The specimens of the agricultural products of Italy are enclosed in the appendix whose drawing we publish. These samples give only a very imperfect idea of the territorial resources of the Peninsula. However, if we compare them with the specimens of the same nature exhibited in the annex of Spain, it is easy to establish by comparison the differences of natural resources in the two countries.
In Spain, there are no rivers and, therefore, no canals. In Italy, on the contrary, rivers are numerous; and engineers of genius, such as Leonardo da Vinci, for example, have multiplied the fertilizing diversions.
Marble abounds in both peninsulas, both of which are crossed by granite chains. But whereas in Spain the marble rocks seem to have been dirtied by contact with an altered earth, in Italy they seem to have been dyed with the purest milk of Juno. In the Rue de la' Russie one can admire not only the work of the Italian sculptors, but the beauty of the materials which seems to have inspired their genius: what I admire as much as the talent of the artists is the marvellous skill of the practitioners, so familiar with marble that they work it with the same ductility as if it were a soft wax.
The Iberian soil is devoid of trees, like Africa, of which Sallustus said: Arbori infecundus. In Italy, although no provision has been made for the repopulation of the mountains and the development of forests, trees are so numerous around the cultivations that, without mentioning Lombardy, the regions of the Adriatic, where there are no forests, are nevertheless perhaps the most wooded country in the world, including even Normandy, where the love of fence trees has been pushed very far.
On studying in detail all the samples of culture exhibited in the Italian amjexe, one soon realizes that we are dealing here with an old land whose culture is contemporary with the very origins of civilization, and of which the divine poet said :
...Alma parens frugum, Saturnia tellus,
"august mother of fruits, land of Saturn, great in men. "Magnavirum! "Virgil was already talking about the past: what would he say today? Italy is invaded by the Maremma and the Pontine Marshes, so much so that, having remained the battlefield of all the ambitious, it has more than once unleashed the plague on Europe, and Napoleon said that war itself was defeated there by the climate during the summer solstice.
Where would we be today, we French, if our soil had been used for centuries for all the bloody battles of ambition, and if we had three hundred years of oppression on our shoulders?
And why, it will be said, should Italy have endured three hundred years of oppression, if she had been worthy of independence? - Ah, it is because jealous rivalries and age-old hatreds, which the oppressors have skilfully exploited, existed from province to province, and from town to town. We are very proud of our unity, and it has certainly cost us enough blood and hardship to give us the right to be proud of it. But if we look at Europe from people to people, does not this state of antagonism and jealous rivalry, which is so fertile in wars and also in oppression, resemble the state of the Italian provinces before their deliverance? Let us not, therefore, reproach the Italians for what we still have to reproach ourselves for, between Germans and French, for example, to the shame of all the principles of civilisation.
There were heroes at Custozza; there were even heroes at Lissa; and if you want to know how far the depths of civilisation have withstood all the calamities that have weighed down this unfortunate land, look at the distance that exists between the active navy of Italy, which has no colonies, after having first set foot in India and America, and the diminished navy of Spain, which has so many maritime possessions left.
It has also been said that Italy would never find enough resources to pay her debts alone. It is true that the appendix which is supposed to represent the agricultural exhibition of the Peninsula gives only a very imperfect idea of its resources. However, it is possible not to despair when studying these incomplete specimens. Do you know that these healthy cocoons, which have no trace of past epidemics, are currently spinning 160 million silk in Lombardy alone, and that the leaf threatens to fail their robust appetite?
I have not seen a single cotton boll in the annex. Do we suspect that the Neapolitan provinces are going to reap a hundred million?
There are samples of hemp in the annex. But I, who am speaking to you, have seen whole fields of it, as high as nursery trees, the most beautiful hemp in the world, and as much as you want, - especially if you bleed it in the Maremma. And the rice, and the marble, and the sulphur, of which Sicily and the Romagna export 40 million, to the great benefit of our industry and our ravaged vineyards? And the ores, and the wines, and the candied fruits, and the cured meats, of which Bologna is the centre? Go and see the model of these beautiful cheese factories of Parma, which presuppose fat pastures and skilful irrigation. Where will you find better?
All things considered, I do not believe that in any country there are cultures more perfected and better arranged than in certain provinces of Italy, nor resources so varied. Nowhere is there anything comparable to the produce of certain Lombardy lands; and nowhere either does man pay more intelligent worship to the fertile nurturer, aima parens frugum.
What, then, does Italy lack to regain the lost vein of its prosperity? All the elements that constitute wealth exist, but they are scattered, in sections, so to speak. If only these sections could be brought together, Italy, in recovering her life, would at the same time recover the conditions of her power. Agriculture, perfected as it is, remains in its isolation: neither commerce nor industry is in contact with it, to link and vivify its scattered forces. When this necessary connection is made, you will see the chain of prosperity unfold as if by miracle.
I do not believe that Italy is perishing through finance, when I look at the splendour of the land, the intelligence of its children, and, whatever has been said, the work of reparation that they are doing.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée