Of the thousands of intelligent persons from all quarters of the globe who annually visit the Eternal City, how many are there who take away with them on their departure any more distinct impression of the scenes that have in the course of centuries been enacted within its walls than that it was once the seat of a secular empire which has long since passed away, and of a spiritual empire which is slowly nodding to its fall? They have schoolboy recollections of mythical kings, of stubborn tribunes of the people, of grasping consuls, of ostentatious Cæsars, and no recollection at all of solemn, erudite, worldly, saintly, licentious cardinals, and of pious, impious, cynical, superstitious, canonized, accursed, indolent, energetic, contemptible, ever memorable Popes. They fancy they are acquainted with the history of the most marvellous city the world has ever seen; yet it may safely be affirmed that of its pagan history they know but little, and of its papal history absolutely nothing.
Yet as far as that dramatic interest is concerned which springs from the play of individual character, and which has such attractions for the modern public, it is almost beyond doubt that the Papacy offers a wider and more varied field than either Republican or Imperial Rome. The long story of the Pontiffs is studded with examples of every form of public and private virtue, of public and private vice. The peculiar mode of papal election has raised to the pontifical chair men from all ranks of society, from almost every European nation, and of all conceivable types of character. Now we see a Leo the First, armed only with a majestic person, an imposing mission, a flowing beard, and a spotless character, rolling, back by his mere presence the tide of Attila's invasion. Then we behold an infamous boy, bearing the title of John the Twelfth, wallowing in homicide, incest, perjury, and sacrilege, and answering the threats of his cardinals by mutilating some and excommunicating the rest. Anon a versatile, accomplished Leo the Tenth rises before us, the companion of wits and poets, the patron of architects and musicians, a Cyprian crowned with the tiara. Turn we back the pace, and a Hildebrand is thundering in our ears, forcing an emperor on his knees, and claiming for himself and his successors a practical supremacy over kings and peoples. But that does not prevent a Benedict the Ninth from selling the Popedom, to which he had been raised by the violence of his father, the Count of Tusculum, to a simoniacal priest, and after spending the proceeds of the sale in shameless debauchery, from recovering his throne and poisoning his rival. The history of the Papacy is one long drama, in which every passion plays a part, in which the most earthly motives are abetted by celestial sanctions, in which the chief actors succeed each other with unexampled rapidity, where poetical justice plays its due part, and where it seldom happens that we are sent away with a disappointing anti-climax.
Of all the men who have filled what is called the Chair of St. Peter there is no more interesting and on the whole more respectable figure than that of Sixtus the Fifth, a fairly good biography of whom has just been presented to the English public. As a diplomatist, Baron Hübner naturally dwells with much unction on those passages of the Pope's life in which he played the politician, and coped alternately with Queen Elizabeth of England, Philip of Spain, Henry of France, Rudolph of Austria, the Grand Turk, and the Venetian Republic. It is on the relations of Sixtus with the various powers of Europe that the accomplished author alone throws any fresh light. Where the mere personal history of the Pontiff is concerned, he discriminates rather than discovers. Indeed there was little more to be known. That little, however, is of such remarkable interest, that whilst altogether discarding that portion of his career on which Baron Hübner dilates so extensively, we shall make no apology for inviting our readers to follow us as we track the footsteps of the singular person who, born in the very lowest rank of life, embraced the habit of Saint Francis, and, borne along by no tide of fortune, save such as spring, from ability, energy, and opportunity combined, was freely elected to be the head of Catholic Christendom, and into little more than five years crowded the activity of a life-time.
He was born on the 18th of December, 1521, the very year that Luther was summoned to appear before the Diet of Worms, and swore to go there, though as many devils should set at him as there were tiles on the house-tops. But his birthplace was far removed from the manifestoes of monarchs and the protests of reformers. The sea alone surged round the humble dwelling where he first saw the light; and oftener than not its smooth surface was scarcely crisped by the wind. Grottamare stands on the Italian shore of the Adriatic, in the very centre of a long strip of coast, in the March of Ancona, whose genial climate and luxuriant soil have long made it one smiling garden. When the advancing arms of the Ottoman scared the timid or the less pliant Christians of Dalmatia and Illyria from their homes, they alighted, like wearied sea-birds, on the opposite shore, and their Sclavonian descent may be traced to this day in many a high- cheeked face and swarthy skin. Among them was one to whom tradition, accurately or not, has given the name of Zanetto Peretti; but between the exile and his descendant, Peretto Peretti, even local report is silent, and of the latter we should certainly never have heard anything if he had not been the father of a Pope. His native place was Montalto—not to be confounded with Montalto on the other coast-line of Italy, between Orbetello and Civita Vecchia—but extreme poverty, terminating in debt, drove him down to Grottamare, a spot between Fermo and Ascoli, then as now covered with groves of orange and lemon, and famed for the softness of its climate. There he contrived, according to an opinion cherished by both Ranke and Baron Hübner, to hire a small plot of ground; but it is more probable that he cultivated it for Ludovico Vecchia, of Fermo. It is certain that his wife, the future mother of Sixtus the Fifth, assisted in keeping Vecchia's house in order; and as when a hero cannot be proved to be of illustrious parentage, the other extreme is relied upon as a source of interest, and every straw clutched at to deepen the obscurity of his origin, several writers have spoken of his aunt as a washerwoman. The sole ground for this statement is the story that, when a child, he was nearly drowned in a pond where his aunt was washing, and that she luckily pulled him out in time. But a more intimate acquaintance with Italian life in such places as Grottamare lets us know that washing is any woman's business at times, and no woman's business in particular. The boy himself, when old enough, was set to tend sheep, to watch fruit, even to keep an eye on the swine; and we seem to catch a glimpse of these early days on one occasion when the Pope, vexed at the dilatoriness of Philip the Second in despatching his armada against England, exclaimed, "He is like the watchdog that does not eat the cauliflowers, but will not allow anybody else to do so."
It was at Grottamare that Felice Peretti was born, the name of Felix having been pitched upon by his father in consequence of a dream that had visited him whilst his worthy spouse was yet with child. The purport of the dream was to no less effect of than that the offspring of the humble pair would live to be Pope; and how deeply more the idea had sunk into the family mind is proved not only by the auspicious title affixed to him, but by another fact as well attested as local traditions ever can be. In many parts of Italy to this day beggary by children is no shame, and is conducted in a semi-playful, semi-conversational manner highly diverting. We can remember being saluted by a bevy of rosy well-to-do children near Assisi in the following strain, which they chanted merrily as they ran along, and which in all likelihood had come down to them from the time of Saint Francis:
Che la Madonna
E tutti i santi
Ti dia bene,” &c.
In some such verses little Felix and his faithful sister Camilla doubtless sued for baiocchi from the passing stranger; but the sister never forgot to add that her brother, who was one day to be Pope, would pay back the timely alms tenfold. How much the baiocchi were really needed may be guessed from the fact that Peretto was often unable to scrape together the five of them which was the monthly pay of the Grottamare schoolmaster; and when saving and begging together failed to bring the modest tax, Felice used to steal out and snatch a lesson from the books which the boys now and then left lying by the roadside, as they played and romped on their way to school or on their return from it.
But long before the day that Democracy was invented there was a broad road open to merit, provided only that it was of a tough and sterling sort. Of the Roman Church it might have been then said, with far more truth than Mr. Disraeli has said it of the English constitution, that within its dominion power was a privilege within reach of all who struggled to attain it. No poor or obscurely-born person can hope in this country to scale the noble heights of influence unless he spends half his life at the bottom occupied in the endeavour to become rich. Felice Peretti never became much richer than he was at starting, if wealth is to be counted by a well-filled purse. An avenue was open to him guarded by no golden Cerberus, and at an early age he stood within it. It has been said that every French soldier carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack. Every priest then carried the tiara under his cassock; and it required neither birth nor affluence for a man to aspire to the tonsure. Even already the Peretti family was linked to that respectable institution, the Church, by one of its members, Fra Salvatore, a Franciscan monk; and thanks to his intervention the aspiring lad was taken into the Franciscan monastery at Montalto, and indoctrinated in all the learning which such a community could convey. So rapid was his progress and so delighted were his in- structors at his quick apprehension that, when he was yet but twelve years of age, they clothed him with the rigid habit of their Order and administered to him the solemn vows of their saintly founder. The Council of Trent had not yet forbidden such precocious renunciation of the world. Was it the remembrance of how early he had become a monk that made Sixtus the Fifth scandalize the Sacred College by raising to the cardinalate his own grand-nephew when only a boy of fourteen?
From the moment that the doors of the cloister closed upon him to the day when we find him in the pulpit, we hear never a word of Fra Felice. Monasteries do not babble of their inmates to the world, but the world soon began to babble of the eloquent young Franciscan when his shrewd superiors sent him forth, as yet only a youth of nineteen, to electrify the various towns where their convents were planted, by his fiery and fervent tongue. The aggressive nature of his character was displayed very early in his sermons; the ambassadors of France and Spain, who happened to be present at one of his Lenten discourses, remonstrating to Pope Julius the Twelfth concerning his bold spiritual denunciations of Charles the Fifth and Henry the Second. All the authority of the Cardinal-Protector of the order had to be exerted to shield him from the consequences of his rashness; but he does not seem thereby to have lost the confidence of his superiors.
Several years, however, had to elapse before he found a theatre worthy of his theological and oratorical merits; but when the occasion came, long study and ample practice had made him prompt to turn it to fruitful account. His fame had preceded him to the Eternal City; and when at length, in the Lent of 1552, or when he was in his thirty-second year, he entered the pulpit of the well-known church attached to the Franciscan monastery in the Piazza Santi Apostoli in Rome, he found before him a crowded and motley audience, consisting of ladies of rank and fashion, cardinals of taste and erudition, court theologians, and the poor and pious who invariably bring up the rear in a Roman church. There were three men however present whose attention was worth that of all the rest; for they were all to aid in revolutionizing the Roman Catholic world, and all three were to be enrolled, after death, amongst beatified saints. Ignatius Loyola, Philip Neri, and Ghislieri, afterwards Pius the Fifth, followed by some of the more earnest cardinals, rushed into the convent as soon as the sermon was over, penetrated to the cell of the preacher, and hailed in him a valuable accession to their rapidly increasing ranks.
It was the moment at which the Roman church, after passing through two exclusively worldly periods, during one of which the Popes had devoted themselves with concentrated zeal to the pursuit of politics, and during the other to the cultivation of literature and the arts, was just beginning to be aroused to a sense of the mission it at least always professes, and, alarmed by mutiny on one side of the Alps and by pagan indifference on the other, strove to imbue with fresh warmth the smouldering fires of piety and religious enthusiasm. The effort was a tremendous one and it cannot be said that it failed; for indeed earnest movements never wholly fail. Italy was saved to Rome; so was France; so was Spain. Germany was divided. England alone was wholly lost. Two of the most active Pontiffs in promoting this spiritual revival were Paul the Fourth, more widely known as Cardinal Caraffa, and Paul the Fifth; and it is not to be wondered at if the moral ardour and sincerity of purpose of Fra Felice recommended him warmly to their patronage. Even under the Pontificate of the former he was honoured, if not with what may properly be regarded as promotion, with offices of rare trust. He was employed as regent of all the convents of his order at the comparatively early age of thirty-six, in the important cities of Venice, Naples, and Vienna. At Venice he found a task at once difficult and delicate. The Venetian Republic, always governed by unadulterated worldly wisdom, was opposed to the religious crusade of which we have spoken, and covertly supported the monks of the famous Convent of the Frari in their opposition to his reforming superintendence. Nevertheless he carried his point, and on his return to Rome was made an inquisitor, and nominated one of the advisers of the Holy See. His success, however, had deeply offended the Venetians, and at their instigation he was not sent again to their city. But the intrigues thus directed against him turned only to his profit, since they kept him in Rome, and therefore immediately under the eye of the powerful Pius the Fourth, who made him General Procurator and Apostolic Vicar of the Franciscans, and even appointed him Theologian to the Council of Trent. He was not destined, however, to have any share in its proceedings.
But the real tide in his fortunes was occasioned by the death of Pius the Fourth and the accession of Cardinal Ghislieri under the title of Pius the Fifth. It must ever remain a credit to Sixtus the Fifth that his most ardent patron was the last Pope whom the Roman Church has felt itself able to honour with canonization; all the more since Fra Felice, though an earnest preacher and practiser of Christian duties, never affected remarkable piety. One of the first acts of the new Pontiff was to give him the bishopric of Saint Agatha, and then, in exchange, that of Fermo, in the vicinity of his birthplace. Thither, for a time, he repaired, revisiting Grottamare and Montalto, the lanes where he had tended swine, the gardens where he had watched the fruit, the road-side where he had furtively snatched his first boyish lessons, the churches where he had studied his primer at night by the light of the sanctuary, the monastery which had taken him in, dedicated him to religion, and placed him on the road which had led him to the commanding position he now occupied. Both Grottamare and Montalto testify to this day, in many a sacred edifice and useful institution, the grateful fidelity of the bishop, and yet more of the Pope.
But Pius the Fifth had far from exhausted his benevolent intentions towards him. In the fourth year of that Pontiff's reign there was a creation of cardinals, and a hat was bestowed on Fra Felice. Henceforth he was known as Cardinal Montalto. In consideration of his poverty, what is called "the poor Cardinal's dish," or a hundred scudi a month, was added to his dignity, and the expenses of his in stallation were defrayed out of the Pope's own purse.
He took a modest, and, according to the testimony of the Venetian envoy, mean-looking house in the Via Papale; but soon proved the accuracy of the saying that people's houses are generally as large as their hearts. Thither came his dear and faithful sister, Donna Camilla Mignucci, now a widow, and her two children, Francesco and Maria; thither likewise came Damasceni, Maria's husband and their family of four, each of whom was not to die before making a stir in the world. For the present, however, their fortunes were unpretending enough; and the little grand-nephew Alexander, who was one day to be Cardinal Alexander Montalto and the Pope's right-hand man, went about, according to Priuli, in threadbare garments. This was, however, when Pius the Fifth was no more, and had been succeeded by Gregory the Thirteenth, who, for petty personal reasons not worth recording here, treated him with unswerving harshness and even begrudged him his modest income.
During Gregory's reign Cardinal Montalto led a retired but withal active life, though the marriage of his nephew Francesco with the lovely and accomplished Vittoria Accoramboni, with its tragical consequences, caused his name and that of his household to be for a time in all men's mouths. The beauty of Vittoria had gained for her a host of lovers, foremost among whom was Paolo Giordano Orsini, a man of fifty years of age, displeasing countenance, and evil reputation, but of lofty rank and considerable wealth as Duke of Bracciano, and madly enamoured of her charms. To be rid of his importunities, which though flattering were dangerous, Vittoria's mother married her to Francesco Mignucci, and she at once joined her husband in his uncle's house. Who does not know the rest of the romantic story?—of Francesco's murder by his brother-in-law, at the supposed instigation of Orsini—of her flight with the Duke—of her return to the Cardinal's house—of her renewed elopement—and, despite the ban of Mother Church, of her union with him, and her final assassination by his relations? Cardinal Montalto threw himself at the feet of Gregory and implored that justice might be wrought upon the assassins of his nephew; but even at this tragical crisis his dislike to Paretti prevailed, and, practically, the murder went unavenged.
Montalto, therefore, remained buried in his books, revising the works of the Fathers of the Church, superintending the erection of a sepulchral monument to Nicholas the Fourth, who, like himself, had been a disciple of St. Francis, and ornamenting the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, to whose present splendour he was to contribute later in so conspicuous a manner. Imitating in a small way the custom of richer members of the Sacred College, he bought a small vineyard on the Esquiline in a fictitious name, fearing lest the spiteful Pope, who had already de prived him of his pension, should balk him of one of his most cherished designs, and assisted therein by presents from the Grand Duke of Tuscany and by the gratuitous services of a young mason who had come from the Italian lakes to push his fortune in the Eternal City, he commenced to build himself a villa among the ruins of the walls of Servius Tullius. Those who have seen the Villa Massimo of to-day have seen the Villa Paretti of Cardinal Montalto; and none who have visited Rome but must be acquainted with the name and works of Domenico Fontana, then the humble mason, but afterwards the prized and trusted architect of that ambitious ædile, Sixtus the Fifth.
There was not a man in Rome who dreamed for an instant that the slighted and retired cardinal of the Via Papale would succeed to the Pontiff who held him in so little esteem; and the popular notion, disseminated by that amusing but untrustworthy biographer, Gregorio Leti, that the choice of the Sacred College fell upon him solely because he seemed so broken in health and body that they thought his pontificate would last just long enough for them to settle their jealousies, which then ran so high, is one not easy to uproot. The difficulty is all the greater, because no true explanation can be given of his elevation to the Papacy which does not enter minutely into the petty intrigues and bickerings of Conclave, for an account of which in this place our readers would scarcely thank us. Any one who wishes to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the constitution and proceedings of papal conclaves can refer to the excellent work on that subject by Mr. Cartwright; and those who seek for a singular and sug gestive instance of what conclaves can do may turn to Baron Hübner's recent work. Suffice it to say that, great as are the real merits of Cardinal Montalto, it was not they which ensured his elevation. It was only after one political combination had been defeated by another, that, as a way out of the difficulty, his election by "adoration," was suggested by Cardinals D'Este and Medici, and, to the infinite disgust of Cardinal Farnese, was at once adopted.
The story has often been told, and is to this day extensively believed, that at the time of his elevation to the pontifical chair Cardinal Montalto was in appearance a decripit old man, already with one foot in the grave, and moving about only by the help of a pair of crutches. The moment that his election was secure he threw aside these spurious supports, and proved to the astonished College, by the activity of his body no less than of his mind, that he had been playing nothing but a specious part. The anecdote, though in a literal sense wholly untrue, is an admirable myth, containing just that element of truth that all good myths possess. A man of burning energy, condemned by circumstances to an obscure and inactive life, will seem to the ordinary spectator lethargic, perhaps indolent, and even worn out. But the sacred spark can be extinguished only by death; and give such a one the opportunity of showing the stuff he is made of, he will rise in their eyes as a personage suddenly transformed, a dead man called back to life, a Faust invigorated by the return of his youth.
It was the very promptness and rapidity of the recluse of the Villa Peretti, now come to be the conspicuous master of the Palace of the Vatican, that gives point to the characteristic and suggestive story. Under the negligent and pusillanimous rule of Gregory the Thirteenth, the audacious spirits that swarmed within the Eternal City and in its neighbourhood had virtually ruled society, if not the state, and by the frequency and unscrupulousness of their nefarious deeds had struck terror into the breast of quiet citizens. Day and night Rome was the arena of broils between the rival members of its patrician families, and of contentions and often blood-stained brawls between their ruffianly retainers. Everybody carried arms who chose, and they were used with, and oftentimes without the smallest provocation. The new Pope, even before his coronation, astonished these unruly nobles by issuing a proclamation prohibiting the wearing of arms within the walls of the city. He had already amazed everybody by his extraordinary and pointed reply to the custodians of the capital, to whose congratulations he made answer that they should have "justice and no famine," the second of which had prevailed to a shocking extent under his predecessor, whilst the first had been regularly denied. In the Consistory his remarks bore chiefly upon the same two points. He said that he had resolved to give his utmost care to the administration of justice and to the securing of abundance for his people, adding that he felt sure God would send him legions of angels to punish reprobates and malefactors, should his own strength not suffice; and he concluded by an exhortation to the cardinals, which the habits of the time made only too necessary, not to use their privileges for the shelter of criminals.
It was not long before an opportunity arose for Sixtus to prove that he indulged neither in idle promises nor idle threats. On the third day after his election, and two after the issuing of his proclamation against the carrying of arms, five young men entered the city on their return from the mountain village of Cora, arquebuse in hand. They were at once arrested and condemned to death. On the following morning, despite a host of entreaties and of protestations from the Sacred College that such a spectacle as that of an execution between the election and coronation of a Pope was unheard of, they were hanged by the bridge of Sant' Angelo and their bodies exposed to the public gaze. "Whilst I live," said the Pope, "every criminal must die." Paolo Giordano Orsini ventured into the Pope's presence, and received from him such a reception that he at once took horse and never rested till he found himself within the shelter of the Venetian Republic. The only act which marred the impartial tenor of the Pontiff's conduct was the bestowal of the rank of cardinal on his grand-nephew Alexander, still not fifteen years of age. The only excuse that can be offered for this act of nepotism is that the boy shortly became his uncle's right hand, and, long after his death, an honour to the Roman Church.
The aspect of Rome itself was swiftly transformed, and within a month of the accession of Sixtus the city had become the safest and most orderly in Christendom. But the whole of the Pontifical States were infested by banditti, whose numbers are variously computed by contemporaneous writers as low as twelve and as high as twenty thousand. Hitherto no serious effort had been made to extirpate them. The nobles in their rural castles protected them, from sympathy and a common interest; the communes harboured them from fear. Now and then the head of a solitary bandit, who had provoked some one's spite or greed, was brought into Rome, and a handsome price was paid for it out of the public treasury. Sixtus raised the price still hi ~her, but decreed that it should be paid by the outlaws' relatives, or, if they were too indigent to collect the amount amongst them, that then the fine should devolve on the commune in which the bandit was born. He offered full pardon to any brigand who should deliver up a comrade, alive or dead, a handsome reward in money, and a release from minor penalties to any of his relations whom he might name. At the same time notification was addressed to all the barons and municipalities, commanding them to banish all doubtful characters from within the limits of their jurisdiction. The Pope declared that he could not sleep till these marauders were exterminated. A priest of the Campagna, by name Guercino, who had made himself the terror of Viterbo and its neighbourhood, was betrayed for a sum of two thousand scudi, and his head was set up on the Castle of Sant' Angelo. With the characteristic audacity of his profession, another of these miscreants presents himself immediately afterwards for mere bravado at the Porta Salara, knocked up the watch, told him to present a greeting to the Pope, and then rode off merrily. His name, Della Pam, was known, and Sixtus gave the family a month to apprehend him. If they failed to find him, they should act as his substitutes at the gallows. Before the month expired the impudent bandit paid dearly for his joke. He was brought in with his head severed from his body, and the whole city commended the Pontiff's well-directed severity. It is even related that when the Duke of Urbino, anxious to curry favour with Sixtus, loaded a string of mules with poisoned provisions, in order that they might fall into the hands of a body of thirty robbers who had entrenched themselves in a hill near his capital, and who were thus got rid of at one blow, the Pope ne prese gran contento, or, in plain English, was right glad to hear of it. Some young members of the noble families of Orsini, Sforza, and Incoronati, thought to ridicule the severity of the new reign by placing cats' heads on pikes on the bridge of Sant' Angelo. Every one of them was arrested, and fear was entertained for their lives. Having administered to them a good fright, however, the Pope let them go again. The Romans approved, for the most part, the wholesome severity of their vigorous ruler, but they could not resist passing a good jest on the retrospective form it sometimes assumed. Count Attilio Baschi, of Bologna, was executed for a parricide committed forty years previously, as was an accomplice of Ludovico Orsini in the half-forgotten murder of Vicenzo Vitelli. One morning the statue of St. Paul, on the Angelo Bridge, was asking that of St. Peter opposite why he carried a sack on his back. "I am off," was the reply, "for fear of being punished for cutting off the ear of Malchus."
But the execution of Count Pepoli, a most exalted and beloved nobleman, served more than any other event to indicate the unswerving purpose and utter fearlessness of Sixtus. A bandit, chased by the papal troops, took refuge in one of Count Pepoli's castles, whence the papal legate demanded his extradition. Pepoli replied that his castle was a fief of the Empire. The papal sbirri at once attacked the stronghold, but failed in their attempt to capture it. The legate arrested Pepoli and sent him to Rome. The Count, though now in the Pope's power, still refused to yield to the demand of the Pope, whom he stigmatized in an intercepted letter as "this monkish tyrant." He was strangled, and his immense property confiscated. At the same time Sixtus spared impious priests as little as refractory princes. He ordered that a friar who had made an image of the Madonna, to work some of those miracles which have been at all times so common, to be whipped from one end of the Corso to the other. Even a Franciscan monk was publicly hanged, and a priest who had systematically disseminated false and scandalous news had his tongue and hands cut off. When people quarrelled in the streets the spectators cried out, "Remember Sixtus the Fifth reigns"; and as the Moslem mothers used to terrify their babes with the name of Richard, Roman mothers silenced their children with the whisper, "Hush Sixtus is coming!"
But it was in vain, as modern experience has shown, for the head of one Italian state to be bent upon the extirpation of systematic brigandage so long as he failed to obtain the honest and cordial cooperation of his neighbours. Philip of Spain ordered everything to be done in Naples that could second the wishes of the Pope; but the Grand Duke Francis of Tuscany, friendly as he had always shown himself to Sixtus, was, for a time, more than remiss, and was brought to a sense of his duty only after having had addressed to him the most serious remonstrances. The Venetian Republic was even more difficult to stir. It prided itself upon that same sort of universal and rather questionable hospitality which England in our times extends to refugee conspirators; and it was only after the most earnest entreaties and the employment of a good deal of tact, a quality very foreign to his nature, that the Pontiff succeeded in persuading the Doze to refuse a footing on Venetian territory to notorious malefactors. But when two years had elapsed since his accession, well and truly might Sixtus the Fifth boast to Cardinal de Joyeuse, who has preserved for us the Pope's very words, "That on his elevation to the throne he had found the Pope's authority much diminished in Rome itself as well as in the rest of Italy, but that he had raised it; that the Italian princes had then little good feeling existing among themselves, nor much respect for the Vicar of Christ; that the principal families in Rome were in feud with each other, all being agreed, however, in not caring what the Pope might do or think of them; that the whole of the Pontifical States were overrun by proscribed malefactors, but that he had in a very short time compelled the most important to submit, and had now dispersed or exterminated the brigands." Nor did he forget those who had aided and abetted him in his cherished schemes. When he was told that Philip had ordered his representatives in Naples and Milan to obey Sixtus as they would obey him, their own sovereign, the Pope wept tears of joy. He told the Grand Duke, in return for his activity against the brigands, that he loved him, better than any prince alive; and when at length the Doge bad prohibited Venetian ships that touched at Roman ports to receive fugitive banditti on board, the delighted Pontiff exclaimed that he would willingly be flayed alive for the Republic.
"Severity and plenty of money," he was never tired of repeating, "are what become a monarch. A king without money is nobody." His system of finance has been condemned by the economical science of our day; but if the familiar old adage be true which assures us that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, Sixtus the Fifth must needs be regarded as a chancellor of the exchequer of the highest order. It would require a long and dry disquisition to explain his chief financial expedients; but the ruler who, finding not a scudo in the public till, and the revenue anticipated for several months to come, was soon envied for his wealth by every crowned head in Europe, and became even the creditor of the King of Spain and the Indies, must not be condemned off-hand because he inflicted considerable taxation on his people, if at the same time he extended their industry, improved their agriculture, and developed their manufactures. For all that was done he was himself responsible. As was said by Cardinal Gritti, "With him no man has a voice, even in counsel: how much less then in decision."
But even his desire to appear before the world as a monarch free from the ignoble bonds of pecuniary embarrassment, and thus to be able to make his voice heard in the general councils of Europe, was probably not so profound or so intense as his passion, nourished in silence through long years, to change the outward aspect of Rome, to emulate the example of Augustus, and to be the new architect of its material fortunes. There can be little doubt that during the long leisure of Villa Peretti, which, when he was yet only the slighted and powerless Cardinal Montalto, was passed in company with the young stonemason from Como, he developed his plans for the reconstruction of Rome. No sooner had he mounted the pontifical throne than he nominated Fontana his chief architect, and at once betook himself to the execution of his cherished projects. One of his first tasks was to provide the quarter of Rome with whose needs in that respect he was by long residence best acquainted, with an ever- failing supply of sparkling water. The gigantic ruins of the old Roman aqueducts still cover the Campagna; but just as the Forum had become a mere field for cattle, and the Capitol once more the abode of browsing goats, so had a goodly portion of papal Rome come to be worse supplied with the first necessary of life than a ruined village or a deserted seaport. His plan was to bring the water all the way from Palestrina, a distance of some twenty miles from the city; and its ambitious character alarmed the cardinals, and even petrified sober men of science. But Sixtus persisted in his design, often times being worked up to perfect fits of fury by the opposition he encountered. Accompanied by only three members of the Sacred College he made his way to Zagarolo, demanded the hospitality of Marzio Colonna, and the next morning offered him twenty-five thousand scudi for the copious fountains that irrigated his estate. As he him self tells us, he suffered himself to be alarmed by no difficulty and to be deterred by no cost. He avowed that it was his wish to produce a work which for magnitude, splendour, and ability, should rival the glories of Imperial Rome. Carrying it partly on soaring arches, partly through the bowels of the earth, he brought the Acqua Marcia from the Agro Colonna right away to the Quirinal, spreading its blessings all over the neighbourhood and likewise along its route. When he first saw the sparkling water running over his own beloved vineyard he was moved to language of joy and pride, and himself penned the inscription, to be read to this day, which tells us that his intention was that the hills, in early Christian times adorned with basilicas, renowned for the salubrity of their atmosphere, for the pleasantness of their situation, and for beauty of the prospect they afford, might once more become habitable by man. The Fontana del Tritone, in the Piazza Barberini, the Fontana del Monte Cavallo, the Fontana de' Termini, by the rnins of the Baths of Diocletian and the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and twenty-four other minor fountains, owe their unfailing supply to this admirable work. He might well be excused if he got himself personified in a marble statue of Moses striking the rock with his miraculous wand, and christened the water, both in reference to its qualities and his own name, the Acqua Felice.
But the bringing of water to a long-deserted portion of the city was but preparatory, as was soon seen, to covering it once more with houses. The first thing to do was to connect the most distant points with straight and well-made roads. The visitor to Rome who now drives, straight as an arrow, from where the sunny Pincian terminates at the Trinitá del Monti to the splendid Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, traverses the highway constructed by Sixtus the Fifth. From Santa Maria Maggiore he caused another road to be constructed to the Palazzo di San Marco, another to the Porta di San Lorenzo, and a third from San Lorenzo to the Baths of Diocletian and joined the Coliseum and the Lateran by a noble highway. He put the Porta Salara in communication with the Strada Pia. He likewise materially improved the avenues that linked the Basilica of Saint Mary Major with that of the Lateran. How far-seeing he was in his policy as an ædile may be gathered from this one simple but suggestive fact, that the site where, as a cardinal, he had pitched his own villa, and to which he brought the sweet water of Palestrina, is the very locality which is being most extensively built upon since the occupation of Rome by the King of Italy, and which is destined to be the favourite and most fashionable quarter of the Eternal City.
It seems incredible, considering the times in which he lived, that so much should have been accomplished in the brief space of five years. It was he who virtually built the Palace of the Lateran; it was he who added the south side to the famous basilica of that name; and the loggia from which, on Ascension Day and on the festival of Saints Peter and Paul, the Popes bless the Roman people, is still the loggia of Sixtus the Fifth. It was he who erected the portico hard by the Lateran, much improved by Pius the Ninth, under which stands the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, of twenty-eight marble steps, which an of course very doubtful tradition declares to be those which Christ descended in Pilate's house when he passed from the Judgment Hall. He had already commenced building a chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, when yet but a cardinal; this he finished on a scale of rare splendour, and caused the manger or sacred crib of Bethlehem to be transported to the spot. He made the Porta Pia visible from the Quirinal, and erected in front of the palace the famous horses of antiquity which give the name to Monte Cavallo. It would be tedious to enumerate all the churches and convents he raised or repaired; but his fame will for all time be associated with the completion of the cupola of St. Peter's, which everybody began to think was to remain unfinished, and the cost of carrying which to a successful termination was estimated at a million golden scudi. Ten years, it was said, would be required for the execution of the task. Sixtus kept six hundred men working at it for two-and-twenty months, day and night, and only the leaden covering was wanted when death came upon him. His raising of the Needle of Nero in the centre of the Piazza of Saint Peter's, surmounted by the cross, to which he dedicated it with splendid ceremony, has been a thousand times described, and was regarded at the time as an event of European importance. He had been laughed at as an impracticable enthusiast for even meditating such a feat. When he succeeded he caused medals to be struck in commemoration of the event, which he himself, in the language doubtless of self-congratulatory hyperbole, speaks of as the most difficult enterprise to be conceived by man, officially informed all the great powers of his triumph, and received the homage of poets and poetasters. At the same time he scattered to the air the supposed ashes of Trajan, and surmounted the unequalled column erected to the honour of that emperor by a colossal statue of Saint Paul. That of Antonine was similarly dedicated to Saint Peter; and when the two great propagators of the Gospel confronted each other across the houses of Rome he boasted that he had definitely secured the triumph of Christianity. He never flagged in pulling down and building up. When his cardinals suggested that he should seek the repose of a suburban villa, he answered that his chief pleasure was to see many roofs. He raised the great tower of Belvidere at the Vatican, and carried far forward that portion of the palace, afterwards completed by Clement the Eighth, which has since remained the principal residence of the Popes. Well might an eloquent observer exclaim: "I revisit Rome after an absence of ten years, and do not recognize it, so new does all appear to me. Monuments, streets, piazzas, fountains, obelisks, and other wonders—all the work of Sixtus the Fifth. Were I a poet I should say that to the imperious sound of the trumpet of that magnanimous Pope the wakened limbs of that half-buried and gigantic body which spreads over the Latin Campagna have replied; and thanks to the power of that fervent and exuberant spirit, a new Rome has risen from its ashes."
"Fervent and exuberant": that is exactly what Sixtus the Fifth was all during his long life, but most conspicuously so during his brief pontificate. If he was vigorous, he was often indiscriminating. He had little or no regard for the glorious relics of antiquity which had so deeply moved some of his immediate predecessors. He entirely demolished the famous Septizonium of Severus, using it as a mere quarry for the completion of St. Peter's. The tomb of Cecilia Metella had a narrow escape from similar destruction at his hands. In reply to the remonstrances of the Roman nobles, backed by several members of the Sacred College, he had promised that he would only demolish old buildings which were ugly; and the saving clause was supposed to ensure immunity to that renowned ruin. All at once it was noised abroad that the hands of the Pope were upon it; and it was with the greatest difficulty he could be persuaded to forbear. He was constantly threatening to have the Laocoon and the Apollo Belvidere removed from the Vatican, and actually cleared the Capitol of pagan states, under a menace that otherwise the Capitol itself should disappear. In building a portion of the Vatican he demolished a portion of Bramante's best work, and completely spoiled the effect of the remainder. In fact he had all the energy, with much of the recklessness, of a genius that may justly be pronounced savage.
That his reign would have been longer but for his fiery soul and impetuous temper cannot be doubted. We have purposely abstained from any description of his dealings with the great powers of Christendom; but he was always contending against one or more of them, and his relations with Philip of Spain, though his staunchest friend, partook of the character of constant diplomatic warfare. In fact he had the disposition of a despot, and opposition ever roused him to wrath. Thus he fretted himself to death. In the spring of 1590 his health and strength manifested unmistakable symptoms of decline. Yet he would not listen to his physicians, but preferred to doctor himself. On Ascension Day he was seized with an attack of fever during the services of High Mass in St. Peter's. With the advancing heats the visitations of fever became more frequent, and they came on when he was presiding over congregations or giving audiences to the ambassadors. Yet on the 13th of August he not only held a consistory, but spoke with marvellous vigour. There was a great scarcity of food, and banditti had reappeared on his territories. He had pledged himself to extirpate famine and brigandage—the two great reproaches of his predecessor's reign—and their resuscitation cut him to the quick and probably hastened his end. On the 21st of August he addressed the Congregation of France, abused Philip, whom he compared to Nebuchadnezzar, and expressed a belief that Henry of France would be converted. Then he became incoherent, and that night the doctors despaired of his living till morning. Yet he rose with the day, dined off a melon and some wine, and transacted business with the governor of Rome. During the next few days he seemed to rally, but by Sunday the 26th the precariousness of his condition might be gathered from the submissiveness with which he listened to his physicians. The following morning he heard mass, and trying to kneel during the Elevation, was held up by an attendant, but swooned. All day he suffered horribly, but contended with amazing tenacity with death. Towards sundown a tremendous thunderstorm burst over Rome, and whilst it was at its height the citizens heard with stupefaction and sorrow that the great Pontiff was no more.