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LETTERS FROM RONE.NO. II. You wish for some details upon the early history of the present Pope Annibal della Genga. I believe that very few, if any, of the foreigners now in Rome have it in their power to satisfy your curiosity upon that subject. A month back I could myself have only sent you some vague generalities or uninteresting facts, uncharacteristic of the man or the country; but during a visit to Naples I was fortunate enough to fall in with an old habitué of the papal court, from whom I learned some curious particulars of the life of his present Holiness. He is, like the Count d'Artois in France, a reformed man of pleasure, and, like most other converts, possesses, or affects to possess, a greater rigidity of manners than if he had never strayed from the golden path of propriety. His present elevated station he owes in a great measure to the beauty of his person and the elegance of his manners. The immediate predecessor of the last Pope, Pius VI. was a very handsome man, as far as a man can be called handsome, whose features, though regular, were wanting in dignified expression. However this may be, he took pleasure, like Murat, in forming his court of the best-looking men amongst the aspirants for ecclesiastical dignities. About 1783 he was desirous of making some historical researches, with a view to the framing of a new arrangement for the government of the Catholic churches in Germany; and for this purpose he was anxiously seeking for a private secretary upon whose discretion he might rely. Having remarked one day at the Capelle Papale (the Pope's mass) a young man of the most noble and prepossessing appearance, the Marquis della Genga, who had just entered into orders, he had him sent for secretly that night. On his coming into the presence, the Pope at once gave him to understand, that in case be had no reason to be dissatisfied with his zeal and discretion, he should charge himself with advancing his fortune. He then told him that he was to repair five times a week at nine o'clock at night to the private door of his Holiness's apartment, and that if he perceived a small piece of paper thrown, apparently by chance, near the door, he should knock, and that he himself, the Pope, would open it to him, when he would have to write under his dictation upon the ecclesiastical affairs of Germany until one or two o'clock in the morning. The task finished, the Abbé della Genga was to quit the Pope's apartments with the same precaution and mystery. These secret proceedings continued for a year without being discovered. At the end of that period, Cardinal Colnacci, uncle to the Cardinal Gonzalvi, and one of the most ambitious men at the court of Rome, got an intimation that the Pope was secretly employed upon some grave matter or other. The ascertaining the nature of this became most interesting and important in a despotic court, where every one has something to hope or to fear. Skilful and insinuating secret-developers were set to work upon the Camerieri of the Pope, but without the desired success, as these persons knew nothing of the nocturnal occupations of his Holiness. The most adroit measures were resorted to to discover if any one about the court was in the secret, but in vain ; the mystery still rem ned unrevealed.
Arguses were placed near all the avenues to the Pope's chamber, but nothing was seen that could clear up the darkness. At length, after several months spent in useless efforts, Cardinal Colnacci engaged his
nephew, Monsignore Gonzalvi, to stand sentinel near the door of a private staircase which led to the Pope's apartments. On the second night of his being in ambuscade near the door, Monsignore Gonzalvi saw a man ascend the staircase, whose features he could not distinguish for the obscurity of the passage. He saw this unknown individual knock at a door, which to his great astonishment was opened by the Pope in person, and the nocturnal visitor was admitted. Monsignore Gonzalvi remained a considerable time awaiting the return of this mysterious person, but not seeing him re-appear, he concluded that he remained all night in the papal apartments, and quitted them at an early hour in the morning by the ordinary issues. Upon this supposition the most clear-sighted spies were posted at all the usual entrances to the Pope's apartments, but they could see no one come out but those who were known to inhabit the palace, as belonging to the papal household, or else those persons whom they had before seen to enter. The third night after the above-mentioned discovery, Monsignore Gonzalvi returned to his hiding-place in the private staircase, and about nine o'clock he again saw a man cautiously approaching the door of the Pope's apartment, when he hesitated not to seize him by the arm, upon which the unknown personage uttered a cry of surprise, and Monsignore Gonzalvi instantly recognized the Abbé della Genga, to whom he said, “We are here upon the same errand; do not, I beseech you, my dear Della Genga, betray me.” Della Genga, though confounded by the rencontre, yet said nothing that could compromise himself; and as the Cardinal Colnacci, uncle to Gonzalvi, was an enemy not to be despised, he resolved to say nothing to the Pope of the circumstance. Eight or ten days afterwards Gonzalvi met Della Genga as if by accident, and said to him, “I hope you have kept my secret; my labours with his Holiness are drawing to a close, and yours will not last much longer,” &c. It would be too long, and besides too difficult, to follow all the turns and doublings of this Italian dialogue, in which all the resources of the keenest finesse were employed by these two Roman courtiers ; suffice it to say that Gonzalvi proved too much for the young abbé, who let it escape, that the Pope's researches upon the German bishopricks were nearly terminated, and that when finished he should take up the subject of the noble chapters. A month or so afterwards, Cardinal Colnacci, to whom Pius VI. was speaking familiarly of his health, said to the Pope, "Your Holiness's indisposition must, in a great measure, be attributed to the too severe application you give to your researches upon the German churches.”—“How upon the German churches ?" replied the Pope; and then ensued a similar tortuous conversation to that between Gonzalvi and Della Genga, full of apparent laisser aller, but real finesse ; at the conclusion of which the Pope entreated the Cardinal to inform him how he had come to the knowledge of the fact. The Cardinal, who affected great reluctance, allowed himself to be entreated for a long time, and at length told his Holiness, that the young Abbé della Genga had á mistress from whom he had no secret, and that he told her that the subject of the noble chapters would be taken up as soon as his Holiness had concluded that of the German bishopricks. The Pope appeared to receive this disclosure with the utmost indifference, and only replied by a single expression, solite legerezze! That same evening, a person stationed in the private staircase, saw the poor Abbé della Genga seeking anxiously, but in vain, for something on the ground near the door of the Pope's apartment,—the little piece of paper. He at length knocked softly several times at the door of the Pope's chamber; but it not being opened to him, he went away at the end of an hour. The persons who were interested in preventing the Pope from adopting a new favourite, soon became convinced, by the state of deep melancholy in which the Abbé della Genga seemed plunged, that he had lost the Pope's confidence. Whether it were profound policy or real grief, the Abbé della Genga appeared the victim of sorrow and disappointment; he even no longer appeared at the chase, which had been hitherto almost his ruling passion. This change was sufficiently accounted for by the alteration in his prospects. He had neither wealth nor influence, and yet, during an entire year, there was no station at the Papal court to which he might not reasonably have looked forward from the Pope's predilection for him. From the height of these brilliant hopes he fell all of a sudden into the ranks of the ordinary prelacy, with no other destination than that of being the handsomest man amongst the Monsignori. Though it is from this class that the Pope selects those destined to fill the highest offices, yet it may, and often has happened, that an individual may pass the whole of his life as a mere monsignore without appointments or consideration. There were not probably four persons at the court of Rome, able to penetrate the cause of the young Abbé della Genga's sudden melancholy; as he had confided the secret favour le enjoyed to no one ; the only persons acquainted with it were the Pope, Cardinal Colnacci and Gonzalvi. For some months before this fatal surprise the Abbé della Genga had been a constant visitor at the house of Madame Pfiffer, who is still alive and residing at Rome. The husband of this lady, General Pfiffer, had at that time the command of the Swiss guards of the Pope. It seems, if the scandal of the "Eternal City" be worthy of credit, that the Abbé della Genga turned to some advantage his misfortune by persuading the pretty Madame Poffer that his profound melancholy was the result of ill-requited love. After a lapse of four or five months, the reports of the agents of Cardinal Colnacci, who had never ceased to watch, and “prate of the whereabout” of the Abbé della Genga, convinced the Cardinal beyond a doubt, that there no longer existed any relation between his Holiness and the Abbé ; besides, the Pope was no longer seen to retire to his private cabinet at those hours in the evening, which he was formerly accustomed to devote to his researches upon the German churches. It was in vain that the Abbé della Genga sought to draw upon himself the eyes of Pius VI. in the public audiences or promenades of that Pontiff. Alas! for him there was no speculation in those holy eyes.
Whatever the result of his assiduous attentions towards Madame Pfiffer had been, the abbé's habitual melancholy still remained in full force : when one evening about nine o'clock, twelve or thirteen months after his disgrace, a man suddenly accosted him as he passed by the Fountain of Treví, which is not far distant from the Quirinal Palace, at that time the residence of Pius VI. This person asked him abruptly if he were willing to follow him; the Abbé replied, "Proceed." The man immediately took the direction of the Quirinal Palace, entered the grand portal, glided swiftly and silently along the immense portico, and in a few minutes the Abbé, to his inexpressible joy, found himself at the feet of the Pope: without
uttering a single word, he threw himself upon his knees (which in this country is the etiquette), and burst into tears. “My child, tell me the truth.” Such were the few and simple words pronounced by his Holiness, for in this country they are enemies to circumlocution and bavarduge in the intimate relations of life. The Abbé della Genga then narrated circumstantially how he had been discovered by Gonzalvi, and detailed at length the wily finesse resorted to afterwards to surprise his discretion. His Holiness listened for a considerable time without once interrupting him, and when he had finished, said, “I see that you have not wilfully betrayed the confidence I reposed in you; you are too much agitated this evening to resume your task, but return to. morrow night, and be discreet." The poor Abbé was near becoming mad with joy; for on quitting the Quirinal Palace, he hastened to the house of Madame Pfiffer, where he burst into a violent passion of tears, and continued weeping for a considerable time. The only words Madame Pfiffer could get from him, were a most vehement entreaty not to speak of the situation in which she saw him to any one. The next day he resumed his occupations in the Pope's private cabinet; and for fifteen days his return to favour remained unsuspected by any one, he giving no outward sign of the auspicious change, but still continuing to wear the same melancholy and disappointed air, and even refraining from the chase, his favourite amusement. One day, however, at a public audience, the Pope had it officially intimated to him that he should remain to partake of the papal dinner. This simple message sounded like a thunder-clap in the ears of the Abbé's enemies. In a few hours the news of his high favour became the talk of all Rome. As the good fortune of the Abbé went on rapidly increasing, his enemies were obliged to resort to the most energetic measures to check, if possible, his career. They endeavoured to alarm the Pope into a diminution of his favour for the Abbé della Genga, by having intimated to his Holiness, from various quarters, the great scandal occasioned by the Abbé's attachment to Madame Pfiffer. Pius VI. turned a contemptuous ear to these tales; and about a year or eighteen months afterwards (so slow things proceed in this holy court) his Holiness one day at dinner, where was present the Abbé della Genga amongst other prelates, seeing some fine partridges brought upon the table, said to his master of the palace, “ I shall not eat of these birds to-day; they appear to me, however, to be excellent: take them, with “my respects, to Madame Pfiffer." These words confounded and rendered hopeless the enemies of the Abbé. It is even said that Gonzalvi became suddenly sick, and was obliged to retire from the table. The favour of Della Genga was now unbounded; besides his usual time of transacting business with the Pope, he had several hours every week of private conference with his Holiness. One day this prince said to him, " I feel myself becoming old and infirm, and, if I should be suddenly taken away, you would find yourself in a very unfortunate situation; for your interest, therefore, we had better now separate. You must enter into the career of legation, which, sooner or later, will bring you a cardinal's hat.” It was in vain that the Abbé della Genga, who, after an acquaintance of four or five years, was still passionately attached to Madame Pfiffer, besought bis Holiness to permit him to remain at Rome. The Pope only said to him, “ You talk like a child ;
you are too poor, and have too many enemies to think of remaining here.” Soon after this conversation the legation of Munich becoming vacant, the Abbé della Genga was nominated to it; and the first intimation he had of the circumstance was the biglietto (official notice) of his appointment. It is said the Pope was most deeply affected on taking leave of him. The sacrifice was not a slight one on the part of Monsignore della Genga ; for, since his high favour, he had become a man of the world; and from his fine person, amiable manners, and cultivated mind, was a general favourite, except with those whose ambition he crossed, amongst the higher classes in Rome. His parting from Madame Pfiffer was the cruelest blow of all. However its effects seemed to have been more permanent on the lady (whose grief formed the tittle-tattle of Rome for some time) than on the lover ; for in a few months the intelligence was received from Munich, that the amiable legate was a distinguished favourite of the Electress. His time while at Munich was divided between the pleasures of the chase, gallantry, and ecclesiastical affairs. If public rumour is to be believed, he left behind him in that city three children, who are still alive. However this may be, there is one thing certain, that the King of Bavaria, being at table when the intelligence reached him of Cardinal della Genga having been elevated to the papal throne as Leo XII. could not, from certain recollections flashing across his mind, refrain from making merry with his courtiers on the occasion. As the election of Pius VII. at Venice, in 1800, brought Cardinal Gonzalvi, as his secretary of state, into full power, Monsignore della Genga judged, and judged rightly, that his occupation as legate was gone; for shortly after he was recalled to Rome, where he found himself without consideration or employment. It was then that his passion for the chase knew no limits; and he became the intimate friend of all the most famous sportsmen in Rome and the neighbourhood. However, as he was still not without pretensions, and as many persons vaunted his skill in diplomatic affairs, Cardinal Gonzalvi resolved to give a death-blow to his reputation in that way, by charging him with a mission, success in which should be impossible. The occasion, as he thought, presented itself on the return, in 1814, of the Bourbons to France. Monsignore della Genga was sent to congratulate the King of France, and to endeavour to get him to renounce, in favour of the Court of Rome, certain advantages which the Gallican church had laid claim to since the time of Louis XIV., and the confirmation of which the Emperor had obtained by his famous concordat. Monsignore della Genga, thus charged with a supposed impossible mission, arrived in Paris in 1814, and was not a little astonished to find that the French Government was far from being averse to granting his demand. He immediately despatched a courier to Rome, acquainting Cardinal Gonzalvi with bis hopes. This error was regarded here as one of the greatest he could have been guilty of, and completely destroyed his reputation with the long heads of this country.
From that moment Monsignore della Genga was set down as an étourdi, altogether incapable of making his way as a diplomatist. In this court a fault of that kind is never pardoned, excused, or forgotten. He should have written vaguely, and talked of the difficulties that obstructed him, and not have despatched a courier, but with the arrangement formally signed. Such an unhoped for termination of so difficult an affair must have forced his enemy to bestow upon him the first vacant cardinal's hat. The moment Cardinal