William Dean Howells (1837-1920) is best known for his realist novels.
In 1861 he was rewarded for his biography of Abraham Lincoln used during the election of 1860 with a consulship in Venice.
He spent five years in Venice and from there he extensively travelled through Italy: at the time Venice still belonged to the
Austrian Empire, while the rest of Italy, with the other exception of Rome, had been unified in 1861.
Upon returning to the U.S. he summarized his Italian years in Italian Journeys (1867).
He wrote his first novel, The Wedding Journey, in 1872, but his career took off with his first realist novel, A Modern Instance. Howells also wrote plays, criticism, and essays about contemporary literary figures such as Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy, which helped to establish their reputation in the United States.
Howells returned to Italy some forty years later and spent several months in Rome: in 1908 he published Roman Holidays and Others, excerpts of which can be read in this page (based on an electronic text made available by the University of Adelaide)
The Quartiere Ludovisi
... I do not see why a Londoner, who himself lives in a well-kept town, should join with any of my fellow-barbarians in hypocritically deploring the modern spirit which has so happily invaded the Eternal City. The Londoner should rather entreat us not to be humbugs and should invite us to join him in rejoicing that the death-rate of Rome, once the highest in the civilized world, is now almost the lowest. But the language of Shakespeare and Milton is too often internationally employed in deploring the modernity which has housed us aliens there in such perfect comfort and safety. One must confine one’s self to instances, and one may take that of the Ludovisi Quarter, as it is called, where I dwelt in so much peace and pleasure except when I was reminded that it was formed by plotting the lovely Villa Ludovisi in house lots and building it up in attractive hotels and apartment-houses. Even then I did not suffer so keenly as some younger people, who had never seen the villa, seemed to do, though there are still villas to burn in and about Rome, and they could not really miss the Ludovisi. It was a pretty place, but not beyond praise, and the quarter also is pretty, though also not beyond praise. The villa was for the pleasure and pride of one family, but it signified, even in its beauty, nothing but patrician splendor, which is a poor thing at best; and the quarter is now for the pleasure and pride of great numbers of tourists, mostly of that plutocracy from which a final democracy is inevitably to evolve itself. I could see no cause to beat the breast in this; and in humbler instances, even to very humble, I could not find that things were nearly as bad in Rome as they have been painted.
Another typical wrong to the old Rome, or rather to the not-yet Rome, was the building-up, beyond the Tiber, of the Quarter of the Fields, so called, where Zola in his novel of Rome has placed most of the squalor which he so lavishly employs in its contrasts. In these he shows himself the romanticist that he always frankly owned he was in spite of himself; but after I had read his book I made it my affair to visit the scenes of poverty and misery in the Quartiere dei Prati. When I did so I found that I had already passed through the quarter without noting anything especially poor or specifically miserable, and I went a third time to make sure that I had not overlooked something impressively lamentable. But I did not see above three tenement-houses with the wash hung from the windows, and with the broken shutters of poverty and misery, in a space where on the East Side or the North Side in New York I could have counted such houses by the score, almost the hundred. In this quarter the streets were swept every morning as they are everywhere in Rome, and though toward noon they were beginning to look as slovenly as our streets look when they have just been cleaned; I knew that the next morning these worst avenues of Rome would be swept as our best never have been since the days of Waring.
Beyond the tenements the generous breadth of the new streets has been bordered by pleasant stucco houses of the pretty Italian type, fleetingly touched but not spoiled by the taste of the art nouveau, standing in their own grounds, and not so high-fenced but one could look over their garden-walls into the shrubs and flowers about them. Like suburban effects are characteristic of the new wide residential streets on the hither side of the Tiber, and on both shores the streets expand from time to time into squares, with more or less tolerable new monuments; say, of the Boston average in them. The business streets where they bear the lines of the frequently recurrent trams are spacious and straight, and though they are not the Corso, the Corso itself, it must be remembered, is only a street of shops by no means impressive, and is mostly dim under the overtowering walls of palaces which have no space to be dignified in. Now and then their open portals betray a glimpse of a fountained or foliaged court, but whether these palaces are outwardly beautiful or not no one can tell from what sight one can get of them; no, not even the most besotted sentimentalist of those who bewail the loss of mediaeval Rome when they mean Rome of the Renaissance. How much of that Rome has been erased by modern Rome I do not know, but I think not so much as people pretend.
As I have told, the first visit I paid to the antique world in Rome was at the Colosseum the day after our arrival. For some unknown reason I was going to begin with the Baths of Caracalla, but, as it happened, these were the very last ruins we visited in Rome; and I do not know just what accident diverted us to the Colosseum; perhaps we stopped because it was on the way to the Baths and looked an easier conquest. At any rate, I shall never regret that we began with it.
After twoscore years and three it was all strangely familiar. I do not say that in 1864 there was a horde of boys at the entrance wishing to sell me postcards; these are a much later invention of the Enemy; but I am sure of the men with trays full of mosaic pins and brooches, and looking, they and their wares, just as they used to look. The Colosseum itself looked unchanged, though I had read that a minion of the wicked Italian government had once scraped its flowers and weeds away and cleaned it up so that it was perfectly spoiled. But it would take a good deal more than that to spoil the Colosseum, for neither the rapine of the mediaeval nobles, who quarried their palaces from it, nor the industrial enterprise of some of the popes, who wished to turn it into workshops, nor the archeology of United Italy had sufficed to weaken in it that hold upon the interest proper to the scene of the most stupendous variety shows that the world has yet witnessed. The terrible stunts in which men fought one another for the delight of other men in every manner of murder, and wild beasts tore the limbs of those glad to perish for their faith, can be as easily imagined there as ever, and the traveller who visits the place has the assistance of increasing hordes of other tourists in imagining them.
I will not be the one to speak slight of that enterprise which marshals troops of the personally conducted through the place and instructs them in divers languages concerning it. Save your time and money so, if you have not too much of either, and be one of an English, French, or German party, rather than try to puzzle the facts out for yourself, with one contorted eye on your Baedeker and the other on the object in question. In such parties a sort of domestic relation seems to grow up through their associated pleasures in sight-seeing, and they are like family parties, though politer and patienter among themselves than real family parties. They are commonly very serious, though they doubtless all have their moments of gaiety; and in the Colosseum I saw a French party grouped for photography by a young woman of their number, who ran up and down before them with a kodak and coquet-tishly hustled them into position with pretty, bird-like chirpings of appeal and reproach, and much graceful self-evidencing. I do not censure her behavior, though doubtless there were ladies among the photographed who thought it overbold; if the reader had been young and blond and svelte, in a Parisian gown and hat, with narrow russet shoes, not too high-heeled for good taste, I do not believe he would have been any better; or, if he would, I should not have liked him so well.
On the earlier day which I began speaking of I found that I was insensibly attaching myself to an English-hearing party of the personally conducted, in the dearth of my own recollections of the local history, but I quickly detached myself for shame and went back and meekly hired the help of a guide who had already offered his services in English, and whom I had haughtily spurned in his own tongue. His English, though queer, was voluminous; but I am not going to drag the reader at our heels laden with lore which can be applied only on the spot or in the presence of postal-card views of the Colosseum. It is enough that before my guide released us we knew where was the box of Caesar, whom those about to die saluted, and where the box of the Vestals whose fatal thumbs gave the signal of life or death for the unsuccessful performer; where the wild beasts were kept, and where the Christians; where were the green-rooms of the gladiators, who waited chatting for their turn to go on and kill one another. One must make light of such things or sink under them; and if I am trying to be a little light, it is for the readers' sake, whom I would not have perish of their realization. Our guide spared us nothing, such was his conscience or his science, and I wish I could remember his name, for I could commend him as most intelligent, even, when least intelligible. However, the traveller will know him by the winning smile of his rosy-faced little son, who follows him round and is doubtless bringing himself up as the guide of coming generations of tourists. There had been a full pour of forenoon sunshine on the white dust of the street before our hotel, but the cold of the early morning, though it had not been too much for the birds that sang in the garden back of us, had left a skim of ice in damp spots, and now, in the late gray of the afternoon, the ice was visible and palpable underfoot in the Colosseum, where crowds of people wandered severally or collectively about in the half-frozen mud. They were, indeed, all over the place, up and down, in every variety of costume and aspect, but none were so picturesque as a little group of monks who had climbed to a higher tier of the arches and stood looking down into the depths where we looked up at them, denned against the sky in their black robes, which opened to show their under robes of white. They were picturesque, but they were not so monumental as an old, unmistakable American in high-hat, with long, drooping side-whiskers, not above a purple suspicion of dye, who sat on a broken column and vainly endeavored to collect his family for departure. Whenever he had gathered two or three about him they strayed off as the others came up, and we left him sardonically patient of their adhesions and defections, which seemed destined to continue indefinitely, while we struggled out through the postal-card boys and mosaic-pin men to our carriage. Then we drove away through the quarter of somewhat jerry-built apartment-houses which neighbor the Colosseum, and on into the salmon sunset which, after the gray of the afternoon, we found waiting us at our hotel, with the statues on the balustrated wall of the villa garden behind it effectively posed in the tender light, together with the eidolons of those picturesque monks and that monumental American.
We could safely have stayed longer, for the evening damp no longer
brings danger of Roman fever, which people used to take in the
Colosseum, unless I am thinking of the signal case of Daisy Miller. She,
indeed, I believe, got it there by moonlight; but now people visit the
place by moonlight in safety; and there are even certain nights of the
season advertised when you may see it by the varicolored lights of the
fireworks set off in it. My impression of it was quite vivid enough
without that, and the vision of the Colosseum remained, and still
remains, the immense skeleton of the stupendous form stripped of all
integumental charm and broken down half one side of its vast oval, so
that wellnigh a quarter of the structural bones are gone.
The question is most of all poignant in the Forum, which I let wait a full fortnight before moving against it in the warm sun of an amiable February morning. On my first visit to Rome I could hardly wait for day to dawn after my arrival before rushing to the Cow Field, as it was then called, and seeing the wide-horned cattle chewing the cud among the broken monuments now so carefully cherished and, as it were, sedulously cultivated. It is doubtful whether all that has since been done, and which could not but have been done, by the eager science as much involuntarily as voluntarily applied to the task, has resulted in a more potent suggestion of what the Forum was in the republican or imperial day than what that simple, old, unassuming Cow Field afforded. There were then as now the beautiful arches; there were the fragments of the temple porches, with their pillars; there was the “unknown column with the buried base”; there were all the elements of emotion and meditation; and it is possible that sentiment has only been cumbered Avith the riches which archaeology has dug up for it by lowering the surface of the Cow Field fifteen or twenty feet; by scraping clean the buried pavements; by identifying the storied points; by multiplying the fragments of basal or columnar marbles and revealing the plans of temples and palaces and courts and tracing the Sacred Way on which the magnificence of the past went to dusty death. After all, the imagination is very childlike, and it prefers the elements of its pleas-ures simple and few; if the materials are very abundant or complex, it can make little out of them; they embarrass it, and it turns critical in self-defence. The grandeur that was Rome as visioned from the Cow Field becomes in the mind’s eye the kaleidoscopic clutter which the resurrection of the Forum Romanum must more and more realize.
If the visitor would have some rash notion of what the ugliness of the place was like when it was in its glory, he may go look at the plastic reconstruction of it, indefinitely reduced, in the modest building across the way from the official entrance to the Forum. One cannot say but this is intensely interesting, and it affords the consolation which the humble (but not too humble) spirit may gather from witness of the past, that the fashion of this world and the pride of the eyes and all ruthless vainglory defeated themselves in ancient Rome, as they must everywhere when they can work their will. If one had thought that in magnitude and multitude some entire effect of beauty was latent, one had but to look at that huddle of warring forms, each with beauty in it, but beauty lost in the crazy agglomeration of temples and basilicas and columns and arches and statues and palaces, incredibly painted and gilded, and huddled into spaces too little for the least, and crowding severally upon one another, without relation or proportion. Their mass is supremely tasteless, almost senseless; that mob of architectural incongruities was not only without collective beauty, but it was without that far commoner and cheaper thing which we call picturesqueness. This has come to it through ruin, and we must give a new meaning to the word vandalism if we would appreciate what the barbarians did for Rome in tumbling her tawdry splendor into the heaps which are now at least paint-able. Imperial Rome as it stood was not paintable; I doubt if it would have been even photographable to anything but a picture post-card effect.
But as yet I wandered in the Forum safe from the realization of its ugliness when it was in its glory. I cannot say that even now it is picturesque, but it is paintable, and certainly it is pathetic. Stumps of columns, high and low, stand about in the places where they stood in their unbroken pride, and though it seems a hardship that they should not have been left lying in the kindly earth or on it instead of being pulled up and set on end, it must be owned that they are scarcely overworked in their present postures. More touching are those inarticulate heaps, cairns of sculptured fragments, piled here and there together and waiting the knowledge which is some time to assort them and translate them into some measure of coherent meaning. But it must always be remembered that when they were coherent they were only beautiful parts of a whole that was brutally unbeautiful. We have but to use the little common-sense which Heaven has vouchsafed some of us in order to realize that Rome, either republican or imperial, was a state for which we can have no genuine reverence, and that mostly the ruins of her past can stir in us no finer emotion than wonder. But necessarily, for the sake of knowledge, and of ascertaining just what quantity and quality of human interest the material records of Roman antiquity embody, archaeology must devote itself with all possible piety to their recovery. The removal, handful by handful, of the earth from the grave of the past which the whole Forum is, tomb upon tomb, is as dramatic a spectacle as anything one can well witness; for that soil is richer than any gold-mine in its potentiality of treasure, and it must be strictly scrutinized, almost by particles, lest some gem of art should be cast aside with the accumulated rubbish of centuries. Yet this drama, poignantly suggestive as it always must be, was the least incident of that morning in the Forum which it was my fortune to pass there with other better if not older tourists as guest of the Genius Loci. It was not quite a public event, though the Commend atore Boni is so well known to the higher journalism, and even to fiction (as the reader of Anatole France’s La Pierre Blanche will not have forgotten), that nothing which he archseolog-ically does is without public interest, and this excursion in the domain of antiquity was expected to result in identifying the site of the Temple of Jupiter Stator. It was conjectured that the temple vowed to this specific Jupiter for his public spirit in stopping the flight of a highly demoralized Roman army would be found where we actually found it. Archaaology seems to proceed by hypothesis, like other sciences, and to enjoy a forecast of events before they are actually accomplished. I do not say that I was very vividly aware of the event in question; I could not go now and show where the temple stood, but when I read of it in a cablegram to the American newspapers I almost felt that I had dug it up with my own hands.
Of many other facts I was at the time vividly aware: of the charm of finding the archaeologist in an upper room of the mediaeval church which is turning itself into his study, of listening to his prefatory talk, so informal and so easy that one did not realize how learned it was, and then of following him down to the scene of his researches and hearing him speak wisely, poetically, humorously, even, of what he believed he had reason to expect to find. We stood with him by the Arch of Titus and saw how the sculptures had been broken from it in the fragments found at its base, and how the carved marbles had been burned for lime in the kiln built a few feet off, so that those who wanted the lime need not have the trouble of carrying the sculptures away before burning them. A handful of iridescent glass from a house-drain near by, where it had been thrown by the servants after breaking it, testified of the continuity of human nature in the domestics of all ages. A somewhat bewildering suggestion of the depth at which the different periods of Rome underlie one another spoke from the mouth of the imperial well or cistern which had been sunk on the top of a republican well or cistern at another corner of the arch. In a place not far off, looking like a potter’s clay pit, were graves so old that they seem to have antedated the skill of man to spell any record of himself; and in the small building which seems the provisional repository of the archaeologist’s finds we saw skeletons of the immemorial dead in the coffins of split trees still shutting them imperfectly in. Mostly the bones and bark were of the same indifferent interest, but the eternal pathos of human grief appealed from what mortal part remained of a little child, with beads on her tattered tunic and an ivory bracelet on her withered arm. History in the presence of such world-old atomies seemed an infant babbling of yesterday, in what it could say of the Rome of the Popes, the Rome of the Emperors, the Rome of the Republicans, the Rome of the Kings, the Rome of the Shepherds and Cowherds, through which a shaft sunk in the Forum would successively pierce in reaching those aboriginals whose sepulchres alone witnessed that they had ever lived.
It is the voluble sorrow common to all the emotional visitors in Rome that the past of the different generations has not been treated by the present with due tenderness, and the Colosseum is a case notoriously in point. But, if it was an Italian archaeologist who destroyed the wilding growths in the Colosseum and scraped it to a bareness which nature is again trying to clothe with grass and weeds, it ought to be remembered that it is another Italian archaeologist who has set laurels all up and down the slopes of the Forum, and has invited roses and honeysuckles to bloom wherever they shall not interfere with science, but may best help repair the wounds he must needs deal the soil in researches which seem no mere dissections, but feats of a conservative, almost a constructive surgery. It is said that the German archaeologists objected to those laurels where the birds sing so sweetly; perhaps they thought them not strictly scientific; but when the German Kaiser, who always knows so much better than all the other Germans put together, visited the Forum, he liked them, and he parted from the Genius Loci with the imperial charge, “Laurels, laurels, evermore laurels.” After that the emotional tourist must be hard indeed to please who would begrudge his laurels to Commendatore Boni, or would not wish him a perpetual crown of them.
It is not every undeserving American who can have the erudition and divination of the Genius Loci in answer to his unuttered prayer during a visit to even a small part of the Roman Forum. But failing the company of the Commendatore Boni, which is without price, there are to be had for a very little money the guidance and philosophy, and, for all I know, the friendship of several peripatetic historians who lead people about the ruins in Rome, and instruct them in the fable, and doubtless in the moral, of the things they see. If I had profited by their learning, so much greater, or at least securer, than any the average American has about him, I should now be tiring the reader with knowledge which I am so willingly leaving him to imagine in me. If he is like the average American, he has really once had some nodding acquaintance with the facts, but history is apt to forsake you on the scene of it, and to come lagging back when it is too late. In this psychological experience you feel the need of help which the peripatetic historian supplies to the groups of perhaps rather oblivious than ignorant tourists of all nations in all languages, but preferably English. We Anglo–Saxons seem to be the most oblivious or most ignorant; but I would not slight our occasionally available culture any more than I would imply that those peripatetic historians are at all like the cicerones whom they have so largely replaced. I believe they are instructed and scholarly men; I offer them my respect; and I wish now that I had been one of their daily disciples, for it is full sixty years since I read Goldsmith’s History of Rome. As I saw them, somewhat beyond earshot, they and their disciples formed a spectacle which was always interesting, and, so far as the human desire for information is affecting, was also affecting. The listeners to the lecturers would carry back to their respective villages and towns, or the yet simpler circles of our ordinary city lift, vastly more association with the storied scene than I had brought to it or should bring away. In fact, there is nothing more impressive in the floating foreign society of Rome than its zeal for self-improvement. No one classes himself with his fellow-tourists, though if he happens to be a traveller he is really one of them; and it is with difficulty I keep myself from the appearance of patronizing them in these praises, which are for the most part reverently meant. Their zeal never seemed to be without knowledge, whatever their age or sex; the intensity of their application reached to all the historical and actual interests, to the religious as well as the social, the political as well as the financial; but, fitly in Rome, it seemed specially turned to the study of antiquity, in the remoter or the nearer past. There was given last winter a series of lectures at the American School of Archaeology by the head of it, which were followed with eager attention by hearers who packed the room. But these lectures, which were so admirably first in. the means of intelligent study, seemed only one of the means by which my fellow-tourists were climbing the different branches of knowledge. All round my apathy I felt, where I did not see, the energy of the others; with my mind’s ear I heard a rustle as of the turning leaves of Baedekers, of Murrays, of Hares, and of the many general histories and monographs of which these intelligent authorities advised the supplementary reading.
If I am not so mistaken as I might very well be, however, the local language is less studied than it was in former times, when far fewer Italians spoke English. My own Italian was of that date; but, though I began by using it, I found myself so often helped for a forgotten meaning that I became subtly demoralized and fell luxuriously into the habit of speaking English like a native of Rome. Yet tacitly, secretly perhaps, there may have been many people who were taking up Italian as zealously as many more were taking up antiquity. One day in the Piazza di Spagna, in a modest little violet of a tea-room, which was venturing to open in the face of the old-established and densely thronged parterre opposite, I noted from my Roman version of a buttered muffin a tall, young Scandinavian girl, clad in complete corduroy, gray in color to the very cap surmounting her bandeaux of dark-red hair. She looked like some of those athletic-minded young women of Ibsen’s plays, and the pile of books on the table beside her tea suggested a student character. When she had finished her tea she put these books back into a leather bag, which they filled to a rigid repletion, and, after a few laconic phrases with the tea-girl, she went out like going off the stage. Her powerful demeanor somehow implied severe studies; but the tea-girl—a massive, confident, confiding Roman—said, No, she was studying Italian, and all those books related to the language, for which she had a passion. She was a Swede; and here the student being exhausted as a topic, and my own nationality being ascertained, What steps, the tea-girl asked, should one take if one wished to go to New York in order to secure a place as cashier in a restaurant?
My facts were not equal to the demand upon them, nor are they equal to anything like exact knowledge of the intellectual pursuits of the many studious foreign youth of all ages and sexes whom one meets in Rome. As I say, our acquaintance with Italian is far less useful, however ornamental, than it used to be. The Romans are so quick that they understand you when they speak no English, and take your meaning before you can formulate it in their own tongue. A classically languaged friend of mine, who was hard bested in bargaining for rooms, tried his potential landlord in Latin, and was promptly answered in Latin. It was a charming proof that in the home of the Church her mother-speech had never ceased to be spoken by some of her children, but I never heard of any Americans, except my friend, recurring to their college courses in order to meet the modern Latins in their ancient parlance. In spite of this instance, and that of the Swedish votary of Italian, I decided that the studies of most strangers were archaeological rather than philological, historical rather than literary, topographical rather than critical. I do not say that I had due confirmation of my theory from the talk of the fellow-sojourners whom one is always meeting at teas and lunches and dinners in Rome. Generally the talk did not get beyond an exchange of enthusiasms for the place, and of experiences of the morning, in the respective researches of the talkers.
Such of us as were staying the winter, of course held aloof from the hurried passers-through, or looked with kindly tolerance on their struggles to get more out of Rome in a given moment than she perhaps yielded with perfect acquiescence. We fancied that she kept something back; she is very subtle, and has her reserves even with people who pass a whole winter within her gates. The fact is, there are a great many of her, though we knew her afar as one mighty personality. There is the antique Rome, the mediaeval Rome, the modern Rome; but that is only the beginning. There is the Rome of the State and the Rome of the Church, which divide between them the Rome of politics and the Rome of fashion; but here is a field so vast that Ave may not enter it without danger of being promptly lost in it. There is the Rome of the visiting nationalities, severally and collectively; there is especially the Anglo–American Rome, which if not so populous as the German, for instance, is more important to the Anglo–Saxons. It sees a great deal of itself socially, but not to the exclusion of the sympathetic Southern temperaments which seem to have a strange but not unnatural affinity with it. So far as we might guess, it was a little more Clerical than Liberal in its local politics; if you were very Liberal, it was well to be careful, for Conversion lurked under many exteriors which gave no outward sign of it; if the White of the monarchy and the Black of the papacy divide the best Roman families, of course foreigners are more intensely one or the other than the natives. But Anglo–Saxon life was easy for one not self-obliged to be of either opinion or party; and it was pleasant in most of its conditions. In Rome our internationali-ties seemed to have certain quarters largely to themselves. In spite of our abhorrence of the destruction and construction which have made modern Rome so wholesome and delightful, most of us had our habitations in the new quarters; but certain pleasanter of the older streets, like the Via Sistina, Via del Babuino, Via Capo le Case, Via Gregoriana, were our sojourn or our resort. Especially in the two first our language filled the outer air to the exclusion of other conversation, and within doors the shopmen spoke it at least as well as the English think the Americans speak it. It was pleasant to meet the honest English faces, to recognize the English fashions, to note the English walk; and if these were oftener present than their American counterparts, it was not from our habitual minority, but from our occasional sparsity through the panic that had frightened us into a homekeeping foreign to our natures.
In like manner our hyphenated nationalities have the Piazza di Spagna for their own. There are the two English book-stores and the circulating libraries, in each of which the books are so torn and dirty that you think they cannot be quite so bad in the other till you try it; there seems nothing for it, then, but to wash and iron the different Tauchnitz authors, and afterward darn and mend them. The books on sale are, of course, not so bad; they are even quite clean; and except for giving out on the points of interest where you could most wish them to abound, there is nothing in them to complain of. There is less than nothing to complain of in the tea-room which enjoys our international favor except that at the most psychological moment of the afternoon you cannot get a table, in spite of the teas going on in the fashionable hotels and the friendly houses everywhere. The toast is exceptional; the muffins so far from home are at least reminiscent of their native island; the tea and butter are alike blameless. The company, to the eye of the friend of man, is still more acceptable, for, if the Americans have dwindled, the English have increased; and there is nothing more endearing than the sight of a roomful of English people at their afternoon tea in a strange land. No type seems to predominate; there are bohemians as obvious as clerics; there are old ladies and young, alike freshly fair; there are the white beards of age and the clean-shaven cheeks of youth among the men; some are fashionable and some outrageously not; peculiarities of all kinds abound without conflicting. Some talk, frankly audible, and others are frankly silent, but a deep, wide purr, tacit or explicit, close upon a muted hymn of thanksgiving, in that assemblage of mutually repellent personalities, for the nonce united, would best denote the universal content.
Hard by this tea-room there is a public elevator by which the reader will no doubt rather ascend with me than, climb the Spanish Steps without me; after the first time, I never climbed them. The elevator costs but ten centimes, and I will pay for both; there is sometimes drama thrown in that is worth twice the money; for there is war, more or less roaring, set between the old man who works the elevator and the young man who sells the tickets to it. The law is that the elevator will hold only eight persons, but one memorable afternoon the ticket-seller insisted upon giving a ticket to a tall, young English girl who formed an unlawful ninth. The elevator-man, a precisian of the old school, expelled her; the ticket-seller came forward and reinstated her; again the elder stood upon the letter of the law; again the younger demanded its violation. The Tuscan tongue in their Roman mouths flew into unintelligibility, while the poor girl was put into the elevator and out of it; and the respective parties to the quarrel were enjoying it so much that it might never have ended if she had not taken the affair into her own hands. She finally followed the ticket-seller back to his desk, to which he retired after each act of the melodrama, and threw her ticket violently down. “Here is your ticket!” she said in English so severe that he could not help understanding and cowering before it. “Give me back my money!” He was too much stupefied by her decision of character to speak; and he returned her centimes in silence while we got into our cage and mounted to the top, and the elevator-man furiously repeated to himself his side of the recent argument all the way up. This did not prevent his touching his hat to each of us in parting, and assuring us that he revered us; a thing that only old-fashioned Romans seem to do nowadays, in the supposed decay of manners which the comfortable classes everywhere like to note in the uncomfortable. Then some ladies of our number went off on a platform across the house-tops to which the elevator had brought us, as if they expected to go down the chimneys to their apartments; and the rest of us expanded into the Piazza Trinita de’ Monti; and I stopped to lounge against the uppermost balustrade of the Spanish Steps.
It is notable, but not surprising, how soon one forms the habit of this, for, seen from above, the Spanish Steps are only less enchanting than the Spanish Steps seen from below, whence they are absolutely the most charming sight in the world. The reader, if he has nothing better than a post-card (which I could have bought him on the spot for fifty a franc), knows how the successive stairways part and flow downward to right and left, like the parted waters of a cascade, and lose themselves at the bottom in banks of flowers. No lovelier architectural effect was ever realized from a happy fancy; but, of course, the pictorial effect is richer from below, especially from the Via dei Condotti, where it opens into the Piazza di Spagna. I suppose there must be hours of the day, and certainly there are hours of the night, when in this prospect the Steps have not the sunset on them. But most of the time they have the sunset on them, warm, tender; a sunset that begins with the banks of daffodils and lilies and anemones and carnations and roses and almond blossoms, keeping the downpour of the marble cascades from flooding the piazza, and mounts, mellowing and yellowing, up their gray stone, until it reaches the Church of Trinita de’ Monti at the top.
There it lingers, I should say, till dawn, bathing the golden-brown facade in an effulgence that lifelong absence cannot eclipse when once it has blessed your sight. It is beauty that rather makes the heart ache, and the charm of the Steps from above is something that you can bear better if you are very, very worthy, or have the conceit of feeling yourself so. It is a charm that imparts itself more in detail and is less exclusively the effect of perpetual sunset. From the parapet against which you lean you have a perfecter conception of the architectural form than you get from below, and you are never tired of seeing the successive falls of the Steps dividing themselves and then coming together on the broad landings and again parting and coming together.
If there were once many models, male, female, and infant, brigands, peasants, sages, and martyrs, lounging on the Spanish Steps, as it seems to me there used to be, and as every one has heard say, waiting there for the artists to come and carry them off to their studios and transfer them to their canvases, they are now no longer there in noticeable number. I saw some small boys in steeple-crowned soft hats and short jackets, with their little legs wound round with the favorite bandaging of brigands; and some mothers suitable for Madonnas, perhaps, with babes at the breast; there was a patriarchal old man or two, ready no doubt to pose for the prophets, or, at a pinch, for yet more celestial persons; but for the rest the Steps were rather given up to flower-girls, fruit-peddlers, and beggars pure and simple, on levels distinctly below those infested by the post-card peddlers. The whole neighborhood abounds in opportunities for charity, and at the corner of the Via Sistina there is a one-legged beggar who professes to black shoes in the intervals of alms-taking, and who early made me his prey. If sometimes I fancied escaping by him to my lounge against the parapet of the steps, he joyously overtook me with a swiftness of which few two-legged men are capable; he wore a soldier’s cap, and I hoped, for the credit of our species, that he had lost his leg in battle, but I do not know.
On a Sunday evening I once hung there a long time, watching with one eye the people who were coining back from their promenade on the Pincian Hill, and with the other the groups descending and ascending the Steps. On the first landing below me there was a boy who gratified me, I dare say unconsciously, by trying to stand on his hands; and a little dramatic spectacle added itself to this feat of the circus. Two pretty girls, smartly dressed in hats and gowns exactly alike, and doubtless sisters, if not twins, passed down to the same level. One was with a handsome young officer, and walked staidly beside him, as if content with her quality of captive or captor. The other was with a civilian, of whom she was apparently not sure. Suddenly she ran away from him to the verge of the next fall of steps, possibly to show him how charmingly she was dressed, possibly to tempt him by her grace in flight to follow her madly. But he followed sanely and slowly, and she waited for him to come up, in a capricious quiet, as if she had not done anything or meant anything. That was all; but I am not hard to suit; and it was richly enough for me.
Her little comedy came to its denouement just under the shoulder of the rose-roofed terrace jutting from a lowish, plainish house on the left, beyond certain palms and eucalyptus-trees. It is one of the most sacred shrines in Rome, for it was in this house that the “young English poet whose name was writ in water” died to deathless fame three or fourscore years ago. It is the Keats house, which when he lived in it was the house of Severn the painter, his host and friend. I had visited it for the kind sake of the one and the dear sake of the others when I first visited Rome in 1864; and it was one of the earliest stations of my second pilgrimage. It is now in form for any and all visitors, but the day I went it had not yet been put in its present simple and tasteful keeping. A somewhat shrill and scraping-voiced matron inquired my pleasure when she followed me into the ground-floor entrance from somewhere without, and then, understanding, called hor young daughter, who led me up to the room where Keats mused his last verse and breathed his last sigh. It is a very little room, looking down over the Spanish Steps, with their dike of bloom, across the piazza to the narrow stretch of the Via del Babuino. I must have stood in it with Severn and heard him talk of Keats and his ultimate days and hours; for I remember some such talk, but not the details of it. He was a very gentle old man and fondly proud of his goodness to the poor dying poet, as he well might be, and I was glad to be one of the many Americans who, he said, came to grieve with him for the dead poet.
Now, on my later visit, it was a cold, rainy day, and it was chill within the house and without, and I imputed my weather to the time of Keats’s sojourn, and thought of him sitting by his table there in that bare, narrow, stony room and coughing at the dismal outlook. Afterward I saw the whole place put in order and warmed by a generous stove, for people who came to see the Keats and Shelley collections of books and pictures; but still the sense of that day remains. The young girl sympathized with my sympathy, and wished to find a rose for me in the trellis through which the rain dripped. She could not, and I suggested that there would be roses in the spring. “No,” she persisted, “sometimes it makes them in the winter,” but I had to come away through the reeking streets without one.
When it rains, it rains easily in Rome. But the weather was divine the evening I looked one of my latest looks down on the Spanish Steps. The sun had sunk rather wanly beyond the city, but a cheerful light of electrics shone up at me from the Via dei Condotti. I stood and thought of as much as I could summon from the past, and I was strongest, I do not know why, with the persecutions of the early Christians. Presently a smell of dinner came from the hotels around and the houses below, and I was reminded to go home to my own table d’hote. My one-legged beggar seemed to have gone to his, and I escaped him; but I was intercepted by the sight of an old woman asleep over her store of matches. She was not wakened by the fall of my ten-centime piece in her tray, but the boy drowsing beside her roused himself, and roused her to the dreamy expression of a gratitude quite out of scale with my alms.
... Even with the Church of the Capuchins, which we lived opposite, I was dilatory, though in my mediaeval days it had been one of the first places to which I hurried. In those days everybody said you must be sure and go to the Capuchins’, because Guido's "St. Michael and the Enemy” was there, and still more because the wonderful bone mosaics in the cemetery under the church were not on any account to be missed. I suspect that in both these matters I had then a very crude taste, but it was not from my greater refinement that I now let the Capuchin church go on long unrevisited. It was, for one thing, too instantly and constantly accessible across the street there; and it is well known human nature is such that it will not seek the line of the least resistance as long as it can help. Besides, I could hardly believe that it was really the Capuchin church which I had once so hastened to see, and I neglected it almost two months, contenting myself with the display of those hand-bills on the convent walls, spreading largely and glaringly incongruous over it. When I did go I found the Guido ridiculous, of course, in the painter’s imagination of the archangel as a sort of dancing figure in a tableau vivant, and yet of a sublime authority in the execution. To be more honest, I had little feeling about it and less knowledge.
It was not so cold in the church as I had expected; and in the succession of side chapels, beginning with the St. Michael’s and opening into one another, we found a kind of domesticity close upon cosiness, which we were enjoying for its own sake, when we were aware of a pale, gentle young girl who seemed to be alone there. She asked, in our unmistakable native accents, if we were going to see the Capuchin mosaics in their place below; and one of us said, promptly, No, indeed; but relented at the shadow of disappointment that came over the girl’s face, and asked, Was she going? The girl said, Oh, she guessed she could see them some other time; and then she who had spoken ordered him who had not spoken to go with her. I do not know what question of propriety engaged them with reference to her going alone with the handsome young monk waiting to accompany her; but he was certainly too handsome for a monk of any age. We followed him, however, and I had my usual nausea on viewing the decoration of the ceilings and walls of the place below; it always makes me sick to go into that place; between realizing that I am of the same make as the brothers composing those mosaics, and trying to imagine what the intricate patterns will do at the Resurrection Day, I cannot command myself. Neither am I supported by the sight of some skeletons, the raw material of that grewsome artistry, deposited whole in their coffins in the niches next the ground, though their skulls smile so reassuringly from their cowls; their cheeriness cannot make me like them. But my companion seemed to be merely interested; and I fancied her deciding that it all quite came up to her expectations, while I translated for her from the monk that the dead used to be left in the hallowed earth from Jerusalem covering the ground before they were taken up and decoratively employed, but that since the Italian occupation of Rome the art had fallen into abeyance. She said nothing, but when we came out she stood a moment on the pavement beside our cab and confessed herself a New England girl, from an inland town, who was travelling with relatives. She had been sick, and she had come alone, as soon as she could get out, to see the wonders of the Capuchin church, because she had heard so much of them. We said we hoped she had been pleased, and she said, “Oh yes, indeed,” and then she said, “Well, good-bye,” and gently tilted away, leaving us glad that there could still be in an old, spoiled world such sweetness and innocence and easily gratified love of the beautiful.
Taking Rome so easily, so provisionally, while waiting the eventualities of the colds which mild climates are sure to give their frequenters from the winterlands, I became aware of a latent anxiety respecting St. Peter’s. I did not feel that the church would really get away without our meeting, but I felt that it was somehow culpably hazardous in me to be taking chances with it. As a family, we might never collectively visit it, and, in fact, we never did; but one day I drove boldly (if secretly) off alone and renewed my acquaintance with this contemporary of mine; for, if you have been in Rome a generation and a half ago, you find that you are coeval not only with the regal, the republican, and the imperial Rome, but with each Rome of the successive popes, down, at least, to that of Pius IX. St. Peter’s will not be, by any means, your oldest friend, but it will be an acquaintance of such long standing that you may not wish to use it with all the frankness which its faults invite. If you say, when you drive into its piazza between the sublime colonnades which stretch forth their mighty embrace as if to take the whole world to the church’s heart, that here is the best of St. Peter’s, you will not be wrong. If you say that here is grandeur, and that there where the temple fronts you grandiosity begins, you will be rhetorical, but, again, you will not be wrong. The day of my furtive visit was sober and already waning, with a breeze in which the fountains streamed flaglike, and with a gentle sky on which the population of statues above the colonnades defined themselves in leisure attitudes, so recognizable all that I am sure if they had come down and taken me by the hand we could have called one another by name without a moment’s hesitation. Every detail of a prospect which is without its peer on earth, but may very possibly be matched in Paradise, had been so deeply stamped in my remembrance that I smiled for pleasure in finding myself in an environment far more familiar than any other I could think of at the time. It was measurably the same within the church, but it was not quite the same in the reserves I was obliged to make, the reefs I was obliged to take in my rapture. The fact is, that unless you delight in a hugeness whose bareness no ornamentation can, or does at least, conceal, you do not find the interior of St. Peter’s adequate to the exterior. In the mere article of hugeness, even, it fails through the interposition of the baldachin midway of the vast nave, and each detail seems to fail of the office of beauty more lamentably than another.
I had known, I had never forgotten, that St. Peter’s was very, very baroque, but I had not known, I had not remembered how baroque it was. It is not so badly baroque as the Church of the Jesuits either in Rome or in Venice, or as the Cathedral at Wuerzburg; but still it is badly baroque, though, again, not so baroque in the architecture as in the sculpture. In the statues of most of the saints and popes it could not be more baroque; they swagger in their niches or over their tombs in an excess of decadent taste for which the most bigoted agnostic, however Protestant he may be, must generously grieve. It is not conceivably the taste of the church or the faith; it is the taste of the wicked world, now withered and wasted to powerlessness, which overruled both for evil in art from its evil life. The saints and the popes are, assthetically, lamentable enough; but the allegories in bronze or marble, which are mostly the sixteenth-century notions of the Virtues, are inexpressible—some of these creatures ought really to be put out of the place; but I suppose their friends would say they ought to be left as typical of the period. In the case of that merciless miscreant, Queen Christina of Sweden, who has her monument in St. Peter’s, there would be people to say she must have her monument in some place; but, all the same, remembering Monaldeschi—how he was stabbed to death by her command, the kinder assassins staying their hands from time to time, while his confessor went vainly to implore her pardon—it is shocking to find her tomb in the prime church in Christendom. At first it offends one to see certain pontiffs with mustaches and imperials and goatees; but, if one reflects that so they wore them in life, one perceives right in it; only when one comes to earlier or later popes, bearded in medieval majority or shaven in the decent modern fashion, one can endure those others only as part of the prevailing baroque of the church. Canova was not so Greek or even so classic as one used to think him, but one hardly has a moment of repose in St. Peter’s till one comes to a monument by him and rests in its quiet. It is tame, it is even weak, if you like; but compared with the frantic agglomeration of gilt clouds and sunbursts, and marble and bronze figures in the high-altar, it is heavenly serene and lovely.
There were not many people in St. Peter’s that afternoon, so that I could give undisturbed attention to the workman repairing the pavement at one point and grinding the marble smooth with a slow, secular movement, as if he were part of its age-Ions: waste and repair. Another day, the last day I came, there were companies of the personally conducted, following their leaders about and listening to the lectures in several languages, which no more stirred the immense tranquillity than they themselves qualified the spacious vacancy of the temple: you were vaguely sensible of the one and of the other like things heard and seen in a drowse. It was a pleasant vagueness in which all angularities of feeling were lost, and you were disposed to a tolerance of the things that had hurt or offended you before. As a contemporary of the edifice, throughout its growth, you could account for them more and more as of their periods. Perhaps through your genial reconciliation there came, however dimly, a suggestion of something unnatural and alien in your presence there as a mere sightseer, or, at best, a connoisseur much or little instructed. If you had been there, say, as a worshipper, would you have been afflicted by the incongruities of the sculptures or by the whole baroque keeping? Possibly this consideration made you go away much modester than you came. “After all,” you may have said, “it is not a gallery; it is not a museum. It is a house of prayer,” and you emerged, let us hope, humbled, and in so far fitted for renewed joy in the beauty, the glory of the sublime colonnades.
If imperial Rome was beautiful in detail because it had the Greeks to imagine the things it so hideously grouped, ecclesiastical Rome may be unbeautiful in detail because it had not the Goths to realize the beauty of its religious aspiration—that is, if it was the Goths who invented Gothic architecture; I do not suppose it was. Anyway, there is said to be but one Gothic church in Rome, and this I did not visit, perhaps because I felt that I must inure myself to the prevalent baroque, or perhaps from mere perversity. I can merely say in self-defence that, on the outside, Santa Maria sopra Minerva no more promised an inner beauty than Il Gesł, which is the most baroque church in Rome, without the power of coming together for a unity of effect which baroque churches sometimes have. It is a tumult of virtuosity in painting, in scuplture, in architecture. Statues sprawl into frescoed figures at points in the roof, and frescoed figures emerge in marble at others. Marvels of riches are lavished upon chapels and altars, which again are so burdened with bronze gilded or silver plated, and precious stones wrought and unwrought, that the soul, or if not the soul the taste, shrinks dismayed from them. Execution in default of inspiration has had its way to the last excess; there is nothing that it has not done to show what it can do; and all that it has done is a triumph of misguided skill and power. But it would be a mistake for the spectator to imagine that anything has been done from the spirit in which he receives it; everything is the expression of devoted faith in the forms that the art of the time offered.
In the monstrous marble tableau, say, of “Religion Triumphing Over Heresy,” he may be very sure that the artist was not winking an ironical eye where he made Faith spurning Schism with her foot look very much like a lady of imperfect breeding who has lost her temper; he was most devoutly in earnest, or at least those were so, both cleric and laic, for whom he wrought his prodigy. We others, pagans or Protestants, had better understand that the children of the Church, and especially the poor children, were serious through all the shows that seem to us preposterous; they had not renounced something for nothing; if they bowed that very fallible thing, Reason, to Dogma, they got faith for their reward and could gladly accept whatever symbol of it was offered them.
Hare tells me, now it is too late, that I may reach the Church of Santa Maggiore by keeping straight on through the long, long straightness of the Via Sistina. I reached that church by quite another way after many postponements; for I thought I remembered all about it from my visit in 1864. But really nothing had remained to me save a sense of the exceptional dignity of the church, and the sole fact that the roof of its most noble nave is thickly plated with the first gold mined in South America, which Ferdinand and Isabella gave that least estimable of the popes, Alexander VI. Now I know that it is far richer than any gold could make it in the treasures of history and legend, which fairly encrust it in every part. Doubtless some portion of this wealth my fellow-sightseers were striving to store up out of the guide-books which they bore in their hands and from which they strained their eyes to the memorable points as they slowly paced through the temple. Some were reading one to another in bated voices, and I thought them ridiculous; but perhaps they were wise, and rather he was ridiculous who marched by them and contented himself with a general sense of the grandeur, the splendor. More than any other church except that of San Paolo fuori le Mura, Santa Maria Maggiore imparts this sense, for, as I have already pretended, St. Peter’s fails of it. Without as well as within the church is spacious and impressive from its spaciousness; but it seems more densely fringed than most others with peddlers of post-cards and mosaic pins. On going in you can plunge through their ranks, but in coming out you do not so easily escape. One boy pursued me quite to my cab, in spite of my denials of hand and tongue. There he stayed the driver while he made a last, a humorous appeal. “Skiddoo?” he asked in my native speech. “Yes,” I sullenly replied, “skiddoo!” But it is now one of the regrets which I shall always feel for my wasted opportunities in Rome that I did not buy all his post-cards. Patient gaiety like his merited as much.
As it was, I drove callously away from Santa Maria Maggiore to San Pietro in Vincoli, where I expected to renew my veneration for Michelangelo’s Moses. That famous figure is no longer so much in the minds of men as it used to be, I think; and, if one were to be quite honest with one’s self as to the why and wherefore of one’s earlier veneration, one might not get a very distinct or convincing reply. Do sculptors and painters suffer periods of slight as authors do? Are Raphael and Michelangelo only provisionally eclipsed by Botticelli and by Donatello and Mino da Fiesole, or are they remanded to a lasting limbo? I find I have said in my notes that the Moses is improbable and unimpressive, and I pretended a more genuine joy in the heads of the two Pollajuolo brothers which startle you from their tomb as you enter the church. Is the true, then, better than the ideal, or is it only my grovelling spirit which prefers it? What I scarcely venture to say is that those two men evidently lived and still live, and that Michelangelo’s prophet never lived; I scarcely venture, because I remember with tenderness how certain clear and sweet spirits used to bow their reason before the Moses as before a dogma of art which must be implicitly accepted. Do they still do so, those clear and sweet spirits?
The archaeologist who was driving my cab that morning had pointed out to me on the way to this church the tower on which Nero stood fiddling while Rome was burning. It is a strong, square, mediaeval structure which will serve the purpose of legend yet many centuries, if progress does not pull it down; but the fiddle no longer exists, apparently, and Nero himself is dead. When I came out and mounted into my cab, my driver showed me with his whip, beyond a garden wall, a second tower, very beautiful against the blue sky, above the slim cypresses, which he said was the scene of the wicked revels of Lucrezia Borgia. I do not know why it has been chosen for this distinction above other towers; but it was a great satisfaction to have it identified. Very possibly I had seen both of these memorable towers in my former Roman sojourn, but I did not remember them, whereas I renewed my old impressions of San Paolo fuori le Mura in almost every detail.
That is the most majestic church in Rome, I think, and I suppose it is, for a cold splendor, unequalled anywhere. Somehow, from its form and from the great propriety of its decoration, it far surpasses St. Peter’s. The antic touch of the baroque is scarcely present in it, for, being newly rebuilt after the fire which destroyed the fourth-century basilica in 1823, its faults are not those of sixteenth-century excess. It would be a very bold or a very young connoisseur who should venture to appraise its merits beyond this negative valuation; and timid age can affirm no more than that it came away with its sensibilities unwounded. Tradition and history combine with the stately architecture, which reverently includes every possible relic of the original fabric, to render the immense temple venerable; and as it is still in process of construction, with a colonnaded porch in scale and keeping with the body of the basilica, it offers to the eye of wonder the actual spectacle of that unstinted outlay of riches which has filled Rome with its multitudes of pious monuments—monuments mainly ugly, but potent with the imagination even in their ugliness through the piety of their origin. Where did all that riches come from?
Out of what unfathomable opulence, out of what pitiable penury, out of what fear, out of what love? One fancies the dying hands of wealth that released their gift to the sacred use, the knotted hands of work that spared it from their need. The giving continues in this latest Christian age as in the earliest, and Rome is increasingly Rome in a world which its thinkers think no longer believes.
From San Paolo we were going to another shrine, more hallowed to our literary sense, and we drove through the sweet morning sunshine and bird-singing, past pale-pink clouds of almond bloom on the garden slopes, with snowy heights far beyond, to the simple graveyard where Keats and Shelley lie. Our way to the Protestant cemetery held by some shabby apartment-houses of that very modern Rome which was largely so jerry-built, and which I would not leave out of the landscape if I could, for I think their shabbiness rather heightens your sense of the peaceful loveliness to which you come under the cypresses, among the damp aisles, so thickly studded with the stones recording the death in exile of the English strangers lying there far from home. In a faulty perspective of memory, I had always seen the graves of the two poets side by side; but the heart of Shelley rests in a prouder part of the cemetery, where the paths between the finer tombs are carefully kept; and the dust of Keats lies in an old, plain, almost neglected corner, well off beyond a dividing trench. It seems an ungracious chance which has so parted the two poets so inextricably united in their fame; it is as if here, too, the world would have its way; but, of course, it is only at the worst an ungracious chance. Keats, at least, has the companionship of the painter Severn, the friend on whose “fond breast his parting soul relied,” and who has here followed him into the dust.
A few withered daisies had been scattered in the thin grass over the poet, and one hardly dared lift one’s eyes from them to the heartbreaking epitaph which one could not spell for tears.
It was but a few minutes’ walk from the hotel to the Porta Pinciana, and, if you took this short walk, you found yourself almost before you knew it in the Villa Borghese. You might then, on your first Sunday in Rome, have fancied yourself in Central Park, for all difference in the easily satisfied Sunday-afternoon crowd. But with me a difference began in the grove of stone-pines, and their desultory stretch toward the Casino, where in the simple young times which are now the old we had hurried, with our Kugler in our hands and other reading in our heads, to see Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love (it has got another name now) and Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte, who was also the Princess Borghese, and all the rest of the precious gallery. However, if I had any purpose of visiting the Casino now, I put it aside, and contented myself with the gentle sun, the gentle shade, and the sweet air, which might have had less dust in it, breathing over grass as green in late January as in early June. I did not care so much for a mounted corporal who was jumping his horse over a two-foot barrier in the circular path rounding between the Villa Borghese and the Pincian Hill, though his admirers hung in rows on the rail beside it so thickly that I could hardly have got a place to see him if I had tried. But there was room enough to the fathers and mothers who had brought their children, and young lovers who had brought each other for the afternoon’s outing, just as the people in Central Park do, and, no doubt, just as any Sunday crowd must do in the planet Mars, if the inhabitants are human. There was a vacherie nearby where not many persons were drinking milk or even coffee; it is never the notion of the Italians that amusement can be had only through the purchase of refreshments.
I did not get as far as the Casino till the last Sunday of our Roman stay, though we came again and again to the park (as we should call it, rather than villa), sometimes to walk, sometimes to drive, and always to rejoice in its loveliness. It was not now a very guarded, if once a very studied, loveliness; not quite neglect, but a forgottenness to which it took kindly, had fallen upon it; the drives seemed largely left to take care of themselves, the walks were such as the frequenters chose to make over the grass or through the woods; the buildings—the aviary, the conservatory, the dairy, the stables—which formed part of the old pleasance, stood about, as if in an absent-minded indifference to their various roles. The weather had grown a little more wintry, or, at least, autumnal, as the season advanced toward spring, and one day at the end of February, when we were passing a woody hollow, the fallen leaves stirred crisply with a sound like that of late October at home. We had been at some pains and expense to put home four thousand miles away, but this sound was the sweetest and dearest we had heard in Rome, and it strangely attuned our spirits to the enjoyment of the fake antiquities, the broken arches, pediments, columns, statues, which, in a region glutted with ruin, the landscape architect of the Villa Borghese had fancied putting about in pleasing stages of artificial dilapidation. But there was nothing faked in the dishevelled grass of the little stadium, with its gradines around the sides, and the game of tennis which some young girls were playing in it. Neither was there anything ungenuine in the rapture of the boy whom we saw racing through the dead leaves of that woody hollow in chase of the wild fancies that fly before boyhood; and I hope that the charm of the plinths and statues in the careless grounds behind the soft, old, yellow Casino was a real charm. At any rate, these things all consoled, and the turf under the pines, now thickly starred with daisies, gave every assurance of being original.
When we came last the daisies were mingled with clustering anemones, which seem a greatly overrated sort of flower, crude and harsh in color, like cheap calico. If it were not for their pretty name I do not see how people could like them; yet the children that day were pouncing upon them and pulling them by handfuls; for the Villa Borghese is now state property and is free to the children of the people in a measure quite beyond Central Park. They can apparently pull anything they want, except mushrooms; there are signs advising people that the state draws the line at mushrooms.
It was once more a Sunday, and it was a free day in the Casino. The trodden earth sent up its homely, kindly smell from many feet on their way to the galleries, which we found full of people looking greater intelligence than the frequenters of such places commonly betray. They might have been such more cultivated sight-seers as could not afford to come on the paydays, and, if they had not crowded the room so, one might have been glad as well as proud to be of their number. They did not really keep one from older friends, from the statues and the pictures which were as familiarly there in 1908 as in 1864. In a world of vicissitudes such things do not change; the Sacred and Profane Love of Titian, though it had changed its name, had not changed its nature, and was as divinely serene, as richly beautiful as before. The Veroneses still glowed from the walls, dimming with their Venetian effulgence all the other pictures but the Botticellis and the Francias, and comforting one with the hope that, if one had always felt their beauty so much, one might, without suspecting it, have always had some little sense of art. But it was probably only a literary sense of art, such as moves the observer when he finds himself again in the presence of Canova’s Pauline Borghese. That is there, on the terms which were those no less of her character than of her time, in the lasting enjoyment of a publicity which her husband denied it in his lifetime; but it had no more to say now than it had so many, many years ago. As, a piece of personal history it is amusing enough, and as a sermon in stone it preaches whatever moral you choose to read into it. But as the masterpiece of the sculptor it testifies to an ideal of his art for which the world has reason to be grateful. Criticism does not now put Canova on the height where we once looked up to him; but criticism is a fickle thing, especially in its final judgments; and one cannot remember the behavior of the Virtues in some of the baroque churches without paying homage to the portrait of a lady who, whatever she was, was not a Virtue, but who yet helped the sculptor to realize in her statue a Venus of exceptional propriety. Tame, yes, we may now safely declare Canova to have been, but sane we must allow; and we must never forget that he has been the inspiration in modern sculpture of the eternal Greek truth of repose from which the art had so wildly wandered, He, more than any other, stayed it in the mad career on which Michelangelo, however remotely, had started it; and we owe it to him that the best marbles now no longer strut or swagger or bully.
It was by one of those accidents which are the best fortunes of travel that I visited the Villa Papa Giulio, when I thought I was merely going to the Piazza del Popolo, to which one cannot go too often. A chance look at my guide-book beguiled me with the notion that the villa was just outside the gate; but it was a deceit which I should be glad to have practised on me every February 17th of my life. If the villa was farther off than I thought, the way to it lay for a while through a tramwayed suburban street delightfully encumbered with wide-horned oxen drawing heavy wagon-loads of grain, donkeys pulling carts laden with vegetables, and children and hens and dogs playing their several parts in a perspective through which one would like to continue indefinitely. But after awhile a dim, cool, curving lane leaves this street and irresistibly invites your cab to follow it; and sooner than you could ask you get to the villa gate. There a gatekeeper tacitly wonders at your arriving before he is well awake, and will keep you a good five minutes while he parleys with another custodian before he can bring himself to sell you a ticket and let you into the beautiful, old, orange-gray cloistered court, where there is a young architect with the T-square of his calling sketching some point of it, and a gardener gently hacking off from the parent stems such palm-leaves as have survived their usefulness. Beyond is the famous fountained court, and a classic temple to the right, and other structures responsive to the impulses of the good Pope Julius III, who was never tired of adding to this pleasure palace of his. It was his favorite resort, with all his court, from the Vatican, and his favorite amusement in it was the somewhat academic diversion of proverbs, which Ranke says sometimes “mingled blushes with the smiles of his guests.”
Lest the reader should think I have gone direct to Ranke for this knowledge, I will own that I got it at second-hand out of Hare’s Walks in Rome, where he tells us also that the pope used to come to his villa every day by water, and that “the richly decorated barge, filled with venerable ecclesiastics, gliding through the osier-fringed banks of the Tiber, . . . would make a fine subject for a picture.” No doubt, and if I owned such a picture I would lose no time in public-spiritedly bestowing it on the first needy gallery. Our author is, as usual, terribly severe on the Italian government for some wrong done the villa, I could not well make out what. But it seems to involve the present disposition of the Etruscan antiquities in the upper rooms of the casino, where these, the most precious witnesses of that rather inarticulate civilization, must in any arrangement exhaust the most instructed interest. Just when the amateur archaeologist, however, is sinking under his learning, the custodian opens a window and lets him look out on a beautiful hill beyond certain gardens, where a bird is singing angelically. I suppose it is the same bird which sings all through these papers, and I am sorry I do not know its name. But we will call it a blackcap: blackcap has a sweet, saucy sound like its own note, and is the pretty translation of caponero, a name which the bird might gladly know itself by.
Villa Papa Giulio is but a little place compared with something on the scale of the Villa Pamfili Doria though from its casino it has a charm far beyond that. What it may once have been as to grounds and gardens there is little to show now, and the Pamfili Doria itself had not much to show in gardens, though it had grounds, and to spare. It is, in fact, a large park, though whether larger than the Villa Borghese I cannot say. But it has not been taken by the state, and it is so far off on its hills that it is safe from the overrunning of city feet. It is safe even from city wheels, unless they are those of livery carriages, for numbered cabs are not suffered in its proud precincts. You partake of this pride when you come in your rubber-tired remise, and have the consolation of being part of the beautiful exclusiveness. It costs you fifteen francs, but one must suffer for being patrician, even for a single afternoon. Outside we had the satisfaction of seeing innumerable numbered cabs drawn up, and within the villa gates of meeting or passing the plebeians who had come in them, and were now walking while we were smoothly rolling in our victoria. The day was everything we could ask, very warm and bright below the Janiculum, on which we had mounted, and here on the summit delicious with cool currents of air. There had been beggars, on the way up, at every point where our horses must be walked, and we had paid our way handsomely, so that when we went back they bowed without asking again; this is a convention at Rome which no self-respecting beggar will violate; they all touch their hats in recognition of it.
The beautiful prospect from a certain curve of the drive after yon have passed the formal sunken garden, at which you pause, is the greatest beauty of the Villa Pamfili Doria. You stop to look at it by the impulse of your coachman, and then you keep on driving round, in the long ellipse which the road describes, through grassy and woody slopes and levels, watered by a pleasant stream, and through long aisles of pine and ilex. We thought twice round was enough, and told the driver so, to his evident surprise and to our own regret, so far as the long aisle of ilex was concerned, for I do not suppose there is a more perfect thing of its kind in the world. The shade under the thick sun-proof roofing of horizontal boughs was practically as old as night, and on our second passage of its dim length it had some Capuchin monks walking down it, who formed the fittest possible human interest in the perspective. Off on the grass at one side some Ursuline nuns were sitting with their pupils, laughing and talking, and one nun was playing ball with the smaller girls, and mingling with their shouts her own joy, innocent cries of joy as she romped among them. Nothing could have been prettier, sweeter, or better suited to the place; all was very simple, and apparently the whole place was hospitably free to the poor women who ranged over it, digging chiccory for salad out of the meadows. The daisies were thick as white clover, and the harsh purple of the anemones showed everywhere.
The casino is plainer than the casino of the Villa Borghese, and is not public like that; its sculptures have been taken to the Doria palace in the city; and there is no longer any excuse for curiosity even to try penetrating it. It stands on the left of the road by which you leave the villa, and to the right on the grassy incline in full view of the casino was something that puzzled us at first. It did not seem probable that the gigantic capital letters grown in box should be spelling the English name Mary, but it proved that they were, and later it proved that this was the name of the noble English lady whom the late Prince Pamfill Doria had married. Whether they marked her grave or merely commemorated her, it was easy to impute a pathos to the fancy of having them there, which it might not have been so easy to verify. You cannot attempt to pass over any ground in Rome without danger of sinking into historical depths from which it will be hard to extricate yourself, and it is best to heed one’s steps and keep them to the day’s activities. But one could not well visit the Villa Pamfili Doria without at least wishing to remember that in 1849 Garibaldi held it for weeks against the whole French army, in his defence of republican Rome. A votive temple within the villa grounds commemorates the invaders who fell in this struggle; on a neighboring height the Italian leader triumphs in the monument his adoring country has raised to him.
There was much to please a somewhat peculiar taste in our visit to the Farnesina. The gateman, being an Italian official, had not been at the gate when we arrived, but came running and smiling from his gossip with the door-keeper of the casino, and this was a good deal in itself; but the door-keeper, amiably obese, was better still in her acceptance of the joke with which the hand-mirror for the easier study of the roof frescos was accepted. “It is more convenient,” she suggested, and at the counter-suggestion, “Yes, especially for people with short necks,” she shook with gelatinous laughter, and burst into the generous cry, “Oh, how delightful!” Perhaps this was because she, too, had experienced the advantage of perusing the frescos in the hand-mirror’s reversal. At any rate, she would not be satisfied till she had returned a Roland for that easy Oliver. Her chance came in showing a Rubens in one of the rooms, with the master’s usual assortment of billowy beauties, when she could say—and she ought to have known—that they had eaten too much macaroni. It was not much of a joke; but one hears so few jokes in Rome.
Do I linger in this study of simple character because I feel myself unequal to the ecstasies which the frescos of Raphael and his school in that pleasure dome demanded of me? Something like that, I suppose, but I do not pride myself on my inability. It seemed to me that the coloring of the frescos had lost whatever tenderness it once had; and that what was never meant to be matter of conscious perception, but only of the vague sense which it is the office of decoration to impart, had grown less pleasing with the passage of time. There in the first hall was the story of Cupid and Psyche in the literal illustration of Apuleius, and there in another hall was Galatea on her shell with her Nymphs and Tritons and Amorini; and there were Perseus and Medusa and Icarus and Phaeton and the rest of them. But, if I gave way to all the frankness of my nature, I should own the subjects fallen sillv through the old age of an outworn life and redeemed only by the wonderful skill with which they are rendered. At the same time, I will say in self-defence that, if I had a very long summer in which to keep coming and dwelling long hours in the company of these frescos, I think I might live back into the spirit which invented the fables, and enjoy even more the amusing taste that was never tired of their repetition. Masterly conception and incomparable execution are there in histories which are the dreams of worlds almost as extinct as the dead planets whose last rays still reach us and in whose death-glimmer we can fancy, if we will, a unity of life with our own not impossible nor improbable. But more than some such appeal the Raphaels and the Giulio Romanos of the Farnesina hardly make to the eye untrained in the art which created them, or unversed in the technique by which they will live till the last line moulders and the last tint fades.
We came out and stood a long time looking up in the pale afternoon light at the beautiful face of the tenderly aging but not yet decrepit casino. It was utterly charming, and it prompted many vagaries which I might easily have mistaken for ideas. This is perhaps the best of such experiences, and, after you have been with famous works of art and have got them well over and done with, it is natural and it is not unjust that you should wish to make them some return, if not in kind, then in quantity. You will try to believe that you have thought about them, and you should not too strictly inquire as to the fact. It is some such forbearance that accounts for a good deal of the appreciation and even the criticism of works of art.
Shortly after our settlement in the Eternal City, which has so much more time to be seen than the so-journer has to see it, I pleased myself with the notion of surprising it by visiting in a studied succession the many different piazzas. This, I thought, would acquaint me with the different churches, and on the way to them I should make friends with the various quarters. Everything, old or new, would have the charm of the unexpected; no lurking ruin would escape me; no monument, whether column or obelisk, statue, “storied urn or animated bust” or mere tablet, would be safe from my indirect research. Before I knew it, I should know Rome by heart, and this would be something to boast of long after I had forgotten it.
I could not say what suggested so admirable a notion, but it may have been coining by chance one day on the statue of Giordano Bruno, and realizing that it stood in the Campo di Fiori, on the spot where he was burned three hundred years ago for abetting Copernicus in his sacrilegious system of astronomy, and for divers other heresies, as well as the violation of his monastic vows. I saw it with the thrill which the solemn figure, heavily draped, deeply hooded, must impart as mere mystery, and I made haste to come again in the knowledge of what it was that had moved me so. Naturally I was not moved in the same measure a second time. It was not that the environment was, to my mind, unworthy the martyr, though I found the market at the foot of the statue given over, not to flowers, as the name of the place might imply, but to such homely fruits of the earth as potatoes, carrots, cabbages, and, above all, onions. There was a placidity in the simple scene that pleased me: I liked the quiet gossiping of the old market-women over their baskets of vegetables; the confidential fashion in which a gentle crone came to my elbow and begged of me in undertone, as if she meant the matter to go no further, was even nattering. But the solemnity of the face that looked down on the scene was spoiled by the ribbon drawn across it to fasten a wreath on the head, in the effort of some mistaken zealot of free thought to enhance its majesty by decoration. It was the moment when the society calling itself by Giordano Bruno’s name was making an effort for the suppression of ecclesiastical instruction in the public schools; and on the anniversary of his martyrdom his effigy had suffered this unmeant hurt. In all the churches there had been printed appeals to parents against the agnostic attack on the altar and the home, and there had been some of the open tumults which seem in Rome to express every social emotion. But the clericals had triumphed, and an observer more anxious than I to give a mystical meaning to accident might have interpreted the disfiguring ribbon over Bruno’s bronze lips as a new silencing of the heretic.
If Tivoli does not flourish so frankly on its oil as Frascati on its wine, it is perhaps because it has of late years tacitly prospered as much on the electricity which its wonderful and beautiful waterfalls enable it to furnish as abundantly to Rome as our own Niagara to Buffalo. The scrupulous Hare, whose Walks in Rome include Tivoli, does not, indeed, advise you to visit the electrical works, but he says that if you have not strength enough for all the interests and attractions of Tivoli it will be wise to give yourself entirely to the cascades and to the Villa d’Este, and this was what we instinctively did, but in the reverse order. Chance rewarded us before we left the villa with a sight of the electric plant, which just below the villa walls smokes industriously away with a round, redbrick chimney almost as lofty and as ugly as some chimney in America. On our way to and fro we necessarily passed through the town, which, with its widish but not straightish chief street, I found as clean as Rome itself, and looking, after the long tumult of its history, beginning well back in fable, as peaceable as Montclair, New Jersey. It had its charm, and, if I could have spent two weeks there instead of two hours, I might impart its effect in much more circumstance than I can now promise the reader. Most of my little time I gladly gave to the villa, which, with the manifold classic associations of the region, attracts the stranger and helps the cataracts sum up all that most people can keep of Tivoli.
The Villa d’Este is not yet a ruin, but it is ruinous enough to win the fancy without cumbering it with the mere rubbish of decay. Some neglected pleasances are so far gone that you cannot wish to live in them, but the forgottenness of the Villa d’Este hospitably allured me to instant and permament occupation, so that when I heard it could now be bought, casino and all, for thirty thousand dollars, nothing but the want of the money kept me from making the purchase. I indeed recognized certain difficulties in living there the year round; but who lives anywhere the year round if he can help it? The casino, standing among the simpler town buildings on the plateau above the gardens, would be a little inclement, for all its frescoing and stuccoing by the sixteenth-century arts, and in its noble halls, amid the painted and modelled figures, the new American proprietor would shiver with the former host and guests after the first autumn chill began; but while it was yet summer it would be as delicious there as in the aisles and avenues of the garden which its balustrated terrace looked into. From that level you descend by marble steps which must have some trouble in knowing themselves from the cascades pouring down the broken steeps beside them, and com-panionably sharing their seclusion among the cypresses and ilexes. You are never out of the sight and sound of the plunging water, which is still trained in falls and fountains, or left to a pathetic dribble through the tattered stucco of the neglected grots. It is now a good three centuries and a half since the Cardinal Ippolito d’.Este had these gardens laid out and his pleasure-house built overlooking them; and his gardener did not plan so substantially as his architect. In fact, you might suppose that the landscapist wrought with an eye to the loveliness of the ruin it all would soon fall into, and, where he used stone, used it fragilely, so that it would ultimately suggest old frayed and broken lace. Clearly he meant some of the cataracts to face one another, and to have a centre from which they could all be seen—say the still, dull-green basin which occupies a large space in the grounds between them. But he must have meant this for a surprise to the spectator, who easily misses it under the trees overleaning the moss-grown walks which hardly kept themselves from running wild. There is a sense of crumbling decorations of statues, broken in their rococo caverns; of cypresses carelessly grouped and fallen out of their proper straightness and slimness; of unkempt bushes crowding the space beneath; of fragmentary gods or giants half hid in the tangling grasses. It all has the air of something impatiently done for eager luxury, and its greatest charm is such as might have been expected to be won from eventual waste and wreck. If there was design in the treatment of the propitious ground, self-shaped to an irregular amphitheatre, it is now obscured, and the cultiavted tourist of our day may reasonably please himself with the belief that he is having a better time there than the academic Roman of the sixteenth century.
Academic it all is, however hastily and nonchalantly, and I feel that I have so signally failed to make the charm of the villa felt that I am going to let a far politer observer celebate the beauties of the other supreme interest of Tivoli. When Mr. Gray (as the poet loved to be called in print) visited the town with Mr. Walpole in May, 1740, the Villa d’Este by no means shared the honors of the cataracts, and Mr. Gray seems not to have thought it worth seriously describing in his letter to Mr. West, but mocks the casino with a playful mention before proceeding to speak fully, if still playfully, of the great attraction of Tivoli: “Dame Nature . . . has built here three or four little mountains and laid them out in an irregular semicircle; from certain others behind, at a greater distance, she has drawn a canal into which she has put a little river of hers called the Anio, . . . which she has no sooner done, but, like a heedless chit, it tumbles down a declivity fifty feet perpendicular, breaks itself all to shatters, and is converted into a shower of rain, where the sun forms many a bow—red, green, blue, and yellow. . . . By this time it has divided itself, being crossed and opposed by the rocks, into four several streams, each of which, in emulation of the greater one, will tumble down, too: and it does tumble down, but not from an equally elevated place; so that you have at one view all these cascades intermixed with groves of olive and little woods, the mountains rising behind them, and on the top of one (that which forms the extremity of the half-circle’s horns) is seated the town itself. At the very extremity of that extremity, on the brink of the precipice, stands the Sibyls’ Temple, the remains of a little rotunda, surrounded with its portico, above half of whose beautiful Corinthian pillars are still standing and entire.”
For the reader who has been on the spot the poet’s words will paint a vivid picture of the scene; for the reader who has not been there, so much the worse; he should lose no time in going, and drinking a cup of the local wine at a table of the restaurant now in possession of Mr. Gray’s point of view. I do not know a more filling moment, exclusive of the wine, than he can enjoy there, with those cascades before him and those temples beside him; for Mr. Gray has mentioned only one of the two, I do not know why, that exist on this enchanted spot, and that define their sharp, black shadows as with an inky line just beyond the restaurant tables. One is round and the other oblong, and the round one has been called the Sibyls’, though now it is getting itself called Vesta’s—the goddess who long unrightfully claimed the temple of Mater Matuta in the Forum Boarium at Rome. As Vesta has lately been dispossessed there by archaeology (which seems in Rome to enjoy the plenary powers of our Boards of Health), she may have been given the Sibyls’ Temple at Tivoli in compensation; but all this does not really matter. What really matters is the mighty chasm which yawns away almost from your feet, where you sit, and the cataracts, from their brinks, high or low, plunging into it, and the wavering columns of mist weakly striving upward out of it: the whole hacked by those mountains Mr. Gray mentions, with belts of olive orchard on their flanks, and wild paths furrowing and wrinkling their stern faces. To your right there is a sheeted cataract falling from the basins of the town laundry, where the toil of the washers melts into nmsic, and their chatter, like that of birds, drifts brokenly across the abyss to you. While you sit musing or murmuring in your rapture, two mandolins and a guitar smilingly intrude, and after a prelude of Italian airs swing into strains which presently, through your revery, you recognize as “In the Bowery” and “Just One Girl,” and the smile of the two mandolins and the guitar spreads to a grin of sympathy, and you are no longer at the Caffe Sibylla in Tivoli, but in your own Manhattan on some fairy roof-garden, or at some sixty-cent table d’hote, with wine and music included.
Our driver decided for us to go first to the Villa Falconieri, which had lately been bought and presented by a fond subject to the German Emperor, and by him in turn bestowed on the German Academy at Rome. In the cold, clean, stony streets of Frascati, as we rattled through them, there breathed the odor of the great local industry; and the doorways of many buildings, widening almost in a circle to admit the burly tuns of wine, testified how generally, how almost universally, the vintage of that measureless acreage of grapes around the place employed the inhabitants. But there was little else to impress the observer in Frascati, and we willingly passed out of the town in the road climbing the long incline to the Villa Falconieri, with its glimpses, far and near, of woods and gardens. It was a road so much to our minds that nothing was further from us than the notion that our horse might not like it so well; but, at the first distinct rise, he stopped and wheeled round so abruptly, after first pawing the air, that there could be no doubt where the popular interest we had lately enjoyed in Frascati had really originated. Probably our horse's distinguishing trait was known to everybody in Frascati except his driver. He, at least, showed the greatest surprise at the horse's behavior, as unprecedented in their acquaintance, which he owned was brief, for he had bought him in Rome only the week before. With successive retreats to level ground he put him again and again at the incline, but as soon as the horse felt the ground rising under his feet he lifted them from it and whirled round for another retreat. All this we witnessed from an advantageotis point at the roadside which we had taken up at his first show of reluctance; and at last the driver suggested that we should leave it and go on to the Villa Falconieri on foot. On our part, we suggested that he should attempt some other villa which would not involve an objectionable climb. He then proposed the Villa Mandragone, and the horse seemed to agree with us. As we drove again through the clean, cold, stony streets, with the rounded doorways for the wine-casks, we fancied something clearly ironical in the general interest renewed by our return. But we tried to look as if we had merely done the Villa Falconieri with unexampled rapidity, and pushed on to the Villa Mandragone, where, under the roof of interlacing ilex toughs, our horse ought to have been tempted on in a luxurious unconsciousness of anything like an incline. But he was apparently an animal which would have felt the difference between two rose-leaves and one in a flowery path, and just when we were thinking what a delightful time we were having, and beginning to feel a gentle question as to who the pathetic little cripple halting toward us with a color-box and a camp-stool might be, and whether she painted as well as a kind heart could wish, our horse stopped with the suddenness which we knew to be definite. The sensitive creature could not be deceived; he must have reached rising ground, and we sided with him against our driver, who would have pretended it was fancy.
It was now noon, and we drove back to the piazza, agreeing upon a less price in view of the imperfect service rendered, and deciding to collect our thoughts for a new venture over such luncheon as the best hotel could give us. It was not so good a hotel as the lunch it gave. It was beyond the cleansing tide of modernity which has swept the Roman hotels, and was dirty everywhere, but with a specially dirty, large, shabby dining-room, cold and draughty, yet precious for the large, round brazier near our table which kept one side of us warm in romantic mediaeval fashion, and invited us to rise from time to time and thaw our fingers over its blinking coals. The bath in which our chicken had been boiled formed a good soup; there was an admirable pasta and a creditable, if imperfect, conception of beefsteak; and there was a caraffe of new Frascati wine, sweet, like new cider. If we could have asked more, it would not have been more than the young Italian officer who sat in the other corner with his pretty young wife, and who allowed me to weave a whole realtistic fiction out of their being at Frascati so out of season.
Just as I was most satisfyingly accounting for them, our late driver alarmed me by appearing at the door and beckoning me to the outside. The occasion was nothing worse than the presence of a man who, he said, was his brother, with a horse which, upon the same authority, was without moral blame or physical blemish. If anything, it preferred a mountain to a plain country, and could be warranted to balk at nothing. The man, who was almost as exemplary as the horse, would assume the unfulfilled contract of the other man and horse with a slight increase of pay; and yet I had my doubts. The day had clouded, and I meekly contended that it was going to rain; but the man explicitly and the horse tacitly scoffed at the notion, and I yielded. I shall always be glad that I did so, for in the keeping of those good creatures the rest of our day was an unalloyed delight. It appeared, upon further acquaintance, that the man paid a hundred dollars for the horse; his brother had paid a hundred and twenty-five for the balker; but it was the belief of our driver that it would be worth the difference when it had reconciled itself to the rising ground of Frascati; as yet it was truly a stranger there. His own horse was used to ups and downs everywhere; they had just come from a long trip, and he was going to drive to Siena and back the next week with two ladies for passengers, who were to pay him five dollars a day for himself and horse and their joint keep. He said the ladies, whose names he gave, were from Boston; he balked at adding Massachusetts, but I am sure the horse would not; and, if I could have hired them both to carry me about Italy indefinitely, I would have gladly paid them five dollars a day as long as I had the money. The fact is, that driver was charming, a man of sense and intelligence, who reflected credit even upon his brother and his brother’s horse: one of those perfect Italian temperaments which endear their possessors to the head and heart, so that you wonder, at parting, how you are going to live without them.
We did not excite such vivid interest in Frascati at our second start as at our first; but, as we necessarily passed over the same route again, we had the applause of the children in streets now growing familiar, and a glad welcome back from the pretty girls and blithe matrons of all ages rhythmically washing in the public laundry, who recognized us in our new equipage. The public laundry is always the happiest scene in an Italian town, and probably our adventures continued the subject of joyous comment throughout the day which was now passing only too rapidly for us. We were again on the way to the Villa Falconieri, and while our brave horse is valiantly mounting the steep to its gate this is perhaps as good a place as any to own that the Villa Falconieri and the Villa Mondragone were the only sights we saw in Frascati. We did, indeed, penetrate the chill interior of the local cathedral, but as we did not know at the time that we were sharing it with the memory of the young Stuart pretender Charles Edward, who died in Frascati, and whose brother, Cardinal York, placed a mural tablet to him in the church, we were conscious of no special claim upon our interest. We ought, of course, to have visited the Villa Aldobrandini and the Villa Ruffinella and the Villa Graziola and the Villa Taverna, but we left all these to the reader, who will want some reason for going to Frascati in person, and to whom I commend them as richly worth crossing the Atlantic for.
We were going now to the Villa Mandragone, but we had not yet the courage for the rise of ground where we had failed before, and we entreated our driver to go round some other way, if he could, and descend rather than ascend to it. He said that was easy, and it was when we came away that we passed through that ilex avenue which we had not yet penetrated in its whole length, and where we now met many foot-passengers, lay and cleric, who added to the character of the scene, and saw again the little cripple artist, now trying to seize its features, or some of them. I did not see whether she was succeeding so well as in pity she might and as I knew she did.
In spite of our triumph with the Villa Mandragone in this second attempt, we can never think it half as charming as the Villa Falconieri. I forget what cardinal it was who built it so spacious and splendid, with three hundred and sixty-five windows, in honor of the calendar as reformed by the reigning pope, Gregory XIII. It is a palace enclosing a quadrangle of whole acres (I will not own to less), with a stately colonnade following as far round as the reader likes. When he passes through all this magnificence he will come out on a grassy terrace, with a fountain below it, and below that again the chromatic ocean of the Campagna (I have said sea often enough). A weird sort of barbaric stateliness is given to the place by the twisted and tapering pillars that rise at the several corners, with colossal masques carven at the top and the sky showing through the eye-hollows, as the flame of torches must often have shown at night. But for all the outlandish suggestion of these pillars, the villa now belongs to the Jesuits, who have a college there, where only the sons of noble families are received for education. As we rounded a sunny wall in driving away, we saw a line of people, old and young of both sexes, but probably not of noble families, seated with their backs against the warm stone eating from comfortable bowls a soup which our driver said was the soup of charity and the daily dole of the fathers to such hungry as came for it. The day was now growing colder thaa it had been, and we felt that the poor needed all the soup, and hot, that they could get.
.. the Baths of Caracalla, which we had set out to see on the first of our Roman holidays, and, after turning aside for the Coloseum, had now visited on next to the last of them. The stupendous ruin could scarcely have been growing in the ten or twelve weeks that had passed, but a bewildering notion of something like this obsessed me as I saw it bulking aloof in overhanging cliffs and precipices, through the cool and bright April air, against a sky of absolute blue. As if it had been cast up out of the earth in some convulsive throe of nature, it floundered over its vast area in shapeless masses which seemed to have capriciously received the effect of human design in the coping of the inaccessible steeps, in the arches flinging themselves across the spaces between the beetling crags, in the monstrous spring and sweep of the vaults, in the gloom of the cavernous apertures of its Titanic walls. For the moment its immensity dwarfed the image of all the other fragments of the Roman world and set definite bounds to their hugeness in the mind. It seemed to have been not so much a single edifice as a whole city, the dwelling instead of the resort of the multitudes that once thronged it. The traces of the ornamentation which had enriched it everywhere and which it had taken ages of ravage to strip from it, accented its savage majesty, and again the sentiment of spring in the fresh afternoon breeze and sunshine, and the innocent beauty of the blooming peach and cherry in the orchards around, imparted to it a pathos in which one’s mere brute wonder was lost. But it was a purely adventitious pathos, and it must be owned here, at the end, that none of the relics of ancient Rome stir a soft emotion in the beholder, and, as for beauty, there is more of it in some ivy-netted fragment of some English abbey which Henry’s Cromwell “hammered down” than in the ruin of all the palaces and temples and theatres and circuses and baths of that imperial Rome which the world is so well rid of.
Read What Dante Saw.
Read What Goethe Saw.
Read What Lord Byron Saw.
Read What Charles Dickens Saw.
Read What Mark Twain Saw.
Read What Henry James Saw.
Read Dan Brown's Spaghetti Bolognaise (excerpts from Angels and Demons)