by JOHN JULIUS NORWICH
Rumnn Century, 1870-1970 by Glorney Bolton (Flemish . Hamilton £3.15)
IN all Rome's long history, from Romulus and Remus to Paul VI and Saragat, how many individual centuries would sustain a 300-page political history of the city for the general English reader?
The two flanking the birth of Christ. obviously--tor tangible proof see any bookshop. The second century A.D.? Possibl y.
The sixteenth could hardly fail, with the Borgias and the Medicis, with giants like Julius II or Sixtus V. and the Reformation and later Renaissance into the bargain. For the rest. I have my doubts.
Pope has succeeded Pope, ranging from the saintly to the unspeakable; a few—a very few, considering that to the majority of Christians theirs was the most exalted position on carth—gained immortality; but most now lie in their overdecorated tombs, ignored and forgotten. To the lover ot history who is also unashamedly in search of a good read the chronicles of papal Rome, it must be admitted, come as something of a disappointment.
Until 1870. In that year, two days after Pius IX had proclaimed the dogma of Infallibility, Napoleon 111 declared war on Prussia and withdrew the French troops which represented the Papal State's only defence against the forces of a newly united Italy. On September 20 the Italians breached the walls near the Porta Pia. The Pope, shorn of his temporal power, became "the Prisoner of the Vatican"; and Rome became a divided city for fifty-nine years until friendly relations were restored by—of all people—Mussolini.
The threatening thirties, during which Hitler was refused an audience by Pius XI and told that the Sistine Chapel was "closed for repairs"; the second world war, which led to the collapse of Fascism, the fall of the House of Savoy (the oldest reigning House in Europe) and the foundation of the Republic; Pope John and the Second Vatican Council and all they have brought in their train—here is the substance of Mr. Bolton's book.
It is a fascinating story, and he tells it with an infectious gusto, enlivening it further— not that it needs enlivening— with an endless stream of anecdotes. Mr. Bolton has no fear of digressions, and whenever he is reminded of something that amuses him, in it goes there and then; the main flow of the story stops, and is taken up again a page or so later as if nothing had happened.
At the outset this tendency may seeen a little alarming; I
found myself side-tracked so often that I occasionally felt in danger of losing my bearings for good. But after the first couple of chapters either the author or the reader grows more confident, and the weakness—if weakness it is—becomes lovable. Moreover, with the fondness for anecdote goes a brilliant eye for the telling detail. When Pius IX lay in state in St. Peter's, for example, we read that "the feet protruded through the rails, and incessant kissing made the soles of their red shoes shiny."
Largely as a result of this combination, Mr. Bolton infuses his characters with life and personality. They include all the Popes from the ultrareactionary Gregory XVI — covered in snuff and calling King Bomba's new railway a chemin d'enfer — to Paul VI. Pius IX and Leo XIII are especially well done and so, on the other side of the fence, is Victor Emmanuel II, shy, ugly and uncouth, "trying to avoid all ceremonies where he could
not be seen in full military uniform and on horseback. If he was made to attend a banquet, he never opened his napkin nor ate a morsel of food. Glowering at his guests, he waited till his ordeal—and theirs—was over."
But the Bolton net is cast far wider than this, trapping almost all the more prominent English and American litterareterv who wrote of their visits to Rome during the century, whether or not they have any particular light to shed on the unfolding drama — Hilaire Belloc, for example, with several pages to himself. Henry James and his brother William, George Gissing, Oscar Wilde describing Leo XII' on Easter Day 1900 ("I have seen nothing like the extraordinary grace of his gesture as he rose, from moment to moment, to bless — possible the pilgrims, but certainly me"), John Addington Symonds, .Baron Corvo.
And why not? The book is not just an account of the struggle between King and Pope — the last round of the old Guelf-Ghibellinc contest that had been going on intermittently, in one form or another, for close on a thousand years; it is also the portrait of a city.
I should like to meet Mr. Bolton. Though never slapdash, his style has an intriguing conversational quality about it. Again and again one feels in the company not so much of a scholar but of in amateur in the best sense of the word—a man of high culture and wide reading, possessed of a nice dry humour and a most enviable memory, and knowing Rome like the back of his hand. I am grateful to him for the little titbits of gratuitous, off-beat information with which he seasons his pages, like the fact that neither •Cavour nor Manzoni ever saw Rome in their lives, or that Joseph Severn, fifty years after closing John Keats's eyes in death, served in the city as Italian consul.
And there are one or two of his theses that I should love to discuss with him further, as when he writes that "the idea of the Corporative State — later to he expounded by Mussolini himself in the justly famous Enciclopedia ltaliana—was net altogether uncongenial to the Latin mind. If this type of State was avowedly authoritarian and hierarchic, so also was the Church." And here is a final thinking-point on which to close: The R isorgimento was itself traditional. Mazzini was a lay Savonarola; Garibaldi a soldier of fortune, a condoltiere; and Cavour a Machiavelli in thought and action. Yet each had a quality seldom found in the men who stood closest to D'Annunzio and Mussolini. Queen Victoria discerned the same quality in the ungainly and almost tongue-tied Victor Emmanuel II who, as King of Sardinia, visited her at Windsor. This quality was chivalry.
On Original Sin
The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Original Sin edited by Clyde A. Holbrook (Yale University Press $17.50).
This is essentially a book for specialists. Jonathan Edwards was an 18th century divine who lived in New England, dying at Princeton in 1758.
Hie work on original in is a forthright restatement of the full Calvinist teaching on the "Depravity of Nature" manifested in the general prevalence of wickedness and man's "extreme degree of folly and stupidity in matters of religion."
The editorial work has needless to say been very well done and the book will be found both interesting and useful to the historian of theology.