After some little time and trouble we found an apartment in the Palazzo Berti, in the ominously named Via dei Malcontenti. It was so called because it was at one time the road to the Florentine Tyburn. Our house was the one next to the east end of the church of Santa Croce. Our rooms looked on to a large garden, and were pleasant enough. We witnessed from our windows the building of the new steeple of Santa Croce, which was completed before we left the house.
It was built in great measure by an Englishman, a Mr. Sloane, a fervent Catholic, who was at that time one of the best-known figures in the English colony at Florence.
He was a large contributor to the recently completed facade of the Duomo in Florence, and to many other benevolent and pietistic good works. He had been tutor in the Russian Boutourlin family, and when acting in that capacity had been taken, by reason of his geological acquirements, to see some copper mines in the Volterra district, which the Grand Duke had conceded to a company under whose administration they were going utterly to the bad. Sloane came, saw, and eventually conquered. In conjunction with Horace Hall, the then well known and popular partner in the bank of Signor Emanuele Fenzi (one of whose sons married an English wife, and is still my very good and forty years old friend), he obtained a new concession of the mines from the Grand Duke on very favourable terms, and by the time I made his acquaintance had become a wealthy man. I fancy the Halls, Horace and his much esteemed brother Alfred (who survived him many years, and was the father of a family, one of the most respected and popular of the English colony during the whole of my Florence life), subsequently considered themselves to have been shouldered out of the enterprise by a certain unhandsome treatment on the part of the fortunate tutor. What may have been the exact history of the matter I do not know. But I do know that Sloane always remained on very intimate terms with the Grand Duke, and was a power in the inmost circles of the ecclesiastic world.
He used to give great dinners on Friday, the principal object of which seemed to be to show how magnificent a feast could be given without infringing by a hair’s breadth the rule of the Church. And admirably he succeeded in showing how entirely the spirit and intention of the Church in prescribing a fast could be made of none effect by a skilfully-managed observance of the letter of its law.
The only opportunity I ever had of conversing with Cardinal Wiseman was in Casa Sloane. And what I chiefly remember of His Eminence was his evident annoyance at the ultra-demonstrative zeal of the female portion of the mixed Catholic and Protestant assembly, who would kneel and kiss his hand. A schoolmaster meeting boys in society, who, instantly on his appearance should begin unbuttoning their brace buttons behind, would hardly appreciate the recognition more gratefully.