No. 234.
Mr. Marsh to Mr. Fish.

No. 407.]

Sir: The session of the Italian parliament which has just closed has been a successful one for the administration, and the action of the national legislature at its first meeting at the new capital has been in the main satisfactory to the people of Italy.

No new line of public policy has been struck out; no really important legislative measure adopted by the parliament or brought forward by the ministry; critical and exciting questions have been discreetly postponed to future sessions, and thus the political machine will gain time for the spontaneous adjustment of its working to the new conditions in which it is placed, and many points difficult to dispose of in advance by legislation will have virtually settled themselves before parliament is required to pronounce upon them.

The session, however, has not been without important political results. Among these are a more general conviction that the transfer of the seat of government to Borne was a political necessity; that Rome will continue to be the permanent national capital, and that the papacy has henceforth little political significance. The physical disadvantages of the position of the seat of government are indeed formidable. A capital in the center of a desert fifty miles square—for such is the Campagna—must be subject to great material inconveniences, and when we remember that without extraordinary and expensive precautions its climate and that of its environs is most unhealthy for more than a third of the year, and that a considerable proportion of the city is subject to frequent and disastrous inundations, we cannot but admit that few European royal residences are so unfortunately situated.

The enormous cost of living, rapidly increased by the growing influx of strangers, by the augmentation of the stationary population, which is stated to have already added forty thousand new inhabitants to its numbers since the 20th of September, 1870, and by the heavy octroi duties upon every article of consumption imported within the walls, is a very serious evil both to the government and the citizens of Rome, and some measures of relief from these inconveniences must at all hazards be adopted.

Many plans for the amelioration of the health of the city and the surrounding country, for the removal of other local obstacles to its prosperity, and for facilitating the communication by railway between the capital and the provinces, have been suggested, but no comprehensive system of improvement has been adopted, and there is serious danger that, from want of means and from a natural impatience to afford some relief, the government and the municipality of Rome will content themselves with half measures, temporary expedients, which will furnish no radical cure for any of the evils I have alluded to.

In spite of all these discouraging circumstances the people of Italy, and especially the new population which is flocking into Rome from all parts of the kingdom, have a firm faith in the material fortunes of the new capital, and not only are arrangements in progress for building on [Page 517] an extensive scale, but the price of real estate has risen in a proportion and with a rapidity of which I have not seen an example even in the most flourishing towns of the United States.

The public debt necessarily imposes heavy burdens of taxation on the people, and the national treasury does not realize by any means the full amount of taxes legally chargeable. At the same time agriculture, in spite of many drawbacks, is prosperous, commerce increasing, and manufactures, especially in silk, are reviving after a long depression.

On the whole, then, the first year of the complete reconstitution of Italy ends encouragingly, and I see no reason to doubt her future rapid progress in strength, wealth, and importance in the European political system.

I have, &c.,