Page images

in himself, he was overheard to say, ' Anch' io sono pittore.' This illustrious princess was also conscious of her powers when she painted this portrait, which seems to pronounce to the spectators, Anch' io sono pittrice.*





now crossed from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean, and travelled through a considerable part of Italy, I acknowledge I have been agreeably disappointed in finding the state of the poorer part of the inhabitants less wretched than, from the accounts of some travellers, I imagined it was; and I may with equal truth add, that although I have not seen so much poverty as I was taught to expect, yet I have seen far more poverty than misery. Even the extremity of indigence is accompanied with less wretchedness here than in many other countries. This is partly owing to the mildness of the climate and fertility of the soil, and partly to the peaceable, religious, and contented disposition of the people. The miseries which the poorer part of mankind suffer from cold, are, perhaps, greater than those derived from any other source what

But in Italy, the gentleness of the climate protects them from this calamity nine months of the year. If they can gather as much wood as to keep a moderate fire during the remaining three, and procure a coarse cloak, they have little to fear from that quarter. Those who cannot get employment, which is often the case in this country, and even those who do not choose to work, which is the case with numbers all the world over, receive a regular maintenance from some convent: with this, and what little they can pick up otherwise, in a country where provisions are plentiful and cheap, they pass through life, in their own opinion, with more satisfaction than if they had a greater number of conveniences procured by much bo



• I also am a painter.

dily labour. Whereas in Great Britain, Germany, and other northern countries, the poor have no choice but to work; for if they remain idle, they are exposed to miseries more intolerable than the hardest labour can occasion to the laziest of mankind; they are invaded at once by the accumulated agonies of hunger and cold ; and if they have ever had sufficient credit to contract a little debt, they are continually in danger of being thrown into a jail among pickpockets and felons. With respect to the lowest of the tradespeople and the day-labourers in this country, their wages are certainly not high; nor are they willing, by great efforts of industry, to gain all they might; but what they do gain is never wasted in intemperance, but fairly spent in their families on the real necessaries and comforts of life.

The Italians are the greatest loungers in the world, and while walking in the fields, or stretched in the shade, seem to enjoy the serenity and genial warmth of their climate with a degree of luxurious indulgence peculiar to themselves. Without ever running into the daring excesses of the English, or displaying the frisky vivacity of the French, or the invincible phlegm of the Germans, the Italian populace discover a species of sedate sensibility to every source of enjoyment, from which, perhaps, they derive a greater degree of happiness than any of the other. The frequent processions and religious ceremonies, besides amusing and comforting them, serve to fill up their time, and prevent that ennui and those immoral practices which are apt to accompany poverty and idleness. It is necessary, for the quiet and happiness of every community, that the populace be employed. Some politicians imagine, that their whole time should be spent in gainful industry. Others think, that though the riches of the state will not be augmented, yet the general happiness, which is a more important object, will be promoted by blending the occupations of industry with a considerable proportion of such superstitious ceremonies as awaken the future hopes, without lulling the present benevolence, of the multitude : but nobody can doubt, that in countries where, from whatever cause, industry does not prevail, processions and other rites of the same nature will tend to restrain the populace from the vices, and of consequence prevent some of the miseries of idleness.

The peasantry of this country are unquestionably in a more comfortless state than a benevolent mind could wish them. But, England and Switzerland excepted, is not this the case all over Europe? In all the countries I have seen, or had an account of, the husbandmen, probably the most virtuous, but certainly the most useful part of the community, whose labour and industry maintain all the rest, and in whom the real strength of the state resides, are, by a most unjust dispensation, generally the poorest : and most oppressed. But although the Italian peasantry are by no means in the affluent, independent situation of the peasantry of Switzerland, and the tenantry of England, yet they are not subjected to the same oppressions with those of Germany, nor are they so poor as those of France.

Great part of the lands in Italy belong to convents; and I have observed, and have been assured by those who have the best opportunities of knowing, that the tenants of these communities are happier, and live more at their ease, thanthose of a great part of the nobility. The revenues of convents are usually well managed, and never allowed to be squandered away by the folly or extravagance of any of its members ; consequently the community is not drive en by craving and threatening creditors, as individuals frequently are, to squeeze out of their vassals the means of supplying the waste occasioned by their own vanity and expense. A convent can have no incitement to severe and oppressive exactions from the peasants, except sheer avarice ; a passion which never rises to such a height in a society where the revenue is in common, as in the breast of an individual, who is solely to reap the fruits of his own oppression.

The stories which circulate in Protestant countries, concerning the scandalous debauchery of monks, and the lux,

urious manner in which they live in their convents, whatever truth there may have been in them formerly, are certainly now in a great measure without foundation. I remember when I was at the Grande Chartreuse, near Grenoble, which has a considerable district of land belonging to it, I was informed, and this information was confirmed by what I saw, that those monks were gentle and generous masters, and that their tenants were envied by all the peasantry around, on account of the treatment they received, and the comparatively easy terms on which they held their farms. From the inquiries I have made in France, Germany, and Italy, I am convinced that this is usually the case with those peasants who belong to convent lands: and

very often, I have been informed, besides having easy rents, they also find affectionate friends and protectors in their masters, who visit them in sickness, comfort them in all distresses, and are of service to their families in various shapes.

I have been speaking hitherto of the peasantry belonging to convents; but I believe I might extend the remark to the tenants of ecclesiastics in general, though they are often represented as more proud and oppressive masters than


class of men whatever; an aspersion which may have gained credit the more easily on this account, that instances of cruelty and oppression in ecclesiastics strike more, and raise a greater indignation, than the same degree of wickedness in other men ; they raise a greater indignation, because they are more unbecoming of clergymen, and they strike more when they do happen, because they happen seldomer. The ambition of popes some centuries ago, when the court of Rome was in its zenith, the unlimited influence and power which particular churchmen acquired in England and France, had those effects upon their actions and characters, which ambition and power usually have on the characters of men; it rendered them insolend, unfeeling, and persecuting. Yet, for every cruel and tyrannical pope that his

. tory has recorded, it will be easy to name two or three

[ocr errors]

Roman emperors who have surpassed them in every species of wickedness; and England and France have had prime ministers with all the vices, without the abilities, of Wolsey and Richelieu.

Those who declaim against the wickedness of the clergy, seem to take it for granted that this body of men were the authors of the most horrid instances of persecution, massacre, and tyranny, over men's consciences, that are recorded in the annals of mankind; yet Philip II, Charles IX, and Henry VIII, were not churchmen; and the capricious tyranny of Henry, the frantic fury of Charles, and the persevering cruelty of Philip, seem to have proceeded from the personal characters of these monarchs, or to have been excited by what they considered as their political interest, rather than by the suggestions of their clergy.

As the subjects of the ecclesiastical state are perhaps the poorest in Italy, this has been imputed to the rapacious disposition which some assert is natural to church

This poverty, however, may be otherwise accounted for. Bishop Burnet very judiciously observes, that the subjects of a government, which is at once despotic and elective, labour under peculiar disadvantages ; for an hereditary prince will naturally have considerations for his people which an elective one will not,' unless he has a degree of generosity not common among men, and least of all among Italians, who have a passion for their families which is not known in other places.'* An elective prince, knowing that it is only during his reign that his family can receive any benefit from it, makes all the haste he can to enrich them. To this it may be added, that as popes generally arrive at sovereignty at an age when avarice predominates in the human breast, they may be supposed to have a stronger bias than other princes to that sordid passion ; and even when this does not take place, their needy relations are continually prompting them to acts of oppression, and suggesting ways and means of

Vide Bishop Burnet's Travels.


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »