I travelled from Bologna to Florence with a young man whom I at first took, from the simple elegance of his dress, for an Englishman. But we fell so naturally into conversation, and my companion expressed himself so fluently in French, that I supposed him to be a fellow-countryman. When, however, I discovered how thoroughly he was versed in the state of the agriculture, manufactures, commerce, laws, the administration, and the politics of Italy, I could no longer doubt that he was an Italian and a Bolognese. What I chiefly admired in him was not so much the extent and variety of his knowledge, or the clearness and rectitude of his understanding, as the elevation of his character, and the moderation of his language. Every word he uttered was characterized by a profound sense of the dignity of his country, a bitter regret at the disesteem and neglect into which that country had fallen, and a firm hope in the justice of Europe in general and of one great prince in particular, and a certain combination of pride, melancholy, and sweetness which possessed an irresistible attraction for me. He nourished no hatred either against the Pope or any other person; he admitted the system of the priests, although utterly intolerable to the country, to be perfectly logical in itself. His dream was not of vengeance, but deliverance.
I learnt, some time afterwards, that my delightful travelling companion was a man of the mezzo ceto, and that there are many more such as he in Bologna.
But already had I inscribed in my tablets these words, thrice repeated, dated from the Court of the Posts, Piazza del Gran’ Duca, Florence:—
"There is an Italian Nation! There is an Italian Nation! There is an Italian Nation!"
An Italian has said with pungent irony, “Who knows but that one of these days a powerful microscope may detect globules of nobility in the blood?”
I am too national not to applaud a good joke, and yet I must confess these “globules of nobility” do not positively offend my reason.
There is no doubt that sons take after their fathers. The Barons of the Middle Ages transmitted to their children a heritage of heroic qualities. Frederick the Great obtained a race of gigantic grenadiers by marrying men of six feet to women of five feet six. The children of a clever man are not fools, provided their mother has not failed in her duties; and when the Cretins of the Alps intermarry, they produce Cretins. We know dogs are slow or fast, keen-scented or keen-sighted, according to their breed, and we buy a two-year-old colt upon the strength of his pedigree. Can we consistently admit nobility among horses and dogs, and deny it among men?
Add to this, that the pride of bearing an illustrious name is a powerful incentive to well-doing. Noblemen have duties to fulfil both towards their ancestors and their posterity. They must walk uprightly under the penalty of dishonouring an entire race. Tradition obliges them to follow a path of honour and virtue, from which they cannot stray a single step without falling. They never sign their names without some elevated thought of an hereditary obligation.