Blown away by a tramontana

June 26 2013

The inhabitants of the Papal States had become conscious of their nationality. In an overwhelming majority they willed to be united politically with the other Italians beyond the Papal frontiers; spiritually they were already absorbed in the Italian nation, and not merely their will, but the will of this larger society was in question. Political unity was the supreme desire of the nation as a whole, and the Pope was thwarting the aspirations of the whole nation, and not only those of his own subjects, when he forcibly hindered the latter from entering the national state.

The Papal answer to this was “si argumentum requiris, circumspice.” “Look at the monuments of the Eternal City, the temples of Imperial Rome, the churches of Papal Rome, and think of the tradition embodied in these imperishable works of men’s hands. Twice Rome has stretched her sceptre over the world, and endowed it with an international state and an international religion. She has possessed herself of mankind’s allegiance, and thereby become herself their common possession. She is eternal and infinite; she belongs to no single tribe or generation. How then can these transitory dwellers on her hills, this insignificant section of mankind that inhabits the narrow peninsula on which she is planted, how can they claim to dispose of her as their own? If the claims of Italian nationality and the claims of Rome are mutually exclusive, who can doubt which ought to prevail?”

The Italian Risorgimento did indeed conclude a very long and wonderful chapter in Rome’s history. When the Italian troops [without Garibaldi] marched through the Porta Pia in 1870, Gregorovius, the chronicler of the medieval Papacy, broke off his diary. A scholar of alien birth, he entered more than any living man into the past of Rome as opposed to her present, and for him the Rome in which he had sojourned for a life-time was dead. Yet no one would seriously claim that to save Gregorovius’ historical sentiment millions of Italians ought to have been baulked of their political aspirations, although he obviously voiced the past with far greater single-mindedness than the Papal Government.

The past, after all, is dead. It cannot speak for itself, and if it is to assert itself against the present, it needs a spokesman in the present to be its advocate. But how are we to be sure that this champion is not really grinding his own axe? Gregorovius was as nearly disinterested as a partisan can be, but what of the protagonist, the Papacy? The Papal apologists who mobilized Rome’s past glory on their behalf stood primarily for a tenaciously living vested interest, the Temporal Power, a current political system which gave office, influence, and honour to a ring of clerical monopolists. In a secondary degree they stood for a nobler, but no less finite and contemporary corporation, the Roman Catholic Church.

Between the Italian nation and the Papal bureaucracy there could be no co-ordination. They were two mutually incompatible political forces, and if the case of each were pleaded on its own merits, there could be no question which ought to go to the wall. The Papacy deliberately appealed to history in order to disguise a sinister political interest under a mask of idealism, and so enable it to encounter the genuinely idealistic movement of the Risorgimento on its own ground. As for Napoleon III. and the Hapsburg Government, which both supported, when it suited them, the Ultramontane plea, they were simply playing the common, sordid game of international politics, and scheming to hinder the birth of a consolidated national power on their flanks, which would inevitably circumscribe the sphere of either’s influence.

Gregorovius was an East Prussian Protestant and, as far as I can tell, a liberal-minded humanist, a worshipper neither of the Papacy nor of German empire, and friendly to the Risorgimento. Nevertheless (November 13 1870): “Rome will forfeit the cosmopolitan, republican [sic] atmosphere, which I have breathed here for eighteen years. She will sink into becoming the capital of the Italians, who are too weak for the great position in which our victories have placed them. It is fortunate for me that I have almost finished my work; it would no longer be possible for me to steep myself in it. Only three months more of toil and I shall have reached my goal. The Middle Ages have, as it were, been blown away by a tramontana, with all the historic spirit of the past; yes, Rome has completely lost its charm.”

Gregorovius’s rather touristic end of history, end of charm sentiments are, I suppose, a symptom of modern times.

My godfather often read Gregorovius. He liked grand, leisurely books and Gregorovius had known his wife’s grandfather, Lord Acton.

Gregorovius’s Tagebücher were published posthumously in Germany in 1892 in one volume. In England, they appeared as The Roman Journals of Ferdinand Gregorovius, George Bell and Sons, 1907; Friedrich Althaus, editor; Mrs Gustavus Hamilton, translator from the second German edition. They run from 1852 to ’74, the period of his residence in Italy. Toynbee is wrong: they do not stop in 1870. They make perfect bedtime reading.

The Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter was published in Germany between 1859 and ’72. In England, it appeared as The History of Rome in the Middle Ages, George Bell and Sons, eight volumes, 1894-1902; Annie Hamilton, translator from the fourth German edition. (Volumes 4-8 are in two parts each, so there are thirteen volumes on the shelf.) It starts in the fifth century and finishes in the sixteenth.

The English and German Wikipedia articles list more of his works.

Porta Pia

Contemporary photograph of the Porta Pia and the breach in the Aurelian Walls made by the Piedmontese artillery on September 20 1870: the insignificant-looking gap which ended an era which had begun fourteen centuries earlier; St Peter’s, perhaps by art, is in the distance. There are signs of shelling on the gate. Did the Italians enter only through the gap or through the gate, as Toynbee says?

Gregorovius, Ferdinand

Ferdinand Gregorovius, photograph by Fratelli D’Alessandri, Rome; Bibliothèque nationale de France

The New Europe, Some Essays in Reconstruction, Dent, 1915

2 Responses to “Blown away by a tramontana”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Rome, it has been said, still had something of its old atmosphere in 1945; it was still surrounded by an ancient rusticity, as Jerusalem still was in 1967.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    If the age of Papal temporal power was not 476-1870, then it was 756-1870, 756 being the date of the “donation of Pepin”.

    The French were involved at the end as well as the beginning: their troops were in Rome to protect the Pope from 1849 until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

    Before 1870, the capital of “united” Italy had been Turin from 1861 to ’65, then Florence from 1865 to ’70.


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