Stead, William Thomas: Europa

“Italia, oh! Italia, thou who hast the fatal gift of beauty,” hast the not less priceless gift of associations of history and romance, before which those of all other nations but Greece simply disappear. The nation which boasts as its capital the city of the C?sars can never yield to any other the primacy of fame. Europe once centered in the Eternal City. The unity of the Continent, as far as the Rhine and the Danube, was for centuries a realized fact, when the sceptre had not departed from Rome nor the lawgiver from the banks of the Tiber. Nor is the Italian claim to primacy solely traditional. For whatever may be the political power of the Quirinal as world power, Italy makes herself felt through the Vatican. At this moment, in Chicago, public life is more or less demoralized because an Italian old man in Rome made a mistake in the selection of the Irishman who rules the great Catholic city of the West as the Pope’s archbishop. And as it is in Chicago, so it is to a greater or lesser extent in every vast center of population throughout the world. But the Papacy, although more than European, is nevertheless a constant factor which must be reckoned with in discussing the evolution of Europe. The instinct of Leo is entirely in favor of peace and unity, but a firebrand in Peter’s chair could easily perpetuate for another generation the armed anarchy of the Continent. Apart alike from politics and religion, Italy has always been a potent influence in promoting the growth of a wider than national culture, developing European rather than provincial interest. For centuries before Cook arose and a trip to the Continent became a thing of course, Italy alone possessed in her treasures of art sufficient attraction to induce men of every nation to brave the discomforts and perils of a Continental journey. From being the Mistress, Italy became the Loadstone of the Continent, and that distinction she has still preserved. To those treasure-cities of medi?val art which shine like stars in the firmament, reverent pilgrims every year bend their way as to most sacred shrines. But in every age, Italy, whether poor, distracted, and overrun by barbarian conquerors, or queening it as mistress over a Continent, has ever possessed a strange and magic charm. Dante was hers, and Raphael, Michael Angelo, and Savonarola -four names, the power and the glory of which are felt even where they are not understood, in the remote backwoods of America, or in the depths of the Australian bush. In modern times the revolutionary energy of the mid-century was cradled in Italy. Garibaldi restored to politics of the present day somewhat of the fascination which charms in the pages of Ariosto, while Mazzini revived in our latter day the primitive type of prophet-seer.

Nor must we forget, in paying our homage to Italy as Queen of the Arts and custodian of the great sites from which Pope and C?sar in former times swayed the sceptre, spiritual and secular, over mankind, that Italy of the present day is peopling the New World more rapidly than any of her sister nations. While emigration from almost every other country has fallen off in the last decade of the century, that from Italy has increased until it amounts to well nigh half of the European overflow. If this be kept up, we may see a new Italy in South America which may be for the Italian race what New England has been for Britain in the northern hemisphere.

From Italy, which on the extreme south approaches almost to the torrid heat of Africa, I would turn to another land at the opposite extremity of the Continent, whose northern frontier lies within the Arctic Circle. Sweden and Norway, at present far removed from the troubled vortex of European politics, cannot vie with Italy in art or with Russia in political power, but none the less the sister States represent much which Europe could ill spare. We of the North land, at least, and all the teeming progeny that have sprung from our loins, can never forget the Scandinavian home from whence the sea kings came; and although our culture is largely Hebraic on one side and Hellenic on the other, the warp and woof upon which the Hebrew and the Greek have embroidered their ideas is essentially Norse. Nor can we of the Reformed faith, at least, ever forget the heroic stand made on behalf of the Protestant religion by Gustavus Adolphus and the brave men whom he led to victory on so many a hard-fought field. Charles XII., too, that meteor of conquest and of war, supplies one of those heroic and chivalrous figures of the European drama whose romantic career still inspires those who live under widely different circumstances and under remoter skies. Norway is the only country in Europe which vies with Switzerland in enabling the dwellers in our great plains and crowded cities easy access to the sublimest mountain scenery. In the social and political realm, we owe to Gothenburg, a Swedish town, the most helpful of all the experiments that have been tried for the solution of the liquor traffic; while in the world of books there are to-day no three names more constantly on the lips of the librarians of the world than the three great Scandinavians whose fame is the common heritage of our race; Bjornson in fiction, Ibsen in the drama, and Nansen in Arctic exploration.

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