He had not a strong enough intellect to defy the king and all his threats, or to bear the shame of being exhibited to the whole world as an ambitious and unscrupulous man.
I am amused when people tell me that Ganganelli poisoned himself by taking so many antidotes. It is true that having reason, and good reason, to dread poison, he made use of antidotes which, with his ignorance of science, might have injured his health; but I am morally certain that he died of poison which was given by other hands than his own.
My reasons for this opinion are as follows:
In the year of which I am speaking, the third of the Pontificate of Clement XIV., a woman of Viterbo was put in prison on the charge of making predictions. She obscurely prophesied the suppression of the Jesuits, without giving any indication of the time; but she said very clearly that the company would be destroyed by a pope who would only reign five years three months and three days--that is, as long as Sixtus V., not a day more and not a day less.
Everybody treated the prediction with contempt, as the product of a brain-sick woman. She was shut up and quite forgotten.
I ask my readers to give a dispassionate judgment, and to say whether they have any doubt as to the poisoning of Ganganelli when they hear that his death verified the prophecy.
In a case like this, moral certainty assumes the force of scientific certainty. The spirit which inspired the Pythia of Viterbo took its measures to inform the world that if the Jesuits were forced to submit to being suppressed, they were not so weak as to forego a fearful vengeance. The Jesuit who cut short Ganganelli's days might certainly have poisoned him before the bull was signed, but the fact was that they could not bring themselves to believe it till it took place. It is clear that if the Pope had not suppressed the Jesuits, they would not have poisoned him, and here again the prophecy could not be taxed with falsity. We may note that Clement XIV., like Sixtus V., was a Franciscan, and both were of low birth. It is also noteworthy that after the Pope's death the prophetess was liberated, and, though her prophecy had been fulfilled to the letter, all the authorities persisted in saying that His Holiness had died from his excessive use of antidotes.
It seems to me that any impartial judge will scout the idea of Ganganelli having killed himself to verify the woman of Viterbo's prediction. If you say it was a mere coincidence, of course I cannot absolutely deny your position, for it may have been chance; but my thoughts on the subject will remain unchanged.
This poisoning was the last sign the Jesuits gave of their power. It was a crime, because it was committed after the event, whereas, if it had been done before the suppression of the order, it would have been a stroke of policy, and might have been justified on politic grounds. The true politician looks into the future, and takes swift and certain measures to obtain the end he has in view.
The second time that the Prince of Santa Croce saw me at the Duchess of Fiano's, he asked me 'ex abrupta' why I did not visit Cardinal Bernis.
"I think of paying my suit to him to-morrow," said I.
"Do so, for I have never heard his eminence speak of anyone with as much consideration as he speaks of yourself."
"He has been very kind to me, and I shall always be grateful to him."
The cardinal received me the next day with every sign of delight at seeing me. He praised the reserve with which I had spoken of him to the prince, and said he need not remind me of the necessity for discretion as to our old Venetian adventures.
"Your eminence," I said, "is a little stouter, otherwise you look as fresh as ever and not at all changed."
"You make a mistake. I am very different from what I was then. I am fifty-five now, and then I was thirty-six. Moreover, I am reduced to a vegetable diet."
"Is that to keep down the lusts of the flesh?"
"I wish people would think so; but no one does, I am afraid."
He was glad to hear that I bore a letter to the Venetian ambassador, which I had not yet presented.