The Italians, I believe, were “thinking” at a considerably earlier period than that which in the second letter transcribed in the preceding chapter Mrs. Browning seems to have considered as the beginning of their “cogitating” existence, and thinking on the subjects to which she is there adverting. They were “thinking,” perhaps, less in Tuscany than in any other part of the peninsula, for they were eating more and better there. They were very lightly taxed. The mezzeria system of agriculture, which, if not absolutely the same, is extremely similar to that which is known as “conacre,” rendered the lot of the peasant population very far better and more prosperous than that of the tillers of the earth in any of the other provinces. And upon the whole the people were contented. The Tuscan public was certainly not a “pensive public.” They ate their bread not without due condiment of compagnatico, or even their chesnuts in the more remote and primitive mountain districts, drank their sound Tuscan wine from the generous big-bellied Tuscan flasks holding three good bottles, and sang their stornelli in cheerfulness of heart, and had no craving whatsoever for those few special liberties which were denied them.
[Footnote 1: Anything to make the bread “go down,” as our people say—a morsel of bacon or sausage, a handful of figs or grapes, or a bit of cheese.]
Epicuri de grege porci! No progress! Yes, I know all that, and am not saying what should have been, but what was. There was no progress! The contadini on the little farm which I came to possess before I left Tuscany cultivated it precisely after the fashion of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and strenuously resisted any suggestion that it could, should, or might be cultivated in any other way. But my contadino inhabited a large and roomy casa colonica; he and his buxom wife, had six stalwart sons, and was the richer man in consequence of having them. No, in my early Florentine days the cogito, ergo sum could not have been predicated of the Tuscans.