22. To Seminarian Joseph Riccio

My Riccio, most dear and most pungent17,

18 and so I offer you a million reasons.  I’ve been lazy, it’s true.  I’ve sinned by neglect, I grant you. There is no satisfactory excuse I can offer — Here I make a distinction: an excuse that would be sufficient to totally protect me from your every censure, yes, but one that could be sufficient to gain me a tiny bit of compassion, no… So? So, without going into lengthy details along the lines of the scholastic and Socratic method, I will go right to the heart of the matter with an honest explanation of my past and present situation. Are you satisfied? Come on, quit being such a rigidus exactor.19 We always need a little compromise, and much more so when friends are involved. It’s agreed then.

I received your first letter at the end of August. That was just when all the commotion began in my house. An interminable line of visitors then began to besiege me without respite. It was a continuous processing to my doorstep: Binelli, Vincent Marello, Marescotto, the soldier Molino, the seminarian Molino, uncles from Turin, friends of the family, cousins from the capital, the Parochial Vicar, the Theologian Elia.,20 Vandero and his cousins,21 etc. Add to all this an unending series of letters and newspapers coming from all over + the question of the Capital which filled my house with an enormous number of newspapers of every persuasion, booklets, newsletters, frightened outsiders + Binelli’s Mass + the arrival of Bishop Balma, the lawyer Arrò the Canons Cerruti and Molino, etc… + being in charge of the inscriptions on the triumphal arch and on the church + the matter of the draft + a thousand other things which for the sake of brevity I’ll leave in the inkwell. You’ll say that this enumeration of disparate events smells of exaggeration even from a mile away. No, my dear friend, it is the unadulterated truth. The question of the provisional government was really a terrible double blow, striking both the politician in me and my personal self-interest — a politician and an amateur in political economy, I saw my theories of economic rotation thrown off balance — as the interested landlord of a house in Turin, I was burdened by fear of the reduction of rent rates. So as you see, the French-Italian agreement was a matter of considerable consequence for me; it was enough to keep me apprehensive for over a week until I received news of compromises and compensations. Binelli’s Mass22 also played its part. For almost two weeks Bishop Balma’s visit transformed the most ordinary and peaceful town of San Martino into a motion-filled city preparing for some type of centenary celebration. Everyone was busy doing his part — the Municipality drawing up the welcome greeting — the Pastor preparing the Rectory — the Sacristan cleaning the Church — the Gardeners, the Masons, Blacksmiths, Hangers, Detailers to prepare the Triumphal arch and ornamental decorations — the Seminarian Marello to be the inscriptionist — all the clergy to prepare the people — the school officials to teach the children the customary songs. In short everything was in motion… The solemn celebrations were a stupendous success — imagine, the pastor’s dinners seemed just like the second revised and corrected edition of Apicius’s supper “in the times of the false and deceitful gods.” What spoiled the fun a little was a certain phlebotomist who came around trying to interpret my inscription in the same way he lances boils, and the lazy wretch lanced it for me in barbarous fashion. Lazy wretch! Go “shave beards and treat buboes” for that is your real profession, but stop displaying your extraordinary stupidity — you Beast! Because you read on the inscription the words fatherland, tireless, and zealot, you dare to tell the four corners of the earth that it is a battle cry, an anti-nationalist motto, a… You must be nursed by the devil or by a beast of burden. If you don’t know how to read, go back to grammar school and start trying the alphabet with the children again, but don’t come out with the asinine idea that the fatherland is defenseless23 and that Balma is therefore an enemy of the fatherland… Let’s end this because my blood is beginning to reach the boiling point — in any case the storm has now blown over, the persecution did not draw blood, and thanks be to God, I slipped out of this without the crown of Martyrdom.

The question of the draft was not less complicated. Now I am at peace, but a few days ago I was still under the curse of not knowing the outcome of the lottery. Here too persecution was involved, and it was a persecution incited by that ugly stump of a phlebotomist who right from the headquarters of his boasting — his barbershop — had the audacity to make everyone (including me) believe that my Number for the draft was…5. Imagine my affliction… and for two whole days I was under the cruel deception that the Number drawn from the fatal lottery had been 5. Now I have found out the truth — my number has not fewer than three digits…one..hun..dred..twen..ty..eight — and that impudent wretch had the temerity to spread the story about five — May God save you from certain oddballs.

On top of all these things, add the visit of Vandero and Surra24 — the fatiguing preparation for the upcoming theology examination25 — my brother’s tertian fever and 100 other similar perplexities.26


  1. He affectionately jokes about the surname of his seminarian friend, which in Italian means “chestnut husk.” The seminarian Joseph Riccio was born in Agliano (1842). He became a priest with Marello on September 19, 1868. He was parochial vicar at Costigliole of Asti and at Portacomaro, Pastor at Albugnano, and, towards 1900, Canon of the Cathedral of Asti. He died January 24, 1924. (Cfr. Letter 40). 

  2. The letter begins with a meaningful series of periods. 

  3. “such an unpardoning collector”, that is, “so harsh and demanding.” 

  4. The Theologian Louis Paul Elia was born in Poirino (Turin) in 1827. He received his degree in theology from the state university in Turin in 1851. Ordained a priest in 1852, he was rector of the Congregation of the Most Holy Annunciation in Turin. During the summer, he used to stay in San Martino Tanaro, along with his elderly mother and his sister Virginia. He had been a friend of the Marello family and of Joseph for some time. In 1866, he began teaching theology in the seminary of Asti and was prefect of the theologians, being incardinated into the Diocese of Asti 

  5. The Italian specifies that the cousins are female. 

  6. Fr. Antonio Binelli of Artignano became a priest on September 24, 1864 and was assigned to the parish of Montaldo Scarampi. 

  7. Cfr. note 14 on the previous letter. 

  8. The seminarian Surra from Tigliole. He became a priest on September 21, 1867. 

  9. The examinations for theology and Canon Law were held on November 3 and 4 on reentry intothe seminary. 

  10. The letter ends here, but it probably continued with one or more pages which have been lost.