Obrazy na stronie


being for it never occurred to anybody to think of God.

Thus the stagnation of the lower orders could easily be understood. Behind them were the many centuries during which idleness had been encouraged, vanity flattered, and nerveless life willingly accepted. When they were neither masons, nor carpenters, nor bakers, they were servants serving the priests, and more or less directly in the pay of the Vatican. Thence sprang the two antagonistic parties, on the one hand the more numerous party composed of the old Carbonari, Mazzinians, and Garibaldians, the élite of the Trastevere; and on the other the "clients" of the Vatican, all who lived on or by the Church and regretted the PopeKing. But, after all, the antagonism was confined to opinions; there was no thought of making an effort or incurring a risk. For that, some sudden flare of passion, strong enough to overcome the sturdy calmness of the race, would have been needed. But what would have been the use of it? The wretchedness had lasted for so many centuries, the sky was so blue, the siesta preferable to aught else during the hot hours! And only one thing seemed positive— that the majority was certainly in favour of Rome remaining the capital of Italy. Indeed, rebellion had almost broken out in the Leonine City when the cession of the latter to the Holy See was rumoured. for the increase of want and poverty, this was largely due to the circumstance that the Roman workman had really gained nothing by the many works carried on in his city during fifteen years. First of all, over 40,000 provincials, mostly from the North, more


spirited and resistant than himself, and working at cheaper rates, had invaded Rome; and when he, the Roman, had secured his share of the labour, he had lived in better style, without thought of economy; so that after the crisis, when the 40,000 men from the provinces were sent home again, he had found himself once more in a dead city where trade was always slack. And thus he had relapsed into his antique indolence, at heart well pleased at no longer being hustled by press of work, and again accommodating himself as best he could to his old mistress, Want, empty in pocket yet always a grand seigneur.

However, Pierre was struck by the great difference between the want and wretchedness of Rome and Paris. In Rome the destitution was certainly more complete, the food more loathsome, the dirt more repulsive. Yet at the same time the Roman poor retained more ease of manner and more real gaiety. The young priest thought of the fireless, breadless poor of Paris, shivering in their hovels at winter time; and suddenly he understood. The destitution of Rome did not know cold. What a sweet and eternal consolation; a sun for ever bright, a sky for ever blue and benign out of charity to the wretched! And what mattered the vileness of the dwelling if one could sleep under the sky, fanned by the warm breeze! What mattered even hunger if the family could await the windfall of chance in sunlit streets or on the scorched grass! The climate induced sobriety; there was no need of alcohol or red meat to enable one to face treacherous fogs. Blissful idleness smiled on the golden evenings, poverty became like the enjoyment of liberty in that

VOL. I. - 27

delightful atmosphere where the happiness of living seemed to be all sufficient. Narcisse told Pierre that at Naples, in the narrow odoriferous streets of the port and Santa Lucia districts, the people spent virtually their whole lives out-of-doors, gay, childish, and ignorant, seeking nothing beyond the few pence that were needed to buy food. And it was certainly the climate which fostered the prolonged infancy of the nation, which explained why such a democracy did not awaken to social ambition and consciousness of itself. No doubt the poor of Naples and Rome suffered from want; but they did not know the rancour which cruel winter implants in men's hearts, the dark rancour which one feels on shivering with cold while rich people are warming themselves before blazing fires. They did not know the infuriated reveries in snow-swept hovels, when the guttering dip burns low, the passionate need which then comes upon one to wreak justice, to revolt, as from a sense of duty, in order that one may save wife and children from consumption, in order that they also may have a warm nest where life shall be a possibility! Ah! the want that shivers with the bitter cold therein lies the excess of social injustice, the most terrible of schools, where the poor learn to realise their sufferings, where they are roused to indignation, and swear to make those sufferings cease, even if in doing so they annihilate all olden society !

And in that same clemency of the southern heavens Pierre also found an explanation of the life of St. Francis, that divine mendicant of love who roamed


1 St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the famous order of mendicant friars. — Trans.

the high roads extolling the charms of poverty. Doubtless he was an unconscious revolutionary, protesting against the overflowing luxury of the Roman court by his return to the love of the humble, the simplicity of the primitive Church. But such a revival of innocence and sobriety would never have been possible in a northern land. The enchantment of Nature, the frugality of a people whom the sunlight nourished, the benignity of mendicancy on roads for ever warm, were needed to effect it. And yet how was it possible that a St. Francis, glowing with brotherly love, could have appeared in a land which nowadays so seldom practises charity, which treats the lowly so harshly and contemptuously, and cannot even bestow alms on its own Pope? Is it because ancient pride ends by hardening all hearts, or because the experience of very old races leads finally to egotism, that one now beholds Italy seemingly benumbed amidst dogmatic and pompous Catholicism, whilst the return to the ideals of the Gospel, the passionate interest in the poor and the suffering comes from the woful plains of the North, from the nations whose sunlight is so limited? Yes, doubtless all that has much to do with the change, and the success of St. Francis was in particular due to the circumstance that, after so gaily espousing his lady, Poverty, he was able to lead her, bare-footed and scarcely clad, during endless and delightful springtides, among communities whom an ardent need of love and compassion then consumed.

While conversing, Pierre and Narcisse had reached the Piazza of St. Peter's, and they sat down at one of the little tables skirting the pavement outside the res

taurant where they had lunched once before. The linen was none too clean, but the view was splendid. The Basilica rose up in front of them, and the Vatican on the right, above the majestic curve of the colonnade. Just as the waiter was bringing the hors-d'œuvre, some finocchio and anchovies, the young priest, who had fixed his eyes on the Vatican, raised an exclamation to attract Narcisse's attention: "Look, my friend, at that window, which I am told is the Holy Father's. Can't you distinguish a pale figure standing there, quite motionless?"

The young man began to laugh. "Oh! well," said he,it must be the Holy Father in person. You are so anxious to see him that your very anxiety conjures him into your presence."

"But I assure you," repeated Pierre, "that he is over there behind the window-pane. There is a white figure looking this way."

Narcisse, who was very hungry, began to eat whilst still indulging in banter. All at once, however, he exclaimed: "Well, my dear Abbé, as the Pope is looking at us, this is the moment to speak of him. I promised to tell you how he sunk several millions of St. Peter's Patrimony in the frightful financial crisis. of which you have just seen the ruins; and, indeed, your visit to the new district of the castle fields would not be complete without this story by way of appendix." Thereupon, without losing a mouthful, Narcisse spoke at considerable length. At the death of Pius IX the Patrimony of St. Peter, it seemed, had ex

1 Fennel-root, eaten raw, a favourite "appetiser" in Rome during the spring and autumn. Trans.

« PoprzedniaDalej »