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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Happy Childhood
By Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio (1798–1866)
 
From ‘My Recollections’

THE DISTRIBUTION of our daily occupations was strictly laid down for Matilde and me in black and white, and these rules were not to be broken with impunity. We were thus accustomed to habits of order, and never to make anybody wait for our convenience; a fault which is one of the most troublesome that can be committed either by great people or small.  1
  I remember one day that Matilde, having gone out with Teresa, came home when we had been at dinner some time. It was winter, and snow was falling. The two culprits sat down a little confused, and their soup was brought them in two plates, which had been kept hot; but can you guess where? On the balcony; so that the contents were not only below freezing-point, but actually had a thick covering of snow!  2
  At dinner, of course my sister and I sat perfectly silent, waiting our turn, without right of petition or remonstrance. As to the other proprieties of behavior, such as neatness, and not being noisy or boisterous, we knew well that the slightest infraction would have entailed banishment for the rest of the day at least. Our great anxiety was to eclipse ourselves as much as possible; and I assure you that under this system we never fancied ourselves the central points of importance round which all the rest of the world was to revolve,—an idea which, thanks to absurd indulgence and flattery, is often forcibly thrust, I may say, into poor little brains, which if left to themselves would never have lost their natural simplicity.  3
  The lessons of ‘Galateo’ were not enforced at dinner only. Even at other times we were forbidden to raise our voices or interrupt the conversation of our elders, still more to quarrel with each other. If sometimes as we went to dinner I rushed forward before Matilde, my father would take me by the arm and make me come last, saying, “There is no need to be uncivil because she is your sister.” The old generation in many parts of Italy have the habit of shouting and raising their voices as if their interlocutor were deaf, interrupting him as if he had no right to speak, and poking him in the ribs and otherwise, as if he could only be convinced by sensations of bodily pain. The regulations observed in my family were therefore by no means superfluous; and would to Heaven they were universally adopted as the law of the land!  4
  On another occasion my excellent mother gave me a lesson of humility, which I shall never forget any more than the place where I received it.  5
  In the open part of the Cascine, which was once used as a race-course, to the right of the space where the carriages stand, there is a walk alongside the wood. I was walking there one day with my mother, followed by an old servant, a countryman of Pylades; less heroic than the latter, but a very good fellow too. I forget why, but I raised a little cane I had in my hand, and I am afraid I struck him. My mother, before all the passers-by, obliged me to kneel down and beg his pardon. I can still see poor Giacolin taking off his hat with a face of utter bewilderment, quite unable to comprehend how it was that the Chevalier Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio came to be at his feet.  6
  An indifference to bodily pain was another of the precepts most carefully instilled by our father; and as usual, the lesson was made more impressive by example whenever an opportunity presented itself. If, for instance, we complained of any slight pain or accident, our father used to say, half in fun, half in earnest, “When a Piedmontese has both his arms and legs broken, and has received two sword-thrusts in the body, he may be allowed to say, but not till then, ‘Really, I almost think I am not quite well.’”  7
  The moral authority he had acquired over me was so great that in no case would I have disobeyed him, even had he ordered me to jump out of window.  8
  I recollect that when my first tooth was drawn, I was in an agony of fright as we went to the dentist; but outwardly I was brave enough, and tried to seem as indifferent as possible. On another occasion my childish courage and also my father’s firmness were put to a more serious test. He had hired a house called the Villa Billi, which stands about half a mile from San Domenico di Fiesole, on the right winding up toward the hill. Only two years ago I visited the place, and found the same family of peasants still there, and my two old playmates, Nando and Sandro,—who had both become even greater fogies than myself,—and we had a hearty chat together about bygone times.  9
  Whilst living at this villa, our father was accustomed to take us out for long walks, which were the subject of special regulations. We were strictly forbidden to ask, “Have we far to go?”—“What time is it?” or to say, “I am thirsty; I am hungry; I am tired:” but in everything else we had full liberty of speech and action. Returning from one of these excursions, we one day found ourselves below Castel di Poggio, a rugged stony path leading towards Vincigliata. In one hand I had a nosegay of wild flowers, gathered by the way, and in the other a stick, when I happened to stumble, and fell awkwardly. My father sprang forward to pick me up, and seeing that one arm pained me, he examined it and found that in fact the bone was broken below the elbow. All this time my eyes were fixed upon him, and I could see his countenance change, and assume such an expression of tenderness and anxiety that he no longer appeared to be the same man. He bound up my arm as well as he could, and we then continued our way homewards. After a few moments, during which my father had resumed his usual calmness, he said to me:—  10
  “Listen, Mammolino: your mother is not well. If she knows you are hurt it will make her worse. You must be brave, my boy: to-morrow morning we will go to Florence, where all that is needful can be done for you; but this evening you must not show you are in pain. Do you understand?”  11
  All this was said with his usual firmness and authority, but also with the greatest affection. I was only too glad to have so important and difficult a task intrusted to me. The whole evening I sat quietly in a corner, supporting my poor little broken arm as best I could, and my mother only thought me tired by the long walk, and had no suspicion of the truth.  12
  The next day I was taken to Florence, and my arm was set; but to complete the cure I had to be sent to the Baths of Vinadio a few years afterward. Some people may, in this instance, think my father was cruel. I remember the fact as if it were but yesterday, and I am sure such an idea never for one minute entered my mind. The expression of ineffable tenderness which I had read in his eyes had so delighted me, it seemed so reasonable to avoid alarming my mother, that I looked on the hard task allotted me as a fine opportunity of displaying my courage. I did so because I had not been spoilt, and good principles had been early implanted within me: and now that I am an old man and have known the world, I bless the severity of my father; and I could wish every Italian child might have one like him, and derive more profit than I did,—in thirty years’ time Italy would then be the first of nations.  13
  Moreover, it is a fact that children are much more observant than is commonly supposed, and never regard as hostile a just but affectionate severity. I have always seen them disposed to prefer persons who keep them in order to those who constantly yield to their caprices; and soldiers are just the same in this respect.  14
  The following is another example to prove that my father did not deserve to be called cruel:—  15
  He thought it a bad practice to awaken children suddenly, or to let their sleep be abruptly disturbed. If we had to rise early for a journey, he would come to my bedside and softly hum a popular song, two lines of which still ring in my ears:—
  “Chi vuol veder l’aurora
Lasci le molli piume.”
(He who the early dawn would view
Downy pillows must eschew.)
  16
  And by gradually raising his voice, he awoke me without the slightest start. In truth, with all his severity, Heaven knows how I loved him.  17
 
 
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