Page images

of French newspapers are carried on with any greater disregard of the law of libel than is usual in this country; but it cannot be denied that the worst offenders have an enormous circulation, are read by every class of the community, and exercise a demoralising influence on the tone of public life out of all proportion to their numbers. Most Frenchmen are easily carried away by their emotional temperament, and lend a ready credence to the wildest statements if made in support of the dominant feeling of the moment. In such an atmosphere the wholesale defamations which are circulated without repression or control do infinite mischief, and have brought about a state of things in which there is scarcely an institution or body of public men in France of whom a large number of their fellowcitizens are not willing to believe the worst. It would, of course, be absurd to pretend that these evils are due exclusively to the inadequacy of the existing press law. That inadequacy, however, has been widely recognised in France, though all are not agreed about the remedy. Commenting on the prosecution of M. Gohier for insults to the army, M. Cornély, who has been chosen to expound the average common-sense view daily in the columns of the Figaro, recently contended that a remedy was to be sought not by prosecuting general passages, such as those selected from M. Gohier's book, which hit nobody in particular, but by repressing libels against individuals. He referred with admiration to the heavy damages which the late Mr. Parnell recovered from the Times, and wished that similar proceedings were possible in France. But the French have no juries in civil actions, and the judges have so far proved too timid to award heavy damages, to say nothing of the national dislike of asking for them. Senator Trarieux's recent action against ' Gyp,' in which he made that witty lady pay 2001. damages for libelling him, has, however, set a good example, and shown that the civil action, when it lies, may prove a more effective remedy than had hitherto been supposed.

M. Cruppi, though only discussing prosecutions by functionaries, &c., makes two important suggestions which would equally apply to private libels: (1) that the proprietors of newspapers should be made directly responsible for fines and damages incurred by the paper ; (2) that the maximum fine should be raised from 3,000 to 100,000 francs, so as to make the punishment a reality. French juries, he thinks, might yet be made a satisfactory tribunal by the removal of the many obstacles that now tend to hinder the proper discharge of their functions. With regard to the tribunals of police correctionnelle, he suggests that they might be strengthened by the introduction of a lay element like the Schöffengerichte, which have proved so successful in Germany of late years. The imperfections of the Napoleonic Code of Criminal Procedure have long been recognised, and something has been done to remove them by the abolition of the iniquitous system of secret detention. A reform of the provisions as to trial by jury, and also of those defects in the law of 1881 which have here been pointed out, would seem imperatively called for if France is to avoid a return to those repressive measures which have so often already been tried in vain.


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]


In the majority of cases the garden of a Florentine villa is the mere prelude and antechamber to its far more attractive podere or olive-yard. You pass without any great reluctance through a parterre of somewhat disorderly vegetation, where rows of terra-cotta pots are at this season awaiting their summer occupants, and stone supports lurk idly in the grass until the lemon-trees, still safely housed, can venture to take their stand on them. And in a few minutes you find yourself passing down a more or less steep track, between sprouting blades of corn-maize or wheat, as the case may be-between olives, stained by a thousand vicissitudes of weather; between rows of vines dripping, if the month be March, from the results of a late ferocious pruning ; lingering perhaps for a while under the imperfect shade of a pergola, until suddenly you find that you have below you a seemingly interminable sweep of greenery—a sweep so intensely, indescribably green that the eye leaps to greet it: one in which the very artichokes seem to lose all culinary and utilitarian associations, and to become stately creatures, acanthus-like in their breadth of foliage, covering whole hillsides with their architectural-looking blue-green leaves.

What a large slice of Europe is taken up by just such vineyards, just such olive-yards as these! Beginning, say, with the Tartarinic region around Cette and Tarascon, sweeping over the greater part of South and South-Western France, washed for nearly a thousand miles by the Mediterranean, and following all its contortions and sinuosities; covering all the southern flanks of the Maritime Alps and the whole hilly portions of Lombardy; pushing boldly up and up, over rocks and declivities, waterless gulches or winter torrents, and only stopped by the snow, it remains a perfect embodiment of Man's wrestle with Nature; it expresses what he has won from her: it points to where he has failed.

On the whole, it may be said that the success far outweighs the failure, for the problem was anything but an easy one.

Given a more or less steep hillside, or a thousand such steep hillsides ; given a soil so light as to be removable by every shower; given a climate where a vast preponderance of dry days, when the earth becomes as bricks in a brick-kiln, is balanced by a residuum of days when the rain descends by bucketfuls at a time. Given such hills, such soil, and such conditions, how to hinder the earth from utterly disappearing, from vanishing as dust into the air, or being swept as mud into the nearest river—there stands your problem.

We all know how that problem has been met and solved. A multiplicity of stone walls—high or low, as the case may be—have been set up at irregular distances from one another, each wall acting as the base or platform of the ground above, and enabling it to support its crop of maize, vines, olives, fruit trees, no matter what; clamping the earth, as it were, with so many solid stone girders, and thus hindering the whole thing—trees, vines, flowers, and artichokes --from slipping headlong down into the valley beneath.

To the enterprising trespasser—we are all trespassers in Italy one of the great merits of these walls is that they are never a hindrance but rather an aid to his marauding rambles. However high they may be, however steep, however apparently insurmountable, they are sure to be provided with a means of ascent and descent in the form of a flight of steps-rude-hewn, but exceedingly welcome. How often have I scanned such a wall from afar, and have said to myself, “No: this time there really is no passage'! And at the last moment, on approaching it, a narrow space has revealed itself, like the ladder of ropes to the hero of a melodrama, and up or down that stony ladder I have scrambled, with a deep inward benediction upon its long since buried and forgotten builder.

Another if a less obvious merit is that along the edges of these walls, and sheltered by them from the blasts, lies the chief flowery wealth of the region—that wealth upon which, if you are newly arrived, and are the least in the world of a botanist or a horticulturist, you pine to fall and to rifle.

Early in March the most prominent representative of that wealth is the ever-present, ever-to-be-desired anemone. Aconites and such early folk are of course over; daffodils, though occasionally to be met with, are past their best ; while the tulip is still to come.

The first anemone to appear seems generally to be the violet form of coronaria. Violet I call it, but it is in reality any shade from the blackest purple to a nearly extinguished mauve.

Next to it in the order of flowering stands the familiar single scarlet Anemone fulgens, not often, by the way, growing in a packed mass, as we try to induce it to grow at home, but singly, one solitary blood-red spike at a time springing up triumphantly, and overtopping not only its own parsley-like leaves, but most other leaves and sprays in its neighbourhood.

What a presence the fellow has, to be sure ! What a sumptuous colour—what a magnificent deportment is his! How he takes up the sunshine upon his damask petals, and how, even on the dullest days, he seems to give us back our full journey's worth in the mere joy of being temporarily the neighbour of such a vision! I say he advisedly, because next to fulgens in the order of flowering stands the dimly tinted pale-blue A. apennina, as distinctively feminine in the good old-fashioned sense of the word as fulgens himself is distinctively the other thing.

Alas for bashfulness and feminine timidity in an age of push and eager competition! About the second week in March every street-corner in Florence and nearly every church door becomes a mingled joy and irritation to the flower-lover from the multitude of such milk-blue tremblers offered for sale, in company-not a little to my surprise—with an even greater multitude of our own familiar yellow primroses, plucked, not singly, but in tufts and clusters ; buds, flowers, leaves and roots, young and old, parents and children, all tossed together upon a common market.

If a shy grower, Apennina, as its name implies, is at least at home here; but where in the world, one asks oneself, do these multitudes of primroses come from? So far from meeting one at every turn, along every ditch, under every bank, as they do, or used to do, at home, one may easily spend a long spring in Tuscany without having one's eyes drawn earthward by the sight of a primrose. Yet here they are, and plucked, moreover, with a recklessness which seems to speak of an unlimited supply, or at all events an absolute indifference as to whether another year there will be any primroses left to gather at all.

Last time I was in Florence I searched diligently for nearly a month before discovering a genuinely wild primrose, although myriads were daily thrust into my hands in a more or less dead and flaccid condition. Suddenly the sight of a bit of unmistakably English-looking oak scrub on the road to the Certosa brought the conviction to my mind that here, if anywhere, primroses must be to be found. Communicating that conviction to the friend who sat beside me, we stopped our vehicle, and at the end of five minutes' scramble found ourselves in a copse which might well have been imported just as it was from Sussex or Surrey, only that under its still adhering russet leaves were to be seen, not primroses only, or primroses and anemones only, but nearly every spring flower which we cherish assiduously in our gardens, and can rarely persuade to flower satisfactorily with us even many weeks later.

For here were floods of pulmonaria, the blue of whose flowers shades out into every combination of violet and pink. Floods, too, of scillas, pure blue this time, disdaining to perturb it with any meaner admixture. Close cousins of theirs, the muscari, neat little bobbing heads, rising club-like amid their sharp green spears. Tulips, too—for the spring was getting on-the large scarlet Præcox and the looser-petalled Oculus-solis, if, indeed, the two are not

« PreviousContinue »