Italy and Italians
Italy and Italians
In the summer of 1942 I received in New York a letter from the President of the University of California, to which I must now refer because it shows the origin of the present book. The consequence perhaps matters little; but the letter is important, as I think it explains, even to one who is still suffering from the poison of nationalistic propaganda, what far-sighted nobility of mind reigns in America, where no one even thought of praising the decision of the President, so natural did it appear.
I reproduce the letter, only suppressing a couple of phrases too courteous to myself.
"We have in our University a Chair of Italian Culture that was founded with the purpose that every year there should come here from Italy some scientific or literary person of distinction who would give for a half-year a course of lectures on some Italian subject chosen by himself. Against our will we are now at war with your country and it is therefore impossible for us to apply to Rome; but just because we are at war we want to preserve, so far as possible, our intellectual relations with Italy; for it must not be taken that there is war between our two peoples. Would you come and give the next course in Italian culture? If you will, the merit will be yours that a tradition we value has not been interrupted."
I replied at once that as an Italian I was touched and grateful; but I feared they had been mistaken in applying to me and I named certain learned Italians who were in America.
The University insisted; and I ended by accepting. The title of the forty lectures was "Contemporary Italy and its Intellectual and Moral Origins". I carried my hearers from the CounterReformation to the French. Revolution and then on to the Risorgimento, to United Italy, to the War of 1914-18, and to the high hopes then permissible to an Italy that might have been the herald of European solidarity, instead of rushing down into Fascism.
The public was so much interested in these studies that I had to prolong them, as is sometimes done there, in sittings and discussions at which Professors and students together we evoked, free from the ceremony of the University Chair, Italy herself, and for my part I tried to show them what Italy is, Italy which it is so difficult to find . . .