Pius IX. plays his part in the gorgeous shows of the Roman Catholic Church indifferently well. The faithful who have come from afar to see him perform Mass, are a little surprised to see him take a pinch of snuff in the midst of the azure-tinted clouds of incense. In his hours of leisure he plays at billiards for exercise, by order of his physicians.
He believes in God. He is not only a good Christian, but a devotee. In his enthusiasm for the Virgin Mary, he has invented a useless dogma, and disfigured the Piazza di Spagna by a monument of bad taste. His morals are pure, as they always have been, even when he was a young priest: such instances are common enough among our clergy, but rare, not to say miraculous, beyond the Alps.
He has nephews, who, wonderful to relate, are neither rich nor powerful, nor even princes. And yet there is no law which prevents him from spoiling his subjects for the benefit of his family. Gregory XIII. gave his nephew Ludovisi L160,000 of good paper, worth so much cash. The Borghese family bought at one stroke ninety-five farms with the money of Paul V. A commission which met in 1640, under the presidence of the Reverend Father Vitelleschi, General of the Jesuits, decided, in order to put an end to such abuses, that the Popes should confine themselves to entailing property to the amount of L16,000 a year upon their favourite nephew and his family (with the right of creating a second heir to the same privileges), and that the portion of each of their nieces should not exceed L36,000.
I am aware that nepotism fell into desuetude at the commencement of the eighteenth century; but there was nothing to prevent Pius IX. from bringing it into fashion again, after the example of Pius VI., if he chose; but he does not choose to do so. His relations are of the second order of nobility, and are not rich: he has done nothing to alter their position. His nephew, Count Mastai Ferretti, was recently married; and the Pope’s wedding present consisted of a few diamonds, worth about L8000. Nor did this modest gift cost the nation one baioccho. The diamonds came from the Sovereign of Turkey. Some ten years ago the Sultan of Constantinople, the Commander of the Faithful, presented the commander of the unfaithful with a saddle embroidered with precious stones. The travellers in the restoring line, who used to flock to Gaeta and Portici, carried off a great number of them in their bags; what they left are in the casket of the young Countess Ferretti.
The character of this respectable old man, is made up of devotion, simplicity, vanity, weakness, and obstinacy, with an occasional touch of rancour. He blesses with unction, and pardons with difficulty; he is a good priest, and an insufficient king.
His intellect, which has raised such great hopes, and caused such cruel disappointment, is of a very ordinary capacity. I can hardly think he is infallible in temporal matters. His education is that of the average of cardinals in general. He talks French pretty well.