Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

In and about Lugano thirty years ago

WHEN I paid Lugano a short visit, after the lapse of a quarter of a century, in the fateful month of July 1914, my first impression was almost one of disillusion. I was fully prepared to find the city, which in 1878, the date of my first sojourn there, had numbered only a couple of thousand inhabitants, very considerably increased in size and more of a resort for foreigners; and I took it as a matter of course that a much longer stretch of houses surrounded the bay, that an electric tramway ran through the town, connecting it with suburbs on either side, and that the shops and osterie were much smarter than of old; and I was able thoroughly to appreciate a great deal that was new – in particular, the shady promenade by the lake, with its tasteful pleasure-grounds. These gave Lugano the look of a miniature Lucerne.

But there is another sense in which one could and can compare Lugano to a miniature Lucerne. The vast numbers of palatial new hotels and pensions which line the shores of the lake might well, in their magnificence, belong to Lucerne, or any other resort of foreign fashion. As the town has grown in extent it has lost in character. The individual quality of its original character, although it has not completely disappeared, has nevertheless been wantonly diminished, and is overshadowed by a growth which offers everything except the things that corresponded with this individuality.

In 1878 the town of Lugano was still thoroughly Italian, both in its architecture and in the character of its population. As long as the Gotthard Railway was still uncompleted, almost all the visitors from the north were of a “select” nature, and they were not very numerous. Four or five hotels, the number of whose rooms was by no means excessive, were enough to provide for the more well-to-do visitors; the rest found accommodation in the alberghi – inns of the Italian type – for workingmen and others of modest means. Italian in type, too, were the streets, the dwelling-houses, the shops, and the osterie. The servants and the shop-assistants also were with few exceptions pure Italians. The exceptions in case of the shops were indicated by inscriptions to the effect that French or English was spoken, or both; German, as yet, was rarely heard. Even in the only café of the better class, the Café Tereni, at the north-west corner of the Government building, the present town hall, only one of the two waiters spoke, besides Italian, a few mangled sentences of French and English. If one wished to be clearly understood one had to address even him in his native language.

Quite Italian, too, was the little theatre, standing to the east of the Government building. Not a stone is left standing to-day to remind one of its existence. Since a company was performing there at the time, I went there on one of the first evenings after my arrival. For a very modest sum I was admitted to the parterre. Had there not been three roughly-made benches right in front, which afforded a certain amount of sitting room, the whole floor would have offered standing accommodation only. A slight increase of price was charged for the use of the benches, and what use was made of the standing room! That evening the theatre was only moderately full, and the public stood about the floor in irregular and by no means very silent groups. To my amazement I saw that one of the audience had brought his dog with him, to whom, from time to time, he threw a scrap of food in order to drive away boredom. Almost completely ignorant of Italian, I could not make out whether a serious drama or a comedy was being presented. Experience taught me later that this was all one, as far as the behaviour of the public went.

The lower part of the auditorium was intended only for the poorer classes of the population. Those who considered themselves to belong to middle-class society regarded the boxes alone as respectable. These ran right across the theatre; I could see no open rows of seats such as we have in Germany. The boxes were hired by middle-class families for the whole of the company’s visit. People went to their box in the evening in order to talk to one another, so that the performance on the stage often played quite a subsidiary part. Families visited one another, I was told, going from box to box, and gossiping to their hearts’ content. Only if or while the actors succeeded in reducing the public to a state of something approaching suspense was there that absolute stillness in the auditorium to which we are accustomed during the performance of a play. Some years later, when I accompanied an acquaintance made at Lugano to an operatic performance in the Zurich theatre, he was almost beside himself, because as long as the curtain was up the audience kept “as quiet as if they were listening to a sermon.” This acquaintance was none other than the French socialist, Benoît Malon, who in 1871 had been a member of the Paris Commune, and was now on the way to becoming one of the founders of the French Labour Party.

Meanwhile, let us linger a moment over the town of Lugano, and its inhabitants, as I found them in 1878. Although many of the customs of the place were interestingly Italian, the general racial type bore little resemblance to the Italian. On Saturdays and Sundays, many of the working folk used to collect in the great square before the Government offices, which to-day is known as the Piazza delta Riforma; not in order to demonstrate, but merely to see what was going on, and to hear the news, or just for the sake of a change. The first thing that struck me was, how quietly every one behaved; and the second, how little the great majority of these workers differed in complexion and physiognomy from the average German working man. Not for nothing was this the province which from the first century before Christ flooded Lombardy with Germanic and other Northern races. Apart from this, the quiet behaviour of the masses may be ascribed to their moderation in drinking.

It is a general experience, which is partly explicable by climatic reasons, that in the true wine countries the people are far more moderate in their drinking than in the countries where wine is replaced by beer and brandy. And in the southern Ticino wine was then, at all events, the only drink of the people.

This was exhibited in a striking manner some days before my departure from Lugano in 1879. In order to get our rather extensive luggage – several trunks and half a dozen fairly big boxes of books – forwarded to the goods depot, I secured the services of a skipper and his mate, and after they had done their job, and I had paid them for it, I invited them in a becoming manner to accompany me to an inn. Faithful to my national beverage, I chose one of the three inns (which I had in the meantime reconnoitred) where one could obtain, in addition to wine, a beer brewed in Bellinzona. I ordered myself a glass, and asked my companions whether they would take beer or wine. Both declared for wine. But as we were drinking, I noticed that the eyes of both kept turning towards my beer. “Would you rather have had beer, perhaps?” I inquired. “Oh no,” came simultaneously from both mouths; “wine is good enough for us – baste per noi il vino.” Although not precisely immoderately dear (it cost threepence a glass), the beer was evidently, to their thinking, the more distinguished drink – a luxury only suitable for the upper classes.

Lugano was not warm enough for a fashionable winter resort; in October 1878 the hotels boasted only individual guests, and the streets of the town and the drive beside the lake were emptier than they can have been in the autumn season proper. Yet I was assured that even during the season the foreign element was not very prominent, so that the general features of the life of the town remained unchanged. But now everything is quite different. There is a restless rushing to and fro in all directions, and an inundation of foreigners of every nationality, Germans above all, which has quite deprived the place of its individuality. The peaceful Via Nassa, with the beautiful old Convent Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli and its frescoes by Luini, is now a modern avenue, with trams running through it, whose huge hotels and boarding-houses completely overshadow the church. Equally changed is the Via Canova, running eastwards, and the great square into which it opens, and which used to form the most easterly portion of the town. Larger in those days than it is to-day, but unpaved, it was bounded by workshops on its western side, most of the work being done outside in the open air, while opposite the workshops unfinished lengths of stuff stretched on frames spoke of the existence of a little weaving-shed or bleachery. From the other side of the square a narrow, sunken lane ran along the walls of the Villa Ciani Gardens to the wide expanse of the Campo Marzio, and an alley overhung by trees intersecting the Campo led to the hamlet of Cassarate, lying at the foot of Monte Bré, which boasted then of only a few working-men’s houses. Nowadays the Via Canova is only a business street; but the old ingenuous shops of the Italian type have made way for modern shops of a metropolitan character, and the primitive workshops have been transformed into the carefully tended Piazza dell’ Independenza, while the sunken lane has become the Viale Carlo Cattaneo. Here, as in Cassarate, the villa. type of residence is preponderant; all is trim and pleasant, but colourless.

However, one must accept these and the other changes as the consequence of growth, and the enormous increase in the number of foreign visitors, and try to look on the best side of the matter. But a thing I absolutely could not and cannot .get over is the change in the beautifully wooded heights about Lugano. The beautiful and harmonious picture which was formerly presented by the surrounding hills is horribly disfigured by the giant hotels, boarding-houses, and private villas that have shot up in wild confusion. A glance at the heights from the lake or the shore reveals a chaos that offends every conception of beauty. Taken singly, and considered closely, each of these buildings may possess its own beauty, but the general aspect which they lend to the heights which they have occupied can only be described as abominable. It is a real piece of good fortune that farther to the east the spell ceases, and it has so far spared Monte Caprino, which lies facing the town to the south-west, and also the adjacent heights.

About the middle of the nineteenth century Lugano was a regular nest of fugitives. Those who rebelled against the Austrian rule in Lombardy found it a central point from which they could readily send their propagandist literature, and, when circumstances were favourable, weapons, into the subjugated province. The Viale Carlo Cattaneo is named after one of the most famous of the Italian rebels. It was from Lugano that the Mazzinist insurrection in Milan was arranged in 1853. Not only Italians, however, but revolutionists of other nationalities also gladly chose the quiet town of Lugano, so romantically situated on the banks of the Ceresio, for their temporary place of refuge. In a little place called Besso, in the upper part of Lugano, there stood in my time a one-storeyed house which the Italian Giuseppe Mazzini, the Hungarian Lajos Kossuth, the Pole Langiewicz, and the Russian Michael Bakunin had inhabited, if not immediately one after another, at least in succession. It goes without saying that I gladly profited by an opportunity which was offered me when a friend of the Bakunin family showed me over the place, sacred as it was to the cause of Revolution.

Nevertheless, there were but few fugitives to be seen when I arrived in Lugano. The days of the Italian Nationalist conspiracies were over. Those of the Mazzinists who were still living in Lugano had remained there because they had found a convenient livelihood there, and there they dwelt in quiet retirement. I became acquainted with one example of this species in the person of a man – he was, I believe, a bookseller – who seemed to take no interest in anything but the game of bowls known as alle bocce, in the dialect of Lugano alle bötsch, to which the inhabitants were passionately addicted. At the same time I made the acquaintance of a representative of quite another type of Italian revolutionist. I was fortunate enough to find the great Ippolito P—i still in Lugano.

This was a type worth studying. He had the seeming of a man born to be first, if not in Rome, then elsewhere. His face, like his stature, was magnificent; he was tall, splendidly built, with dark hair and beard and sparkling eyes. “Professor” Ippolito P—i, as far as his outward man was concerned, fully came up to all the requirements which one is entitled to expect an a solid, reliable basso in Italian opera. But he was not an opera-singer, and as for solid – no, Hippolito P—i was not solid, much as he wished to be thought so. By vocation a classical schoolmaster, he kept a little school, and also published a Radical bi-weekly paper, Il Republicano, whose speciality was fulminating articles abusing the Catholic Conservative party. which was then in office in the Canton Ticino. And certainly in vehemence and energy of expression these articles could hardly be surpassed. The Viper does not lose its Venom, Clerical Infamies, The Abject Creatures at their Work – these titles give some idea of the substance of his articles. Why he was forced to leave Italy I do not know. That he was no orthodox Mazzinist was betrayed by his ostentatious display of antagonism towards Iddio. Ostentation was for him the breath of life: his appearance was theatrical in the extreme. When he entered the Café Tereni, with his high-stepping gait, from the marketplace, he at once, in his noisy way, set the tone of the conversation. Not a guest escaped his eyes; none could evade the announcement of his atheism and materialism and political radicalism. In November 1878 the seventy-eight Social Democrats of Berlin, who, on the grounds of the minor state of siege [1] just declared, had without cause been suddenly banished from Berlin by the police, addressed an appeal to their comrades who were left in the capital, in which they required them to remain unshaken in their support of the common cause, but not to allow themselves to be incited to any rash and unconsidered action. I submitted a copy of this manifesto which had been forwarded to me to our P—i, who could not, as a matter of fact, speak German, but could read it fairly well. With an inimitable gesture he returned it tome: “Troppo moderato, Caro amico, troppo moderato!” He was by no means satisfied with our German Social Democrats.

I had an opportunity of returning the compliment. Although I too adhered to the materialistic conception of the universe, he had a way of manifesting his beliefs which was not at all to my liking. He was fond of declaring in front of the Café Tereni, in a voice that one could hear all over the market-place: “Io sono una bestia, non riconosco the il mangiare, il bevere a le donne.” (I am an animal: I know of nothing but eating, drinking, and women.) As for some time I was only able to converse with him in French, I told him bluntly one day, in that language, that reading his paper enabled me to understand why the Clerical Party was winning adherents even in Lugano (as was then the case). He was determined to catechise me on this point.

“Eh bien, citoyen Berenstein,” he cried, “vous socialists allemand, vous n’êtes peut-être même pas athée?” (Well, citizen Bernstein, you, a German Socialist, is it possible that you are not even an atheist?)

For the sake of puzzling him I replied that this was indeed the case.

At this he was indeed astonished. “Et vous croyez en Dieu?” (And you believe in God?)

“Non plus” (Neither do I believe in God), was my rejoinder.

“Comment donc? Vous pretendez n’être pas athée, et en meme temps vows declarez nepas croire en Dieu. Que vent dire cela?” (Come, come! You claim that you are not an atheist, and at the same time you assert that you don’t believe in God. What do you mean?)

I was not then acquainted with the classic rejoinder which the famous Laplace once made to Napoleon, when asked what part God played in his system of the universe, and my conceptions were largely innocent of the scientific foundations .which the great astronomer and natural philosopher had at his disposal. But an idea similar to that expressed in the words: “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese” (Sire, I did not find that I required that hypothesis), none the less dictated my reply; So I retorted dryly, “Cela veut dire que cette question métaphysique ne m’occupe pas” (I mean that that metaphysical question does not interest me).

P—i had to be content with this positivist reply; but it can hardly have satisfied him. The campaign against the monarchy, in republican Switzerland, was only metaphysical; there was no popular movement of any profound importance in the Ticino; so that in this Catholic canton, where the adherents of the Clerical Party really had matters all their own way, the anti-clerical campaign in favour of philosophical radicalism was the only real conflict. There was certainly no lack of pretext for the vigorous criticism of the Clerical officeholders. Meanwhile the bullying ostentation of a somewhat superficial atheism and materialism was but ill adapted to alienate the popular element, whose assistance it was counting upon, from the Clericals.

Very unlike the worthy P—i in his mode of action was an Italian anarchist who at that time was unwillingly making his home in Lugano. Since he, I trust, like the former, may yet be counted among the living, the reader will perhaps allow me to mention him only by a pseudonym. Filippo Marzotti, as we will call him, was not such a striking apparition as P—i, but he was, none the less, of goodly stature, and his features were finely chiselled, and since he was younger and slenderer than the other, he by far excelled the bourgeois politician in elegance, although he was only a mere hairdresser’s assistant. But there was nothing affected about him; his manner was as natural and unassuming as possible. His wife, Marietta, too, if not of a dazzling beauty, was considered extremely pretty. They had two children aged five and seven years respectively. They lived in proletarian surroundings, and increased their income, the husband’s wages being very modest, by letting one of their rooms, among other expedients. For a time before I came to Lugano, the Russian Socialist Vera Sassulitsch, who achieved European fame through her trial for the attempted assassination of the Chief of Police, Trepoff, and her highly gifted countrywoman, Anna Kulischov, who was only just becoming known in the inner circles of the Russian, French and Italian Socialists, had lodged with the young couple.

Quiet though Filippo Marziotti might be in his general behaviour, his political feelings were vehement enough. He was body and soul devoted to the Anarchist cause; but in this connection we must not forget that Anarchism or rather what was called Anarchism, was in Italy the original form of Socialism, and was rooted in the traditions of the whole people. Meanwhile the Anarchist movement, thanks to the failure of various attempts at insurrection, was already in the throes of a crisis which was to cause it serious prejudice.

If one had asked, in the mid-seventies, who were the most prominent protagonists of Anarchism in Italy, the First names to be mentioned would assuredly have been those of Andrea Costa, Carlo Cafiero, and Enrico Malatesta Only the last of these is still living, is still faithful to the old flag, Cafiero, who, after a most self-sacrificing life, died amidst the clouds of a darkened intellect had become a critic of Anarchism before he lapsed into insanity, without, however, becoming the propagandist of any other movement. It was otherwise with Andrea Costa’ In 1879 he turned his back on the Anarchist movement, and declared himself in favour of the Social Democratic policy of participation in elections, entering Parliament, etc. And at a later date, as Mayor of his native town of Imola, and as a member of the Italian Parliament, he was for years a prominent figure in the political life of Italy. Before this change in his political ideas occurred he had contracted a “free” marriage with the Russian Socialist, Anna Kulischev, and the influence of this intellectually-gifted woman, who was thoroughly familiar with the literature of German Socialism, must have contributed in no small degree to the conversion of Costa, the audacious Anarchist, into Costa, the circumspect Socialist politician. At all events, our worthy Marzotti attributed his desertion of the Anarchist cause entirely to the influence of Mme Kulischev. When he first heard the news that Costa was lost to the Anarchist cause, he excitedly raised his hands above his head, and cried repeatedly, almost in desperation: “Anna! Anna! Anna!”

However, the hour of his conversion was to strike a few years later. As early as 1880, when he came to Zurich for a few days, where we, in the meantime, had settled down, he admitted that an immediate change from a capitalist bourgeois society to an Anarchist-Communist society was not to be thought of, and that the period of transformation would probably last for some generations. It was not a very long step from this conception to agreement with the basic ideas of Social Democracy.

On the occasion of this visit Marzotti gave me a glimpse of what was with him, and probably with other of his countrymen, a ruling passion, of which I had hitherto never heard. One Tuesday morning we were walking along the Bahnhofstrasse, where the weekly market was being held. The market folk had their wares exposed for sale on the edge of the pavement. Our conversation had until then been extremely vivacious, but now it kept on falling flat, as Marzotti made no rejoinder to my remarks; which naturally damped my eloquence. It was threatening to cease altogether, when my companion suddenly exclaimed

“You must excuse me if I was rather distracted just now, but my attention was captured by a spectacle whose charm I can never resist.”

“And may I ask what this spectacle was?”

“Why, yes,” he replied, “only you mustn’t laugh.”

And he explained that what had captured his attention was the sight of the bundles of garlic which are rarely lacking among the outspread wares of the vegetable-sellers. His passion for garlic was almost uncontrollable. It was so great that in his earlier years he had often eaten garlic until his face was all sticky with it, and he himself almost intoxicated.

I was quite familiar with garlic as a condiment, although at that time I despised it even in that capacity. But that one could devour garlic without any other ingredients and even become intoxicated by it was a thing which I had never suspected.

Two Italian Socialists came from Italy during the winter of 1877-78 to pay a short visit to Lugano. Professor Osvaldo Gnocchi-Viani, then editor of the Milanese Socialist newspaper La Plèbe, was on his honeymoon, and he and his young bride made the first break in their journey at Lugano. This small, delicately-built man, I discovered, was a quiet thinker of very impartial judgment. Of quite a different calibre was our other visitor, Paolo Valera, who carne to Lugano as a fugitive from Varenna. He was a vehement, florid young man, and one saw that conflict was the breath of life to him. In the nineties, when I had pitched my tent in London, I met Valera once more, he having in the meantime become the London correspondent of one of the great Milanese newspapers – I think it was the Secolo. We met repeatedly at the house of a mutual friend, and it there occurred to me how greatly Valera’s judgment was affected by his frame of mind. About the time of my departure from London he was returning to Italy, where he founded, in Milan, a newspaper entitled La Folla (The Multitude), which, I believe, is still appearing to-day. His frequently intractable Radicalism often brought him into conflict with the leading representatives of Milanese Social Democracy, and earned his paper the malicious nickname so easily created by the change of a letter – Il Follo (The Madman). In Lugano both Gnocchi-Viani and Valera were made known to me by Benoît Malon, whom they had both sought out. And with him I come to that member of the colony of foreign Socialists with whom we had most to do during the winter of 1878-79, and to whom the greatest general interest attaches.

First, a few words as to the personality of the man. Benoît Malon, as the author of a comprehensive History of Socialism, and various other Socialistic and ethical volumes, as well as the founder and editor of the Revue Socialiste, was for many years one of the most respected representatives of contemporary Socialism in France – where amongst other things he did a great deal towards winning Jaurès for the Socialist Party. He belonged to the category of successful self-educated men. Born in the neighbourhood of Lyons, and reared as a true child of the proletariat, he came to Paris towards the end of the Empire, and then joined the organisation of the International Labour Association. He was one of the defendants in the great prosecution of the members of the Internationale, which took place at the beginning of the year 1870, and was confined, with his fellow-prisoners, in the Prison of St. Pelagic, when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. The fall of the Empire after Sedan brought him his liberty. During the siege of Paris he was busily occupied in organising the defence of the capital, and became an assessor in the Batignolles quarter of the city. At the elections of the National Convention in the beginning of 1871 he was elected as one of the deputies for Paris, but with Rochefort and others he withdrew from the “Chamber of Rustics,” as it acquiesced in the cession of Alsace-Lorraine. Despite this fact, he was, with Thiess, E. Varlin and others, one of those trusted representatives of the Parisian workers who in March 1871 did their utmost to prevent hostilities between Paris and the Versailles Government. When his efforts came to nothing, and the Commune was proclaimed in Paris, he was elected one of its members. He belonged to the Social Democratic minority on the Council, and at the time of the suppression of the Commune in the bloody days of May 1871 he was among the defenders of one of the last barricades. Some friends of his concealed him, and he escaped to Geneva, and there, during the conflict between the Autonomist Party of West Switzerland and the General Council of the Internationale in London, he took the part of the former. He was a member of the Social Democratic League founded by Michael Bakunin, and one of the trusted followers of the Russian revolutionist; but some time later he withdrew from the Bakunist movement, lived for many years in different parts of Italy, and finally settled in the Ticino, where he had his very modest home in the village of Castagnola, near Lugano.

Even in Paris Malon had worked hard to increase his intellectual accomplishments, and while he was in exile certain cultivated women who took an interest in him encouraged him in his efforts in all sorts of ways, so that his political friends began to regard him almost as a savant. For many years he lived with the writer of Socialistic novels who was known under the name of André Leo. She was a contributor to some of the more prominent Parisian newspapers; and he still maintained a literary correspondence with her when their personal relations had been dissolved, and he had found his true companion for life in a cultured Russian lady, Katerina Katkov, who was both a provident housewife and an indefatigable assistant in his literary labours. His alliance with this excellent woman was in a literary sense quite peculiarly advantageous, as she had a very fair mastery of the German language, and made him acquainted with productions of German literature which would otherwise have escaped his attention. Under her direction he himself spent some time in the study of German.

It is a curious fact that Benoît Malon had nothing attractive in his appearance. In his build and his movements there was much of the peasant, and his features were quite expressionless. Nothing about him betrayed the Frenchman of the South. A man of medium height, rather broadly built, circumspect by nature, he might equally well have come from any part of Germany. His face was broad, and his rather thick nose downright ugly. Yet he was always successful with women, had he wished to captivate them; even with those who had no lack of other adorers. This success earned him in some quarters the reputation of a woman-hunter, which he certainly was not. The women with whom he formed intimate relations were cultivated Socialists, and were older than he was. What they seemed to find attractive in him was apparently the earnest striving of the proletarian for knowledge, and his profound devotion to the Socialist movement. It was Malon the Socialist in particular who won the self-sacrificing sympathy of Katerina Katkov.

About 1878 Malon started a fortnightly publication, Le Socialisme Progresif. In this he published his History of Socialism in its first and as yet rather sketchy state. The Socialist movement in France was only just beginning to recover strength, so that the enterprise offered no hope of any financial results worth mention. Malon earned his living chiefly as book-keeper and correspondent to a wealthy French silk-grower, who lived in Castagnola, in a villa magnificently situated on the lake. It was for this reason that Malon himself lived in the village. And, as the quiet town of Lugano did not afford Karl Höchberg, who was highly nervous and subject to severe insomnia, a sufficient security against disturbing noises, Malon found a refuge for us too in Castagnola. This was a quietly situated cottage between the upper and lower portions of the village, which was still only sparsely built over. It was known as Casa in Valle. From the end of October 1878 to the beginning of April 1879, Höchberg and I were its only human inhabitants; so that, strictly speaking, our winter in Lugano was a winter in Castagnola.

From the village of Cassarate a fairly level road ran to the lower part of Castagnola, which consisted of a modest number of villas, situated on the lake, and a very narrow village street, into which the sun never shone whether in summer or winter, which ran past the backs of these villas. Another road proceeding from Cassarate, at first at a moderate gradient, but which soon became steeper, with various twists and turns, led upwards to the village of Bré, and then to the summit of Monte Bré. At a height of about 600 ft. above the lake a road turned off which led to the local church. On either side of it was a small, one-storeyed house, devoid of all adornment. One of these was inhabited by a working-class family; the other was our Casa in Valle. It belonged to the sister of the village priest, a spinster of some fifty years, by name Prudenza Prati. She lived with her brother in the presbytery by the church, and we shared with her, morning, noon, and evening, the indispensable services of her aged maid-servant. Apart from this we had no human housemates, day or night; but under the ground floor proper, on the actual level of the soil, was a stall wherein a ewe, which one day gave birth to a very short-lived lamb, led a still more lonely existence. Fortunately, the stall lay right under the kitchen, or the bleating of the sheep would have disgusted poor Höchberg with this refuge also. He would not have lost much if it had done so; the house was equipped as simply as possible, the furniture being limited to absolute necessaries. A roomy kitchen on one side of the entrance passage, and a fairly large living-room on the other side, constituted the whole of the ground floor, while upstairs were two or three bedrooms. Only the sitting-room had a practicable fireplace, and even this was in such an unfinished state that we really should have needed the experience of Prudenza and her maid to light a decent fire with the fuel at our disposal – faggots of oak, which were either insufficiently dried, or had got damp again. Höchberg accordingly suffered much from the want of external warmth, which he needed all the more as the winter was quite exceptionally cold, and in his case it was as good as useless to speak of obtaining inward warmth by means of special nourishment. Why he, who, as the eldest son of a very wealthy Frankfurt merchant, was reared in the lap of bourgeois comfort, and had the means to arrange his life as he pleased, should have endured these conditions for months at a time, only those could understand who were familiar with the unusual character and career of this peculiar man.

Karl Höchberg lost his mother very early, and was still young when his father died. His father was a man of broad intellectual views, whose villa on the Borkenheim high road was visited by all sorts of scholars and men of letters; among them the famous naturalist and Arctic explorer Payer. When in 1866 Frankfurt was forcibly Prussianised – and during the occupation General Manteuffel, who was in command, lived in the Höchbergs’ villa – Höchberg’s father obtained for his son the rights of a Swiss citizen, in order that the latter need not serve in the Prussian Army; thus following the example of many of the Democrats of Frankfurt. The Prussian Government countered this expedient by promptly expelling the youthful newly-made Swiss from Prussia. In order to have his son as near him as possible, Höchberg’s father sent him to Darmstadt, as a boarder in the house of the well-known Democrat and philosophical materialist, Dr. Ludwig Büchner, the author of Kraft und Stoff and similar works – an act significant of his way of thinking. Under this intellectual influence Karl Höchberg spent the last few years of his life at the gymnasium, and by the radicalism of the opinions developed in his school essays he not infrequently provoked the disapproval of his teachers, even though he usually obtained the highest marks for construction and subject-matter. He matriculated brilliantly, his diligence and his unusual talents being expressly recognised. In the meantime he had lost his father, and as a student was absolutely his own master. Unfortunately, for he paid no attention to his naturally delicate health, and undermined it by overwork and under-nourishment. He had chosen philosophy as his chief subject of study, but did not confine his labours to the departments of science included in his course, but extended them to as many other subjects as possible, since for him philosophy embraced sociology in its various ramifications. While under the influence of Friedrich Albert Lange and others he shook off his materialistic philosophy, turning to an idealism based upon theoretical perception, and left the sociology of Büchner and his fellows behind him in favour of a definite Socialism, which was of course conditioned above all by ethical factors. Ethical and philosophical motives led him to embrace vegetarianism, which was all the more disastrous in his case, inasmuch as owing to the neurasthenia caused by overwork he refrained from all concentrated or nourishing vegetarian foods because he believed that such gave rise to cardialgia. The amount of food which he consumed during the months of our life together was incredibly small. I might lecture him, or resort to stratagem, in order to wean him from this pernicious way of life, but all in vain; until finally, early in 1879, by means of a coup d’état, I brought about a change which could no longer be deferred. Meanwhile, as a result of Höchberg’s self-imposed starvation-cure, – for one could hardly call it anything else, – his bodily strength and his resistance to cold continually diminished.

Serious as the problem was, our situation was not without its entertaining aspects and incidents. It was impossible to get our landlady to understand what Höchberg’s vegetarianism meant. That any one should refrain from indulgence in the flesh of beasts and birds was a thing which the pious Catholic was able to understand, even though as strict an abstinence was observed on ordinary days as on the fast-days which the Church enjoined upon the faithful. But that this abstinence should extend even to refraining from fish was a thing which she was absolutely incapable of realising. Whenever we had occasion to discuss Höchberg’s meagre diet she would always inquire whether she might not at least get some fish for “Signor Carlo.” And when I replied that she absolutely must not do so, as Höchberg abstained from fish no less than from meat, on principle, the worthy Prudenza Prati would be horrorstruck, shaking her head and exclaiming, over and over again, “O the penitenza! O the penitenza!” The good Signor Carlo, who seemed such a gentle creature, must apparently, in her opinion, have had something horrible on his conscience before he could impose such a penance upon himself.

To me personally the worthy Prudenza Prati was of the greatest service. For a long time she was the only person on whom I ventured to try my broken Italian; so that she was, so to speak, my unconscious tutor. I had come to Lugano with just a few words of Italian, but no further knowledge of the language. I found it too much trouble to engage a teacher, so I provided myself with a phrase-book and a grammar, made myself familiar with the verbs, etc.; and every evening, before the lights were put out, I learned a number of words by heart, and when I had mastered one hundred and fifty to two hundred words I courageously began to engage Signora Prudenza in conversation. Little by little we got to understand one another quite well; but unhappily for my progress in the Italian tongue her visits to us were infrequent; she usually sent us our food, etc., by the old maid-servant, and it was quite impracticable to converse with any readiness with this poor creature, who suffered from every possible defect and malady of age.

In Malon’s circle, which constituted our only society, the prevailing language was French. This circle consisted, on the one hand, of Malon and his wife, with a sister and a cousin of the latter, and, on the other hand, of M. d’Arcès and his wife, and some members of their household. At the villa of Malon’s employer we spent many a social evening, at which the guests were as varied in social standing as they were in nationality.

M. d’Arcès made an unfavourable impression upon me at the outset, and what I learned of him in later years justified my first opinion of him. In his young days he had been a viveur of the approved type, and was said to have revealed himself as a reckless man of business. In his home, however, he was extremely hospitable, and even patriarchal – perhaps owing to the influence of Mme d’Arcès, who was by birth Hungarian, and of a confiding, unpretentious nature. Her maidservants and her cook nearly always participated in our evenings, and often enough there were also two workwomen, whom M. d’Arcès employed in his house to sort the silkworm eggs. One of these women had been employed for some years in Lyons, so that she spoke French, as did the cook, a native of Champagne, who was known in our circle as the Marchioness, on account of her majestic figure and her really almost elegant manners. Tall, but not too heavily built, this woman of the people behaved in such a quiet, distinguished manner in every situation that when she and her homely little mistress went marketing any one who encountered them would certainly have taken the cook for the mistress, and Mme d’Arcès for her servant.

An elderly roue is usually good company, and M. d’Arcès would have been no Frenchman if he had not known how to play the part of an affable host. So these assemblies were jovial affairs; our host was quite exceptionally proficient in casting off the cares of business, and as a good Frenchman he knew how to say something neat to everybody, as when, at the beginning of Carnival, in 1879, we surprised him, at the instigation of one of the ladies of our circle, with a little masquerade.

But it must not be supposed that our life in Castagnola consisted only of social intercourse and entertainment. The evenings in the Villa Riva were, on the contrary, merely oases in an existence which from some points of view was melancholy enough, altogether too full of serious thought and serious work.

Of this I will say more in another connection. But here is something further that partakes of the nature of an oasis.

One day I learned from Prudenza Prati that a marionette performance would be given in the village that evening. I at once made up my mind to see this; firstly, because I was interested in the life of the people, and secondly, because my Italian might profit if I kept my ears open. I obtained a description of the house where the performance was to be held, and in the evening groped my way through the unlighted village to the “theatre.” This consisted of a stage not more than a yard square, which was put up in the living-room of an ordinary farmhouse; and the performance took place by the light of a moderately large oil-lamp. Programme: Una Traggedia, followed by Una Farsa, after which there would be dancing. From the point of view of one eager for learning I got nothing for my money, despite the very low price of admittance. Of the tragedy I understood terribly little; the dialogue was to my ears so indistinctly delivered that only certain outcries, such as “O traditrice, traditrice!” and the like, and the inevitable murder at the end, enabled me to guess at the nature of the play; and the farce, which was played in dialect, was comprehensible to me only when the comic character – Menegino – gave somebody or other a cudgelling, which, to the edification of the public, happened at almost every moment. For the dance, a boy played a small barrel-organ. Each dance cost ten centimes – not for each couple, but for the whole party. It was the rule that whoever paid for the dance secured a monopoly for that occasion for himself and his friends. Infringements of this rule were strongly reprobated. This I was one day given very plainly to understand, although with notable tact.

Primitive as these “Performances with Dance” were, yet they meant, at all events, an interruption in “the eternal sameness of the days.” Moreover, I ventured to hope that my ear would become accustomed to the pronunciation of the marionette director. So I visited these shows repeatedly, and induced our friends to do the same. Those who were young, or felt so, would even foot it at the dance. Unacquainted with the before-mentioned rule, I myself was dancing, without thinking whether one of us had paid for the dance, or one of the villagers; now and again, indeed, I invited a village belle to be my partner. Then, as I was once more laying my ten centimes on the barrel-organ, a voice cried in an explanatory manner: “I Francesi!” and not a single villager rose to dance. Even when we foreigners were resting for a moment, the villagers still refrained from dancing, as though to inform us: “Now it is your turn; afterwards you must let us have ours.” “The Frenchmen,” in allusion to Malon and d’Arcès, was the collective name for us.

A little later on we used sometimes to visit a performance of a higher quality at the village of Gandria, beautifully situated on the lake. In Carnival time the daughters of the local upper ten thousand gave a theatrical performance which the Catholic parish priest had rehearsed with them. A serious drama was played in a sort of warehouse, followed by a farce, in which matters went gaily enough without the presence of Menegino and Arlequino. The priest revealed himself as an excellent prompter. The girls wore pretty costumes, and acquitted themselves with no little natural grace.

One day we paid a visit to the regular theatre at Lugano, when we saw, from the benches of the pit, some acts of an .Italian dramatisation of Sue’s Wandering Jew. As to the male actors, I will be silent. But the actress who played Adrienne de Cardoville seemed to have grown into her part, and in particular announced Fourier’s philosophy of life in a most impressive manner.

In the villages of the neighbourhood the local Saints’ days – and what locality in this country has not its patron saint! – always afforded a pretext for a festa, together with a sort of fair. We participated in a few of these festas. The best of them was the festival of the Holy Provino, falling, I think, on the 8th of March, as celebrated in the village of Agno, lying at the foot of Monte Salvatore, to the west. This is a very popular festa, which attracts large numbers of visitors from the whole surrounding district. For Höchberg and the Malon family the distance to Agno was too great, so that I was accompanied on my pilgrimage only by the French-speaking employee of M. d’Arcès and her younger brother. When we reached Agno I noted that in addition to all sorts of enticing goods a great many artificial flowers were offered for sale, and that almost all the younger visitors were wearing bunches of them; so I too bought a bunch arid gave one to my companion. She accepted it with thanks, but soon afterwards presented me with a bunch in return, and insisted that she should be allowed to pin it in place. Afterwards I learned from Malon the significance of this proceeding. The gift of flowers at the festa of San Provino has a definite symbolical meaning. If the maiden declines the bunch of flowers offered by some admiring youth, this means: “Find another maiden; I don’t want to know you.” But if she accepts it, and gives the youth a bunch in return, she gives him to understand: “I like you very well, but I won’t take you for my sweetheart.” But if she simply accepts the flowers without giving any in return she thereby declares that the youth is her chosen lover.

In the case of Angiolina, therefore, I had only won her esteem. I soon learned who the more fortunate individual was. Like other feminine members of our circle, the poor little woman was at that time head over ears in love with Karl Höchberg. But she had no better luck than I; he would have accepted the bunch of flowers from her only to give her one in return.

In Agno it struck me how quietly the people took part in the delights and entertainments of the festa. In the evening, as we were returning home, we did not meet a single drunken man on the bustling, crowded high road. I myself was in a festive mood, which would not have been damped even had I already understood the meaning of Angiolina’s “flower-language.” For although my companion was a really pretty girl, I should not at that time have dreamed of engaging upon a love-affair with a young girl without any “serious intentions.” My opinions concerning free love had remained, so far, as regards their application to myself, purely theoretical. And the serious character of the times did not allow me to entertain any “serious intentions.” I might laugh it away for a moment in the midst of cheerful society, but it was impossible for me to disregard it.

The power which opposed its veto to such forgetfulness was known as “The Exceptional Laws against Social Democracy.”



1. A “minor state of siege” was declared in political centres where there were many Socialists. (Trans.)


Last updated on 29.1.2003