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sophy enough to check the violence of my temper when once I am provoked.'
• You certainly do yourself injustice, sir,' said the of. ficer, no person seems to have their passions under better discipline. With your brother officers, I never saw you, in a single instance, break through the rules of decorum, or allow your anger to overcome your politeness to them.' • They never provoked me,' said the passionate man.
Provoked you !' rejoined the other ; ? yes, sir, often, and in a much greater degree than the poor, soldier. Do not I, at this moment, give you ten thousand times more provocation than he, or any of the unfortunate men under your command, whom you are so apt to beat and abuse, ever did ?--and yet you seem perfectly master of your temper.'
There was no way left by which the choleric man could prove the contrary, except by knocking the other down; but that was a method of convincing his antagonist which he did not think proper to use.
A more intrepid man, in the same predicament, would very probably have had recourse to that expedient; but in general mankind are able, even in the violence of passion, to estimate, in some measure, the risk they run; and the populace of every country are more readily kindled to that inferior degree of rage, which makes them lose their horror for the crime of murder, and disregard the life of the fellow-creature, than to that higher pitch, which deprives them of all consideration for their own personal safety.
In England, Germany, or France, a man knows, that if he commits a murder, every person around him will, from that instant, become his enemy, and use every means to seize him, and bring him to justice. He knows that he will be immediately carried to prison, and put to an ignominious death, amidst the execrations of his country- , men. Impressed with these sentiments, and with the natural horror for murder which such sentiments augment, the populace of those countries hardly ever have recourse
to stabbing in their accidental quarrels, however they may be inflamed with anger and rage. The lowest blackguard in the streets of London will not draw a knife against an antagonist far superior to himself in strength. He will fight him. fairly with his fists as long as he can, and bear the severest drubbing, rather than use a means of defence which is held in detestation by his countrymen, and which would bring himself to the gallows.
The murders committed in Germany, France, or England, are therefore comparatively few in number, and happen generally in consequence of a preconcerted plan, in which the murderers have taken measures for their
escape or concealment, without which they know that inevitable death awaits them. In Italy the case is different; an I. talian is not under the influence of so strong an impression, that certain execution must be the consequence of his committing a murder ; he is at less pains to restrain the wrath which he feels kindling within his breast; he allows his rage full scope ; and, if hard pressed by the su
, perior strength of an enemy, he does not scruple to extricate himself by a thrust of his knife; he knows, that if some of the sbirri are not present, no other person
will seize him ; for that office is held in such detestation by the Italian populace, that none of them will perform any part of its functions. The murderer is therefore pretty certain of gaining some church or convent, where he will be protected, till he can compound the matter with the relations of the deceased, or escape to some of the other Italian states; which is no very difficult matter, as the dominions of none are very extensive.
Besides, when any of these assassins has not had the good fortune to get within the portico of a church before he is seized by the sbirri, and when he is actually carried to prison, it is not a very difficult matter for his friends or relations to prevail, by their entreaties and tears, on some of the cardinals or princes to interfere in his favour, and endeavour to obtain his pardon. If this is the case, and I am assured from authority which fully convinces me
that it is, we need be no longer surprised that murder is more common among the Italian populace than among the common people of any other country. As soon as asylums for such criminals are abolished, and justice is allowed to take its natural course, that foul stain will be entirely effaced from the national character of the modern Italians. This is already verified in the grand duke of Tuscany's dominions. The same edict which declared that churches and convents should no longer be places of refuge for murderers, has totally put a stop to the use of the stiletto; and the Florentine populace now fight with the same blunt weapons
that are used by the common people of an ther nations.
I am afraid you will think I have been a little prolix on this occasion ; but I had two objects in view, and was solicitous about both. The first was to shew, that the treacherous and perfidioựs disposition imputed to the Italians, is, like most other national reflections, ill-founded ; and that the facts brought in proof of the accusation, proceed from other causes: the second was, to demonstrate to certain choleric gentlemen, who pretend to have ungovernable tempers, as an excuse for rendering every creature dependent on them miserable, that in their furious fits they not only behave ridiculously, but basely. In civil life, in England, they have the power of only making themselves contemptible ; but in the army or navy, or in our islands, they often render themselves the objects of horror.
Thefts and crimes which are not capital are punished at Rome, and some other towns of Italy, by imprisonment, or by what is called the cord. This last is performed in the street. The culprit's hands are bound behind by a cord, which runs on a pully: he is then drawn up twenty or thirty feet from the ground, and if lenity is intended, he is let down smoothly in the same manner he was drawn up. In this operation the whole weight of the criminals body is sustained by his hands, and a strong man can bear the punishment inflicted in this manner without future inconveniency; for the strength of the muscles of his arms enables him to keep his hands pressed on the middle of his back, and his body hangs in a kind of horizontal position. But when they intend to be severe, the criminal is allowed to fall from the greatest height to which he had been raised, and the fall is abruptly checked in the middle ; by which means the hands and arms are immediately pulled above the head, both shoulders are dislocated, and the body swings, powerless, in a perpendicular line. It is a cruel and injudicious punishment, and left too much in the power of those who superintend the execution, to make it severe or not, as they are inclined.
Breaking on the wheel is never used in Rome for any crime ; but they sometimes put in practice another mode of execution, which is much more shocking in appearance than cruel in reality. The criminal being seated on a scaffold, the executioner, who stands hehind him, strikes him on the head with a hammer of a particular construction, which deprives him, at once, of all sensation. When it is certain that he is completely dead, the executioner, with a large knife, cuts his throat from ear to ear, This last part of the ceremony is thought to make a stronger impression on the minds of the spectators, than the bloodless blow which deprives the criminal of life. Whether the advantages resulting from this are sufficient to compensate for shocking the public eye with such abominable sights, I very much question.
Executions are not frequent at Rome, for the reasons already given: there has been only one since our arrival ; and those who are of the most forgiving disposition will acknowledge, that this criminal was not put to death till the measure of his iniquity was sufficiently full; he was condemned to be hanged for his fifth murder. I shall give you some account of his execution, and the ceremo.
nies which accompanied it, because they throw some light on the sentiments and character of the people.
First of all, there was a procession of priests, one of whom carried a crucifix on a pole hung with black ; they were followed by a number of people in long gowns which covered them from head to foot, with holes immediately before the face, through which those in this disguise could see every thing perfectly, while they could not be recognised by the spectators. They are of the company
della Misericordia, which is a society of persons who, from motives of piety, think it a duty to visit criminals under sentence of death, endeavour to bring them to a proper sense of their guilt, assist them in making the best use of the short time they have to live, and who never forsake them till the moment of their execution. People of the first rank are of this society, and devoutly perform the most laborious functions of it. All of them carried lighted torches, and a few shook tin boxes, into which the multitude put money to defray the expense of masses for the soul of the criminal. This is considered by many as the
. most meritorious kind of charity; and some, whose circumstances do not permit them to bestow much, confine all the expense they can afford in charity to the single article of purchasing masses to be said in behalf of those who have died without leaving a farthing to save their souls. The rich, say they, who have much superfluous wealth, may throw away part of it in acts of temporal charity; but it is, in a more particular manner, the duty of those who have little to give, to take care that this little shall be applied to the most beneficial purposes. What is the relieving a few poor families from the frivolous distresses of cold and hunger, in comparison of freeing them from many years burning in fire and brimstone ? People are reminded of this essential kind of charity, not only by the preachers, but also by inscriptions upon the walls of particular churches and convents; and sometimes the aid of the pencil is called in to awaken the compunction of the unfeeling and hard-hearted. On the external walls of