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ows close around him as he passes along; salutations greet him from the damp shops; and darkness at last swallows up for a time the great square torso of the "King of the Beggars."
Begging, in Rome, is as much a profession as praying and shop-keeping. Happy is he who is born stroppiato, with a withered limb, or to whom Fortune sends the present of a hideous accident or malady; it is a stock to set up trade upon. St. Vitus's dance is worth its hundreds of scudi annually; epileptic fits are also a prize; and a distorted leg and hare-lip have a considerable market val
Thenceforth the creature who has the luck to have them is absolved from labor. He stands or lies in the sun, or wanders through the Piazza, and sings his whining, lamentable strophe of, “ Signore, povero stroppiato, datemi qualche cosa per amor di Dio!"—and when the baiocco falls into his hat, like ripe fruit from the tree of the stranger, he chants the antistrophe, “ Dio la benedica, la Madonna e tutti santi!"* No refusal but one does he recognize as final,- and that is given, not by word of mouth, but by elevating the fore-finger of the right hand, and slowly wagging it to and fro. When this finger goes up he resigns all hope, as those who pass the gate of the Inferno, replaces his hat and lapses into silence, or turns away to some new group of sunnyhaired foreigners. The recipe to avoid beggars is, to be black-haired, to wear a full beard, to smoke in the streets, speak only Italian, and shake the fore-finger of the right hand when besieged for charity. Let it not be supposed from this that the Romans give nothing to the beggars, but pass them by on the other side. This is quite a mistake. On the contrary, they give more than the foreigners; and the poorest class, out of their little, will always find something to drop into their hats for charity.
The ingenuity which the beggars sometimes display in asking for alms is often
*Signore, a poor cripple; give me something, for the love of God! "-" May God bless you, the Madonna, and all the saints!"
humoristic and satirical. Many a woman on the cold side of thirty is wheedled out of a baiocco by being addressed as Signorina. Many a half-suppressed exclamation of admiration, or a prefix of Bella, softens the hearts of those to whom compliments on their beauty come rarely. The other day, as I came out of the city gate of Siena, a ragged wretch, sitting, with one stump of a leg thrust obtrusively forward, in the dust of the road, called out, "Una buona passeggiata, Signorino mio !” (and this although my little girl, of thirteen years, accompanied me.) Seeing, however, that I was too old a bird for that chaff, he immediately added, "Ma prima pensi alla conservazione dell' anima sua. A great many baiocchi are also caught, from green travellers of the middle class, by the titles which are lavishly squandered by these poor fellows. Illustrissimo, Eccellenza, Altezza, will sometimes open the purse, when plain "Mos
"I had occasion," he said, "a few years ago, to reduce my family," (the servants are called, in Rome, the family,)" and having no need of the services of one under-servant, named Pietro, I dismissed him. About a year after, as I was returning to my house, after nightfall, I was solicited by a beggar, who whiningly asked me for charity. There was something in the voice which struck me as familiar, and, turning round to examine the man more closely, I found it was my old servant, Pietro. 'Is that you, Pietro?' I said; you begging here in the streets! what has brought you to this wretched trade?' He gave me, however, no very
"A pleasant walk, young gentleman!" -"But first pay heed to the salvation of your soul."
clear account of himself, but evidently desired to avoid me when he recognized who I was. But, shocked to find him in so pitiable a condition, I pressed my questions, and finally told him I could not bear to see any one who had been in my service reduced to beggary; and though I had no actual need of his services, yet, rather than see him thus, he might return to his old position as servant in my house, and be paid the same wages as he had before. He hesitated, was much embarrassed, and, after a pause, said,—‘ A thousand thanks, your Excellency, for your kindness; but I cannot accept your proposal, because, to tell you the truth, I make more money by this trade of begging."
But though the beggars often lay by considerable sums of money, so that they might, if they chose, live with a certain degree of comfort, yet they cannot leave off the habit of begging after having indulged it for many years. They get to be avaricious, and cannot bring their minds to spend the money they have. The other day, an old beggar, who used to frequent the steps of the Gesù, when about to die, ordered the hem of her garment to be ripped up, saying that there was money in it. In fact, about a thousand scudi were found there, three hundred of which she ordered to be laid out upon her funeral, and the remainder to be appropriated to masses for her soul. This was accordingly done, and her squalid life ended in a pompous procession to the grave.
The great holidays of the beggars are the country festas. Thronging out of the city, they spread along the highways, and drag, drive, roll, shuffle, hobble, as they can, towards the festive little town. Everywhere along the road they are to be met,- perched on a rock, seated on a bank, squatted beneath a wall or hedge, and screaming, with outstretched hand, from the moment a carriage comes in sight until it is utterly passed by. As one approaches the town where the festa is held, they grow thicker and thicker. They crop up along the road like toadstools. They hold up every hideous kind
of withered arm, distorted leg, and unsightly stump. They glare at you out of horrible eyes, that look like cranberries. You are requested to look at horrors, all without a name, and too terrible to be seen. All their accomplishments are also brought out. They fall into improvised fits; they shake with sudden palsies; and all the while keep up a chorus, half whine, half scream, which suffers you to listen to nothing else. It is hopeless to attempt to buy them all off, for they are legion in number, and to pay one doubles the chorus of the others. The clever scamps, too, show the utmost skill in selecting their places of attack. Wherever there is a sudden rise in the road, or any obstacle which will reduce the gait of the horses to a walk, there is sure to be a beggar. But do not imagine that he relies on his own powers of scream and hideousness alone,-not he! He has a friend, an ambassador, to recommend him to your notice, and to expatiate on his misfortunes. Though he himself can scarcely move, his friend, who is often a little ragged boy or girl, light of weight and made for a chase, pursues the carriage and prolongs the whine, repeating, with a mechanical iteration, "Signore! Signore! datemi qualche cosa, Signore!" until his legs, breath, and resolution give out at last; or, what is still commoner, your patience is wearied out or your sympathy touched, and you are glad to purchase the blessing of silence for the small sum of a baiocco. When his whining fails, he tries to amuse you; and often resorts to the oddest freaks to attract your notice. Sometimes the little rascal flings himself heels over head into the dust, and executes somersets without number, as if they had some hidden influence on the sentiment of compassion. Then, running by the side of the carriage, he will play upon his lips with both hands, making a rattling noise, to excite your curiosity. If you laugh, you are lost, and he knows it.
As you reach the gates of the town, the row becomes furious. There are scores of beggars on either side the road,
screaming in chorus. No matter how far the town be from the city, there is not a wretched, maimed cripple of your acquaintance, not one of the old stumps who have dodged you round a Roman corner, not a ragged baron who has levied toll for passage through the public squares, a privileged robber who has shut up for you a pleasant street or waylaid you at an interesting church, but he is sure to be there. How they got there is as inexplicable as how the apples got into the dumplings in Peter Pindar's poem. But at the first ring of a festa-bell, they start up from under ground, (those who are legless getting only half-way up,) like Roderick Dhu's men, and level their crutches at you as the others did their arrows. An English lady, a short time since, after wintering at Rome, went to take the baths at Siena in the summer. On going out for a walk, on the first morning after her arrival, whom should she meet but King Beppo, whom she had just left in Rome! He had come with the rest of the nobility for recreation and bathing, and of course had brought his profession with him.
Owing to a great variety of causes, the number of beggars in Rome is very large. They grow here as noxious weeds in a hot-bed. The government neither favors commerce nor stimulates industry. Its policy is averse to change of any kind, even though it be for the development of its own resources or of the energies of the people. The Church is Brahmanic, contemplating only its own navel. Its influence is specially restrictive in Rome, because it is also the State there. It restrains not only trade, but education; it conserves exploded ideas and usages; it prefers not to grow, and looks with abhorrence upon change.
Literature may be said to be dead in Rome. There is not only no free press there, but no press at all. The " Diario Romano" contains about as much news as the "Acta Diurna" of the ancient Romans, and perhaps less. I doubt whether at present such facts as those given by Petronius, in an extract from the latter,
would now be permitted to be published. However, we know that Augustus prohibited the "Acta Diurna,”—and the "Diario Romano" exists still; so that some progress has been made. And it must be confessed that Tuscany is scarcely in advance of Rome in this respect; and Naples is behind both. Even the introduction of foreign works is so strictly watched and the censorship so severe, that few liberal books pass the cordon. The arguments in favor of a censorship are very plain, but not very conclusive. The more compressed the energies and desires of a people, the more danger of their bursting into revolution. There is no safety-valve to passions and desires like the utterance of them,—no better corrective to false ideas than the free expression of them. Freedom of thought can never be suppressed, and ideas kept too long pent up in the bosom, when heated by some sudden crisis of passion, will explode into license and fury. Let me put a column from Milton here into my own weak plaster; the words are well known, but cannot be too well known. "Though all the winds of doctrine," he says, "were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing." Here in Rome genius rots. The saddest words I almost ever heard were from a young Italian of ability and esprit.
แ "Why," said I, in conversation with him, one day, "do you not devote your talents to some worthy object, instead of frittering them away in dancing, chatting, fencing, and morning-calls?"
"What would you have me do?" he answered.
"Devote yourself to some course of study. Write something."
“Mio caro,” was his reply, "it is useless. How can I write what I think? How can I publish what I write? I have now manuscript works begun in my desk,
This restrictive policy of the Church makes itself felt everywhere, high and low; and by long habit the people have become indolent and supine. The splendid robes of ecclesiastical Rome have a draggled fringe of beggary and vice. What a change there might be, if the energies of the Italians, instead of rotting in idleness, could have a free scope! Industry is the only purification of a nation; and as the fertile and luxuriant Campagna stagnates into malaria, because of its want of ventilation and movement, so does this grand and noble people. The government makes what use it can, however, of the classes it exploits by its system; but things go in a vicious circle. The people, kept at a stand-still, become idle and poor; idleness and poverty engender vice and crime; crime fills the prisons; and the prisons afford a body of cheap slaves to the government.
To-day, as I am writing, some hundreds of forçats, in their striped brown uniforms, are tugging at their winches and ropes to drag the column of the Immaculate Virgin to its pedestal on the Piazza di Spagna. By the same system of compulsory labor, the government, despite its limited financial resources, is enabled to carry out public projects which, with well-paid workmen, would be too expensive to be feasible. In this manner, for instance, for an incredibly small sum, was built the magnificent viaduct which spans with its triple tier of arches the beautiful Val di L'Arriccia. But, for my own part, I cannot look upon this system as being other than very bad, in every respect. And when, examining into the prisons themselves, I find that the support of these poor criminal slaves is farmed out by the government to some responsible person at the lowest rate that is offered, generally for five or six baiocchi apiece per diem, and often refarmed by him at
a still lower rate, until the poor wretches are reduced to the very minimum of necessary food as to quantity and quality, I confess that I cannot look with pleasure on the noble viaduct at L'Arriccia, or the rich column to the Immaculate Virgin, erected by the labor of their hands.
Within a few years the government seemed to become conscious of the great number of beggars in Rome, and of the reproach they offered to the wise and paternal regulations of the priestcraft. Accordingly, for a short time, they carried on a move in the right direction, which had been begun by the Triumvirate of 1849, during their short career. Some hundreds of the beggars were hired at the rate of a few baiocchi a day to carry on excavations in the Forum and in the Baths of Caracalla. The selection was most appropriate. Only the old, decrepit, and broken-down were taken,—the younger and sturdier were left. Ruined men were in harmony with the ruined temples. Such a set of laborers was never before seen. Falstaff's ragged regiment was a joke to them. Each had a wheelbarrow, a spade, or pick, and a cloak; but the last was the most important part of their equipment. Some of them picked at the earth with a gravity that was equalled only by the feebleness of the effort and the poverty of the result. Three strokes so wearied them that they were forced to pause and gather strength, while others carried away the ant-hills which the first dug up. It seemed an endless task to fill the wheelbarrows. Fill, did I say? They were never filled. After a bucketful of earth had been slowly shovelled in, the laborer paused, laid down his spade carefully on the little heap, sighed profoundly, looked as if to receive congratulations on his enormous success, then, flinging, with a grand sweep, the tattered old cloak over his left shoulder, lifted his wheelbarrow-shafts with dignity, and marched slowly and measuredly forward towards the heap of deposit, as Belisarius might have moved at a funeral in the intervals of asking for
oboli. But reduced gentlemen, who have been accustomed to carry round the hat as an occupation, always have a certain air of condescension when they work for pay, and, by their dignity of deportment, make you sensible of their former superior state. Occasionally, in case a forestiere was near, the older, idler, and more gentlemanlike profession would be resumed for a moment, (as by parenthesis,) and if without success, a sadder dignity would be seen in the subsequent march. Very properly for persons who had been reduced from beggary to work, they seemed to be anxious both for their health and their appearance in public, and accordingly a vast deal more time was spent in the arrangement of the cloak than in any other part of the business. It was grand in effect, to see these figures, incumbered in their heavy draperies, guiding their wheelbarrows through the great arches of Caracalla's Baths or along the Via Sacra. It often reminded me of modern bassi-rilievi and portrait statues, in which gentlemen looking sideways with very modern faces, and both hands full of swords, pens, or books, stand impotently swaddled up in ancient togas or the folds of similar enormous cloaks. The antique treatment with the modern subject was evident in both. If sometimes, with a foolish spirit of innovation, one felt inclined to ask what purpose in either case these heroic mantles subserved, and whether, in fact, they could not be dispensed with to advantage, he was soon made to know that his inquiry indicated ignorance, and a desire to debase in the one case Man, in the other Art.
It would, however, be a grievous mistake to suppose that all the beggars in the streets of Rome are Romans. In point of fact, the greater number are strangers, who congregate in Rome during the winter from every quarter. Naples and Tuscany send them by thousands. Every little country town of the Abruzzi Mountains yields its contribution. From north, south, east, and west they flock here as to a centre where good pickings may be had
of the crumbs that fall from the rich men's tables. In the summer season they return to their homes with their earnings, and not one in five of those who haunted the churches and streets in the winter is to be seen.
It is but justice to the Roman government to say that its charities are very large. If, on the one hand, it does not encourage commerce and industry, on the other, it liberally provides for the poor. In proportion to its means, no government does more, if so much. Every church has its Cassa dei Poveri. Numerous societies, such as the Sacconi, and other confraternities, employ themselves in accumulating contributions for the relief of the poor and wretched. Well-endowed hospitals exist for the care of the sick and unfortunate; and there are various establishments for the charge and education of poor orphans. A few figures will show how ample are these charities. The revenue of these institutions is no less than eight hundred and forty thousand scudi annually, of which three hundred thousand are contributed by the Papal treasury, forty thousand of which are a tax upon the Lottery. The hospitals, altogether, accommodate about four thousand patients, the average number annually received amounting to about twelve thousand; and the foundling hospitals alone are capable of receiving upwards of three thousand children annually. Besides the hospitals for the sick, there is also a hospital for poor convalescents at Sta Trinità dei Pellegrini, a lunatic asylum containing about four hundred patients, one for incurables at San Giacomo, a lying-in hospital at San Rocco, and a hospital of education and industry at San Michele. There are also thirteen societies for bestowing dowries on poor young girls on their marriage; and from the public purse, for the same object, are expended every year no less than thirty-two thousand scudi. In addition to these charities, are the sums collected and administered by the various confraternities, as well as the sum of one hundred and seventy-two thousand scudi distribut