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Capri in War Time (1918)

An article from the long defunct Anglo - Italian Review, October 1918. Edited by Edward Hutton, an English  Italophile who wrote several Italian travel books and featuring articles by Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda, Norman Douglas & Benedetto Croce. This piece is by one 'R.T.' an urbane writer, so far unrevealed**. Slancio means enthusiasm, abandon, élan...

If there are any spots on this earth which it is difficult to associate with war, surely Capri is one of them. To the imagination it must remain outside substantial horrors and continue the enchanted island which Shakespeare, as some think, chose as the scene of the Tempest; that 'island in the Bay of Naples' where Ferdinand and Miranda met and loved, and Caliban was teased by the dainty Ariel. And indeed in essentials Capri retains her enchantment. But yesterday, in the midst of an August calm, Prospero with a wave of his wand 'put the wild waters into a roar' and has now with a like magic allayed them. The news of the war seems far more like one of Ariel’s tricks than any incidents in the Tempest. The natural beauties of the island are accentuated by the diminution of artificial accessories. The moon shines with exceptional brightness in spite of regulations as to lighting. The summer flowers bloom with the usual luxuriance and the pergolas are heavy with the grapes. There is a same crush at the corner of the Caprese Fenchurch Street, namely the Piazza, where the people assemble for the arrival of the boat, now, indeed, only an evening occurrence and liable to interruption owing to the demand for tonnage.

And the islanders are the same delightful people, true democrats as they have always been, courteous without servility, respectful to the respectable, and with a charming Christian pity towards the unfortunate. Here rank is neither despised nor exploited, and money, while profited by with pleasure, purchases no regard. Perhaps it is because the Capresi have never had an aristocracy that they are not angry with it nor obsequious to it when it comes from the Continent: perhaps because they have no native millionaires they are slightly cold towards wealth. Good nature and civility are all they give and all they expect. Excess of all kinds they affect not to notice, but beneath a courteous exterior they remain acutely critical. You may leave your doors open all day and all night and roam the island at all hours of the twenty-four with impunity, for the natives retain a primitive honesty, save only in the matter of growing fruit. But that also is a primitive failing, for was it not a matter of a fruit laden tree which caused the trouble to our first parents?

And yet in spite of outward appearances Capri bears its war burden with the rest of the world. The most visible sign is little 'escort' which accompanies the infrequent vessel and looks from the high piazza like one of those tin toys which children float in baths. The boat which takes you to your favourite bathing place is warned to stand further out if it hugs the shore too closely at certain points. You know that the food supply is difficult and that the poor are sometimes hard put to it, while the richer are learning 'how the poor live' and think themselves lucky in doing so. The island has given its full toll to the casualty lists and some Capresi boys are prisoners in Austria. One old lady went daily to the post office for news of her son of whose death none had had the courage to tell her. She could not read and was dependent on gossip, and gossip, for once, fell silent in her presence. But the spirit and determination of the islanders are all that they should be, more than one might expect of so remote a place, so innocent of politics, so unstained by intrigue. There are perhaps some people who have imagined that the south of Italy is less wholehearted in taking up this burden. But such is not the case. The bravery and slancio of the Neapolitans have become notorious, equally so with those of the Sicilians and Sardinians whose valour is as a fierce fire on the field of battle. Those soft eyes light up before the foe, those sweet manners give no quarter till surrender; but to their prisoners they are very kind. Nor is there any sentiment among them. Indeed one man, a very important figure in the Neapolitan world, told me that what many of them feared was that England and America might stay their hands from the last blow from sentiment and humanitarianism. Germany was the criminal and Germany must pay, he said. He mapped out the course to be traversed and it stretched over three more years–barring the possibility of swifter developments which all hope for. I confess I was surprised. He was not an outsider, he has three sons whom he loves passionately in the fighting line. And a Sicilian naval officer, himself twice nearly a victim, was of the same stout opinion, which is shared by most of these southerners. Of course the womenfolk of the island don’t think like this, one wouldn’t wish them to, at least I shouldn’t. They cannot help but hope timidly 'that it will be over soon' without much reference to 'how,' nor knowing much what it is all about. And, indeed, how many of us, men and women are in like case! All the more honour to the brave men who so nobly do what is asked of them and to the women who are so patient in waiting. But the thinking people, here as elsewhere, want to make it impossible for the world ever to be asked again to bear a like burden. One only hopes that when it is over, and for good, people will try not to be quarrelsome among themselves, and try forbearance and concession instead of opposition and the making of bad blood with printers ink. Capri by the way, has no newspaper. [R. T.]

** Almost certainly Reginald "Reggie" Turner (1869– 1938)  English author (novelist) an aesthete and a member of the circle of Oscar Wilde. He also contributes a longer obituary to the Review, under his full name, of Herbert Horne, a 90s figure (poet, art writer, architect) associated with The Rhymers Club and Selwyn Image etc., This may be worth transcribing soon as it is not to be found on the web...

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