draw to East and South, felt and expressed by d'Annunzio and Benelli :
with their implication of claim to the Venetian inheritance in the Adriatic, the Mediterranean and the Levant.
The dream of the Adriatic as an Italian mare clausum is born of the ancient Venetian doctrine of the Golfo, as the Republic called it; the vital necessity that Venice should be dominant in those waters as the great sea
From the Laudi,' the Altare,' and the Nave,' respectively.
avenue which leads towards the East, whence she drew her commercial wealth and strength. The attitude of mind and the policy it implies are strikingly like our own towards the Narrow Seas. The English point of view found passionate expression in the 'Libellus de politia conservativa maris' or Tractate on the Conservative policy of the sea, a poem published in the early years of the 16th century, with its urgent refrain 'That we be masters of the Narrow Sea.' Venice felt the same necessity; and the effort to realise her aim led her to engage the Normans who had threatened to close the mouth of the 'Gulf,' and to seize Durazzo, as Italy now, and on the same grounds, has occupied Valona.
The endeavour to make good her position in the Adriatic exposed Venice to endless exhausting wars, which, in part at least, contributed to her decline. But both Venice and Italy have rightly recognised the supreme importance of superiority in the Narrow Sea. For a time, which coincides with the gradual eclipse of the Republic, the value of the Adriatic was diminished by the discovery of the Cape route to India, which drew the main trade between East and West out of the Adriatic into the Atlantic. But the opening of the Suez Canal is tending to restore the importance of the Adriatic as the water-way leading furthest into the heart of Europe; and with the revival of the Adriatic the position of Venice at the head of it resumes its significance and cannot fail to affect profoundly the future of Italy, raising the hopes and the dreams that centre round that lovely city. The whole question is one of great delicacy, and will give pause to practical Italian statesmen. There is much to be urged against a too material interpretation and realisation of the desire for a mare clausum in the Adriatic, against a land-frontier difficult to organise and hold; the danger of an inverted irredenta in Slav lands is obvious; but Italy cannot ignore the vital importance to herself of her position in the Adriatic, and there is evidence that her leaders are handling the question with caution and skill.
The war, however, has evoked another order of thought, aspirations of a vaguer and less material, though, possibly, profounder and more enduring influence. The ideal of Italy remains the same, and the appeal to