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Letters of the French President De Brosses—Last Tears of Clement XII. Corsini.—Notices by De Brosses of the then Cardinals: of Cardinal Corsini, of Cardinal Albani, of Cardinal Coscia, of Cardinal Fleury, of Cardinal Bohan, of Cardinal Tencin.—How Matters -went in the Conclave.—Tencin loses all influence.—Proposal to elect Cardinal Aldrovandi opposed by Albani.—Albani's treacherous scheme to ruin Aldrovandi.—Albani's treachery ruins the chances of Cardinal Porzia.—Plain speaking of Cardinal Acquaviva. —Election of Lambertini as Benedict XTV.—His character and appearance.—Conclaves and Popes, sixteen in number, between that of Clement X. in 1670, and that of Pius IX. in 1846.—Saying of Cardinal Albani.—Characteristics of latter Popes.
The President De Brosses, in his amusing volumes of "Familiar Letters," written from Italy in 1739 and 1740, gives a lively account of the Conclave which took place at the death of the Corsini Pope, Clement XII., which happened in the latter year, on the 16th of February. Clement was in his eighty-eighth year; he had been blind for the last eight years, and the gout, from which he had long been a great sufferer, continually menacing the vital parts of his system, had for some time past indicated that the end was near at hand. So that, as the French President, innocent of any knowledge or thought of canons or excommunication-fulminating Bulls on the subject, says naively, there had been plenty of time for the electors to conspire, combine, and intrigue with a view to the coming election.
De Brosses gives a list of the entire College of Cardinals, with a short notice of each of them, reflecting the opinions of the Eoman world, as a winter's residence there had enabled him to become acquainted with them. With regard to the greater number of these names, oblivion has in a great measure destroyed the interest that no doubt attached to the President's remarks when he made them. But it may be worth while to give a glance at what he says (and of course all Eome was then saying) of a few among them-r-of the heads of factions especially. It was known that the Conclave would be divided into two parties, led—the one by the nephew of the Pope who had just died, Clement XII., Cardinal Corsini, and the other by the Camerlengo, the Cardinal Albani, the nephew of Clement XI. The Corsini party was the most numerous, and it was thought that if, as was considered probable, the Spanish and French factions joined him, the making of the new Pope would lie with him. But, says De Brosses, he is a man of no capacity; he has neither intelligence nor vigour. Public affairs have been going very badly in his hands; the finances especially have fallen into a deplorable condition. "We shall see," adds the President, "what he can do in the Conclave. Superiority of numbers ought to assure him the victory. But he has for his opponent a master mind."
Of the man whom he so characterizes, Cardinal Annibale Albani, the Camerlengo, he says, that "he enjoys a very high reputation for capacity, but is excessively hated and feared. Without belief, without principles, an implacable enemy, even when feigning to be reconciled, he has true genius in transacting affairs, is inexhaustible in resources and intrigues, is the most able man in the College and the worst in Eome. His party is not numerous, the creatures of his uncle diminishing naturally, in number from day to day. But he will put himself at the head of the Zelanti (i.e. the professedly devout men, who declare that they will give their votes in Conclave truly according to the dictates of the Holy Spirit), and will attack Corsini with all his forces. An army of deer commanded by a lion is more powerful than an army of lions commanded by a deer. Albani governs in the College by the superiority of his genius, the authority of the place he holds (that of Camerlengo), and his imperious and formidable manners. He knows well that he can never be Pope; but he hopes to have one of his making, and if he cannot accomplish that by himself, he will at least prevent anybody else from making one without him. It would be unfair to Albani not to add the last words of the President's character of him: "He is the enemy of the French!"
Another member of this Conclave may be mentioned, because the circumstances under which he entered Conclave were peculiar, and his case is a leading and very important one in Conclave law. This was his Eminence Cardinal Coscia, who had been the prime minister of Benedict XIII., a saintly Pope, who might possibly have been trusted advantageously with the government of the monastery in which he had spent his days, but who was utterly unfit for any more extended rule. In his innocence and ignorance he selected for his confidential minister the greatest scoundrel he could have chosen. It is needless to go into the story of the misdeeds of this Coscia, because all writers of every party are unanimous in stigmatizing them. De Brosses says of him that he deserved the gallows and had been condemned to perpetual imprisonment in the Castle of St. Angelo. None of his colleagues or contemporaries of any class said or thought otherwise. But the right of a cardinal to take part in the election of a Pope is entirely indefeasible, and Cardinal Coscia was liberated from his prison in order that he might enter Conclave, and did so.
Of Cardinal Fleury De Brosses writes: "He enjoys the highest degree of consideration, specially since the late war and the peace of Vienna. They regard him here as the oracle of Europe. Major e longinquo reverentia!" adds the President slily.
Of Cardinal Eohan he says: "Magnificent here as in France, he has Vair noble and the manners of a grand seigneur; but has nevertheless little credit or esteem. Then he does not understand Italian manners, and chatters of political secrets at the women's receptions in the lightest manner. He ruined the hopes of Cardinal Olivieri, who had in everybody's opinion a very good chance of the Papacy, by saying out loud that he had come to Eomc to make Olivieri Pope. The Italians were piqued at this ; and Olivieri himself, understanding Italian ways better than French ones, thought for a long time that Eohan had acted as he did with the express intention of raining him."
Here is what he says of another French cardinal, not altogether forgotten by history, Tencin :—
"Tencin, Archbishop of Embrun, is hard, malevolent, and revengeful by temperament, grave and politic by profession. His natural inclination would be for worldly pursuits and gallantry. Supple and ambitious at the Court of France, imperious and naughty at that of Eome, living with more state than any other here, and understanding well the doing of it, he is much feared, highly considered, and has great credit. The people here think of him at least as highly as he deserves. In addition to all this, the fact that the influence of the King of France has become since the war all-powerful in Italy, and that the French faction in the Conclave is more powerful than that of Spain, despite the superior numbers of the latter, by reason of the greater talent of the French—all this makes people think that the making of the Pope will rest with Cardinal Tencin; and in fact such must be the case. His business in the Conclave will be to oppose the Camerlengo, to lead Corsini by the nose, and to keep himself in strict alliance with Acquaviva," the head of the Spanish faction.
Despite the "French talent," however, and the President's complacent prognostications, Cardinal Tencin did not make the Pope, and was quite unable to hold his own against Albani, the terrible Cardinal Camerlengo. As for the manner in which that "lion" led his "army of deer," and the way in which he showed the superiority of his genius, and the fertility of his talent for resource, one or two anecdotes of what passed in the Conclave, or what was at the time believed in Eome to have passed, are worth repeating.
A quarrel between Acquaviva and Tencin very soon put an end to all the influence of the latter in the Con