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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 26
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    There are a good many things about this Italy which I do not understand
    --and more especially I can not understand how a bankrupt Government can
    have such palatial railroad depots and such marvels of turnpikes. Why,
    these latter are as hard as adamant, as straight as a line, as smooth as
    a floor, and as white as snow. When it is too dark to see any other
    object, one can still see the white turnpikes of France and Italy; and
    they are clean enough to eat from, without a table-cloth. And yet no
    tolls are charged.

    As for the railways--we have none like them. The cars slide as smoothly
    along as if they were on runners. The depots are vast palaces of cut
    marble, with stately colonnades of the same royal stone traversing them
    from end to end, and with ample walls and ceilings richly decorated with
    frescoes. The lofty gateways are graced with statues, and the broad
    floors are all laid in polished flags of marble.

    These things win me more than Italy's hundred galleries of priceless art
    treasures, because I can understand the one and am not competent to
    appreciate the other. In the turnpikes, the railways, the depots, and
    the new boulevards of uniform houses in Florence and other cities here, I
    see the genius of Louis Napoleon, or rather, I see the works of that
    statesman imitated. But Louis has taken care that in France there shall
    be a foundation for these improvements--money. He has always the
    wherewithal to back up his projects; they strengthen France and never
    weaken her. Her material prosperity is genuine. But here the case is
    different. This country is bankrupt. There is no real foundation for
    these great works. The prosperity they would seem to indicate is a
    pretence. There is no money in the treasury, and so they enfeeble her
    instead of strengthening. Italy has achieved the dearest wish of her
    heart and become an independent State--and in so doing she has drawn an
    elephant in the political lottery. She has nothing to feed it on.
    Inexperienced in government, she plunged into all manner of useless
    expenditure, and swamped her treasury almost in a day. She squandered
    millions of francs on a navy which she did not need, and the first time
    she took her new toy into action she got it knocked higher than
    Gilderoy's kite--to use the language of the Pilgrims.

    But it is an ill-wind that blows nobody good. A year ago, when Italy saw
    utter ruin staring her in the face and her greenbacks hardly worth the
    paper they were printed on, her Parliament ventured upon a 'coup de main'
    that would have appalled the stoutest of her statesmen under less
    desperate circumstances. They, in a manner, confiscated the domains of
    the Church! This in priest-ridden Italy! This in a land which has
    groped in the midnight of priestly superstition for sixteen hundred
    years! It was a rare good fortune for Italy, the stress of weather that
    drove her to break from this prison-house.

    They do not call it confiscating the church property. That would sound
    too harshly yet. But it amounts to that. There are thousands of
    churches in Italy, each with untold millions of treasures stored away in
    its closets, and each with its battalion of priests to be supported.
    And then there are the estates of the Church--league on league of the
    richest lands and the noblest forests in all Italy--all yielding immense
    revenues to the Church, and none paying a cent in taxes to the State.
    In some great districts the Church owns all the property--lands,
    watercourses, woods, mills and factories. They buy, they sell, they
    manufacture, and since they pay no taxes, who can hope to compete with
    them?

    Well, the Government has seized all this in effect, and will yet seize it
    in rigid and unpoetical reality, no doubt. Something must be done to
    feed a starving treasury, and there is no other resource in all Italy
    --none but the riches of the Church. So the Government intends to take to
    itself a great portion of the revenues arising from priestly farms,
    factories, etc., and also intends to take possession of the churches and
    carry them on, after its own fashion and upon its own responsibility.
    In a few instances it will leave the establishments of great pet churches
    undisturbed, but in all others only a handful of priests will be retained
    to preach and pray, a few will be pensioned, and the balance turned
    adrift.

    Pray glance at some of these churches and their embellishments, and see
    whether the Government is doing a righteous thing or not. In Venice,
    today, a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, there are twelve hundred
    priests. Heaven only knows how many there were before the Parliament
    reduced their numbers. There was the great Jesuit Church. Under the old
    regime it required sixty priests to engineer it--the Government does it
    with five, now, and the others are discharged from service. All about
    that church wretchedness and poverty abound. At its door a dozen hats
    and bonnets were doffed to us, as many heads were humbly bowed, and as
    many hands extended, appealing for pennies--appealing with foreign words
    we could not understand, but appealing mutely, with sad eyes, and sunken
    cheeks, and ragged raiment, that no words were needed to translate. Then
    we passed within the great doors, and it seemed that the riches of the
    world were before us! Huge columns carved out of single masses of
    marble, and inlaid from top to bottom with a hundred intricate figures
    wrought in costly verde antique; pulpits of the same rich materials,
    whose draperies hung down in many a pictured fold, the stony fabric
    counterfeiting the delicate work of the loom; the grand altar brilliant
    with polished facings and balustrades of oriental agate, jasper, verde
    antique, and other precious stones, whose names, even, we seldom hear
    --and slabs of priceless lapis lazuli lavished every where as recklessly as
    if the church had owned a quarry of it. In the midst of all this
    magnificence, the solid gold and silver furniture of the altar seemed
    cheap and trivial. Even the floors and ceilings cost a princely fortune.

    Now, where is the use of allowing all those riches to lie idle, while
    half of that community hardly know, from day to day, how they are going
    to keep body and soul together? And, where is the wisdom in permitting
    hundreds upon hundreds of millions of francs to be locked up in the
    useless trumpery of churches all over Italy, and the people ground to
    death with taxation to uphold a perishing Government?

    As far as I can see, Italy, for fifteen hundred years, has turned all her
    energies, all her finances, and all her industry to the building up of a
    vast array of wonderful church edifices, and starving half her citizens
    to accomplish it. She is to-day one vast museum of magnificence and
    misery. All the churches in an ordinary American city put together could
    hardly buy the jeweled frippery in one of her hundred cathedrals. And
    for every beggar in America, Italy can show a hundred--and rags and
    vermin to match. It is the wretchedest, princeliest land on earth.

    Look at the grand Duomo of Florence--a vast pile that has been sapping
    the purses of her citizens for five hundred years, and is not nearly
    finished yet. Like all other men, I fell down and worshipped it, but
    when the filthy beggars swarmed around me the contrast was too striking,
    too suggestive, and I said, "O, sons of classic Italy, is the spirit of
    enterprise, of self-reliance, of noble endeavor, utterly dead within ye?
    Curse your indolent worthlessness, why don't you rob your church?"

    Three hundred happy, comfortable priests are employed in that Cathedral.

    And now that my temper is up, I may as well go on and abuse every body I
    can think of. They have a grand mausoleum in Florence, which they built
    to bury our Lord and Saviour and the Medici family in. It sounds
    blasphemous, but it is true, and here they act blasphemy. The dead and
    damned Medicis who cruelly tyrannized over Florence and were her curse
    for over two hundred years, are salted away in a circle of costly vaults,
    and in their midst the Holy Sepulchre was to have been set up. The
    expedition sent to Jerusalem to seize it got into trouble and could not
    accomplish the burglary, and so the centre of the mausoleum is vacant
    now. They say the entire mausoleum was intended for the Holy Sepulchre,
    and was only turned into a family burying place after the Jerusalem
    expedition failed--but you will excuse me. Some of those Medicis would
    have smuggled themselves in sure.--What they had not the effrontery to
    do, was not worth doing. Why, they had their trivial, forgotten exploits
    on land and sea pictured out in grand frescoes (as did also the ancient
    Doges of Venice) with the Saviour and the Virgin throwing bouquets to
    them out of the clouds, and the Deity himself applauding from his throne
    in Heaven! And who painted these things? Why, Titian, Tintoretto, Paul
    Veronese, Raphael--none other than the world's idols, the "old masters."

    Andrea del Sarto glorified his princes in pictures that must save them
    for ever from the oblivion they merited, and they let him starve. Served
    him right. Raphael pictured such infernal villains as Catherine and
    Marie de Medicis seated in heaven and conversing familiarly with the
    Virgin Mary and the angels, (to say nothing of higher personages,) and
    yet my friends abuse me because I am a little prejudiced against the old
    masters--because I fail sometimes to see the beauty that is in their
    productions. I can not help but see it, now and then, but I keep on
    protesting against the groveling spirit that could persuade those masters
    to prostitute their noble talents to the adulation of such monsters as
    the French, Venetian and Florentine Princes of two and three hundred
    years ago, all the same.

    I am told that the old masters had to do these shameful things for bread,
    the princes and potentates being the only patrons of art. If a grandly
    gifted man may drag his pride and his manhood in the dirt for bread
    rather than starve with the nobility that is in him untainted, the excuse
    is a valid one. It would excuse theft in Washingtons and Wellingtons,
    and unchastity in women as well.

    But somehow, I can not keep that Medici mausoleum out of my memory. It
    is as large as a church; its pavement is rich enough for the pavement of
    a King's palace; its great dome is gorgeous with frescoes; its walls are
    made of--what? Marble?--plaster?--wood?--paper? No. Red porphyry
    --verde antique--jasper--oriental agate--alabaster--mother-of-pearl
    --chalcedony--red coral--lapis lazuli! All the vast walls are made wholly
    of these precious stones, worked in, and in and in together in elaborate
    pattern s and figures, and polished till they glow like great mirrors
    with the pictured splendors reflected from the dome overhead. And before
    a statue of one of those dead Medicis reposes a crown that blazes with
    diamonds and emeralds enough to buy a ship-of-the-line, almost. These
    are the things the Government has its evil eye upon, and a happy thing it
    will be for Italy when they melt away in the public treasury.

    And now----. However, another beggar approaches. I will go out and
    destroy him, and then come back and write another chapter of
    vituperation.

    Having eaten the friendless orphan--having driven away his comrades
    --having grown calm and reflective at length--I now feel in a kindlier
    mood. I feel that after talking so freely about the priests and the
    churches, justice demands that if I know any thing good about either I
    ought to say it. I have heard of many things that redound to the credit
    of the priesthood, but the most notable matter that occurs to me now is
    the devotion one of the mendicant orders showed during the prevalence of
    the cholera last year. I speak of the Dominican friars--men who wear a
    coarse, heavy brown robe and a cowl, in this hot climate, and go
    barefoot. They live on alms altogether, I believe. They must
    unquestionably love their religion, to suffer so much for it. When the
    cholera was raging in Naples; when the people were dying by hundreds and
    hundreds every day; when every concern for the public welfare was
    swallowed up in selfish private interest, and every citizen made the
    taking care of himself his sole object, these men banded themselves
    together and went about nursing the sick and burying the dead. Their
    noble efforts cost many of them their lives. They laid them down
    cheerfully, and well they might. Creeds mathematically precise, and
    hair-splitting niceties of doctrine, are absolutely necessary for the
    salvation of some kinds of souls, but surely the charity, the purity, the
    unselfishness that are in the hearts of men like these would save their
    souls though they were bankrupt in the true religion--which is ours.

    One of these fat bare-footed rascals came here to Civita Vecchia with us
    in the little French steamer. There were only half a dozen of us in the
    cabin. He belonged in the steerage. He was the life of the ship, the
    bloody-minded son of the Inquisition! He and the leader of the marine
    band of a French man-of-war played on the piano and sang opera turn
    about; they sang duets together; they rigged impromptu theatrical
    costumes and gave us extravagant farces and pantomimes. We got along
    first-rate with the friar, and were excessively conversational, albeit he
    could not understand what we said, and certainly he never uttered a word
    that we could guess the meaning of.

    This Civita Vecchia is the finest nest of dirt, vermin and ignorance we
    have found yet, except that African perdition they call Tangier, which is
    just like it. The people here live in alleys two yards wide, which have
    a smell about them which is peculiar but not entertaining. It is well
    the alleys are not wider, because they hold as much smell now as a person
    can stand, and of course, if they were wider they would hold more, and
    then the people would die. These alleys are paved with stone, and
    carpeted with deceased cats, and decayed rags, and decomposed
    vegetable-tops, and remnants of old boots, all soaked with dish-water,
    and the people sit around on stools and enjoy it. They are indolent, as
    a general thing, and yet have few pastimes. They work two or three
    hours at a time, but not hard, and then they knock off and catch flies.
    This does not require any talent, because they only have to grab--if
    they do not get the one they are after, they get another. It is all the
    same to them. They have no partialities. Whichever one they get is the
    one they want.

    They have other kinds of insects, but it does not make them arrogant.
    They are very quiet, unpretending people. They have more of these kind
    of things than other communities, but they do not boast.

    They are very uncleanly--these people--in face, in person and dress.
    When they see any body with a clean shirt on, it arouses their scorn.
    The women wash clothes, half the day, at the public tanks in the streets,
    but they are probably somebody else's. Or may be they keep one set to
    wear and another to wash; because they never put on any that have ever
    been washed. When they get done washing, they sit in the alleys and
    nurse their cubs. They nurse one ash-cat at a time, and the others
    scratch their backs against the door-post and are happy.

    All this country belongs to the Papal States. They do not appear to have
    any schools here, and only one billiard table. Their education is at a
    very low stage. One portion of the men go into the military, another
    into the priesthood, and the rest into the shoe-making business.

    They keep up the passport system here, but so they do in Turkey. This
    shows that the Papal States are as far advanced as Turkey. This fact
    will be alone sufficient to silence the tongues of malignant
    calumniators. I had to get my passport vised for Rome in Florence, and
    then they would not let me come ashore here until a policeman had
    examined it on the wharf and sent me a permit. They did not even dare to
    let me take my passport in my hands for twelve hours, I looked so
    formidable. They judged it best to let me cool down. They thought I
    wanted to take the town, likely. Little did they know me. I wouldn't
    have it. They examined my baggage at the depot. They took one of my
    ablest jokes and read it over carefully twice and then read it backwards.
    But it was too deep for them. They passed it around, and every body
    speculated on it awhile, but it mastered them all.

    It was no common joke. At length a veteran officer spelled it over
    deliberately and shook his head three or four times and said that in his
    opinion it was seditious. That was the first time I felt alarmed. I
    immediately said I would explain the document, and they crowded around.
    And so I explained and explained and explained, and they took notes of
    all I said, but the more I explained the more they could not understand
    it, and when they desisted at last, I could not even understand it
    myself. They said they believed it was an incendiary document, leveled
    at the government. I declared solemnly that it was not, but they only
    shook their heads and would not be satisfied. Then they consulted a good
    while; and finally they confiscated it. I was very sorry for this,
    because I had worked a long time on that joke, and took a good deal of
    pride in it, and now I suppose I shall never see it any more. I suppose
    it will be sent up and filed away among the criminal archives of Rome,
    and will always be regarded as a mysterious infernal machine which would
    have blown up like a mine and scattered the good Pope all around, but for
    a miraculous providential interference. And I suppose that all the time
    I am in Rome the police will dog me about from place to place because
    they think I am a dangerous character.

    It is fearfully hot in Civita Vecchia. The streets are made very narrow
    and the houses built very solid and heavy and high, as a protection
    against the heat. This is the first Italian town I have seen which does
    not appear to have a patron saint. I suppose no saint but the one that
    went up in the chariot of fire could stand the climate.

    There is nothing here to see. They have not even a cathedral, with
    eleven tons of solid silver archbishops in the back room; and they do not
    show you any moldy buildings that are seven thousand years old; nor any
    smoke-dried old fire-screens which are chef d'oeuvres of Reubens or
    Simpson, or Titian or Ferguson, or any of those parties; and they haven't
    any bottled fragments of saints, and not even a nail from the true cross.
    We are going to Rome. There is nothing to see here.
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