Cuore (Chapter 46)
Edmondo De Acimis
FRIENDS AMONG THE WORKINGMEN
Why “never more,” Enrico? That will depend on yourself. When you have finished the fourth grade, you will go to the Gymnasium, and they will become workingmen; but you will remain in the same city for many years, perhaps. Why, then, will you never meet again? When you are in the University or the Lyceum, you will seek them out in their shops or their workrooms, and it will be a great pleasure for you to meet the companions of your youth once more, as men at work.
I should like to see you neglecting to look up Coretti or Precossi, wherever they may be! And you will go to them, and you will pass hours in their company, and you will see, when you come to study life and the world, how many things you can learn from them, which no one else is capable of teaching you, both about their arts and their society and your own country. And have a care; for if you do not preserve these friendships, it will be extremely difficult for you to acquire other similar ones in the future,—friendships, I mean to say, outside of the class to which you belong; and thus you will live in one class only; and the man who associates with but one social class is like the student who reads but one book.
Let it be your firm resolve, then, from this day forth, that you will keep these good friends even after you shall be separated, and from this time forth, cultivate precisely these by preference because they are the sons of workingmen. You see, men of the upper classes are the officers, and men of the lower classes are the soldiers of toil; and thus in society as in the army, not only is the soldier no less noble than the officer, since nobility consists in work and not in wages, in valor and not in rank; but if there is also a superiority of merit, it is on the side of the soldier, of the workmen, who draw the lesser profit from the work. Therefore love and respect above all others, among your companions, the sons of the soldiers of labor; honor in them the toil and the sacrifices of their parents; disregard the differences of fortune and of class, upon which the base alone regulate their sentiments and courtesy; reflect that from the veins of laborers in the shops and in the country issued nearly all that blessed blood which has redeemed your country; love Garrone, love Coretti, love Precossi, love your little mason, who, in their little workingmen’s breasts, possess the hearts of princes; and take an oath to yourself that no change of fortune shall ever eradicate these friendships of childhood from your soul. Swear to yourself that forty years hence, if, while passing through a railway station, you recognize your old Garrone in the garments of an engineer, with a black face,—ah! I cannot think what to tell you to swear. I am sure that you will jump upon the engine and fling your arms round his neck, though you were even a senator of the kingdom.