The plebeians of the Eternal City are overgrown children badly brought up, and perverted in various ways by their education. The Government, which, being in the midst of them, fears them, treats them mildly. It demands few taxes of them; it gives them shows, and sometimes bread, the panem et circenses prescribed by the Emperors of the Decline. It does not teach them to read, neither does it forbid them to beg. It sends Capuchins to their homes. The Capuchin gives the wife lottery-tickets, drinks with the husband, and brings up the children after his kind, and sometimes in his likeness. The plebeians of Rome are certain never to die of hunger; if they have no bread, they are allowed to help themselves from the baker’s basket; the law allows it. All that is required of them is to be good Christians, to prostrate themselves before the priests, to humble themselves before the rich, and to abstain from revolutions. They are severely punished if they refuse to take the Sacrament at Easter, or if they talk disrespectfully of the Saints. The tribunal of the Vicariates listens to no excuses on this head; but the police is enough as to everything else. Crimes are forgiven them, they are encouraged in meanness; the only offences for which there is no pardon are the cry for liberty, revolt against an abuse, the assertion of manhood.
It is marvellous to me that with such an education there is any good left in them at all. The worst half of the people is that which dwells in the Monti district. If, in seeking the Convent of the Neophytes, or the house of Lucrezia Borgia, you miss your way among those foul narrow streets, you will find yourself in the midst of a strange medley of thieves, sharpers, guitar-players, artists’ models, beggars, ciceroni, and ruffiani. If you speak to them, you may be sure they will kiss your Excellency’s hand, and pick your Excellency’s pocket. I do not think a worse breed is to be found in any city in Europe, not even in London. All these people practise religion, without the least believing in God. The police does not meddle much with them. To be sure they are sent to prison now and then, but thanks to a favourable word in the right quarter, or to the want of prison accommodation, they are soon set at liberty. Even the honest workmen their neighbours occasionally get into scrapes. They have made plenty of money in the winter, and spent it all in the Carnival—as is the common custom. Summer comes, the foreign visitors depart; no more work and no more money. Moral training, which might sustain them, is wholly wanting. The love of show, that peculiar disease of Rome, is their bane. The wife, if she be pretty, sells herself, or the husband does what he had better leave undone.
Judge them not too harshly. Remember, they have read nothing, they have never been out of Rome; the example of ostentation is set them by the Cardinals, of misconduct by the prelates, of venality by the different functionaries, of squandering by the Finance Minister. And above all, remember that care has been taken to root out from their hearts, as if it were a destructive weed, that noble sentiment of human dignity which is the principle of every virtue.