After centuries of darkness following the fall of the Roman Empire benighted Italy was the first to reopen her eyes and usher in the dawn of brighter and better days. Her cities, grown independent and great, became marts of commerce, her citizens merchant princes. They opened up the trade with India through Constantinople, Trebizond, and Persia, and were for many ages the medium of communication between the warlike nations of Europe, and the luxurious and enervated inhabitants of the East Venice, Genoa, and other Italian cities hold vast fleets, with which they traded to all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean and Euxine Seas, to Western Europe, and to the Moorish cities on the Atlantic.
Flax was imported from Egypt and other countries, or raised at home, and the Linen trade formed an important part of their domestic industry. With the fall of the proud republican cities the manufactures of Italy languished and died, but in modern times it has somewhat revived, and the new regime may, by and bye, consolidate and extend it. In various parts of Italy, Flax and Hemp are largely cultivated, not only for the native manufactures of the country, but also for export. Many of the districts of that beautiful country, a land of sunny skies and fertile soil, are admirably adapted for the growth of these textile fibres, and some of them produce both Flax and Hemp of the very finest quality. The Hemp of Bologna, of Ferrara, of Cesena, of Ascoli, and of Naples, is highly esteemed. Not less so is the Flax of the provinces of Cremona, of Lodi, and of Brescia in Lombardy, and of other places. At Solerno, and in some other districts, the cultivation of Flax is of recent date, but it is making some progress. In the mountainous regions of Lombardy and Venetia, Flax and Hemp are grown chiefly for native use, but a little of both, and also some cloth, are exchanged with the Milanese and other low countries for the produce and fabrics of these places. According to the Italian Statistical Annual for 1857, the production of raw Hemp had risen in Italy, in round number, to 40,000,000 kilogrammes, which at £2 17s the 100 kilogrammes gives an annual value of £1,120,000, one-half of which applies to Bologna, Ferrara, and Cesena. Some competent valuers estimate the total quantity raised at 50,000,000 kilogrammes, allowing to Piedmont and the Neapolitan Provinces about 10,000,000 more than is given in the report It would thus appear that the total quantity annually raised in Italy is close upon 50,000 tons. About 16,000 tons are exported to Switzerland, Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal, the remainder being required to supply the inland consumption.
In order to be productive, requires numerous special conditions as regards soil, water courses, &c., which very much restricts its limits, and localizes it in particular places, sometimes very remote from each other. The provinces of Bologna and Ferrara are not only the centre of the Hemp production in the north, but also that of the best methods of cultivation. They yield the best produce, and amongst them the giant Hemp (Canopa gigante), which has been much approved in the various International Exhibitions. The Bolognese Hemp almost rivals Flax, and is distinguished by its whiteness, brilliancy, softness, and divisibility of fibre. The Ferrarese Hemp is of long staple, more tenacious, and well adapted for sacking, sailcloth, and cordage. The Hemp of Cesena, Venice, Piedmont, and the south partakes more of the nature of the Bolognese. In the Hemp growing districts of the north of Italy very great attention is paid to it in every stage of its progress. The preparation of the soil is of primary importance, as the crop always corresponds to the care bestowed upon it It is ploughed and reploughed in autumn, and in many places spade husbandry, auxiliary to the plough, is adopted. Before sowing the soil is broken and levelled by machines adapted for the purpose, and then divided into beds. The refuse of the stable has always been considered as normal and necessary manure, but prepared and other manure is used by some growers. The management of the supply of water requires care, and various contrivances have been adopted for its proper regulation. Under favourable circumstances Hemp grows in some districts to a prodigious height, and some specimen stalks of Farrarese have been shown from sixteen to twenty feet in length. Betting is the most difficult and the most important of all the operations with Hemp, and it is performed in lakes, ponds, and running streams. Artificial pits or pools are considered best, and almost every grower has his own pits, excavated in the lowest part so as to collect the rain water. When near rivers or canals the water in the pits is changed when the process of maceration has made some progress, which makes it easy to regulate the fermentation, and it prevents the matter formed during the maceration from being deposited. With the same object, where the water cannot be run off it is drawn off by pumps or other means, and fresh water supplied. The quality and quantity of the water, the temperature, the quality of the Hemp, and the care of the grower, contribute essentially to the success of the retting process. To prevent deterioration to the stalk, and to preserve the greatest suppleness and freeness to the fibre, is the great object to be attained, and to secure this with the greatest uniformity possible the Hemp is assorted into sizes. The earth of the retting pits is carried to the fields to furnish fertilizing matter, and thus the crop is less exhausting to the soil than it would otherwise be. The nauseous miasma given off while the Hemp is in the steep, although disagreeable, is not deleterious either to men or animals. In scutching, the stems are first crushed by machinery, then beaten either by hand with the common brake, or by machinery constructed for the purpose and moved by animals. The latter operation detaches the fibres from the wood, after which they are straightened with a long toothed comb, and made up into bundles, which completes the practical operation of the grower. The wood is valuable for charcoal used in the manufacture of gunpowder and artificial fireworks. Before being'exported the Hemp is carefully picked and selected into different qualities, suitable for the various purposes to which it is applied. It is then packed into bales by means of common or hydraulic presses, and this process gives the Hemp greater brightness and flexibility. Hemp softening is carried on to some extent in Italy. A large spinning work has been established for about twelve years near Bologna. It is now being extended, and will contain 4000 spindles, and consume nearly 900 tons of Hemp yearly. There are some small hand-loom weaving establishments in various parts of the country, but none of great extent. The trade, both in spinning and weaving, is almost wholly of a domestic character, and gives employment to a large number of people.
Flax has been cultivated in Italy for a much longer period than Hemp, it having been grown extensively before the Christian era, and when Hemp was but little known. It is now reared in many parts of the country, but not largely in any one district, and this renders it very difficult to collect complete statistical details respecting it. According to the Statistical Annual referred to, the production reaches in round numbers fully 20,000 tons. The Flax cultivated is of two kinds, the winter and the summer sorts. The winter Flax is sown in October and gathered in June, and it yields about six hundred-weight of seed and nearly three of fibre an acre. The summer Flax is sown in May and watered abundantly, and it produces only about four hundred-weight of seed and three of fibre an acre. In the rotation the winter crop is made to succeed the harvest of corn, and the summer Flax the grass crop. The production of Flax, as well as the methods of cultivating it, differ greatly in different localities. In some districts the Flax when pulled is put into sheaves and dried in the sun, after which it is thrashed to get the seed. It is afterwards put into pits or in running water to steep. In some places where there is no water for steeping, the Flax is cultivated exclusively for the seed, and the stalks burned in the kilns. In various districts the cultivation of the soil is divided among different parties, each of whom performs some special part of the operation. The farmer furnishes horses, pays the seed in advance, Ac.; the cultivator and his family sow the seed, root up the Flax, Ac.; and the peasants have each his allotted work under both. The quit-rent ground (terratico) is either a pertica or a half-pertica, in one of those fields in which the rotation of the Flax crop happens to take place. This part of the Flax serves the family of the peasant, and his women take exclusive care of the ground for it, and of its cultivation even until it is spun. In the mountainous regions of Lombardy and Venetia some Flax and Hemp are grown for native use, and some cloth and Hemp is exchanged with the Milanese and other Low Countries for their produce and fabrics. In the eastern part of Lodi and Crema the finest Flax is cultivated, and it is exported to foreign countries by way of Venice and Genoa. The Flax of Cremona is shorter and coarser in the fibre than that ot Lodi and Crema. In the Milanese and Pavian districts Flax forms one crop in a nine year's rotation, and after the Flax crop is reaped there comes the second harvest, caltalthe minuto, or Bmaller crop, which comprehends millet, vegetables, and beans. In Brescia, Mantua, Verona, Vicenza, and some other places, there are manufactures of Linen, but they are not sufficient for the domestic consumption of the country, and have to be supplemented by large importations. At the commencement of the seventeenth century the Flax trade was of greater importance in the province of Brescia than it now is, as at that period about 1500 tons were annually exported, while at the commencement of the present century it was only about one-fourth of that quantity. At present about 300 hand-looms are employed in weaving Linens in Brescia, the value of the cloth made being about £20,000 annually. Two centuries ago there was a great trade in Linen thread at Solo, but it has now been lost. The separation of Venetia from Lombardy, and the Austrian tariff, have inflicted much injury on the Linen trade of these provinces, although M. Zanardilli states that the manufacture of Flax in Lombardy still gives employment to 300,000 women, who work at their own homes, spinning by the ancient mode of distaff and spindle, and earning scarcely two pence a day. There are, however, Flax-spinning mills at Capaccio, Olme, and Melagnano in Lombardy, employing about 12,000 spindles, and making about 1100 tons of yarn yearly. There is only one Linen power-loom work in Italy, and there both Flax and Tow goods are manufactured, but it is not of great extent In Modena, Hemp and some Flax are cultivated, and Linen and canvas are among the few manufactures of this district Hemp and Flax are also raised in Lucca, and both these articles are exported to some extent In Piedmont, some Hemp and a little Flax is produced, but not enough for the limited local consumption, as the importation exceeded the exportation in 1857 by about 880 tons. Common Linens, canvas, and cordage, are made in Genoa, and some other towns, but excepting for domestic purposes this is not a manufacturing country. In the Island of Sardinia a small quantity of Flax is grown, and about 1000 cantors (70 tons) of it exported annually, the rest being used in the Linen manufactures of the country. The quantity of Hemp annually produced in Continental Sardinia represents a yearly value of £400,000 to £500,000, but it is not sufficient for the wants of the country. The Flax grown there is of much less value than the Hemp. In Parma and Tuscany there are almost no manufactures of Linen, and very little Flax is grown in either place. Any manufactures of Flax are done in the country districts, and they are almost exclusively for the ordinary wear of the peasants. In what was formerly the Papal States some Flax and Hemp are grown, and, both being indigenous to the country, are of very superior qualify, but neither are cultivated to a great extent Both Hempen and Flaxen cloth is made, chiefly in the public schools, orphan asylums, and private houses throughout the country and city. There being no factories, the fabrics made are generally of the lower or middling descriptions, but, from the fine quality of the material used, the goods are excellent of their kind. In the Fair at Sinigaglia considerable quantities of Linens from Germany, &c., are sold. In Naples, Flax and Hemp, equal to twice the consumption of the inhabitants might be grown, many districts being remarkably fertile, and admirably adapted to produce both plants in perfection, but agriculture of every kind is in a rude and backward condition. The various branches of manufacturing industry, among which are a few coarsely made Linens, are in as miserable a state as the agriculture of the country. In the fine Island of Sicily, Flax and Hemp are grown with scarcely more culture than scratching the ground to let in the seed. Although the soil is so fruitful, and as it were wooing to be cultivated, such is the wretched state of agriculture and of manufactures that Sicily can scarcely export a ton of either, nor even supply sufficient Linens for her own domestic consumption. In one of the psuedo Platonic epistles, mention is made of Linen shifts made for ladies in Sicily, but the material for making them may have been imported. In like manner the Linen of Malta was in ancient times exceedingly admired for its fineness and softness, but the raw material was in all probability imported. The Linen manufactures of what was formerly the kingdom of the Two Sicilies only employ some 400 to 500 hand-looms. Perhaps the freedom now enjoyed under the more enlightened policy of the King of Italy will tend to develop the resources of the country, and if so the growth of Flax and the extension of the Linen manufacture will, no doubt, soon become of much greater importance. Comparatively little Linen yarn is imported into Naples or Sicily from the United Kingdom.
²The British trade in brown and bleached Linens is now much cut up by Germany and Switzerland, and the importation of diapers and table Linen is almost wholly from Germany, with which country, it would appear, Britain cannot compete in these articles. Considerable quantities of plain and fancy drills are, however, got from England and Ireland, as their manufacture of these fabrics is preferred. The high duties upon Linen manufactures have not been sufficient to call forward the Sicilian or Neapolitan weavers, or to enable them to compete successfully with manufacturing nations. Several experiments were made some years ago to extend the manufactures of Linen in the country, both from foreign and native grown Flax, but all proved abortive. According to an account made up in 1764, Linens were exported from the following places in Italy, viz.—Verona, Brescia, Crema, Bolonia (damask), Ancona (fine Flax). The causes of the backward state of agriculture, trade, and manufactures throughout Italy generally, is a sad commentary on the despotism and misrule which have so long afflicted that fine country. Italy teems with priests and sacerdotal classes of every rank, and it might have been expected that a people with so many religious instructors would be enlightened, happy, and prosperous; but it is not so. Freedom of thought and action are absolutely necessary for the successful cultivation of manufacturing industry, and for the prosperous prosecution of commercial enterprise, but they appear to be incompatible with priestly rule, and, in Italy, both are suppressed—to the misfortune of the people, and to the ruin of the country. In 1857 the Sardinian States imported 3300 tons of Flax and Hemp, and about the same quantity in 1858, but in 1859 it fell below 1400 tons. In 1857 about 900 tons of Flax yarns were imported ; in 1858 nearly 1000 tons; and in 1859 nearly 1200 tons. The Hempen and Flaxen cloth imported in 1858 was about 270 tons, and in 1859, 240 tons. The exports of Hempen cloth from these States for the same year were quite unimportant The average imports of Linens into the Island of Sardinia in the years from 1857 to 1861 were under 100 tons, of the value of about £18,000.