The Roman Question eBook

Edmond François Valentin About
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 194 pages of information about The Roman Question.

CHAPTER V.

OF THE PLEBEIANS.

The subjects of the Holy Father are divided by birth and fortune into three very distinct classes,—­nobility, citizens, and people, or plebeians.  The Gospel has omitted to consecrate the inequality of men, but the law of the State—­that is to say, the will of the Popes—­carefully maintains it.  Benedict XIV. declared it honourable and salutary in his Bull of January 4, 1746, and Pius IX. expressed himself in the same terms at the beginning of his Chirografo of May 2, 1853.

If I do not reckon the clergy among the classes of society, it is because that body is foreign to the nation by its interests, by its privileges, and often by its origin.  The Cardinals and Prelates are not, properly speaking, the Pope’s subjects, but rather his ghostly confederates, and the partners of his omnipotence.

The distinction of class is more especially perceptible at Rome, near the Pontifical throne.  It gradually disappears, together with many other abuses, in proportion to their distance from their source.  There are bottomless abysses between the noble Roman and the citizen of Rome, between the citizen of Rome and the plebeian of the city.  The plebeian himself discharges a portion of the scorn expressed by the two superior classes for himself, upon the peasants he meets at market:  it is a sort of cascade of contempt.  At Rome, thanks to the traditions of history, and the education given by the Popes, the inferior thinks he can get out of his nothingness, and become something, by begging the favour and support of a superior.  A general system of dependence and patronage makes the plebeian kneel before the man of the middle class, who again kneels before the prince, who in his turn kneels more humbly than all the others before the sovereign clergy.

At twenty leagues’ distance from Rome there is very little kneeling; beyond the Apennines none at all.  When you reach Bologna you find an almost French equality in the manners:  for the simple reason that Napoleon has left his mark there.

The absolute value of the men in each category increases according to the square of the distance.  You may feel almost certain that a Roman noble will be less educated, less capable, and less free than a gentleman of the Marches or of the Romagna.  The middle class, with some exceptions which I shall presently mention, is infinitely more numerous, more enlightened, and wealthier, to the east of the Apennines, than in and about the capital.  The plebeians themselves have more honesty and morality when they live at a respectful distance from the Vatican.

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The Roman Question from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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