“I could have lived happily enough,” he said,
“but one day the home-sickness laid my heart low; I felt that I must see Italy, or die. My family took the necessary steps, and it fortunately happened that we knew some one who had interest with a Cardinal. The police dictated the conditions of my return, and I accepted them without knowing what they were. If they had told me I could not return without cutting off my right arm, I would have cut it off. The Pope signed my pardon, and then published my name in the newspapers, so that none might be ignorant of his clemency. But I am interdicted from resuming my practice at the Bar, and a man can hardly gain a livelihood by teaching Italian in a country where everybody speaks it.”
As he concluded, the neighbouring church-bells began to sound the Ave Maria. He turned pale, seized his hat, and rushed out of my room, exclaiming, “I knew not it was so late! Should the police arrive at my house before I can reach it, I am a lost man!”
His friends explained to me the cause of his sudden alarm: the poor man is subject to the police regulation termed the Precetto.
He must always return to his abode at sunset, and he is then shut in till the next morning. The police may force their way in at any time during the night, for the purpose of ascertaining that he is there. He cannot leave the city under any pretence whatever, even in broad day. The slightest infraction of these rules exposes him to imprisonment, or to a new exile.
The Pontifical States are full of men subject to the Precetto: some are criminals who are watched in their homes, for want of prison accommodation; others are suspected persons. The number of these unfortunate beings is not given in the statistical tables, but I know, from an official source, that in Viterbo, a town of fourteen thousand souls, there are no less than two hundred.
The want of prison accommodation explains many things, and, among others, the freedom of speech which exists throughout the country. If the Government took a fancy to arrest everybody who hates it openly, there would be neither gendarmes nor gaolers enough; above all, there would be an insufficiency of those houses of peace, of which it has been said, that “their protection and salubrity prolong the life of their inmates."
The citizens, then, are allowed to speak freely, provided always they do not gesticulate too violently. But we may be sure no word is ever lost in a State watched by priests. The Government keeps an accurate list of those who wish it ill. It revenges itself when it can, but it never runs after vengeance. It watches its occasion; it can afford to be patient, because it thinks itself eternal.
If the bold speaker chance to hold a modest government appointment, a purging commission quietly cashiers him, and turns him delicately out into the street.