Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/February 1891/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

MR. APPLETON MORGAN'S query, in the Monthly for December, What shall we do with the "Dago"? suggests many other questions. I presume the writer did not design that his description of the "dago" should be regarded as typical of the Italian people, or of any considerable part of them, but only intended it to apply to a peculiar variety of the dangerous classes that happens to come from Italy; but his paper is, unfortunately, liable to the former offensive interpretation, and has, I happen to know, been taken in that sense in at least one quarter. Few will venture to dispute that Mr. Morgan's lazzaroni are as dangerous as he describes them; but it is hardly fair to regard them as the legitimate products of Italian nature. If we review the history of Italy, we shall find that it has been most conspicuous as the progenitor of a very different class of men.

Classes of outlaws, like the bandits and assassins of Italy, rarely appear prominently in any country that enjoys its own government. They are a result of foreign rule, under which even good citizens may come to regard the Government as their enemy. We do not find them in England, or France, or Germany, or Scandinavia, but in Ireland, in Hapsburg-and Bourbon-ruled Italy, and in the European countries under Turkish sway. If we regard them in Italy, we shall find them most prominent and dangerous in those states of the south that were longest and most continuously under Bourbon dynasties, as in Naples, or Austrian, as in the central states.

No European nation, excepting Greece, has done more for civilization and few for liberty than Italy. About twenty-six hundred and fifty years ago a band of natives emigrated from the "Long White Hill" in Latium and went to a group of hills on the Tiber and built them a new town. It would be a needless relation of a very old and universally known story to tell how Rome grew and conquered all the known world west of the Euphrates, tamed savages and squelched tyrants, and carried civilization to every quarter of its vast dominions; to describe the buildings it erected, the cities it founded, and the roads it constructed; to name its long roll of illustrious men—warriors, statesmen, popular tribunes, orators, artists, and authors; its more illustrious women, typifying all that is best in the sex; or to speak of its laws, the principles of which lie at the foundation of most of the European codes. These men, the authors of these great works, mostly came from the same stock as Mr. Morgan's "dagoes"; for, as fast as one set of great men or noble families died out, others rose or were promoted from the ranks. Rome has been called and is called the "Eternal City." It has always, since two centuries before Christ, been the source of the strongest influences by which the world has been ruled. "Roman virtue," "Roman honor," and "Roman firmness" are living proverbs.

After the Western Roman Empire was destroyed and Europe was subjected to barbarian despots, there were still free republics, civilization, and literature in Italy. These republics lasted till they were overthrown by foreigners, some holding out till the beginning of this century. Communication was kept up with the Greeks at Constantinople, and the light of literature and art shone in Italy through all the darkest of the dark ages. The history of these republics is full of brilliant deeds and illuminated by the names of men distinguished in various lines, and heroes, the details of whose history are now hard to find, but of which the mere references in Dante's poem furnish a long catalogue.

Considerations of space forbid more than a mere reference to the splendor of Italian achievements in literature and art from Dante's time till the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The story is familiar. The history of the world affords but one parallel to it—Greece in the age of Pericles.

Four hundred years ago there was an Italian who made himself a great nuisance. He had conceived the idea that, if he should sail west on the Atlantic, he would find something worth going after. He bothered the Pope and he bothered the King and Queen of Spain till they were distracted to know what to do with him; and Ferdinand and Isabella at last gave him ships as the easiest way to get rid of him. We are inviting all the world to come over here two years hence to help us do his memory the highest honors in our power; and there is a rivalry between us and Spain as to which shall give him the greatest honor.

Another Italian—he was born in Corsica—although he was no doubt a bad man, about the beginning of this century struck the blows which resulted at last in freeing Europe from the despotisms and the doctrines of despotism which had cursed it for a thousand years.

How will it be possible, in less than a volume, to do justice to what the Italians have done in the last forty-five years for the freedom of their country and for human liberty? At the beginning of this period Italy was, as Talleyrand had said, with a sneer which was also truth, only "a geographical expression." It was divided up among some dozen or twenty foreign sovereigns, some of whom were of very low degree, and all used their power for dynastic ends only, regardless of the sufferings of the people. This was and had been for centuries just the condition to breed lazzaroni and bandits. One sovereign away up in the northwest, a man of the country, had ideas beyond his family, and thought of the people. With him and his son Victor Emanuel as chiefs, and the great native hero to urge them on and compel them when they would not be persuaded, and Cavour to organize, the long battle was fought of the people of Italy against the world. The people of Italy triumphed and founded a kingdom than which no modern state is more enlightened or progressive. This great work of persistent heroism and its crowning success are the achievement of the common people of the country—the "dagoes"—and no one else, with no help except what they compelled. Its champions, Victor Emanuel, Garibaldi—whom Mr. Morgan's "dagoes" in person resident in America have honored with a creditable bronze statue—Cavour, and their associates, are counted to-day among the world's noblest men. We might speak of Italian music and of Italy's contemporary literature and science, which occupy no mean position, but we have said enough. What shall we do with the dago? Give him a chance.

W. H. Larrabee.
Plainfield, N. J., December 10, 1890.