44. To Seminarian Stephen Rossetti

My dear friend,

I have received with the greatest pleasure your most polished letter written in the grand language — that is, in the worldwide language of France. Apart from French self-conceit, I have to tell you that this language pleases me and that having written to me in French, you have given me the satisfaction of reading four pages from a friend written in the clear and attractive style of the inimitable Fenelon.35 You are smiling? Let me give you than a few words of clarification. I never could set my mind to begin reading this golden book, “Adventure of Telemachus”, but this is exactly what I did and, after the boredom of the first pages, I began to experience in my reading something which was not boredom any more and little by little this something was approaching the pleasure of an enjoyable reading. By the end, my heart was full of emotion and my mind was inebriated with the story of those great things so ineffably depicted.

Oh, what richness of wisdom, what strength of counsel, what gentleness of love in that book! I bless the great French prelate who conceived such a stupendous poem of ancient greatness, but I also bless the French language which not always dresses itself in whore’s clothing, prostituting itself in trivialities and does not always offer itself to be used to express the impudence and the aberrations of a shameless coterie of demagogues, but dressed in beautiful and heavenly splendor, sings of triumphs of virtue and magnificently expresses the counsels of wisdom…

Allow me then to tell you that, in reading your opinion of Michelet,36 the mind still excited by the beautiful pages of “Telemachus”, I felt like I was reading one of those beautiful passages of the French novel in which the great writer with the powerful flight of an eagle rises to meditate upon the various contingencies of the human family. If you have not as yet suspected it, I may now tell you the reason for which I do not answer you in French…Everything considered, if by writing to you what I am writing now will take me a couple of hours, by writing to you in French, it would take me at least two days. I am not far from the truth, am I? A couple of days…and then? And then I would not be able to say everything I wanted to, nor half of it, ruining, corrupting, abusing a language in which I am worse than a beginner…Let us not waste time: Let’s go on. It is ten thirty p.m.; I am writing in my little bedroom while the others are asleep in the placid sleep of the night. The shame of having delayed, as you have done, to write to a friend giving him the latest news, has forced me to answer you immediately as soon as I received your letter, without wasting any time. The reasons why I did not write to you are the following. The fundamental reason: chronological summery of all the things that happened after our separation at Villafranca: arrived in Turin; met Motta; on Thursday met Gay; on Friday, Vandero, Faggiani, Lusana, etc.,37 on Saturday, the departure of Motta; on Sunday, did not see anybody; on Monday, departure of Lusana, visit to Elia and general confession; on Tuesday, sickness which obliged me to defer my departure to Wednesday; departure and arrival at San Martino after various travel incidents; sickness; visit to the doctor and prognosis of a relapse of typhoid fever; eight days of strict medical care; peace of mind, water and diet; get well visits, other formalities and various annoyances, etc., etc. So this is my fundamental reason. After my recovery I was unable to write immediately to my friends (you are the first) and I tried first of all to fill that great moral void in which my sickness had left me and the disconcerted feeling of having left Turin without having been able to say goodbye to anyone. Let’s not even speak of the physical void because it was just horrible. It took me no less that a week of jaw work to get over it and during this time I dismantled almost a kilo of bread a day.38

You should also know that the absolute rest from any mental occupation during that one week period made my poor brain wander continually in some state of semi-consciousness dreaming of friends, trips, conversations, plans, hopes, doubts, uncertainties, difficulties, emotions, sorrows, and vicissitudes of this wretched human life.

At time this lethargy was complete, and the sleep which would come to lift me out from this semi-consciousness would hurl me into a vortex of visions more fantastic and more strange than the first. I was dreaming about being with Motta; we were talking and then we would go far, far away, as the words faded, the eyes became brilliant and seemed to reveal the harmonizing internal light of our thoughts. I dreamed I was with you on top of the highest mountain gazing into breathtaking depths of the abysses, and all of a sudden we were seated next to our beds late at night. Our voices were animated and our hearts were beating hard in the allurement of golden hopes in a future not too far away…And then you would disappear from my side, I was alone, the solitude would increase even more; everything would fade, I would hear nobody anymore around me, I would feel no need for anybody; and finally I would fall into a peaceful and tranquil sleep until I would wake to make an inventory of the visions I had dreamed.

You can easily imagine therefore, how difficult it was to get back to my books, to old habits, and to regain my former state. How many difficulties! I didn’t feel like doing anything. I had planned to do some reading in French, Ah, I was not able to get started in any way. I had planned to make an inventory of all my papers and to put them in order, but I did not have any stomach for this either.

I had brought with me from Turin a new French book in six volumes on the spirit of history and on the method to study it (if you want to read it…Do I have to tell that it is at your disposal?). It was like trying to make a hole in the water: over one simple page I distorted my mouth in a hundred yawns and I finally put it in a corner of the bookshelf so that I would not have it under my eyes any more.

Vandero used to send me regularly “The Turin”, “The Emporium”, “The Illustrated”, “The Devil” and sometimes “The Cavour”, “The Ass”, etc. … No sir, there was no way I could get interested in anything. Do you know where all my pleasures were? I’ll give you a hundred guesses… They were in my bed, sleeping like a log. I spent some days in this state of pure and sheer vegetation and then to ask myself, “Oh, my Pinottino39, what game are we playing? If you have in mind to spend your life by doing nothing you are greatly mistaken; this is a novelty which must have its end. Now then, take courage; you have to do something —  make your choices but hurry and start doing something. From a small beginning greater things will come; what is important is that you begin…”  And I began and I succeeded: I have already read “Telemachus” and many other books and now I am working full speed on more important things; you have read Michelet and I am now gathering notes for a project of which what the French philosopher and historian is treating is only a part and a single episode.40

I expressed myself badly by saying that I am now gathering, because actually I have already gathered the notes for a long tine. See, the last three years, I have been examining the ills of society and now I am only coordinating these notes into a great principle, into one fundamental idea which should be like the soul, like the center of the canvas.

When I went to Turin, I gathered the last notes which are connected to the first of two years back. Therefore, by the end of this vacation I hope I will be able to complete my research on this matter and have a finished work, if God will give me strength, courage and patience.

Now I will give you some news from Turin. Gay passed two of his exams successfully: those of college and those for his license — lucky him. I met Parruccati41 and, interpreting your wishes, I gave him your regards. I went to listen to Bardessono42 the courageous, the terrible Bardessono, the oracle of the ladies of Turin. Your eyes are wide open…Then let me tell you. Bardessono is a young priest, noble and good looking; noble not of a first class nobility but yet of that kind which is sufficient, conjointly with his ministry, to give him an opening into the best families of Turin; handsome with the beauty, as they say, of youth: freshness and liveliness. His conferences have a mixture of Lacordaire43 (from whom he has adopted the name of conferences), of the Dominican Romanini and of Giordano44; add to it a little touch of studied rhetoric, delivered with courage and energy.

He describes in true colors the life of the high society (since he preachers to the high society). He moralizes like a Savanarola45 and castigates the vices of the present generation with a frankness which is quite original. If you would have heard him when he spoke of calumny (I heard him preaching this sermon)… — He depicted it as the terrible subverter of public peace and turns on the calumniators threatening them with the tremendous responsibility of their evil whispered words — oh, you would take him for the terrible friar of Florence when he was turning the people away from their vices with the threat of the wrath of God.

But, when you see him, all sweetness and honey, appealing to endearing words for the ladies’ self-respect, begging them to donate their pendants, bracelets, and watches to adorn the church (he collected from them once in rings, bracelets, watches, etc., more than five thousand lire); when you see him from time to time move his intense and penetrating gaze from place to place and touching on his breast the tassel of his stole to show that delicate and well shaped hand of his, oh, then you too would say that the exalted and spiritualized minds of the female sex have to sympathize with that beautiful creature, who, from that pulpit with those moving and warm words makes their breasts beat with the emotions of everything that is good and beautiful. Things have gone so far that the gentle Turinese ladies in the last day of the month of Mary in the church of the Martyrs46 had the parapet of the pulpit covered by thousands upon thousands of sweet-smelling roses patterned in a beautiful harmony of colors and alternating at intervals with roses of greater size.

Oh, gentle thought to make sure that that delicate little hand would not rest on the rough wood but upon a soft patter of intertwining flowers put together with long labor and great love by his adoring listeners. Things went so far that one day, to honor our Lady, at one point in his talk he commanded everybody to kneel and he was obeyed; on another occasion he commanded all to bring with them to the sermon on the next day a rose and he was obeyed — on another time he commanded that for the feast of Corpus Christi all the families of Doragrossa street must put out [on their windows and balconies as a sign of festivities] their tapestries and woe to those who did not; he would have had them shamed in public, and he was obeyed. To such a point did things come that under the porticoes are displayed his pictures portrayed in large and small sizes, in one pose and in another, in color and not in color. Do you have enough of this little piece of history? The time passes: it is now sometime since the eleventh hour has struck slowly through the space which separates the hill and the belfry of Govone47 from my little room; from my mouth has exhaled little by little the smoke of a cigar which reminds me of the brevity of time in which fate unrolls the thread of our life. From the room next to mine comes the light sound of breathing of one sleeping there…I go to the window and I see nature, or rather do not see nature, tacitly intent on her work of vegetation, of the great gestation which takes place within her womb.

Rossetti, let us come back to us. Your letter reminds me of something which I consider as one of my most beautiful remembrances.

Some months back at this time we were working under a little light encouraging each other to patiently put up with and face the hardship of our lack of rest. At time we talked for awhile; at other times we were lost in our thoughts.

Oh, those talks and meditations were not useless! I treasure within my heart all the words which are said between friends and I will print them there so as never to forget them.

Now God be with you, my dear friend; I will not say good night because it is too late for that and I’m allowed to think that by this time your head is already resting on the pillow of repose; I will await that your eyes will open to the kiss of the morning; I will say “good morning” and I will wish you a good beginning in the tasks of the day. Goodbye. Write to me soon and open to me confidently your heart because you already know that the letters of Rossetti are always well received as messages of peace.

 

Your Devoted Friend,

Joe

 

PS. Forgive me if I have made any mistake and perhaps did not make any sense at times. I hastily put down on paper the string of the thoughts that were crowding my mind in a confused manner. I will write soon to Faggiani and we will make plans for the outing; I will bring then the volume of Assedio. Say “hello” for me to those whom you will see. Write right away and at length. Goodbye. I received your letter on the evening of August 1st48 — I have not received yet the books which you say you have mailed with the letter; I believe, however, that this is only a postal delay.


  1. Francois Fenelon (1651 — 1751), French writer, prelate, and liberal Theologian whose theories and publications became the basis of profound political and cultural changes in France. The Adventures of Telemachus (1699) is a political novel expressing the concept that the king exists for his subject. This book for which Fenelon is best known also expresses an ardent denunciation of war and a belief in the fraternity of all nations.. 

  2. Jules Michelet (1798 — 1874), French historian. An incisive and prolific writer with republican and anticlerical tendencies, he was widely read during his lifetime. 

  3. For C.E. Motta, cf. Letter # 53; for Vandero, cf. Letter #1. Anthony Faggiani from Villafrancad’Asti, a friend and classmate of Marello, ordained on September 19, 1868. Assigned as an associate pastor in Frinco, he became later pastor of Chiusano. Bishop Marello appointed him to be his representative for the spiritual taking possession of the Acqui diocese on June 18, 1889 (Cf. Letter # 152). Severino Lusana, fromViarigi, was ordained priest on December 22, 1866, and later became pastor of Scurzolengo, James Gay, ex-seminarian from Tagliole d’Asti, became professor of literature in Asti. 

  4. Marello had already contracted typhoid fever in Turin in December 1863 after he had left the seminary. This sickness had brought him to the brink of death and he recovered only through a special intervention of the Virgin Mary after which he had committed himself to go back to the seminary. The tripto Turin, the relapse and recovery that he talks about in this letter must have occurred in the three last weeks of July. 

  5. Another popular name for Giuseppe (Giuseppino…Pinottino). 

  6. It was Marello’s plan to write a book that would bring together political, historical, and economic elements. The following paragraphs give a more detailed description of his plan for the book. The book, however, was never finished and the notes for it have been lost. Cfr. Letter  9 also. 

  7. Ex-seminarian James Parruccati was native of Villa San Secondo. 

  8. Cfr. also Letters 35, 36. 

  9. Jean B.H. Lacordaire (1802-1861), French Dominican priest, the greatest Roman Catholic preacher of the day. 

  10. Romanini and Giordano, the greatest preachers in Piedmont during Marello’s times. Cfr. also Letter 35. 

  11. Jerome Savanarola (1452 — 1498), Italian Dominican preacher and reformer, whose zealous attempts to uproot corruption in Florence ended in his being burned at the stake as a heretic. 

  12. The Church of the Holy Martyrs in Turin, Doragrassa Street (now Garibaldi Street). 

  13. The town of Govone is the nearest to San Martino. 

  14. The response was sent on August 2nd, according to the postmark