« AnteriorContinuar »
bited, together with other treasures of the like sort, in San Marino's little room at the last Paris Exhibition.
Thus I stepped up the steep, rugged path which leads to the city, gaining confidence at every step as I left below me the loathsome 'Borgo,' and saw enchanting panoramas of mountains, plain, and sea, all brilliantly illumined by a rich opalesque sunset over the pinnacled Apennines, which here assume those grotesque shapes delineated by masters of the Umbrian school.
Did my eyes deceive me? No, it was indeed true. Coming towards me down the rugged path, I saw a gentleman in a tall hat, wearing a badly-fitting suit of dress clothes and a white tie, and in attendance upon him was a lackey in gaudy livery. Nothing more out of place could be imagined: a half-naked anchorite or a skinclad herdsman one would have passed by unnoticed; and my heart misgave me, for into this wild spot I had not thought it necessary to drag my evening toilette. I questioned my conductor as to the meaning of this apparition, and learned to my relief that he was a Captain of the most serene Republic of San Marino out for a state walk. When engaged in his official capacity a Captain always wears this dress, and in the state wardrobe six dress suits are kept to fit all shapes and sizes of Republicans who may attain to the dignity of ruler.
It was with some feelings of trepidation that I knocked at Fattori's door, and was ushered into a sitting-room to interview his wife and sister, owing to the absence of the lord. I told my tale candidly. I stated how charmed I was with all I had seen except the inn, and that I craved for a more pleasing habitation. They referred me to a neighbouring house, and invited us next day to join their party in witnessing the grand ceremony of the installation of the incoming Captains, on which occasion, twice a year, the Sammarinesi shake off their lethargy and appear right merry in holiday attire.
Charmingly primitive were our host and hostess, whom I found inhabiting a little house near the principal gate of the city; perhaps no two people could be more entertaining in their domestic arrangements. The lady of the house was portly and garrulous; she was, we remarked, most noble in her bearing, and of noble Republican blood she proved to be. Hers was one of the oldest of San Marino's noble families, for, owing to the inconvenience of having two illiterate Captains, certain families are set apart as noble, from amongst whom one of the rulers is chosen. Here their privileges of nobility cease, but not their pride, for old Signora Casali, whose maiden name was Belluzzi, was most proud of her pedigree. She scoffed at the later elevations to the Sammarinese peerage as 'nobilità di carta,' mere paper upstarts, and for her own parental house she claimed the honour of possessing the genuine nobility of blood. She thoroughly despised her lame and drunken husband, who was the impersonation of a henpecked nonentity. Every meal we ate under the shadow of their
roof was attended by the talkative pair, and many were the stories they told us of their quaint little country which served as a relish to many a frugal repast.
Though poor, our accommodation was cleanly, and though our food was brought up from the Borgo and invariably arrived cold, yet the keen mountain air assisted us to dispose of most unpalatable dishes. Everything they sent us tasted the same-be it turkey, beefsteak, or chicken, the difference was hardly perceptible; but we had come to study the Liliputians and not our own comforts, so we were content. How do the Liliputians amuse themselves? was one of our first questions, and we soon found them a right jovial eight thousand. Religious festivals are common, and so is wine, and the two combined result in many an uproarious scene. The Sunday before we left was the festival of Santa Mustiola, celebrated at a short distance from the town. After the formalities of the mass and procession had been gone through, crowds of men and women collected at a neighbouring house to drink and play games. By this time I was well known to most of them, and each exhorted me to put my lips to their brimming jugs of wine. They filled my pockets with walnuts. So intent were they on hospitality, that I was forced to watch my opportunity to effect an escape as fast as my legs would carry me, to avoid involuntary inebriation.
On the day of San Marino, their patron saint, they hold grand festivities outside the walls. The pièce de résistance for this day is a refined species of cruelty to animals: a live cock is procured and hung by its legs from a tree; each competitor in turn endeavours by a leap to wring its neck. Great excitement prevails amongst the
bystanders, and when success attends the attempt the victor is loudly cheered, he receives the bird by way of reward, and the unsuccessful pay a small sum towards the purchase of the cock.
Winter at San Marino is terribly severe; for months they are snow and frost-bound, and to amuse themselves the Republicans have invented a species of tabogening, and down the main street of the town they whirl themselves on a crazy piece of wood with terrible velocity. Last winter a lady Sammarinese gained for herself an unpleasant notoriety at this game, for she slipped off her liscia or sledge, and performed the rest of the downward descent on her own person, which became wofully contused thereby.
The first of April is a day of general mirth and hilarity. Woe to the Liliputian sluggard who tarries in bed after sunrise on this morning; he renders himself liable to be dragged from his couch, and in his nocturnal attire placed on muleback with an umbrella in his hand, and, shivering with cold, he is set up as an object of derision in the most exposed part of the town. This disaster one year befell our old host, who had been imbibing freely the night before. His wife entered fully into the fun of the thing, and assisted her husband's tormentors in laying their plans. However, lest her domestic arrangements should be exposed to question, she took care that her spouse should retire to
rest with a clean nightgown, so that he might appear before the world to the best advantage.
It is the case at San Marino, as it is in other primitive societies, that the marriage ceremony is attended with unusual merriment; the happy pair trip along the street attended by all their friends at an early hour in the day, to be united under the roof of their country's god; or, if the distance be great, the bride rides with her lady friends astride a mule. On the return to the parental homestead the bride and bridegroom are placed aloft on a daïs to be the cynosure of neighbouring eyes for the remainder of the day, whilst wild dancing and festivities take place around them. It is a keenly contested point among the assembled matrons, who shall have the honour of assisting the bride on retiring to rest; but it is the oldest and most venerated of the Liliputian mothers who is appointed to the almost sacred office of presenting the 'nouveaux mariés' with a mess of potage at
They dearly love the Italian game of palla on this mountaintop; they are inveterate theatre goers, possessing. two within their territory; an excuse for a masquerade they seize with avidity, and talk incessantly of their success in deception on such occasions. Our landlady told us how her mother, when eighty years of age, had gone to a masked ball dressed as a girl of seventeen and, thanks to her good figure and activity, she was enabled to carry off the palm of being belle of the evening.
Let us now say a word about the constitution of this curious little State. In it we see the lineal descendant of ancient Rome, tracing its pedigree through the vicissitudes of mediæval Italy and her municipal organisations, each of which reproduced a miniature example of the mighty Roman fabric. Here, in the days of constitutional governments and deeply elaborated schemes of legislation, we find two old Roman consuls ruling a speck of Italy. They now call themselves Captains, but one is still patrician and one is still plebeian, as in the earlier days of the Roman Republic; they owe their election to the Senate, which at San Marino as in Rome still wields the chief executive power, but now it is termed the Council of Sixty. There is yet another power in the State, namely, the general arringo, or gathering of the people, to decide on momentous questions of the day. Each male Republican can here make his voice heard; but it is now but seldom convened, and occupies much the same position that Rome's Comitia Curiata did in the latter days of the Republic.
I felt myself lucky when one day our host informed me that an arringo would be held on the morrow, and that he would have much pleasure in conducting me thither. My thoughts involuntarily wandered back to the days when Rome's people were summoned to the Comitia to decide on peace and war, but I was not privileged to hear an eager unanimous decision on the necessity of crushing Carthage, or of resisting to the death the invaders from Gaul. No, it was a real blow to my dreams of the past when some forty or fifty Republicans assembled to discuss the advisability of opening telegraphic communi
cation with the neighbouring town of Rimini, and thus did the degenerate offspring of the Roman Curia on that day recognize its existence in the nineteenth century, and acted accordingly.
This existence of telegraphy I look upon as one of the first symptoms of decay in our veteran State. The simple-mindedness with which they assembled daily around the postman in the Borgo at the sound of his bell, and awaited the distribution of his small handful of letters, will rapidly disappear. They resisted to the death a tempting proposition for a railroad, an hotel, and a gambling house, from some energetic company; but will they resist the more insidious innovations which will follow in the wake of the electric wires, and in the train of the feverish excitement incident on having a separate room in the Street of Nations at a Paris Exhibition? No, if I could have that day recorded a vote in San Marino's assembly, I should have opposed the introduction of the telegraph. I should have opposed entering into contact with the outer world, and have been content to boast of the greatest claim to notoriety San Marino has, namely, that of being a living fossil of bygone ages.
Let no one who can so arrange fail to visit San Marino on April 1 or October 1; perhaps, if he be not an early riser, for abovementioned reasons the latter date had best be chosen; for on these days the Captains are elected for the ensuing six months, and the visitor will derive much amusement, if not profit, from being present at the ceremony. Their dress is rich; they are resplendent with the cordon of San Marino's military order around their necks, and moreover a eulogistic address is delivered to the bystanders, entering deeply into San Marino's historical lore. On this day is to be seen the little Republican army of eighteen strong, drawn up to the best advantage. Though the soldiers have no notion of drill or of military bearing, though their gaudy uniforms fit them like sacks, nevertheless they are unique in themselves; there are only eighteen such in the whole wide world, and they represent the smallest standing army in existence. However, San Marino is not entirely dependent on them for its defence; every male citizen is presumably a soldier, and they are divided into several regiments; but their uniforms have long since been worn out, and in these days of peace the prudent lawgivers have not seen fit to replace them. Yet the law obliges each man to keep a gun and a cockade in case of a rupture with some foreign power.
I feel morally convinced that Lord Cardwell must one day have been at San Marino and, whilst sighing over the extravagance of the British lion, have mentally resolved to follow the humble example set him by Europe's smallest State.
The traveller who is not fortunate enough to be present at the installation of the Captain, may any day get an order to inspect their state wardrobe, where are seen their rich velvet cloaks, their insignia of office, and the above-mentioned collection of dress clothes; he will then feel thankful that he was not born a Sammarinese, with a chance of the captaincy, for it would require an acute archæologist to decide
on the date of these raiments, and an entire disregard for cleanliness to allow of putting them on.
For the lovers of legendary lore and wild fantastic beauties, San Marino is a perfect paradise. Legends are attached to each weird spot, principally connected with the history of their patron saint, and the scenes of his spiritual labours in the days of Diocletian. There is his bed of hewn stone, his garden in an almost inaccessible cliff, his head and face in the parish church; but perhaps the heritage he has left his successors most worthy of remark is their skill in stone-masonry. Himself a quarryman employed in building Rimini, S. Marino gathered around him on his mountain a colony of his comrades, and for fifteen centuries these men of San Marino have hewn and toiled in their natural workshops for a means of livelihood.
They are most expert too in the rearing of cattle, and from far dealers come to the fairs at San Marino to purchase the far-famed oxen fed on the slopes of the giant mountain.
Very excellent grapes are produced on the sulphurous soil around Mount Titanus, and the wines produced from them are sparkling and pure. Their cellars beneath the mountain are warm in winter and cool in summer; no wonder then that they exceed occasionally in their libations. There is a well-known character at San Marino, an old beggarman, who gains his livelihood by means of a poem he once wrote; he has spent his patrimony on drink, and now subsists on the enthusiasm excited by his stirring verses. This poem is entitled, Che Tremenda Repubblica,' and, intoxicated with their love of liberty, the Sammarinesi at their festivals will listen again and again to the pompous refrain of the old man's song. He is the hero of their oft-repeated festivals and the minstrel of their board.
It was with many feelings of regret that we left this old-fashioned little country, and it was with infinite pleasure that shortly after my departure I received an intimation that for the interest I had taken in the Republic they had thought fit to make me a citizen. For in these days of craving for novelty it was satisfactory to me to look through the list of citizens, and find myself the only Englishman enrolled therein. Continental celebrities there were by scores whom interest or curiosity had brought in contact with the Republic; and the accompanying letter, herewith transcribed, will show their own opinion of the honour they conferred upon me. It ran as follows:
San Marino: Feb. 14, 1879.
Illustrious Sir and Fellow-citizen,-The gift of citizenship of San Marino is truly a great one, since if perchance you are at a distance you may be protected thereby; but if you come to this Alpine mountain no one can molest you, and you will be respected by all, and possess the same privileges that the other citizens enjoy. Accept, then, dear sir, this diploma in order that the great city of London may rejoice with you over the possession of it. Be good enough to acknowledge the receipt of the diploma. Your devoted servant, FRANCESCO CASALI.
P.S.-Our Republic enjoys the greatest tranquillity.