I turned to the staircase. Three peasant lads from Rimini—where the Madonna still winks, and good Catholic hearts still believe—were piously engaged in laying up a stock of merit against a future day, on the Scala Santa. Swinging the upper part of their bodies, and holding their feet aloft lest their wooden-soled shoes should touch the precious marble, or rather its wooden casing, they were slowly making way on the steps. In a little they were joined by a Frenchman, with his wife and little daughter; and the whole began a general march up the staircase. Whether it was the greater vigour of their piety, or the greater vigour of their limbs, I know not; but the peasants had flung themselves up before the lady had mastered five steps of the course. It occurred to me that this way of earning heaven was not one that placed all on a level, as they should be. These strong sinewy lads were getting fifteen years' indulgence with no greater effort than it cost the lady to earn five. The party, on reaching the top, entered a room on the right, and dropt on their knees before a little box of bones which stood in one corner, then before a painting of the Saviour which hung in the other; muttered a few words of prayer; and, descending the lateral stairs, commenced over again the same process. In no time they had laid up at least a hundred years' indulgence a-piece. The Frenchman and his lady went through the operation with a grave face; but the peasants quite lost the mastery over theirs, and the building rung with peals of laughter at the ridiculous attitudes into which they were compelled to throw themselves. Even in the little chapel above, bursts of smothered merriment interrupted their prayers. I looked at the little man in the box, to see how he was taking it; but he was true to his own remark, "What is that to me?" Indeed, this behaviour by no means detracted from the merit of the deed, or shortened by a single day the term of indulgence, in the estimation of the Italians. Their understanding of devotion and ours are totally different. With us devotion is a mental act; with them it is a mechanical act, strictly so. The mind may be absent, asleep, dead; it is devotion nevertheless. These peasants had undertaken to climb Pilate's staircase on their knees; not to give devout or reverent feelings into the bargain: they had done all they engaged to do, and were entitled to claim their hire. The staircase, as my readers may remember, has a strange connection with the Reformation. One day, as Luther was dragging his body up these steps, he thought he heard a voice from heaven crying to him, The just shall live by faith. Amazed, he sprang to his feet. New light entered into him. Luther and the Reformation were advanced a stage.
From the Scala Santa in the Lateran I went to see the Santissimo Bambino in the church of Ara Caeli, on the Capitol. This church is squatted on the spot where stood the temple of Jupiter Ferretrius of old. It is one of the largest churches in Rome, and is unquestionably the ugliest. A magnificent staircase of an hundred and twenty-four steps of Parian marble leads up to it; but the church itself is as untasteful as can well be imagined. It presents its gable to the spectator, which is simply a vast unadorned expanse of brick, the breadth greatly exceeding the height, and terminating a-top in a sort of coping, that looks like a low, broad chimney, or rather a dozen chimneys in one. The edifice always reminded me of a short, stout Quaker, with a brim of even more than the usual breadth, standing astride on the Capitol. Entering by the main doorway in the west, I passed along the side aisle, on my way to the little chapel near the altar where the Bambino is kept. The wall here was covered with little pictures in thousands, all in the homeliest style of the art, and representing persons falling into the sea, or tumbling over precipices, or ridden over by carts. These were votive offerings from persons who had been in the situations represented, and who had been saved by the special interposition of Mary. Arms, legs, and heads of brass, and in some instances of silver, bore testimony to the greater wealth or the greater devotion of others of the devotees. Passing through a door on the left, at the eastern extremity of the church, I entered the little chapel or side closet, in which the Bambino is kept. Here two barefooted monks, with not more than the average dirt on their persons, were in attendance, to show me the "god." They began by lighting a few candles, though the sunlight was streaming in at the casement. I was near asking the monks the same question which the Protestant inhabitants of a Hungarian village one day put to their Catholic neighbours, as they were marching in procession through their streets,—"Is your god blind, that you burn candles to him at mid-day?" The tapers lighted, one of the friars dropped on his knees, and fell to praying with great vigour. I fear my deportment was not so edifying as the place and circumstances required; for I could see that ever and anon the monk cast side-long glances at me, as at a man who was scarce worthy of so great a sight as was about to be shown him. The other monk, drawing a key from under his cloak, threw open the doors of a sort of cupboard that stood against the wall. The interior was fitted up not unlike the stage of a theatre. A tall figure, covered with a brown cloak, stood leaning on a staff in the foreground. By his side stood a female, considerably younger, and attired in an elegant robe of green. These two regarded with fixed looks a little cradle or casket at their feet. The background stretched away into a hilly country, amid whose knolls and dells were shepherds with their flocks. The figures were Joseph and Mary, and the vista beyond was meant to represent the vicinity of Bethlehem. Taking up the casket, the monk, with infinite bowings and crossings, undid its swathings, and solemnly drew forth the Bambino. Poor little thing! it was all one to it whether one or a hundred candles were burning beside it: it had eyes, but saw not. It was bandaged, as all Italian children are, from head to foot, the swathings enveloping both arms and legs, displaying only its little feet at one extremity, and its round chubby face at the other. But what a blaze! On its little head was a golden crown, burning with brilliants; and from top to toe it was stuck so full of jewels, that it sparkled and glittered as if it had been but one lustrous gem throughout.
Two women, who had taken the opportunity of an Inglise visiting the idol, now entered, leading betwixt them a little child, and all three dropped on their knees before the Bambino. I begged the monk to inform me why these women were here on their knees, and praying. "They are worshipping the Bambino," he replied. "Oh! worshipping, are they?" I exclaimed, in affected surprise; "how stupid I am; I took it for a piece of wood." "And so it is," rejoined the monk; "but it is miraculous; it is full of divine virtue, and works cures." "Has it wrought any of late?" I inquired. "It has," replied the religioso; "it cured a woman of dropsy two weeks ago." "In what quarter of Rome did she live?" I asked. "She lived in the Vatican," replied the Franciscan. "We have some great doctors in the city I come from," I said; "we have some who can take off an arm, or a leg, or a nose, without your feeling the slightest pain; but we have no doctor like this little doctor. But, pray tell me, why do you permit the cardinals or the Pope ever to die, when the Bambino can cure them?" The monk turned sharply round, and gave me a searching stare, which I stood with imperturbable gravity; and then, taking me for either a very dull or a very earnest questioner, he proceeded to explain that the cure did not depend altogether on the power of the Bambino, but also somewhat on the faith of the patient. "Oh, I see how it is," I replied. "But pardon me yet farther; you say the Bambino is of wood, and that these honest women are praying to it. Now I have been taught to believe that we ought not to worship wood." To make sure both of my interrogatories and of the monk's answers, I had been speaking to him through my friend Mr Stewart, whose long residence in Rome had made him perfectly master of the Italian tongue. "Oh," replied the Franciscan, "all Christians here worship it." But now the signs had become very manifest that my inquiries had reached a point beyond which it would not be prudent to push them. The monk was getting very red in the face; his motions were growing quick and violent; and, with more haste than reverence, he put back his god into its crib, and prepared to lock it up in its press. His fellow monk had started to his feet, and was rapidly extinguishing the candles, as if he smelt the unwholesome air of heresy. The women were told to be off; and the exhibition closed with somewhat less show of devotion than it had opened.
Here, by the banks of the Tiber, as of old by the Euphrates, sits the captive daughter of Judah; and I went one afternoon towards twilight to visit the Ghetto. It is a narrow, dark, damp, tunnel-like lane. Old Father Tiber had been there but a day or two previously, and had left, as usual, very distinct traces of his visit, in the slime and wet that covered the place. Formerly it was shut in with gates, which were locked every night at Ave Maria: now the gates are gone, and the broken and ragged door-posts show where they had hung. Opposite the entrance of the Ghetto stands a fine church, with a large sculpture-piece over its portal, representing a crucifix, surrounded with the motto, which meets the eye of the Jew every time he passes out or comes in, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a gainsaying and disobedient people." The allusion here, no doubt, is to their unwillingness to pay their taxes, for that is the only sense in which the Pope's hands are all day long stretched out towards this people. Recently Pio Nono contracted a loan for twenty-one millions of francs, with the house of Rothschild; and thus, after persecuting the race for ages, the Vicar of God has come to lean for the support of his tottering throne upon a Jew. To do the Pope justice, however, the Jews in Rome are gathered once a-year into a church, where a sermon is preached for their conversion. The spectacle is said to be a very edifying one. The preacher fires off from the pulpit the hardest hits he can; and the Jews sit spitting, coughing, and making faces in return; while a person armed with a long pole stalks through the congregation, and admonishes the noisiest with a firm sharp rap on the head. The scene closes with a baptism, in which, it is affirmed, the same Jew sometimes plays the same part twice, or oftener if need be.
The tyrannical spirit of Popery is seen in the treatment to which these descendants of Abraham are subjected in Rome, down to the present hour. Inquisitors are appointed to search into and examine all their books; all Rabbinic works are forbidden them, the Old Testament in Hebrew only being allowed to them; and any Jew having any forbidden book in his possession is liable to the confiscation of his property. Nor is he permitted to converse on the subject of religion with a Christian. They are not permitted to bury their dead with religious pomp, or to write inscriptions on their tombstones; they are forbidden to employ Christian servants; and if they do anything to disturb the faith of a Jewish convert to Romanism, they are subject to the confiscation of all their goods, and to imprisonment with hard labour for life; they are not allowed to sell meat butchered by themselves to Christians, nor unleavened bread, under heavy penalties; nor are they permitted to sleep a night beyond the limits of their quarters, nor to have carriage or horses of their own, nor to drive about the city in carriages, nor to use public conveyances for journeying, if any one object to it.
Enter the Ghetto, and you feel instantly that you are among another race. An indescribable languor reigns over the rest of Rome. The Romans walk the streets with their hands in their pockets, and their eyes on the ground, for a heavy heart makes the limbs to drag. But in the Ghetto all is activity and thrift. You feel as if you had been suddenly transported into one of the busiest lanes of Glasgow or Manchester. Eager faces, with keen eyes and sharp features, look out upon you from amid the bundles of clothes and piles of all kinds of articles which darken the doors and windows of their shops. Scarce have you crossed the threshold of the Ghetto when you are seized by the button, dragged helplessly into a small hole stuffed with every imaginable sort of merchandise, and invited to buy a dozen things at once. No sooner have you been let go than you are seized by another and another. The women were seated in the doors of their shops and dwellings, plying busily their needle. One fine Jewish matron I marked, with seven buxom daughters round her, all working away with amazing nimbleness, and casting only a momentary glance at the stranger as he passed. How inextinguishable the qualities of this extraordinary people! Here, in this desolate land, and surrounded by the overwhelming torpor and laziness of Rome, the Jews are as industrious and as intent on making gain as their brethren in the commercial cities of Britain. I drew up with a young lad of about twenty, by way of feeling the pulse of the Ghetto; but though I tried him on both the past and the present, I succeeded in striking no chord to which he would respond. He seemed one of the prophet's dried bones,—very dry. Seventy years did their fathers dwell by the Euphrates; but here, alas! has the harp of Judah hung upon the willow for eighteen centuries. Beneath the dark shadow of the Vatican do they ever think of the sunny and vine-clad hills of their Palestine?
I spent days not a few in the saloons of the Vatican. Into these noble chambers,—six thousand in number, it is said,—have been gathered all the masterpieces of ancient art which have been dug up from the ruins of villas, and temples, and basilicas, where they had lain buried for ages. Of course, I enter on no description of these. Let me only remark, that though I had seen hundreds of copies of some of these sculptures,—the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon, for instance,—no copy I had ever seen had given me any but the faintest idea of the transcendent beauty and power of the originals. The artist, I found, had flung into them, without the slightest exaggeration of feature, a tremendous energy, an intense life, which perhaps no coming age will ever equal, and certainly none surpass. What a sublime, thrilling, ever-acting tragedy, for instance, is the Laocoon group! But from these efforts of a genius long since passed from the earth, I pass to one who represents in his living person a more tragical drama than any depicted in marble in the halls of the Vatican. One day as I was wandering through these apartments, the rumour ran through them that the Pope was going out to take an airing. I immediately ran down to the piazza, where I found a rather shabby coach with red wheels, to which were yoked four coal-black horses, with a very fat coachman on the box, in antique livery, and two postilions astride the horses, waiting for Pius. Some half-dozen of the guardia nobile, mounted on black horses, were in attendance; and, loitering at the bottom of the stairs, were the stately forms of the Swiss guards, with their shining halberds, and their quaint striped dress of yellow and purple. I had often heard of the Pope in the symbols of the Apocalypse, and in the pages of history as the antichrist; and now I was to see him with the eye in the person of Pio Nono. After waiting ten minutes or so, the folding doors in an upper gallery of the piazza were thrown open, and I could see a head covered with a white skull-cap,—the Popes never wear a wig,—passing along the corridor, just visible above the stone ballustrade. In a minute the Pope had descended the stairs, and was advancing along the open pavement to his carriage. The Swiss guard stood to their halberds. A Frenchman and his lady,—the same, if I mistake not, whom I had seen on the Scala Santa,—spreading his white handkerchief on the causeway, uncovered and dropped on his knees; a row of German students in red gowns went down in like manner; a score or so of wretched-looking old men, who were digging up the grass in the piazza, formed a prostrate group in the middle; and a little knot of Englishmen,—some four of us only,—stood erect at about six yards from the line of the procession.
Pio Nono, though king of the kings of the earth, was attired with severe simplicity. His sole dress, save the skull-cap I have mentioned, and red slippers, was a gown of white stuff, which enveloped his whole person from the neck downwards, and looked not unlike a camlet morning dressing-gown. A small cross which dangled on his breast was his only ornament. The fisherman's ring I was too far off to see. In person he is a portly, good-looking gentleman; and, could one imagine him entering the pulpit of a Scotch Secession congregation, or an English Methodist one, his appearance would be hailed with looks of satisfaction. His colour was fresher than the average of Italy; and his face had less of the priest in it than many I have seen. There was an air of easy good nature upon it, which might be mistaken for benevolence, blended with a smile, which appeared ever on the point of breaking into a laugh, and which utterly shook the spectator's confidence in the firmness and good faith of its owner. Pius stooped slightly; his gait was a sort of amble; there was an air of irresolution over the whole man; and one was tempted to pronounce,—though the judgment may be too severe,—that he was half a rogue, half a fool. He waived his hand in an easy, careless way to the students and Frenchman, and made a profound bow to the English party.
St Peter's is close by: let us enter it. As among the Alps, so here at first, one is altogether unaware of the magnitudes before him. What strikes you on entering is the vast sweep of the marble floor. It runs out before you like a vast plain or strath, and gives you a colossal standard of measurement, which you apply unconsciously to every object,—the pillars, the statues, the roof; and though these are all colossal too, yet so nicely are they proportioned to all around them, that you take no note of their bulk. You pass on, and the grandeur of the edifice opens upon you. Beneath you are rows of dead popes; on either side rise gigantic statues and monuments which genius has raised to their memory; and in front is the high altar of the Roman world, towering to the height of a three-story house, yet looking, beneath that sublime roof, of only ordinary size. You are near the reputed tombs of Peter and Paul, before which an hundred golden lamps burn day and night. And now the mighty dome opens upon you, like the vault of heaven itself. You begin to feel the wondrous magnificence of the edifice in which you stand, and you give way to the admiration and awe with which it inspires you. But next moment comes the saddening thought, that this pile, unrivalled as it is among temples made with hands, is literally useless. There is no worship in it. Here the sinner hears no tidings of a free salvation. This temple but enshrines a wafer, and serves once or twice a-year as the scene of an idle pageant on the part of a few old men.
Nay, not only is it useless,—it is one of the strongholds which superstition has thrown up for perpetuating its sway over the world. You see these few poor people kneeling before these burning lamps. Their prayer is directed, not upwards through that dome to the heavens above it, but downwards into that vault where sleep, as they believe, the ashes of Peter and Paul. Rome has ever discouraged family worship, and taught men to pray in churches. Why? To increase the power of the Church and the priesthood. A country covered with households in which family worship is kept is like a country covered with fortresses;—it is impregnable. Every house is a citadel, and every family is a little army. Or mark yonder female who kneels before the perforated brazen lattice of yonder confessional-box. She is whispering her sins into the ear of a shaven priest, who receives them into his own black heart. It is but a reeking cess-pool, not a fountain of cleansing, to which she has come. Such are the uses of St Peter's,—a temple where the Church is glorified at the expense of religion. Its high altar stops the way to the throne of grace, and its priest bars your access to a Redeemer's blood.
And how was this temple built? Romanists speak of it as a monument of the piety of the faithful. But what is the fact? Did it not come out of the foul box of Tetzel the indulgence-monger? Every stone in it is representative of so much sin. With all its grandeur, it is but a stupendous monument of the follies and vices, the crimes and the superstition, of Christendom in the ages which preceded the Reformation. It has cost Rome dear. We do not allude to the twelve millions its erection is said to have cost, but to the mighty rent to which it gave rise in the Roman world. In the centre of the magnificent piazza of St Peter's stands an Egyptian obelisk, brought from Heliopolis, with the words graven upon it, "Christ reigns." Verily that is a great truth; and there are few spots where one feels its force so strongly as here. The successive paganisms of the world have been overruled as steps in the world's progress. Their corruptions have been based upon certain great truths, which they have written, as it were, upon the general mind of the world. The paganism which flourished where that column was hewn was an admission of God's existence, though it strove to divert attention from the truth on which it was founded, by the multitude of false gods which it invented. In like manner, the paganism that flourishes, or rather that is fading, where this column now stands, is an admission of the necessity of a Mediator; though it strives, as its predecessor did, to hide this glorious truth under a cloud of spurious mediators. But we see in this how every successive move on the part of idolatry has in reality been a retreat. Truth is gradually advancing its parallels against the citadel of error, and the world is toiling slowly upward to its great rest. Thus Christ shows that He reigns.
From this silent prophet at the Pope's door, let us skirt along the Janiculum, to the gate of San Pancrazio. The site is a commanding one; and you look down into the basin in which Rome reposes, where many a cupola, and tower, and pillared facade, rises proudly out of the red roofs that cover the Campus Martius. If it is toward sunset, you can see the sheen of the villas which are sprinkled over the Sabine and Volscian hills, and are much struck with the fine amphitheatre which the mountains around the city form. What must have been the magnificence of ancient Rome, with her seven hills, and her glorious Campagna, with such a mountain-wall! But let us mark the old gate. It was here that the struggle betwixt the French and the Romans took place in 1849. The wall is here of brick,—very old, and of great breadth; and if struck with a cannon ball, it would crumble into dust by inches, but not fall in masses: hence the difficulty which the French found of breaching it. The towers of the gate are dismantled, and the top of the wall for some thirty yards is of new brick; but, with these exceptions, no other traces remain of the bloody conflict which restored the Pope to his throne. Of old, when Dagon fell, and the human head rolled in one direction and the fishy tail lay in another, "they took Dagon," we are told, and, fastening together the dissevered parts, "they set him in his place again." Idol worshippers are the same in all ages. Oftener than once has the Dagon of the Seven Hills fallen; the crown has rolled in one direction; the "palms of his hands" have been seen in another; and only the sacerdotal stump has remained; but the kings of Europe have taken Dagon, and, by the help of bayonets, have "set him in his place again;" and, having set up him who could not set up himself, have worshipped him as the prop of their own power. What I had come hither to see especially was the graves of those who had fallen. On the left of the road, outside the gate, I found a grassy plateau, of some half-dozen acres, slightly furrowed, but bearing no such indications as I expected to find of such carnage as had here taken place. A Roman youth was sauntering on the spot; and, making up to him, I asked him to be so good as show me where they had buried the Frenchmen. "Come along," said he, "and I will show you the French." We crossed the plateau in the direction of a vineyard, which was enclosed with a stone-wall. The gate was open, and we entered. Stooping down, the youth laid hold on a whitish-looking nodule, of about the size of one's fist, and, holding it out to me, said, "that, Signor, is part of a Frenchman." I thought at first the lad was befooling me; but on examining the substance, I found that it was animal matter calcined, and had indeed formed part of a human being. The vineyard for acres and acres was strewn with similar masses. I now saw where the French were buried. The siege took place in the heat of summer; and every evening, when the battle was over, the dead were gathered in heaps, and burned, to prevent infection; and there are their remains to this day, manuring the vineyards around the walls. I wonder if the evening breezes, as they blow over the Janiculum, don't waft across the odour to the Vatican.
Let us descend the hill, and re-enter the city. There is a class of buildings which you cannot fail to note, and which at first you take to be prisons. They are large, gloomy-looking houses, of from three to four stories, with massive doors, and windows closed with strong upright iron stanchions, crossed with horizontal bars, forming a network of iron of so close a texture, that scarce a pigeon could squeeze itself through. Ah, there, you say, the brigand or the Mazzinist groans! No; the place is a convent. It is the dwelling, not of crime, but of "heavenly meditation." The beings that live there are so perfectly happy, so glad to have escaped from the evil world outside, and so delighted with their paradise, that not one of them would leave it, though you should open these doors, and tear away these iron bars. So the priests say. Is it not strange, then, to confine with bolt and bar beings who intend anything but escape? and is it not, to say the least, a needless waste of iron, in a country where iron is so very scarce and so very dear? It would be worth while making the trial, if only for a summer's day, of opening these doors, and astonishing Rome with the great amount of happiness within it, of which, meanwhile, it has not the least idea. I have seen the dignitaries entering, but no glimpse could I obtain of the interior; for immediately behind the strong outer door is an inner one, and how many more I know not. Mr Seymour has told us of a nun, while he was in Rome, who found her way out through all these doors and bars; but, instead of fleeing back into her paradise, she rushed straight to the Tiber, and sought death beneath its floods.
But although I never was privileged to see the interior of a Roman convent, I saw on one occasion the inmates of these paradises. During my sojourn in that city, it was announced that the nuns of a certain convent were to sing at Ave Maria, in a church adjoining the Piazza di Spagna; and I went thither to hear them. The choristers I did not see; they sat in a remote gallery, behind a screen. Their voices, which in clearness and brilliancy of tone surpassed the finest instruments, now rose into an overpowering melodious burst, and now died away into the sweetest, softest whispers. Within the low rail, their faces fronting the altar, and their backs turned on the audience, sat a row of spectres. Start not, reader; spectres they were,—fleshless, bloodless spectres. I saw them enter: they came like the sheeted dead; they wore long white dresses; their faces were pale and livid, like those that look out upon you from coffins; their forms were thin and wasted, and cast scarce a shadow as they passed between you and the beams of the sinking sun. Their eyes they lifted not, but kept them steadfastly fixed on the ground, over which they crept noiselessly as shadows creep. They sat mute and moveless, as if they had been statues of cold marble, all the while these brilliant notes were rolling above them. But I observed they were closely watched by the priests. There were several beside the altar; and whichever it was who happened for the moment to be disengaged, he turned round, and stood regarding the nuns with that stern anxious look with which one seeks to control a mastiff or a maniac. Were the priests afraid that, if withdrawn for a moment from the influence of their eye, a wail of woe would burst forth from these poor creatures? The last hallelujah had been pealed forth,—the shades of eve were thickening among the aisles,—when the priests gave the signal to the nuns. They rose, they moved; and, with eyes which were not lifted for a moment from the floor on which they trod, they disappeared by the same private door by which they had entered. I have seen gangs of galley slaves,—I have seen the husbands and sons of Rome led away manacled into banishment,—I have seen men standing beneath the gallows; but never did I see so woe-struck a group as this. Than have gone back with these nuns to their "paradise," as it is cruelly termed, I felt that I would rather have lain, where the lost nun is, in the Tiber.
Before visiting Italy, I had read and studied the lectures of Father Perrone, Professor of Dogmatic Theology in the Collegio Romano, and had had frequent occasion to mention his name in my own humble pages; for I had nowhere found so clear a statement of the views held by the Church of Rome on the important doctrine of Original Sin, as that given in the Father's writings, and few had spoken so plainly as he had done on the wickedness of toleration. Being in Rome, I was naturally desirous of seeing the Father, and hearing him prelect. Accompanied by a young Roman student, whose acquaintance I had the happiness to make, but whose name I do not here mention, I repaired one day to the Collegio Romano,—a fine quadrangular building; and, after visiting its library, in whose "dark unfathomed caves" lies full many a monkish gem, I passed to the class-room of Professor Perrone. It was a lofty hall, benched after the manner of our own class-rooms, and hung round with portraits of the Professor's predecessors in office,—at least I took them for such. A tall pulpit rose on the end wall, with a crucifix beside it. The students were assembling, and mustered to the number of about an hundred. They were raw-boned, seedy-looking lads, of from seventeen to twenty-two. They all wore gowns, the majority being black, but some few red. Had I been a rich man, and disposed to signalize my visit to the Collegio Romano by some appropriate gift, I would have presented each of its students with a bar of soap, with directions for its use. In a few minutes the Professor entered, wearing the little round cap of the Jesuits. With that quiet stealthy step (an unconscious struggle to pass from matter into spirit, and assume invisibility) which is inseparable from the order, Father Perrone walked up to the pulpit stairs, which, after doffing his cap, and muttering a short prayer before the crucifix, he ascended, and took his place. It may interest those who are familiar with his writings, to know that Father Perrone is a man of middle size, rather inclined to obesity, with a calm, pleasant, thoughtful face, which becomes lighted up, as he proceeds, with true Italian vivacity. His lecture for the day was on the Evidences; and of course it was not the heretics, but the infidels, whom he combated throughout. In the number of his students was a young Protestant American, whom I first met in the house of the Rev. Mr Hastings, the American chaplain, where I usually passed my Sabbath evenings. This young man had chalked out for himself the most extraordinary theological course I ever heard of. He had first of all gone through a full curriculum in one of the old orthodox halls of the United States; he had then passed into Germany, where he had taken a course of neology and philosophy; and now he had come to Rome, where he intended to finish off with a course of Romanism. I ventured to engage him in a conversation on what he had learned in Germany; but we had not gone far till both found that we had lost ourselves in a dark mist; and we were glad to lay hold on an ordinary topic, as a clue back to the daylight. The young divine purposed returning to his native land, and spending his days as a Presbyterian pastor.
Will the reader go back with me to the point where we began our excursion through Rome,—the Flaminian Gate? I invite the reader's special attention to a building on the right. It stands a few paces outside the gate. The building possesses no architectural attractions, but it is illustrative of a great principle. The first floor is occupied as a granary; the second floor is occupied as a granary; the third floor,—how is it occupied,—the attic story? Why, it is the English Protestant Church! Here is the toleration which the Pope grants us in Rome. There are from six hundred to a thousand English subjects resident in Rome every winter; but they dare not meet within the walls to open the Bible, or to worship God as his Word enjoins. They must go out without the gate, as if they were evil-doers; they must climb the stairs of this granary, as if they meditated some deed of darkness; and only when they have got into this garret are they at liberty to worship God. The Pope comes, not in person, but in his cardinals and priests, to Britain; and he claims the right of building his mass-houses, and of celebrating his worship, in every town and village of our empire. We permit him to do so; for we will fight this great battle with the weapons of toleration. We disdain to stain our hands or tarnish our cause by any other: these we leave to our opponents. But when we go to Rome, and offer to buy with our money a spot of ground on which to erect a house for the worship of God, we are told that we can have—no, not a foot's-breadth. Why, I say, the gospel had more toleration in Pagan Rome, aye, even when Nero was emperor, than it has in Papal Rome under Pio Nono. When Christianity entered Rome in the person of the Apostle Paul, did the tyrant of the Palatine strike her dumb? By no means. For the space of two years, her still small voice ceased not to be heard at the foot of the Capitol. "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house [in Rome], and received all that came in unto him; preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." Let any minister or missionary attempt to do so now, and what would be his fate? and what the fate of any Roman who might dare to visit him? Instant banishment to the one,—instant imprisonment to the other. The Pope has set up the symbol of intolerance and persecution at his gate. He has written over the portals of Rome, as Dante over the gates of hell, "All ye who enter here, abandon"—God.
I do not say that the place is incommodious internally. The stigma lies in the proscription put upon Protestant worship. It is held to be an abomination so foul, that it cannot be tolerated within the walls of Rome. And the same spirit which banishes the worship to a garret, would banish the worshipper to a prison, or condemn him to a stake, if it dared. The same principle that makes Rome lock her earthly gates against the Protestant now, makes her lock her heavenly gates against him eternally.
There are, however, annoyances of a palpable and somewhat ludicrous kind attending this expulsion of the Protestant worship beyond the walls. The granary to which I have referred adjoins the cattle and pig market. In Rome, although it is a mortal sin to eat the smallest piece of flesh on a Friday, it is no sin at all to buy and sell swine's flesh on a Sabbath. Accordingly, the pig-market is held on Sabbath; and it is customary to drive the animals into the back courts of the English meeting-house before carrying them to market. So I was informed, when at Rome, by a member of the English congregation. The uproar created by the animals is at times so great as to disturb the worshippers in the attic above, who have been under the necessity of putting their hands into their pockets, and buying food for the swine, in order to keep them quiet during the hours of divine service. Thus the English at Rome are able to conduct their worship with some degree of decorum only when both cardinals and swine are propitious. Should either be out of humour,—a thing conceivable to happen to the most obese cardinal and the sweetest-tempered pig,—the English have but little chance of quiet. Nor is that the worst of it. I read not long since in the public journals, a letter from a Romish dignitary,—Dr Cahill, if I mistake not,—who, with an immense amount of bravery, stated that there was no Roman Catholic country in the world where full toleration was not enjoyed; and that, as regarded Rome, any Roman might change his religion to-morrow with perfect impunity. He might adopt Protestantism or Quakerism, or any other ism he pleased, provided he could show that he was not acting under the compulsion of a bribe. But how stands the fact? I passed three Sabbaths in Rome; I worshipped each Sabbath in the English Protestant chapel; and what did I see at the door of that chapel? I saw two gendarmes, with a priest beside them to give them instructions. And why were they there? They were there to observe all who went in and out at that chapel; and provided a Roman had dared to climb these stairs, and worship with the English congregation, the gendarmes would have seized him by the collar, and dragged him to the Inquisition. So much for the liberty the poor Romans enjoy to change their religion. The writer of that letter with the same truth might have told the people of England that there is no such city as Rome in all the world.
I was much taken with the ministrations of the Rev. Francis B. Woodward, the resident chaplain, on hearing him for the first time. He looked like one whose heart was in his work, and I thought him evangelical, so far as the absence of all reference to what Luther has termed "the article of a standing or a falling Church" allowed me to form an opinion. But next Sabbath my confidence was sorely shaken. Mr Woodward was proceeding in a rich and sweetly pious discourse on the necessity of seeking and cultivating the gifts of the Spirit, and of cherishing the hope of glory, when, towards the middle of his sermon, the evangelical thread suddenly snapped. "How are we," abruptly asked the preacher, "to become the sons of God?" I answer, by baptism. By baptism we are made children of God and heirs of heaven. But should we fall from that happy state, how are we to recover it? I answer, by penance. And then he instantly fell back again into his former pious strain. I started as if struck, and looked round to see how the audience were taking it. But I could discover no sign that they felt the real significancy of the words they had just heard. It seemed to me that the English chaplain was outside the gate for the purpose of showing men in at it; and were I the Pope, instead of incurring the scandal of banishing him beyond the walls, I would assign him one of the best of the many hundred empty churches in Rome. The Rev. Mr Hastings, the American chaplain, conducted worship in the dining-room of Mr Cass, the American Consul, to a little congregation of some thirty persons. He was a good man, and a sound Protestant, but lacked the peculiar qualities for such a sphere. He has since passed from Rome and the earth, and joined, I doubt not, albeit disowned as a heretic in the city in which he laboured, "the General Assembly and Church of the first-born" on high.
I have already mentioned that the priests boast that the Pope could say mass in a different church every day of the year. Nevertheless there is next to no preaching in Rome. In Italy they convert men, not by preaching sermons, but by giving them wafers to swallow,—not by conveying truth into the mind, but by lodging a little dough in the stomach. Hence many of their churches stand on hill-tops, or in the midst of swamps, where not a house is in sight. During my sojourn of three weeks, I heard but two sermons by Roman preachers. I was sauntering in the Forum one day, when, observing a little stream of paupers—(how could such go to the convents to beg if they did not go to sermon?)—flowing into the church of San Lorenzo, I joined in the procession, and entered along with them. At the door was a tin-box for receiving contributions for erecting a temple in London, where "their poor destitute fellow-countrymen might hear the true gospel." Were these "destitute fellow-countrymen" in Rome, the Pope would find accommodation for them in some one of his dungeons; but with the English Channel between him and them, he builds with paternal care a church for their use. We doubt not the exiles will duly appreciate his kindness. Every twentieth person or so dropped a little coin into the box as he passed in. A knot of some one or two hundreds was gathered round a wooden stage, on which a priest was declaiming with an exuberance of vehement gesture. On the right and left of him stood two hideous figures, holding candles and crucifixes, and enveloped from head to foot in sackcloth. They watched the audience through two holes in their masks; and I thought I could see a cowering in that portion of the crowd towards which the muffled figures chanced for the time to be turned. I felt a chilly terror creeping over me as the masks turned their great goggle eyes upon me; and accordingly withdrew.
The regular weekly sermon in Rome is that preached every Sabbath afternoon in the church of the Jesuits. This church is resplendent beyond all others in the Eternal City, in marbles and precious stones, frescoes and paintings. Here, too, in magnificent tombs, sleep St Ignatius, the founder of the order, and Cardinal Bellarmin, one of the "Church's" mightiest champions. Its ample roof might cover an assembly of I know not how many thousands. About half-way down the vast floor, on the side wall, stood the pulpit; and before it were set some scores of forms for the accommodation of the audience, which might amount to from four hundred to six hundred, chiefly elderly persons. At three o'clock the preacher entered the pulpit, and, having offered a short prayer in silence, he replaced on his head his little round cap, and flung himself into his theme. That theme was one then and still very popular (I mean with the preachers,—for the people take not the slightest interest in these matters) at Rome,—the Immaculate Conception. I can give only the briefest outline of the discourse; and I daresay that is all my readers will care for. In proof of the immunity of Mary from original sin, the preacher quoted all that St Jerome, and St Augustine, and a dozen fathers besides, had said on the point, with the air of a man who deemed these quotations quite conclusive. Had they related to the theory of eclipses, or been snatches from some old pagan poet in praise of Juno, the audience would have been equally well pleased with them. I looked when the father would favour his audience with a few proofs from St Matthew and St Luke; but his time did not permit him to go so far back. He next appealed to the miracles which the Virgin Mary had wrought. I expected much new information here, as my memory did not furnish me with any well-accredited ones; but I was somewhat disappointed when the preacher dismissed this branch of his subject with the remark, that these miracles were so well known, that he need not specify them. Having established his proposition first from tradition, and next from miracles, the preacher wound up by declaring that the Immaculate Conception was a doctrine which all good Catholics believed, and which no one doubted save the children of the devil and the slaves of hell. The sermon seemed as if it had been made to answer exactly the poet's description:—
"And when they list, their lean and flashy songs Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw; The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, But, swollen with wind, and the rank mist they draw, Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread; Besides what the grim wolf, with privy paw, Daily devours apace, and nothing sed; But that two-handed engine at the door Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more."
When this edifying sermon was ended, "Ave Maria" began. A train of white-robed priests entered, and gathered in a cloud round the high altar. The organ sent forth its thunder; the flashing censers shot upwards to the roof, and, as they rose and fell, emitted fragrant wreaths of incense. The crowd poured in, and swelled the assembly to some thousands; and when the priests began to chant, the multitude which now covered the vast floor dropped on their knees, and joined in the hymn to the Virgin. This service, of all I witnessed in Rome, was the only one that partook in the slightest degree of the sublime.
I must except one other, celebrated in an upper chamber, and truly sublime. It was my privilege to pass my first Sabbath in Rome in the society of the Rev. John Bonar and that of his family, and at night we met in Mr Bonar's room in the hotel, and had family worship. I well remember that Mr Bonar read on this occasion the last chapter of that epistle which Paul "sent by Phebe, servant of the Church at Cenchrea," to the saints at Rome. The disciples to whom the Apostle in that letter sends greetings had lived in this very city; their dust still slept in its soil; and were they to come back, I felt that, if I were a real Christian, we would recognise each other as dear brethren, and would join together in the same prayer; and as their names were read out, I was thrilled and melted, as if they had been the names of beloved and venerated friends but newly dead:—"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus; who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles, approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them."
Uppermost in my mind, in all my wanderings in and about Rome, was the glowing fact that here Paul had been, and here he had left his ineffaceable traces. I touched, as it were, scriptural times and apostolic men. Had he not often climbed this Capitol? Had not his feet pressed, times without number, this lava-paved road through the Forum? These Volscian and Sabine mountains, so lovely in the Italian sunlight, had often had his eye rested upon them! I began to love the soil for his sake, and felt that the presence of this one holy man had done more to hallow it than all that the long race of emperors and popes had done to desecrate it.
INFLUENCE OF ROMANISM ON TRADE.
The Church the Destroyer of the Country—The Pontifical Government just the Papacy in Action—That Government makes Men Beggars, Slaves, Barbarians—Influence of Pontifical Government on Trade—Iron—Great Agent of Civilization—Almost no Iron in Papal States—The Church has forbidden it—Prohibitive Duties on Iron—Machinery likewise prohibited—Antonelli's Extraordinary Note—Paucity of Iron-Workmen and Mechanics in the Papal States—Barbarous Aspect of the Country—Roman Ploughs—Roman Carts—How Grain is there Winnowed—Husbandry of Italy—Its Cabins—Its Ragged Population—Its Farms—Ruin of its Commerce—Isolation of Rome—Reasons why—Proposed Railway from Civita Vecchia to Ancona—Frustrated by the Government—Wretched Conveyance of Merchandise—Pope's Steam Navy—Papal Custom-houses—Bribery—Instances.
It is time to concentrate my observations, and to make their light converge around that evil system that sits enthroned in this old city. Of all the great ruins in Italy, the greatest by far is the Italians themselves. The ruin of the Italians I unhesitatingly lay at the door of the Church;—she is the nation's destroyer. When I first saw the Laocoon in the Vatican, I felt that I saw the symbol of the country;—there was Italy writhing in the folds of the great Cobra di Capella, the Papacy.
I cannot here go into the ceremonies practised at Rome, and which present so faithful a copy, both in their forms and in their spirit, of the pagan idolatry. Nor can I speak of the innumerable idols of gold and silver, wood and stone, with which their churches are crowded, and before which you may see votaries praying, and priests burning incense, all day long. Nor can I speak of the endless round of fetes and festivals which fill up the entire year, and by which the priests seek to dazzle, and, by dazzling, to delude and enthral, the Romans. Nor can I detain my readers with tales and wonders of Madonnas which have winked, and of the blind and halt which have been cured, which knaves invent and simpletons believe. Nor can I detail the innumerable frauds for fleecing the Romans;—money for indulgences,—money for the souls in purgatory,—money for eating flesh on Friday,—money for votive offerings to the saints. The church of the Jesuits is supposed to be worth a million sterling, in the shape of marbles, paintings, and statuary; and in this way the capital of the country is locked up, while not a penny can be had for making roads or repairing bridges, or promoting trade and agriculture. I cannot enter into these matters: I must confine my attention to one subject,—THE PONTIFICAL GOVERNMENT.
When I speak of the Pontifical Government, I just mean the Papacy. The working of the Papal Government is simply the working of the Papacy; for what is that Government, but just the principles of the Papacy put into judicial gear, and employed to govern mankind? It is the Church that governs the Papal States; and as she governs these States, so would she govern all the earth, would we let her. The Pontifical Government is therefore the fairest illustration that can be adduced of the practical tendency and influence of the system. I now arraign the system in the Government. I am prepared to maintain, both on general principles, and on facts that came under my own observation while in Rome, that the Pontifical Government is the most flagitiously unjust, the most inexorably cruel, the most essentially tyrannical Government, that ever existed under the sun. It is the necessary, the unchangeable, the eternal enemy of liberty. I say, looking at the essential principles of the Papacy, that it is a system claiming infallibility, and so laying reason and conscience under interdict,—that it is a system claiming to govern the world, not by God, but as God,—that it is a system claiming supreme authority in all things spiritual, and claiming the same supreme authority, though indirectly, in all things temporal,—that it sets no limits to its jurisdiction, but, on the contrary, makes that jurisdiction to range indiscriminately over heaven, earth, and hell. Looking at these principles, which no Papist can deny to be the fundamental and vital elements of his system, I maintain that, if there be any one thing more than another ascertained and indisputable within the compass of man's knowledge, it is this, that the domination of a system like the Papacy is utterly incompatible with the enjoyment of a single particle of liberty on the part of any human being. And I now proceed to show, that the conclusion to which one would come, reasoning from the essential principles of this system, is just the conclusion at which he would arrive by observing the workings of this system, as exhibited at this day in Italy.
I shall arrange the facts I have to state under three heads:—First, Those that relate to the TRADE of the Roman States: second, Those that relate to the administration of JUSTICE: and third, Those that relate to EDUCATION and KNOWLEDGE. I shall show that the Pontifical Government is so conducted as regards Trade, that it can have no other effect than to make the Romans beggars. I shall show, in the second place, that the Pontifical Government is so conducted as regards Justice, that it can have no other effect than to make the Romans slaves. And I shall show, in the third place, that the Pontifical Government is so conducted as regards Education, that it can have no other effect than to make the Romans barbarians. This is the threefold result that Government is fitted to work out: this is the threefold result it has wrought out. It has made the Romans beggars,—it has made the Romans slaves,—it has made the Romans barbarians. Observe, I do not touch the religious part of the question. I do not enter on any discussion respecting Purgatory, or Transubstantiation, or the worship of the Virgin. I look simply at the bearings of that system upon man's temporal interests; and I maintain that, though man had no hereafter to provide for, and no soul to be saved, he is bound by every consideration to resist a system so destructive to the whole of his interests and happiness in time.
I come now to trace the workings of the Papacy on the Trade of the Papal States. But here I am met, on the threshold of my subject, by this difficulty, that I am to speak of what scarce exists; for so effectually has the Pontifical Government developed its influence in this direction, that it has all but annihilated trade in the Papal States. If you except the manufacture of cameos, Roman mosaics, a little painting and statuary, there is really no more trade in the country than is absolutely necessary to keep the people from starvation. The trade and industry of the Roman States are crushed to death under a load of monopolies and restrictive tariffs, invented by infallible wisdom for protecting, but, as it seems to our merely fallible wisdom, for sacrificing, the industry of the country.
Let us take as our first instance the Iron Trade. We all know the importance of iron as regards civilization. Civilization may be said to have commenced with iron,—to have extended over the earth with iron; and so closely connected are the two, that where iron is not, there you can scarce imagine civilization to be. It is by iron in the form of the plough that man subjugates the soil; and it is by iron in the form of the sword that he subjugates kingdoms. What would our country be without its iron,—without its railroads, its steam-ships, its steam-looms, its cutlery, its domestic utensils? Almost all the comforts and conveniences of civilized life are obtained by iron. You may imagine, then, the condition of the Papal States, when I state that iron is all but unknown in them. It is about as rare and as dear as the gold of Uphaz. And why is it so? There is abundance of iron in our country; water-carriage is anything but expensive; and the iron manufacturers of Britain would be delighted to find so good a market as Italy for their produce. Why, then, is iron not imported into that country? For this simple reason, that the Church has forbidden its introduction. Strange, that it should forbid so useful a metal where it is so much needed. Yet the fact is, that the Pope has placed its importation under an as stringent prohibition almost as the importation of heresy: perhaps he smells heresy and civilization coming in the wake of iron. The duty on the introduction of bar-iron is two baiocchi la libbra, equivalent to fifty dollars, or L12 10s., per ton; which is about twice the price of bar-iron in this country. This duty is prohibitive of course.
The little iron which the Romans possess they import mostly from Britain, in the form of pig-iron; and the absurdity of importing it in this form appears from the fact that there is no coal in the States to smelt it,—at least none has as yet been discovered: wood-char is used in this process. When the pig-iron is wrought up into bar-iron, it is sold at the incredible price of thirty-eight Roman scudi the thousand pounds, which is equivalent, in English money, to L23 15s. per ton, or four times its price in Britain. The want of the steam-engine vastly augments the cost of its manufacture. There is a small iron-work at Terni, eighty miles from Rome, which is set down there for the advantage of water-power, which is employed to drive the works. The whole raw material has to be carted from Rome, and, when wrought up, carted back again, adding enormously to the expense. There is another at Tivoli, also moved by water-power. The whole raw material has, too, to be carted from Rome, and the manufactured article carted back, causing an outlay which would soon more than cover the expense of steam-engine and fuel. At Terni some sixty persons are employed, including boys and men. The manager is a Frenchman, and most of the workmen are Frenchmen, with wages averaging from forty to fifty baiocchi; labourers at the works have from twenty-five to thirty baiocchi per day,—from a shilling to fifteenpence.
During the reign of Gregory XVI. machinery was admitted into the Papal States at a nominal duty, or one baiocchi the hundred Roman pounds. It is not in a day that a country like Italy can be taught the advantage of mechanical power. The Romans, like every primitive people, are apt to cleave to the rude, unhandy modes which they and their fathers have practised, and to view with suspicion and dislike inventions which are new and strange. But they were beginning to see the superiority of machinery, and to avail themselves of its use. A large number of hydraulic presses, printing presses, one or two steam-engines, a few threshing-mills, and other agricultural implements, were introduced under this nominal duty; and, had a little longer time been allowed, the country would have begun to assume somewhat of a civilized look. But Gregory died; and, as if to show the utter hopelessness of anything like progress on the part of the Pontifical Government, it was the present Pope who took the retrograde step of restoring the law shutting out machines. Cardinal Tosti, the Treasurer to Gregory's Government, was succeeded by his Excellenza Monsignor (now Cardinal) Antonelli, one of the earliest official acts of whom was the appending a note to the tariff on machinery, which subjected machines, all and sundry, to the duty imposed in the tariff on their component parts. For example, a machine composed of iron, brass, steel, and wood, according to Antonelli's note, would have to pay separate duty on each of the materials composing it. The way in which the thing was done is a fine sample of the spirit and style of papal legislation, and shows how the same subtle but perverted ingenuity, the same specious but hypocritical pretexts, with which the theological part of the system abounds, are extended also to its political and civil managements. Antonelli did not rescind the tariff; he but appended a note, the quiet but sure effect of which was to render it null. He did not tax machines as a whole; they were still free, viewed in their corporate capacity: he but taxed their individual parts. This ingenious legislator, by a saving clause, exempted from the operation of his note machines of new invention, which, after being proved to be such, were to be admitted at the nominal duty! What machines would not be of new invention in the Roman States, where there is absolutely no machinery, saving—with all reverence for the apostolic chamber—the guillotine?
But farther, Antonelli, to show at once his ingenuity and philanthropy, enacted that machines which had never before been introduced into the States should be admitted at the nominal duty. Mark the extent of the boon herein conferred on Italy. We shall suppose that one of each of the industrial and agricultural machines in use in Britain is admitted into the Roman States under this law. It is admitted duty-free. Well, but the second plough, or the second loom, or the second steam-engine, arrives. It must pay a prohibitive duty. It is not a new machine. You can make as many as you please from the one already introduced, says Antonelli. But who is to make them? There are no mechanics deserving the name in Rome; who, by the way, are the very people Antonelli said he meant to benefit. But, apart from the want of mechanical skill, there is the dearth of the raw material; for maleable iron was selling in Rome at upwards of L21 per ton, at a time when the cost of bar-iron in this country was only from L6 to L7 per ton. Such insane legislation on the part of the sacerdotal Government could not be committed through ignorance or stupidity. There must be some strong reason that does not appear at first sight for this wholesale sacrifice of the interests of the country. We shall speak of this anon: meanwhile we pursue our statement.
Antonelli supported his note,—that note which ratified the banishment of the arts from Italy, and gave barbarism an eternal infeftment in the soil,—by affirming that it was passed in order to encourage l'industria dello Stato; which is as if one should say that he had cut his neighbour's throat to protect his life; for certainly Antonelli's note cut the throat of industry. Well, one would think, seeing this legislation was meant to protect the industry of the State and the interests of the iron-workmen, that these iron-workmen must be a large body. How many iron-workmen are there in the Papal States? An hundred thousand? One thousand? There are not more in all than one hundred and fifty! And for these one hundred and fifty iron-workmen (to which we may add the seventy cardinals, the most of whom are speculators in iron), the rest of the community is put beyond the pale of civilization, the ordinary arts and utensils are proscribed, improvement is at a stand-still, and the country is doomed to remain from age to age in barbarism.
And what is the aspect of the country? It is decidedly that of a barbarous land. Everything has an old-world look, as if it belonged to the era of the Flood. Iron being so enormously dear, its use is dispensed with wherever it is possible. Almost all implements of agriculture, of carriage, almost all domestic utensils, and many tools of trade, are made of wood. In consequence, they do very little work; and that little but indifferently well. Nothing could be more primitive than the plough of the Romans. It consists of a single stick or lever, fixed to a block having the form of a sock or coulter, with a projection behind, on which the ploughman puts his foot, and assists the bullocks over a difficulty. The work done by this implement we would not call ploughing: it simply scratches the surface to the depth of some three or four inches, with which the poor husbandman is content. The soil is in general light, but it might be otherwise tilled; and, were it so, would yield far other harvests than those now known in Italy. Their carts, too, are of the rudest construction, and may be regarded as ingenious models of the form which should combine the largest bulk with the least possible use. They have high wheels, and as wide-set as those in our country, with nothing to fill the dreary space between but an uncouth-looking nut-shell of a box. The infallible Government of the Pope has not judged it beneath it to legislate in reference to them. They must be made of a certain prescribed capacity, and stamped for the purchase and sale of lime and pozzolano. In this happy country, all things, from the Immaculate Conception down to the pozzolano cart, are cared for by the sacerdotal Government. The open-bodied carts have bars (the length and distance apart of which are also regulated by the pontiff) placed on the trams, and are licensed for the sale of green wood, which must be sold at from three and a half to four dollars a load. The barozza is another open-bodied cart, with bars placed around the trams, and contains about twelve sacks of wood-char, which is sold at from eight to ten dollars. This is the fuel of the country, and, when kindled, does well enough for cooking. It gives considerable heat and but little smoke, but lacks the cheerfulness and comfort of an English fire-side, which is unknown in Rome.
Every agricultural process is conducted in the same rude and slovenly way. And how can it be otherwise, when the Church, for reasons best known to itself, denies the people the use of the indispensable instruments? It solemnly legislates that one British plough may be imported; and graciously permits its subjects, in a land where there are no mechanics, to make as many additional ploughs as they need. Is it not peculiarly modest in these men, who show so little wisdom in temporal matters, to ask the entire world to surrender its belief to them in things spiritual and divine?
Every one knows how we winnow corn in Britain. How do they conduct that process at Rome? A cart-load of grain is poured out on the barn-floor; some dozen or score of women squat down around it, and with the hand separate the chaff from the wheat, pickle by pickle. In this way a score of women may do in a week what a farmer in our country could do easily in a couple of hours. An effort was made to persuade the predecessor of the present Pontiff, Gregory XVI., to sanction the admission into Rome of a winnowing-machine. Its mode of working and uses were explained to the Pontiff. Gregory shook his head; for Infallibility indicates its doubts at times, just as mortals do, by a shake of the head. It was a dangerous thing to introduce into Rome, said the infallible Gregory. Perhaps it was; for if the Romans had begun to winnow grain, they might have learned to winnow other things besides grain.
The husbandry of Italy, as a system, is in a most backward state. Its cultivation is the cultivation of Ireland. And yet Italy is excelled by few countries on earth, perhaps by none, in point of its external defences, and its inexhaustible internal resources; which, however, under its present Government, are utterly wasted. On the north it is defended by the wall of the Alps, and on all its other sides by the ocean, whose bays offer boundless facilities for commerce. The plains of Lombardy are eternally covered with flowers and fruit. The valleys of Tuscany still boast the olive, the orange, and the vine. The wide waste of the Campagna di Roma is of the richest soil, and, spread out beneath the warm sun, might mingle on its surface the fruits of the torrid with those of the temperate zones. Instead of this, Italy presents to the traveller's eye a deplorable spectacle of wretched cabins, untilled fields, and a population oppressed by sloth and covered with rags. The towns are filled mostly with idlers and beggars. With all my inquiries, I could never get a clear idea of how they live. The alms-houses are numerous; for when a Government puts down trade, it must build hospitals and poor's-houses, or see its subjects die of starvation. In Rome, for example, besides the convents, where a number of poor people get a meal a day,—a sufficiently meagre one,—there is the government Beneficenza, which the more intelligent part account a great curse. Some fifteen hundred or two thousand persons, many of them able-bodied men, receive fifteen baiocchi,—sevenpence half-penny,—per day, in return for which they pouter about with barrows, removing earth from the old ruins, or cleaning the streets, which are none the cleaner, or picking grass in the square of the Vatican. Many deplorable tales are told in Rome of these people, and of the dire sacrifice made of the female portion of their families. But the grand resource is beggary, especially from foreigners; and if a beggar earn a penny a day, he will make a shift to live. He will purchase half a pound of excellent macaroni with the one baiocchi, and a few apples or grapes with the other; and thus he is provided for for the day. The inhabitants of these countries do not eat so substantially as we do. Should he earn nothing, he has it in his choice to steal or starve. This is the prolific source of brigandage and vagabondism.
In the country, the peasants (and there almost all are peasants) live by cultivating a small patch of land. The farms, like those in Ireland, are mere crofts. The proprietor, who lives in the city, provides not only the land, but the implements and cattle also, and in return receives a stipulated portion of the fruits. His share is often as high as a half, never lower than a fourth. The farmer is a tenant-at-will most commonly, but removals are rare; and sometimes, as in Ireland, the same lands remain in the occupation of the same families for generations. Their conical little hills, with their peasant villages a-top, are curiously ribbed with a particoloured vegetation, each family cultivating their couple of acres after their own fashion; while the plain is not unfrequently abandoned to marshes, or ruins, or wild herbage. To dig drains, to clear out the substructions, to re-open the ancient water-courses, or to follow any improved system of cropping, is far beyond the enterprise of the poor farmer. He has neither skill, nor capital, nor savings. If nature takes the matter into her own hand, well; if not, one bad harvest irretrievably lands him in famine. Thus, with a soil and climate not excelled perhaps in the world, the husbandman drags out his life in poverty, and is often on the very brink of starvation. Whatever beauty and fertility that land still retains, it owes to nature, not to man. Indeed, it is now only the skeleton of Italy that exists, with here and there patches of its former covering,—nooks of exquisite beauty, which strike one the more from the desolation that surrounds them. But its cultivated portions are every year diminishing. Its woods and olives are fast disappearing; and by and by the very beasts of the field will be compelled to leave it, and the King of the Seven Hills, could we conceive of his remaining behind, will be left to reign in undisputed and unenvied supremacy over the storks and frogs, and other animals, that breed and swarm in its marshes.
The commerce of Italy, too, is extinct. How can it be otherwise? Under their terrible stagnation and death of mind, the Italians produce nothing for export. In that country there are no factories, no mining operations, no ship-building, no public works, no printing presses, no tools of trade. In short, they create nothing but a few articles of vertu; and even in those arts in which alone their genius is allowed to exert itself, foreigners excel them. The best sculptors and painters at Rome are Englishmen. And as regards their soil, which might send its wheat, and wine, and olives, all delicious naturally, to every part of the world, its harvests are now able but to feed the few men who live in the country. As to imports, both raw and manufactured, which the Romans need so much, we have seen how the sacerdotal Government takes effectual means to prevent these reaching the population. The Pontiff has enclosed his territory with a triple wall of protective duties and monopolies, to keep out the foreign merchant; and thus not only are the Romans forbidden to labour for themselves, but they are prevented profiting by the labour of others. There is a monopoly of sugar-refining, a monopoly of salt-making, and, in short, of every thing which the Romans most need. These monopolies are held by the favourites of the Government; and though generally the houses that hold them are either unwilling or unable to make more than a tithe of what the Romans would require, no other establishment can produce these articles, and they cannot be imported but at a ruinous duty.
We are reminded of another grievance under which the Romans groan. The few articles that are landed on their coast have to encounter tedious and almost insuperable delays before they can find their way to the capital. This is owing to the wretched state of the communication, which is kept purposely wretched in order to isolate Rome and the Romans from the rest of the world. That Church likes to sit apart and keep intact her venerable prestige, which would be apt to be contemned were it looked at close at hand. She dreads, too, to let her people come in contact with the population of other States. A few thousands of English aristocracy she can afford to admit annually within her territory. Their money she needs, and their indifference gives her no uneasiness. But to have the mass of a free people circulating through her capital would be a death-blow to her influence. She deems it, then, a wise policy, indeed a necessary safeguard, to make the access such as only money and time can overcome, though at the sacrifice of the trade and comforts of the people. Repeated attempts have been made to connect Rome with the rest of Europe; but hitherto, through the singularly adroit management of the Government, all such attempts have been fruitless.
In 1851 the long talked of concession for railways in the Roman States was obtained by Count Montalembert. The railways were to be constructed by foreign money and foreign agency, of course. A line from Rome to Ancona, and another from Rome to Civita Vecchia, were talked of, which would have put the Eternal City in immediate communication with the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. Che belle cose! the Italians might be heard uttering wherever grouped. It looked too well; an extravagant guarantee was offered to the Intraprendenti (contractors) by the Roman Government. The Parisian Count was to procure capitalists for the undertaking. The general opinion at the time was, that the Government was insincere in their extravagant guarantee; and they stipulated with the Count a condition as to time, calculated, as was supposed, to frustrate the undertaking. In this, however, the Government was outwitted; for capitalists were found within the prescribed time, engineers appointed, and contracts entered into. The iron-works of Terni and Tivoli amalgamated, in the hope of doing an extensive business by manufacturing the rails, &c.; and announced in their prospectus the intention of working the La Tolfa ironstone near Civita Vecchia. Many were induced to sink money in this amalgamated concern, and there it fruitlessly remains. The affray at Ferrara put the scutch upon the mighty railway scheme.
Were the Government in earnest on the subject of railways, sufficient capital might easily be raised to construct a line between Rome and Civita Vecchia, which would be of incalculable benefit to Rome. Vessels of heavy burden can discharge at the port of Civita Vecchia. Merchandise could thence be transmitted by rail to Rome, where its arrival could be calculated on to half an hour; and of what immense advantage would this be, contrasted with the present maritime conveyance, which keeps merchants in expectation of goods for days and weeks, and not unfrequently for a whole month, with bills of lading in hand from Marseilles, Genoa, Leghorn, Naples, and Sicily, by vessels carrying from fifty to a hundred and fifty tons! The entrance to the mouth of the Tiber at Fuma-Cina is both difficult and dangerous; so much so, that sailing masters will not hazard the attempt if the weather is in the least degree stormy. They are obliged frequently to return to Civita Vecchia or Leghorn, until the weather will permit their entering the river at Fuma-Cina. There their vessels require to be lightened, or partly discharged into barges, there not being sufficient water in the Tiber to allow them to ascend to Rome; the average depth of water throughout the year being from four to five feet, which is only sufficient for the Pope's navy force, employed in tugging barges from Fuma-Cina to Rome. It is not the least important part of the Roman merchants' business to know that their long-expected goods have entered the river. This is ascertained at the custom-house at Ripa Grande, where the intelligence is chronicled every evening, on return of the navy force.
That navy consists of three small steamers, thirty horse power, and a dredging boat. Two of the steamers are kept for the traffic between Fuma-Cina and the custom-house at Rome. The other is employed on the upper part of the river, starting from the Ripetta in Rome for the Sabina country, going up about forty miles, and returning with wine, oil, Indian corn, and wood for fuel, green and charred. The dredging boat is scarcely ever used. The constantly filthy state of the river causes so much deposit, that the machine is unable to overcome it.
There are custom-houses, of course, on all the frontiers. A very respectable amount of bribery is done in these places: indeed, I never could see that much business of any other sort was transacted in them. I have already stated, that the first thing I was compelled to do on entering Rome was to give a bribe, in order to escape from the old temple of Antoninus, in which I unexpectedly found myself locked up. I met an intelligent Scotchman in Rome, who had newly returned from Naples, and who had to endure a half-day's detention at Terra Cina because he refused to pay the ransom of six scudi put upon his trunks, and insisted on their being searched. Corruption pervades all classes of functionaries. In Rome itself there are two custom-houses; one for merchandise imported by sea, and the other for overland goods. The hours for business are from nine o'clock till twelve o'clock. Declarations for relieving goods must be made betwixt nine and eleven, the other hour being appropriated to winding up the business of the preceding two hours. Almost everything which the country produces, whether for man or for beast, on entering the city has to pay duty at the gate. This is termed Dazio di Consumo. This department of the revenue is farmed out to an officer, whose servants are stationed at the gates for the purpose of uplifting the duty; and there, as in all the other Government custom-houses, much systematic cheating goes on. As an example, I may relate what happened to my friend Mr Stewart, whose acquaintance I had the good fortune to make in Rome, and whose information on all matters of trade in the Roman States, well known to him from long practical experience, was not only of the highest value, but was the means of affording me an insight into the workings of Romanism on the temporal condition of its subjects, such as few travellers have an opportunity of attaining. Mr Stewart was engaged to take charge of the one little iron-work in the city; and the transaction I am about to relate in his own words took place when he was entering the gates. "Along with my furniture," says he, "I had a trunk containing wearing-apparel and two pocket-pistols. The latter, I knew, were prohibited, and made the agent employed to pass the articles acquainted with the dilemma, which he heartily laughed at,—by way, I suppose, of having a bone to pick. 'Leave the matter to me,' said he, adding, 'the officials must be recompensed, you know.' That of course; and, to be reasonable, he inquired if I would give three dollars, for which sum he would guarantee their safety. I consented to this in preference to losing them, or being obliged to send them out of the country. Notwithstanding the agent's assurance, I felt naturally anxious at the barefaced transaction, which was coolly gone about. When the trunk should have been examined, the attention of the officials was voluntarily directed to some other article, while the agent's porters turned the trunk upside down, chalked it, and replied to the query, that it had been examined, and was not even opened, which the officials well knew, and for the consideration of three dollars they betrayed trust. The trunk might have contained jewellery, or even screw-nails,—both pay a high duty. The latter especially, being made at Tivoli, are prohibited, or admitted at the prohibitive duty of twenty-five baiocchi the Roman pound,—sufficient to illustrate what might have been the result of this transaction in a mercantile point of view, not to speak of the opportunity afforded for introducing the Bible. The officials are all indifferently remunerated, and thus do business for themselves at the cost of the Government. They are also very incapable for the discharge of their duty. For example, the Governor of the custom-house seriously asked me, preparatory to making a declaration for a steam-boiler, whether it was made of wood or of iron. The boiler was not before him; but the idea of a steam-boiler of wood from the lips of the Governor of a custom-house was astounding."
"Books of all kinds are taken to the land custom-house, where the Revisore is stationed for books alone. The Revisore speaks English tolerably well."
INFLUENCE OF ROMANISM ON TRADE—(CONTINUED).
Why does the Church systematically discourage Trade?—Railways—Much needed—Church opposes them—Could not a man take a journey of twenty or two hundred miles and be a good Catholic?—Motion is Liberty—Motion contributed to overthrow the Serfdom of the Middle Ages—Popes understand the connection between Motion and Liberty—Romans chained to the Soil—Gregory XVI. and the Iron-bridge—Gas in Rome—Spread of the Malaria—The Pontine Marshes—Neglect of Soil—Number of Paupers—How the Church prevents the Cultivation of the Campagna—Church Lands in England and Scotland—The price which Italy pays for the Papacy—Whether would the old Roman Woman or an old Scotch Woman make the better Ruler?
Let us pause here, and inquire into the cause of this most deplorable state of matters. Is not the Papal Government manifestly sacrificing its own interests? Would it not be better for itself were Italy covered with a prosperous agriculture and a flourishing trade? Were its cities filled with looms and forges, would not its people have more money to spend on masses and absolutions? and, instead of the Government subsisting on foreign loans, and being always on the eve of bankruptcy, it might fill its exchequer from the vast resources of the country, and have, moreover, the pleasure of seeing around it a prosperous and happy people.
This is all very true. None knows better the value of money than Rome; but she knows, too, the infinite hazard of acquiring it in the way of allowing trade and industry to enter the Papal States. Indeed, to do so would be to record sentence of banishment against herself. Every one must have remarked the difference betwixt the artizan of Birmingham and the peasant of Ireland. They seem to belong to two different races of men almost. The former is employed in making a certain piece of mechanism, or in superintending its working. He is compelled to calculate, to trace effects to their causes, and to study the relations of the various parts before him to the whole. In short, he is taught to think; and that thinking power he applies to all other subjects. His habits of life teach him to ask for reasons, and to accept of opinions only on evidence. The mind of the latter lies dead. Were Italy filled with a race of men like the first, the papacy could not live a day. Were trade, and machinery, and wealth to come in, the torpor of Italy would be broken up; and—terrible event to the papacy!—mind would awaken. What though the Pope reigns over a wasted land and a nation of beggars? he does reign; he counts for a European sovereign; and his system continues to exist as a power. As men in shipwreck throw overboard food, jewels, all, to save life, so Romanism has thrown all overboard to save itself. Nothing could be a stronger proof of this than the fact that, as the effects and benefits of trade become the more developed, the pontifical Government tightens its restrictions. The note of Antonelli, the present ruling spirit of the papacy, was the most prohibitive ever framed against the introduction of iron, in other words, of civilization. This is the price which Italy must pay for the Pope and his religion. She cannot participate in the advantages of foreign trade; she cannot enjoy the facilities and improvements of modern times; because, were she to enjoy these, she would lose the papacy. She must be content to remain in the barbarism of the middle ages, covered with that moral malaria which has smitten all things in that doomed land, and under the influence of which, the cities, the earth itself, and man, for whom it was made, are all sinking into one common ruin.
We have yet other illustrations of the pestiferous influence of Romanism on the temporal happiness of its subjects. We have already alluded to the determined manner in which the Pontifical Government has hitherto withstood the introduction of railways. And yet, if there be a country in Europe where railways are indispensable, it is the Papal States. The roads in the territory blessed by the Government of Christ's vicar, are more like canals than roads, with this difference, that there is too little water in them for floating a boat, and far too much for comfortable travelling. Besides, they are infested by brigands, whose pursuit a railway might enable you to distance. But a railway the subjects of the Pontifical Government cannot have. And why?