Rome in 1860
by Edward Dicey
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcribed by from the 1861 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email



[The right of Translation is reserved.]

* * * * *


* * * * *



My first recollections of Rome date from too long ago, and from too early an age, for me to be able to recall with ease the impression caused by its first aspect. It is hard indeed for any one at any time to judge of Rome fairly. Whatever may be the object of our pilgrimage, we Roman travellers are all under some guise or other pilgrims to the Eternal City, and gaze around us with something of a pilgrim's reverence for the shrine of his worship. The ground we tread on is enchanted ground, we breathe a charmed air, and are spellbound with a strange witchery. A kind of glamour steals over us, a thousand memories rise up and chase each other. Heroes and martyrs, sages and saints and sinners, consuls and popes and emperors, people the weird pageant which to our mind's eye hovers ever mistily amidst the scenes around us. Here above all places in God's earth it is hard to forget the past and think only of the present. This, however, is what I now want to do. Laying aside all memory of what Rome has been, I would again describe what Rome is now. And thus, in my solitary wanderings about the city, I have often sought to picture to myself what would be the feelings of a stranger who, caring nothing and knowing nothing of the past, should enter Rome with only that listless curiosity which all travellers feel perforce, when for the first time they approach a great capital. Let me fancy that such a traveller—a very Gallio among travellers—is standing by my side. Let me try and tell him what, under my mentorship, he would mark and see.

It shall not be on a bright, cloudless day that we enter Rome. To our northern eyes the rich Italian sun-light gives to everything, even to ruins and rags and squalor, a deceptive grandeur, and a beauty which is not due. No, the day shall be such a day as that on which I write; such a day in fact as the days are oftener than not at this dead season of the year, sunless and damp and dull. The sky above is covered with colourless, unbroken clouds, and the outline of the Alban and the Sabine hills stands dimly out against the grey distance. It matters little by what gate or from what quarter we enter. On every side the scene is much the same. The Campagna surrounds the city. A wide, waste, broken, hillock-covered plain, half common, half pasture land, and altogether desolate; a few stunted trees, a deserted house or two, here and there a crumbling mass of shapeless brickwork: such is the foreground through which you travel for many a weary mile. As you approach the city there is no change in the desolation, no sign of life. Every now and then a string of some half-dozen peasant-carts, laden with wine-barrels or wood faggots, comes jingling by. The carts so-called, rather by courtesy than right, consist of three rough planks and two high ricketty wheels. The broken-kneed horses sway to and fro beneath their unwieldy load, and the drivers, clad in their heavy sheepskin jackets, crouch sleepily beneath the clumsy, hide-bound framework, placed so as to shelter them from the chill Tramontana blasts. A solitary cart is rare, for the neighbourhood of Rome is not the safest of places, and those small piles of stone, with the wooden cross surmounting them, bear witness to the fact that a murder took place not long ago on the very spot you are passing now. Then, perhaps, you come across a drove of wild, shaggy buffaloes, or a travelling carriage rattling and jilting along, or a stray priest or so, trudging homewards from some outlying chapel. That red-bodied funereal- looking two-horse-coach, crawling at a snail's pace, belongs to his Excellency the Cardinal, whom Papal etiquette forbids to walk on foot within the city, and whom you can see a little further on pottering feebly along the road in his violet stockings, supported by his clerical secretary, and followed at a respectful distance by his two attendant footmen with their threadbare liveries. At last, out of the dreary waste, at the end of the interminable ill-paved sloughy road, the long line of the grey tumble-down walls rises gloomily. A few cannon-shot would batter a breach anywhere, as the events of 1849 proved only too well. However, at Rome there is neither commerce to be impeded nor building extension of any kind to be checked; the city has shrunk up until its precincts are a world too wide; and the walls, if they are useless, are harmless also; more, by the way, than you can say for most things here. There is no stir or bustle at the gates. Two French soldiers, striding across a bench, are playing at picquet with a pack of greasy cards. A pack-horse or two nibble the blades of grass between the stones, while their owners haggle with the solitary guard about the "octroi" duties. A sentinel on duty stares listlessly at you as you pass,—and you have entered Rome.

You are coming, I will suppose, from Ostia, and enter therefore by the "Porta San Paolo;" the gate where legends tell that Belisarius sat and begged. I have chosen this out of the dozen entrances as recalling fewest of past memories and leading most directly to the heart of the living, working city. You stand then within Rome, and look round in vain for the signs of a city. Hard by a knot of dark cypress-trees waves above the lonely burial-ground where Shelley lies at rest. A long, straight, pollard-lined road stretches before you between high walls far away; low hills or mounds rise on either side, covered by stunted, straggling vineyards. You pass on. A beggar, squatting by the roadside, calls on you for charity; and long after you have passed you can hear the mumbling, droning cry, "Per l'amore di Dio e della Santa Vergine," dying in your ears. On the wall, from time to time, you see a rude painting of Christ upon the cross, and an inscription above the slit beneath bids you contribute alms for the souls in purgatory. A peasant-woman it may be is kneeling before the shrine, and a troop of priests pass by on the other side. A string of carts again, drawn by bullocks, another shrine, and another troop of priests, and you are come to the river's banks. The dull, muddy Tiber rolls beneath you, and in front, that shapeless mass of dingy, weather-stained, discoloured, plaster-covered, tile-roofed buildings, crowded and jammed together on either side the river, is Rome itself. You are at the city's port, the "Ripetta" or quay of Rome. In the stream there are a dozen vessels, something between barges and coasting smacks, the largest possibly of fifty tons' burden, which have brought marble from Carrara for the sculptors' studios. There is a Gravesend-looking steamer too, lying off the quay, but she belongs to the French government, and is employed to carry troops to and from Civita Vecchia. This is all, and at this point all traffic on the Tiber ceases. Though the river is navigable for a long distance above Rome, yet beyond the bridge, now in sight, not a boat is to be seen except at rare intervals. It is the Tiber surely, and not the Thames, which should be called the "silent highway."

A few steps more and the walls on either side are replaced by houses, and the city has begun. The houses do not improve on a closer acquaintance; one and all look as if commenced on too grand a scale, they had ruined their builders before their completion, had been left standing empty for years, and were now occupied by tenants too poor to keep them from decay. There are holes in the wall where the scaffolding was fixed, large blotches where the plaster has peeled away; stones and cornices which have been left unused lie in the mud before the doors. From the window- sills and from ropes fastened across the streets flutter half-washed rags and strange apparel. The height of the houses makes the narrow streets gloomy even at midday. At night, save in a few main thoroughfares, there is no light of any kind; but then, after dark at Rome, nobody cares much about walking in out-of-the-way places. The streets are paved with the most angular and slippery of stones, placed herringbone fashion, with ups and downs in every direction. Foot-pavement there is none; and the ricketty carriages drawn by the tottering horses come swaying round the endless corners with an utter disregard for the limbs and lives of the foot-folk. You are out of luck if you come to Rome on a "Festa" day, for then all the shops are shut, and the town looks drearier than ever. However, even here the chances are two to one, or somewhat more, in favour of the day of your arrival being a working-day. When the shops are open there is at any rate life enough of one kind or other. In most parts the shops have no window-fronts. Glass, indeed, there is little of anywhere, and the very name of plate-glass is unknown. The dark, gloomy shops varying in size between a coach-house and a wine-vault, have their wide shutter-doors flung open to the streets. A feeble lamp hung at the back of every shop you pass, before a painted Madonna shrine, makes the darkness of their interiors visible. The trades of Rome are primitive and few in number. Those dismembered, disembowelled carcases, suspended in every variety of posture, denote the butchers' shops; not the pleasantest of sights at any time, least of all in Rome, where the custom of washing the meat after killing it seems never to have been introduced. Next door too is an open stable, crowded with mules and horses. Those black, mouldy loaves, exposed in a wire-work cage, to protect them from the clutches of the hungry street vagabonds, stand in front of the bakers, where the price of bread is regulated by the pontifical tariff. Then comes the "Spaccio di Vino," that gloomiest among the shrines of Bacchus, where the sour red wine is drunk at dirty tables by the grimiest of tipplers. Hard by is the "Stannaro," or hardware tinker, who is always re-bottoming dilapidated pans, and drives a brisk trade in those clumsy, murderous-looking knives. Further on is the greengrocer, with the long strings of greens, and sausages, and flabby balls of cheese, and straw-covered oil-flasks dangling in festoons before his door. Over the way is the Government depot, where the coarsest of salt and the rankest of tobacco are sold at monopoly prices. Those gay, parti-coloured stripes of paper, inscribed with the cabalistic figures, flaunting at the street corner, proclaim the "Prenditoria di Lotti," or office of the Papal lottery, where gambling receives the sanction of the Church, and prospers under clerical auspices to such an extent that in the city of Rome alone, with a population under two hundred thousand, fifty-five millions of lottery tickets are said to be taken annually. Cobblers and carpenters, barbers and old clothes-men, seem to me to carry on their trades much in the same way all the world over. The peculiarity about Rome is, that all these trades seem stunted in their development. The cobbler never emerges as the shoemaker, and the carpenter fails to rise into the upholstery line of business. Bookselling too is a trade which does not thrive on Roman soil. Altogether there is a wonderful sameness about the streets. Time after time, turn after turn, the same scene is reproduced. So having got used to the first strangeness of the sight you move on more quickly.

There is no lack of life about you now, at the shop-doors whole families sit working at their trades, or carrying on the most private occupations of domestic life; at every corner groups of men stand loitering about, with hungry looks and ragged garments, reminding one only too forcibly of the "Seven Dials" on a summer Sunday; French soldiers and beggars, women and children and priests swarm around you. Indeed, there are priests everywhere. There with their long black coats and broad-brimmed shovel hats, come a score of young priests, walking two and two together, with downcast eyes. How, without looking up, they manage to wend their way among the crowd, is a constant miracle; the carriages, however, stop to let them pass, for a Roman driver would sooner run over a dozen children than knock down a priest. A sturdy, bare-headed, bare-footed monk, not over clean, nor over savoury, hustles along with his brown robe fastened round his waist by the knotted scourge of cord; a ghastly-looking figure, covered in a grey shroud from head to foot, with slits for his mouth and eyes, shakes a money-box in your face, with scowling importunity; a fat sleek abbe comes sauntering along, peeping into the open shops or (so scandal whispers) at the faces of the shop-girls. If you look right or left, behind or in front, you see priests on every side,—Franciscan friars and Dominicans, Carmelites and Capuchins, priests in brown cloth and priests in serge, priests in red and white and grey, priests in purple and priests in rags, standing on the church-steps, stopping at the doorways, coming down the bye-streets, looking out of the windows—you see priests everywhere and always. Their faces are, as a rule, not pleasant to look upon; and I think, at first, with something of the "old bogey" belief of childhood, you feel more comfortable when they are not too close to you; but, ere long, this feeling wears away, and you gaze at the priests and at the beggars with the same stolid indifference.

You are getting, by this time, into the heart of the city, ever and anon the streets pass through some square or piazza, each like the other. In the centre stands a broken fountain, moss-grown and weedy, whence the water spouts languidly; on the one side is a church, on the other some grim old palace, which from its general aspect, and the iron bars before its windows, bears a striking resemblance to Newgate gone to ruin. Grass grows between the flag-stones, and the piazza is emptier, quieter, and cleaner than the street, but that is all. You stop and enter the first church or two, but your curiosity is soon satisfied. Dull and bare outside, the churches are gaudy and dull within. When you have seen one, you have seen all. A crippled beggar crouching at the door, a few common people kneeling before the candle-lighted shrines, a priest or two mumbling at a side-altar, half-a-dozen indifferent pictures and a great deal of gilt and marble everywhere, an odour of stale incense and mouldy cloth, and, over all, a dim dust-discoloured light. Fancy all this, and you will have before you a Roman church. On your way you pass no fine buildings, for to tell the honest truth, there are no fine buildings in Rome, except St Peter's and the Colosseum, both of which lie away from the town. Fragments indeed of old ruins, porticoes built into the wall, bricked-up archways and old cornice-stones, catch your eye from time to time; and so, on and on, over broken pavements, up and down endless hills, through narrow streets and gloomy piazzas, by churches innumerable, amidst an ever-shifting motley crowd of peasants, soldiers, priests, and beggars, you journey onwards for two miles or so; you have got at last to the modern quarter, where hotels are found, and where the English congregate. There in the "Corso," and in one or two streets leading out of it, there are foot-pavements, lamps at night, and windows to the shops. A fair sprinkling of second-rate equipages roll by you, bearing the Roman ladies, with their gaudy dresses, ill-assorted colours, and their heavy, handsome, sensual features. The young Italian nobles, with their English-cut attire, saunter past you listlessly. The peasants are few in number now, but the soldiers and priests and beggars are never wanting. These streets and shops, brilliant though they seem by contrast with the rest of the city, would, after all, only be third-rate ones in any other European capital, and will not detain you long. On again by the fountain of Treves, where the water-stream flows day and night through the defaced and broken statue-work; a few steps more, and then you fall again into the narrow streets and the decayed piazzas; on again, between high walls, along roads leading through desolate ruin-covered vineyards, and you are come to another gate. The French sentinels are changing guard. The dreary Campagna lies before you, and you have passed through Rome.

And when our stroll was over, that sceptic and incurious fellow-traveller of mine would surely turn to take a last look at the dark heap of roofs and chimney-pots and domes, which lies mouldering in the valley at his feet. If I were then to tell him, that in that city of some hundred and seventy thousand souls, there were ten thousand persons in holy orders, and between three and four hundred churches, of which nearly half had convents and schools attached; if I were to add, that taking in novices, scholars, choristers, servitors, beadles, and whole tribes of clerical attendants, there were probably not far short of forty thousand persons, who in some form or other lived upon and by the church, that is, in plainer words, doing no labour themselves, lived on the labour of others, he, I think, would answer then, that a city so priest-infested, priest- ruled and priest-ridden, would be much such a city as he had seen with me; such a city as Rome is now.


In foreign discussions on the Papal question it is always assumed, as an undisputed fact, that the maintenance of the Papal court at Rome is, in a material point of view, an immense advantage to the city, whatever it may be in a moral one. Now my own observations have led me to doubt the correctness of this assumption, which, if true, forms an important item in the whole matter under consideration. It is no good saying, as my "Papalini" friends are wont to do, Rome gains everything and indeed only exists by the Papacy. The real questions are, What class at Rome gain by it, and what is it that they gain? There are four classes at Rome: the priests, the nobles, the bourgeoisie, and the poor. Of course if anybody gains it is the priesthood. If the Pope were removed from Rome, or if a lay government were established (the two hypotheses are practically identical), the number of the Clergy would undoubtedly be much diminished. A large portion of the convents and clerical endowments would be suppressed, and the present generation of priests would be heavy sufferers. This result is inevitable. Under no free government would or could a city of 170,000 inhabitants support 10,000 unproductive persons out of the common funds; for this is substantially the case at Rome in the present day. Every sixteen lay citizens, men, women, and children, support out of their labour a priest between them. The Papal question with the Roman priesthood is thus a question of daily bread, and it is surely no want of charity to suppose that the material aspect influences their minds quite as much as the spiritual. Still even with regard to the priests there are two sides to the question. The system of political and social government inseparable from the Papacy, which closes up almost every trade and profession, drives vast numbers into the priesthood for want of any other occupation. The supply of priests is, in consequence, far greater than the demand, and, as the laws of political economy hold good even in the Papal States, priest labour is miserably underpaid. It is a Protestant delusion that the priests in Rome live upon the fat of the land. What fat there is is certainly theirs, but then there are too many mouths to eat it. The Roman priests are relatively poorer than those in any other part of Italy. It is one of the great mysteries in Rome how all the priests who swarm about the streets manage to live. The clue to the mystery is to be found inside the churches. In every church here, and there are 366 of them, some score or two of masses are said daily at the different altars. The pay for performing a mass varies from a "Paul" to a "Scudo;" that is, in round numbers, from sixpence to a crown. The "good" masses, those paid for by private persons for the souls of their relatives, are naturally reserved for the priests connected with the particular church; while the poor ones, which are paid for out of the funds of the church, are given to any priest who happens to apply for them. So somehow or other, what with a mass or two a day, or by private tuition, or by charitable assistance, or in some cases by small handicrafts conducted secretly, the large floating population of unemployed priests rub on from day to day, in the hope of getting ultimately some piece of ecclesiastical patronage. Yet the distress and want amongst them are often pitiable, and, in fact, amongst the many sufferers from the artificial preponderance given to the priesthood by the Papal system, the poorer class of priests are not among the least or lightest.

The nobility as a body are sure to be more or less supporters of the established order of things. Their interests too are very much mixed up with those of the Papacy. There is not a noble Roman family which has not one or more of its members among the higher ranks of the priesthood, and to a considerable degree their distinctions, such as they are, and their temporal prospects are bound up with the Popedom. Moreover, in this rank of the social scale the private and personal influence of the priests, through the women of the family, is very powerful. The more active, however, and ambitious amongst the aristocracy feel deeply the exclusion from public life, the absence of any opening for ambition, and the gradual impoverishment of their property, which are the necessary evils of an absolute ecclesiastical government.

The "Bourgeoisie" stand on a very different footing. They have neither the moral influence of the priesthood nor the material wealth of the nobility to console them for the loss of liberty; they form indeed the "Pariahs" of Roman society. "In other countries," a Roman once said to me, "you have one man who lives in wealth and a thousand who live in comfort. Here the one man lives in comfort, and the thousand live in misery." I believe this picture is only too true. The middle classes, who live by trade or mental labour, must have a hard time of it. The professions of Rome are overstocked and underpaid. The large class of government officials or "impiegati," to whom admirers of the Papacy point with such pride as evidence of the secular character of the administration, are paid on the most niggardly scale; while all the lucrative and influential posts are reserved for the priestly administrators. The avowed venality of the courts of justice is a proof that lawyers are too poorly remunerated to find honesty their best policy, while the extent to which barbers are still employed as surgeons shows that the medical profession is not of sufficient repute to be prosperous. There is no native patronage for art, no public for literature. The very theatres, which flourish in other despotic states, are here but losing speculations, owing to the interference of clerical regulations. There are no commerce and no manufactures in the Eternal city. In a back street near the Capitol, over a gloomy, stable-looking door, you may see written up "Borsa di Roma," but I never could discover any credible evidence of business being transacted on the Roman change. There is but one private factory in Rome, the Anglo-Roman Gas Company. What trade there is is huckstering, not commerce. In fact, so Romans have told me, you may safely conclude that every native you meet walking in the streets here, in a broadcloth coat, lives from hand to mouth, and you may pretty surely guess that his next month's salary is already overdrawn. The crowds of respectably-dressed persons, clerks and shopkeepers and artizans, whom you see in the lottery offices the night before the drawing, prove the general existence not only of improvidence but of distress.

The favourite argument in support of the Papal rule in Rome, is that the poor gain immensely by it. I quite admit that the argument contains a certain amount of truth. The priests, the churches, and the convents give a great deal of employment to the working classes. There are probably some 30,000 persons who live on the priests, or rather out of the funds which support them. Then, too, the system of clerical charity operates favourably for the very poor. Any Roman in distress can get from his priest a "buono," or certificate, that he is in want of food, and on presenting this at one of the convents belonging to the mendicant orders, he will obtain a wholesome meal. No man in Rome therefore need be reduced to absolute starvation as long as he stands well with his priest; that is, as long as he goes to confession, never talks of politics, and kneels down when the Pope passes. Now the evil moral effects of such a system, its tendency to destroy independent self-respect and to promote improvidence are obvious enough, and I doubt whether even the positive gain to the poor is unmixed. The wages paid to the servants of the Church, and the amount given away in charity, must come out of somebody's pockets. In fact, the whole country and the poor themselves indirectly, if not directly, are impoverished by supporting these unproductive classes out of the produce of labour. If prevention is better than cure, work is any day better than charity. After all, too, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and nowhere are the poor more poverty-stricken and needy than in Rome. The swarms of beggars which infest the town are almost the first objects that strike a stranger here, though strangers have no notion of the distress of Rome. The winter, when visitors are here, is the harvest-time of the Roman poor. It is the summer, when the strangers are gone and the streets deserted, which is their season of want and misery.

The truth is, that Rome, at the present day, lives upon her visitors, as much or more than Ramsgate or Margate, for I should be disposed to consider the native commerce of either of these bathing-places quite as remunerative as that of the Papal capital. The Vatican is the quietest and the least showy of European courts; and of itself, whatever it may do by others, causes little money to be spent in the town. Even if the Pope were removed from Rome, I much doubt, and I know the Romans doubt, whether travellers would cease to come, or even come in diminished numbers. Rome was famous centuries before Popes were heard of, and will be equally famous centuries after they have passed away. The churches, the museums, the galleries, the ruins, the climate, and the recollections of Rome, would still remain equally attractive, whether the Pope were at hand or not. Under a secular government the city would be far more lively and, in many respects, more pleasant for strangers. An enterprising vigorous rule could probably do much to check the malaria, to bring the Campagna into cultivation, to render the Tiber navigable, to promote roads and railways, and to develop the internal resources of the Roman States. The gain accruing from these reforms and improvements would, in Roman estimation, far outweigh any possible loss in the number of visitors, or from the absence of the Papal court. Moreover, whether rightly or wrongly, all Romans entertain an unshakeable conviction that in an united Italian kingdom, Rome must ultimately be the chief, if not the sole capital of Italy.

These reasons, which rest on abstract considerations, naturally affect only the educated classes who are also biassed by their political predilections. The small trading and commercial classes are, on somewhat different grounds, equally dissatisfied with the present state of things. The one boon they desire, is a settled government and the end of this ruinous uncertainty. Now a priestly government supported by French bayonets can never give Rome either order or prosperity. For the sake of quiet itself, they wish for change. With respect to the poor, it is very difficult to judge what their feelings or wishes may be. From what I have seen, I doubt, whether in any part of Italy, with the exception of the provinces subject to Austrian oppression, the revolution is, strictly speaking, a popular one. I suspect that the populace of Rome have no strong desire for Italian unity or, still less for annexation to Sardinia, but I am still more convinced that they have no affection or regard whatever for the existing government; not even the sort of attachment, valueless though it be, which the lazzaroni of Naples have for their Bourbon princes. It is incredible, if any such a feeling did exist, that it should refuse to give any sign of its existence at such a time as the present.

With respect to the actual pecuniary cost of the Papal government, it is not easy to arrive at any positive information; I have little faith in statistics generally, and in Roman statistics in particular; I have, however, before me the official Government Budget for the year 1858. Like all Papal documents, it is confused and meagre, but yet some curious conclusions may be arrived at from it. The year 1858 was as quiet a year, be it remembered, as there has been in Italy for ten years past. It was only on new year's day, in 1859, that Napoleon dropped the first hint of the Italian war. The year 1858 may therefore be fairly regarded as a normal year under the present Papal system. For this year the net receipts of the Government were,

Scudi. Direct Taxes . . . . 3,011571 Customs . . . . . . 5,444729 Stamps . . . . . . . 947184 Post . . . . . . . . 111848 Lottery . . . . . . 392813 Licences for Trade . . 174525 Total 10,082670

Now the census, taken at the end of 1857, showed a little over 600,000 families in the Papal States. The head therefore of every family had, on an average, to pay about 16 sc. and a half, or 3 pounds. 7s. 9d. annually for the expenses of the Government, which for so poor a country is pretty well. Let us now see how that money is professed to have been spent,

The net expenses are,

Scudi. Army . . . . . . . . 2,014047 Public Debt . . . . 4,217708 Interior . . . . . . 1,507235 Currency . . . . . . 15115 Public Works . . . . 681932 Census . . . . . . . 88151 Grant for special purposes to Minister of Finance . . . 1,415404 Total 9,949592

Now the Pontifical army is kept up avowedly not for purposes of defence, but to support the Government. The public debt of 66 millions of scudi has been incurred for the sake of keeping up this army. The expenses of the Interior mean the expenses of the police and spies, which infest every town in the Papal dominions, and the grant for Special Purposes, whatever else it may mean, which is not clear, means certainly some job, which the Government does not like to avow. The only parts, therefore, of the expenditure which can be fairly said to be for the benefit of the nation, are the expenses of the Currency, Census and Public Works, amounting altogether to 785198 scudi, or not a twelfth of the net income raised by taxation. Commercially speaking, whatever may be the case theologically, I am afraid the Papal system can hardly be said to pay.


We all know the story of "Boccaccio's" Jew, who went to Rome an unbeliever, and came back a Christian. There is no need for alarm; it is not my intention to repeat the story. Indeed the only reason for my alluding to it, is to introduce the remark that, at the present day, the Jew would have returned from Rome hardened in heart and unconverted. The flagrant profligacy, the open immorality, which in the Hebrew's judgment supplied the strongest testimony to the truth of a religion that survived such scandals, exist no longer. Rome is, externally, the most moral and decorous of European cities. In reality, she may be only a whited sepulchre, but at any rate, the whitewash is laid on very thick, and the plaster looks uncommonly like stone. From various motives, this feature is, I think, but seldom brought prominently forward in descriptions of the Papal city. Protestant and liberal writers slur over the facts, because, however erroneously, they are deemed inconsistent with the assumed iniquity of the Government and the corruptions of the Papacy. Catholic narrators know perhaps too much of what goes on behind the scenes to relish calling too close an attention to the apparent proprieties of Rome. Be the cause what it may, the moral aspect of the Papal city seems to me to be but little dwelt upon, and yet on many accounts it is a very curious one.

As far as Sabbatarianism is concerned, Rome is the Glasgow of Italy. All shops, except druggists', tobacconists', and places of refreshment, are hermetically closed on Sundays. Even the barbers have to close at half- past ten in the morning under a heavy fine, and during the Sundays in Lent cafes and eating-houses are shut throughout the afternoon, because the waiters are supposed to go to catechism. The English reading-rooms are locked up; there is no delivery of letters, and no mails go out. A French band plays on the Pincian at sunset, and the Borghese gardens are thrown open; but these, till evening, are the only public amusements. At night, it is true, the theatres are open, but then in Roman Catholic countries, Sunday evening is universally accounted a feast. To make up for this, the theatres are closed on every Friday in the year, as they are too throughout Lent and Advent; and once a week or more there is sure to be a Saint's day as well, on which shops and all are closed, to the great trial of a traveller's patience. All the amusements of the Papal subjects are regulated with the strictest regard to their morals. Private or public gambling of any kind, excepting always the Papal Lottery, is strictly suppressed. There are no public dancing-places of any kind, no casinos or "cafes chantants." No public masked balls are allowed, except one or two on the last nights of the Carnival. The theatres themselves are kept under the most rigid "surveillance." Every thing, from the titles of the plays to the petticoats of the ballet-girls, undergoes clerical inspection. The censorship is as unsparing of "double entendres" as of political allusions, and "Palais Royal" farces are 'Bowdlerized' down till they emerge from the process innocuous and dull; compared with one at the "Apollo," a ballet at the Princess's was a wild and voluptuous orgy.

The same system of repression prevails in everything. In the print-shops one never sees a picture which even verges on impropriety. The few female portraits exhibited in their windows are robed with an amount of drapery which would satisfy the most prudish "sensibilities." All books, which have the slightest amorous tendency, are scrupulously interdicted without reference to their political views. The number of wine-shops seems to me small in proportion to the size of the city, and in none of them, as far as I could learn, are spirits sold. There is another subject, which will suggest itself at once to any one acquainted with the life of towns, but on which it is obviously difficult to enter fully. It is enough to say, that what the author of "Friends in Council" styles, with more sentiment than truth, "the sin of great cities," does not "apparently" exist in Rome. Not only is public vice kept out of sight, as in some other Italian cities, but its private haunts and resorts are absolutely and literally suppressed. In fact, if priest rule were deposed, and our own Sabbatarians and total-abstinence men and societies for the suppression of vice, reigned in its stead, I doubt if Rome could be made more outwardly decorous than it is at present.

This then is the fair side of the picture. What is the aspect of the reverse? In the first place, the system requires for its working an amount of constant clerical interference in all private affairs, which, to say the least, is a great positive evil. Confession is the great weapon by means of which morality is enforced. Servants are instructed to report about their employers, wives about their husbands, children about their parents, and girls about their lovers. Every act of your life is thus known to, and interfered with, by the priests. I might quote a hundred instances of petty interference: let me quote the first few that come to my memory. No bookseller can have a sale of books without submitting each volume to clerical supervision. An Italian gentleman, resident here, had to my own knowledge to obtain a special permission in order to retain a copy of Rousseau's works in his private library. The Roman nobles are not allowed to hunt because the Pope considers the amusement dangerous. Profane swearing is a criminal offence. Every Lent all restaurateurs are warned by a solemn edict not to supply meat on fast days, and then told that "whenever on the forbidden days they are obliged to supply rich meats, they must do so in a separate room, in order that scandal may be avoided, and that all may know they are in the capital of the catholic world." Forced marriages are matters of constant occurrence, and even strangers against whom a charge of affiliation is brought are obliged either to marry their accuser, or make provision for the illegitimate offspring. In the provinces the system of interference is naturally carried to yet greater lengths. Nine years ago certain Christians at Bologna, who had opened shops in the Jewish quarter of the town, were ordered to leave at once, because such a practice was in "open opposition to the Apostolic laws and institutions." Again, Cardinal Cagiano, Bishop of Senigaglia, published a decree in the year 1844, which has never been repealed, to promote morality in his diocese. In that decree the following articles occur:

"All young men and women are strictly forbidden, under any pretext whatever, to give or receive presents from each other before marriage. All persons who have received such presents before the publication of this decree, are required to make restitution of them within three months, or to become betrothed to the donor within the said period. Any one who contravenes these regulations is to be punished by fifteen days imprisonment, during which he is to support himself at his own expense, and the presents will be devoted to some pious purpose to be determined on hereafter."

I could multiply instances of this sort indefinitely, but I know of none more striking than the last.

So much for the mode in which the system is worked, and now as to its practical result. To judge fully, it is necessary to get behind the scenes, a thing not easy for a stranger anywhere, least of all here. There is too the further difficulty, that when you have got behind the scenes, it is not very easy to narrate your esoteric experiences to the public. Even if there were no other objection, it would be useless to quote individual stories and facts which have come privately to my knowledge, and which would show Rome, in spite of its external propriety, to be one of the most corrupt, debauched, and demoralized of cities. Each separate story can be disputed or explained away, but the weight of the general evidence is overpowering. In these matters it is best to keep to the old Latin rule, "Experto crede." I have talked with many persons, Romans, Italians, and foreign residents, on the subject, and from one and all I have heard similar accounts. Every traveller I have ever met with, who has made like inquiries, has come to a like conviction. In a country where there is practically neither press nor public courts, nor responsible government, where even no classified census is allowed to be taken, statistics are hard to obtain, and of little value when obtained. Personal evidence, unsatisfactory as it is, is after all the best you can arrive at. With regard then to what, in its strictest sense, is termed the "morality" of Rome, I must dismiss the subject with the remarks, that the absence of recognized public resorts and agents of vice may be dearly purchased when parents make a traffic in their own houses of their children's shame, and that perhaps as far as the state is concerned the debauchery of a few is a less evil than the dissoluteness of the whole population. More I cannot and need not say. With respect to other sins against the Decalogue, it is an easier task to speak. There is very little drunkenness in Rome I freely admit, but then the Italians, like most natives of warm countries, are naturally sober. Rome is certainly not superior in this respect to other Italian cities; since the introduction of the French soldiery probably the contrary. At the street corners you constantly see exhortations against profane swearing, headed "Bestemmiatore orrendo nome," but in spite of this, the amount of blasphemies that any common Roman will pour forth on the slightest provocation, is really appalling. Beggars too are universal. Everybody begs; if you ask a common person your way along the street, the chances are that he asks you for a "buono mano." Now, even if you doubt the truth of Sheridan's dictum, that no man could be honest without being rich, it is hard to believe in a virtuous beggar. The abundance, also, of lotteries shakes one's faith in Roman morality. A population amongst whom gambling and beggary are encouraged by their spiritual and temporal rulers is not likely in other respects to be a virtuous or a moral one. The frequency of violent crimes is in itself a startling fact.

To my eyes, indeed, the very look of the city and its inhabitants, is a strong prima facie ground of suspicion. There is vice on those worn, wretched faces—vice in those dilapidated hovel-palaces—vice in those streets, teeming with priests and dirt and misery. In fact, if you only fancy to yourself a city, where there are no manufactures, no commerce, no public life of any kind; where the rich are condemned to involuntary idleness, and the poor to enforced misery; where there is a population of some ten thousand ecclesiastics in the prime of life, without adequate occupation for the most part, and all vowed to celibacy; where priests and priest-rule are omnipotent, and where every outlet for the natural desires and passions of men is carefully cut off—if you take in fully all these conditions and their inevitable consequences, you will not be surprised if to me, as to any one who knows the truth, the outward morality of Rome seems but the saddest of its many mockeries.


"Senatus Populusque Romanus." The phrase sounds strangely, in my ears, like the accents of an unknown language or the burden of a half-forgotten melody. In those four initial letters there seems to me always to lie embodied an epitome of the world's history—the rise and decline and fall of Rome. On the escutcheons of the Roman nobles, the S.P.Q.R. are still blazoned forth conspicuously, but where shall we look for the realities expressed by that world-famed symbol? It is true, the Senate is still represented by a single Senator, nominated by the Pope, who drives in a Lord Mayor's state coach on solemn occasions; and regularly, on the first night of the opera season, sends round ices, as a present to the favoured occupants of the second and third tiers of boxes at the "Apollo." This gentleman, by all the laws of senatorial succession, is the undoubted heir and representative of the old Roman Senate, who sat with their togas wrapped around them, waiting for the Gaul to strike; but alas, the "Populus Romanus" has left behind him neither heir nor descendant.

Yet surely, if anything of dead Rome be still left in the living city, it should be found in the Roman people. In the Mysteres du Peuple of Eugene Sue, there is a story, that to the Proletarian people, the sons of toil and labour, belong genealogies of their own, pedigrees of families, who from remote times have lived and died among the ranks of industry. These fabulous families, I have often thought, should have had their home in the Eternal City. Amongst the peasants that you meet, praying in the churches, or basking in the sun-light, or toiling in the deadly Campagna plains, there must be some, who, if they knew it, descend in direct lineage from the ancient "Plebs." It may be so, or rather it must be so; but of the fact there is little outward evidence. You look in vain for the characteristic features of the old Roman face, such as you behold them when portrayed in ancient statues. The broad low brow, the depressed skull, the protruding under-jaw, and the thin compressed lips, are to be seen no longer. Indeed, though I make the remark with the fear of the artist-world before my eyes, I should hardly say myself, that the Romans of the present day were a very handsome race; and of their own type they are certainly inferior both to Tuscans and Neapolitans. The men are well formed and of good height, but not powerful in build or make, and their features are rather marked than regular. As for the women, when you have once perceived that hair may be black as coal and yet coarse as string, that bright sparkling eyes may be utterly devoid of expression, and that an olive complexion may be deepened by the absence of washing, you grow somewhat sceptical as to the reality of their vaunted beauty. All this, however, is a matter of personal taste, about which it is useless to express a decided opinion. I must content myself with the remark, that the Roman peasantry as depicted, year after year, on the walls of our academy, bear about the same resemblance to the article provided for home consumption, as the ladies in an ordinary London ball-room bear to the portraits in the "Book of Beauty." The peasants' costumes too, like the smock-frocks and scarlet cloaks of Old England, are dying out fast. On the steps in the "Piazza di Spagna," and in the artists' quarter above, you see some score or so of models with the braided boddices, and the head-dresses of folded linen, standing about for hire. The braid, it is true, is torn; the snow-white linen dirt-besmeared, and the brigand looks feeble and inoffensive, while the hoary patriarch plays at pitch and toss: but still they are the same figures that we know so well, the traditional Roman peasantry of the "Grecian" and the "Old Adelphi." Unfortunately, they are the last of the Romans. In other parts of the city the peasants' dresses are few and far between; the costume has become so uncommon, as to be now a fashionable dress for the Roman ladies at Carnival time and other holiday festivals. On Sundays and "Festas" in the mountain districts you can still find real peasants with real peasants' dresses; but even there Manchester stuffs and cottons are making their way fast, and every year the old-fashioned costumes grow rarer and rarer. A grey serge jacket, coarse nondescript- coloured cloth trousers, and a brown felt hat, all more or less ragged and dusty, compose the ordinary dress of the Roman working man. Female dress, in any part of the world, is one of those mysteries which a wise man will avoid any attempt to explain; I can only say, therefore, that the dress of the common Roman women is much like that of other European countries, except that the colours used are somewhat gayer and gaudier than is common in the north.

Provisions are dear in Rome. Bread of the coarsest and mouldiest quality costs, according to the Government tariff, by which its price is regulated, from a penny to three halfpence for the English pound. Meat is about a third dearer than in London, and clothing, even of the poorest sort, is very high in price. On the other hand, lodgings, of the class used by the poor, are cheap enough. There is no outlay for firing, as even in the coldest weather (and I have known the temperature in Rome as low as eight degrees below freezing-point), even well-to-do Romans never think of lighting a fire; and then, in this climate, the actual quantity of victuals required by an able-bodied labourer is far smaller than in our northern countries, while, from the same cause, the use of strong liquors is almost unknown. Tobacco too, which is all made up in the Papal factories and chiefly grown in the country, is reasonable in price, though poor in quality. In the country and the poorer parts of the city, the dearest cigar you can buy is only a baioccho, or under one halfpenny; and from this fact you may conclude what the price of the common cheap cigars is to a native. From all these causes, I feel no doubt that the cost of living for the poor is comparatively small, though of course the rate of wages is small in proportion. For ordinary unskilled labour, the day-wages, at the winter season, are about three pauls to three pauls and a half; in summer about five pauls; and in the height of the vintage as much as six or seven pauls, though this is only for a very few weeks. I should suppose, therefore, that from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 9d. a day, taking the paul at 5d., were the average wages of a good workman at Rome. From these wages, small as they are, there are several deductions to be made.

In the first place, the immense number of "festas" tells heavily on the workman's receipts. On the more solemn feast-days all work is strictly forbidden by the priests; and either employer or labourer, who was detected in an infraction of the law, would be subject to heavy fines. Even on the minor festivals, about the observance of which the Church is not so strict, labour is almost equally out of the question. The people have got so used to holiday keeping, that nothing but absolute necessity can induce them to work, except on working days. All over Italy this is too much the case. I was told by a large manufacturer in Florence, that having a great number of orders on hand, and knowing extreme distress to prevail among his workmen's families, he offered double wages to any one who came to work on a "festa" day, but that only two out of a hundred responded to his offer. I merely mention this fact, as one out of many such I have heard, to show how this abuse must prevail in Rome, where every moral influence is exerted in favour of idleness against industry, and where the observance of holy days is practised most religiously.

Then, too, the higher rate of wages paid in summer is counterbalanced by the extra risk to which the labourer is exposed. The ravages created by the malaria fevers amongst the ill-bred, ill-clothed, and ill-cared-for labourers, are really fearful. Indeed it is hardly an exaggeration to say, that the whole working population of Rome is eaten up with malaria. I feel myself convinced that the misery and degradation of the Papal States are to be attributed to two causes, the enormous burden of the priesthood, and the ravages of the malaria. How far these two causes are in any way connected with each other, I have never been able to determine. It is one of the rhetorical exaggerations which have impaired the utility of the Question Romaine, that M. About, in his remarkable work, always treats the malaria as if it was solely due to the inefficiency of the Papal Government, and would disappear with the deposition of the Pope. This unphilosophical view is generally adopted by liberal opponents of the Papacy, who lay the malaria to its doors, while Papal advocates, on the contrary, always treat the malaria as a mysterious scourge which can never be removed or even palliated; a view almost as unphilosophical as the other. For my own part, I have only been able to arrive at three isolated conclusions on the subject. First, that mere cultivation of the Campagna, as shown by Prince Borghese's unsuccessful experiments, does not at any rate immediately affect the virulence of the miasma, or whatever the malaria may be. Secondly, that the malaria can actually be built out, or, in other words, if the Campagna was covered with a stone pavement, the disease would disappear—a remedy obviously impracticable; and lastly, that though the existence of the malaria cannot be removed, as far I can see, yet that its evil effects might be immensely lessened by warm clothing, good food, and prompt medical aid at the commencement of the malady. Whatever tends to improve the general condition of the Roman peasantry will put these remedies more and more within their reach, and will therefore tend to check the ravages of the malaria. Thus, the inefficient and obstructive Government of the Vatican, which checks all material as well as all moral progress, increases indirectly the virulence of the fever-plague; but this, I think, is the most that can fairly be stated.

I trust that, considering the importance of the subject, this digression, unsatisfactory as it is, may be pardoned; and I now turn to the third curse, which eats up the wages of the working man at Rome—a curse even greater, I think, than the "festas" or the malaria—I mean, the universality of the middle-man system. If you require any work done, from stone carving to digging, you seldom or never deal with the actual workman. If you are a farmer and want your harvest got in, you contract months beforehand with an agent, who agrees to supply you with harvest- men in certain numbers, at a certain price, out of which price he pockets as large a percentage as he can, and has probably commissions to pay himself to some sub-contractor. If you are a sculptor and wish a block of marble chiselled in the rough, the man you contract with to hew the block at certain day-wages brings a boy to do the work at half the above amount or less, and only looks in from time to time to see how the work is proceeding. It is the same in every branch of trade or business. If you wish to make a purchase, or effect a sale, or hire a servant, you have a whole series of commissions or brokerages to pay before you come into contact with the principal.

If you inquire why this system is not broken through, why the employer does not deal directly with his workmen, you are told that the custom of the country is against any other method; that amongst the workmen themselves there is so much terrorism and intimidation and espionnage, that any single employer or labourer, who contracted for work independently, would run a risk of annoyance or actual injury; of having, for example, his block of marble split "by a slip of the hand," or his tools destroyed, or a knife stuck into him as he went home at night, and, more than all, that, without the supervision of the actual overseer, your workmen would cheat you right and left, no matter what wages you paid. After all it is better to be cheated by one man than by a dozen, and being at Rome you must do as the Romans do.

It may possibly have been observed that, in the foregoing paragraph, I have spoken of the "workmen at Rome," not of the Roman workmen. The difference, though slight verbally, is an all-important one. The workmen in Rome are not Romans, for the Romans proper never work. The Campagna is tilled in winter by groups of peasants, who come from the Marches, in long straggling files, headed by the "Pifferari," those most inharmonious of pipers. In summer-time the harvest is reaped and the vintage gathered in by labourers, whose homes lie far away in the Abruzzi mountains. In many ways these mountaineers bear a decided resemblance to the swarms of Irish labourers who come across to England in harvest-time. They are frugal, good-humoured, and, compared to the native Romans, honest and hard-working. A very small proportion too of the working-men in Rome itself are Romans. Certain trades, as that of the cooks for instance, are almost confined to the inhabitants of particular outlying districts. The masons, carpenters, carvers, and other mechanical trades, are filled by men who do not belong to the city, and who are called and considered foreigners. Of course the rule is not without exceptions, and you will find genuine Romans amongst the common workmen, but amongst the skilled workmen hardly ever. There is a very large, poor, I might almost say, pauper population in Rome, and in some form or other these poor must work for their living, but their principle is to do as little work as possible. There still exists amongst the Romans a sort of debased, imperial pride, a belief that a Roman is per se superior to all other Italians. For manual work, or labour under others, they have an equal contempt and dislike. All the semi-independent trades, like those of cab- drivers, street-vendors, petty shopkeepers, &c. are eagerly sought after and monopolized by Romans. The extent to which small trades are carried on by persons utterly without capital and inevitably embarrassed with debt, is one of the chief evils in the social system which prevails here. If the Romans also, like the unjust steward, are too proud to dig, unlike that worthy, to beg they are not ashamed. Begging is a recognized and a respected profession, and if other trades fail there is always this left. The cardinal principle of Papal rule is to teach its subjects to rely on charity rather than industry. In order to relieve in some measure the fearful distress that existed among the poor of Rome in the early spring, the Government took some thousand persons into their employment, and set them to work on excavating the Forum. The sight of these men working, or, more correctly speaking, idling at work, used to be reckoned one of the stock jokes of the season. Six men were regularly employed in conveying a wheelbarrow filled with two spadefuls of soil. There was one man to each handle, two in front to pull when the road rose, and one on each side to give a helping hand and keep the barrow steady. You could see any day long files of such barrows, so escorted, creeping to and from the Forum. It is hardly necessary to say that little progress was ever made in the excavations, or, for that matter, intended to be made. Yet the majority of these workmen were able-bodied fellows, who received tenpence a day for doing nothing. Much less injury would have been inflicted on their self-respect by giving them the money outright than in return for this mockery of labour. Moreover the poor in Rome, as I have mentioned elsewhere, are not afraid of actual starvation. "Well-disposed" persons, with a good word from the priests, can obtain food at the convents of the mendicant friars. I am not saying there is no good in this custom; in fact, it is almost the one good feature I know of connected with the priestly system of government; but still, on an indolent and demoralised population like that of Rome, the benefit of this sort of charity, which destroys the last and the strongest motive for exertion, is by no means an unmixed one.

The amusements of the people are much what might be expected from their occupations. To do them justice, they drink but moderately; but whenever they can spare the time and money, they crowd out into the roadside "Osterias," and spend hours, smoking and sipping the red wine lazily. Walking is especially distasteful to them; and on a Sunday and festa-day you will see hundreds of carriages filled with working people, though the fares are by no means cheap. Whole families will starve themselves for weeks before the Carnival, and leave themselves penniless at the end, to get costumes and carriages to drive down the "Corso" with on the gala days. The Romans, too, are a nation of gamblers. Their chief amusement, not to say their chief occupation, is gambling. In the middle of the day, at street-corners and in sunny spots, you see groups of working-men playing at pitch halfpenny, or gesticulating wildly over the mysterious game of "Moro." Skittles and stone-throwing are the only popular amusements which require any bodily exertion; and both of these, as played here, are as much chance as skill. The lottery, too, is the great national pastime.

This picture of the Roman people may not seem a very favourable or a very promising one. I quite admit, that many persons, who have come much into contact with them, speak highly of their general good humour, their affectionate feelings and their sharpness of intellect. At the same time, I have observed that these eulogists of the Roman populace are either Papal partizans who, believing that "this is the best of all possible worlds," wish to prove also that "everything here is for the best," or else they are vehement friends of Italy, who are afraid of damaging their beloved cause by an admission of the plain truth, that the Romans are not as a people either honest, truthful or industrious. For my own part, my faith is different. A bad government produces bad subjects, and I am not surprised to find in the debasement and degradation of a priest-ruled people the strongest condemnation of the Papal system.


The idler about the streets of Rome may, from time to time, catch sight, on blank walls and dead corners, of long white strips of paper, covered with close-printed lines of most uninviting looking type, and headed with the Papal arms—the cross-keys and tiara. If, being like myself afflicted with an inquisitive turn of mind, he takes the trouble of deciphering these hieroglyphic documents, his labour would not be altogether thrown away. Those straggling strips, stuck up in out-of-the- way places, glanced at by a few idle passers-by, and torn down by the prowling vagabonds of the streets after a day or two for the sake of the paper, are the sole public records of justice issued, or allowed to be issued, under the Pontifical government. Trials are carried on here with closed doors; no spectators are admitted; no reports of the proceedings are published. In capital cases, however, after the execution of the criminal has taken place a sort of Proces verbal of the case and of the trial is placarded on the walls of the chief towns.

During the period of my stay at Rome there were three executions in different parts of the Papal territory. Whether by accident or by design I cannot say, but all these executions occurred within a short period of each other, and, in consequence, three such statements were issued almost at the same time by the Government. With considerable difficulty I succeeded in obtaining copies of these statements, not, I am bound to say, because there seemed to be any reluctance in furnishing them, but because the fact of anybody wishing to obtain copies was so unusual, that there was no preparation made for supplying them; and, at last, I only succeeded in procuring them from a printer's devil to the Stanperia Apostolica. The facts narrated in them, and the circumstances alluded to, seem to me to throw a strange light on the administration of justice, and the daily life of this priest-ruled country. It is as such that I wish to comment on them. In these statements, be it remembered, there is no question of political or clerical bias. The facts stated are all facts, admitted by the authorities of their own free will and pleasure; and if, as I think, these facts tell most unfavourably on the judicial system of our clerical rulers, it is, at any rate, out of their own mouths they are convicted. All, therefore, that I propose to do is, having these official statements before me, to tell the stories that they contain, as shortly and as clearly as I can, adding no comment of my own but what is necessary to explain the facts in question. Let me take first the case, which is entitled "Cannara contro Luigi Bonci;" the township of Cannara, where the crime was committed, being what we should call in a civil suit the plaintiff, and the accused Bonci the defendant.


Some three years ago, then, there lived in the hamlet of Cannara, near Perugia, a family called Bonci. They belonged to the peasant class, and were poor, even among the Papal peasantry. The family consisted of the father and mother, and of their son and daughter, both grown up. Between the father and son there had long been ill-blood. The cause of this want of family harmony is but indistinctly stated, but apparently it was due to the irregular habits of the son, and to the severity of the father; while all this domestic misery was rendered doubly bitter by the almost abject want of the household. On the night of November the 9th, 1856, Venanzio Bonci, the father, Maria Rosa, his wife, and their daughter, Caterina, were at supper in the miserable room, which formed the whole of their dwelling, waiting for the return of the son, Luigi, who had been absent ever since the morning. There had been frequent quarrels before between father and son about Luigi's stopping out late, and now it was past midnight. There was no light in the room except a faint flicker from the embers, and the feeble glimmering of the starlight which entered through the open windows. A noise was heard in the stable underneath the room, and the father, thinking it was the son, called out three or four times, but got no answer. A few minutes after Luigi entered without the lantern, which he had left below in the stable, and although his sister bade him good night he made no reply. As he entered the room his father called to him, "A fine time of night to come home." "What then?" was the only answer given by Luigi. "You have never been home since morning," went on the father. "What then?" was still the only answer. The father then told the son to hold his tongue, and again received the same reply. At last Venanzio, losing his temper, called out, "Be quiet, or I'll break your head;" or, according to the story, "I'll murder you:" to which Luigi only answered, "I may as well die to-day as to-morrow." After that there was a short scuffle heard, and Venanzio suddenly cried out as if in pain, "My God! my God!" The mother and daughter screamed for help, but by the time the neighbours had come in with lights, Luigi had run off. Venanzio was found reeling to and fro, with blood pouring from several wounds, and, in spite of medical aid, he died in the course of a few hours. Almost immediately after the commission of the crime Luigi was found by the gendarmes in the cottage of an uncle, and arrested on the spot.

These, as far as I can learn from the very confused documents before me, are all the facts admitted without question; or, more strictly speaking, which the Government states to have been unquestioned. Luigi was arrested on the night of the murder. Such small evidence as there was could have been ascertained in twenty-four hours, and yet the prisoner was never brought to trial till the 3rd of May, 1858; that is, eighteen months afterwards. On that day Luigi Bonci was arraigned before the civil and criminal court of Perugia, on the two counts of parricide, and of having illegal arms in his possession. The Court was composed of the President, Judge, Assistant Judge, and Deputy Judge of the district. These gentlemen (all, I should state, lay officials) were assisted by the public prosecutor and the Government counsel for the defence. The course of proceedings is stated to have been as follows: prayers were first offered up for the Divine guidance, the prisoner was introduced and identified, the written depositions were read over, a narrative of the facts was given by the president, the prisoner was called upon to reply to the charges alleged against him, the witnesses for the crown and for the prisoner were heard respectively, the counsel for the prosecution called upon the court to condemn the prisoner, and was replied to by the counsel for the defence; the discussion was then declared closed, and after the judges had retired and deliberated, their sentence was given.

All the facts I have been able to put together about the case are gathered from this sentence and from those of the courts of appeal. These sentences, however, are extremely lengthy, very indistinct, and encumbered with a great deal of legal phraseology. As they are all alike I may as well give an abstract of this one as a specimen of all. The sentence begins with the following moral remarks: "Frequent paternal admonitions, alleged scarcity of daily food, and the evil counsels of others, had alienated the heart of the prisoner to such an extent, that feelings of affection and reverence towards his own father, Venanzio, had given place to contempt, disobedience, ill-will, and even worse." No one, however, would have supposed that he "was capable of becoming a parricide, as was too clearly proved on the fatal night in question." After these preliminary reflections comes a narration of the facts much in the words in which I have given them. This is followed by a statement of the arguments for the prosecution and for the defence, consisting of a number of verbose paragraphs, each beginning, "considering that," &c. The case of the prosecution was clear enough. The medical evidence proved that the father died of the wounds received on the above-named night. The fact that the wounds were inflicted by the prisoner, was established by the evidence of his mother and sister, who overheard the quarrel between him and his father, by the flight after commission of the crime, by the discovery of a blood-stained knife dropped on the threshold, by the deposition of the father before death, and lastly, by the confession of the prisoner himself, who admitted the crime, though under extenuating circumstances. The fact that the sister never heard the knife open, although it had three clasps, was asserted to be evidence that the prisoner entered the room with his knife open and intending to commit the crime. This charge of malice prepense was supported by the son's refusal to answer his father, by the insolence of his language, and by the number and vehemence of the stabs he inflicted.

The prisoner's defence was also very simple. According to his own story, he was half drunk on his return home. His father not only taunted and threatened him, but at last seized the door-bar and began knocking him about the head; and then, at last, maddened with pain and passion, he drew out a knife he had picked up on the road, and stabbed his father, hardly knowing what he did. On the bare statement of facts, I should deem this version of the story the more probable of the two, but as no details whatever are given of the evidence on either side, it is impossible to judge. The court at any rate decided that there was no proof of the prisoner having been drunk, and that the evidence of his father having struck him was of a suspicious character, "while," they add, "it would be absurd and immoral to maintain, that a father, whose right and duty it is to correct his children (and indeed on this occasion correction was abundantly deserved by the insolent demeanour of Luigi) could be considered to provoke his son by a slight personal chastisement." The son, by the way, was over one and twenty, a fact to which no allusion is made. As "a forlorn hope," in the words of the sentence, the counsel for the defence asserted, that whatever the crime of the prisoner might be, it was not parricide, from the simple fact that Luigi was not Venanzio's son. The facts of the case appear to have been, that Maria Rosa Battistoni being then unmarried, gave birth in July 1835 to a son, who was the prisoner at the bar; that shortly afterwards the vicar of Cannara gave information to the Episcopal court of Assisi, that Maria Rosa had been seduced by Venanzio Bonci and had had an illegitimate child by him; that, in consequence, a formal requisition was addressed by the above court to Venanzio, and that he thereupon acknowledged the paternity of the child, and expressed his readiness to marry the mother. The marriage was therefore solemnized, and the child entered in the church-books as the legitimized son of Venanzio and Maria Bonci, in June, 1836. Against this strong presumptive evidence of paternity, and the natural inference to be drawn from the child having been brought up and educated as Venanzio's son, there were only, we are told, to be set, alleged expressions of doubt on the father's part, when in a passion, as to his being really the father, and also certain confessions of the mother to different parties, that Luigi was not the child of her husband. All these confessions however, so it is asserted, were proved to be subsequent in date to the son's arrest, and therefore, probably, made with a view to save his life. The plea is in consequence rejected.

No defence was attempted to the second count. Both charges are therefore declared fully proved; and as the punishment for parricide is public execution, and the penalty for having in one's possession (a lighter offence by the way, than using) any weapon without special license, consists of imprisonment from two to twelve months, and of a fine from five to sixty scudi, therefore the court "condemns Luigi Bonci for the first count, to be publicly executed in Cannara, and to make compensation to the heirs of the murdered man, according to the valuation of the civil tribunals, and to pay the cost of the trial; and on the second count, the court" (with a pedantic mockery of mercy) "considers the first three months of the incarceration the prisoner has already undergone to be sufficient punishment, coupled with a fine of five scudi and the loss of the weapon."

This summary will, I fear, give the reader too favourable an opinion of the original sentence. In order to make the story at all intelligible, I have had to pick out my facts, from a perfect labyrinth of sentences and parentheses. All I, or any one else can state is, that these seem to be the facts, which seem to have been proved by the witnesses. What the character of the evidence was, or what was the relative credibility of the witnesses, whose very names I know not, or how far their assertions were borne out or contradicted by circumstantial proof, are all matters on which (though the whole character of the crime depends on them) I can form no opinion whatever.

The trial occupied but one day, and yet the above sentence, it appears, was not communicated to the prisoner till the 15th of October, 1858, that is, over five months afterwards. When the official announcement of the sentence was made, the prisoner declared his intention of appealing against its justice. By the Papal law, every person condemned for a criminal offence, by the lay tribunals, has the right of appealing to the Supreme Pontifical Court. It is, therefore, needless to say, that in all cases where sentence of death is passed, an appeal is made on any ground, however trivial, as the condemned culprit cannot lose by this step, and may gain. The practical and obvious objection to this unqualified power of appeal, is that the supreme ecclesiastical court is the real judge, not the nominal lay court, which does little more than register the fact, that the crime is proved prima facie.

On the 15th of February, 1859, after a delay of four months more from the time of appeal, the court of the supreme tribunal of the Consulta Sacra, assembled at the Monte Citorio in Rome, to try the appeal. The court was composed of six "most illustrious and reverend Judges," all "Monsignori" and all dignitaries of the Church, assisted by a public prosecutor and counsel for the defence, attached to the Papal exchequer. The course of proceedings appears to be much the same as in the inferior courts, except that no witnesses, save the prisoner, were examined orally, and the whole evidence was taken from written depositions. At last, after "invoking the most sacred name of God," the court pronounce their sentence. This sentence is in a great measure a recapitulation of the preceding one. Either no new facts were adduced, or none are alluded to. The grounds for the defence are the same as on the previous occasion, namely, the provocation given by the father, and the doubt as to the son's paternity. There were, in fact, two questions before the court. First, whether the crime committed was murder or manslaughter; and, if it was murder, whether the murderer was or was not the son of the murdered man. Instead, however, of facing either of these questions of fact, the court seems to enter upon abstract considerations, which to our notions are quite irrelevant. The degree to which paternal corrections can be carried without abuse, and the problem whether a man who kills a person, whom he believes and has reason to believe to be his father, but who is not so in fact, is guilty or not of the sin of parricide, seem rather questions for clerical casuistry than considerations which bear upon facts. The final conclusion drawn from these various reflections is, that the court confirms the judgment of the Perugian tribunal, in every respect.

The rejection of the appeal is not communicated for two months more, that is, not till the 22nd of April, to the prisoner, who at once appeals again against the execution of the verdict to the Upper Court of the Supreme Tribunal. On the 13th of May the case comes on for its third and last trial. The court is again composed of six ecclesiastics of high rank, assisted by the same official counsel as before; the same course of proceeding is adopted, except that the prisoner is not brought into court or examined. Again, after "invoking the most holy name of God," the tribunal pronounces, not its sentence this time, but its judgment. This judgment alludes only to the two grounds on which the appeal is based. The first is the question of paternity, which is at once dismissed, as being a matter of evidence that has been already decided. The second ground of appeal is a technical and a legal one. The defence appears to have pleaded, that the original arrest was illegal, and that, by this fact, the whole trial was vitiated. On both sides it was admitted that the prisoner was arrested without a warrant, and not in "flagrante delicto," and that therefore the arrest was, strictly speaking, illegal. The court, however, decides, that though the prisoner was not taken in the act, yet his guilt was so manifest, that the gendarmes were justified in acting as if they had caught him perpetrating the crime, while in offences of great atrocity the police have also a discretionary power to arrest offenders, even without warrants. Though in this particular instance the result is not much to be regretted, yet it is obvious, that the admission of such a principle, and such an interpretation of the law, gives the police unlimited power of arrest, subject to the approval of their superiors: whether right or wrong, therefore, the appeal is dismissed, and the final sentence of death pronounced.

It seems that this verdict was submitted on the 24th of May by the President of the Supreme Court to the consideration of his Holiness the Pope, who offered no objection to its execution. The prisoner's last chance was now gone, but, with a cruel mercy, he was left to linger on for eight months more in uncertainty. It was only on the 3rd of January, 1860, that orders were sent from Rome to Perugia, for the execution to take place there instead of at Cannara, on the 13th. On that day the verdict of the court is conveyed to the unhappy wretch. On the 14th, so the last paragraph informs us, "The condemned" Luigi Bonci "was beheaded by the public executioner, in the market-place of Perugia, and his head was there exposed for an hour to the gaze of the assembled multitude."

On the 18th the report, from which these facts are taken, was placarded on the walls of Rome. The murder is committed in November, 1856; the murderer is arrested on the night of the crime; for that crime he is not tried at all till May, 1858; his final trial does not come off till May, 1859, and his execution is deferred till January, 1860. For three years and a quarter after the commission of the murder no report is published. These facts need no comment.


Of late years, round and about Viterbo, there was a well-known character, Giovanni Ugolini by name, a sort of itinerant "Jack-of-all-trades," who wandered about from place to place, picking up any odd job he could find, and begging when he could turn his hand to nothing else. He is described in the legal reports as a Tinker and Umbrella-mender, but his especial line of industry, novel to us at any rate, seems to have been that of a scraper and cleaner of old tombstones. By these various pursuits, he scraped together a good bit of money for a man in his position, and at the end of his winter circuit, in the year 1857, he had saved up by common report as much as 70 scudi, or about 14 pounds odd. On the 4th of May in that year, Ugolini left the little town of Castel Giorgio, with the avowed intention of going to Viterbo, to change his monies into Tuscan coin. Being belated on his road, he resolved to stop over the night at the house of a certain Andrea Volpi which lay on his road, and where he had often slept before. On the following morning, about eight o'clock, he left Volpi's house and went on his journey towards Viterbo. Nothing more is positively known about him, except that on the same day his body was found on a bye-path, a little off the direct Viterbo road, covered with wounds. No money was discovered about his person, while there was every indication of his clothes and pack having been rummaged and rifled.

Assuming, as one must, the correctness of these facts, there can be no doubt that a very brutal murder and robbery had been committed. For some reasons, what, we are not told, the suspicions of the police fell at once on one of Volpi's sons, called Serafino, a lad of about 22, and on a friend of his, Bonaventura Starna, about two years older than himself. Both of these persons, who were common labourers, were, in consequence, arrested on the 7th of May. They were not tried, however, till the 27th of April, in the year following, when they were arraigned for the murder before the lay criminal and civil court of Viterbo.

The two prisoners, nevertheless, are not tried on the same charge. Volpi is arraigned by the public prosecutor on a charge of wilful murder, accompanied with treachery and robbery, while Starna is only brought to trial as an accomplice to the crime, not as a principal. Before the actual guilt of either prisoner is ascertained, the public prosecutor, that is, the Government, decides the relative degree of their respective hypothetical guilt. The justice of this proceeding may be questioned, but its motive is palpable enough. There was little or no direct evidence against the prisoners, and to convict either of them, it was necessary to rely upon the testimony of the other.

"With both the prisoners," so runs the sentence of the court, "a criminal motive could be established in the fact of their avowed poverty, as they each clearly admitted, that neither they nor their families possessed anything in the world, and that they derived the means of their miserable sustenance from their daily labour alone." A very close intimacy was proved to have existed between the prisoners, so much so, indeed, that Starna had frequently been reproved by his parents for his friendship with a man who stood in such ill repute as Volpi. The fact that the murdered man was, or was believed to be in possession of money, was shown to be well known amongst the Volpi family. Two of Serafino Volpi's brothers were reported to have spoken to third parties of Ugolini's savings, and one of them expressed a wish to rob him. Why this brother was neither arrested nor apparently examined, is one of the many mysteries, by the way, you come across in perusing these Papal reports. Serafino too had mentioned himself, to a neighbour, his suspicion of the tinker's having saved money. On the morning of the murder, Starna was known to have come to the Volpi's cottage, to have talked with Serafino, and to have left again in his company, shortly after Ugolini's departure. After about an hour's absence, Serafino Volpi returned home, and therefore had time enough to commit the murder. He was shown, moreover, to have been in possession of a knife, about which he could give no satisfactory account, and which might have inflicted the wounds found on the corpse.

These appear to have been all the facts which could be established against either Volpi or Starna by positive evidence, and, at the worst, such facts could only be said to constitute a case for suspicion. Previously, however, to the trial, Starna turned, what we should call, "King's evidence," and, in contradiction to his foregoing statements, made a confession, on which the prosecution practically rested the whole of its case. According to this confession of Starna's, on the morning of the murder he called by accident at the Volpi's, and stopped there, till after the tinker, who was an entire stranger to him, had left the house. Serafino Volpi then offered to accompany him to his (Starna's) house, on the pretence of borrowing some tool or other. They walked quickly to avoid the rain, which was falling heavily, and shortly overtook Ugolini, who exchanged a few words with Volpi about the weather, and then turned off along a bye-road. Thereupon Volpi proposed that they should follow the old man and rob him, adding, "he has got a whole lot of coppers." Starna, according to his own story, refused to have anything to do with the matter; on which Volpi said, in that case he should do it alone, and asked Starna to go and fetch the tool he wanted, and bring it to him where they were standing. Starna then left Volpi running across the fields to overtake the tinker, and went home to find the tool. In a very short time afterwards, as he was coming back to the appointed meeting- place, he met Volpi in a great state of agitation, who told him that the job was finished, and Ugolini's throat cut, but that only 20 pauls' worth of copper money, about eight shillings, were found upon him. Starna admitted that he then took eight pauls as his own share in the booty, and told Volpi to wash off some spots of blood visible on his sleeve. He also added, that later on the same day he met Volpi again, and then expressed his alarm at what had happened; on which he received the answer, "If you had been with me, you would not be alive now."

One can hardly conceive a more suspicious story, or one more clearly concocted to give the best colour to the witness's own conduct, at the expense of his fellow-prisoner. No evidence whatever appears to have been brought in support of this confession. The court, notwithstanding, decides that the truth of this statement is fully established by internal and external testimony, and therefore declares that the alleged crimes are clearly proved against both the prisoners. "Considering," nevertheless, "that though Starna was an accomplice in the crime, from his having assisted Volpi, and from having, by his own confession, shared in the booty, yet that his guilt was less, both in the conception and in the perpetration of the crime, there being no proof that he had taken any active part in the murder of Ugolini," therefore, "in the most holy name of God," the court sentences Volpi to public execution, and Starna to twenty years at the galleys.

Of course, both the prisoners resorted to their invariable right of appeal, but their case did not come on before the lower court of the Supreme Clerical Tribunal at Rome for upwards of a year, namely, on the 17th of May, 1859. At this trial, no new facts whatever appear to have been adduced. I gather indistinctly, that Volpi's defence was that he had not left his father's house at all on the morning of the murder, but that his attempt to prove an "alibi" was unsuccessful. The chief object indeed of the very lengthy sentence of the court, recapitulating the evidence already stated, is to establish the comparative innocence of Starna, who, for some cause or other, seems to have been favourably regarded. We are told, that "the confession of Starna is confirmed by a thousand proofs;" that "it is clearly shown" that Starna "in this confession did not deny his own responsibility; a fact which gives his statement the character of an incriminative and not of an exonerative confession; and that though he might possibly have wished, in his statement of the facts, to modify and extenuate his own share in the crime, yet there was no reason to suspect that he wished gratuitously to aggravate the guilt of his comrade;" and that also taking into consideration the villainous character of Volpi, it cannot be doubted, that he was the principal in the crime. The court at Viterbo had decided that the crime of the prisoners was murder, coupled with robbery and treachery. The Court of Appeal decides, on what seem sufficient grounds, that there is no proof of treachery, and therefore, the crime not being of so heinous a character, reduces the period of Starna's punishment from twenty to fifteen years, while it simply confirms the sentence of death on Volpi.

Again, as a matter of course, there is an appeal from this sentence to the upper court of the Supreme Tribunal, which appeal comes off after four months' delay, on the 9th of September, 1859. The only ground of appeal brought forward is one which, according to our notions of law, should have been brought forward from the first, namely, that the guilt of Volpi is not adequately proved by the unsupported statement of his accomplice Starna, and "that the evidence which corroborates this statement, only constitutes an a priori probability of his guilt." The court, however, dismisses this plea at once, on the ground that it is not competent to take cognizance of an argument based on the abstract merits of the case, and therefore confirms the verdict.

On the 25th of November the sentence is submitted to, and approved by, the Pope. On the 3rd of January, 1860, orders are issued from Rome for the execution to take place. On the 17th the authorities of Viterbo notify to the prisoner that his last appeal has been dismissed, and "call on the military to lend their support to the execution of the sentence," and on the following day, two years and eight months after his arrest, Volpi is executed for the murder of Ugolini on the Piazza della Rocca at Viterbo. On that day, too, appears the first report of his crime and trial.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse