Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXX, 1

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XXIX, 17 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXX, 2

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXX, chapter 1
The Rome Embassy - Continued

Rome, this 17th of February 1829.

Before passing on to matters of importance I will note a few facts.

On the death of the Sovereign Pontiff the Government of the States of Rome rests in the hands of three leading Cardinals of the Order, the deacon, priest and bishop, and of the Cardinal camerlingo. The custom is for the Ambassadors to go and pay their respects, in a speech, to the congregation of Cardinals gathered for the opening of the Conclave in St Peter’s.

The body of his Holiness, first shown in the Sistine Chapel, was taken last Friday, the 13th of February to the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in St Peter’s; it remains there until Sunday the 15th. Then it will be placed in the monument which the remains of Pius VII occupy, while the latter have been taken down into the crypt.

‘Rome, this 17th of February 1829.
I have seen Leo XII exposed, his face uncovered, on a humble bier in the midst of Michelangelo’s masterpieces; I was present at the first funeral ceremony in St Peter’s. The elderly Cardinals superintending, no longer able to see, assured themselves that the Pope’s coffin was properly nailed shut by feeling with their fingers. By the flames of torches, inter-fused with moonlight, the coffin was finally raised by a pulley and suspended in the shadows to be deposited in the sarcophagus of Pius VII.
They brought me the poor Pope’s little cat: it is grey all over and very gentle like its former master.’

‘Rome, this 17th of February 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
I had the honour of informing you in my first letter, sent to Lyons with the telegraph despatch, and in my despatch number 15, of the difficulties I encountered getting my couriers away on the 10th. These people here are still stuck in the age of Guelphs and Ghibellines, as if the death of a Pope being known an hour earlier or later might cause an Imperial Army to invade Italy.
The obsequies of the Holy Father will be completed on Sunday the 22nd, and the Conclave will open on Monday evening the 23rd, after assisting at the Mass of the Holy Spirit in the morning: they are already furnishing the cells in the QuirinalPalace.
I will not speak about the views, Monsieur le Comte, of the Austrian Court, or the wishes of the governments of Naples, Madrid or Turin. Monsieur le Duc de Laval, in his correspondence with me in 1823, described the staff of Cardinals a part of which is still there today. You can look at number 5 and its attachment, and numbers 34, 55, 70 and 82. There are also some notes in the Ministry files, obtained elsewhere. Those pen-portraits, often enough fantasies, may amuse, but achieve nothing. Three things no longer influence the election of Popes: feminine intrigue, ambassadorial plotting, and Court power. They no longer vote in the general interest of society, but in the private interests of individuals and families who seek position and wealth from the election of a head of the Church.
There are immense tasks now awaiting the Holy See: the re-integration of dissident sects, the strengthening of European society, etc. A Pope who entered into the spirit of the century, and placed himself at the head of enlightened generations could rejuvenate the Papacy; but these ideas will not penetrate the aged heads of the Sacred College; Cardinals arriving at the end of their own lives pass on to one of themselves an elective royalty which will swiftly die with them; seated among the twin ruins of Rome, the Popes have an air of being moved by nothing but the power of death.
The Cardinals elected Cardinal Della Genga (Leo XII), following the veto on Cardinal Severoli, because they thought he was about to die. Della Genga being wise enough to live, they cordially hated him for misleading them. Leo XII chose capable administrators for the convents; another subject of complaint among the Cardinals. But, on the other hand, the deceased Pope, by advancing the monks, chose to regularise the monasteries in such a way that he won no thanks for his generosity. The wandering eremites they turned away, the working men whom they forced to take their drink standing in the street in order to avoid knife fights in the taverns; unfortunate changes in the perception of taxation, the abuse committed by some familiars of the Holy Father, even this Pope’s death arriving at a moment which has robbed the theatres and tradesmen of Rome of the benefit derived from the extravagance during the Carnival, have made the memory of a Prince worthy of the most lively regret anathema: at Civita-Vecchia they wanted to burn a house belonging to two men they thought had been honoured by his favour.
Among the many candidates, four are particularly noteworthy: Cardinal Capellari, Head of Propaganda, Cardinal Pacca, Cardinal De Gregorio and Cardinal Guistinani.
Cardinal Capellari is a capable and erudite man. He will be rejected by the Cardinals, it is said, as too young, as a monk and as a stranger to world affairs. He is Austrian and is considered fervent and set in his religious opinions. However, it is he who, consulted by Leo XII, saw nothing in the King’s decrees which justified our bishops’ complaints; it is he again who drew up the Concordat of the Court of Rome with Holland and who was of the opinion that canonical institution should be granted to the bishops of the Spanish Republic: all that suggests a rational mind, conciliatory and moderate. I had these details from Cardinal Bernetti, with whom I had one of the conversations, on Friday the 13th, which I told you of in my despatch of the 15th.
It is important to the diplomatic corps, and especially the French Ambassador, that the Secretary of State in Rome should be a man easy to deal with, and used to European affairs. Cardinal Bernetti is the Minister who suits us in all respects; he commits himself with the zelanti and the Congregationalists on our behalf; we would wish him to be retained by the future Pope. I have asked him with which of the four Cardinals would he have the best chance of being returned to power. He replied: “With Capellari.”
Cardinals Pacca and De Gregorio are described in an accurate manner in attachment number 5 of the correspondence previously cited; but Cardinal Pacca is greatly weakened by age, and his memory, like that of the Cardinal-Dean La Somaglia, fails him almost completely.
Cardinal De Gregorio would be a suitable Pope. Though ranged with the zelanti, he is not without a degree of moderation; he opposes the Jesuits who have here, as they have in France, adversaries and enemies. Neapolitan subject that he is, Cardinal De Gregorio is rejected by Naples, and even more so by Cardinal Albani, executor of Austria’s most important actions in the Conclave. The Cardinal is the legate in Bologna; he is over eighty and ill: there is therefore a possibility that he will not come to Rome.
Finally, Cardinal Giustiniani is the Cardinal of the nobility of Rome; he is a nephew of Cardinal Odescalchi, and he will probably receive a fair number of votes. But on the other hand he is poor and his relatives are poor; Rome fears the aspirations of that indigence.
You are aware, Monsieur le Comte, of all the trouble Guistiniani has made in Spain, and I know, more than most, the problems he caused me after King Ferdinand was liberated. He has been equally immoderate in the Bishopric of Imola, which the Cardinal currently governs; he has revived the decrees of Saint Louis against blasphemers: he is not a Pope for our age. In other respects, he is quite a learned man, a Hebraist, Hellenist, and mathematician, but more suited to office work than public affairs. I do not think Austria will support him.
Given all that, human predictions are often proved wrong; often a man changes on achieving power; the zelante Cardinal Della Genga became the conciliatory Pope Leo XII. Perhaps a Pope will appear, from outside these four competitors, whom no one is currently considering. Cardinal Castiglioni, Cardinal Benvenuti, Cardinal Galeffi, Cardinal Arezzo, Cardinal Gamberini, and even the venerable old Dean of the Sacred College, La Somaglia, despite being in his second childhood or rather because of it, are in the running. The latter even has some chance, since as Bishop and Prince of Ostia, his exaltation would lead to five senior positions becoming free.’
‘One assumes the Conclave will either be very lengthy or quite short: there will not be conflict over the method as there was at the time of Pius VII’s death; the Conclavists and Anti-Conclavists have completely disappeared: which should make the election straightforward. But, on the other hand, there will be individual struggles between the contenders who gather a substantial number of votes, and since they only need a third of the votes, plus one, to exclude a candidate, which should not be confounded with the right of exclusion, the balloting between the candidates could be prolonged.
Should France exercise the right of exclusion which she shares with Austria and Spain? Austria exercised it against Severoli in the previous Conclave, through its intermediary Cardinal Albani. Against whom might the French Crown wish to exercise the right? Should it be against Cardinal Fesch, if by any chance they were to consider him, or against Cardinal Giustiniani? Would the latter be worth the trouble of exercising the veto, which is always somewhat odious in that it hinders the freedom of election?
To which Cardinal would the King’s government entrust the exercising of its right of exclusion? Would it wish the French Ambassador to seem charged with his government’s secret wishes, and ready to block the Conclave’s choice if it displeases Charles X? Indeed, does the government have any preference? Is there some Cardinal to whom it wishes to lend its support? Certainly, if all the ‘family’ Cardinals, that is to say the Spanish, Neapolitan and even Piedmontese Cardinals, were to unite their votes to those of the French Cardinals, if one formed a party of the Crown, we would carry the Conclave; but these unions are fantasies and among the Cardinals we have various Courts represented who are enemies rather then friends.
We are assured that the Primate of Hungary and the Archbishop of Milan will come to the Conclave. The Austrian Ambassador in Rome, Count Lutzow, shows good intentions as regards the conciliatory character that the future Pope should possess. Let us await instructions from Vienna.
Further, I am persuaded that all the ambassadors on earth can do nothing now regarding the election of the Sovereign Pontiff and that we are all perfectly superfluous in Rome. Moreover I do not see any pressing reason to accelerate or retard (something which is anyway not in anyone’s power) the workings of the Conclave. Let the foreign Cardinals be present or not in Italy for this Conclave, as it may suit the dignity of their Courts; it will have little influence on the result of the election. If one had millions to spend, it might be possible to engineer a Pope: I see that as the only means, and France is not in the habit of doing so.
In my confidential instructions to Monsieur le Duc de Laval (13th of September 1823) I said: “We request that they place on the Pontiff’s throne a prelate distinguished for piety and virtue. We desire only that he be enlightened enough and of sufficiently conciliatory a spirit to be able to judge the political status of governments and not involve them, through idle demands, in inextricable difficulties, as regrettable for the Church as for the throne….We would prefer a moderate member of the Italian zelante party, capable of being acceptable to all parties. All we ask of them in our own interest is not to seek to profit from divisions which may occur among our clergy in order to disturb our ecclesiastical affairs.”
In a confidential letter, written concerning the illness of the new Pope Della Genga, on the 28th of January 1824, I said again to Monsieur le Duc de Laval: “What it is important for us to achieve (supposing a fresh Conclave), is that the Pope, by inclination, should be independent of the other powers; that his policies should be wise and moderate, and that his should be a friend of France.”
Today, Monsieur le Comte, should I not follow as Ambassador the spirit of the instructions that I gave as Minister?
This despatch says everything. I have nothing more to do but instruct the King succinctly on the workings of the Conclave and any incidents which may occur; it only remains to summarise the votes and the disposition of voting.
The Cardinals favourable to the Jesuits are: Giustiniani, Odescalchi, Pedicini and Bertazzoli.
The Cardinals opposed to the Jesuits for various reasons and circumstances are: Zurla, De Gregorio, Bernetti, Cappellari, and Micara.
I would imagine that, of the fifty-eight Cardinals, forty-eight or forty-nine only will be present at the Conclave. In that case, thirty-three or thirty-four votes would be sufficient to elect a Pope.
The Spanish Ambassador, Monsieur de Labrador, a reclusive and secretive man, whom I suspect is light-minded beneath a grave exterior, is very embarrassed by his role. The instructions from his Court did not anticipate the occurrence; he has written in that vein to His Catholic Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires at Lucca.
I have the honour, etc.
P.S. Cardinal Benvenuti already has assurance, they say, of twelve votes. That choice, if it were confirmed, would be excellent. Benvenuti knows Europe, and has shown ability and moderation in various posts.