7 JANUARY 1865, Page 18



Naples, November, 1864. THERE is, or rather was, a thing at Naples, I really do not know whether to term it institution or corporation, with the name of which the stranger cannot fail to become at once familiar, but with whose real nature until quite recently it baffled the sagacity of the keenest investigator to become acquainted. I allude to that once mysterious entity the Camorra, mention where- of was made on every occasion in reference to every conceivable fact as the influence of preponderating importance, an influence which a Neapolitan seemed to conceive as pervading every section- of his world, in the same occult and volatilized essence in which the German conceives the Zeitgeist to circulate though the universe. The Camorra was spoken of as being here, there, and everywhere. What it was precisely, where it lived, how it was constituted, was never to be clearly defined, but that it existed, and existed very effectively, was a point on which no one was incredulous. Every one had some practical experience of its hidden power, but few knew its organization and real extent. It is only since the revo- lution that light has been let in upon the dark subject by the arrest of the members of this mysterious body, and especially by the seizure of a considerable correspondence, now in the archives of the police office. What has thus been discovered is of a most astonishing nature, and I think that whoever wishes to understand the social features of Naples ought to study well these facts, not merely in their sensation aspects, but in reference to the peculiar- light they shed back upon the Neapolitan world at large. What may have been the origin of the Camorra is an obscure point, but it seems to me that the evidence certainly preponderates in favour of its being an institution of Spanish importation. In whatever locality, however, may have been its cradle, it is in Naples alone that it attained the proportions that could invest it with a political influence. That influence was expressed by an all- pervading and strictly organized levy of blackmail by a brother- hood of confederate bullies. In Naples, where notoriously all re- gulations prescribed by authority were habitually made sport of, where the dictates of law were easily and openly reduced to a dead letter, the impositions decreed by this occult association were levied with the strictness of a jealous tribunal that scorns the abuse of exemption, and were paid with the regularity of a society whose simple honesty never could contemplate withholding a due. That a band of reckless bravoes should succeed in estab- lishing a reign of terror is not wonderful, but it seems to me a phenomenoa full of suggestive matter for the illustration of Neapolitan character how all classes and all sections acquiesced in the usurped ascendency, and how they habitually reclined upon it for protection, just as in other countries people look for protection to the police force in return for the taxes paid to the State. In Naples the only tax which was paid without fraud was the fixed charge which on almost every bargain struck in trade had to be handed over to a big, lounging, flashy fellow, with a jaunty air and a devil-may-care cast of the eye, who from morning to night kept hanging about some particular spot, and immediately stepped forward to take his due as soon as one of his tributaries in the neighbourhood had made a bargain,—a due the payment whereof happened without one word of that shrill altercation which is the infallible accompaniment of every other money transaction in Naples. On what ground this tribute could be demanded (it amounted to a tithe, I am informed) was not apparent. There was no visible connection between the Camorrist and the bargain that had been struck which could explain his claim to a fee, yet that fee was claimed, and paid punctually and uugrudgingly. At every step which brought you in contact with dealers you inevitably encoun- tered this Argus-eyed and unfailing taxgatherer. Did you take a boat ? There stepped forward a fellow whom you had not observed, who received some money from your boatmen before they pushed off. Did you enter a hackney carriage on the stand, before giving his horse the lash your driver dropped some coppers into the hands of a flashy gentleman, who passed his day lazily smoking one cigar after another on a chair just outside a cafe, a stone's throw off. Did you enter a shop to buy a pair of gloves? and as you left the shop you would meet the same imperturbable gentleman stepping in to fetch his already prepared fee, which was given without de- mur. There really was no limit to the range within which the ascendency of this strange confraternity might be circumscribed. It reached the highest and dived down to the lowest walks of trading life. The prevalent vice of this country is the passion for gaming. I am positively assured that in the low and ill-famed taverns of the worst quarters, which are frequented by the true descendants of the historical lazzaroni, there was always a Camorrist lolling about the place, who received at the end of the evening a tithe of the winnings made by the lucky gamesters who had been having a bout at cards. At the same time the Camorrist was a recognized appendage of mercantile houses of high standing, for he ensured that which otherwise was out of the question—the speedy despatch of goods through the Customs and the reduction of all fees to a fixed payment. Whether the Government was a gainer by the arrangement may be fairly doubted, but what was universally felt was; that only through it could commercial business proceed quickly and safely. For the organization of the Camorra had its code of morals, which was strictly observed. If it rested in principle on extortion, it practically compensated for it to some extent by affording a certain protection. Thus it happened that in the prisons, where as a rule the men not members of the sect were subject to usurious impositions from its acolytes, the Camorristi assumed a sort of dictatorship, superseding that of the regular authorities, and according at times special privileges as a favour. Thus the first day Baron Poerio entered the Vicaria he was accosted by a stranger, who presented him with a stiletto, saying politely, " Take this, your Excellency ; we authorize you to carry weapons." But how was this mysterious brotherhood recruited, and how was it constituted? On this head formerly there was much darkness, which has been dissipated by the documents seized when the great razzia was made on the Camorristi in the prisons.

A more curious collection of papers does not exist. They consist of letters written by the president of one lodge to another on the business of the association. From these it is established that the society had its grades of novitiate. Before becoming a Camorrist a candidate had to pass apprenticeship, often for years, as a Picciotto, during which he served as the FAG of some Camorrist, with the duty to execute his commands, whatever they might be—and they were often of a kind to merit the reward of the gallows—without having any right to participate in the gains of the society, which were religiously shared by the full members in duly apportioned lots. The higher grade could be gained only by some sanguinary exploit perpetrated by command of the sect, if performed on the person of a member, for it was an inexorable law that no Camorrist should be killed by another except in virtue of a sentence 'voted solemnly by the lodge. A profane life was at the disposal of any Camorrist, but to strike one of the brotherhood without the warrant of authority was punished with death, and that this was not a vain threat is proved by the documents I have alluded to, and by an extraordinary occurrence last year in Castel Capuano, where a Camorrist who had committed this crime was condemned to death by his brethren, and preserved his life only by the vigorous exertions of the gaoler. Indeed the dis- cipline of this singular association of evildoers was astonishing, and gives evidence of a self-government which for Naples was unique. The letters at the police-office throw a flood of light on this head. They constitute for the most part the correspondence between Ziugone, chief of the Camorra in San Francesco, Mormile, chief in Castel Capuano, and Salvatore Crescenzo, called " B Gran' Uomo," and who figures as one before whose superiority every loyal Camor- rist bows with deference. It is impossible to conceive the official regularity and style of these abominably written and spelt com- munications without a specimen. With a most business-like gravity the resolutions voted by the lodge are conveyed from one to the other in phrases that must often raise a smile. On one oc- casion Mormile announces that some brethren newly arrived in gaol " have been sentenced for not having been able to fulfil the duties taught by our predecessors, these men having failed in destroying that infamous evildoer Pasquale Capozzo, who com- mitted a well-known infamy, of which all Europe was informed." The usual form of address is, "Dear Comrade and all the Com- rades," and time letter generally begins with announcing that " My duty has been to call together the society, and to put under discus- sion as follows." Allow me to insert one longer extract, for I think it gives a very complete view of how the affairs of the sect were managed. It is written by Mormile, a worthy with a long brevet of crimes, now locked up in the Muratte of Florence, and is addressed to his brother bravo, Zingone :—" Dear Comrade," he writes, "after saluting you, together with all the comrades, I transmit to you your shares. You and Comrade Ricchezza are to have ten carlins less two grains. Ottaiano and Monaciello have a right to ten carlins and a half. To Bascolo seven carlins and a half. As for Simonetta his portion is kept back. The whole sum amounts to four ducats and two grains. You must keep back twenty-seven grains from Comrade Ricchezza's share, for he has to give two carlins and seven grains to Branchale. The sum which is still to be transmitted to you is thirty-seven carlins and four grains. Besides this morning the society has pleased to decree a lifting of hands [amnesty] from off all the Camorristi under punish- ment, and they came back into the society. Besides the Camor- risti who were to the left, and could not vote, have been put in their places. Besides when Salvatore de Crescenzo came he asked grace for the Camorristi under punishment. We all opposed this, for Il Ciucciaro because of the letter he sent to Pizzofalcone to our comrade Andolfo for the letter was prejudicial to the society. We have called Andolfo to take cognizance of the letter. And Andolfo has assured us that he never received the letter, swearing on his honour. And it is thus that this morning we have discussed the business of Ciucciaro, and finding him not in fault have lifted the hand off him also, that is to say, have put him on the left of the society. And this is all." I think you will admit that this is a singular specimen of thieves' correspondence, for which I am in- debted to M. Marc Meunier. Everything was here plainly re- duced to a system. which certainly did not exist in the legitimale walks of Neapolitan life, and which, even now is but imperfectly introduced there. It is evident that an association of this kind,— and it had its ramifications in the provinces, for amongst the letters is one from the chief at Chieti, inquiring into the character of a Camorrist at Naples,—could become highly dangerous to the community in moments of political convulsion. It was the crown- ing error of Don Liborio Romano that he stooped to make these confederate cutthroats the principal instruments for ruling the town of Naples. As Paris under the prefecture of Caussidiere had a civic guard composed of the scum of its population, Naples saw itself confided to the protection of the Camorristi converted into titular police. Now it would be a mistake to consider the Camorristi brave desperadoes because they are shameless mis- creants. They are a body of bullies, and nothing more,—as such presumptuous and overbearing to those who are afraid of them, but cowards in the presence of determined men. I have spoken

with the officers who took from the Camorristi their weapons, and

who have since had them under their charge, and they all con- curs. el in saying that these supposed dare-devils were easily cowed,

and that they submitted almost with abject deference to the dis- cipline imposed. But the case was very different when they were not only at large, but when their self-conceit was inflamed by the incense of public homage. Then the C.unorristi were no longer con- tent even with the blackmail which they had formerly levied. They grew mightily in their aspirations, and all Naples seemed to become a field for them to prey on. This scandalous state of things is what has been done away with by the sharp application of the extraordi- nary powers with which the Executive was invested by the Picca Statute and the state of siege. The organization of the Camorra as an association has been completely broken up by the arrest and deportation to the islands of the principal members of the sect. Some few are still in prison here, where I have seen and conversed with them, but there are not above twenty who are so immured simply as Camorristi, the others are all living under police inspec- tion in the islands, except such as have been sentenced by the ordinary tribunals for particular crimes.

I do not mean to say, however, that the habit of depending upon a sort of broker, whose intervention was recognized as a necessary fact, and who received a profit on every transaction, has died out. In this secondary sense the Camorra still exists, and is still carried on by such members of the old association as have luckily for them- selves escaped the haul of the police. But it is a Camorra iu a very decrepid condition, the mere shadow and the relic of its former self. If any one wishes to look at such before it has been quite laid in its grave he had better make baste, for those who have been left to ply quietly their humble trade are old and broken-down veterans, who mostly have been allowed liberty just because they are necessarily harmless. I will introduce your readers to a good specimen of this body, and perhaps they may have reason to thank me for it. On the Largo di Garofalo, close to the Vittoria, is a hackney-carriage stand, which every traveller knows. Well, if any one wishes to see a remnant of the Camorra, and possibly to test its value by experience, let him look about for an old gentleman, with a remarkably down-in-the-world look over his whole person, who from morning to night hangs about this largo, generally seated on a rick.etty chair of wicker just in front of a grocer's shop. His face is grisly with an unshaven beard, on his head is a hat wofully greasy and battered, his coat is a surtout that once was elegant, but now is worn into an indescribable hue of yellow and green, in his hand he carries a stout stick, once perhaps the weapon with which he won his spurs in the brotherhood, but now serving certainly but to bear up his own tottering frame. Every- thing about the man has the melancholy look of one who has overlived his kith and kin, the lingering wreck of foundered fortunes. You might think of Marius sitting by the ruins of Carthage as you watch this decrepid old man, in his threadbare vesture haunting wistfully from sunrise to sunsetthe one locality. And yet this broken-down and forlorn-looking individual has it in his power even now to afford a protection for which, I venture to say, many a traveller will be grateful. In Naples itself a tariff regulates the hack fares, but not so if you drive outside the city. Then begin a frightful series of altercations and extortions for the poor stranger, all of which he will avoid if he secures the assistance of this apparently help- less old gentleman. Let him go up to this worthy-, tell him where a carriage is wanted for, and immediately not only the cabby will drive him without a word of dispute at the price shortly dictated by the tottering veteran, but, what is more, he will not even grumble at its being too little when he is dismissed. That is the surviving effect of the Camorra. I recommend my friend not merely as an interesting curiosity, venerable, and touching, and deserving of interest, but also as a deus ex muchind who, I venture to say, will save many a traveller much waste of lungs and a good deal of money. Now, is it not stran0 that those strapping young fellows, each of whom could make this aged man spin round on his weak legs by a touch of his little finger, should meekly bow thus to his ascendency, abdicate at a word from him all that other- wise they would battle for with a quite ferocious fury of tongue, and all this when they can have no practical reason, as formerly, for dreading the resentment of him or his brethren? What is it, then, which invests this shadow of his former self with such autho- rity? It is that ingrained sense of obsequiousness before the traditional force of as avenging authority which makes the common Neapolitan as yet incapable of believing that the old dynasty, and the old institutions, and the old police are gone beyond return,—an incapacity to rise to the height of compre- hending the sense of moral independence. There is here some- thing which it will take years to cure. A revolution can knock ,

off fetters at a blow, but it cannot at a word make men numbed by confinement understand how to use freely their palsied limbs.