In the year of grace 1806, this sensual, brutal, impious, superstitious, ignorant, and cunning race endowed Italy with a little mountaineer, known as Giacomo Antonelli.
Hawks do not hatch doves. This is an axiom in natural history which has no need of demonstration. Had Giacomo Antonelli been gifted at his birth with the simple virtues of an Arcadian shepherd, his village would have instantly disowned him. But the influence of certain events modified his conduct, although they failed to modify his nature. His infancy and his childhood were subjected to two opposing influences. If he received his earliest lessons from successful brigandage, his next teachers were the gendarmerie. When he was hardly four years old, the discharge of a high moral lesson shook his ears: it was the French troops who were shooting brigands in the outskirts of Sonnino. After the return of Pius VII. he witnessed the decapitation of a few neighbouring relatives who had often dandled him on their knees. Under Leo XII. it was still worse. Those wholesome correctives, the wooden horse and the supple-jack, were permanently established in the village square. About once a fortnight the authorities rased the house of some brigand, after sending his family to the galleys, and paying a reward to the informer who had denounced him. St. Peter’s Gate, which adjoins the house of the Antonellis, was ornamented with a garland of human heads, which eloquent relics grinned dogmatically enough in their iron cages. If the stage be a school of life, surely such a stage as this is a rare teacher. Young Giacomo was enabled to reflect upon the inconveniences of brigandage, even before he had tasted its sweets. About him some men of progress had already engaged in industrial pursuits of a less hazardous nature than robbery. His own father, who, it was whispered, had in him the stuff of a Grasparone or a Passatore, instead of exposing himself upon the highways, took to keeping bullocks, he then became an Intendant, and subsequently was made a Municipal Receiver; by which occupations he acquired more money at considerably less risk.
The young Antonelli hesitated for some time as to the choice of a calling. His natural vocation was that of the inhabitants of Sonnino in general, to live in plenty, to enjoy every sort of pleasure, to make himself at home everywhere, to be dependent upon nobody, to rule others, and to frighten them, if necessary, but, above all, to violate the laws with impunity. With the view of attaining so lofty an end without exposing his life, for which he ever had a most particular regard, he entered the great seminary of Rome.
In our land of scepticism, a young man enters the seminary with the hope of being ordained a priest: Antonelli entered it with the opposite intention. But in the capital of the Catholic Church, young Levites of ordinary intelligence become magistrates, prefects, councillors of state, and ministers, while the “dry fruit is thought good enough for making priests.”