« VorigeDoorgaan »
Pius IX and Victor Emmanuel both had superstitions, of which, however, their successors were entirely devoid.
Though the Pope had twice excommunicated the King, they really loved each other, for they were made of the same kind of stuff, and both belonged emphatically to the days that are past and gone. Impulsive in action, primesautier and generous in temperament, they allowed themselves the luxury of sometimes letting their feelings deviate from what others might consider the stern path of duty. When King Victor Emmanuel died, his chaplain, against all rules, gave him absolution for everything, though he was under the major excommunication. The Pope sent for the priest, inquired most feelingly about the King's last moments, and when the chaplain confessed, Pius IX, with tears in his eyes, cried 'Hai fatto bene! hai fatto bene !' (You have done well! you have done well!') another month the Pontiff followed the King.
The death of King Victor Emmanuel made a great sensation; it was so unexpected, for he had a strong constitution and was not past middle age. A shiver of apprehension had swept over the Court when, at the New Year's reception of 1878, the Princess of Piedmont and all her ladies appeared in deep black with long crêpe veils, because some time before the King of Saxony, grandfather of the Princess, had died. It was customary on these occasions to substitute white or grey for black. A few days later it was whispered that the King was ill, not dangerously, said the doctors, but it might become serious. Some said it was miliary, others talked of Roman fever, and the most anxious ones murmured something about perniciosa, that most dreaded of all fevers in Rome.
On the afternoon of January the 9th I was walking in the garden, and as I passed the iron gates a man galloped up and called out E morto il Re!' and then galloped on.
The effect of the King's death in Italy was a tremendous one. It was not only the personal glamour which surrounded him, but the feeling of security that his strong character gave to the still heterogeneous unity of the country, which was thereby abruptly shaken.
We went to see the King lie in State. He was so enormously swollen and disfigured by his illness that they had been obliged to raise the catafalque almost to the ceiling of the lofty hall, and had disposed his body so that it could hardly be seen, or the people, always suspicious, would certainly have said that he had been poisoned.
At the funeral the whole population stood for hours in the biting wind, silent and uncovered, in the streets through which the procession was to pass. One of the most touching features
in it was the King's old war-horse, which he had ridden in many battles, immediately following the hearse, trapped all in black.
Rome had been fatal to this first King of Italy, as he always said it would be. His fervent wish to rest with his ancestors on the wind-swept Superga, facing the majestic chain of the snow-capped Alps, could not be gratified. His body was laid in the Roman Pantheon, into which the Roman sun and the Roman moon shine through the open roof, and where the waves of the Roman Tiber sweep the marble floors when the waters are high. When Pope Pius IX died, just a month after the King, this event, which had been anticipated for so long, with so many hopes and fears, and so much curiosity, created very little excitement. The King's death had dwarfed it, and it was the cross of Piedmont on the cross of St. Peter's to the bitter end. When Pope Leo XIII was elected, whom St. Malachi in his prophecies had qualified as 'Lumen in Coelo,' it was found that the noble family of the Counts Pecci, to which he belonged, bore a comet in a blue sky in their arms. The Pope's arms play a great part, for they are put up in many places, and over all the Embassies accredited to the Holy See. St. Malachi's motto for the present Pope was Ignis ardens,' and it was found that he belonged to a religious community who had for their badge a vessel with flames coming out of it.
As these prophecies, which I believe were made in the twelfth or thirteenth century, and first printed in 1595, are very little known, I will give those which are more or less in the memory of man, and which one can verify. It will be observed that there are only eight more Popes to come, and, considering latter-day events, these ominous predictions give one matter for serious thought.
In Persecuzione extrema sacrae Romanae ecclesiae sedebit Petrus Romanus, Qui pascet suis (? oues) in multis tribulationibus quibus trasactis civitas Septicollis diruetur et iudex tremendus iudicabit populum.
Taking the average of the Popes' reigns in modern days, the eight future Popes would come to an end about the middle of the first half of the twenty-first century, which would once more exemplify the fact that religious sovereignties are the most lasting of all.
The accession of King Humbert to the throne of Italy gave rise to no changes in the first instance. Though the young King had not the imposing physique of his father or the same vitality and energy, he had many qualities which endeared him to those who knew him well. At dinners and suppers or balls, where he never danced, not even as Crown Prince, I often had long conversations with him, and the straightness and simplicity of his character inspired me with respect, whilst his affectionate nature won all my sympathies. Shy and distant in manner, his sterling qualities were not at once appreciated, and it was only later that his sense of duty, and almost too great conscientiousness, won for him a popularity which at first was all the Queen's. The King had the physical courage of the House of Savoy, and he was a faithful and generous friend. In religion tolerant, he was outwardly correct, though personally probably an agnostic. Eminently reasonable, and by nature unambitious, he discharged his duties as a constitutional Sovereign without taking much, or I might say, any, pleasure or pride in his kingly position. His longing for a quiet, unobtrusive life was pathetic, and he often said to me: Je suis profondément triste,' and then added, half in fun, 'J'aurais été un excellent sergent de ville, c'eût été ma vocation' !
He too, like his father, clung to Piedmontese traditions and surrounded himself with a Piedmontese Court. I remember his once asking one of Queen Margherita's Roman ladies, who was talking to some friends, 'What are you doing there?' and she answered Speaking Italian, Sir'; for the King and Queen always spoke in dialect to their immediate 'entourage.' King Humbert's charming consort was in many things her husband's opposite. She loved splendour and was born to be a Queen. She liked it, and attracted about herself all the glamour which ought to be a Queen's patrimony. Always gorgeously attired at all festivities, covered with precious laces and priceless jewels, she used, on entering or leaving a room, to sweep a long and gracious curtsey in a semicircle, including everybody, such as we are told Marie Antoinette had the art of making. Indeed, Queen Margaret was in many ways not unlike the martyred Queen of France, for from her Austrian ancestors she inherited the same full underlip, the bright blue eyes, the fair complexion, and the wealth of shining blonde hair. She is a woman of many parts, speaks four or five languages in perfection, is very musical,
highly cultured, and well read. Her charities are proverbial, and now, after bitter trials and living long in partial seclusion, she still holds the popular imagination, and the day her muchbeloved figure and beneficent influence are seen and felt no more will be a sad one for Italy.
A few months after King Humbert's accession a man named Passanante made an attempt on his life at Naples. It was when he was driving through the streets with the Queen. When shortly afterwards the Royal couple made a solemn entry into Rome, the streets were packed, and they had a great ovation. They drove at a foot's pace almost, from the station to the Quirinal, they were in an open carriage with the little Prince and the mob swaying and screaming all around them, with no attempt to keep it in bounds. Only a number of police in plain clothes were hanging on to the carriage and were mistaken, by many, as part of the mob. The King held his hat, as was his habit when acknowledging a salute, almost at arm's length from his head, the Queen showed no symptoms of fear and bowed with gracious smile on every side, but I think the fact of her disguising her apprehensions, following upon the shock which the attempt must have given her, caused the nervous illness from which she suffered for several years, and from which it took her so long to recover.
The little Prince of Naples was a most engaging child. Intelligent and bright to a degree, he spoke English perfectly, and told me how, when he went to England, the thing that interested him most was his visit to Woolwich, about which he gave me details far beyond my comprehension. One day I happened to mention before him that a Miss Fox had come to see me. 'What,' he said, in his quick way, anything to do with the Prime Minister?' He was very quick and sharp at repartee, and when his English nurse complained that her colds were so terrible that she had to use towels instead of handkerchiefs, 'Why don't you say sheets at once, it would be nearer the truth?' mocked her royal charge of eight.
Even at that age his principles were clearly formulated and unbending, and it was only with the greatest trouble that he was persuaded to shake hands with one of the Ambassadors whose country was at war with another country for which he had conceived a sympathy.
He is now a most exemplary and conscientious Sovereign, but what scope is there for a constitutional King in a democratic country in which he and his Government have often to conciliate millions of utterly uneducated electors, who frequently decree their own misfortunes? Still the Italian has one great safeguard, and that is a pleasure and a pride in his own country. We see it
now in their present war. The menace of Socialism was imminent, but all quarrels and ill-will between the different parties and factions are sunk in the overwhelming feeling of patriotism. It is the same feeling which has made them pay their heavy taxes for so long without a murmur, which makes them bear the expenses of their army and navy cheerfully, and which, poor as the nation is, allows their King a Civil List far more generous than any of our Sovereigns ever had.
The other members of the Royal family hardly ever appeared in Rome. They were scattered about at Turin, Florence, and Naples. The Roman Court was an eminently young one. All the gentlemen and ladies in attendance on the Sovereigns were young, some of the women very beautiful. It was rather like a brilliant picture without a background; which was natural, as it was all the growth of a few years.
Roman society was like a tidal river flowing backwards and forwards, for every winter brought back well-known faces, and yet there were every day new additions, and this it was which gave it so much unrest and instability, for people were all the time on the alert as to 'Who is that?' and 'Who is coming?' and they had adopted the English fashion of continually moving about at parties and never sitting down.
The enormous influx of strangers from all countries increased from year to year, more and more engulphing the Roman element, and it was this ever-moving, ever-changing and elusive atmosphere which makes it so impossible to describe the Rome of that day. The society was composed of Romans proper, and, quite distinct from them, the other Italians, brought to the Capital by their avocations, such as the Government, the Senators and deputies, and the army; though the military element, except at balls, was conspicuous by its absence. Then there were the two sets of diplomats, artists, scientists, writers, and the masses of foreigners.
Owing probably to the very enthusiastic and also practical sympathy which England had ever shown to the cause of United Italy, our house was, in Rome as it had been in Florence, a gathering place for many of the men who had played a conspicuous part in the 'Risorgimento' of their country. They have all vanished except one or two. They were a short-lived generation. Cavour and the King were the first to go. Those we saw most of were Minghetti, Quintino Sella, la Marmora, Ubaldino Peruzzi, Ricasoli, Bonghi, Massari, Visconti Venosta, Count Corti, Guerrieri Gonzaga, Giovanni Baracco, Lacaita, and many others who had tasted the bitter bread of exile. I often wonder whether any of them foresaw the troubles which prosperity was to bring to the country they loved so well.