November 26, 2009

Ponderable Quotes: Vilfredo Pareto

Ed. note – The following is an excerpt from a letter I received from a reader. I thought it was interesting and I wanted to share part of it with you. I was originally going to post this as an addendum to the Correa Moylan Walsh quote but thought it deserved to stand on its own.
…The quote from Correa Moylan Walsh’s “Climax of Civilization” is reminiscent of the writings of Vilfredo Pareto. Too bad Pareto’s a Northern Italian because these quotes would be perfect additions to your “Ponderable Quotes”: 
“When a living creature loses the sentiments which, in given circumstances, are necessary to it in order to maintain the struggle for life, this is a sign certain of degeneration, for the absence of these sentiments will, sooner or later, entail the extinction of the species. The living creature which shrinks from giving blow for blow and from shedding its adversary’s blood thereby puts itself at the mercy of the adversary. The sheep has always found a wolf to devour it; if it escapes this peril, it is only because man reserves it for his own prey. Any people which has horror of blood to the point of not knowing how to defend itself will sooner or later become the prey of some bellicose people or other. There is not perhaps on this globe a single ground which has not been conquered by the sword at some time or other, and where the people occupying it have not maintained themselves on it by force. If the Negroes were stronger than the Europeans, Europe would be partitioned by the Negroes and not Africa by the Europeans. The ‘right’, claimed by people who bestow on themselves the title of ‘civilized’ to conquer other peoples, whom it pleases them to call ‘uncivilized’, is altogether ridiculous, or rather, this right is nothing other than force. For as long as the Europeans are stronger than the Chinese, they will impose their will on them; but if the Chinese should become stronger than the Europeans, then the roles would be reversed, and it is highly probable that humanitarian sentiments could never be opposed with any effectiveness to an army.” – Les Systèmes Socialistes, p. 135-136

“Any elite which is not prepared to join in battle to defend its position is in full decadence, and all that is left to it is to give way to another elite having the virile qualities it lacks. It is pure day-dreaming to imagine that the humanitarian principles it may have proclaimed will be applied to it: its vanquishers will stun it with the implacable cry, Vae Victis. The knife of the guillotine was being sharpened in the shadows when, at the end of the eighteenth century, the ruling classes in France were engrossed in developing their ‘sensibility.’ This idle and frivolous society, living like a parasite off the country, discoursed at its elegant supper parties of delivering the world from superstition and of crushing l'Infâme, all unsuspecting that it was itself going to be crushed.” – Les Systèmes Socialistes, p. 136

Sociological Writings by Vilfredo Pareto. Selected and introduced by S.E. Finer. Translated by D. Mirfin. Published by Frederick A. Praeger 1966.
Ed. note – Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) was of Franco–Ligurian descent. His work has been applied to several fields. Pareto efficiency (also Pareto optimality) is an important economic concept that has many uses in game theory, sociology and engineering.

Our good reader might find it surprising that we posted these thought provoking quotes from a Northern Italian, but truly how is it any different from our quoting the American Walsh? Both individuals belong to our greater European culture and their works are certainly worthy of review. We would like to emphasize that we are NOT anti-Northern Italian. They are our neighbors and we respect them. The purpose of our group is not to disparage Northerners. We simply oppose the denigration and defamation of Southern Italians, be it from Northern Italians, Americans, self-hating Southerners or whomever. If we appear critical of Padanians, be it historical personages or contemporary demagogues, it’s simply because we are trying to rectify prevalent misinformation and stereotypes vilifying our people by said individuals. Such criticism should not be considered more vehement than our contempt for our own community’s scoundrels and in no way represents our opinions of Northerners in general.

We here at Il Regno can certainly appreciate the works of Vilfredo Pareto or, for that matter, any individual worthy of admiration, regardless of their place of origin. I personally recommend Pareto’s Rise & Fall of Elites and Transformation of Democracy, and just for good measure I will share one of my favorite Pareto quotes:
“‘As long as the sun shall shine upon man’s misfortunes, the sheep will be eaten by the wolf.’ All that is left is, for those who know and can, to avoid becoming sheep.” – Vilfredo Pareto, The Rise & Fall of Elites

November 13, 2009

Siege of Gaeta (1860)

King Francis II
By Giovanni di Napoli
"I do not know what the independence of Italy means. I only know the independence of Naples!" – Francis II on the idea of Italian unification

November 13th, 1860 marks the beginning of the Siege of Gaeta. Under the command of General Enrico Cialdini the Piedmontese forces sought to finish off the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies begun by Giuseppe Garibaldi on May 11th, 1860.  The resistance was the heroic last stand of the one hundred twenty six year old Bourbon dynasty in Southern Italy against the House of Savoy.

Without a formal declaration of war Garibaldi’s redshirts disembarked at Marsala, Sicily, under the guard of British warships. Thus began their improbable subjugation of the independent and sovereign Kingdom. Capitalizing on a recent revolt, Garibaldi stoked the flames of rebellion with false promises of wide-ranging social reforms that, of course, were never to materialize. By the time the discontented masses of Sicily realized the true nature of the invasion, the course of events could not be stopped. It should also be noted that without the help of corrupt traitors, massive bribery, treacherous revolutionaries and Masonic elements the so-called "Thousand" could never have defeated the largest standing army on the Italic peninsula.

Wishing to spare the city of Naples the devastation of war the Royal family decided to make their stand against the advancing invaders at Capua and Gaeta. On September 5th, 1860, King Francis II issued his farewell proclamation to the capital. With dignity and resignation he proclaimed: "We are Neapolitan. Filled with bitter sorrow we address these words of farewell to our greatly beloved subjects. Whatever may be our fate we shall ever keep them in warm and affectionate remembrance." Leaving behind their precious heirlooms (including the dowry of Queen Maria Christina said to be worth eleven million ducats), which Garibaldi later pilfered for the usurpers, the King and Queen Maria Sophia set sail for Gaeta.

The remaining forces of the Two Sicilies took positions behind the banks of the Garigliano and Volturno. They were joined by many loyal detachments from the provinces still willing to defend their nation. The Royal army amounted to fifty thousand well-armed men. From Gaeta the King appealed to his men's honor:
"Soldiers: It is time that the voice of your King should be heard in your ranks: the voice of the King who grew up with you; who has lavished all care upon you; and who comes now to share your lot. Those who, by allowing themselves to be deceived and seduced, have plunged the Kingdom in mourning are no longer amongst us. Nevertheless, I appeal to your honor and your fidelity, in order that by glorious deeds we may efface the disgrace of cowardice and treachery. We are still sufficiently numerous to annihilate an enemy which employs the weapons of deceit and corruption. Up to the present I have desired to spare many towns, but now that we are relegated to the banks of the Volturno and Garigliano, shall we allow ourselves to still further humiliate our fame as soldiers? Will you permit your Sovereign to abandon the Throne, and leave you to eternal infamy? No! At this supreme moment let us rally round the flag to defend our rights, our honor, and the fair fame of Neapolitans; already sufficiently discredited."
At dawn, on October 1st, the Loyalists attacked the Garabaldini whose ranks swelled with Northern volunteers and Southern traitors. The Neapolitans seemed to have taken their King's words to heart and fought valiantly. Raging for two days, they were only repulsed after the arrival of the Piedmontese Bersaglieri. During the retreat along the shore Admiral Persano’s fleet harried the Neapolitan columns.

To compound matters the small town of Mola was abandoned and an army corps of 17,000 men under General Ruggiero inexplicably disbanded without a fight. Despite the desertions of several Generals and officers, many of the soldiers fled to the hills and the neighboring Papal States to continue fighting as guerrillas. Maligned as "brigands" by the Piedmontese these partisans kept up their resistance for many years in the vain hope of reinstating the deposed Bourbons.
The King and Queen visit an artillery battery during the siege
On November 2nd the garrison at Capua surrendered. Seven thousand Neapolitan prisoners of war were transported to the concentration camps of Genoa and Fenestrelle. Many were to die of starvation and disease due to the harsh conditions. The remnants of the King's forces withdrew to the fortress of Gaeta. With the exception of the citadel of Messina in Sicily and the impregnable fortress of Civitella del Tronto in the Abruzzo, Gaeta was the King's final stronghold.

The command of Gaeta's garrison of 21,000 men and 15,000 inhabitants was eventually handed over to the gallant General Bosco. The General was highly respected for his stalwart defense at Milazzo, Sicily, but after it's fall a stipulation for his parole was an oath of nonintervention for six months. While men of lesser character were jumping ship, Bosco, with his ban lifted, raced to Gaeta and on November 19th he offered his services to his King.

Queen Maria Sophia, the Heroine of Gaeta
by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Queen Maria Sophia also refused to abandon her husband. During the siege she comforted the wounded and often put herself in harms way to help encourage the soldiers. The sight of their Queen in her Calabrian hat always heartened the men’s spirits and gave them renewed vigor. It is said that when an officer tried to escort her to safety she refused his aid and said, "As a German woman and as Queen, it is my duty to do all that lies in my power for those who are fighting and suffering for our cause."

Through diplomacy, the Piedmontese finally succeeded in getting the French fleet to leave Gaeta. They had to agree to an eight day armistice in which time the Emperor would convince Francis to abandon any hope of victory and take up his offer to sail them to Rome. During the ceasefire, foreign dignitaries visited the Bourbons, offering encouragement and persuading them to continue their resistance. When the armistice concluded the ministers of Saxony and Austria stayed behind and joined the Spanish Marquis of Lerma, Bermudez di Castro, in the defense.

HM Maria Sophia offers encouragement to the defenders
Unfortunately, the presence of the French fleet was misunderstood by both the French Admiral and Francis II. (1) It was not sent to assist the Neapolitan forces, but to evacuate the Bourbon royals and their retinue. On January 15th after being informed by Napoleon III that the French fleet will no longer safeguard Gaeta’s port King Francis II responded to the Emperor:
“...I promised Your majesty that when I had adopted a definite resolution my first care, an obligation dictated by loyal gratitude, would be to inform you of it. I now fulfill my promise. After the declaration of the French Admiral I hesitated long, I confess: on every side I recognized serious objections, and the opinion of those I felt bound to consult were divided concerning this supreme alternative.

“If, on the one hand, by remaining here, abandoned by the whole world, I expose myself to falling in the hands of a disloyal foe, and run the risk of compromising my liberty, perhaps my dignity and my life; on the other hand, I should by withstanding surrender a fortress still intact, thus tarnishing my military honor, and renounce, by an excess of prudence, all eventualities, all hope of the future.

“And how could I yield when in all the provinces of my Kingdom, my subjects rise with one accord against the domination of Piedmont? How can I surrender, when on all sides I am encouraged to resist; when from all parts of Europe private individuals or Governments incite me to persevere in the defense of my Cause, which is also the Cause of Sovereigns; of the rights of Nations; of the independence of Peoples? If political considerations give the appearance of temerity to my resolution, Your Majesty’s great and noble heart will distinguish and appreciate my motives.

“I am the victim of my inexperience; of the cunning, of the injustice and audacity of an ambitious Power. I have lost my Kingdom; but I have not my faith in the protection of God, and in the justice of man. My rights are today my only inheritance, and it is necessary in their defense to bury myself, if needs be, beneath the smoking ruins of Gaeta.

“It is not this prospect which caused me to hesitate for a moment. My only fear was that in becoming a prisoner I might witness the royal dignity debased in my person. But should this last trial be in store for me; should Europe consent to this final outrage, be assured, Sire, that I will utter no complaint, and that I will meet my fate with resignation and firmness..."
With the departure of the French fleet the fortress of Gaeta was now exposed to navel bombardment by Admiral Persano's squadron. More importantly, the Piedmontese blockaded the harbor, cutting off the provision ships. This eventually led to famine and a grievous typhus epidemic. However, the Neapolitans remained steadfast in their defense. In a touching display of fealty the officers renewed their oath of loyalty to the King:
“Whether our fate is about to be decided, or whether a long period of struggle and suffering still awaits us, we will face our destiny resignedly and fearlessly: we will go to meet either the joys of triumph or the death of the brave with the proud and dignified serenity befitting soldiers.”
Bombs continued to rain down on the beleaguered defenders. No house was spared. Even the churches and hospitals were destroyed. Their hopeless position was spelled out for them in a letter from Empress Eugénie to the Queen. No relief was to be expected from the rest of Europe.
Magazine explosion at Gaeta
Realizing the futility of further resistance, and unwilling to sacrifice any more lives, Francis requested a truce to hammer out the conditions for surrender. However, during the negotiations Cialdini refused to stop the bombardment, causing much bloodshed and the unnecessary lose of life. Just prior to surrender over fifty Bourbon soldiers were killed when a powder magazine exploded.

On February 13th, three months after the siege began, Gaeta capitulated. The next day, the deposed royal family set off on the French corvette La Mouette to the Papal States as guests of Pius IX. Upon their departure, the Neapolitan garrison was drawn up into a column to send-off their monarch. The remaining townspeople gathered as well, and all mourned the departure of their beloved King and Queen. Francis II graciously thanked his faithful followers and said his goodbyes:
“Thanks to you, the honor of the army of the Two Sicilies is intact: thanks to you, your Sovereign is intact: thanks to you, your Sovereign can still lift his head with pride; while in the exile where he will await the justice of Heaven the remembrance of the heroic fidelity of his soldiers will forever afford the sweetest consolidation in his misfortune.”
As the ship rounded the point towards Rome a final, "Evviva il re!" and a salute from the battery was heard thundering from the devastated fortress. Faint echoes of the parting salutation still whisper to us.
The King and Queen depart Gaeta
(1) It is suspected that French Admiral de Tinan was sympathetic to the Bourbons and purposely misinterpreted his orders for as long as possible in order to assist them.

Further reading:
The Collapse of the Kingdom of Naples by H. Remsen Whitehouse (1899)
Maria Sophia, Queen of Naples by Clara Tschudi (1905)

November 7, 2009

Ponderable Quote From "The Climax of Civilization" by Correa Moylan Walsh

First of all, we must not delude ourselves with the notion of the new era of peace. We should remember that it was the false prophets who cried 'Peace, peace,' where there was no peace. This is an often repeated cry raised by sloth and luxuriousness. Today it is a popular craze, fomented by women and plutocrats. Humanitarian solicitude for life and financial solicitude for property have, till the late madness of two exalted Kaisers and their servile subjects, preserved most of the great nations from great wars with one another, while the latter, despite the former, has led them into wars with the little nations. But their forbearance could not last much longer, and indeed it has already broken down. Feeble hopes were then indulged in, that when the nations did set to again, the wars of the future would by humanitarian restrictions be rendered almost bloodless, like the combats of the degenerate Italians at the time of the Renaissance, or perhaps even that, like the warriors of Torelore we should fight 'with baked apples and with eggs, and with fresh cheeses,' casting them into the water in a contest to see who could splash the most. It was forgotten that Italy was soon overrun by the French and the Spaniards; and little heed was given lest, as in the old tale whence the latter allusion is taken, some Saracens should come from over the water and carry off our wealth and our women. Our Saracens are indeed whetting their bayonets beyond the sea of the setting sun. We, lapped in luxury, may seek peace, but it is not permitted us to have everything we want, and there shall be no peace, because others will not allow it. So far as can be seen ahead, for centuries yet, there will always be fighting nations. Abundant incentives will soon be coming to them, and pretexts will not be lacking. Then woe to those countries which are not prepared.
– Correa Moylan Walsh, The Climax of Civilization (1917)

November 3, 2009

Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini
By Niccolò Graffio
“You are a genius, Bellini, but you will pay for your great gift with a premature death. All the great geniuses die young, like Raphael and like Mozart.” – Heinrich Heine: to Bellini, at a dinner party, 1835.
With those unintentionally prophetic words, the German-Jewish poet Heine (who was never known for his tact or his couth) cursed Bellini to an early grave. Scarcely several months after hearing these words, Bellini would sadly prove Heine correct by joining Raphael and Mozart among the greats who died too young.

Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini was born in the city of Catania, Sicily in what was then the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies on November 3rd, 1801. A child prodigy from a family of musicians, legend has it that Bellini could sing an aria of Valentino Fioravanti at the tender age of only 18 months. His father schooled the boy in piano lessons, and by the age of five he could play quite well. At the age of six he composed his first piece, Gallus cantavit, and subsequently began studying composition with his grandfather.

By the time he reached his teens, Bellini had composed parti sacre that were being heard in churches throughout Catania while his ariettas and instrumental works were being played in the salons of Sicilian aristocrats and patricians. Having learned all he could from his grandfather, in June of 1819 he left Sicily to study at the Conservatory in Naples. By 1822 he was in the class of the director, Nicoló Zingarelli. Here he wrote his first opera semiseria, Adelson e Salvini which was produced in 1825. Its success led to a commission from the Teatro San Carlo. It was here he produced his next opera, Bianca e Gernando, whose success garnered him a commission from the impresario Barbaia to produce an opera at the prestigious La Scala in Milan.

It was this opera, Il pirata, that put Bellini “on the map”, so to speak, of musical composers. It was such a resounding success, it, and the works to follow, guaranteed that Bellini would be able to live the grand lifestyle he so desired solely from his opera commissions. It also began his long and fruitful collaboration with librettist and poet Felice Romani, as well as cementing his friendship with the famous Lombardian tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini. Rubini, Bellini’s favored tenor, had earlier sung in Bianca e Gernando.

Between the years 1827 and 1833 Bellini lived mostly in the city of Milan. It was during this time his creative genius was in high gear. In 1829 he composed La straniera, which was even more successful than Il pirata. However, his other opera, Zaira, composed that same year, was considered a failure. He regained his momentum the following year in Venice with his production of I Capuleti e I Montecchi , an opera based on the same sources William Shakespeare used to write Romeo and Juliet.

1831 saw Bellini produce two of the three operas considered his greatest works: La Sonnambula and Norma; the last universally considered both his greatest work and the finest example of the Bel canto tradition of opera ever composed. His fame as an opera composer was now on an international scale.
1833 saw Bellini compose Beatrice di Tenda, a problematic work that was saved by the excellent performance of the legendary Lombardian soprano, Giuditta Pasta. Public reaction had been initially hostile due to the horrific subject matter. It was the only one of Bellini’s operas to be published in full score in his lifetime. Sadly, differences of opinion during production led to a breakdown in the glorious relationship that had previously existed between Bellini and Romani.

The same year saw Bellini forced to flee Italy due to a “dalliance” with the wife of a prominent landowner and silk manufacturer. Finding refuge in London, Bellini saw great success with the performance of four of his operas at the King’s Theatre and Drury Lane. Moving on to Paris, France, he was commissioned by the Théâtre-Italien to produce what was to become his last opera: I puritani. It was at this time he formed a close bond with Rossini and got to know Chopin.

The rousing success of I puritani in January, 1835 saw new honors heaped on Bellini. He was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. Deciding to remain in Paris, he began work on new projects when he fell ill in August, 1835 and died on September 23rd, 1835 in Puteaux, France of a severe inflammation of the intestines (now believed to have been caused by amoebic dysentery). His death was viewed as a national tragedy in England, France and across what is now Italy. Initially buried in the cemetery of Pére LaChaise in Paris, his remains were eventually removed to the Cathedral of Catania, Sicily in 1876.

At the time of his death and for some time afterwards, Bellini’s fame was enormous! Sadly, his works eventually fell into neglect. After World War II, however, interest was renewed in them, especially his masterpiece, Norma. Bellini’s contribution to opera cannot be understated. He was the greatest musical composer in the Bel canto tradition of opera. It was this tradition, begun in Italy during the Middle Ages and reaching its zenith in the early part of the 19th century with the works of Rossini, Donizetti and of course, Bellini, that stressed the use of florid vocals over the weightier, more powerful and speech-inflected style of singing that came to characterize the operas of composers such as Verdi and Wagner.

Subsequent to Bellini’s passing the Bel canto tradition fell out of favor. This is not without reason, to be sure. Bel canto operas, by their very nature, place a great demand on the voice, especially the operas of Bellini. In 1973 Andrew Porter wrote in the ‘The New York Times’ that “Norma remains one of the ‘most demanding parts in opera, both vocally and dramatically. It calls for power, grace in slow cantilena; pure, fluent coloratura; stamina; tones both tender and violent; force and intensity of verbal declamation; and a commanding stage presence. Only a soprano who has all these things can sustain the role. There have not been many such sopranos.”

Indeed, since the end of World War II, many opera aficionados claim only three sopranos have truly done the titular role in Norma justice: Dame Joan Sutherland, Rosa Ponselle and “La Divina” herself: Maria Callas! It should be mentioned that Richard Wagner, that most bitter critic of Italian opera, was impressed by Norma (and by extension, Bellini himself).

One final note: in addition to being a legendary opera composer, Vincenzo Bellini was known to be an epicure. His favorite Sicilian dish was “Pasta alla Norma,” named in honor of his greatest work. Should you ever have the opportunity to dine on this luscious culinary creation, raise a glass of wine in memory of the maestro and smile. After all, great food and music should bring a smile to one’s face, shouldn’t they?

Famous quotes about Bellini: 
“Bellini’s music comes from the heart and it is intimately bound up with the text.” – Richard Wagner, 1880. 
“…there are extremely long melodies as no one else had made before him.” – Giuseppe Verdi, 1888.
Further reading: Rosselli, John, The life of Bellini, Cambridge, England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.