I have a little book of essays and poems written by eminent lawyer, politician and High Court Judge, Lord Darling after he retired from the bench in 1923. Published in 1933, the material originally appeared in a variety of newspapers such as The Times.
Interesting snapshots of a bygone world, one is a report of a conversation he had in Italy about the impact of Italian Fascism on the Mafia - In The Conca D'Oro.
Near Palermo is a little village named Mondello, and on the balcony of the club there I sat with the one man left of a party who had lunched together.
“You may well be proud, Marchese, of the beauties of your island,” said I, looking from the sea in front to the hills about us, and back to the walls of the ruined castle on the headland.
“Yes, here ‘the tints of the earth and the hues of the sky, in colour though varied in beauty may vie,’ as your Lord Byron wrote,” he replied.
“'Tis the ‘land of the sun. Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done’?" I continued. “But tell me now of the Mafia, Marchese. Its associates meant well in the beginning, didn’t they, and stood up against the tyrants of old time?”
“Merely to become the worst tyrants themselves – and that long ago, when there were great ones. But thanks to our present Prefetto, their days are done. We may speak freely.”
The two men continue their talk, the Marchese attributing the current, much more law-abiding times to Fascism.
“Now that is all changed, and to Signor Mori and to the Duce, who sent him here, is due the credit. It is but a few weeks since at Termini Immerse, and near here, about one hundred and fifty Mafiosi were tried and convicted of crimes which they had committed – some long ago – before the Fascisti had arisen to inculcate a love of ‘the liberty of wise restraint,’ upon whose merits, unknown till now, hundreds of murderers, robbers, and blackmailers are now reflecting in the ample Carceri of Palermo, and on various islands.”
In a final burst of enthusiasm, Lord Darling's companion adds -
“Signore, I hold that the lesson of devotion to the State, along with iron discipline to ensure it – which is Fascismo – will soon be learned, and will altogether supplant that lawless egoism which is Mafismo. With good teachers – and now we have them – to learn must be easy.”
It was another world. Lord Darling died in 1936, before World War II shattered the hopes and illusions he and the Marchese shared that day.