By the outrageous discrepancy between the Papacy's professed and actual aims it was fast becoming an object of execration, and it is Alexander's misfortune that, coming when he did, he has remained as the type of his class.
The mighty of this world shall never want for detractors. The mean and insignificant, writhing under the consciousness of his short comings, ministers to his self love by vilifying the great that he may lessen the gap between himself and them. To achieve greatness is to achieve enemies. It is to excite envy ; and as envy no seed can raise up such a crop of hatred.
Does this need labouring ? Have we not abundant instances about us of the vulgar tittle tattle and scandalous unfounded gossip which, born Heaven alone knows on what back stairs or in what servants' hall, circulates currently to the detriment of the distinguished in every walk of life ? And the more conspicuously great the individual, the greater the incentive to slander him, for the interest of the slander is commensurate with the eminence of the personage assailed.
Such to a great extent is the case of Alexander VI. He was too powerful for the stomachs of many of his contemporaries, and he and his son Cesare had a way of achieving their ends. Since that could not be denied, it remained to inveigh loudly against the means adopted ; and with pious uplifting of hands and eyes, to cry, "Shame!" and "Horror!" and "The like has never been heard of ! " in wilful blindness to what had been happening at the Vatican for generations.
Later writers take up the tale of it. It is a fine subject about which to make phrases, and the passion for phrase making will at times outweigh the respect for truth. Thus Villari with his " the worst Pontiff that ever filled St. Peter's Chair," and again, elsewhere, echoing what many a writer has said before him from Guicciardini downwards,in utter and diametric opposition to the true facts of the case : " The announcement of his election was received throughout Italy with universal dismay." To this he adds the ubiquitous story of King Ferrante's bursting into tears at the news " though never before known to weep for the death of his own children."
Let us pause a moment to contemplate the grief of the Neapolitan King. What picture is evoked in our minds by that statement of his bursting into tears at Alexander's election ? We see do we not ? a pious, noble soul, horror stricken at the sight of the Papacy's corruption ; a truly sublime figure, whose tears will surely stand to his credit in heaven ; a great heart breaking ; a venerable head bowed down with lofty, righteous grief, weeping over the grave of Christian hopes. Such surely is the image we are meant to see by Guicciardini and his many hollow echoers.
Turn we now for corroboration of that noble picture to the history of this same Ferrante. A shock awaits us. We find, in this bastard of the great and brilliant Alfonso a cruel, greedy, covetous monster, so treacherous and so fiendishly brutal that we are compelled to extend him the charity of supposing him to be something less than sane. Let us consider but one of his characteristics. He loved to have his enemies under his own supervision, and he kept them so the living ones caged and guarded, the dead ones embalmed and habited as in life; and this collection of mummies was his pride and delight. More, and worse could we tell you of him. But ex fede, Herculem.
This man shed tears we are told. Not another word. It is left to our imagination to paint for us a picture of this weeping ; it is left to us to conclude that these precious tears were symbolical of the grief of Italy herself; that the catastrophe that provoked them must have been terrible indeed.
But now that we know what manner of man was this who wept, see how different is the inference that we may draw from his sorrow. Can we still imagine it as we are desired to do to have sprung from a lofty, Christian piety ? Let us track those tears to their very source, and we shall find it to be compounded of rage and fear.
Ferrante saw trouble ahead of him with Lodovico Sforza, concerning a matter which shall be considered in the next chapter, and not at all would it suit him at such a time that such a Pope as Alexander who, he had every reason to suppose, would be on the side of Lodovico should rule in Rome.
So he had set himself, by every means in his power, to oppose Roderigo's election. His rage at the news that all his efforts had been vain, his fear of a man of Roderigo's mettle, and his undoubted dread of the consequences to himself of his frustrated opposition of that man's election, may indeed have loosened the tears of this Ferrante who had not even wept at the death of his own children. We say " may " advisedly ; for the matter, from beginning to end, is one of speculation. If we leave it for the realm of fact, we have to ask Were there any tears at all ? Upon what authority rests the statement of the Florentine historian ? What, in fact, does he say ?
" It is well known that the King of Naples, for all that in public he dissembled the pain it caused him, signified to the queen, his wife, with tears which were unusual in him even on the death of his children that a Pope had been created who would be most pernicious to Italy."
So that, when all is said, Ferrante shed his kingly tears to his wife in private, and to her in private he delivered his opinion of the new Pontiff. How, then, came Guicciardini to know of the matter ? True, he says, " It is well known " meaning that he had those tears upon hearsay. It is, of course, possible that Ferrante's queen may have repeated what passed between herself and the king ; but that would surely have been in contravention of the wishes of her husband, who had, be it remembered, " dissembled his grief in public." And Ferrante does not impress one as the sort of husband whose wishes his wife would be bold enough to contravene.