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FRANCE, Italy and Spain are the three nations shed by the Roman Empire when the old tree, over-ripe, let go its plums. The three peoples were ruled for centuries by the same or similar laws and in approximately the same language. But there the resemblance stops. The fact that French, Italian and Spanish belong to the same philological family has been granted an undue importance in the field of national psychology. A philological kinship can only be read as a sign of psychological and racial parentage when the languages in question are autochthonous, i.e. the creation of the peoples concerned. Such is (probably) the case, for instance, with the Scandinavian and with most of the Indian languages. But in the case of French, Italian and Spanish, philological kinship is the result of a mere accident of history: the conquest of two of the nations by the people who at the time constituted the third. To this purely fortuitous fact no excessive importance should be granted. To be sure, the linguistic conquest of France and Spain by the Latin-speaking legions and officials of Rome implied a certain admixture of Roman blood and the acquisition of a number of mental and social habits. But we know the first to have been relatively unimportant and doomed in any case to absorption by the native race and soil; while the second operated against the grain of native tendencies. The fact to be emphasized here is the rapid divergence of the three languages as soon as the unifying effect of Rome ceased to act on them. For, while the common philological stem was an accident of history, the divergence of the branches sprang from natural forces inherent in the three peoples and due to deep differences in their characters.
But then why all this fuss about Latinity and sisterhood? First, because there is a conscious or subconscious endeavor to impersonate in the "South" a pseudo-Hellenic civilization opposed to the "North," to raise the Mediterranean man as the match to the Blond Beast. But there is something more. Nature, it is true, does not provide much ground for all this Latinity and sisterhood, but when nature fails there is art still to be tried. And the Latin family is of course more art than nature. Curiously enough, the spring motive of all this art is closely connected with America, indeed so closely that it is doubtful whether we would have heard about Latin sisters at all had not Christopher Columbus discovered a new continent on his way to Japan. For the fact is that the Latinity and the sisterhood of France, Italy and Spain did not become prominent until the Spanish colonies broke loose from the metropolis and a host of young nations appeared in the New World. The attraction of the Latin family was not so much in old Spain as in her young daughters.
Then we began to hear about "Latin America," a phrase unknown in earlier days. For, even during the nineteenth century, the nations south of the Rio Grande were known as "Spanish America" -- all of them, including Brazil, since the word "Spain" was always understood by intelligent Portuguese as comprising Portugal. Later on, verbal sticklers invented "Ibero-America." But "Latin America" is an invention of "Latinity" and "sisterhood," the underlying intention of which is to set up a family at the head of which France would be surrounded by the young American republics, graceful choristers of her glory, while old Spain would sit half-asleep in her sunny corner.
Italy herself, though not particularly fond of a fiction which placed her at least second if not third fiddle to France, had no other means of entering the lists than the fanciful gate erected with the pillars of Latinity and sisterhood. So, remembering that America had been discovered by one Italian and christened by another, and relying on a strong contingent of immigrants in the southern nations, she claimed a chair at the family table.
So, behold the three Latin sisters sailing forth towards the American shores like the three caravels led by Columbus: La Pinta, La Nina and La Santa Maria. Do you not feel the suggestiveness of these three picturesque names? La Pinta -- The Motley -- is France. La Niña -- The Girl -- is Italy. La Santa Maria -- The Holy Mary -- is Spain. Now do not take me at my word in that matter-of-fact manner of men who know too much and understand too little. I do not claim that the names of the three caravels fit the three nations as a glove a hand. But they tickle the imagination and stimulate certain lines of comparison.
The Motley is France. For is not France the nation of the intellect? And what more motley than the faculty which mirrors everything without actually penetrating and living through what it reflects and bathes in light? The variety, the clearness, the movement, the smiling grace, the charm, the liberty bordering on licentiousness, the elegance and the easy-going tolerance of French life and civilization, are as it were incarnated in that light-hearted feminine name: La Pinta.
The Girl is Italy. For Italy, though an old people, is a young nation, indeed a very young one, a niña, which suggests lesser years than girl. Her enthusiasm, her pride, her vitality, her passion, her self-assurance, her beauty, her head full of dreams, her romantic faith in her hero, Mussolini, her disregard of wise counsel, her touchiness and her jealousy of France, all the features that make of Italy the petted enfant terrible of Europe, are called to life in the name of the second caravel: La Niña.
And Holy Mary is Spain. For is not the name an apt suggestion of her other-worldly preoccupations when she gave herself, her armies, captains, navies, admirals, ministers and monks to the worship and service of her exacting Lord? And moreover, did not Spain bring forth a New World quite pure from the sin of knowledge, for neither she nor her madcap navigator had the faintest idea of what the Spirit was going to manifest through their endeavors when the three caravels sailed forth from Puerto de Palos in 1492? Then, the New World once there, Spain gave herself to it -- gave her lifeblood to it, and even her reputation, only to see it go the way of destiny. Santa Maria.
Fancy? No doubt. But through the play of fancy, we have corrected whatever there might be too rigidly negative and critical in our scepticism over the Latinity and the sisterhood of our three nations. For after all, though different in name and spirit, built perhaps of different wood and on different designs, the three caravels did sail together towards the American shores and the three "Latin" nations have sailed together along the seas of European history, kept within each other's sight by the language kinship. Spain, as the seat of Latin ecclesiastical learning first, and then as the bridge between semi-barbarous Europe and cultured East, acts as the first civilizing agent, particularly in science and philosophy. Italy and France react on her later, influencing her arts and letters. Then, politically, Spain overflows in France (south, east and north) and gradually occupies the major part of Italy. In the fifteenth century, Italy leads in Europe. The sixteenth belongs to Spain. From the middle of the seventeenth, France is frankly on the ascendance. Not till the eighteenth is England's voice heard outside her own shores. Germany does not rise to leadership till the nineteenth.
But though three centuries of close partnership in the leadership and development of European culture have no doubt established permanent ties and common or similar trends of thought between them, the three nations remain vigorously individualized in the inmost roots of their character, and therefore in their creative genius, their general and political evolution. The difference is easiest to perceive in the case of France and Spain. For while in France life manifests itself in conscious talent and persevering method, in Spain it springs from subconscious genius and discontinuous impulse. The stress, in France, is on civilization; in Spain, it is on nature. And so France is the land of art and knowledge, while Spain is that of inspiration and understanding. Italy would seem to lie midway between the two extreme types. Intellectual and conscious, like France, she has nevertheless something of the passionate and integral nature of Spain. Italy is a more complex character than either Spain or France, as a mere glance at the arts and life of the three nations will show.
If a deliberate exaggeration were allowed (a heavy thickening of certain lines in order to bring out the contrast), we might describe Spain as passion without purpose, genius without talent, intuition without method; France as purpose without passion, talent without genius, method without intuition; Italy as passion with purpose, genius with talent, intuition with method. Hence, again, in the world of experience, which is the world of good and evil, we feel the French detached through their objective lack of passion, and the Spaniards through their subjective lack of purpose; while the Italian is deeply committed owing to his intimate blending of purpose and passion. Good and evil thus take in Italy a more perfect, deliberate and personal form than in France or Spain. St. Francis and Machiavelli were both Italians.
This greater complexity of the Italian nature, and particularly the wealth of personal purpose which animates it, may well explain the superabundance of form which is one of the characteristics of Italian life and genius. The curls of the Neapolitan, the rich, sonorous endings of the Tuscan language, the decorative wealth, the wave, the curve, the gesticulation, are but manifestations of a deep tendency which makes of Italy the mother of the arts. Form is in France sobered by intellectual control and limited by a keen sense of measure to the strict needs of a moderately vigorous inspiration; in Spain, form is at the mercy of inspiration, now loose and flaccid, now over-ornamented, now admirably taut under the winds of the spirit; but in Italy, passion and purpose keep the spirit in constant turmoil and form abounds, bounds and rebounds, flowing and overflowing in all manifestations of life.
Perhaps, then, the most representative Italian might be Benvenuto Cellini, the man whose hands fidgeted for matter to be turned into form. The artist rejoices in small shapes which he can handle. And this spiritual cause, rather than other external reasons, may be the factor which determines the slowness with which Italy reaches full nationhood. To be sure, Spain and France began both as congeries of petty states. But each in her typical way achieves nationhood early in the history of Europe: France, through the gradual effort of her jurists, her intelligent kings and statesmen; Spain by heating the whole Spanish people to melting heat in the crucible of religious unity. But Italy was too rich in passion and purpose, too gifted as an artist, not to enjoy her small republics, her Venices and Florences, beautiful cups of collective life which the eye could see and take in.
Nor can the present-day life of the three nations be understood without reference to the difference in the rhythm of their respective national evolutions, itself in tune with the respective national characters. Spain, in many ways the oldest of the three, cooled down from the furnace heat of her fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and by the end of the seventeenth was but cinders and ashes. Phoenix-like, she rose again, but the world she found was no longer that of her splendor. The old faith had gone. Spain, despite Machiavelli, despite Montaigne and Rabelais, had in her imperial days maintained the doctrine that the prince had duties as the minister of God on earth. Spanish thought had never admitted the absolute right of the king to act in peace and war according to his unaided lights. Her history, from the days when her leadership and even the dynasty which had exerted it had gone, became a long and laborious process of adaptation to a rationalistic world. Her difficulties are not unlike those of oriental countries, of which in many ways -- perhaps the deepest -- she is one. Her present political system -- or should we say, lack thereof -- is but an episode in this process. It may even be added that Spain's present ruler is the most oriental she has ever enjoyed. Born within sight of the Islamic world, he governs like a good sultan, according to his lights, not all of which are bereft of Divine vibrations. And Spain lets do. She has known worse and survived. She has the long-suffering patience of those whose eyes have seen and whose memories have stored too much to be surprised or offended or afraid. Both in home and in foreign affairs, Spain has reached the age of mellow experience when one's only ambition is -- in the words of the great Spanish poet -- to remain ni envidiado ni envidioso. The vigor inherent in her people and the wealth of her soil explain her present economic progress. The revival of her literary and scientific life and the strengthening of her always admirable artistic power are but manifestations of the same cause. Many a European observes these signs, and only the other day a Swiss traveller, judging Spain according to his own standards, wondered (at the sight of the splendid hotel accommodation to be found now-a-days in the Peninsula) whether she was not "awakening." As a corollary, her international position rises pari passu with her progress in hotel management. But Spain cannot find again her old level until the world has made greater strides towards its unity. World unity was her ideal in the days of her narrow and bigoted faith; world unity remains her ideal in the days of wider if shallower beliefs. Hence, perhaps, the curious matter-of-course attachment of her intellectual leaders to the (ideal) League of Nations.
France brought to Europe a political conception of power as opposed to the religious conception held by Spain. France moreover saw with keener intellectual acumen than her Catholic neighbor that world-unity was premature and that the world had to go through nationalistic disintegration before it could integrate itself as a federation of national units. The French monarchy represented therefore in Europe the principle of sovereignty, incarnated first in the monarch, then in the State, finally in the nation. Francis I fought for nationalism, i.e. the nation as sovereign, against the Christian unity which was the constant dream of Charles V. The triumph of this doctrine was, paradoxically enough, the République Une et Indivisible of the Great Revolution. The intelligence and the method of French statesmen have maintained France alive despite the dangers of the doctrine of unrestricted national sovereignty when applied by a ruthless and powerful nation. And not only alive, but prosperous and growing. For the French Empire in Africa and Asia is an astounding achievement. It differs, however, from the Spanish Empire in that France does not give her lifeblood but her intellect. A sparing nation, the French are above all sparing in human lives. "French" Africa is French by its government and laws, Spanish or Italian by blood. And this sense of measure and economy which is one of the chief features of the French character (in direct contradistinction, by the way, with Spain and Italy, both extravagant nations), limits the vitality of the French race itself. France's intellectual capacity is beginning to prove bigger than the physical means at its disposal. Her attitude towards the League of Nations is less that of an inspiring muse than that of a prudent housewife, anxious lest the bank in which she has deposited her hard-earned savings is not sound enough.
Italy meanwhile is in the early years of her nationhood. La Niña. The Girl-Nation. Now, a little charity and not much history suffice in the circumstances to understand that Fascism, far from being an unpardonable crime, is a natural phase for a nation in her teens. The first phenomenon which occurs in the early years of a nation is the appearance of absolutism. That is the case with Spain, France and England in the sixteenth century; with Germany in 1870; with Italy today. Moreover, Italy, rightly or wrongly, considers herself as an imperial nation with an historical duty towards herself -- that of building the Empire which in the scheme of things belongs to her. Every other nation who has built her own or is building it should ask herself the question: why should not Italy do the same? And, to be honest, the negative answer is easier to give than to justify. No imperial nation -- past or present -- can reproach Italy her imperial ambitions unless she herself is ready to give up altogether her own imperial philosophy -- and to hand over the juicy fruits thereof to the World Community. As for Mussolini, he stands at the confluence of two currents -- the absolutist tendency of a youthful nation, and a constant tendency of Italian history, i.e. the tendency to produce condottieri. The very nineteenth century, which seemed so ill-adapted to this most interesting genus, has brought forth at least two first-rate specimens: Napoleon and Garibaldi. Mussolini belongs to the group, as a human being, though as a political type he may recall the race of Beaconsfield and Bismarck. He is moreover a truly representative Italian in the admirable manner wherewith he answers to our Italian formula: passion and purpose. And as for form, he is overflowing with it. And after all, what is a condottiere but a masterpiece of passion, purpose and form?