Front Page Titles (by Subject) CARDINAL ANTONELLI. ( From The Economist, 11 th November, 1876.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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CARDINAL ANTONELLI. ( From “ The Economist, ” 11 th November, 1876.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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We have never been able to feel, or even entirely to understand, the sort of loathing admiration for Cardinal Antonelli usually expressed by both the Liberal and Protestant worlds. Among Englishmen in particular, he has been accepted as the embodiment of the priestly wiliness, which of all bad qualities they hate most; but while he was never a priest, having for some unknown reason abstained from taking full orders, there is no proof that he possessed any supernatural degree of wiliness. The secret memoirs of the period will one day tell us much more about him; but, subject always to their future revelations, Cardinal Antonelli does not strike us as a very remarkable man, but only a rather belated specimen of a class of statesmen once very common in Europe, and especially common in the annals of the Roman Church—men who thought that the best way to protect States, and great organisations of all kinds, was to alter as little as possible, to divide their dangerous enemies, and to exert as much influence as possible over important and hostile individuals. He believed, in fact, in intrigue, at a time when more than intrigue was needed for the safety of his charge—the Temporal Power—and even in intrigue he did not succeed very well. He neither destroyed, nor defeated, nor paralysed any great enemy of the Papacy; on the contrary, he alienated a great many possible allies. It was of the highest importance to the Temporal Power to show that the Papacy could—allowance being made for its ideas—govern the States of the Church very well, and Cardinal Antonelli governed them very badly—so badly as to excite in the States themselves great discontent, and in Europe a deep contempt for clerical maladministration. It was of the greatest importance to the Papacy to recognise that new powers had arisen in the world stronger than Kings, Courts, or armies, and to the last Cardinal Antonelli thought that to win the favour of Kings, Courts, and armies was to succeed, and did not win it. He might easily have made an alliance with the Russian Government, and he only exasperated it; he might repeatedly have arrived at a modus vivendi with Cavour, and he only resisted him; he made the support which Napoleon III. was forced to accord to the Vatican a galling annoyance to him, and he irritated the new Power—Germany—into measures indistinguishable from persecution. It may be said, of course, that much of his failure was due to his master, the Pope, a man of a very peculiar, though intelligible character, but Cardinal Antonelli had the Pope’s full confidence, and if possessed of the qualities with which he was credited, he ought to have been able to manage an old gentleman whom he quite understood, and who was not so able as himself. No one can produce a despatch from Cardinal Antonelli of a first-rate kind, one which altered events or modified the policy of rulers, or produced any impression except of a certain adroitness and polish in its writer. The Cardinal had no doubt great tenacity, but it was only because he desired always the same object, and thought always it could be obtained in the same way, and therefore held obstinately to his line, which very often was not a wise one. It is very difficult to doubt, for instance, that an abler man could have saved the estates of the Church in Spain, or have enabled Francis of Naples to keep his kingdom, when Cavour wished not to take it, or have made some quiet agreement with a politician so little moved by religious rancour as Prince Bismarck. As far as we can see, Cardinal Antonelli, with all his polish and his charm of manner and his supposed worldly wisdom, never acquired any influence of any sort over any dangerous person, not even over sovereigns who, like King Victor Emmanuel, sincerely believed in the spiritual danger of a conflict with the Papacy, or, like the Queen of Spain, was heartily and honestly devoted to the Church. As we read him he was a man of fine manners, much knowledge of persons, great patience, and some ability in intrigue, who never quite understood the times in which he lived, or the comparative strength of forces in motion, or the real views of the statesmen whom he had to manage. He was obliged always to wait upon events, and therefore never controlled them. It is certain, to give concrete instances of his want of foresight, that he thought the Austrians would defeat the French in 1860, that he believed the French would defeat the Germans in 1870, and that he did not expect the final entry of the Italians into Rome. He was as habitually wrong in his political forecasts as Maria Theresa’s adviser, Kaunitz, whom in many other respects he so greatly resembled. His failures to win may not have been his fault, for the forces against him were overwhelming, but his failure to foresee, with the immense machinery of Rome to help him in foreseeing, unquestionably throws doubt on his claim to be a statesman of any high order.
Cardinal Antonelli is regarded in England as having been an exceptionally bad man, but there is very little evidence that he was one. As Secretary of State in an absolute Monarchy, he was callous to the personal suffering of Revolutionists, Voltairians, and other enemies; but he was no more callous than Prince Gortschakoff, or M. Rouher, and was not in any degree blood-thirsty. He probably rather disliked killing people when imprisoning them would do, and certainly acted as if he did. A worldly wise man, of elegantly luxurious tastes, he was first minister of a Church which has become ascetic, and was naturally supposed to be a hypocrite; but there is no proof of that either. He probably thought about his Church much as Lord Eldon thought about his, and never questioned or examined its spiritual claims at all. There it was, and his business was to defend it; and he did defend it, as well as he knew how, hating its open enemies, for instance, with a most sincere heart. He did not take part in theological discussions. He avoided taking full orders. He never pretended to be devout or ascetic, or spiritually-minded, or anything else except devoted to the Holy See, and he was devoted. That he did not live up to the precepts of his Church is likely enough, though Roman gossip is very malignant; but neither did Philip the Second, or many another most sincere believer. It is said he stole a fortune, and he clearly possessed one which he could not have inherited; but it is most probable that he only managed cleverly the great perquisites which, by immemorial custom, flowed into his hands, and was only to blame for want of disinterestedness, and not for peculation. If he would have taken bribes millions would, from time to time, have been poured into his lap. The nepotism of which he was accused was of no immoderate kind, and there is no more reason why a Cardinal should not promote his relations than why an English Bishop should not give livings to his sons-in-law. It is much better not to do it, but it is not a crime. The personality of the Cardinal for good and evil has, in fact, been exaggerated by English opinion, and it is very doubtful if his decease will leave any important blank in the Council which, whenever the Pope is not personally moved by religious, or, at all events, pietistic emotion, controls the Roman Church. It certainly will not suffer greatly, for Cardinal Antonelli, whatever his good qualities, wanted that even balance among them which is probably, in this world, the cause of good luck. He never succeeded in anything, not even in managing the master who promoted and trusted him, and the affairs of the Holy See will probably go on with less friction because Cardinal Antonelli is away. Nothing can be worse for a Church in difficulties than to be represented in external affairs by a man whom his enemies believe to be a marvel of wiliness and guile, except perhaps to be represented by a man who is so esteemed without any good reason other than his smooth immovability. Nothing fetters the Catholic Church in England and other Protestant countries like the belief in the underhandedness of its managers, and in Cardinal Antonelli’s case the whole world thought of the Pope’s Foreign Secretary as English bourgeoisie think of every Jesuit.