網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

nexed to it, lately published in Belgium, to the great scandal of the Jesuits, particularly in France.

This prelate, in our own times, devoted his life to correcting the abominations of the monasteries in his own diocese in Tuscany. But although he had the powerful protection and co-operation of Leopold II., his reforms went on very slowly, and were afterwards abruptly overthrown, in order that the congregations of monks and friars might return, under the cloak of religion, to the full indulgence of their four. darling passions of sensuality, proselytism, dominion, and avarice. The holy mothers of convents, who had learnt by experience to make the best of a bad situation, and the friars, directors of their consciences, combine to assist the heads of rich families in imposing religious vows upon their daughters. They thus acquire a greater number of slaves, secure the protection and alliance of influential individuals, and increase the number of their religious communities. Every young nan who takes the veil pays into the treasury of the convent either a gross sum, or an annuity for her life; in either case, this kind of dowry is about ten times less than that assigned to them by will, or to the income it would have afforded them if put out to interest.

It sometimes happens, that one of these girls, doomed to celibacy from her cradle, finds a lover content to marry her without a fortune, or with very little. But this is only some widower or old bachelor, full of years and money, who buys a young girl under the title of a wife. He enjoys the illusion of passing many years of felicity with her, while she, naturally enough, is longing for the time when she may bless his memory for placing his whole fortune at her disposal. But if she revolts from the idea of being the subject of such a bargain, her persistence in a refusal is considered as an act of open rebellion and disregard for the sacredness of her father's promise, a fault which is sure to be punished by an intimation to return to her convent, without a hope of quitting it.

Many novels and sentimental dramas have treated this subject with great power, especially in France and Germany. But without any aid from the imagination, the forcible sacrifice of a creature, full of youth and beauty and warm affections, under the pretext of religion, is one of those situations in which nature speaks eloquently enough; and many of the events, registered in the chronicles of Italy, produce the strongest emotion, though written in the rugged style, and with the dry simplicity, of two centuries ago. From that period to the present, the Italian writers of the greatest genius have used every means, even that most potent one of ridicule, to shame their countrymen out of the custom of trading in their children. As a specimen, we will give an extract from a celebrated poem of the age of Leo X., the intermediate age between our own and the earliest at which we find the first records of their system in Italy.

Duro, per certo, e da non sopportare,
Che fra gli altri animai della natura,
La donna sola s'abbia a maritare
A modo d'altri, e non alla ventura,
O per dir meglio, a propria elezione,
Come le fiere fan, che han più ragione.
Ilan più ragione, ond' hanno anche più pace.

Ditemi, padri, che avete figliuole,
E v'ha Dio d' allogarle il modo dato
Onestamente, qual ragion poi vuole
Che le date ad un vecchio, onde al peccato
La tarda penitenza poi le mena?

Un altro, sotto specie di severo,
Ma con effetto d' avaro e furfante,
Metteranne una frotta in Monastero,
E vorrà, che per forza elle sien sante :
Ell'aran, fate conto, altro pensiero,
(Come han le donne quasi tutte quante)
E si provvederan di preli, e frati,

Ed ecco in susta i Vescovi, e gli Abati *. The last linc, however satirical, contains no exaggeration ; it sug. gests to us the root of the whole execrable system, with all its poisonous ramifications—this root is the celibacy of the clergy. The evil now admits neither of remedy nor of palliatives. Rome reigns triumphant over this distinction of the social system, in every part of Europe subject to its ecclesiastical discipline; a discipline in the hauds of a hierarchy condemned to celibacy, with legions of monks and friars in their train. It ought not to excite our surprise, that the governments of Italy co-operate more cordially with them than those of other countries. These governments consist either of powerful foreign sovereigns, or of petty Italian princes, compelled by treaties and by armies to govern their subjects at the good pleasure of foreigners, interested in the demoralization of every influential family, and in that consequent enervation which destroys every spring of public virtue, and paralizes every effort to restore the national independence.

Let us now consider the situation of a noble Italian girl, married according to the usages of the country. In the first place, the two heads of families (the fathers of the intended husband and wife, by means of-mediators, who are generally old women,) contract the marriage without giving the slightest hint of their intentions to either party. We have already said, that the couple, with few exceptions, consists of the eldest son and the youngest daughter of two rich houses. Equality of age, rank, education, and fortune seem to promise a happy union ; but the fact is, that the young people are not permitted to attempt to contribute to each other's happiness. Even if they should have been fortunately preserved from the dangers which attend an engagement for life, without any previous knowledge of each other's characters, there is the insurmountable difficulty that, for years after their marriage, they have no home of their own. The bridegroom must take his bride to his father's house, and it sometimes happens that, while he can keep an establishment for a mistress, he takes a young girl from a convent, swears fidelity to her at the altar, and then returns at the accustomed hours to visit his mistress, leaving his wife under the guardianship of her father and mother-in-law. Others, who would act with more honour, or at least with more decency, towards their wives, cannot. Every son in Italy is a minor as long as his father lives, and cannot emancipate himself from this bondage without risking the loss of a great part of his inheritance.

* Orlando Innamorato, lib. 2, çant, 27,

Hence it follows, that the greater the affluence a noble bride finds in the house in which she is established, the less right has she to call any part of it her own, or to dispose of it as she pleases. She can never employ herself in household economy, nor provide for the domestic comforts of her husband. She is not mistress of her servants, and she sits at table like an invited guest. All the children of the same father, male and female, all the unmarried uncles and aunts, every member of the family, generally inhabit the same mansion, and dine at the same table. The constitution of this community is an absolute monarchy, of which the father and mother are the heads ; and the various departments of administration are filled by confidential servants, who are the ministers, the privy councillors, and the secret inspectors of police. The jealousy of power increasing with years in old men, and the repugnance which every young woman, conscious of the dignity of a wife, feels to this state of subjection, embitter the interconrse and conversation among all the inhabitants of the house, from the very outset. So that the bride has scarcely entered it when she feels the necessity of seeking consolation out of doors.

Her young husband has neither the power nor the experience necessary to adjust these domestic differences; he gets weary of them; he is disgnsted as well as his wife, and finds no other way of avoiding them than in dissipation and vice. The political situation of his country, rendered desperate by the inaptitude of the aristocracy for public affairs, dooms him to a life of complete indolence and in significancy. Hence the bad habits, the follies, the incurable mental diseases which seize upon him, and infect his youthful--his almost childish-wife. When the intellectual and moral pleasures have no attractions, the human mind necessarily abandons itself to the dreams and excitemevts of vanity, and to every species of sensuality. In this state every artful coquette, every courtezan or opera dancer, has more attractions for a man than an innocent, modest girl. As he has taken upon himself the character of a husband only in obedience to his parents, and to the interests of his family, he thinks he has a right to indulge his inclinations; he soon becomes a libertine by profession, without principles or heart. Who then can aecuse the wife of such a being, if, sooner or later, she imitates him? Where is the country in which the women would sacrifice every feeling and passion of human nature, for the sake of a husband who does every thing in his power to show his disregard of their mutual obligations?

Public opinion is the most powerful instrument in every country for influencing the actions of the great ; law is almost inoperative against their class of vices; religion, which ought to correct them, is made a means of corruption. The evidence of servants would have little weight in a court of law in Italy; often it would not be admitted against masters and mistresses ; but without such testimony, offences of this kind could hardly ever be proved; and even if they were proved, the husband would not receive the consolation of a sum of money: Proceedings of this kind are, indeed, instituted in this country only, with a view to obtain a divorce. But in Italy, such a proceeding, if successful, would throw an intolerable load of expense on the institutor: marriage being a sacrament, divorce depends exclusively on the oracles of the pontifical court of Rome, which can only be consulted with the aid of exorbitant gifts. Remission of sins, on the contrary, is obtained with the utmost ease from any priest or friar whatsoever, because husband and wife do not confess their mutual infidelities to each other, but to their father confessor, who, quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly, weighs their accounts in the balance of the recording angel ; equalizes them by means of absolution ; and enables both parties to draw largely on their respective consciences at three, six, or twelve months' date. However dissipated the manners of a Catholic woman may seem, however she may laugh at the censures of the world, all her thoughts and feelings do, in fact, rise and fall like the mercury in a thermometer, according to every impression she receives from her confessor, who has only to adhere to one simple rule—to keep her passions in a perpetual state of oscillation, now agitated by the terrors of hell, now lulled with the hope of pardon and of heaven. In this way he infallibly obtains the dominion over the mind of every woman; a dominion which inereases with the terror he inspires as the possessor of her secrets; at the same time that she believes him the infallible awarder of the mercy of God. The daily application of the abovementioned rule soon teaches spiritual directors the mode of applying it according to the character, circumstances, and inclinations of each individual, and to employ it in the precise degree in which it is requisite. The graduated scale of the casuistical Jesuits was most dexterously contrived for this purpose. It sets out by being extremely indulgent to the dreams of platonic love, which it nourishes in such a manner as imperceptibly to lead to positive sensuality. But the theological distinction best calculated to promote and to varnish over the violations of the domestic virtues, is in the two words sin and scandal. By virtue of the scriptural and of the canonical texts, that the former is injurious only to the individual, and the latter to the whole of society, the director, while he labours to render sin inevitable and habitual, apologizes for it as the lesser of two evils. He therefore acts the part of mediator between the husband and wife, until they agree to dissemble their mutual offences, and to live in peace and quietness, that the report of domestic complaints may not get abroad to feed the animosity and malignity of the public, and the example of the rich and the noble may not justify the multitude in the commission of the same crimes.

While a young wife is thus goaded and disciplined to infidelity, she is surrounded by admirers more numerous and more captivating than the suitors of Penelope. As only the eldest son of every noble house marries, all his brothers are provided for by means of a very slender allowance, added to the incontestible right of inhabiting the same house with their father and elder brother, and sharing the comforts and luxuries of their life. This claim upon the house and table they forfeit for ever by marrying. The principles which guide this race of bachelors, seem not very dissimilar from those which govern the worthy fellows of rich colleges in English universities. Their situation gradually renders both classes egotistical, consequential, and epicurean; at once restless and lazy, subject to all the caprices of the passions,

and possessed of few means of gratifying them. In gallantry, however, the fellows must hide their diminished heads—they are mere bashful boys. The bachelors of Italy are not obliged even to affect to study. They rarely have any hope of advancement; and if they have, the example of the handsome Braschi, (Pius VI.) or of the gay and gallant Della Genga, (Leo XII.) prove that a youth passed in the indulgence of the tender passions, is no impediment to the mitre, the hat, or the tiara. These, however, are rare cases.

A better and more practical reason is to be found in the non-existence of that great ally of reason and virtue—damages. The church, with all its numerous and opulent hierarchy, can hardly give employment to a hundredth part of them. Those who are destined to the religious profession, generally flock from all parts of the peninsula to Rome, where, without taking holy orders, they put on a clerical silk gown, obtained by family weight or interest, and take the title of prelates or monsignori. Á few of them, by dint of talent, study, and, above all, of intrigue, attain to lucrative employments, and to the diguities of church and state, sometimes to that highest of dignities, which empowers its possessor to dictate infallible oracles from the chair of Saint Peter, and to fulminate anathemas against the kings of the earth. It was in Rome that the sight of the Italian ladies, surrounded by men of this class, suggested Eustace's rich and forcible description—"Beauty in the sex, is blended in Italy with intelligence, with benignity, animation of feature, dignity of gesture, a language all music, quickness of remark, a fine tinge of religion,—every female attraction is theirs, except, perhaps, the best. But, alas! can modesty be expected in a state where celibacy sits enthroned, and fills every post of authority and instruction ? Must not the interest, the animal wants of the governors, discourage fidelity in the sex? Must not a government of bachelors of necessity form a nation of libertines ?"'*

If Cæsar said that he would never have violated his oath, except for the sake of acquiring the supreme power, we can scarcely deny the same excuse to the ladies of modern Rome. Though ostensibly administered by dignified priests, many departments of the government are, in fact, entirely in the hands of their mistresses. And farther, where men, from the moment they marry, must renounce every hope of rising to dignity or fortune by their own merits, they learn to accept, with less repugnance, the favours procured for them by the merits of their wives." This remark, however, is applicable only to the states of his Holiness. In the rest of the peninsula, women are not subject to the temptations either of ambition or avarice. The legion of their young lovers have only the miserable privilege of being called noblemen, marchesini, contini, or cavalieri. Their political influence is less than nothing. Their fortune consists principally in the right of being perpetual guests under the paternal roof. Their occupations, so far as the interests of society are concerned, are completely negative. The army and navy, in those states of Italy which are able to maintain any, are not sufficient to employ so many young men.

The law, still less; both because it is not, as in England, an honourable profession, and because the mode of procedure is not

Classical Tour.

« 上一頁繼續 »