THE ROMAN QUESTION
Translated From The French By H. C. Coape
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 346 & 348 Broadway
It was in the Papal States that I studied the Roman Question. I travelled over every part of the country; I conversed with men of all opinions, examined things very closely, and collected my information on the spot.
My first impressions, noted down from day to day without any especial object, appeared, with some necessary modifications, in the Moniteur Universel. These notes, truthful, somewhat unconnected, and so thoroughly impartial, that it would be easy to discover in them contradictions and inconsistencies, I was obliged to discontinue, in consequence of the violent outcry of the Pontifical Government. I did more. I threw them in the fire, and wrote a book instead. The present volume is the result of a year's reflection.
I completed my study of the subject by the perusal of the most recent works published in Italy. The learned memoir of the Marquis Pepoli, and the admirable reply of an anonymous writer to M. de Rayneval, supplied me with my best weapons. I have been further enlightened by the conversation and correspondence of some illustrious Italians, whom I would gladly name, were I not afraid of exposing them to danger.
The pressing condition of Italy has obliged me to write more rapidly than I could have wished; and this enforced haste has given a certain air of warmth, perhaps of intemperance, even to the most carefully matured reflections. It was my intention to produce a memoir,—I fear I may be charged with having written a pamphlet. Pardon me certain vivacities of style, which I had not time to correct, and plunge boldly into the heart of the book. You will find something there.
I fight fairly, and in good faith. I do not pretend to have judged the foes of Italy without passion; but I have calumniated none of them.
If I have sought a publisher in Brussels, while I had an excellent one in Paris, it is not because I feel any alarm on the score of the regulations of our press, or the severity of our tribunals. But as the Pope has a long arm, which might reach me in France, I have gone a little out of the way to tell him the plain truths contained in these pages.
May 9, 1859.
I. THE POPE AS A KING
II. NECESSITY OF THE TEMPORAL POWER
III. THE PATRIMONY OF THE TEMPORAL POWER
IV. THE SUBJECTS OF THE TEMPORAL POWER
V. OF THE PLEBEIANS
VI. THE MIDDLE CLASSES
VII. THE NOBILITY
IX. ABSOLUTE CHARACTER OF THE TEMPORAL POWER OF THE POPE
X. PIUS IX
XII. PRIESTLY GOVERNMENT
XIII. POLITICAL SEVERITY
XIV. THE IMPUNITY OF REAL CRIME
XVI. EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE
XVII. FOREIGN OCCUPATION
XVIII. WHY THE POPE WILL NEVER HAVE SOLDIERS
XIX. MATERIAL INTERESTS
THE POPE AS A KING.
The Roman Catholic Church, which I sincerely respect, consists of one hundred and thirty-nine millions of individuals—without counting little Mortara.
It is governed by seventy Cardinals, or Princes of the Church, in memory of the twelve Apostles.
The Cardinal-Bishop of Rome, who is also designated by the name of Vicar of Jesus Christ, Holy Father, or Pope, is invested with boundless authority over the minds of these hundred and thirty-nine millions of Catholics.
The Cardinals are nominated by the Pope; the Pope is nominated by the Cardinals; from the day of his election he becomes infallible, at least in the opinion of M. de Maistre, and the best Catholics of our time.
This was not the opinion of Bossuet; but it has always been that of the Popes themselves.
When the Sovereign Pontiff declares to us that the Virgin Mary was born free from original sin, the hundred and thirty-nine millions of Catholics are bound to believe it on his word. This is what has recently occurred.
This discipline of the understanding reflects infinite credit upon the nineteenth century. If posterity does us justice, it will be grateful to us therefor. It will see that instead of cutting one another's throats about theological questions, we have surveyed lines of railway, laid telegraphs, constructed steam-engines, launched ships, pierced isthmuses, created sciences, corrected laws, repressed factions, fed the poor, civilized barbarians, drained marshes, cultivated waste lands, without ever having a single dispute as to the infallibility of a man.
But the busiest age, the age which the best knows the value of time, may be obliged for a moment to neglect its business. If, for instance, it should remark around Rome and its Bishop a violent agitation, which neither the trickery of diplomacy nor the pressure of armies can suppress; if it perceive in a little corner of a peninsula a smouldering fire, which may at any moment burst forth, and in twenty-four hours envelope all Europe, this age, prudent from a sense of duty, on account of the great things it has to accomplish, turns its attention to the situation of Rome, and insists upon knowing what it all means.
It means that the simple princes of the middle ages, Pepin the Brief, Charlemagne, and the Countess Matilda, behaved with great liberality to the Pope. They gave him lands and men, according to the fashion of the times, when men, being merely the live-stock of the land, were thrown into the bargain. If they were generous, it was not because they thought, with M. Thiers, that the Pope could not be independent without being a King; they had seen him in his poverty more independent and more commanding than almost any monarch on the earth. They enriched him from motives of friendship, calculation, gratitude, or it might even be to disinherit their relations, as we sometimes see in our own time. Since the days of the Countess Matilda, the Pope, having acquired a taste for possession, has gone on rounding his estate. He has obtained cities by capitulation, as in the case of Bologna; he has won others at the cannon's mouth, as Rimini; while some he has appropriated, by treachery and stealth, as Ancona. Indeed so well have matters been managed, that in 1859 the Bishop of Rome is the temporal sovereign of about six millions of acres, and reigns over three millions one hundred and twenty-four thousand six hundred and sixty-eight men, who are all crying out loudly against him.
What do they complain of? Only listen, and you will soon learn.
They say—that the authority to which, without having either asked or accepted it, they are subject, is the most fundamentally absolute that was ever defined by Aristotle; that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers are united, confounded, and jumbled together in one and the same hand, contrary to the practice of civilized states, and to the theory of Montesquieu; that they willingly recognize the infallibility of the Pope upon all religious questions, but that in civil matters it appears to them less easy to tolerate; that they do not refuse to obey, because, all things considered, man is not placed here below to follow the bent of his own inclinations, but that they would be glad to obey laws; that the good pleasure of any man, however good it may be, is not so good as the Code Napoleon; that the reigning Pope is not an evil-disposed man, but that the arbitrary government of one man, even admitting his infallibility, can never be anything but a bad government.
That in virtue of an ancient and hitherto ineradicable practice, the Pope is assisted in the temporal government of his States by the spiritual chiefs, subalterns, and spiritual employes of his Church; that Cardinals, Bishops, Canons, Priests, forage pell-mell about the country; that one sole and identical caste possesses the right of administering both sacraments and provinces; of confirming little boys and the judgments of the lower courts; of ordaining subdeacons and arrests; of despatching parting souls and captains' commissions; that this confusion of the spiritual and the temporal disseminates among the higher offices a multitude of men, excellent no doubt in the sight of God, but insupportable in that of the people; often strangers to the country, sometimes to business, and always to those domestic ties which are the basis of every society; without any special knowledge, unless it be of the things of another world; without children, which renders them indifferent to the future of the nation; without wives, which renders them dangerous to its present; and to conclude, unwilling to hear reason, because they believe themselves participators in the pontifical infallibility.
That these servants of a most merciful but sometimes severe God, simultaneously abuse both mercy and justice; that, full of indulgence for the indifferent, for their friends, and for themselves, they treat with extreme rigour whoever has had the misfortune to become obnoxious to power; that they more readily pardon the wretch who cuts a man's throat, than the imprudent citizen who blames an abuse.
That the Pope, and the Priests who assist him, not having been taught accounts, grossly mismanage the public finances; that whereas maladministration or malversation of the public finances might have been tolerated a hundred years ago, when the expenses of public worship and of the papal court were defrayed by one hundred and thirty-nine millions of Catholics, it is a widely different affair now, when they have to be supported by 3,124,668 individuals.
That they do not complain of paying taxes, because it is a universally established practice, but that they wish to see their money spent upon terrestrial objects; that the sight of basilicas, churches, and convents built or maintained at their expense, rejoices them as Catholics, but grieves them as citizens, because, after all, these edifices are but imperfect substitutes for railways and roads, for the clearing of rivers, and the erection of dykes against inundations; that faith, hope, and charity receive more encouragement than agriculture, commerce, and manufactures; that public simplicity is developed to the detriment of public education.
That the law and the police are too much occupied with the salvation of souls, and too little with the preservation of bodies; that they prevent honest people from damning themselves by swearing, reading bad books, or associating with Liberals, but that they don't prevent rascals from murdering honest people; that property is as badly protected as persons; and that it is very hard to be able to reckon upon nothing for certain but a stall in Paradise.
That they are made to pay heavily for keeping up an army without knowledge or discipline, an army of problematical courage and doubtful honours, and destined never to fight except against the citizens themselves; that it is adding insult to injury to make a man pay for the stick he is beaten with. That they are moreover obliged to lodge foreign armies, and especially Austrians, who, as Germans, are notoriously heavy-fisted.
To conclude, they say all this is not what the Pope promised them in his motu proprio of the 19th of September; and it is sad to find infallible people breaking their most sacred engagements.
I have no doubt these grievances are exaggerated. It is impossible to believe that an entire nation can be so terribly in the right against its masters. We will examine the facts of the case in detail before we decide. We have not yet arrived at that point.
You have just heard the language, if not of the whole 3,124,668 people, at least of the most intelligent, the most energetic, and the most interesting part of the nation. Take away the conservative party,—that is to say, those who have an interest in the government,—and the unfortunate creatures whom it has utterly brutalized,—and there will remain none but malcontents.
The malcontents are not all of the same complexion. Some politely and vainly ask the Holy Father to reform abuses: this is the moderate party. Others propose to themselves a thorough reform of the government: they are called radicals, revolutionists, or Mazzinists—rather an injurious term. This latter category is not precisely nice as to the measures to be resorted to. It holds, with the Society of Jesus, that the end justifies the means. It says, if Europe leaves it tete-a-tete with the Pope, it will begin by cutting his throat; and if foreign potentates oppose such criminal violence, it will fling bombs under their carriages.
The moderate party expresses itself plainly, the Mazzinists noisily. Europe must be very stupid, not to understand the one; very deaf, not to hear the other.
What then happens?
All the States which desire peace, public order, and civilization, entreat the Pope to correct some abuse or other. "Have pity," they say, "if not upon your subjects, at least upon your neighbours, and save us from the conflagration!"
As often as this intervention is renewed, the Pope sends for his Secretary of State. The said Secretary of State is a Cardinal who reigns over the Holy Father in temporal matters, even as the Holy Father reigns over a hundred and thirty nine millions of Catholics in spiritual matters. The Pope confides to the Cardinal Minister the source of his embarrassment, and asks him what is to be done.
The Cardinal, who is the minister of everything in the State, replies, without a moment's hesitation, to the old sovereign:—
"In the first place, there are no abuses: in the next place, if there were any, we must not touch them. To reform anything is to make a concession to the malcontents. To give way, is to prove that we are afraid. To admit fear, is to double the strength of the enemy, to open the gates to revolution, and to take the road to Gaeta, where the accommodation is none of the best. Don't let us leave home. I know the house we live in; it is not new, but it will last longer than your Holiness—provided no attempt is made to repair it. After us the deluge; we've got no children!"
"All very true," replies the Pope.
"But the sovereign who is entreating me to do something, is an eldest son of the Church. He has rendered us great services. He still protects us constantly. What would become of us if he abandoned us?"
"Don't be alarmed," says the Cardinal. "I'll arrange the matter diplomatically." And he sits down, and writes an invariable note, in a diplomatically tortuous style, which may thus be summed up:—
"We want your soldiers, and not your advice, seeing that we are infallible. If you were to show any symptom of doubting that infallibility, and if you attempted to force anything upon us, even our preservation, we would fold our wings around our countenances, we would raise the palms of martyrdom, and we should become an object of compassion to all the Catholics in the universe. You know we have in your country forty thousand men who are at liberty to say everything, and whom you pay with your own money to plead our cause. They shall preach to your subjects, that you are tyrannizing over the Holy Father, and we shall set your country in a blaze without appearing to touch it."
NECESSITY OF THE TEMPORAL POWER.
"For the Pontificate there is no independence but sovereignty itself. Here is an interest of the highest order, which ought to silence the particular interests of nations, even as in a State the public interest silences individual interests."
These are not my words, but the words of M. Thiers: they occur in his report to the Legislative Assembly, in October 1849. I have no doubt this Father of the temporal Church expressed the wishes of one hundred and thirty-nine millions of Catholics. It was all Catholicity which said to 3,124,668 Italians, by the lips of the honourable reporter:
"Devote yourselves as one man. Our chief can only be venerable, August, and independent, so long as he reigns despotically over you. If, in an evil hour, he were to cease wearing a crown of gold; if you were to contest his right to make and break laws; if you were to give up the wholesome practice of laying at his feet that money which he disburses for our edification and our glory, all the sovereigns of the universe would look upon him as an inferior. Silence, then, the noisy chattering of your individual interests."
I flatter myself that I am as fervent a Catholic as M. Thiers himself; and were I bold enough to seek to refute him, I should do it in the name of our common faith.
I grant you—this would be the tenor of my argument—that the Pope ought to be independent. But could he not be so at a somewhat less cost? Is it absolutely necessary that 3,124,668 men should sacrifice their liberty, their security, and all that is most precious to them, in order to secure the independence which makes us so happy and so proud? The Apostles were certainly independent at a cheaper rate, for they did nobody harm. The most independent of men is he who has nothing to lose. He pursues his own path, without troubling himself about powers and principalities, for the simple reason that the conqueror most bent on acquisition can take nothing from him.
The greatest conquests of Catholicism were made at a time when the Pope was not a ruler. Since he has become a king, you may measure the territory won from the Church by inches.
The earliest Popes, who were not kings, had no budgets. Consequently they had no annual deficits to make up. Consequently they were not obliged to borrow millions of M. de Rothschild. Consequently they were more independent than the crowned Popes of more recent times.
Ever since the spiritual and the temporal have been joined, like two Siamese powers, the most August of the two has necessarily lost its independence. Every day, or nearly so, the Sovereign Pontiff finds himself called upon to choose between the general interests of the Church, and the private interests of his crown. Think you he is sufficiently estranged from the things of this world to sacrifice heroically the earth, which is near, to the Heaven, which is remote? Besides, we have history to help us. I might, if I chose, refer to certain bad Popes who were capable of selling the dogma of the Holy Trinity for half-a-dozen leagues of territory; but it would be hardly fair to argue from bad Popes to the confusion of indifferent ones. Think you, however, that when the Pope legalized the perjury of Francis the First after the treaty of Madrid, he did it to make the morality of the Holy See respected, or to stir up a war useful to his crown?
When he organized the traffic in indulgences, and threw one-half of Europe into heresy, was it to increase the number of Christians, or to give a dowry to a young lady?
When, during the Thirty Years' War, he made an alliance with the Protestants of Sweden, was it to prove the disinterestedness of the Church, or to humble the House of Austria?
When he excommunicated Venice in 1806, was it to attach the Republic more firmly to the Church, or to serve the rancour of Spain against the first allies of Henry IV.?
When he suppressed the Order of the Jesuits, was it to reinforce the army of the Church, or to please his master in France?
When he terminated his relations with the Spanish American provinces upon their proclaiming their independence, was it in the interest of the Church, or of Spain?
When he held excommunication suspended over the heads of such Romans as took their money to foreign lotteries, was it to attach their hearts to the Church, or to draw their crown-pieces into his own treasury?
M. Thiers knows all this better than I do; but he possibly thought that when the spiritual sovereign of the Church and the temporal sovereign of a little country, wear the same cap, the one is naturally condemned to minister to the ambition or the necessities of the other.
We wish the chief of the Catholic religion to be independent, and we make him pay slavish obedience to a petty Italian prince; thus rendering the future of that religion subordinate to miserable local interests and petty parish squabbles.
But this union of powers, which would gain by separation, compromises not only the independence, but the dignity of the Pope. The melancholy obligation to govern men obliges him to touch many things which he had better leave alone. Is it not deplorable that bailiffs must seize a debtor's property in the Pope's name?—that judges must condemn a murderer to death in the name of the Head of the Church?—that the executioner must cut off heads in the name of the Vicar of Christ? There is to me something truly scandalous in the association of those two words, Pontifical lottery! And what can the hundred and thirty-nine millions of Catholics think, when they hear their spiritual sovereign expressing, through his finance minister, his satisfaction at the progress of vice as proved by the success of the lotteries?
The subjects of the Pope are not scandalized at these contradictions, simply because they are accustomed to them. They strike a foreigner, a Catholic, a casual unit out of the hundred and thirty-nine millions; they inspire in him an irresistible desire to defend the independence and the dignity of the Church. But the inhabitants of Bologna or Viterbo, of Terracina or Ancona, are more occupied with national than with religious interests, either because they want that feeling of self-devotion recommended by M. Thiers, or because the government of the priests has given them a horror of Heaven. Very middling Catholics, but excellent citizens, they everywhere demand the freedom of their country. The Bolognese affirm that they are not necessary to the independence of the Pope, which they say could do as well without Bologna as it has for some time contrived to do without Avignon. Every city repeats the same thing, and if they were all to be listened to, the Holy Father, freed from the cares of administration, might devote his undivided attention to the interests of the Church and the embellishment of Rome. The Romans themselves, so they be neither princes, nor priests, nor servants, nor beggars, declare that they have devoted themselves long enough, and that M. Thiers may now carry his advice elsewhere.
THE PATRIMONY OF THE TEMPORAL POWER.
The Papal States have no natural limits: they are carved out on the map as the chance of passing events has made them, and as the good-nature of Europe has left them. An imaginary line separates them from Tuscany and Modena. The most southerly point enters into the kingdom of Naples; the province of Benevento is enclosed within the states of King Ferdinand, as formerly was the Comtat-Venaissin within the French territory. The Pope, in his turn, shuts in that Ghetto of democracy, the republic of San Marino.
I never cast my eyes over this poor map of Italy, capriciously rent into unequal fragments, without one consoling reflection.
Nature, which has done everything for the Italians, has taken care to surround their country with magnificent barriers. The Alps and the sea protect it on all sides, isolate it, bind it together as a distinct body, and seem to design it for an individual existence. To crown all, no internal barrier condemns the Italians to form separate nations. The Apennines are so easily crossed, that the people on either side can speedily join hands. All the existing boundaries are entirely arbitrary, traced by the brutality of the Middle Ages, or the shaky hand of diplomacy, which undoes to-morrow what it does to-day. A single race covers the soil; the same language is spoken from north to south; the people are all united in a common bond by the glory of their ancestors, and the recollections of Roman conquest, fresher and more vivid than the hatreds of the fourteenth century.
These considerations induce me to believe that the people of Italy will one day be independent of all others, and united among themselves by the force of geography and history, two powers more invincible than Austria.
But I return a mes moutons, and to their shepherd, the Pope.
The kingdom possessed by a few priests, covers an extent, in round numbers, of six millions of acres, according to the statistics published in 1857 by Monsignor, now Cardinal, Milesi.
No country in Europe is more richly gifted, or possesses greater advantages, whether for agriculture, manufacture, or commerce.
Traversed by the Apennines, which divide it about equally, the Papal dominions incline gently, on one side to the Adriatic, on the other to the Mediterranean. In each of these seas they possess an excellent port: to the east, Ancona; to the west, Civita Vecchia. If Panurge had had Ancona and Civita Vecchia in his Salmagundian kingdom, he would infallibly have built himself a navy. The Phoenicians and the Carthaginians were not so well off.
A river, tolerably well known under the name of the Tiber, waters nearly the whole country to the west. In former days it ministered to the wants of internal commerce. Roman historians describe it as navigable up to Perugia. At the present time it is hardly so as far as Rome; but if its bed were cleared out, and filth not allowed to be thrown in, it would render greater service, and would not overflow so often. The country on the other side is watered by small rivers, which, with a little government assistance, might be rendered very serviceable.
In the level country the land is of prodigious fertility. More than a fourth of it will grow corn. Wheat yields a return of fifteen for one on the best land, thirteen on middling, and nine on the worst. Fields thrown out of cultivation become admirable natural pastures. The hemp is of very fine quality when cultivated with care. The vine and the mulberry thrive wherever they are planted. The finest olive-trees and the best olives in Europe grow in the mountains. A variable, but generally mild climate, brings to maturity the products of extreme latitudes. Half the country is favourable to the palm and the orange. Numerous and thriving flocks roam across the plains in winter, and ascend to the mountains in summer. Horses, cows, and sheep live and multiply in the open air, without need of shelter. Indian buffaloes swarm in the marshes. Every species of produce requisite for the food and clothing of man grows easily, and as it were joyfully, in this privileged land. If men in the midst of it are in want of bread or shirts, Nature has no cause to reproach herself, and Providence washes its hands of the evil.
In all the three states raw material exists in incredible abundance. Here are hemp, for ropemakers, spinners, and weavers; wine, for distillers; olives, for oil and soap makers; wool, for cloth and carpet manufacturers; hides and skins, for tanners, shoemakers, and glovers; and silk in any quantity for manufactures of luxury. The iron ore is of middling quality, but the island of Elba, in which the very best is found, is near at hand. The copper and lead mines, which the ancients worked profitably, are perhaps not exhausted. Fuel is supplied by a million or two of acres of forest land; besides which, there is the sea, always open for the transport of coal from Newcastle. The volcanic soil of several provinces produces enormous quantities of sulphur, and the alum of Tolfi is the best in the world. The quartz of Civita Vecchia will give us kaolin for porcelain. The quarries contain building materials, such as marble and pozzolana, which is Roman cement almost ready-made.
In 1847, the country lands subject to the Pope were valued at about L34,800,000 sterling. The province of Benevento was not included, and the Minister of Commerce and Public Works admitted that the property was not estimated at above a third of its real value. If capital returned its proper interest, if activity and industry caused trade and manufactures to increase the national income as ought to be the case, it would be the Rothschilds who would borrow money of the Pope at six per cent. interest.
But stay! I have not yet completed the catalogue of possessions. To the present munificence of nature must be added the inheritance of the past. The poor Pagans of great Rome left all their property to the Pope who damns them.
They left him gigantic aqueducts, prodigious sewers, and roads which we find still in use, after twenty centuries of traffic. They left him the Coliseum, for his Capuchins to preach in. They left him an example of an administration without an equal in history. But the heritage was accepted without the responsibilities attached to it.
I will no longer conceal from you that this magnificent territory appeared to me in the first place most unworthily cultivated. From Civita Vecchia to Rome, a distance of some sixteen leagues, cultivation struck me in the light of a very rare accident, to which the soil was but little accustomed. Some pasture fields, some land in fallow, plenty of brambles, and, at long intervals, a field with oxen at plough, this is what the traveller will see in April. He will not even meet with the occasional forest which he finds in the most desert regions of Turkey. It seems as if man had swept across the land to destroy everything, and the soil had been then taken possession of by flocks and herds.
The country round Rome resembles the road from Civita Vecchia. The capital is girt by a belt of uncultivated, but not unfertile land. I used to walk in every direction, and sometimes for a long distance; the belt seemed very wide. However, in proportion as I receded from the city, I found the fields better cultivated. One would suppose that at a certain distance from St. Peter's the peasants worked with greater relish. The roads, which near Rome are detestable, became gradually better; they were more frequented, and the people I met seemed more cheerful. The inns became habitable, by comparison, in an astonishing degree. Still, so long as I remained in that part of the country towards the Mediterranean, of which Rome is the centre, and which is more directly subject to its influence, I found that the appearance of the land always left something to be desired. I sometimes fancied that these honest labourers worked as if they were afraid to make a noise, lest, by smiting the soil too deeply and too boldly, they should wake up the dead of past ages.
But when once I had crossed the Apennines, when I was beyond the reach of the breeze which blew over the capital, I began to inhale an atmosphere of labour and goodwill that cheered my heart. The fields were not only dug, but manured, and, still better, planted and sown. The smell of manure was quite new to me. I had never met with it on the other side of the Apennines. I was delighted at the sight of trees. There were rows of vines twining around elms planted in fields of hemp, wheat, or clover. In some places the vines and elms were replaced by mulberry-trees. What mingled riches were here lavished by nature! How bounteous is the earth! Here were mingled together, in rich profusion, bread, wine, shirts, silk gowns, and forage for the cattle. St. Peter's is a noble church, but, in its way, a well-cultivated field is a beautiful sight!
I travelled slowly to Bologna; the sight of the country I passed through, and the fruitfulness of honest human labour, made me happy. I retraced my steps towards St. Peter's; my melancholy returned when I found myself again amidst the desolation of the Roman Campagna.
As I reflected on what I had seen, a disquieting idea forced itself upon me in a geometrical form. It seemed to me that the activity and prosperity of the subjects of the Pope were in exact proportion to the square of the distance which separated them from Rome: in other words, that the shade of the monuments of the eternal city was noxious to the cultivation of the country. Rabelais says the shade of monasteries is fruitful; but he speaks in another sense.
I submitted my doubts to a venerable ecclesiastic, who hastened to undeceive me. "The country is not uncultivated," he said; "or if it be so, the fault is with the subjects of the Pope. This people is indolent by nature, although 21,415 monks are always preaching activity and industry to them!"
THE SUBJECTS OF THE TEMPORAL POWER.
On the 14th of May, 1856, M. de Rayneval, then French ambassador at Rome, a warm friend to the cardinals, and consequently a bitter foe to their subjects, thus described the Italian people:—
"A nation profoundly divided among themselves, animated by ardent ambition, possessing none of the qualities which constitute the greatness and power of others, devoid of energy, equally wanting in military spirit and in the spirit of association, and respecting neither the law nor social distinctions."
M. de Rayneval will be canonized a hundred years hence (if the present system continue) for having so nobly defended the oppressed.
It will not be foreign to my purpose to try my own hand at this picture; for the subjects of the Pope are Italians like the rest, and there is but one nation in the Italian peninsula. The difference of climate, the vicinity of foreigners, the traces of invasions, may have modified the type, altered the accent, and slightly varied the language; still the Italians are the same everywhere, and the middle class—the elite of every people—think and speak alike from Turin to Naples. Handsome, robust, and healthy, when the neglect of Governments has not delivered them over to the fatal malaria, the Italians are, mentally, the most richly endowed people in Europe. M. de Rayneval, who is not the man to flatter them, admits that they have "intelligence, penetration, and aptitude for everything." The cultivation of the arts is no less natural to them than is the study of the sciences; their first steps in every path open to human intellect are singularly rapid, and if but too many of them stop before the end is attained, it is because their success is generally barred by deplorable circumstances. In private as well as public affairs, they possess a quick apprehension and sagacity carried to suspicion. There is no race more ready at making and discussing laws; legislation and jurisprudence have been among their chief triumphs. The idea of law sprang up in Italy at the time of the foundation of Rome, and it is the richest production of this marvellous soil. The Italians still possess administrative genius in a high degree. Administration went forth from the midst of them for the conquest of the world, and the greatest administrators known to history, Caesar and Napoleon, were of Italian origin.
Thus gifted by nature, they have the sense of their high qualities, and they at times carry it to the extent of pride. The legitimate desire to exercise the faculties they possess, degenerates into ambition; but their pride would not be ludicrous, nor would their ambition appear extravagant, if their hands were free for action. Through a long series of ages, despotic Governments have penned them into a narrow area. The impossibility of realizing high aims, and the want of action which perpetually stirs within them, has driven them to paltry disputes and local quarrels. Are we to infer from this that they are incapable of becoming a nation? I am not of that opinion. Already they are uniting to call upon the King of Piedmont, and to applaud the policy of Count Cavour. If this be not sufficient proof, make an experiment. Take away the barriers which separate them; I will answer for their soon being united. But the keepers of these barriers are the King of Naples, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Austria, the Pope, and the rest. Are such keepers likely to give up the keys?
I know not what are "the qualities which constitute the greatness and power of other nations"—as, for example, the Austrian nation,—but I know very few qualities, physical, intellectual, or moral, which the Italians do not possess. Are they "devoid of energy," as M. de Rayneval declares? I should rather reproach them with the opposite excess. The absurd but resolute defence of Rome against the French army, may surely be regarded as the act of an energetic people. We must be extremely humble, if we admit that a French army was held in check for two months by men wanting in energy. The assassinations which occur in the streets of Rome, prove rather the inefficiency of the police than the effeminacy of the citizens. I find, from an official return, that in 1853 the Roman tribunals punished 609 crimes against property, and 1,344 against the person. These figures do not indicate a faultless people, but they prove little inclination for base theft, and look rather like a diabolical energy. In the same year the Assize Courts in France pronounced judgment upon 3,719 individuals charged with theft, and 1,921 with crimes against the person. The proportion is reversed. Robbers have the majority with us. And yet we are rather an energetic people.
If the Italians are so also, there will not be much difficulty in making soldiers of them. M. de Rayneval tells us, they are "entirely wanting in military spirit." No doubt he echoed the opinion of some Cardinal. Indeed! Were the Piedmontese in the Crimea, then, wanting in the military spirit?
M. de Rayneval and the Cardinals are willing to admit the courage of the Piedmontese, but then, they say, Piedmont is not in Italy; its inhabitants are half Swiss, half French. Their language is not Italian, neither are their habits, the proof of which is found in the fact, that they have the true military and monarchical spirit, unknown to the rest of Italy. According to this, it would be far easier to prove that the Alsacians and the Bretons are not French; the first, because they are the best soldiers in the empire, and because they say Meinherr when we should say Monsieur; the second, because they have the true monarchical spirit, and because they call butun what we call tabac. But all the soldiers of Italy are not in Piedmont. The King of Naples has a good army. The Grand Duke of Tuscany has a sufficient one for his defence; the small Duchies of Modena and Parma have a smart regiment or two. Lombardy, Venice, Modena, and one-half of the Papal States, have given heroes to France. Napoleon remembered it at St. Helena; it has been so written.
As for the spirit of association, I know not where it is to be found, if not in Italy. By what is the Catholic world governed? By an Association. What is it but an Association that wastes the revenue of the poor Romans? Who monopolizes their corn, their hemp, their oil? Who lays waste the forests of the State? An Association. Who take possession of the highways, stop diligences, and lay travellers under contribution? Five or six Associations. Who keeps up agitation at Genoa, at Leghorn, and, above all, at Home? That secret Association known as the Mazzinists.
I grant that the Romans have but a moderate respect for the law. But the truth is, there is no law in the country. They have a respect for the Code Napoleon, since they urgently ask for it. What they do not respect is, the official caprice of their masters. I am certainly no advocate of disorder; but when I think that a mere fancy of Cardinal Antonelli, scribbled on a sheet of paper, has the force of law for the present and the future, I can understand an insolent contempt of the laws, to the extent of actual revolt.
As for social distinctions, it strikes me that the Italians respect them even too much. When I have led you for half an hour through the streets of Rome, you will ask yourselves to what a Roman prince can possibly be superior. Nevertheless the Romans exhibit a sincere respect for their princes: habit is so strong! If I were to conduct you to the source of some of the large fortunes among my acquaintances, you would rise with stones and sticks against the superiority of wealth. And yet the Romans, dazzled by dollars, are full of respect for the rich. If I were to—But I think the Italian nation is sufficiently justified. I will but add, that if it is easily led to evil, it is still more easily brought back to good; that it is passionate and violent, but not ill-disposed, and that a kind act suffices to make it forget the most justifiable enmities.
I will add in conclusion, that the Italians are not enervated by the climate to such a degree as to dislike work. A traveller who may happen to have seen some street porters asleep in the middle of the day, returns home and informs Europe that these lazy people snore from morning till night; that they have few wants, and work just enough to keep themselves from one day to another. I shall presently show you that the labourers of the rural districts are as industrious as our own peasants (and that, too, in a very different temperature), as economical, provident, and orderly, though more hospitable and more charitable. If the lower orders in the towns have become addicted to extravagance, idleness, and mendicity, it is because they have discovered the impossibility, even by the most heroic efforts and the most rigid economy, of gaining either capital or independence or position. Let us not confound discouragement with want of courage, nor tax a poor fellow with idleness, merely because he has had the misfortune to be knocked down and run over by a carriage.
The Pope reigns over 3,124,668 souls, as I have already observed more than once. This population is unequally distributed over the surface of the country. The population in the provinces of the Adriatic is nearly double that in the Mediterranean provinces, and more immediately under the Sovereign's eyes.
Those pious economists who insist upon it that all is for the best under the most sacred of governments, will not scruple to tell you:—
"Our State is one of the most populous in Europe: therefore it must be one of the best governed. The average population of France is 67 1/2 inhabitants to the square kilometre; that of the States of the Church 75 7/10. It follows from this that if the Emperor of the French were to adopt our mode of administration, he would have 8 2/10 inhabitants more on each square kilometre!
"The province of Ancona, which is occupied by the Austrians, and governed by priests, has 155 inhabitants to the square kilometre. The Bas-Rhin, which is the fourth department of France, has but 129, consequently it is evident that the Bas-Rhin will continue to be relatively inferior, so long as it is not governed by priests, and occupied by the Austrians.
"The population of our happy country became increased by one-third between the years 1816 and 1853, a space of thirty-seven years. Such a grand result can only be attributed to the excellent administration of the Holy Father, and the preaching of 38,320 priests and monks, who protect youth from the destructive influence of the passions.
"You will observe that the English have a passion for moving about the country. Even in the interior they change their residence and their county with an incredible mobility; no doubt this is because their country is unhealthy and badly administered. In the El Dorado which we govern, no more than 178,943 individuals are known to have changed their abode from one province to another: therefore our subjects are all happy in their homes."
I do not deny the eloquence of these figures, and I am not one of those who think statistics prove everybody's case. But it seems to me very natural that a rich country, in the hands of an agricultural people, should feed 75 inhabitants to the square kilometre, under any sort of government. What astonishes me is that it should feed no more; and I promise you that when it is better governed it will feed many more.
The population of the States of the Church has increased by one-third in thirty-seven years. But that of Greece has trebled between 1832 and 1853. Nevertheless Greece is in the enjoyment of a detestable government; as I believe I have pretty correctly demonstrated elsewhere. The increase of a population proves the vitality of a race rather than the solicitude of an administration. I will never believe that 770,000 children were born between 1816 and 1853 by the intervention of the priests. I prefer to believe that the Italian race is vigorous, moral, and marriageable, and that it does not yet despair of the future.
Lastly, if the subjects of the Pope stay at home, instead of moving about, it may be because communication between one place and another is difficult, or because the authorities are close-fisted in the matter of passports; it may be, too, because they are certain of finding, in whatever part of the country they move to, the same priests, the same judges, and the same taxes.
Out of the population of 3,124,668 souls, more than a million are agricultural labourers and shepherds. The workmen number 258,872, and the servants exceed the workmen by about 30,000. Trade, finance, and general business occupy something under 85,000 persons.
The landed proprietors are 206,558 in number, being about one-fifteenth of the entire population. We have a greater proportion in France. The official statistics of the Roman State inform us that if the national wealth were equally divided among all the proprietors, each of the 206,558 families would possess a capital of L680 sterling. But they have omitted to state that some of these landed proprietors possess 50,000 acres, and others a mere heap of flints.
It is to be observed that the division of land, like all other good things, increases in proportion to the distance from the capital. In the province of Rome there are 1,956 landed proprietors out of 176,002 inhabitants, which is about one in ninety. In the province of Macerata, towards the Adriatic, there are 39,611, out of 243,104, or one proprietor to every six inhabitants, which is as much as to say that in this province there are almost as many properties as there are families.
The Agro Romano, which it took Rome several centuries to conquer, is at the present time the property of 113 families, and of 64 corporations.
OF THE PLEBEIANS.
The subjects of the Holy Father are divided by birth and fortune into three very distinct classes,—nobility, citizens, and people, or plebeians. The Gospel has omitted to consecrate the inequality of men, but the law of the State—that is to say, the will of the Popes—carefully maintains it. Benedict XIV. declared it honourable and salutary in his Bull of January 4, 1746, and Pius IX. expressed himself in the same terms at the beginning of his Chirografo of May 2, 1853.
If I do not reckon the clergy among the classes of society, it is because that body is foreign to the nation by its interests, by its privileges, and often by its origin. The Cardinals and Prelates are not, properly speaking, the Pope's subjects, but rather his ghostly confederates, and the partners of his omnipotence.
The distinction of class is more especially perceptible at Rome, near the Pontifical throne. It gradually disappears, together with many other abuses, in proportion to their distance from their source. There are bottomless abysses between the noble Roman and the citizen of Rome, between the citizen of Rome and the plebeian of the city. The plebeian himself discharges a portion of the scorn expressed by the two superior classes for himself, upon the peasants he meets at market: it is a sort of cascade of contempt. At Rome, thanks to the traditions of history, and the education given by the Popes, the inferior thinks he can get out of his nothingness, and become something, by begging the favour and support of a superior. A general system of dependence and patronage makes the plebeian kneel before the man of the middle class, who again kneels before the prince, who in his turn kneels more humbly than all the others before the sovereign clergy.
At twenty leagues' distance from Rome there is very little kneeling; beyond the Apennines none at all. When you reach Bologna you find an almost French equality in the manners: for the simple reason that Napoleon has left his mark there.
The absolute value of the men in each category increases according to the square of the distance. You may feel almost certain that a Roman noble will be less educated, less capable, and less free than a gentleman of the Marches or of the Romagna. The middle class, with some exceptions which I shall presently mention, is infinitely more numerous, more enlightened, and wealthier, to the east of the Apennines, than in and about the capital. The plebeians themselves have more honesty and morality when they live at a respectful distance from the Vatican.
The plebeians of the Eternal City are overgrown children badly brought up, and perverted in various ways by their education. The Government, which, being in the midst of them, fears them, treats them mildly. It demands few taxes of them; it gives them shows, and sometimes bread, the panem et circenses prescribed by the Emperors of the Decline. It does not teach them to read, neither does it forbid them to beg. It sends Capuchins to their homes. The Capuchin gives the wife lottery-tickets, drinks with the husband, and brings up the children after his kind, and sometimes in his likeness. The plebeians of Rome are certain never to die of hunger; if they have no bread, they are allowed to help themselves from the baker's basket; the law allows it. All that is required of them is to be good Christians, to prostrate themselves before the priests, to humble themselves before the rich, and to abstain from revolutions. They are severely punished if they refuse to take the Sacrament at Easter, or if they talk disrespectfully of the Saints. The tribunal of the Vicariates listens to no excuses on this head; but the police is enough as to everything else. Crimes are forgiven them, they are encouraged in meanness; the only offences for which there is no pardon are the cry for liberty, revolt against an abuse, the assertion of manhood.
It is marvellous to me that with such an education there is any good left in them at all. The worst half of the people is that which dwells in the Monti district. If, in seeking the Convent of the Neophytes, or the house of Lucrezia Borgia, you miss your way among those foul narrow streets, you will find yourself in the midst of a strange medley of thieves, sharpers, guitar-players, artists' models, beggars, ciceroni, and ruffiani. If you speak to them, you may be sure they will kiss your Excellency's hand, and pick your Excellency's pocket. I do not think a worse breed is to be found in any city in Europe, not even in London. All these people practise religion, without the least believing in God. The police does not meddle much with them. To be sure they are sent to prison now and then, but thanks to a favourable word in the right quarter, or to the want of prison accommodation, they are soon set at liberty. Even the honest workmen their neighbours occasionally get into scrapes. They have made plenty of money in the winter, and spent it all in the Carnival—as is the common custom. Summer comes, the foreign visitors depart; no more work and no more money. Moral training, which might sustain them, is wholly wanting. The love of show, that peculiar disease of Rome, is their bane. The wife, if she be pretty, sells herself, or the husband does what he had better leave undone.
Judge them not too harshly. Remember, they have read nothing, they have never been out of Rome; the example of ostentation is set them by the Cardinals, of misconduct by the prelates, of venality by the different functionaries, of squandering by the Finance Minister. And above all, remember that care has been taken to root out from their hearts, as if it were a destructive weed, that noble sentiment of human dignity which is the principle of every virtue.
The blood which flows in Italian veins must be very generous, or so notable a portion of the plebeians of Rome as the people of the Trastevere, could never have preserved their manly virtues, as is notoriously the case with them. I have met with men in this quarter of the city, coarse, violent, sometimes ferocious, but really men; nice as to their honour, to the extent of poniarding any one who is wanting in respect to them. They are fully as ignorant as the people of the Monti; they have learnt the same lessons, and witnessed the same examples; they have the same improvidence, the same love of pleasure, the same brutality in their passions; but they are incapable of stooping, even to pick anything up.
A government worthy of the name would make something of this ignorant force, first taming, and then directing it. The man who stabs his fellow in a wineshop might prove a good soldier on a battle-field. But we are in the capital of the Pope. The Trasteverini neither attack God nor the Government; they meddle neither with theology nor politics; no more is asked of them. And in token of its appreciation of their good conduct, a paternal administration allows them to cut one another's throats ad libitum.
Neither the people of the Trastevere nor of the Monti give the least sign of political existence, whereat the Cardinals rub their hands, and congratulate themselves upon having kept so many men in profound ignorance of all their rights. I am not quite certain that the theory is a sound one. Suppose, for example, that the democratic committees of London and Leghorn were to send a few recruiting officers into the Pope's capital. An honest, mild, enlightened plebeian would reflect twice before enrolling himself. He would weigh the pros and the cons, and balance for a long time between the vices of the government, and the dangers of revolution. But the mob of the Monti would take fire like a heap of straw at the mere prospect of a scramble, while the Trastevere savages would rise to a man, if the Papal despotism were represented to them as an attack upon their honour. It would be better to have in these plebeians foes capable of reasoning. The Pope might often have to reckon with them, but he need never tremble before them.
I trust the masters of the country may never more be obliged to fight with the plebeians of Rome. They were easily carried away by the leaders of 1848, although the name of Republic resounded for the first time in their ears. Have they forgotten it? No. They will long remember that magic word, which abased the great, and exalted the humble. Moreover, the hidden Mazzinists, who agitate throughout the city, don't collect the workmen in the quarter of the Regola to preach submission to them.
I have said that the plebeians of the city of Rome despise the plebeians of the country. Be assured, however, the latter are not deserving of scorn, even in the Mediterranean provinces. In this unhappy half of the Pontifical States, the influence of the Vatican has not yet quite morally destroyed the population. The country people are poor, ignorant, superstitious, rather wild, but kind, hospitable, and generally honest. If you wish to study them more closely, go to one of the villages in the province of Frosinone, towards the Neapolitan frontier. Cross the plains which malaria has made dreary solitudes, take the stony path which winds painfully up the side of the mountain. You will come to a town of five or ten thousand souls, which is little more than a dormitory for five or ten thousand peasants. Viewed from a distance, this country town has an almost grand appearance. The dome of a church, a range of monastic buildings, the tower of a feudal castle, invest it with a certain air of importance. A troop of women are coming down to the fountain with copper vessels on their heads. You smile instinctively. Here is movement and life. Enter! You are struck with a sensation of coldness, dampness, and darkness. The streets are narrow flights of steps, which every now and then plunge beneath low arches. The houses are closed, and seem to have been deserted for a century. Not a human being at the doors, or at the windows. The streets, silent and solitary.
You would imagine that the curse of heaven had fallen on the country, but for the large placards on the house-fronts, which prove that missionary fathers have passed through the place. "Viva Gesu! Viva Maria! Viva il sangue di Gesu! Viva il cor di Maria! Bestemmiatori, tacetevi per l'amor di Maria!"
These devotional sentences are like so many signboards of the public simplicity.
A quarter of an hour's walk brings you to the principal square. Half-a-dozen civil officials are seated in a circle before a cafe, gaping at one another. You join them. They ask you for news of something that happened a dozen years ago. You ask them in turn, what epidemic has depopulated the country?
Presently some thirty market-men and women begin to display on the pavement an assortment of fruit and vegetables. Where are the buyers of these products of the earth? Here they come! Night is approaching. The entire population begins to return at once from their labour in the fields; a stalwart and sturdy population; the thew and sinew of some fine regiments. Every one of these half-clad men, armed with pickaxe and shovel, rose two hours before the sun this morning, and went forth to weed a little field, or to dig round a few olive-trees. Many of them have their little domains several miles off, and thither they go daily, accompanied by a child and a pig. The pig is not very fat, and the man and his child are very lean. Still they seem light-hearted and merry. They have plucked some wild flowers by the roadside. The boy is crowned with roses, like Lucullus at table. The father buys a handful of vegetables, and a cake of maize, which will furnish the family supper. They will sleep well enough on this diet—if the fleas allow them. If you like to follow these poor people home, they will give you a kindly welcome, and will not fail to ask you to partake of their modest meal. Their furniture is very simple, their conversation limited; their heads are as well furnished as their dwellings.
The wife who has been awaiting the return of her lord, will open the door to you. Of all useful animals, the wife is the one which the Roman peasant employs most profitably. She makes the bread and the cakes; she spins, weaves, and sews; she goes every day three miles for wood, and one and a half for water; she carries a mule's load on her head; she works from sunrise to sunset, without question or complaint. Her numerous children are in themselves a precious resource: at four years old they are able to tend sheep and cattle.
It is vain to ask these country people what is their opinion of Rome and the government: their idea of these matters is infinitely vague and shadowy. The Government manifests itself to them in the person of an official, who, for the sum of three pounds sterling per month, administers and sells justice among them. This individual is the only gift Rome has ever conferred upon them. In return for the great benefit of his presence, they pay taxes on a tolerably extensive scale: so much for the house, so much for the livestock, so much for the privilege of lighting a fire, so much on the wine, and so much on the meat—when they are able to enjoy that luxury. They grumble, though not very bitterly, regarding the taxes as a sort of periodical hailstorm falling on their year's harvest. If they were to learn that Rome had been swallowed up by an earthquake, they certainly would not put on mourning. They would go forth to their fields as usual, they would sell their crops for the usual price, and they would pay less taxes. This is what all towns inhabited by peasants think of the metropolis. Every township lives by itself, and for itself; it is an isolated body, which has arms to work, and a belly to fill. The cultivator of the land is everything, as was the case in the Middle Ages. There is neither trade, nor manufactures, nor business on any extended scale, nor movement of ideas, nor political life, nor any of those powerful bonds which, in well-governed countries, link the provincial towns to the capital, as the members to the heart.
If there be a capital for these poor people, it is Paradise. They believe in it fervently, and strive to attain it with all their might. The very peasant who grudges the State two crowns for his hearth-tax, willingly pays two and a half to have Viva Maria scrawled over his door. Another complains of the L3 per month paid to the Government official, without a murmur at the thirty priests supported by the township. There is a gentle disease which consoles them for all their ills, called Faith. It does not restrain them from dealing a stab with a knife, when the wine is in their brains, or rage in their hearts; but it will always prevent them from eating meat on a Friday.
If you would see them in all the ardour of their simplicity, you must visit the town on the day of a grand festival. Everybody, men, women, and children are rushing to the church. A carpet of flowers is spread along the road. Every countenance is glowing with excitement. What is the meaning of it all? Don't you know?—It is the festival of Sant' Antonio. A musical Mass is being performed in honour of Sant' Antonio. A grand procession is being formed in honour of that Saint, probably the patron of the place. There are little boys dressed up as angels, and men arrayed in the sack-like garment of their brotherhoods: here we have peasants of The Heart of Jesus; here, those of The Name of Mary; and here come The Souls of Purgatory. The procession is formed with some little confusion. The people embrace one another, upset one another, and fight with one another—all in the name of Sant' Antonio. But see! The statue of the worthy Saint is coming out of the church: a wooden doll, with flaming red cheeks. Victoria! Off go the petards! The women weep with joy—the children cry out at the top of their shrill voices, "Viva Sant' Antonio!" At night there are fireworks: a balloon shaped in the semblance of the Saint ascends amid the shouts of the people, and bursts in grand style right over the church. Verily, unless Sant' Antonio be very difficult to please, such homage must go straight to his heart. And I should think the plebeians of the country very exacting, if, after such an intoxicating festival, they were to complain of wanting bread.
Let us seek a little repose on the other side of the Apennines. Although the population may not be sufficiently sheltered by a chain, of mountains, you will find in the towns and villages the stuff for a noble nation. The ignorance is still very great; the blood ever boiling, and the hand ever quick; but already we find men who reason. If the workman of the towns be not successful, he guesses the reason; he seeks a remedy, he looks forward, he economizes. If the tenant be not rich, he studies with his landlord the means of becoming so. Everywhere agriculture is making progress, and it will ere long have no further progress to make. Man becomes better and greater by dint of struggling with Nature. He learns his own value, he sees whither he is tending; in cultivating his field, he cultivates himself.
I am compelled in strict truth to admit that religion loses ground a little in these fine provinces. I vainly sought in the towns of the Adriatic for those mural inscriptions of Viva Gesu! Viva Maria! and so on, which had so edified me on the other side of the Apennines. At Bologna I read sonnets at the corners of all the streets,—sonnet to Doctor Massarenti, who cured Madame Tagliani; sonnet to young Guadagni, on the occasion of his becoming Bachelor of Arts, etc., etc. At Faenza, these mural inscriptions evinced a certain degree of fanaticism, but the fanaticism of the dramatic art: Viva la Ristori! Viva la diva Rossi! At Rimini, and at Forli, I read Viva Verdi! (which words had not then the political significance they have recently attained,) Viva la Lotti! together with a long list of dramatic and musical celebrities.
While I was visiting the holy house of Loretto, which, as all the world knows, or ought to know, was transported by Angels, furniture and all, from Palestine, to the neighbourhood of Ancona, a number of pilgrims came in upon their knees, shedding tears and licking the flags with their tongues. I thought these poor creatures belonged to some neighbouring village, but I found out my mistake from a workman of Ancona, who happened to be near me. "Sir," he said, "these unhappy people must certainly belong to the other side of the Apennines, since they still make pilgrimages. Fifty years ago we used to do the same thing; we now think it better to work!"
THE MIDDLE CLASSES.
The middle class is, in every clime and every age, the foundation of the strength of States. It represents not only the wealth and independence, but the capacity and the morality of a people. Between the aristocracy, which boasts of doing nothing, and the lower orders who only work that they may not die of hunger, the middle class advances boldly to a future of wealth and consideration. Sometimes the upper class is hostile to progress, through fear of its results; too often the lower class is indifferent to it, from ignorance of the benefits it confers. The middle class has never ceased to tend towards progress, with all its strength, by an irresistible impulse, and even at the peril of its dearest interests. A great statesman who must be judged by his doctrines, and not by the chance of circumstances, M. Guizot, has shown us that the Roman Empire perished from the want of a middle class in the fifth century of our era, and we ourselves know with what impetuosity France has advanced in progress since the middle class revolution of 1789.
The middle class has not only the privilege of bringing about useful revolutions, it also claims the honour of repressing popular outbreaks, and opposing itself as a barrier to the overflow of evil passions.
It is to be desired, then, that this honourable class should become as numerous and as powerful as possible in the country we are now studying; because, while on the one hand it is the lawful heir of the temporal power of the Popes, on the other, it is the natural adversary of Mazzinist insurrection.
But the ecclesiastical caste, which sets this fatal principle of temporal power above the highest interests of society, can conceive nothing more prudent or efficacious than to vilify and abuse the middle class. It obliges this class to support the heaviest share of the budget, without being admitted to a share in the benefits. It takes from the small proprietor not only his whole income, but a part of his capital, while the people and the nobility are allowed all sorts of immunities. It demands heavy concessions in exchange for the humblest official posts. It omits no opportunity of depriving the liberal professions of all the importance they enjoy in other countries. It does its best to accelerate the decline of science and art. It imagines that nothing else can be abased, without its being proportionately elevated.
This system has succeeded (according to priestly notions) tolerably well at Home and in the Mediterranean provinces, but very badly at Bologna, and in the Apennine provinces. In the metropolis of the country the middle class is reduced, impoverished, and submissive; in the second capital it is much more numerous, wealthy, and independent. But evil passions, far more fatal to society than the rational resistance of parties, have progressed in an inverse direction. They predominate but little at Bologna, where the middle class is strong enough to keep them under; they triumph at Home, where the middle class has been destroyed. Thence it follows that Bologna is a city of opposition, and Rome a socialist city; and that the revolution will be moderate at Bologna, sanguinary at Rome. This is what the clerical party has gained.
Nothing can equal the disdain with which the prelates the princes, the foreigners of condition, and even the footmen at Rome, judge the middle class, of mezzo ceto.
The prelate has his reasons. If he be a minister, he sees in his offices some hundred clerks, belonging to the middle class. He knows that these active and intelligent, but underpaid men, are for the most part obliged to eke out a livelihood by secretly following some other occupation: one keeps the books of a land-steward, another those of a Jew. Whose fault is it? They well know that neither excellence of character nor length of service are carried to the credit of the civil functionary, and that, after having earned advancement, he will be obliged either to ask it himself as a favour, or to employ the intercession of his wife. It is not these poor men whom we should despise, but the dignitaries in violet stockings who impose the burden upon them.
Should Monsignore be a judge of a superior tribunal, of the Sacra Rota for instance, he need know nothing about the law. His secretary, or assistant, has by dint of patient study made himself an accomplished lawyer, as indeed a man must be who can thread his way through the dark labyrinths of Roman legislation. But Monsignore, who makes use of his assistant's ability for his own particular profit, thinks he has a right to despise him, because he is ill paid, lives humbly, and has no future to look forward to. Which of the two is in the wrong?
If the same prelate be a Judge of Appeal, he will profess a most profound contempt for advocates. I must confess they are to be pitied, these unfortunate Princes of the Bar, who write for the blind, and speak to the deaf, and who wear out their shoes in treading the interminable paths of Rotal procedure. But assuredly they are not men to be despised. They have always knowledge, often eloquence. Marchetti, Rossi, and Lunati might no doubt have written good sermons, if they had not preferred doing something else.
Between ourselves, I think the prelates affect to despise them, in order that they may not have to fear them. They have condemned some of them to exile, others to silence and want. Hear what Cardinal Antonelli said to M. de Gramont:—
"The advocates used to be one of our sores; we are beginning to be cured of it. If we could but get rid of the clerks in the offices, all would go well."
Let us hope that, among modern inventions, a bureaucratic machine may be made by which the labour of men in offices may be superseded.
The Roman princes affect to regard the middle class with contempt. The advocate who pleads their causes, and generally gains them, belongs to the middle class. The physician who attends them, and generally cures them, belongs to the middle class. But as these professional men have fixed salaries, and as salaries resemble wages, contempt is thrown into the bargain. Still the contempt is a magnanimous sort of contempt—that of a patron for his client. At Paris, when an advocate pleads a prince's cause, it is the prince who is the client: at Rome, it is the advocate.
But the individual who is visited by the most withering contempt of the Roman princes is the farmer, or mercante di campagna; and I don't wonder at it.
The mercante di campagna is an obscure individual, usually very honest, very intelligent, very active, and very rich. He undertakes to farm several thousand acres of land, pasture or arable as may be, which the prince would never be able to farm himself, because he neither knows how, nor has the means to do so. Upon this princely territory the farmer lets loose, in the most disrespectful manner, droves of bullocks, and cows, and horses, and flocks of sheep. Should his lease permit him, he cultivates a square league or so, and sows it with wheat. When harvest-time arrives, down from the mountains troop a thousand or twelve hundred peasants, who overrun the prince's land in the farmer's service. The corn is reaped, threshed in the open field, put into sacks, and carted away. The prince sees it go by, as he stands on his princely balcony. He learns that a man of the mezzo ceto, a man who passes his life on horseback, has harvested on his land so many sacks of corn, which have produced him so much money. The mercante di campagna comes, and confirms the intelligence, and then pays the rent agreed upon to the uttermost baioccho. Sometimes he even pays down a year or two in advance. What prince could forgive such aggravated insolence? It is the more atrocious, since the farmer is polite, well-mannered, and much better educated than the prince; he can give his daughters much larger fortunes, and could buy the entire principality for his own son, if by chance the prince were obliged to sell it. The cultivation of estates by means of these people is, in the eyes of the Roman princes, an attack upon the rights of property. Their passion for incessant work is a disturbance of the delightful Roman tranquillity. The fortunes they acquire by personal exertion, energy, and activity, are a reproach by inference to that stagnant wealth which is the foundation of the State, and the admiration of the Government.
This is not all: the mercante di campagna, who is not nobly born, who is not a priest, who has a wife and children, thinks he has a right to share in the management of the affairs of his country, upon the ground that he manages his own well. He points out abuses; he demands reforms. What audacity! The priests would cast him forth as they would a mere advocate, were it not that his occupation is the most necessary of all occupations, and that by turning out a man they might starve a district.
But the insolence of these agricultural contractors goes still further. They presume to be grand in their ideas. One of them, in 1848, under the reign of Mazzini, when the public works were suspended for want of money, finished the bridge of Lariccia, one of the finest constructions of our time, at his own expense. He certainly knew not whether the Pope would ever return to Rome to repay him. He acted like a real prince; but his audacity in assuming a part which was not intended for his caste, merited something more than contempt.
I, who have not the honour to be a prince, have no reason to despise the mercanti di campagna. Quite the contrary. I have solid ones for esteeming them highly. I have found them full of intelligence, kindness, and cordiality: middle-class men in the best sense of the term. My sole regret is that their numbers are so few, and that their scope of action is so limited.
If there were but two thousand of them, and the Government allowed them to follow their own course, the Roman Campagna would soon assume another aspect, and fever and ague take themselves off.
The foreigners who have inhabited Rome for any length of time, speak of the middle-class as contemptuously as the princes. I once made the same mistake as they do, so my testimony on the subject is the more worthy of acceptation.
Perhaps the foreigners in question have lived in furnished lodgings, and have found the landlady a little less than cruel. No doubt adventures of this kind are of daily occurrence elsewhere than in Rome; but is the middle-class to be held responsible for the light conduct of some few poor and uneducated women?
Or they may have had to do with the trade of Rome, and have found it extremely limited. This is because there is no capital, nor any extension of public credit. They are shocked to see the shopkeepers, during the Carnival, riding in carriages, and occupying the best boxes at the theatres; but this foolish love of show, so hurtful to the middle-class, is taught them by the universal example of those above them.
Perhaps they have sent to the chemist's for a doctor, and have fallen upon an ignorant professor of the healing art. This is unlucky, but it may happen anywhere. The medical body is not recruited exclusively among the eagles of science. For one Baroni, who is an honour at once to Rome, to Italy, and to Europe, you naturally expect to find many blockheads. If these are more plentiful at Rome than at Paris or Bologna, it is because the priests meddle with medical instruction, as with everything else. I never shall forget how I laughed when I entered the amphitheatre of Santo Spirito, to see a vine-leaf on 'the subject' on which the professor was going to lecture to the students.
In this land of chastity, where the modest vine is entwined with every branch of science, a doctor in surgery, attached to an hospital, once told me he had never seen the bosom of a woman. "We have," he said,
"two degrees of Doctor to take; one theoretical, the other practical. Between the first and the second, we practise in the hospitals, as you see. But the prelates who control our studies, will not allow a doctor to be present at a confinement until he has passed his second, or practical examination. They are afraid of our being scandalized. We obtain our practical knowledge of midwifery by practising upon dolls. In six months I shall have taken all my degrees, and I may be called in to act as accoucheur to any number of women, without ever having witnessed a single accouchement!"
The Roman artists would endow the middle-class with both fame and money, if they were differently treated. The Italian race has not degenerated, whatever its enemies and its masters may say: it is as naturally capable of distinction in all the arts as ever it was. Put a paint-brush into the hands of a child, and he will acquire the practice of painting in no time. An apprenticeship of three or four years enables him to gain a livelihood. The misfortune is, that they seldom get beyond this. I think, nay, I am almost sure, they are not less richly gifted than the pupils of Raphael; and they reach the same point as the pupils of M. Galimard. Is it their fault? No. I accuse but the medium into which their birth has cast them. It may be, that if they were at Paris, they would produce masterpieces. Give them parts to play in the world, competition, exhibitions, the support of a government, the encouragement of a public, the counsels of an enlightened criticism. All these benefits which we enjoy abundantly, are wholly denied to them, and are only known to them by hearsay.
Their sole motive for work is hunger, their sole encouragement the flying visits of foreigners. Their work is always done in a hurry; they knock off a copy in a week, and when it is sold, they begin another.
If some one, more ambitious than his fellows, undertakes an original work, whose opinion can he obtain as to its merits or demerits? The men of the reigning class know nothing about it, and the princes very little. The owner of the finest gallery in Rome said last year, in the salon of an Ambassador, "I admire nothing but what you French call chic" Prince Piombino gave the painter Gagliardi an order to paint him a ceiling, and proposed to pay him by the day. The Government has plenty to attend to without encouraging the arts: the four little newspapers which circulate at remote periods amuse themselves by puffing their particular friends in the silliest manner.
The foreigners who come and go are often men of taste, but they do not make a public. In Paris, Munich, Duesseldorf, and London, the public has an individuality; it is a man of a thousand heads. When it has marked a rising artist, it notes his progress, encourages him, blames him, urges him on, checks him. It takes such a one into its favour, is extremely wroth with such another. It is, of course, sometimes in the wrong; it is subject to ridiculous infatuations, and unjust revulsions of feeling; yet it lives, and it vivifies, and it is worth working for.
If I wonder at anything, it is that under the present system such artists are to be found at Home as Tenerani and Podesti, in statuary and painting; Castellani, in gold-working; Calamatta and Mercuri, in engraving, with some others. It is a melancholy truth, however, that the majority of Roman artists are doomed, by the absence of encouragement, to a monotonous and humiliating round of taskwork and trade; occupied half their time in re-copying copies, and the remainder in recommending their goods to the foreign purchaser.
In truth, I had myself quitted Rome with no very favourable idea of the middle class. A few distinguished artists, a few advocates of talent and courage, some able medical men, some wealthy and skilful farmers, were insufficient, in my opinion, to constitute a middle class. I regarded them as so many exceptions to a rule. And as it is certain that there can be no nation without a middle class, I dreaded lest I should be forced to admit that there is no Italian nation.
The middle class appeared to me to thrive no better in the Mediterranean provinces than at Rome. Half citizen, half clown, the people representing it are plunged in a crass ignorance. Having just sufficient means to live without working, they lounge away their time in homes comfortless and half-furnished, the very walls of which seem to reek with ennui. Rumours of what is passing in Europe, which might possibly rouse them from their torpor, are stopped at the frontier. New ideas, which might somewhat fertilize their minds, are intercepted by the Custom House. If they read anything, it is the Almanack, or by way of a higher order of literature, the Giornale di Roma, wherein the daily rides of the Pope are pompously chronicled. The existence of these people consists, in short, of a round of eating, drinking, sleeping, and reproducing their kind, until death arrive.
But beyond the Apennines matters are far otherwise. There, instead of the citizen descending to the level of the peasant, it is the peasant who rises to that of the citizen. Unremitting labour is continually improving both the soil and man. A smuggling of ideas which daily becomes more active, sets custom-houses and customs officers at defiance. Patriotism is stimulated and kept alive by the presence of the Austrians. Common sense is outraged by the weight of taxation. The different fractions of the middle class—advocates, physicians, merchants, farmers, artists—freely express among one another their discontent and their hatred, their ideas and their hopes. The Apennines, which form a barrier between them and the Pope, bring them nearer to Europe and liberty. I have never failed, after conversing with one of the middle class in the Legations, to inscribe in my tablets, There is an Italian Nation!
I travelled from Bologna to Florence with a young man whom I at first took, from the simple elegance of his dress, for an Englishman. But we fell so naturally into conversation, and my companion expressed himself so fluently in French, that I supposed him to be a fellow-countryman. When, however, I discovered how thoroughly he was versed in the state of the agriculture, manufactures, commerce, laws, the administration, and the politics of Italy, I could no longer doubt that he was an Italian and a Bolognese. What I chiefly admired in him was not so much the extent and variety of his knowledge, or the clearness and rectitude of his understanding, as the elevation of his character, and the moderation of his language. Every word he uttered was characterized by a profound sense of the dignity of his country, a bitter regret at the disesteem and neglect into which that country had fallen, and a firm hope in the justice of Europe in general and of one great prince in particular, and a certain combination of pride, melancholy, and sweetness which possessed an irresistible attraction for me. He nourished no hatred either against the Pope or any other person; he admitted the system of the priests, although utterly intolerable to the country, to be perfectly logical in itself. His dream was not of vengeance, but deliverance.
I learnt, some time afterwards, that my delightful travelling companion was a man of the mezzo ceto, and that there are many more such as he in Bologna.
But already had I inscribed in my tablets these words, thrice repeated, dated from the Court of the Posts, Piazza del Gran' Duca, Florence:—
"There is an Italian Nation! There is an Italian Nation! There is an Italian Nation!"
An Italian has said with pungent irony, "Who knows but that one of these days a powerful microscope may detect globules of nobility in the blood?"
I am too national not to applaud a good joke, and yet I must confess these "globules of nobility" do not positively offend my reason.
There is no doubt that sons take after their fathers. The Barons of the Middle Ages transmitted to their children a heritage of heroic qualities. Frederick the Great obtained a race of gigantic grenadiers by marrying men of six feet to women of five feet six. The children of a clever man are not fools, provided their mother has not failed in her duties; and when the Cretins of the Alps intermarry, they produce Cretins. We know dogs are slow or fast, keen-scented or keen-sighted, according to their breed, and we buy a two-year-old colt upon the strength of his pedigree. Can we consistently admit nobility among horses and dogs, and deny it among men?
Add to this, that the pride of bearing an illustrious name is a powerful incentive to well-doing. Noblemen have duties to fulfil both towards their ancestors and their posterity. They must walk uprightly under the penalty of dishonouring an entire race. Tradition obliges them to follow a path of honour and virtue, from which they cannot stray a single step without falling. They never sign their names without some elevated thought of an hereditary obligation.
I must admit that everything degenerates in the end, and that the purest blood may occasionally lose its high qualities, as the most generous wine turns to molasses or vinegar. But we have all of us met in the world a young man of loftier and prouder bearing, more high-minded and more courageous, than his fellows; or a woman so beautiful and simple and chaste, that she seemed made of a finer clay than the rest of her sex. We may be sure that both one and the other have in their blood some globules of nobility.