Foreign Correspondence of The Tribune[No. XXII
I think I closed my last letter, without having had time to speak of the ceremonies that precede and follow Epiphany. This month, no day, scarcely no hour, has passed unmarked by some showy spectacle or some exciting piece of news.
On the last day of the year died Don Carlo Torlonia, brother of the banker, a man greatly beloved and regretted. The public felt this event the more that its proximate cause was attack made upon his brother’s house by Paradial, now imprisoned in the Castle of St. Angelo, pending a law process for proof of his accusations. Don Carlo had been ill before, and the painful agitation caused by these circumstances decided his fate. The public had been by no means displeased at this inquiry into the conduct of Don Alessandro Torlonia, believing that his assumed munificence is, in this case, literally a robbery of Peter to pay Paul, and that all he gives to Rome is taken from Rome. But it sympathized no less with the affectionate indignation of his brother, too good a man to be made the confidant of wrong, or have eyes for it, if such exist.
Thus in the poetical justice which does not fail to be, at least, done in the prose narrative of life—while men hastened, the moment one chanced to raise the cry against Don Alessandro, to echo it back by all kinds of imputations both on himself and his employees, every man held his breath and many wept while passed the mortal remains of Don Carlos; feeling that in him was lost a benefactor, a brother, a simple, just man.
Don Carlo was a Knight of Malta, but with him the celibate life had not hardened the heart—but only left it free on all sides to general love. Not less than half a dozen pompous funerals were given in his honors, by his relatives, the brotherhoods to which he belonged, and the battalion of the Civic Guard to which he was commander-in-chief. But in his own house the body lay in no other state than that of a simple Franciscan, the Order to which he first belonged, and whose vow he had kept through half a century, by giving all he had for the good of others. He lay on the ground in the plain dark robe and cowl—no unfit subject for a modern picture of little angels descending to shower lilies on a good man’s corpse. The long files or armed men, the rich coaches and liveried retinues of the princes, were little observed in comparison with more than a hundred orphan girls whom his liberality had sustained and who followed the bier in mourning robes and long white veils, spirit-like in the dark night. The trumpet’s wail, and soft melancholy music from the bands, broke at times the roll of the muffled drum; the hymns of the Church were chanted and volleys of musketry discharged in honor of the departed—but much more musical was the whisper in which the crowd, as passed his mortal spoil, told anecdotes of his good deeds.
I do not know when I have passed more consolatory moments than in the streets one night of all this pomp and picturesque show—for once not empty of all meaning as to the present time, recognizing that somewhat healthy which remains at the bottom in the human being, ineradicable by all ill, and promises that our poor injured natures shall rise and bloom again from present corruption to immortal purity. If Don Carlo had been a thinker, a man of strong intellect, he might have devised means of using his money to more radical advantage than simply to give it in alms; he had only a kind human heart, but from that heart distilled a balm which made all men bless it, happy in finding cause to bless.
As in the moral little books with which our nurseries are entertained, followed another death in violent contrast. One of those whom the new arrangements deprived of power and the means of unjust gain was the Cardinal Prince Massimo, a man a little younger than Don Carlo, but who had passed his forty years in a very different manner. He remonstrated: the Pope was firm, and at last is said to have answered with sharp reproof for the past. The Cardinal contained himself in the audience, but, going out literally suffocated with the rage he had suppressed. The bad blood his bad heart had been so long making rushed to his head, and he died on his return home. Men laughed, and proposed that all the widows he had deprived of a maintenance should combine to follow his bier. It was said boys hissed as that bier passed. Now a splendid suit of lace being for sale in a shop of the Corso, everybody says: “Have you been to look at the lace of Cardinal Massimo, who died of rage, because he could no longer devour the public goods.” And this is the last echo of his requiem.
The Pope is anxious to have at least well-intentioned men in places of power. Men of much ability, it would seem, are not to be had; his last Prime Minister was a man said to have energy, good dispositions, but no thinking power. The Cardinal Bofondi, whom he has taken now, is said to be a man of scarce any ability, there being few among the new Councilors the public can name as fitted for important trust; in consolation we must remember that the Chancellor Oxensteirn found nothing more worthy of remark to show his son than by how little wisdom the world could be governed. We must hope these men of straw will serve as thatch to keep out the rain, and not be exposed to the assaults of a devouring flame.
Yet that hour may not be distant. The disturbances of the first of January here were answered by similar excitements in Leghorn and Genoa, produced by the same hidden and malignant foe. At the same time the Austrian Government in Milan organized an attempt to rouse the people to revolt, with a view to arrests and other measures calculated to stifle the spirit of independence they know to be latent there. In this iniquitous attempt they murdered eighty persons, yet the citizens, on their guard, refused them the hoped for means of ruin, and they were forced to retractions as impudently vile as their attempts had been. The Viceroy proclaimed that “he hoped the people would confide in him as he did in them;” and no doubt they will. At Leghorn and Genoa, the wiles of the foe were baffled by the wisdom of popular leaders, as I trust they always will be, but it is needful daily to expect these nets laid in the path of the unwary.
Sicily is in full insurrection; and it is reported Naples, but not sure. There was a report, day before yesterday, that the poor stupid King was already here, and had taken cheap chambers at the Hotel d’Allemagne, as indeed it is said he has always a turn for economy when he cannot live at the expense of his suffering people. Day before yesterday, every carriage that the people saw with a stupid looking man in it they did not know, they looked to see if it was not the Royal runaway. But it was their wish was a father to that thought, and it has not as yet taken body as fact. In like manner they report this week the death of Prince Metternich; but I believe it is not sure he is dead yet, only dying. With him passes one great embodiment of ill to Europe. As for Louis Philippe, he seems reserved to give the world daily more signal proofs of his base apostacy to the cause that placed him on the throne, and that heartless selfishness of which his face alone bears witness to any one that has a mind to read it. How the French nation could look upon that face, while yet flushed with the hopes of the Three Days, and put him on the throne as representative of those hopes, I cannot conceive. There is a story current in Italy that he is really the child of a man first a barber, afterward a police officer, and was substituted at nurse for the true heir of Orleans, and the vulgarity of form in his body of limbs, power of endurance, greed of gain, and hard cunning intellect, so unlike all triats of the weak but more “genteel” Bourbon race, might well lend plausibility to such a fable.
But to return to Rome, where I hear the Ave Maria just ringing; by the way, nobody pauses, nobody thinks, nobody prays.
Ave Maria! ‘tis the hour of love,” &c;
is but a figment of the poet’s fancy.
To return to Rome: what a Rome!—the fortieth day of rain, and damp, and abominable reeking odors, such as blessed cities swept by the sea-breeze—bitter sometimes, yet indeed a friend—never know. It has been dark all day, though the lamp has only been lit half an hour. The music of the day has been, first the atrocious arias which last in the corso till near noon, though ertainly less in virulence on rainy days. Then came the wicked organ grinder, who, apart from the horror of the noise, grinds exactly the same obsolete abominations as at home or in England— “The Copenhagen Waltz,” “Home, sweet home,” and all that! The cruel chance that both an English my lady and a Councilor from one of the Provinces live opposite keeps him constantly before my window, hoping baiocchi—forgetful that Marazas got something very different to punish the noise he made. Within, the three pet dogs of my landlady, bereft of their walk, unable to employ their miserable legs and eyes—exercise themselves by a continual barking, which is answered by all the dogs in the neighborhood. An urchin returning from the laundress, delighted with the symphony, lays down his white bundle in the gutter, seats himself on the curb-stone and attempts an imitation of the music of cats as a tribute to the concert. The door-bell rings, Chic. “Who is it?” cries the handmaid, with unweariable senselessness, as if any one would answer Rogue or Enemy, instead of the traditionary Amico, Friends. May it be, perchance, a letter, news of home, or some of the many friends who have neglected so long to write, or some ray of hope to break the clouds of the difficult Future. Far from it.—Enter a man poisoning me at once with the smell of the worst possible cigars, not to be driven out, insisting I shall look upon frightful, ill-cut cameos, and worse-designed mosaics, made by some friend of his, who works in a chamber and will sell so cheap. Man of ill odors and meanest smile! I am no Countess to be fooled by you. For dogs they were not even—dog-cheap.
A faint and misty gleam of sun greeted the day on which there is the feast to the Bambino, the most venerated doll of Rome. This is the famous image of infant Jesus, reputed to be made of wood from a tree of Palestine, and which, being taken away from its present abode—the Church of Ava Cœli—returned by itself, making the bells ring as it sought admittance at the door. It is this which is carried in extreme cases to the bedside of the sick. It has received more splendid gifts than any other idol. An orphan by my side, now struggling with difficulties, showed me on its breast a splendid jewel, which a doting grandmother thought more likely to benefit her soul if given to the Bambino, than if turned into money to give her grandchildren education and prospects in life. The same old lady left her vineyard, not to these children, but to her confessor, a well-endowed Monsignor, who occasionally asks this youth, his god-son, to dinner! Children, so placed, are not quite such devotees to Catholicism as the new proselytes of American!—They are not so much patted on the head, and things do not show to them under quite the same silver veil.
The Church of Ava Cœli is on or near the site of the temple of Capitoline Jove, which certainly saw nothing more idolatrous than these ceremonies. For about a week the Bambino is exhibited in an illuminated chapel, in the arms of a splendidly dressed Madonna doll. Behind, a transparency represents the shepherds, by moonlight, at the time the birth was announced, and, above, God the Father, with many angels hailing the event.—A pretty part of this exhibition, which I was not so fortunate as to hit upon, though I went twice on purpose, is the children making little speeches in honor of this occasion. Many readers will remembers some account of this in Andersen’s “Improvisatore.”
The last time I went was the grand feast in honor of the Bambino. The church was entirely full, mostly with contadini and the poorer people, absorbed in their devotions: one man near me never raised his head or stirred from his knees to see anything; he seemed in an anguish of prayer, whether from repentance or anxiety. I wished I could have hoped the ugly little doll could do him any good. The noble stair which descends from the great door of this church to the foot of the Capitol—a stair made from fragments of the old imperial time—was flooded with people; the street below was a rapid river also, whose waves were men.—The ceremonies began with splendid music from the organ, pealing sweetly long and repeated invocations. As if answering to this call, the world came in, many dignitaries, the Conservatori, I think (Conservatives are the same everywhere, official or no,) and did homage to the image; then men in white and gold, with the candles they are so fond here of burning by daylight, as if the poorest artificial were better than the greatest natural light, uplifted high above themselves the baby, with its gilded robes and crown, and made twice the tour of the church, passing twice the column lettered from the home of Augustus, while the band played—what? Hymn to Pius IX. and the “Sons of Rome awake!” Never was a crueler comment upon the irreconcilableness of these two things. Rome seeks to reconcile Reform and Priestcraft.
But their eyes are shut that they see not. Oh awake, indeed, Romans! and you will see that the Christ who is to save men is no wooden dingy effigy of by-gone superstitions, but such as art has seen Him in your better mood—a Child, living, full of love, prophetic of a boundless Future—a Man acquainted with all sorrows that rend the heart of all, but only loving Man, with sympathy and faith death cannot quench—that Christ lives or is sought; burn your doll of wood.
How any one can remain a Catholic—I mean who has never been aroused to think, and is not biased by the partialities of childish years—after seeing Catholicism here in Italy, I cannot conceive. There was ever a soul in the religion while the blood of its martyrs was yet fresh upon the ground, but that soul was always too much encumbered with the remains of Pagan habits and customs; that soul is now quite fled elsewhere, and in the splendid catafalque, watched by so many white and red robed, snuff-taking, sly-eyed men, would they let it be opened, nothing would be found but bones!
Then the College for propagating all this, the most venerable Propaganda, has given its exhibition in honor of the feast of the Kings Magi, wise men of the East, I was there one day. In conformity with the general spirit of Rome, strangely inconsistent in a country where the Madonna is far more frequently and devoutly worshiped than God or Christ, in a city where at least as many female saints and martyrs are venerated as male; there was no good place for women to sit. All the good seats were for the men in the area below, but in the gallery windows, and from the organ-loft, a few women were allowed to peep at what was going on. I was one of these exceptional characters. The exercises were in all the different languages under the sun. It would have been exceedingly interesting to hear them, one after the other, each in its peculiar cadence and inflection, but much of the individual expression was taken away by that general false academic tone which is sure to pervade such exhibitions where young men speak who have as yet nothing to say. It would have been different indeed if we could have heard natives of all those countries, who were animated by real feelings, real wants. Still it was interesting, particularly the language and music of Kurdistan and the full-grown beauty of the Greek after the ruder dialects. Among these who appeared to the best advantage were several blacks, and the majesty of the Latin hexameters was confided to a full-blooded Guinea negro, who acquitted himself better than any other I heard. I observed, too, the perfectly gentlemanly appearance of these young men, and that they had nothing of that Cuffy swagger by which those freed from a servile state try to cover a painful consciousness of their position in our country. Their air was self-possessed, quiet and free beyond that of most of the lily-livered.
Pour, pour, pour again, dark as night—many people coming in to see me because they don ‘t know what to do with themselves. I am very glad to see them for the same reason; this atmosphere is so heavy I seem to carry the weight of the world on my head and feel unfitted for every exertion. As to eating, that is a bygone thing; wine, coffee, meat, I have resigned; vegetables are few and hard to have, except horrible little cabbage, in which the Romans delight. A little rice still remains, which I take with pleasure, remembering it growing in the rich fields of Lombardy, so green and full of glorious light. That light fell still more beautiful on the tall plantations of hemp, but it is dangerous just at present to think of what is made from hemp.
This week all the animals are being blessed, and they get a gratuitous baptism, too, the while. The lambs one morning were taken out to the church of St. Agnese for this purpose. The little companion of my travels, if he sees this letter will remember how often we saw her with her lamb in pictures. The horses are being blessed by St. Antonio, and under his harmonizing influence are afterward driven through the city, twelve and even twenty in hand. They are harnessed into light wagons, and men run beside them to guard against accident, in case the good influence of the Saint should fail.
This morning came the details of infamous attempts by the Austrian Police to exasperate the students of Pavia. The way is to send persons to smoke cigars in forbidden places who insult those who are obliged to tell them to desist. These traps seem particularly shocking when laid for fiery and sensitive young men. They succeeded: the students were lured into combat and a number left dead and wounded on both sides. The University is shut up; the inhabitants of Pavia and Milan have put on mourning; even at the theater they wear it. The Milanese will not walk in that quarter where the blood of their fellow citizens has been so wantonly shed. They have demanded a legal investigation of the conduct of the officials.
At Piacenza similar attempts have been made to excite the Italians by smoking in their faces and crying, ‘Long live the Emperor.’ It is a worthy homage to pay to the Austrian Crown: the offering of cigars and blood:
This morning authentic news is received from Naples. The King, when assured by his own brother that Sicily was in a state of irresistible revolt, and that even the women quelled the troops – showering on them stones, furniture, boiling oil, such means of warfare as the household may easily furnish to a thoughtful matron—had, first, a stroke of apoplexy, from which the loss of a good deal of bad blood relieved him. His mind, apparently, having become clearer thereby, he has offered his subjects an amnesty and terms of reform, which, it is hoped, will arrive before his troops have begun to bombard the cities in obedience to earlier orders.
Comes also to-day the news that the French Chamber of Peers propose an Address to the King, echoing back all the falsehoods of his speech, including those upon reform, and the enormous one that “the peace of Europe is now assured.” But that some members have worthily opposed it and spoken truth in an honorable manner.
Also that the infamous sacrifice of the poor little Queen of Spain puts on more tragic colors; that it is pretended she has epilepsy, and she is to be made to renounce the throne, which, indeed, has been a terrific curse to her; and Heaven and Earth have looked calmly on, while the King of France has managed all this with the most unnatural of mothers.
This morning comes the plan of the Address of the Chamber of Deputies to the King: it contains some passages that are keenest satire upon him, as also some remarks have been made, some words of truth spoken in the Chamber of Peers, that must have given him some twinges of nervous shame as he read. M. Guizot’s speech on the affairs of Switzerland shows his usual shabbiness and falsehood; surely never Prime Minister stood in so mean a position as he; one that like Metternich seems noble and manly in comparison; for if there is a cruel, atheistical, treacherous policy, there needs not at least continual evasion to avoid declaring in words what is so glaringly manifest in fact.
There is news that the revolution has now broken out in Naples; that neither Sicilians nor Neapolitans will trust the King, but demand his abdication; and that his bad demon, Coclo, has fled, carrying two hundred thousand ducats of gold. But in particulars these news is not yet sure, though, no doubt, there is truth at the bottom.
Aggressions on the part of the Austrians continue in the North. The Advocates Tomasco, and Manin (a light thus reflected on the name of the last Doge), having dared to protest formally the necessity of Reform, are thrown into prison. Every day the cloud swells, and the next fortnight is likely to bring important material for the record of *
“Things and Thoughts in Europe.” New-York Daily Tribune, 13 March 1848, p. 1.