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who wield its power triumphantly to crush their opponents, executing private vengeance under the forms of justice, enriching their adherents out of the public funds, and so completely masters of all local administration as to secure exemption from duty for the goods of their partisans, while adjusting the municipal balance by a double tax on those of their enemies. The subtle genius for intrigue which the Sicilian inherits from his Greek ancestors—the lightning-quickness of emotion and perception which flashes through his veins with his Saracen blood-make him more than a match for the bewildered continental employé, who in the midst of the universal chaos is driven to catch at the first offer of local assistance, and believes himself, perhaps, to be on the road to furthering the ends of justice, while he is in reality the blind tool of an unscrupulous party.
The hereditary hatreds and long vendettas of the Middle Ages are here still active, and a library might be filled with the record of tragedies daily occurring amongst these modern Montecchi and Capuletti—these Sicilian Black and White Cancellieri of the nineteenth century. Not long since, the murder of a member of one of the rival families contending for supremacy in a town in the province of Palermo gave the signal for a communal civil war, carried on by means of assassination. The casualties of this sanguinary feud in a small country town furnished a list of no fewer than thirty-five homicides in the course of one year. Nothing can be imagined more warping to public morality, or more destructive to public security, than these local rivalries, even when they masquerade, as they commonly do, in legal costume, and affect to limit their contentions to the electoral college and the municipal council. Behind the ballot-box invariably lurks the Mafia; for the really effective strength of each faction consists in the number of hired assassins it can command. Impunity for crime committed on their own account is the recognised pay of these licensed miscreants, and the relations of patron and client are faithfully maintained between the local magnates and the local murderers. Thus every village has its Don Rodrigo with his train of bravos, and power practically unlimited except by the presence of a rival of his own stamp.
These things in the nineteenth century, in the Garden of Italy, under the shadow of the Italian tricolor, in the presence of all the paraphernalia of justice! They sound incredible, but we can only refer anyone who desires to convince himself of their truth to the confessedly impartial pages of the book before us, as well as to the debates in the Italian Parliament, and the official reports of the legal authorities at Palermo.
Signor Franchetti opens his part of the work—that on the political and administrative condition of Sicily-with a striking picture of the contrast between the material and moral aspects of the island,
• Where all save the spirit of man is divine;' and imagines the impressions of a traveller newly arrived, as he visits the lovely environs of Palermo, and admires the fertility and luxuriance of the rich champaign of the Golden Shell, sloping in a vast amphitheatre from the mountains to the sea. "Looking on the fair landscape, where Nature has lavished the wild luxuriance of semi-tropical vegetation, and Man has cultivated every inch of the teeming soil to the highest point of fecundity—where golden fruit glows unchanging among unchanging foliage as in the fabled Garden of the Hesperides, and sky and sea roof and frame the scene in vying depths of azure-he is half-disposed to believe all evil reports of Palermo and its district to be so many envious calumnies, and the much-vexed Sicilian question an invention or exaggeration of factious party-spirit. But when entering into conversation with a casual passer-by or fellow-traveller better versed in local knowledge, he hears--as things of common notoriety, as matter of familiar discourse- tales of violence and outrage committed here in the smiling garden, under the broad golden blaze of the southern sun, the landscape begins to assume a sombre tint in his eyes, and the fragrance of the orangeblossom comes to him on the breeze faint as the breath of a charnel-house.
For here under the trees, he is told, a poor bailiff was murdered for no other crime than having been preferred by his employer to the nominee of one of those formidable associations, or camorras, to transgress whose lightest decree is death; at yonder turn of the road a proprietor guilty of a similar offence received intimation, from a bullet fired over his head, of what he must expect if he persisted in contumacy; a little farther on, he hears, a young man, who had been prominent in forwarding works of public beneficence in Palermo, was shot dead in the highway, because his growing popularity threatened to make him a dangerous rival to the miscreants in authority.
The bewildered stranger, listening to the calm narration of such atrocities, can scarcely believe
himself in a country nominally forming part of civilised Europe; until his eye catches the waving plumes of the Bersaglieri among the pastoral surroundings of a farm-house, or his ear the clank of sabres as the
Carabiniers advance through the orange groves; and thus reminded that he is indeed on the soil of United Italy, he asks his informant half indignantly, if there be no redress for such outrages, or justice capable of renching their perpetrators. And the answer in the negative will probably be given-for here is the most disheartening part of Signor Franchetti's revelations--either with a fatalist acquiescence in the régime of violence as inevitable, or with an openly avowed satisfaction in its triumph.
The complicity of the bulk of the population in the existing order of things—the moral, not less than the material supremacy of organised iniquity—the sanction by the popular voice of rapine, extortion, and assassination-are what make the re-establishment of public order almost hopeless, and the position of the legal authorities in the island as desperate as that of a handful of invaders encamped in a hostile country. The utmost they can do is to hold their position, and the limit of their ambition is to save appearances by an occasional raid on some comparatively harmless stragglers from the main body of crime.
Many causes combine to make Palermo and its neighbourhood the principal focus of disturbance. The predominance of the Arab and African race in the north-western corner of Sicily has no doubt contributed to the absence in its inhabitants of all repugnance to the shedding of blood. Also the descendants of the numerous bravos whom the nobles resident at Palermo formerly kept in their train, preserve the family traditions of violence; while the numbers of that floating population without regular means of subsistence, to be found in every capital, were enormously increased at the Revolution of 1860, both by the removal of government offices and the closing of the convents—formerly a source of employment, as well as a fountain-head of alms. A metropolis is a sort of personification, in an intensified form, of the country whose tendencies it concentrates, and the spirit of the whole of Sicily is but too faithfully represented by the Mafia, the most characteristic institution of Palermo.
This term, of such formidable significance, deserves a few words of explanation.
The Mafia is the spontaneous organisation of those whose trade is crime, not a sect or secret society any more than the highwaymen of Hounslow in former days, or the pickpockets of St. Giles' and Whitechapel in our own. Every one of the 360 communes of Sicily has its own Mafia, of which the character varies according to local tendencies and interests. In VOL. CXLY. NO. CCXCVIII.
one place its energies are devoted to the conduct of the elections and the manipulation of the ballot-box; in another, to directing, by means of a camorra, the sale of church and crown lands; in a third, to the apportionment of contracts for public works. Where the legitimate authorities are amenable, as they commonly are, these objects are effected without scandal or violence; but the ultima ratio of bullets is well understood to be ready in the background. The Mafia of Palermo is, however, pre-eminent in numbers as well as in power. Those belonging to, or in immediate relations with it—the mafiosi as they are called—may be distinguished from the less dangerous part of the population by the swagger of their gait, the curt jargon
of their speech, the rakish set of the hat, and the long lock of hair, which, after the manner of the old-fashioned bravo, they wear hanging over the left eye. Of them, with still more forcible truth than of the 'poor Egyptian '—Cleopatra's messenger—Cæsar might say,
"The business of these men looks out of them.' By a singular anomaly, the middle class—that very class, of which the absence is deplored in the rest of Sicily as the absence of an element of order-forms in Palermo the chief strength of the Mafia. Its proverbial virtues of prudence, industry, and foresight are here exercised in the calling of crime. The so-called Capi-mafia are men of substance and education. To them is due the consummate ability with which the affairs of their association are managed—the unity of direction, precision of purpose, and fatality of stroke. They determine with unerring tact all the nice points of their profession; in what cases life must be taken, and in what others the end in view can be attained by mere destruction of property; when an important capture is to be effected, when a threatening letter sent, or a shot of persuasion 'fired; when it is advisable to suspend operations, and when to inspire terror by increased ferocity. By them relations are maintained with government offices through agents in Rome, whose intrigues are generally successful in obtaining the dismissal or removal of obnoxious officials ; so that complicity with crime is an almost necessary condition of permanence in any responsible position.
Although not itself a sect, the Mafia contains within its elastic bosom an indefinite number of illegal societies, in the strictest acceptation of the term-societies, criminal in aim, with regular constitutions, rules of admission, and penal statutes. Among those whose organisation has recently been
brought to light and attacked are those of the Mulini and of the Posa. The first is an association of millers, ostensibly for the legal purpose of collecting the grist-tax, but, in point of fact, with the illegal object of keeping the price of flour at an artificially high standard by means of a monopoly acquired and retained by violence. Strange to say, this society, which aims so directly at the vital interests of the people, is not unpopular in Palermo ; and that populace, which had so often in times past risen in clamorous sedition because of the high price of bread, left the authorities unsupported in their recent efforts to reduce it to its natural level. The society of the Posa is closely connected with that of the Mulini, and has the ostensible form of an association for mutual assistance of the workmen employed in mills, and the carters occupied in transporting corn. Its real objects are manifold, and its members are the ready tools of the Capi-mafia. By means of a tax levied on master millers and corn brokers a regular income is secured to the society, which thus has its hands free to meddle in the affairs of others. It prescribes tenants for the olive and almond groves of the Golden Shell, and the vineyards on the last slopes of the mountains of Neptune ; it stands behind the auctioneer at public sales to fix the price and the purchaser of each lot; nay, it acts the grotesque part of peacemaker, composing differences in families, and procuring pensions for neglected scions and poor relations of rich houses. The recalcitrant well know what to expect. Thus, open crime is but an occasional manifestation of the tenebrous intrigues which riddle the whole substance of society, and all the relations of life are modified by the ever-ready threat of bloodshed, at the unscrupulous pleasure of assassins.
No institution is really formidable, unless backed by some kind of moral force, and the Mafia is guaranteed by the omertà. This omertà (a local corruption of the word umiltà) is a code of honour which condemns as infamous all recourse to public justice, and is recognised as binding, under the sanction of firearms, by all classes of the population. In obedience to this principle, many a poor workman of Palermo cures his wounds or perishes of them secretly, rather than reveal the circumstances of the fray in which he suffered; or, if taken to a hospital, dies in Spartan silence and obstinate complicity with his murderer. A typical case is that of a rich Sicilian noble, who, as he was driving one day in the environs of Palermo, received from behind a wall a volley of twelve or fourteen musket-shots, and, with unparalleled good fortune, escaped unhurt. No one of the would be assassins was discovered or brought to justice,