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Interview with the Pope. — Conversation. — Homage. — Presents. – Cardinal Fesch. — Paintings. – Mother of Napoleon. – Rival Artists. – Ara Coeli. – Gibbon. — Public Amusements. – Pagan Festivals. – Catholic Paganism. — Palatine Hill. — Amphitheatre. — The Coliseum.— Its Structure, Ornaments, and the Scenes, enacted there. — Gladiators.-Wild Animals. – Baths; their Origin and Object. — Baths of Titus, of Diocletian, of Caracalla. – Public Morals. – Idolatry. — The Jews. – Catholics. — Funerals. – The Pope's Guard. —Cardinals. – Popes. – Population of Rome. — The Clergy. – Debts and Income of the Pope. — Police. — Index of Prohibited Books. – Prisons. – Hospitals. – Beggars. — Funerals. — Secret Societies. – Insurgents. – Robbers. — Military Escorts. – Education in Rome. — The Gregorian College. — The University of Rome.
IN our interview with the Pope, after complimenting the Commodore on the fine appearance of his officers, he expressed his surprise on learning how extensively the ladies present had travelled by sea, and remarked that he had thought himself quite a sailor, for having gone round to Civita Vecchia in a steamboat. The Commodore told him, that he regretted that he was not at Civita Vecchia at the time of His Holiness's visit there, as he should have been happy to have received him on board his ship. The Pope expressed his wish to have done so, and said that his nephew, who was then at Naples, had visited our ships there, and had written him respecting them. He spoke with much interest of the United States, and inquired respecting Bishops Dubois, England, and others; and, when allusion was made to the number of Catholics there, he quickly remarked, in a manner which had in it somewhat of inquiry, but much more of direct assertion, “They are good subjects.” Just before leaving, one of our officers remarked, that three of those present were Catholics, and that they would be happy to pay their respects, in form, to the head of the church. To this the Pope assented, and they accordingly kneeled before him, and kissed his hand. With one of them, however, who was a gentleman of peculiarly sensitive and high-toned feelings, it was a severe struggle, and he afterwards admitted, that when he had approached the Pope, he was on the point of retreating, without kneeling before him. Every one has, of course, a right to his own opinions in such matters, but I could not help remarking to this Catholic friend, that I did not like to see a republican bend the knee to any one but God. He replied, that with them it was a matter of education, as they were accustomed to kneel to their priests at confession. Some other officers of the squadron, who were not then present, visited the Pope after this, and to one or more of them, who were Catholics, he made presents, and showed other marks of attention. A cane of the cedar of Lebanon was also presented to His Holiness by the lady of the Commodore, and the favor was very politely acknowledged. So much for the scenes of high life, to which there followed an amusing episode. When at breakfast the next morning, our valet informed us that the servants of the Pope were in waiting for a present. We therefore ordered the purser of our party to pay them a few dollars. But lo, the money was sent back with the message, that nothing less than a dollar from each of our number would answer the demand. This was odd enough truly, for beggars to dictate the amount they must receive ; but after discussing the matter freely, and making no small number of sailor speeches on the subject, we sagely concluded that it had furnished us sufficient amusement to warrant our paying the whole sum. We had afterwards a similar call from the servants of the Pope's Secretary of State, to whom we had paid our respects, as also from those of other persons of distinction. We learned that it is a custom at Rome, and elsewhere in Italy, when one attends a party, to receive a call from the servants of the house the next morning, when a dollar is expected. The benefit of this, is either directly or indirectly felt by the master, and surely it is a cheap way of giving parties and paying servants. There is a rich banker in Rome, to whom most travellers have letters, who speculates quite profitably in this kind of stock. He gives frequent parties, at which he supplies his friends with lemonade and some small eatables, which may cost him ten cents to each individual, and thus on the dollar, which his servants are ever prompt to collect, he makes a clear gain of ninety per cent. These things seem strange to us, but custom sanctions any thing, though it may not make it right. The Admiral of the Egyptian fleet is a Frenchman, and his family reside in Rome. In company with his lady, we
paid a visit to Cardinal Fesch, the uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte. He occupies the Falconieri Palace, directly on the banks of the Tiber. The palaces in Rome are four stories high, commonly enclosing a court or square, and the windows of the lower story are defended by a strong iron grating, like those of a prison. This, with the thick walls and massive gates, make them good fortresses, and during the feuds of the dark ages, they were often used for this purpose. The ground floor, both in Italy and Spain, is occupied by servants, as rooms for cooking, and often for carriages and stables. From the court there is a flight of steps, and in the palaces of Rome, the second story is occupied by picture galleries and lofty saloons, for entertaining company, while the family live in the upper stories. Thus every arrangement is made, with a regard to show rather than comfort. Cardinal Fesch received us in his study, without the least show or ceremony. He is about seventy years old, though one would judge from his looks, that he was some years younger. He is rather below than above the ordinary height of men, with prominent features, and a form inclining to fulness, without being gross. He wore a plain brown frock coat, and small clothes, with the scarlet stockings of a Cardinal. The expression of his countenance is quite grave and sedate, and though there is nothing imposing in his manners, still he has the air of a man of thought and feeling, - of one who has felt the vanity of earthly hopes and worldly ambition, and who has known, by long and sad experience, the oppressive burden of anxiety and care. And why should it not be so, - for his lively sympathy with the rising and the falling fortunes of his illustrious relatives, during their brilliant and eventful course, connected as was their success with his own prospects of becoming the head of the Catholic church, could not but make his early life one of deep and anxious interest, while the result of all his high-wrought hopes and prospects must have strongly impressed upon his mind the lesson of the wise man, that — “ Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” He spent two or three hours with us, in strolling around through his galleries of rare and costly paintings, and in examining his large collection of urns, vases, and other antique curiosities. There are several paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Michael Angelo, and others of the first masters, which the conquests of Napoleon enabled him to place in the hands of his uncle; and, though this is one of the largest
collections of paintings in Rome, yet he said that he had a gallery in another palace, which he would be happy to show us, but which we did not visit. In the palace already noticed, there is a painting of Peter, denying Christ, which is most bold and striking, in the attitudes and expressions of countenance of the principal figures. The mixed expression of assumed boldness and resolution, on the one hand, and the first risings of bitter anguish and self-reproach, on the other, which mark the face of the Apostle, while meeting the closely scrutinizing gaze of the damsel, and of others around him, is true to the very life. There is also a fine painting of Lot and his daughters; one of them holds in her hand a large pitcher of wine, from which she has filled a smaller vessel, which the other is holding to the lips of the old and grayheaded man. They are both beautiful ; yet such is the glow of unholy passion, which beams from the eye, and lights up the countenance, as they intently watch the approach of insane and beastly intoxication, showing itself on the otherwise venerable face of their father, that it is enough to make one shudder, and turn pale with horror, to behold the scene, - so striking an exhibition is it of depraved and unnatural desire.
The mother of Bonaparte is still living at Rome. She was visited by the ladies of the Commodore's family, who found her confined, as she has been for years, to her bed, and a kind of easy chair, in which she reclines. She is between eighty and ninety years old, extremely emaciated, entirely blind, but still is quite cheerful and sociable. The Prince Borghese, one of the wealthiest noblemen in Italy, was the husband of Pauline, the sister of Napoleon, who in early life was the most beautiful woman in Europe. She died some years since. Of his spacious Park and Villa, just without the walls of Rome, I have spoken in a former letter, and his palace in the city we visited, in order to examine the large and splendid collection of paintings which it contains. The Dorian Palace, however, has by far the greatest display of paintings which there is at Rome, and many pages would be necessary, merely to record their subjects and their authors.
On the two opposite walls of one of the chapels of the Church of St. Gregorio, are two celebrated frescoes; one painted by Guido, the other by Domenichino, in order to prove which was the better artist. That by the latter represents the flagellation of St. Andrew, while that of the former is the same saint, VOL. I.
going to martyrdom. It is said that one who greatly admired these paintings, was at a loss as to which was the best, until he took an ignorant old woman,— a mere child of nature, — to see them; and while she gazed on the work of Guido with indifference, she was thrown into convulsions of pity and grief, by beholding the flagellation. And I verily think that the old lady was in the right; for the forms of the spectators, which seem to stand out from the walls, as they look from behind the lofty pillars in the back-ground, to behold the scene, the undeserved and patient suffering of the good old saint, the lively interest of those around, and the attitude, and the look of fiendish triumph, and of bitter taunting scorn, which the lictor casts upon the object of his punishment, who is prostrate, and in his power, — all form a group, fitted to excite the deepest sympathy in those who witness it. No merit of mere execution and coloring can equal, in effect, this boldness of expression and attitude. The church of Ara Coeli (Altar of Heaven) derives its name from a tradition, that near where it is, the Emperor Augustus, about the time of our Saviour's birth, erected what he styled – “The Altar of the First begotten God.” It stands on or near the site of the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, and the ascent to it, from the Campus Martius, is by one hundred and twenty-four marble steps. Julius Cæsar, near two thousand years ago, ascended the steps of the old heathen temple there, upon his knees, at his first triumph, in order to pay his devotions to Jupiter. Just in the same manner, thousands of devout Catholics now perform the same task, that thus they may secure the favor of the “Virgin Mother of God,” the “Queen of Heaven,” whose altar is now erected in place of that of the former deity. It is this church of which Gibbon speaks, when he says, – “It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city, first started to my mind.” Thus originated one of the most learned works that was ever written ; and when we consider that it took its rise where Christianity and paganism were both present to the mind of the author, in similar forms of dark and revolting superstition, we cease to wonder that he made so powerful, and yet so unavailing an effort, to lower the claims of the pure and elevating religion of the Cross, to an equality with