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FRIDAY, AUGUST 6, 1926
ITALY AS I FIND HER
THE ITALIAN PRESS
By Kennedy Allen
Ever since the invention of printing with moveable type, nearly 500 years ago, the Press of Italy – and by press I do not mean merely the newspapers – has been an interesting feature of her social life. Who has not heard of the celebrated Aldine printing-house, which for 100 years, from the close of the 15 th century to the close of the 16 th century, poured forth, at Venice, the now priceless Aldine editions of the Greek and Latin classics? Father, son, and grandson of this Manuzio family of printer-scholars, the last of whom became the director of the Vatican press were the aristocrats of European typography. It was in the works of many Italian writers of fiction that Shakespeare found the plots of nearly all his comedies and of one at least of his tragedies; a tribute, this, to the superior culture and refinement of contemporary Italy.
The Italian press is still active. All the great cities of the kingdom have their publishing houses. The commercial decentralisation that survived the political unification has left Rome in this respect, behind Florence , the art capital, and Milan , the business capital; each of these maintains many presses. Turin , Pisa , Leghorn , Bologna , Bari and Piacenza each contribute their quota. Even the tram-tickets used in Rome are printed elsewhere, this is to say, in Florence and in Turin.
Italian and foreign classics, ancient, medieval, and modern, are published in cheap reprints. Some editions, in format resembling the Nelson collection, are sold for five or six liras, less that is, than a shilling; in paper covers they cost even less than that. Some of these have an additional interest because of their introductions. For example, “Paradise Lost,” in Italian verse is prefaced by the essay of Macaulay, who in later years entertained so poor an opinion of it himself; so is Machiavelli's “Prince”. Matthew Arnold notwithstanding, Macaulay is a favourite on the Continent, especially among the Latin nations. I have heard two or three persons of intelligence declare that he is the greatest of all English writers. Incomparable clarity certainly tends to conciliate hostile prejudice.
Italian bookshops, in fact, abound in translation. Of the English poets, whom Italy still honours, Shakespeare and Byron are easily first. Such of the annotated editions of Shakespeare as I here observed are excellent. Ruscond's prose translation enhances the sonorousness of dialogue and soliloquy that Byron is offered in Italian verse. Both these poets have deserved well of the country, Shakespeare by investing her northern towns with an added charm, the charm of literary association, and Byron by celebrating with the thunder of his rhetoric her art and her ruins. Of the prose-writers the Italians have accorded a high place to Dickens. Recently a Venetian sculptor, whose Roman studio I was visiting, handed me a version of “David Copperfield”, declaring that it was the most delightful book he had ever read. One of the most popular of contemporary English novelists, H G Wells, has a large public here, and so has Kipling. Of Americans Jack London appears to be in great vogue. I thought the Italian editions of these authors a recognition of merit, until I saw one of Florence Barclay's “Rosary”. Quite recently someone has rendered Emily Bronte's “ Wuthering Heights .” Concerning her position there can be no doubt. Her book is an unsurpassed piece of atmospheric prose. Maeterlinck has declared that she is undoubtedly the greatest female genius of the 19 th century, and an eminent French critic that “ Wuthering Heights ” is a work worthy to be placed side by side with Hamlet.
The number of translations from the French is enormous. This is a surprising aspect of Italy ; she relies so much for her entertainment on the foreigner. We begin to wonder where are her great prose writers. Every bookshop gleams with versions of Blazac and the elder Dumas. The average educated Italian does not speak French, which for 300 years has been the language of cultured Europe . On the other hand, in the more important bookshops, the works of contemporary French authors, who have not yet become classics, occupy much space. Thus all the dissertations on how to make love – a branch of learning to which the French have consecrated much time and attention – are in this language. Here the French have outstripped the Italians. The classical authority on this interesting subject used to be the Latin Poet, Ovid, whose work is a little too warm for schoolboys.
A small volume often seen on portable bookstalls here is a legal publication. It is entitled the Five Codes, that is to say, the code of civil law, the code of civil procedure, the criminal code, the code of criminal procedure, and the commercial code. An edition annotated by an Italian barrister may be had for a few liras. The criminal code in paper covers, is sold, new, for one lira, which is less than 2d. So you may “get the code” in more forms than one.
The press is indeed one of the glories of Italy . I do not include the newspapers. This section of it labours under a disadvantage. Since the advent of the present administration Parliament has amended the old fundamental law contained in the Constitution granted by Charles Albert, King of Sardinia - the founder of Italian liberty, before the kingdom of Italy existed – in the year 1848. Criticism of the Government is not permitted. One result of the amendment is that newspapers are news-sheets rather than political organs. The ideal newspaper, according to Lord Rosebery, would be one that supplied news without comment. The Italian newspapers are tending in that direction. But surely comment – rather than repetition – is the soul of journalism. Of course, without comment it ceases to be a power. The present regime reminds one of the great Napoleon's attitude to that freelance, Madame de Stael. Because he feared the influence of her pen he exiled her from Paris.
Rome, as the chief city of the world …………………… least consider it – publishes, of course, many newspapers. None of them, however, is superior to the celebrated “Corriere della Sera” (Evening Courier) of Milan . This is one of the relatively few continental journals with a European circulation. Its foreign news is a special feature, and it occasionally exhibits an enterprise all its own. Recently it had a representative in the airship “Norge”, which in the early hours of May 12 th , under the direction of the Italian commander Nobile, accomplished the glorious exploit of flying over the North Pole. This correspondent's telegraphed account of the trip was quoted throughout Italy.
No news comes here from Australia . The first reference to it that I have seen occurred in one of yesterday's newspapers: But it was only incidental: “La Tribuna” published a map, indicating the revised itinerary of the Marquis De Pinedo, who is to leave Rome in August on a flight round the globe – or …….., as Voltaire called it. As this is interesting I venture to give it. Starting from Rome , with two flying machines, he will make for Gibraltar, and from there, by way of the Canary and Cape Verde Islands , for Pernambuco, in Brazil . Thence he will follow the eastern coast of South America as far as Buenos Aires . Then, steering west to Santiago , in Chili, he will be the first to face the long journey across the Pacific, in which his stopping-places will include Juan Fernandez, Easter Island, Tahiti and Samoa . From Wellington he will set a course for Melbourne . From Sydney he will start the eastern coast of Australia , as in his previous visit. He will stop at Brisbane , Townsville, Cooktown and Cape York . Rockhampton is not mentioned in the letterpress; neither is it on the map. Townsville appears as Tonksville, a form that somehow suggests French Indi-China. Flying north west , north and north-east by way of Manila , Formosa , and Tokio, Pinedo is to make for Pekin . From there, across country never before visited by the mechanical wing, he is to reach Calcutta . His route will lie across northern India . From Karachi , he intends to skirt the north-eastern coast of Arabia . Arriving in Italian Somaliland, near Cape Gardafui , he will follow the eastern coast of Africa to Durban ; from Capetown; following the western coast, he will return to Gibraltar and so to Rome . Let us hope that Rockhampton will again have the honour of welcoming and congratulating this intrepid navigator, this modern Daedalus, who in the phrase of Horace, essays the airy void on wings not given to man.
Rome, June 23rd , 1926
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