Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/50

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40
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

even from an Italian point of view, while on the island of Corsica a peculiar state of agrarian difficulties has counteracted the influence of climate. Many of the campanitas or small terrace-plains have been so utterly exhausted that the available means of irrigation fail to redeem the impoverished soil, while a large percentage of the productive area is in the hands of the convents, which reserve the right of tenure for their old retainers. Combined with the straits of that land-famine, the over-increase of population became such an unqualified evil that the common sense of the peasants originated a system of ostracism, attaching infamy and social excommunication to the preliminaries as well as to the results of marriage before a specified age. In France the enormous burden of taxation has practically led to an identical result, and the prevalence of a mode of existence which Edmond About calls the "celibacy of prudence" is no longer confined to the larger cities.

The late marriage of mountaineers, too, may be partly explained by their instinctive love of independence. The sterile soil of a highland region necessitates far and frequent excursions in quest of the means of subsistence, and the unencumbered privilege of personal freedom thus became often a condition of survival. With a marmot and a hand-organ, if not with a marmot alone, the young Savoyard perambulates Europe from end to end till he has accumulated the equivalent of an Alpine competency. The monteros of the upper Apennines roam Italy like gypsies, ready to do any man's harvest work. Young Scotchmen cross the Tweed or even the Atlantic before they venture to run the risks of matrimony on the precarious resources of a Highland moor. The scantness of population, and the consequent distance from neighbor to neighbor, help to train highlanders in the habits of self-help, and thus form that instinct of independence which has generally justified the proud motto of West Virginia.

A similar cause, however, would seem to have produced a similar result among all true nomads, who likewise are obliged to

"Make each day earn the daily right to live."

But while the patriotism of the Arabs and Turkomans (as well as of the originally nomadic Hebrews) takes the form of an exportable national pride, a sort of hygienic intuition appears to teach mountaineers the superiority of their native climate and make them averse to a permanent change of habitation. Highlanders, though the stoutest defenders of their native soil, have therefore rarely engaged in wars of conquest; and the most expansive nations, to use a Bismarckian euphuism, were generally lowlanders—Prussians, Russians, Arabs, Mongols, Goths, and Tartars. We might add Romans, for the tide of conquest which