網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

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.

16

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 inere 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 forins 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 Cæli (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 samne 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 sing. . ing 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

those of the debasing, corrupt, and sensual systems of faith, which prevailed in the heathen world.

Next to a knowledge of the religious creed and sacred rites of a nation, the surest index we can have of its character, is furnished by learning the nature of its popular festivals and public amusements. In the case of the ancient Romans, however, as their religious system had little or nothing to do, either with checking vice or promoting virtue among the people, and was merely an engine of state policy, used by the priests and the rulers to amuse and to awe the lower classes, hence, most of their public games and theatrical amusements, assumed the character of sacred rites, and were connected with offerings in honor of the gods. Thus, by the united and efficient action of these two causes, was the national character stamped with bold and striking traits, and hence, too, originated those numerous and splendid structures, some of which, in the form of amphitheatres and temples of the gods, still survive the ravages of time, and stand as lasting monuments, alike of the morals, as well as of the civil and religious history of those who erected them.

It is a settled fact in the history of mankind, that when great masses of people are collected together, the tendency to corruption and vice is far more powerful, than when the same number of individuals are more widely separated from each other. Most persons, when they are placed where they are subject to the excitement, and may avail themselves of the concealment, of a crowd, will yield to temptations and be guilty of conduct of which they would scarcely have thought, in the midst of a smaller and more quiet community. This tendency to excitement and vice, is, too, the fruitful source of discontent and rebellion. Hence, rulers of large and thickly peopled countries have ever found it necessary either to be much engaged in war, thus soothing the populace by hopes of wealth, glory, and renown, or else to establish numerous festivals and public games, as a means of amusing, and keeping in quiet contentment, those who were subject to their sway. The only exception to this rule of necessity, exists in the case of those free communities, which are sufficiently enlightened, intelligent, and virtuous, to select wise and able rulers for themselves. A people educated and supplied with books, like those in parts of Scotland and New England, find sufficient employment for their minds, within their own houses, or neighbourhood. They need not, therefore, go abroad for the sake of amusement, or collect together in such masses, as to expose themselves, by contact with others, to the loss of those social and domestic virtues, which cast such a sweet and hallowed influence over the quiet seclusion of the family circle. It is true, indeed, that knowledge is not virtue ; but yet, so intimate is the connexion of the two, that we cannot suppose it possible for a large and dense community to continue virtuous, unless they are well educated, and have within their own dwellings, or in their places of public resort, the means of spending their leisure hours in intellectual pursuits and recreations. Thus we see, that in those countries where the Sabbath is made a holyday, and the people receive no solid instruction to interest and employ their minds, and have no books to occupy their attention and engage their thoughts, they are driven abroad for that amusement which they cannot find at home, and thus, not only is virtue often sacrificed and lost by mingling with the corrupt mass, but the first day of the week becomes a time of more reckless dissipation, shameless profligacy, and abandoned vice, than all the other six days united.

But, returning from this digression, let us notice again the sacred rites and public amusements of ancient Rome, bearing as they do, in many respects, a marked and striking analogy to those of Catholic countries at the present day. In both cases, religion has been used as an engine of the state, and the priests and the rulers have combined for the purpose of effecting the same general objects. In ancient Rome, the religion of the state, the sanctioned forms of idolatry extended their influence and the strong arm of their power over all classes, from the cottage to the throne. It was interwoven with business and with pleasure, with every important transaction of public and of private life. In the public sacrifices all were obliged to participate, and multitudes of the early Christians suffered torture, imprisonment, and aeath for refusing to do so. The Roman senate and the public games and festivals, were held in places consecrated to the gods, and were connected with solemn offerings to the various deities. The higher orders of the priesthood, had their robes of purple and their chariots of state, and were supported in sumptuous splendor, from the public revenue. They were companions of the Sovereign, and Cicero and Pliny, and others of the first men of Rome, after receiving all their other honors, still sought the rank of pontiff, or

« 上一頁繼續 »