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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Priesthood
By Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio (1798–1866)
 
From ‘My Recollections’

MY occupations in Rome were not entirely confined to the domains of poetry and imagination. It must not be forgotten that I was also a diplomatist; and in that capacity I had social as well as official duties to perform.  1
  The Holy Alliance had accepted the confession and repentance of Murat, and had granted him absolution; but as the new convert inspired little confidence, he was closely watched, in the expectation—and perhaps the hope—of an opportunity of crowning the work by the infliction of penance.  2
  The penance intended was to deprive him of his crown and sceptre, and to turn him out of the pale. Like all the other diplomatists resident in Rome, we kept our court well informed of all that could be known or surmised regarding the intentions of the Neapolitan government; and I had the lively occupation of copying page after page of incomprehensible cipher for the new-born archives of our legation. Such was my life at that time; and in spite of the cipher, I soon found it pleasant enough. Dinner-parties, balls, routs, and fashionable society did not then inspire me with the holy horror which now keeps me away from them. Having never before experienced or enjoyed anything of the kind, I was satisfied. But in the midst of my pleasure, our successor—Marquis San Saturnino—made his appearance, and we had to prepare for our departure. One consolation, however, remained. I had just then been appointed to the high rank of cornet in the crack dragoon regiment “Royal Piedmont.” I had never seen its uniform, but I cherished a vague hope of being destined by Fortune to wear a helmet; and the prospect of realizing this splendid dream of my infancy prevented me from regretting my Roman acquaintances overmuch.  3
  The Society of Jesus had meanwhile been restored, and my brother was on the eve of taking the vows. He availed himself of the last days left him before that ceremony to sit for his portrait to the painter Landi. This is one of that artist’s best works, who, poor man, cannot boast of many; and it now belongs to my nephew Emanuel.  4
  The day of the ceremony at length arrived, and I accompanied my brother to the Convent of Monte Cavallo, where it was to take place.  5
  The Jesuits at that time were all greatly rejoicing at the revival of their order; and as may be inferred, they were mostly old men, with only a few young novices among them.  6
  We entered an oratory fragrant with the flowers adorning the altar, full of silver ornaments, holy images, and burning wax-lights, with half-closed windows and carefully drawn blinds; for it is a certain, although unexplained, fact that men are more devout in the dark than in the light, at night than in the daytime, and with their eyes closed rather than open. We were received by the General of the order, Father Panizzoni, a little old man bent double with age, his eyes encircled with red, half blind, and I believe almost in his dotage. He was shedding tears of joy, and we all maintained the pious and serious aspect suited to the occasion, until the time arrived for the novice to step forward, when, lo! Father Panizzoni advanced with open arms toward the place where I stood, mistaking me for my brother; a blunder which for a moment imperiled the solemnity of the assembly.  7
  Had I yielded to the embrace of Father Panizzoni, it would have been a wonderful bargain both for him and me. But this was not the only invitation I then received to enter upon a sacerdotal career. Monsignor Morozzo, my great-uncle and god-father, then secretary to the bishops and regular monks, one day proposed that I should enter the Ecclesiastical Academy, and follow the career of the prelacy under his patronage. The idea seemed so absurd that I could not help laughing heartily, and the subject was never revived.  8
  Had I accepted these overtures, I might in the lapse of time have long since been a cardinal, and perhaps even Pope. And if so, I should have drawn the world after me, as the shepherd entices a lamb with a lump of salt. It was very wrong in me to refuse. Doubtless the habit of expressing my opinion to every one, and on all occasions, would have led me into many difficulties. I must either have greatly changed, or a very few years would have seen an end of me.  9
  We left Rome at last, in the middle of winter, in an open carriage, and traveling chiefly by night, as was my father’s habit. While the horses are trotting on, I will sum up the impressions of Rome and the Roman world which I was carrying away. The clearest idea present to my mind was that the priests of Rome and their religion had very little in common with my father and Don Andreis, or with the religion professed by them and by the priests and the devout laity of Turin. I had not been able to detect the slightest trace of that which in the language of asceticism is called unction. I know not why, but that grave and downcast aspect, enlivened only by a few occasional flashes of ponderous clerical wit, the atmosphere depressing as the plumbeus auster of Horace, in which I had been brought up under the rule of my priest,—all seemed unknown at Rome. There I never met with a monsignore or a priest who did not step out with a pert and jaunty air, his head erect, showing off a well-made leg, and daintily attired in the garb of a clerical dandy. Their conversation turned upon every possible subject, and sometimes upon quibusdam aliis, to such a degree that it was evident my father was perpetually on thorns. I remember a certain prelate, whom I will not name, and whose conduct was, I believe, sufficiently free and easy, who at a dinner-party at a villa near Porta Pia related laughingly some matrimonial anecdotes, which I at that time did not fully understand. And I remember also my poor father’s manifest distress, and his strenuous endeavors to change the conversation and direct it into a different channel.  10
  The prelates and priests whom I used to meet in less orthodox companies than those frequented by my father seemed to me still more free and easy. Either in the present or in the past, in theory or in practice, with more or less or even no concealment, they all alike were sailing or had sailed on the sweet fleuve du tendre. For instance, I met one old canon bound to a venerable dame by a tie of many years’ standing. I also met a young prelate with a pink-and-white complexion and eyes expressive of anything but holiness; he was a desperate votary of the fair sex, and swaggered about paying his homage right and left. Will it be believed, this gay apostle actually told me, without circumlocution, that in the monastery of Tor di Specchi there dwelt a young lady who was in love with me? I, who of course desired no better, took the hint instantly, and had her pointed out to me. Then began an interchange of silly messages, of languishing looks, and a hundred absurdities of the same kind; all cut short by the pair of post-horses which carried us out of the Porta del Popolo….  11
  The opinions of my father respecting the clergy and the Court of Rome were certainly narrow and prejudiced; but with his good sense it was impossible for him not to perceive what was manifest even to a blind man. During our journey he kept insinuating (without appearing, however, to attach much importance to it) that it was always advisable to speak with proper respect of a country where we had been well received, even if we had noticed a great many abuses and disorders. To a certain extent, this counsel was well worthy of attention. He was doubtless much grieved at the want of decency apparent in one section of that society, or, to use a modern expression, at its absence of respectability; but he consoled himself by thinking, like Abraham the Jew in the ‘Decameron,’ that no better proof can be given of the truth of the religion professed by Rome than the fact of its enduring in such hands.  12
  This reasoning, however, is not quite conclusive; for if Boccaccio had had patience to wait another forty years, he would have learnt, first from John Huss, and then from Luther and his followers, that although in certain hands things may last a while, it is only till they are worn out. What Boccaccio and the Jew would say now if they came back, I do not venture to surmise.  13
 
 
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