Italian Hours
Henry James

Part 4 out of 7

on the European plan. The mouldy grey houses on the steep crooked
street, with their black cavernous archways pervaded by bad
smells, by the braying of asses and by human intonations hardly
more musical, the haggard and tattered peasantry staring at you
with hungry-heavy eyes, the brutish-looking monks (there are
still enough to point a moral), the soldiers, the mounted
constables, the dirt, the dreariness, the misery, and the dark
over-grown palace frowning over it all from barred window and
guarded gateway--what more than all this do we dimly descry in a
mental image of the dark ages? For all his desire to keep the
peace with the vivid image of things if it be only vivid enough,
the votary of this ideal may well occasionally turn over such
values with the wonder of what one takes them as paying for. They
pay sometimes for such sorry "facts of life." At Genzano, out of
the very midst of the village squalor, rises the Palazzo
Cesarini, separated from its gardens by a dirty lane. Between
peasant and prince the, contact is unbroken, and one would
suppose Italian good-nature sorely taxed by their mutual
allowances; that the prince in especial must cultivate a firm
impervious shell. There are no comfortable townsfolk about him to
remind him of the blessings of a happy mediocrity of fortune.
When he looks out of his window he sees a battered old peasant
against a sunny wall sawing off his dinner from a hunch of black

I must confess, however, that "feudal" as it amused me to find
the little piazza of the Ariccia, it appeared to threaten in no
manner an exasperated rising. On the contrary, the afternoon
being cool, many of the villagers were contentedly muffled in
those ancient cloaks, lined with green baize, which, when tossed
over the shoulder and surmounted with a peaked hat, form one of
the few lingering remnants of "costume" in Italy; others were
tossing wooden balls light-heartedly enough on the grass outside
the town. The egress on this side is under a great stone archway
thrown out from the palace and surmounted with the family arms.
Nothing could better confirm your theory that the townsfolk are
groaning serfs. The road leads away through the woods, like many
of the roads hereabouts, among trees less remarkable for their
size than for their picturesque contortions and posturings. The
woods, at the moment at which I write, are full of the raw green
light of early spring, a jour vastly becoming to the
various complexions of the wild flowers that cover the waysides.
I have never seen these untended parterres in such lovely
exuberance; the sturdiest pedestrian becomes a lingering idler if
he allows them to catch his eye. The pale purple cyclamen, with
its hood thrown back, stands up in masses as dense as tulip-beds;
and here and there in the duskier places great sheets of forget-
me-not seem to exhale a faint blue mist. These are the commonest
plants; there are dozens more I know no name for--a rich
profusion in especial of a beautiful five-petalled flower whose
white texture is pencilled with hair-strokes certain fair
copyists I know of would have to hold their breath to imitate. An
Italian oak has neither the girth nor the height of its English
brothers, but it contrives in proportion to be perhaps even more
effective. It crooks its back and twists its arms and clinches
its hundred fists with the queerest extravagance, and wrinkles
its bark into strange rugosities from which its first scattered
sprouts of yellow green seem to break out like a morbid fungus.
But the tree which has the greatest charm to northern eyes is the
cold grey-green ilex, whose clear crepuscular shade drops against
a Roman sun a veil impenetrable, yet not oppressive. The ilex has
even less colour than the cypress, but it is much less funereal,
and a landscape in which it is frequent may still be said to
smile faintly, though by no means to laugh. It abounds in old
Italian gardens, where the boughs are trimmed and interlocked
into vaulted corridors in which, from point to point, as in the
niches of some dimly frescoed hall, you see mildewed busts stare
at you with a solemnity which the even grey light makes strangely
intense. A humbler relative of the ilex, though it does better
things than help broken-nosed emperors to look dignified, is the
olive, which covers many of the neighbouring hillsides with its
little smoky puffs of foliage. A stroke of composition I never
weary of is that long blue stretch of the Campagna which makes a
high horizon and rests on this vaporous base of olive-tops. A
reporter intent upon a simile might liken it to the ocean seen
above the smoke of watch-fires kindled on the strand.

To do perfect justice to the wood-walk away from the Ariccia I
ought to touch upon the birds that were singing vespers as I
passed. But the reader would find my rhapsody as poor
entertainment as the programme of a concert he had been unable to
attend. I have no more learning about bird-music than would help
me to guess that a dull dissyllabic refrain in the heart of the
wood came from the cuckoo; and when at moments I heard a twitter
of fuller tone, with a more suggestive modulation, I could only
hope it was the nightingale. I have listened for the
nightingale more than once in places so charming that his song
would have seemed but the articulate expression of their beauty,
and have never heard much beyond a provoking snatch or two--a
prelude that came to nothing. In spite of a natural grudge,
however, I generously believe him a great artist or at least a
great genius--a creature who despises any prompting short of
absolute inspiration. For the rich, the multitudinous melody
around me seemed but the offering to my ear of the prodigal
spirit of tradition. The wood was ringing with sound because it
was twilight, spring and Italy. It was also because of these good
things and various others besides that I relished so keenly my
visit to the Capuchin convent upon which I emerged after half-an-
hour in the wood. It stands above the town on the slope of the
Alban Mount, and its wild garden climbs away behind it and
extends its melancholy influence. Before it is a small stiff
avenue of trimmed live-oaks which conducts you to a grotesque
little shrine beneath the staircase ascending to the church. Just
here, if you are apt to grow timorous at twilight, you may take a
very pretty fright; for as you draw near you catch behind the
grating of the shrine the startling semblance of a gaunt and
livid monk. A sickly lamplight plays down upon his face, and he
stares at you from cavernous eyes with a dreadful air of death in
life. Horror of horrors, you murmur, is this a Capuchin penance?
You discover of course in a moment that it is only a Capuchin
joke, that the monk is a pious dummy and his spectral visage a
matter of the paint-brush. You resent his intrusion on the
surrounding loveliness; and as you proceed to demand
entertainment at their convent you pronounce the Capuchins very
foolish fellows. This declaration, as I made it, was supported by
the conduct of the simple brother who opened the door of the
cloister in obedience to my knock and, on learning my errand,
demurred about admitting me at so late an hour. If I would return
on the morrow morning he'd be most happy. He broke into a blank
grin when I assured him that this was the very hour of my desire
and that the garish morning light would do no justice to the
view. These were mysteries beyond his ken, and it was only his
good-nature (of which he had plenty) and not his imagination that
was moved. So that when, passing through the narrow cloister and
out upon the grassy terrace, I saw another cowled brother
standing with folded hands profiled against the sky, in admirable
harmony with the scene, I questioned his knowing the uses for
which he is still most precious. This, however, was surely too
much to ask of him, and it was cause enough for gratitude that,
though he was there before me, he was not a fellow-tourist with
an opera-glass slung over his shoulder. There was support to my
idea of the convent in the expiring light, for the scene was in
its way unsurpassable. Directly below the terrace lay the deep-
set circle of the Alban Lake, shining softly through the light
mists of evening. This beautiful pool--it is hardly more--
occupies the crater of a prehistoric volcano, a perfect cup,
shaped and smelted by furnace-fires. The rim of the cup, rising
high and densely wooded round the placid stone-blue water, has a
sort of natural artificiality. The sweep and contour of the long
circle are admirable; never was a lake so charmingly lodged. It
is said to be of extraordinary depth; and though stone-blue water
seems at first a very innocent substitute for boiling lava, it
has a sinister look which betrays its dangerous antecedents. The
winds never reach it and its surface is never ruffled; but its
deep-bosomed placidity seems to cover guilty secrets, and you
fancy it in communication with the capricious and treacherous
forces of nature. Its very colour is of a joyless beauty, a blue
as cold and opaque as a solidified sheet of lava. Streaked and
wrinkled by a mysterious motion of its own, it affects the very
type of a legendary pool, and I could easily have believed that I
had only to sit long enough into the evening to see the ghosts of
classic nymphs and naiads cleave its sullen flood and beckon me
with irresistible arms. Is it because its shores are haunted with
these vague Pagan influences that two convents have risen there
to purge the atmosphere? From the Capuchin terrace you look
across at the grey Franciscan monastery of Palazzuola, which is
not less romantic certainly than the most obstinate myth it may
have exorcised. The Capuchin garden is a wild tangle of great
trees and shrubs and clinging, trembling vines which in these
hard days are left to take care of themselves; a weedy garden, if
there ever was one, but none the less charming for that, in the
deepening dusk, with its steep grassy vistas struggling away into
impenetrable shadow. I braved the shadow for the sake of climbing
upon certain little flat-roofed crumbling pavilions that rise
from the corners of the further wall and give you a wider and
lovelier view of lake and hills and sky.

I have perhaps justified to the reader the mild proposition with
which I started--convinced him, that is, that Albano is worth a
walk. It may be a different walk each day, moreover, and not
resemble its predecessors save by its keeping in the shade.
"Galleries" the roads are prettily called, and with the justice
that they are vaulted and draped overhead and hung with an
immense succession of pictures. As you follow the few miles from
Genzano to Frascati you have perpetual views of the Campagna
framed by clusters of trees; the vast iridescent expanse of which
completes the charm and comfort of your verdurous dusk. I
compared it just now to the sea, and with a good deal of truth,
for it has the same incalculable lights and shades, the same
confusion of glitter and gloom. But I have seen it at moments--
chiefly in the misty twilight--when it resembled less the waste
of waters than something more portentous, the land itself in
fatal dissolution. I could believe the fields to be dimly surging
and tossing and melting away into quicksands, and that one's very
last chance of an impression was taking place. A view, however,
which has the merit of being really as interesting as it seems,
is that of the Lake of Nemi; which the enterprising traveller
hastens to compare with its sister sheet of Albano. Comparison in
this case is particularly odious, for in order to prefer one lake
to the other you have to discover faults where there are none.
Nemi is a smaller circle, but lies in a deeper cup, and if with
no grey Franciscan pile to guard its woody shores, at least, in
the same position, the little high-perched black town to which it
gives its name and which looks across at Genzano on the opposite
shore as Palazzuola regards Castel Gandolfo. The walk from the
Ariccia to Genzano is charming, most of all when it reaches a
certain grassy piazza from which three public avenues stretch
away under a double row of stunted and twisted elms. The Duke
Cesarini has a villa at Genzano--I mentioned it just now--whose
gardens overhang the lake; but he has also a porter in a faded
rakish-looking livery who shakes his head at your proffered franc
unless you can reinforce it with a permit countersigned at Rome.
For this annoying complication of dignities he is justly to be
denounced; but I forgive him for the sake of that ancestor who in
the seventeenth century planted this shady walk. Never was a
prettier approach to a town than by these low-roofed light-
chequered corridors. Their only defect is that they prepare you
for a town of rather more rustic coquetry than Genzano exhibits.
It has quite the usual allowance, the common cynicism, of
accepted decay, and looks dismally as if its best families had
all fallen into penury together and lost the means of keeping
anything better than donkeys in their great dark, vaulted
basements and mending their broken window-panes with anything
better than paper. It was on the occasion of this drear Genzano
that I had a difference of opinion with a friend who maintained
that there was nothing in the same line so pretty in Europe as a
pretty New England village. The proposition seemed to a cherisher
of quaintness on the face of it inacceptable; but calmly
considered it has a measure of truth. I am not fond of chalk-
white painted planks, certainly; I vastly prefer the dusky tones
of ancient stucco and peperino; but I succumb on occasion to the
charms of a vine-shaded porch, of tulips and dahlias glowing in
the shade of high-arching elms, of heavy-scented lilacs bending
over a white paling to brush your cheek.

"I prefer Siena to Lowell," said my friend; "but I prefer
Farmington to such a thing as this." In fact an Italian village
is simply a miniature Italian city, and its various parts imply a
town of fifty times the size. At Genzano are neither dahlias nor
lilacs, and no odours but foul ones. Flowers and other graces are
all confined to the high-walled precincts of Duke Cesarini, to
which you must obtain admission twenty miles away. The houses on
the other hand would generally lodge a New England cottage,
porch and garden and high-arching elms included, in one of their
cavernous basements. These vast grey dwellings are all of a
fashion denoting more generous social needs than any they serve
nowadays. They speak of better days and of a fabulous time when
Italy was either not shabby or could at least "carry off" her
shabbiness. For what follies are they doing penance? Through what
melancholy stages have their fortunes ebbed? You ask these
questions as you choose the shady side of the long blank street
and watch the hot sun glare upon the dust-coloured walls and
pause before the fetid gloom of open doors.

I should like to spare a word for mouldy little Nemi, perched
upon a cliff high above the lake, at the opposite side; but after
all, when I had climbed up into it from the water-side, passing
beneath a great arch which I suppose once topped a gateway, and
counted its twenty or thirty apparent inhabitants peeping at me
from black doorways, and looked at the old round tower at whose
base the village clusters, and declared that it was all queer,
queer, desperately queer, I had said all that is worth saying
about it. Nemi has a much better appreciation of its lovely
position than Genzano, where your only view of the lake is from a
dunghill behind one of the houses. At the foot of the round tower
is an overhanging terrace, from which you may feast your eyes on
the only freshness they find in these dusky human hives--the
blooming seam, as one may call it, of strong wild flowers which
binds the crumbling walls to the face of the cliff. Of Rocca di
Papa I must say as little, It consorted generally with the
bravery of its name; but the only object I made a note of as I
passed through it on my way to Monte Cavo, which rises directly
above it, was a little black house with a tablet in its face
setting forth that Massimo d' Azeglio had dwelt there. The story
of his sojourn is not the least attaching episode in his
delightful Ricordi. From the summit of Monte Cavo is a
prodigious view, which you may enjoy with whatever good-nature is
left you by the reflection that the modern Passionist convent
occupying this admirable site was erected by the Cardinal of York
(grandson of James II) on the demolished ruins of an immemorial
temple of Jupiter: the last foolish act of a foolish race. For me
I confess this folly spoiled the convent, and the convent all but
spoiled the view; for I kept thinking how fine it would have been
to emerge upon the old pillars and sculptures from the lava
pavement of the Via Triumphalis, which wanders grass-grown and
untrodden through the woods. A convent, however, which nothing
spoils is that of Palazzuola, to which I paid my respects on this
same occasion. It rises on a lower spur of Monte Cavo, on the
edge, as we have seen, of the Alban Lake, and though it occupies
a classic site, that of early Alba Longa, it displaced nothing
more precious than memories and legends so dim that the
antiquarians are still quarrelling about them. It has a meagre
little church and the usual sham Perugino with a couple of tinsel
crowns for the Madonna and the Infant inserted into the canvas;
and it has also a musty old room hung about with faded portraits
and charts and queer ecclesiastical knick-knacks, which borrowed
a mysterious interest from the sudden assurance of the simple
Franciscan brother who accompanied me that it was the room of the
Son of the King of Portugal. But my peculiar pleasure was the
little thick-shaded garden which adjoins the convent and commands
from its massive artificial foundations an enchanting view of the
lake. Part of it is laid out in cabbages and lettuce, over which
a rubicund brother, with his frock tucked up, was bending with a
solicitude which he interrupted to remove his skullcap and greet
me with the unsophisticated sweet-humoured smile that every now
and then in Italy does so much to make you forget the ambiguities
of monachism. The rest is occupied by cypresses and other
funereal umbrage, making a dank circle round an old cracked
fountain black with water-moss. The parapet of the terrace is
furnished with good stone seats where you may lean on your elbows
to gaze away a sunny half-hour and, feeling the general charm of
the scene, declare that the best mission of such a country in the
world has been simply to produce, in the way of prospect and
picture, these masterpieces of mildness. Mild here as a dream the
whole attained effect, mild as resignation, mild as one's
thoughts of another life. Such a session wasn't surely an
experience of the irritable flesh; it was the deep degustation,
on a summer's day, of something immortally expressed by a man of

[Illustration: CASTEL GANDOLFO.]

From Albano you may take your way through several ancient little
cities to Frascati, a rival centre of villeggiatura, the
road following the hillside for a long morning's walk and
passing through alternations of denser and clearer shade--the
dark vaulted alleys of ilex and the brilliant corridors of fresh-
sprouting oak. The Campagna is beneath you continually, with the
sea beyond Ostia receiving the silver arrows of the sun upon its
chased and burnished shield, and mighty Rome, to the north, lying
at no great length in the idle immensity around it. The highway
passes below Castel Gandolfo, which stands perched on an eminence
behind a couple of gateways surmounted with the Papal tiara and
twisted cordon; and I have more than once chosen the roundabout
road for the sake of passing beneath these pompous insignia.
Castel Gandolfo is indeed an ecclesiastical village and under the
peculiar protection of the Popes, whose huge summer-palace rises
in the midst of it like a rural Vatican. In speaking of the road
to Frascati I necessarily revert to my first impressions,
gathered on the occasion of the feast of the Annunziata, which
falls on the 25th of March and is celebrated by a peasants' fair.
As Murray strongly recommends you to visit this spectacle, at
which you are promised a brilliant exhibition of all the costumes
of modern Latium, I took an early train to Frascati and measured,
in company with a prodigious stream of humble pedestrians, the
half-hour's interval to Grotta Ferrata, where the fair is held.
The road winds along the hillside, among the silver-sprinkled
olives and through a charming wood where the ivy seemed tacked
upon the oaks by women's fingers and the birds were singing to
the late anemones. It was covered with a very jolly crowd of
vulgar pleasure-takers, and the only creatures not in a state of
manifest hilarity were the pitiful little overladen, overbeaten
donkeys (who surely deserve a chapter to themselves in any
description of these neighbourhoods) and the horrible beggars who
were thrusting their sores and stumps at you from under every
tree. Every one was shouting, singing, scrambling, making light
of dust and distance and filling the air with that childlike
jollity which the blessed Italian temperament never goes
roundabout to conceal. There is no crowd surely at once so jovial
and so gentle as an Italian crowd, and I doubt if in any other
country the tightly packed third-class car in which I went out
from Rome would have introduced me to so much smiling and so
little swearing. Grotta Ferrata is a very dirty little village,
with a number of raw new houses baking on the hot hillside and
nothing to charm the fond gazer but its situation and its old
fortified abbey. After pushing about among the shabby little
booths and declining a number of fabulous bargains in tinware,
shoes and pork, I was glad to retire to a comparatively uninvaded
corner of the abbey and divert myself with the view. This grey
ecclesiastical stronghold is a thoroughly scenic affair, hanging
over the hillside on plunging foundations which bury themselves
among the dense olives. It has massive round towers at the
corners and a grass-grown moat, enclosing a church and a
monastery. The fore-court, within the abbatial gateway, now
serves as the public square of the village and in fair-time of
course witnesses the best of the fun. The best of the fun was to
be found in certain great vaults and cellars of the abbey, where
wine was in free flow from gigantic hogsheads. At the exit of
these trickling grottos shady trellises of bamboo and gathered
twigs had been improvised, and under them a grand guzzling
proceeded. All of which was so in the fine old style that I was
roughly reminded of the wedding-feast of Gamacho. The banquet
was far less substantial of course, but it had a note as of
immemorial manners that couldn't fail to suggest romantic
analogies to a pilgrim from the land of no cooks. There was a
feast of reason close at hand, however, and I was careful to
visit the famous frescoes of Domenichino in the adjoining
church. It sounds rather brutal perhaps to say that, when I came
back into the clamorous little piazza, the sight of the peasants
swilling down their sour wine appealed to me more than the
masterpieces--Murray calls them so--of the famous Bolognese. It
amounts after all to saying that I prefer Teniers to Domenichino;
which I am willing to let pass for the truth. The scene under the
rickety trellises was the more suggestive of Teniers that there
were no costumes to make it too Italian. Murray's attractive
statement on this point was, like many of his statements, much
truer twenty years ago than to-day. Costume is gone or fast
going; I saw among the women not a single crimson bodice and not
a couple of classic head-cloths. The poorer sort, dressed in
vulgar rags of no fashion and colour, and the smarter ones in
calico gowns and printed shawls of the vilest modern fabric, had
honoured their dusky tresses but with rich applications of
grease. The men are still in jackets and breeches, and, with
their slouched and pointed hats and open-breasted shirts and
rattling leather leggings, may remind one sufficiently of the
Italian peasant as he figured in the woodcuts familiar to our
infancy. After coming out of the church I found a delightful
nook--a queer little terrace before a more retired and tranquil
drinking-shop--where I called for a bottle of wine to help me to
guess why I "drew the line" at Domenichino.

This little terrace was a capricious excrescence at the end of
the piazza, itself simply a greater terrace; and one reached it,
picturesquely, by ascending a short inclined plane of grass-grown
cobble-stones and passing across a little dusky kitchen through
whose narrow windows the light of the mighty landscape beyond
touched up old earthen pots. The terrace was oblong and so narrow
that it held but a single small table, placed lengthwise; yet
nothing could be pleasanter than to place one's bottle on the
polished parapet. Here you seemed by the time you had emptied it
to be swinging forward into immensity--hanging poised above the
Campagna. A beautiful gorge with a twinkling stream wandered down
the hill far below you, beyond which Marino and Castel Gandolfo
peeped above the trees. In front you could count the towers of
Rome and the tombs of the Appian Way. I don't know that I came to
any very distinct conclusion about Domenichino; but it was
perhaps because the view was perfection that he struck me as more
than ever mediocrity. And yet I don't think it was one's bottle
of wine, either, that made one after all maudlin about him; it
was the sense of the foolishly usurped in his tenure of fame, of
the derisive in his ever having been put forward. To say so
indeed savours of flogging a dead horse, but it is surely an
unkind stroke of fate for him that Murray assures ten thousand
Britons every winter in the most emphatic manner that his
Communion of St. Jerome is the "second finest picture in the
world. If this were so one would certainly here in Rome, where
such institutions are convenient, retire into the very nearest
convent; with such a world one would have a standing quarrel. And
yet this sport of destiny is an interesting case, in default of
being an interesting painter, and I would take a moderate walk,
in most moods, to see one of his pictures. He is so supremely
good an example of effort detached from inspiration and school-
merit divorced from spontaneity, that one of his fine frigid
performances ought to hang in a conspicuous place in every
academy of design. Few things of the sort contain more urgent
lessons or point a more precious moral; and I would have the
head-master in the drawing-school take each ingenuous pupil by
the hand and lead him up to the Triumph of David or the Chase of
Diana or the red-nosed Persian Sibyl and make him some such
little speech as the following: "This great picture, my son, was
hung here to show you how you must never paint; to give
you a perfect specimen of what in its boundless generosity the
providence of nature created for our fuller knowledge--an artist
whose development was a negation. The great thing in art is
charm, and the great thing in charm is spontaneity. Domenichino,
having talent, is here and there an excellent model--he was
devoted, conscientious, observant, industrious; but now that
we've seen pretty well what can simply be learned do its best,
these things help him little with us, because his imagination was
cold. It loved nothing, it lost itself in nothing, its efforts
never gave it the heartache. It went about trying this and that,
concocting cold pictures after cold receipts, dealing in the
second-hand, in the ready-made, and putting into its performances
a little of everything but itself. When you see so many things in
a composition you might suppose that among them all some charm
might be born; yet they're really but the hundred mouths through
which you may hear the unhappy thing murmur 'I'm dead!' It's by
the simplest thing it has that a picture lives--by its temper.
Look at all the great talents, Domenichino as well as at Titian;
but think less of dogma than of plain nature, and I can almost
promise you that yours will remain true." This is very little to
what the aesthetic sage I have imagined might say; and we
are after all unwilling to let our last verdict be an unkind one
on any great bequest of human effort. The faded frescoes in the
chapel at Grotta Ferrata leave us a memory the more of man's
effort to dream beautifully; and they thus mingle harmoniously
enough with our multifold impressions of Italy, where dreams and
realities have both kept such pace and so strangely diverged. It
was absurd--that was the truth--to be critical at all among the
appealing old Italianisms round me and to treat the poor exploded
Bolognese more harshly than, when I walked back to Frascati, I
treated the charming old water-works of the Villa Aldobrandini.
I confound these various products of antiquated art in a genial
absolution, and should like especially to tell how fine it was to
watch this prodigious fountain come tumbling down its channel of
mouldy rock-work, through its magnificent vista of ilex, to the
fantastic old hemicycle where a dozen tritons and naiads sit
posturing to receive it. The sky above the ilexes was incredibly
blue and the ilexes themselves incredibly black; and to see the
young white moon peeping above the trees you could easily have
fancied it was midnight. I should like furthermore to expatiate
on Villa Mondragone, the most grandly impressive hereabouts, of
all such domestic monuments. The Casino in the midst is as big as
the Vatican, which it strikingly resembles, and it stands perched
on a terrace as vast as the parvise of St. Peter's, looking
straight away over black cypress-tops into the shining vastness
of the Campagna. Everything somehow seemed immense and solemn;
there was nothing small but certain little nestling blue shadows
on the Sabine Mountains, to which the terrace seems to carry you
wonderfully near. The place been for some time lost to private
uses, since it figures fantastically in a novel of George Sand--
La Daniella--and now, in quite another way, as a Jesuit
college for boys. The afternoon was perfect, and as it waned it
filled the dark alleys with a wonderful golden haze. Into this
came leaping and shouting a herd of little collegians with a
couple of long-skirted Jesuits striding at their heels. We all
know--I make the point for my antithesis--the monstrous practices
of these people; yet as I watched the group I verily believe I
declared that if I had a little son he should go to Mondragone
and receive their crooked teachings for the sake of the other
memories, the avenues of cypress and ilex, the view of the
Campagna, the atmosphere of antiquity. But doubtless when a sense
of "mere character," shameless incomparable character, has
brought one to this it is time one should pause.


One may at the blest end of May say without injustice to anybody
that the state of mind of many a forestiero in Rome is one
of intense impatience for the moment when all other
forestieri shall have taken themselves off. One may
confess to this state of mind and be no misanthrope. The place
has passed so completely for the winter months into the hands of
the barbarians that that estimable character the passionate
pilgrim finds it constantly harder to keep his passion clear. He
has a rueful sense of impressions perverted and adulterated; the
all-venerable visage disconcerts us by a vain eagerness to see
itself mirrored in English, American, German eyes. It isn't
simply that you are never first or never alone at the classic or
historic spots where you have dreamt of persuading the shy
genius loci into confidential utterance; it isn't simply
that St. Peter's, the Vatican, the Palatine, are for ever ringing
with the false note of the languages without style: it is the
general oppressive feeling that the city of the soul has become
for the time a monstrous mixture of watering-place and curiosity-
shop and that its most ardent life is that of the tourists who
haggle over false intaglios and yawn through palaces and temples.
But you are told of a happy time when these abuses begin to pass
away, when Rome becomes Rome again and you may have her all to
yourself. "You may like her more or less now," I was assured at
the height of the season; "but you must wait till the month of
May, when she'll give you all she has, to love her. Then
the foreigners, or the excess of them, are gone; the galleries
and ruins are empty, and the place," said my informant, who was a
happy Frenchman of the Académie de France, "renait a
Indeed I was haunted all winter by an irresistible
prevision of what Rome must be in declared spring. Certain
charming places seemed to murmur: "Ah, this is nothing! Come back
at the right weeks and see the sky above us almost black with its
excess of blue, and the new grass already deep, but still vivid,
and the white roses tumble in odorous spray and the warm radiant
air distil gold for the smelting-pot that the genius loci
then dips his brush into before making play with it, in his
inimitable way, for the general effect of complexion."

A month ago I spent a week in the country, and on my return, the
first time I approached the Corso, became conscious of a change.
Something delightful had happened, to which at first I couldn't
give a name, but which presently shone out as the fact that there
were but half as many people present and that these were chiefly
the natural or the naturalised. We had been docked of half our
irrelevance, our motley excess, and now physically, morally,
æesthetically there was elbow-room. In the afternoon I went to
the Pincio, and the Pincio was almost dull. The band was playing
to a dozen ladies who lay in landaus poising their lace-fringed
parasols; but they had scarce more than a light-gloved dandy
apiece hanging over their carriage doors. By the parapet to the
great terrace that sweeps the city stood but three or four
interlopers looking at the sunset and with their Baedekers only
just showing in their pockets--the sunsets not being down among
the tariffed articles in these precious volumes. I went so far as
to hope for them that, like myself, they were, under every
precaution, taking some amorous intellectual liberty with the

Practically I violate thus the instinct of monopoly, since it's a
shame not to publish that Rome in May is indeed exquisitely worth
your patience. I have just been so gratified at finding myself in
undisturbed possession for a couple of hours of the Museum of the
Lateran that I can afford to be magnanimous. It's almost as if
the old all-papal paradise had come back. The weather for a month
has been perfect, the sky an extravagance of blue, the air lively
enough, the nights cool, nippingly cool. and the whole ancient
greyness lighted with an irresistible smile. Rome, which in some
moods, especially to new-comers, seems a place of almost sinister
gloom, has an occasional art, as one knows her better, of
brushing away care by the grand gesture with which some splendid
impatient mourning matron--just the Niobe of Nations, surviving,
emerging and looking about her again--might pull off and cast
aside an oppression of muffling crape. This admirable power still
temperamentally to react and take notice lurks in all her
darkness and dirt and decay--a something more careless and
hopeless than our thrifty northern cheer, and yet more genial and
urbane than the Parisian spirit of blague. The collective
Roman nature is a healthy and hearty one, and you feel it abroad
in the streets even when the sirocco blows and the medium of life
seems to proceed more or less from the mouth of a furnace. But
who shall analyse even the simplest Roman impression? It is
compounded of so many things, it says so much, it involves so
much, it so quickens the intelligence and so flatters the heart,
that before we fairly grasp the case the imagination has marked
it for her own and exposed us to a perilous likelihood of talking
nonsense about it.

The smile of Rome, as I have called it, and its insidious message
to those who incline to ramble irresponsibly and take things as
they come, is ushered in with the first breath of spring, and
then grows and grows with the advancing season till it wraps the
whole place in its tenfold charm. As the process develops you can
do few better things than go often to Villa Borghese and sit on
the grass--on a stout bit of drapery--and watch its exquisite
stages. It has a frankness and a sweetness beyond any relenting
of our clumsy climates even when ours leave off their
damnable faces and begin. Nature departs from every reserve with
a confidence that leaves one at a loss where, as it were, to
look--leaves one, as I say, nothing to do but to lay one's head
among the anemones at the base of a high-stemmed pine and gaze up
crestward and sky-ward along its slanting silvery column. You
may watch the whole business from a dozen of these choice
standpoints and have a different villa for it every day in the
week. The Doria, the Ludovisi, the Medici, the Albani, the
Wolkonski, the Chigi, the Mellini, the Massimo--there are more of
them, with all their sights and sounds and odours and memories,
than you have senses for. But I prefer none of them to the
Borghese, which is free to all the world at all times and yet
never crowded; for when the whirl of carriages is great in the
middle regions you may find a hundred untrodden spots and silent
corners, tenanted at the worst by a group of those long-skirted
young Propagandists who stalk about with solemn angularity, each
with a book under his arm, like silhouettes from a medieval
missal, and "compose" so extremely well with the still more
processional cypresses and with stretches of golden-russet wall
overtopped by ultramarine. And yet if the Borghese is good the
Medici is strangely charming, and you may stand in the little
belvedere which rises with such surpassing oddity out of the
dusky heart of the Boschetto at the latter establishment--a
miniature presentation of the wood of the Sleeping Beauty--and
look across at the Ludovisi pines lifting their crooked parasols
into a sky of what a painter would call the most morbid blue, and
declare that the place where they grow is the most
delightful in the world. Villa Ludovisi has been all winter the
residence of the lady familiarly known in Roman society as
"Rosina," Victor Emmanuel's morganatic wife, the only familiarity
it would seem, that she allows, for the grounds were rigidly
closed, to the inconsolable regret of old Roman sojourners. Just
as the nightingales began to sing, however, the quasi-august
padrona departed, and the public, with certain
restrictions, have been admitted to hear them. The place takes,
where it lies, a princely ease, and there could be no better
example of the expansive tendencies of ancient privilege than
the fact that its whole vast extent is contained by the city
walls. It has in this respect very much the same enviable air of
having got up early that marks the great intramural demesne of
Magdalen College at Oxford. The stern old ramparts of Rome form
the outer enclosure of the villa, and hence a series of "striking
scenic effects" which it would be unscrupulous flattery to say
you can imagine. The grounds are laid out in the formal last-
century manner; but nowhere do the straight black cypresses lead
off the gaze into vistas of a melancholy more charged with
associations--poetic, romantic, historic; nowhere are there
grander, smoother walls of laurel and myrtle.

I recently spent an afternoon hour at the little Protestant
cemetery close to St. Paul's Gate, where the ancient and the
modern world are insidiously contrasted. They make between them
one of the solemn places of Rome--although indeed when funereal
things are so interfused it seems ungrateful to call them sad.
Here is a mixture of tears and smiles, of stones and flowers, of
mourning cypresses and radiant sky, which gives us the impression
of our looking back at death from the brighter side of the grave.
The cemetery nestles in an angle of the city wall, and the older
graves are sheltered by a mass of ancient brickwork, through
whose narrow loopholes you peep at the wide purple of the
Campagna. Shelley's grave is here, buried in roses--a happy grave
every way for the very type and figure of the Poet. Nothing could
be more impenetrably tranquil than this little corner in the bend
of the protecting rampart, where a cluster of modern ashes is
held tenderly in the rugged hand of the Past. The past is
tremendously embodied in the hoary pyramid of Caius Cestius,
which rises hard by, half within the wall and half without,
cutting solidly into the solid blue of the sky and casting its
pagan shadow upon the grass of English graves--that of Keats,
among them--with an effect of poetic justice. It is a wonderful
confusion of mortality and a grim enough admonition of our
helpless promiscuity in the crucible of time. But the most
touching element of all is the appeal of the pious English
inscriptions among all these Roman memories; touching because of
their universal expression of that trouble within trouble,
misfortune in a foreign land. Something special stirs the heart
through the fine Scriptural language in which everything is
recorded. The echoes of massive Latinity with which the
atmosphere is charged suggest nothing more majestic and
monumental. I may seem unduly to refine, but the injunction to
the reader in the monument to Miss Bathurst, drowned in the Tiber
in 1824, "If thou art young and lovely, build not thereon, for
she who lies beneath thy feet in death was the loveliest flower
ever cropt in its bloom," affects us irresistibly as a case for
tears on the spot. The whole elaborate inscription indeed says
something over and beyond all it does say. The English have the
reputation of being the most reticent people in the world, and
as there is no smoke without fire I suppose they have done
something to deserve it; yet who can say that one doesn't
constantly meet the most startling examples of the insular
faculty to "gush"? In this instance the mother of the deceased
takes the public into her confidence with surprising frankness
and omits no detail, seizing the opportunity to mention by the
way that she had already lost her husband by a most mysterious
visitation. The appeal to one's attention and the confidence in
it are withal most moving. The whole record has an old-fashioned
gentility that makes its frankness tragic. You seem to hear the
garrulity of passionate grief.

To be choosing these positive commonplaces of the Roman tone for
a theme when there are matters of modern moment going on may seem
none the less to require an apology. But I make no claim to your
special correspondent's faculty for getting an "inside" view of
things, and I have hardly more than a pictorial impression of the
Pope's illness and of the discussion of the Law of the Convents.
Indeed I am afraid to speak of the Pope's illness at all, lest I
should say something egregiously heartless about it, recalling
too forcibly that unnatural husband who was heard to wish that
his wife would "either" get well--! He had his reasons, and Roman
tourists have theirs in the shape of a vague longing for
something spectacular at St. Peter's. If it takes the sacrifice
of somebody to produce it let somebody then be sacrificed.
Meanwhile we have been having a glimpse of the spectacular side
of the Religious Corporations Bill. Hearing one morning a great
hubbub in the Corso I stepped forth upon my balcony. A couple of
hundred men were strolling slowly down the street with their
hands in their pockets, shouting in unison "Abbasso il
ministero!" and huzzaing in chorus. Just beneath my window they
stopped and began to murmur "Al Quirinale, al Quirinale!" The
crowd surged a moment gently and then drifted to the Quirinal,
where it scuffled harmlessly with half-a-dozen of the king's
soldiers. It ought to have been impressive, for what was it,
strictly, unless the seeds of revolution? But its carriage was
too gentle and its cries too musical to send the most timorous
tourist to packing his trunk. As I began with saying: in Rome, in
May, everything has an amiable side, even popular uprisings.


December 28, 1872.--In Rome again for the last three days--that
second visit which, when the first isn't followed by a fatal
illness in Florence, the story goes that one is doomed to pay. I
didn't drink of the Fountain of Trevi on the eve of departure the
other time; but I feel as if I had drunk of the Tiber itself.
Nevertheless as I drove from the station in the evening I
wondered what I should think of it at this first glimpse hadn't I
already known it. All manner of evil perhaps. Paris, as I passed
along the Boulevards three evenings before to take the train, was
swarming and glittering as befits a great capital. Here, in the
black, narrow, crooked, empty streets, I saw nothing I would fain
regard as eternal. But there were new gas-lamps round the
spouting Triton in Piazza Barberini and a newspaper stall on the
corner of the Condotti and the Corso--salient signs of the
emancipated state. An hour later I walked up to Via Gregoriana by
Piazza di Spagna. It was all silent and deserted, and the great
flight of steps looked surprisingly small. Everything seemed
meagre, dusky, provincial. Could Rome after all really be
a world-city? That queer old rococo garden gateway at the top of
the Gregoriana stirred a dormant memory; it awoke into a
consciousness of the delicious mildness of the air, and very
soon, in a little crimson drawing-room, I was reconciled and re-
initiated.... Everything is dear (in the way of lodgings), but it
hardly matters, as everything is taken and some one else paying
for it. I must make up my mind to a bare perch. But it seems
poorly perverse here to aspire to an "interior" or to be
conscious of the economic side of life. The æesthetic is so
intense that you feel you should live on the taste of it, should
extract the nutritive essence of the atmosphere. For positively
it's such an atmosphere! The weather is perfect, the sky
as blue as the most exploded tradition fames it, the whole air
glowing and throbbing with lovely colour.... The glitter of Paris
is now all gaslight. And oh the monotonous miles of rain-washed

December 30th.--I have had nothing to do with the
"ceremonies." In fact I believe there have hardly been any--no
midnight mass at the Sistine chapel, no silver trumpets at St.
Peter's. Everything is remorselessly clipped and curtailed--the
Vatican in deepest mourning. But I saw it in its superbest
scarlet in '69.... I went yesterday with L. to the Colonna
gardens--an adventure that would have reconverted me to Rome if
the thing weren't already done. It's a rare old place--rising in
mouldy bosky terraces and mossy stairways and winding walks from
the back of the palace to the top of the Quirinal. It's the grand
style of gardening, and resembles the present natural manner as a
chapter of Johnsonian rhetoric resembles a piece of clever
contemporary journalism. But it's a better style in horticulture
than in literature; I prefer one of the long-drawn blue-green
Colonna vistas, with a maimed and mossy-coated garden goddess at
the end, to the finest possible quotation from a last-century
classic. Perhaps the best thing there is the old orangery with
its trees in fantastic terra-cotta tubs. The late afternoon light
was gilding the monstrous jars and suspending golden chequers
among the golden-fruited leaves. Or perhaps the best thing is the
broad terrace with its mossy balustrade and its benches; also its
view of the great naked Torre di Nerone (I think), which might
look stupid if the rosy brickwork didn't take such a colour in
the blue air. Delightful, at any rate, to stroll and talk there
in the afternoon sunshine.

January 2nd, 1873. --Two or three drives with A.--one to
St. Paul's without the Walls and back by a couple of old churches
on the Aventine. I was freshly struck with the rare distinction
of the little Protestant cemetery at the Gate, lying in the
shadow of the black sepulchral Pyramid and the thick-growing
black cypresses. Bathed in the clear Roman light the place is
heartbreaking for what it asks you--in such a world as
this--to renounce. If it should "make one in love with
death to lie there," that's only if death should be conscious. As
the case stands, the weight of a tremendous past presses upon the
flowery sod, and the sleeper's mortality feels the contact of all
the mortality with which the brilliant air is tainted.... The
restored Basilica is incredibly splendid. It seems a last pompous
effort of formal Catholicism, and there are few more striking
emblems of later Rome--the Rome foredoomed to see Victor
Emmanuel in the Quirinal, the Rome of abortive councils and
unheeded anathemas. It rises there, gorgeous and useless, on its
miasmatic site, with an air of conscious bravado--a florid
advertisement of the superabundance of faith. Within it's
magnificent, and its magnificence has no shabby spots--a rare
thing in Rome. Marble and mosaic, alabaster and malachite, lapis
and porphyry, incrust it from pavement to cornice and flash back
their polished lights at each other with such a splendour of
effect that you seem to stand at the heart of some immense
prismatic crystal. One has to come to Italy to know marbles and
love them. I remember the fascination of the first great show of
them I met in Venice--at the Scalzi and Gesuiti. Colour has in no
other form so cool and unfading a purity and lustre. Softness of
tone and hardness of substance--isn't that the sum of the
artist's desire? G., with his beautiful caressing, open-lipped
Roman utterance, so easy to understand and, to my ear, so finely
suggestive of genuine Latin, not our horrible Anglo-Saxon and
Protestant kind, urged upon us the charms of a return by the
Aventine and the sight of a couple of old churches. The best is
Santa Sabina, a very fine old structure of the fifth century,
mouldering in its dusky solitude and consuming its own antiquity.
What a massive heritage Christianity and Catholicism are leaving
here! What a substantial fact, in all its decay, this memorial
Christian temple outliving its uses among the sunny gardens and
vineyards! It has a noble nave, filled with a stale smell which
(like that of the onion) brought tears to my eyes, and bordered
with twenty-four fluted marble columns of Pagan origin. The
crudely primitive little mosaics along the entablature are
extremely curious. A Dominican monk, still young, who showed us
the church, seemed a creature generated from its musty shadows I
odours. His physiognomy was wonderfully de l'emploi, and
his voice, most agreeable, had the strangest jaded humility. His
lugubrious salute and sanctimonious impersonal appropriation of
my departing franc would have been a master-touch on the stage.
While we were still in the church a bell rang that he had to go
and answer, and as he came back and approached us along the nave
he made with his white gown and hood and his cadaverous face,
against the dark church background, one of those pictures which,
thank the Muses, have not yet been reformed out of Italy. It was
the exact illustration, for insertion in a text, of heaven knows
how many old romantic and conventional literary Italianisms--
plays, poems, mysteries of Udolpho. We got back into the carriage
and talked of profane things and went home to dinner--drifting
recklessly, it seemed to me, from aesthetic luxury to social.

On the 31st we went to the musical vesper-service at the Gesu--
hitherto done so splendidly before the Pope and the cardinals.
The manner of it was eloquent of change--no Pope, no cardinals,
and indifferent music; but a great mise-en-scène
nevertheless. The church is gorgeous; late Renaissance, of great
proportions, and full, like so many others, but in a pre-eminent
degree, of seventeenth and eighteenth century Romanism. It
doesn't impress the imagination, but richly feeds the curiosity,
by which I mean one's sense of the curious; suggests no legends,
but innumerable anecdotes à la Stendhal. There is a vast dome,
filled with a florid concave fresco of tumbling foreshortened
angels, and all over the ceilings and cornices a wonderful outlay
of dusky gildings and mouldings. There are various Bernini saints
and seraphs in stucco-sculpture, astride of the tablets and door-
tops, backing against their rusty machinery of coppery
nimbi and egg-shaped cloudlets. Marble, damask and tapers
in gorgeous profusion. The high altar a great screen of twinkling
chandeliers. The choir perched in a little loft high up in the
right transept, like a balcony in a side-scene at the opera, and
indulging in surprising roulades and flourishes.... Near me sat a
handsome, opulent-looking nun--possibly an abbess or prioress of
noble lineage. Can a holy woman of such a complexion listen to a
fine operatic barytone in a sumptuous temple and receive none but
ascetic impressions? What a cross-fire of influences does
Catholicism provide!

January 4th.--A drive with A. out of Porta San Giovanni
and along Via Appia Nuova. More and more beautiful as you get
well away from the walls and the great view opens out before you-
-the rolling green-brown dells and flats of the Campagna, the
long, disjointed arcade of the aqueducts, the deep-shadowed blue
of the Alban Hills, touched into pale lights by their scattered
towns. We stopped at the ruined basilica of San Stefano, an
affair of the fifth century, rather meaningless without a learned
companion. But the perfect little sepulchral chambers of the
Pancratii, disinterred beneath the church, tell their own tale--
in their hardly dimmed frescoes, their beautiful sculptured
coffin and great sepulchral slab. Better still the tomb of the
Valerii adjoining it--a single chamber with an arched roof,
covered with stucco mouldings perfectly intact, exquisite figures
and arabesques as sharp and delicate as if the plasterer's
scaffold had just been taken from under them. Strange enough to
think of these things--so many of them as there are--surviving
their immemorial eclipse in this perfect shape and coming up like
long-lost divers on the sea of time.

January 16th.--A delightful walk last Sunday with F. to
Monte Mario. We drove to Porta Angelica, the little gate hidden
behind the right wing of Bernini's colonnade, and strolled thence
up the winding road to the Villa Mellini, where one of the greasy
peasants huddled under the wall in the sun admits you for half
franc into the finest old ilex-walk in Italy. It is all vaulted
grey-green shade with blue Campagna stretches in the interstices.
The day was perfect; the still sunshine, as we sat at the twisted
base of the old trees, seemed to have the drowsy hum of mid-
summer --with that charm of Italian vegetation that comes to us
as its confession of having scenically served, to weariness at
last, for some pastoral these many centuries a classic. In a
certain cheapness and thinness of substance--as compared with the
English stoutness, never left athirst--it reminds me of our own,
and it is relatively dry enough and pale enough to explain the
contempt of many unimaginative Britons. But it has an idle
abundance and wantonness, a romantic shabbiness and
dishevelment. At the Villa Mellini is the famous lonely pine
which "tells" so in the landscape from other points, bought off
from the axe by (I believe) Sir George Beaumont, commemorated in
a like connection in Wordsworth's great sonnet. He at least was
not an unimaginative Briton. As you stand under it, its far-away
shallow dome, supported on a single column almost white enough to
be marble, seems to dwell in the dizziest depths of the blue. Its
pale grey-blue boughs and its silvery stem make a wonderful
harmony with the ambient air. The Villa Mellini is full of the
elder Italy of one's imagination--the Italy of Boccaccio and
Ariosto. There are twenty places where the Florentine story-
tellers might have sat round on the grass. Outside the villa
walls, beneath the over-crowding orange-boughs, straggled old
Italy as well--but not in Boccaccio's velvet: a row of ragged and
livid contadini, some simply stupid in their squalor, but some
downright brigands of romance, or of reality, with matted locks
and terribly sullen eyes.

A couple of days later I walked for old acquaintance' sake over
to San Onofrio on the Janiculan. The approach is one of the
dirtiest adventures in Rome, and though the view is fine from the
little terrace, the church and convent are of a meagre and musty
pattern. Yet here--almost like pearls in a dunghill--are hidden
mementos of two of the most exquisite of Italian minds. Torquato
Tasso spent the last months of his life here, and you may visit
his room and various warped and faded relics. The most
interesting is a cast of his face taken after death--looking,
like all such casts, almost more than mortally gallant and
distinguished. But who should look all ideally so if not he? In a
little shabby, chilly corridor adjoining is a fresco of Leonardo,
a Virgin and Child with the donatorio. It is very small,
simple and faded, but it has all the artist's magic, that
mocking, illusive refinement and hint of a vague arriere-
which mark every stroke of Leonardo's brush. Is it the
perfection of irony or the perfection of tenderness? What does he
mean, what does he affirm, what does he deny? Magic wouldn't be
magic, nor the author of such things stand so absolutely alone,
if we were ready with an explanation. As I glanced from the
picture to the poor stupid little red-faced brother at my side I
wondered if the thing mightn't pass for an elegant epigram on
monasticism. Certainly, at any rate, there is more intellect in
it than under all the monkish tonsures it has seen coming and
going these three hundred years.

January 21st.--The last three or four days I have
regularly spent a couple of hours from noon baking myself in the
sun of the Pincio to get rid of a cold. The weather perfect and
the crowd (especially to-day) amazing. Such a staring, lounging,
dandified, amiable crowd! Who does the vulgar stay-at-home work
of Rome? All the grandees and half the foreigners are there in
their carriages, the bourgeoisie on foot staring at them
and the beggars lining all the approaches. The great difference
between public places in America and Europe is in the number of
unoccupied people of every age and condition sitting about early
and late on benches and gazing at you, from your hat to your
boots, as you pass. Europe is certainly the continent of the
practised stare. The ladies on the Pincio have to run the
gauntlet; but they seem to do so complacently enough. The
European woman is brought up to the sense of having a definite
part in the way of manners or manner to play in public. To lie
back in a barouche alone, balancing a parasol and seeming to
ignore the extremely immediate gaze of two serried ranks of male
creatures on each side of her path, save here and there to
recognise one of them with an imperceptible nod, is one of her
daily duties. The number of young men here who, like the
coenobites of old, lead the purely contemplative life is
enormous. They muster in especial force on the Pincio, but the
Corso all day is thronged with them. They are well-dressed, good-
humoured, good-looking, polite; but they seem never to do a
harder stroke of work than to stroll from the Piazza Colonna to
the Hotel de Rome or vice versa. Some of them don't even
stroll, but stand leaning by the hour against the doorways,
sucking the knobs of their canes, feeling their back hair and
settling their shirt-cuffs. At my cafe in the morning several
stroll in already (at nine o'clock) in light, in "evening"
gloves. But they order nothing, turn on their heels, glance at
the mirrors and stroll out again. When it rains they herd under
the portes-cochères and in the smaller cafes.... Yesterday
Prince Humbert's little primogenito was on the Pincio in
an open landau with his governess. He's a sturdy blond little man
and the image of the King. They had stopped to listen to the
music, and the crowd was planted about the carriage-wheels,
staring and criticising under the child's snub little nose. It
appeared bold cynical curiosity, without the slightest
manifestation of "loyalty," and it gave me a singular sense of
the vulgarisation of Rome under the new regime. When the Pope
drove abroad it was a solemn spectacle; even if you neither
kneeled nor uncovered you were irresistibly impressed. But the
Pope never stopped to listen to opera tunes, and he had no little
popelings, under the charge of superior nurse-maids, whom you
might take liberties with. The family at the Quirinal make
something of a merit, I believe, of their modest and inexpensive
way of life. The merit is great; yet, representationally, what a
change for the worse from an order which proclaimed stateliness a
part of its essence! The divinity that doth hedge a king must be
pretty well on the wane. But how many more fine old traditions
will the extremely sentimental traveller miss in the Italians
over whom that little jostled prince in the landau will have come
into his kinghood? ... The Pincio continues to beguile; it's a
great resource. I am for ever being reminded of the "aesthetic
luxury," as I called it above, of living in Rome. To be able to
choose of an afternoon for a lounge (respectfully speaking)
between St. Peter's and the high precinct you approach by the
gate just beyond Villa Medici--counting nothing else--is a proof
that if in Rome you may suffer from ennui, at least your ennui
has a throbbing soul in it. It is something to say for the
Pincio that you don't always choose St. Peter's. Sometimes I lose
patience with its parade of eternal idleness, but at others this
very idleness is balm to one's conscience. Life on just these
terms seems so easy, so monotonously sweet, that you feel it
would be unwise, would be really unsafe, to change. The Roman air
is charged with an elixir, the Roman cup seasoned with some
insidious drop, of which the action is fatally, yet none the less
agreeably, "lowering."

January 26th.--With S. to the Villa Medici--perhaps on the
whole the most enchanting place in Rome. The part of the garden
called the Boschetto has an incredible, impossible charm; an
upper terrace, behind locked gates, covered with a little dusky
forest of evergreen oaks. Such a dim light as of a fabled,
haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones,
such a company of gnarled and twisted little miniature trunks--
dwarfs playing with each other at being giants--and such a
shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid west! At the
end of the wood is a steep, circular mound, up which the short
trees scramble amain, with a long mossy staircase climbing up to
a belvedere. This staircase, rising suddenly out of the leafy
dusk to you don't see where, is delightfully fantastic. You
expect to see an old woman in a crimson petticoat and with a
distaff come hobbling down and turn into a fairy and offer you
three wishes. I should name for my own first wish that one didn't
have to be a Frenchman to come and live and dream and work at the
Académie de France. Can there be for a while a happier destiny
than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand
but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these
sacred shades? One has fancied Plato's Academy--his gleaming
colonnades, his blooming gardens and Athenian sky; but was it as
good as this one, where Monsieur Hebert does the Platonic? The
blessing in Rome is not that this or that or the other isolated
object is so very unsurpassable; but that the general air so
contributes to interest, to impressions that are not as any other
impressions anywhere in the world. And from this general air the
Villa Medici has distilled an essence of its own--walled it in
and made it delightfully private. The great façade on the gardens
is like an enormous rococo clock-face all incrusted with images
and arabesques and tablets. What mornings and afternoons one
might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented,
pensioned, satisfied--either persuading one's self that one would
be "doing something" in consequence or not caring if one
shouldn't be.

At a later date--middle of March.--A ride with S. W. out
of the Porta Pia to the meadows beyond the Ponte Nomentana--
close to the site of Phaon's villa where Nero in hiding had
himself stabbed. It all spoke as things here only speak, touching
more chords than one can now really know or say. For these
are predestined memories and the stuff that regrets are made of;
the mild divine efflorescence of spring, the wonderful landscape,
the talk suspended for another gallop.... Returning, we
dismounted at the gate of the Villa Medici and walked through the
twilight of the vaguely perfumed, bird-haunted alleys to H.'s
studio, hidden in the wood like a cottage in a fairy tale. I
spent there a charming half-hour in the fading light, looking at
the pictures while my companion discoursed of her errand. The
studio is small and more like a little salon; the painting
refined, imaginative, somewhat morbid, full of consummate French
ability. A portrait, idealised and etherealised, but a likeness
of Mme. de---(from last year's Salon) in white satin, quantities
of lace, a coronet, diamonds and pearls; a striking combination
of brilliant silvery tones. A "Femme Sauvage," a naked dusky girl
in a wood, with a wonderfully clever pair of shy, passionate
eyes. The author is different enough from any of the numerous
American artists. They may be producers, but he's a product as
well--a product of influences of a sort of which we have as yet
no general command. One of them is his charmed lapse of life in
that unprofessional-looking little studio, with his enchanted
wood on one side and the plunging wall of Rome on the other.

January 30th.--A drive the other day with a friend to
Villa Madama, on the side of Monte Mario; a place like a page out
of one of Browning's richest evocations of this clime and
civilisation. Wondrous in its haunting melancholy, it might have
inspired half "The Ring and the Book" at a stroke. What a grim
commentary on history such a scene--what an irony of the past!
The road up to it through the outer enclosure is almost
impassable with mud and stones. At the end, on a terrace, rises
the once elegant Casino, with hardly a whole pane of glass in its
façade, reduced to its sallow stucco and degraded ornaments. The
front away from Rome has in the basement a great loggia, now
walled in from the weather, preceded by a grassy be littered
platform with an immense sweeping view of the Campagna; the sad-
looking, more than sad-looking, evil-looking, Tiber beneath (the
colour of gold, the sentimentalists say, the colour of mustard,
the realists); a great vague stretch beyond, of various
complexions and uses; and on the horizon the ever-iridescent
mountains. The place has become the shabbiest farm-house, with
muddy water in the old pièces d'eau and dunghills on the
old parterres. The "feature" is the contents of the loggia: a
vaulted roof and walls decorated by Giulio Romano; exquisite
stucco-work and still brilliant frescoes; arabesques and
figurini, nymphs and fauns, animals and flowers--gracefully
lavish designs of every sort. Much of the colour--especially the
blues--still almost vivid, and all the work wonderfully
ingenious, elegant and charming. Apartments so decorated can have
been meant only for the recreation of people greater than any we
know, people for whom life was impudent ease and success.
Margaret Farnese was the lady of the house, but where she trailed
her cloth of gold the chickens now scamper between your legs over
rotten straw. It is all inexpressibly dreary. A stupid peasant
scratching his head, a couple of critical Americans picking their
steps, the walls tattered and befouled breast-high, dampness and
decay striking in on your heart, and the scene overbowed by these
heavenly frescoes, moulering there in their airy artistry! It's
poignant; it provokes tears; it tells so of the waste of effort.
Something human seems to pant beneath the grey pall of time and
to implore you to rescue it, to pity it, to stand by it somehow.
But you leave it to its lingering death without compunction,
almost with pleasure; for the place seems vaguely crime-haunted--
paying at least the penalty of some hard immorality. The end of
a Renaissance pleasure-house. Endless for the didactic observer
the moral, abysmal for the storyseeker the tale.

February 12th.--Yesterday to the Villa Albani. Over-formal
and (as my companion says) too much like a tea-garden; but with
beautiful stairs and splendid geometrical lines of immense box-
hedge, intersected with high pedestals supporting little antique
busts. The light to-day magnificent; the Alban Hills of an
intenser broken purple than I had yet seen them--their white
towns blooming upon it like vague projected lights. It was like a
piece of very modern painting, and a good example of how Nature
has at times a sort of mannerism which ought to make us careful
how we condemn out of hand the more refined and affected artists.
The collection of marbles in the Casino (Winckelmann's) admirable
and to be seen again. The famous Antinous crowned with lotus a
strangely beautiful and impressive thing. The "Greek manner," on
the showing of something now and again encountered here, moves
one to feel that even for purely romantic and imaginative effects
it surpasses any since invented. If there be not imagination,
even in our comparatively modern sense of the word, in the
baleful beauty of that perfect young profile there is none in
"Hamlet" or in "Lycidas." There is five hundred times as much as
in "The Transfiguration." With this at any rate to point to it's
not for sculpture not professedly to produce any emotion
producible by painting. There are numbers of small and delicate
fragments of bas-reliefs of exquisite grace, and a huge piece
(two combatants--one, on horseback, beating down another--murder
made eternal and beautiful) attributed to the Parthenon and
certainly as grandly impressive as anything in the Elgin marbles.
S. W. suggested again the Roman villas as a "subject." Excellent
if one could find a feast of facts à la Stendhal. A lot of vague
ecstatic descriptions and anecdotes wouldn't at all pay. There
have been too many already. Enough facts are recorded, I suppose;
one should discover them and soak in them for a twelvemonth. And
yet a Roman villa, in spite of statues, ideas and atmosphere,
affects me as of a scanter human and social portee, a
shorter, thinner reverberation, than an old English country-
house, round which experience seems piled so thick. But this
perhaps is either hair-splitting or "racial" prejudice.


March 9th. --The Vatican is still deadly cold; a couple of
hours there yesterday with R. W. E. Yet he, illustrious and
enviable man, fresh from the East, had no overcoat and wanted
none. Perfect bliss, I think, would be to live in Rome without
thinking of overcoats. The Vatican seems very familiar, but
strangely smaller than of old. I never lost the sense before of
confusing vastness. Sancta simplicitas! All my old friends
however stand there in undimmed radiance, keeping most of them
their old pledges. I am perhaps more struck now with the enormous
amount of padding--the number of third-rate, fourth-rate things
that weary the eye desirous to approach freshly the twenty and
thirty best. In spite of the padding there are dozens of
treasures that one passes regretfully; but the impression of the
whole place is the great thing--the feeling that through these
solemn vistas flows the source of an incalculable part of our
present conception of Beauty.

April 10th. --Last night, in the rain, to the Teatro Valle
to see a comedy of Goldoni in Venetian dialect--"I Quattro
Rustighi." I could but half follow it; enough, however, to be
sure that, for all its humanity of irony, it wasn't so good as
Molière. The acting was capital--broad, free and natural; the
play of talk easier even than life itself; but, like all the
Italian acting I have seen, it was wanting in finesse,
that shade of the shade by which, and by which alone, one really
knows art. I contrasted the affair with the evening in December
last that I walked over (also in the rain) to the Odeon and saw
the "Plaideurs" and the "Malade lmaginaire." There, too, was
hardly more than a handful of spectators; but what rich, ripe,
fully representational and above all intellectual comedy, and
what polished, educated playing! These Venetians in particular,
however, have a marvellous entrain of their own; they seem
even less than the French to recite. In some of the women--ugly,
with red hands and shabby dresses--an extraordinary gift of
natural utterance, of seeming to invent joyously as they go.

Later.--Last evening in H.'s box at the Apollo to hear
Ernesto Rossi in "Othello." He shares supremacy with Salvini in
Italian tragedy. Beautiful great theatre with boxes you can walk
about in; brilliant audience. The Princess Margaret was there--I
have never been to the theatre that she was not--and a number of
other princesses in neighbouring boxes. G. G. came in and
instructed us that they were the M., the L., the P., &c. Rossi is
both very bad and very fine; bad where anything like taste and
discretion is required, but "all there," and more than there, in
violent passion. The last act reduced too much, however, to mere
exhibitional sensibility. The interesting thing to me was to
observe the Italian conception of the part--to see how crude it
was, how little it expressed the hero's moral side, his depth,
his dignity--anything more than his being a creature terrible in
mere tantrums. The great point was his seizing Iago's head and
whacking it half-a-dozen times on the floor, and then flinging
him twenty yards away. It was wonderfully done, but in the doing
of it and in the evident relish for it in the house there was I
scarce knew what force of easy and thereby rather cheap

April 27th.--A morning with L. B. at Villa Ludovisi, which
we agreed that we shouldn't soon forget. The villa now belongs to
the King, who has lodged his morganatic wife there. There is
nothing so blissfully right in Rome, nothing more
consummately consecrated to style. The grounds and gardens are
immense, and the great rusty-red city wall stretches away behind
them and makes the burden of the seven hills seem vast without
making them seem small. There is everything--dusky avenues
trimmed by the clippings of centuries, groves and dells and
glades and glowing pastures and reedy fountains and great
flowering meadows studded with enormous slanting pines. The day
was delicious, the trees all one melody, the whole place a
revelation of what Italy and hereditary pomp can do together.
Nothing could be more in the grand manner than this garden view
of the city ramparts, lifting their fantastic battlements above
the trees and flowers. They are all tapestried with vines and
made to serve as sunny fruit-walls--grim old defence as they once
were; now giving nothing but a splendid buttressed privacy. The
sculptures in the little Casino are few, but there are two great
ones--the beautiful sitting Mars and the head of the great Juno,
the latter thrust into a corner behind a shutter. These things
it's almost impossible to praise; we can only mark them well and
keep them clear, as we insist on silence to hear great music....
If I don't praise Guercino's Aurora in the greater Casino, it's
for another reason; this is certainly a very muddy masterpiece.
It figures on the ceiling of a small low hall; the painting is
coarse and the ceiling too near. Besides, it's unfair to pass
straight from the Greek mythology to the Bolognese. We were left
to roam at will through the house; the custode shut us in and
went to walk in the park. The apartments were all open, and I had
an opportunity to reconstruct, from its milieu at least,
the character of a morganatic queen. I saw nothing to indicate
that it was not amiable; but I should have thought more highly of
the lady's discrimination if she had had the Juno removed from
behind her shutter. In such a house, girdled about with such a
park, me thinks I could be amiable--and perhaps discriminating
too. The Ludovisi Casino is small, but the perfection of the life
of ease might surely be led there. There are English houses
enough in wondrous parks, but they expose you to too many small
needs and observances--to say nothing of a red-faced butler
dropping his h's. You are oppressed with the detail of
accommodation. Here the billiard-table is old-fashioned, perhaps
a trifle crooked; but you have Guercino above your head, and
Guercino, after all, is almost as good as Guido. The rooms, I
noticed, all pleased by their shape, by a lovely proportion, by a
mass of delicate ornamentation on the high concave ceilings. One
might live over again in them some deliciously benighted life of
a forgotten type--with graceful old sale, and immensely
thick walls, and a winding stone staircase, and a view from the
loggia at the top; a view of twisted parasol-pines balanced, high
above a wooden horizon, against a sky of faded sapphire.

May 17th.--It was wonderful yesterday at St. John Lateran.
The spring now has turned to perfect summer; there are cascades
of verdure over all the walls; the early flowers are a fading
memory, and the new grass knee-deep in the Villa Borghese. The
winter aspect of the region about the Lateran is one of the best
things in Rome; the sunshine is nowhere so golden and the lean
shadows nowhere so purple as on the long grassy walk to Santa
Croce. But yesterday I seemed to see nothing but green and blue.
The expanse before Santa Croce was vivid green; the Campagna
rolled away in great green billows, which seemed to break high
about the gaunt aqueducts; and the Alban Hills, which in January
and February keep shifting and melting along the whole scale of
azure, were almost monotonously fresh, and had lost some of their
finer modelling. But the sky was ultramarine and everything
radiant with light and warmth--warmth which a soft steady breeze
kept from excess. I strolled some time about the church, which
has a grand air enough, though I don't seize the point of view of
Miss----, who told me the other day how vastly finer she thought
it than St. Peter's. But on Miss----'s lips this seemed a very
pretty paradox. The choir and transepts have a sombre splendour,
and I like the old vaulted passage with its slabs and monuments
behind the choir. The charm of charms at St. John Lateran is the
admirable twelfth-century cloister, which was never more charming
than yesterday. The shrubs and flowers about the ancient well
were blooming away in the intense light, and the twisted pillars
and chiselled capitals of the perfect little colonnade seemed to
enclose them like the sculptured rim of a precious vase. Standing
out among the flowers you may look up and see a section of the
summit of the great façade of the church. The robed and mitred
apostles, bleached and rain-washed by the ages, rose into the
blue air like huge snow figures. I spent at the incorporated
museum a subsequent hour of fond vague attention, having it quite
to myself. It is rather scantily stocked, but the great cool
halls open out impressively one after the other, and the wide
spaces between the statues seem to suggest at first that each is
a masterpiece. I was in the loving mood of one's last days in
Rome, and when I had nothing else to admire I admired the
magnificent thickness of the embrasures of the doors and windows.
If there were no objects of interest at all in the Lateran the
palace would be worth walking through every now and then, to keep
up one's idea of solid architecture. I went over to the Scala
Santa, where was no one but a very shabby priest sitting like a
ticket-taker at the door. But he let me pass, and I ascended one
of the profane lateral stairways and treated myself to a glimpse
of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Its threshold is crossed but once or
twice a year, I believe, by three or four of the most exalted
divines, but you may look into it freely enough through a couple
of gilded lattices. It is very sombre and splendid, and conveys
the impression of a very holy place. And yet somehow it suggested
irreverent thoughts; it had to my fancy--perhaps on account of
the lattice--an Oriental, a Mahometan note. I expected every
moment to see a sultana appear in a silver veil and silken
trousers and sit down on the crimson carpet.

Farewell, packing, the sharp pang of going. One would like to be
able after five months in Rome to sum up for tribute and homage,
one's experience, one's gains, the whole adventure of one's
sensibility. But one has really vibrated too much--the addition
of so many items isn't easy. What is simply clear is the sense of
an acquired passion for the place and of an incalculable number
of gathered impressions. Many of these have been intense and
momentous, but one has trodden on the other--there are always the
big fish that swallow up the little--and one can hardly say what
has become of them. They store themselves noiselessly away, I
suppose, in the dim but safe places of memory and "taste," and we
live in a quiet faith that they will emerge into vivid relief if
life or art should demand them. As for the passion we needn't
perhaps trouble ourselves about that. Fifty swallowed palmfuls of
the Fountain of Trevi couldn't make us more ardently sure that we
shall at any cost come back.



If I find my old notes, in all these Roman connections,
inevitably bristle with the spirit of the postscript, so I give
way to this prompting to the extent of my scant space and with
the sense of other occasions awaiting me on which I shall have to
do no less. The impression of Rome was repeatedly to renew itself
for the author of these now rather antique and artless accents;
was to overlay itself again and again with almost heavy
thicknesses of experience, the last of which is, as I write,
quite fresh to memory; and he has thus felt almost ashamed to
drop his subject (though it be one that tends so easily to turn
to the infinite) as if the law of change had in all the years had
nothing to say to his case. It's of course but of his case alone
that he speaks--wondering little what he may make of it for the
profit of others by an attempt, however brief, to point the moral
of the matter, or in other words compare the musing mature
visitor's "feeling about Rome" with that of the extremely
agitated, even if though extremely inexpert, consciousness
reflected in the previous pages. The actual, the current Rome
affects him as a world governed by new conditions altogether and
ruefully pleading that sorry fact in the ear of the antique
wanderer wherever he may yet mournfully turn for some re-capture
of what he misses. The city of his first unpremeditated rapture
shines to memory, on the other hand, in the manner of a lost
paradise the rustle of whose gardens is still just audible enough
in the air to make him wonder if some sudden turn, some recovered
vista, mayn't lead him back to the thing itself. My genial, my
helpful tag, at this point, would doubtless properly resolve
itself, for the reader, into a clue toward some such successful
ingenuity of quest; a remark I make, I may add, even while
reflecting that the Paradise isn't apparently at all "lost" to
visitors not of my generation. It is the seekers of that
remote and romantic tradition who have seen it, from one period
of ten, or even of five, years to another, systematically and
remorselessly built out from their view. Their helpless plaint,
their sense of the generally irrecoverable and unspeakable, is
not, however, what I desire here most to express; I should like,
on the contrary, with ampler opportunity, positively to enumerate
the cases, the cases of contact, impression, experience, in which
the cold ashes of a long-chilled passion may fairly feel
themselves made to glow again. No one who has ever loved Rome as
Rome could be loved in youth and before her poised basketful of
the finer appeals to fond fancy was actually upset, wants to stop
loving her; so that our bleeding and wounded, though perhaps not
wholly moribund, loyalty attends us as a hovering admonitory,
anticipatory ghost, one of those magnanimous life-companions who
before complete extinction designate to the other member of the
union their approved successor. So it is at any rate that I
conceive the pilgrim old enough to have become aware in all these
later years of what he misses to be counselled and pacified in
the interest of recognitions that shall a little make up for it.

It was this wisdom I was putting into practice, no doubt, for
instance, when I lately resigned myself to motoring of a splendid
June day "out to" Subiaco; as a substitute for a resignation that
had anciently taken, alas, but the form of my never getting there
at all. Everything that day, moreover, seemed right, surely;
everything on certain other days that were like it through their
large indebtedness, at this, that and the other point, to the
last new thing, seemed so right that they come back to me now,
after a moderate interval, in the full light of that unchallenged
felicity. I couldn't at all gloriously recall, for instance, as I
floated to Subiaco on vast brave wings, how on the occasion of my
first visit to Rome, thirty-eight years before, I had devoted
certain evenings, evenings of artless "preparation" in my room at
the inn, to the perusal of Alphonse Dantier's admirable
Monastères Bénédictins d'ltalie, taking piously for
granted that I should get myself somehow conveyed to Monte
Cassino and to Subiaco at least: such an affront to the passion
of curiosity, the generally infatuated state then kindled, would
any suspicion of my foredoomed, my all but interminable,
privation during visits to come have seemed to me. Fortune, in
the event, had never favoured my going, but I was to give myself
up at last to the sense of her quite taking me by the hand, and
that is how I now think of our splendid June day at Subiaco. The
note of the wondrous place itself is conventional "wild" Italy
raised to the highest intensity, the ideally, the sublimely
conventional and wild, complete and supreme in itself, without a
disparity or a flaw; which character of perfect picturesque
orthodoxy seemed more particularly to begin for me, I remember,
as we passed, on our way, through that indescribable and
indestructible Tivoli, where the jumble of the elements of the
familiarly and exploitedly, the all too notoriously fair and
queer, was more violent and vociferous than ever--so the whole
spectacle there seemed at once to rejoice in cockneyfication and
to resist it. There at least I had old memories to renew--
including that in especial, from a few years back, of one of the
longest, hottest, dustiest return-drives to Rome that the
Campagna on a sirocco day was ever to have treated me to.

[Illustration: VILLA D'ESTE, TIVOLI]

That was to be more than made up on this later occasion by an
hour of early evening, snatched on the run back to Rome, that
remains with me as one of those felicities we are wise to leave
for ever, just as they are, just, that is, where they fell, never
attempting to renew or improve them. So happy a chance was it
that ensured me at the afternoon's end a solitary stroll through
the Villa d' Este, where the day's invasion, whatever it might
have been, had left no traces and where I met nobody in the great
rococo passages and chambers, and in the prodigious alleys and on
the repeated flights of tortuous steps, but the haunting Genius
of Style, into whose noble battered old face, as if it had come
out clearer in the golden twilight and on recognition of response
so deeply moved, I seemed to exhale my sympathy. This was truly,
amid a conception and order of things all mossed over from
disuse, but still without a form abandoned or a principle
disowned, one of the hours that one doesn't forget. The ruined
fountains seemed strangely to wait, in the stillness and
under cover of the approaching dusk, not to begin ever again to
play, also, but just only to be tenderly imagined to do so; quite
as everything held its breath, at the mystic moment, for the drop
of the cruel and garish exposure, for the Spirit of the place to
steal forth and go his round. The vistas of the innumerable
mighty cypresses ranged themselves, in their files and companies,
like beaten heroes for their captain's, review; the great
artificial "works" of every description, cascades, hemicycles,
all graded and grassed and stone-seated as for floral games,
mazes and bowers and alcoves and grottos, brave indissoluble
unions of the planted and the builded symmetry, with the terraces
and staircases that overhang and the arcades and cloisters that
underspread, made common cause together as for one's taking up a
little, in kindly lingering wonder, the "feeling" out of which
they have sprung. One didn't see it, under the actual influence,
one wouldn't for the world have seen it, as that they longed to
be justified, during a few minutes in the twenty-four hours, of
their absurdity of pomp and circumstance--but only that they
asked for company, once in a way, as they were so splendidly
formed to give it, and that the best company, in a changed world,
at the end of time, what could they hope it to be but just the
lone, the dawdling person of taste, the visitor with a flicker of
fancy, not to speak of a pang of pity, to spare for them? It was
in the flicker of fancy, no doubt, that as I hung about the great
top-most terrace in especial, and then again took my way through
the high gaunt corridors and the square and bare alcoved and
recessed saloons, all overscored with such a dim waste of those
painted, those delicate and capricious decorations which the
loggie of the Vatican promptly borrowed from the ruins of the
Palatine, or from whatever other revealed and inspiring
ancientries, and which make ghostly confession here of that
descent, I gave the rein to my sense of the sinister too, of that
vague after-taste as of evil things that lurks so often, for a
suspicious sensibility, wherever the terrible game of the life of
the Renaissance was played as the Italians played it; wherever
the huge tessellated chessboard seems to stretch about us; swept
bare, almost always violently swept bare, of its chiselled and
shifting figures, of every value and degree, but with this
echoing desolation itself representing the long gasp, as it were,
of overstrained time, the great after-hush that follows on things
too wonderful or dreadful.

I am putting here, however, my cart before my horse, for the hour
just glanced at was but a final tag to a day of much brighter
curiosity, and which seemed to take its baptism, as we passed
through prodigious perched and huddled, adorably scattered and
animated and even crowded Tivoli, from the universal happy spray
of the drumming Anio waterfalls, all set in their permanent
rainbows and Sibylline temples and classic allusions and Byronic
quotations; a wondrous romantic jumble of such things and quite
others--heterogeneous inns and clamorous guingettes and
factories grabbing at the torrent, to say nothing of innumerable
guides and donkeys and white-tied, swallow-tailed waiters dashing
out of grottos and from under cataracts, and of the air, on the
part of the whole population, of standing about, in the most
characteristic contadino manner, to pounce on you and take
you somewhere, snatch you from somebody else, shout something at
you, the aqueous and other uproar permitting, and then charge you
for it, your innocence aiding. I'm afraid our run the rest of the
way to Subiaco remains with me but as an after-sense of that
exhilaration, in spite of our rising admirably higher, all the
while, and plunging constantly deeper into splendid solitary
gravities, supreme romantic solemnities and sublimities, of
landscape. The Benedictine convent, which clings to certain more
or less vertiginous ledges and slopes of a vast precipitous
gorge, constitutes, with the whole perfection of its setting, the
very ideal of the tradition of that extraordinary in the
handed down to us, as the most attaching and
inviting spell of Italy, by all the old academic literature of
travel and art of the Salvator Rosas and Claudes. This is the
main tribute I may pay in a few words to an impression of which a
sort of divine rightness of oddity, a pictorial felicity that was
almost not of this world, but of a higher degree of distinction
altogether, affected me as the leading note; yet about the whole
exquisite complexity of which I can't pretend to be informing.

All the elements of the scene melted for me together; even from
the pause for luncheon on a grassy wayside knoll, over heaven
knows what admirable preparatory headlong slopes and ravines and
iridescent distances, under spreading chestnuts and in the high
air that was cool and sweet, to the final pedestrian climb of
sinuous mountain-paths that the shining limestone and the strong
green of shrub and herbage made as white as silver. There the
miraculous home of St. Benedict awaited us in the form of a
builded and pictured-over maze of chapels and shrines, cells and
corridors, stupefying rock-chambers and caves, places all at an
extraordinary variety of different levels and with labyrinthine
intercommunications; there the spirit of the centuries sat like
some invisible icy presence that only permits you to stare and
wonder. I stared, I wondered, I went up and down and in and out
and lost myself in the fantastic fable of the innumerable hard
facts themselves; and whenever I could, above all, I peeped out
of small windows and hung over chance terraces for the love of
the general outer picture, the splendid fashion in which the
fretted mountains of marble, as they might have been, round
about, seemed to inlay themselves, for the effect of the
"distinction" I speak of, with vegetations of dark emerald. There
above all--or at least in what such aspects did further for the
prodigy of the Convent, whatever that prodigy might for do
them--was, to a life-long victim of Italy, almost verily
as never before, the operation of the old love-philtre; there
were the inexhaustible sources of interest and charm.

[Illustration: SUBIACO]

These mystic fountains broke out for me elsewhere, again and
again, I rejoice to say--and perhaps more particularly, to be
frank about it, where the ground about them was pressed with due
emphasis of appeal by the firm wheels of the great winged car. I
motored, under invitation and protection, repeatedly back into
the sense of the other years, that sense of the "old" and
comparatively idle Rome of my particular infatuated prime which I
was living to see superseded, and this even when the fond vista
bristled with innumerable "signs of the times," unmistakable
features of the new era, that, by I scarce know what perverse
law, succeeded in ministering to a happy effect. Some of these
false notes proceed simply from the immense growth of every sort
of facilitation--so that people are much more free than of old to
come and go and do, to inquire and explore, to pervade and
generally "infest"; with a consequent loss, for the fastidious
individual, of his blest earlier sense, not infrequent, of having
the occasion and the impression, as he used complacently to say,
all to himself. We none of us had anything quite all to ourselves
during an afternoon at Ostia, on a beautiful June Sunday; it was
a different affair, rather, from the long, the comparatively slow
and quite unpeopled drive that I was to remember having last
taken early in the autumn thirty years before, and which occupied
the day--with the aid of a hamper from once supreme old Spillman,
the provider for picnics to a vanished world (since I suspect the
antique ideal of "a picnic in the Campagna," the fondest
conception of a happy day, has lost generally much of its
glamour). Our idyllic afternoon, at any rate, left no chord of
sensibility that could possibly have been in question untouched-
-not even that of tea on the shore at Fiumincino, after we had
spent an hour among the ruins of Ostia and seen our car ferried
across the Tiber, almost saffron-coloured here and swirling
towards its mouth, on a boat that was little more than a big
rustic raft and that yet bravely resisted the prodigious weight.
What shall I say, in the way of the particular, of the general
felicity before me, for the sweetness of the hour to which the
incident just named, with its strange and amusing juxtapositions
of the patriarchally primitive and the insolently supersubtle,
the earliest and the latest efforts of restless science, were
almost immediately to succeed?

We had but skirted the old gold-and-brown walls of Castel Fusano,
where the massive Chigi tower and the immemorial stone-pines and
the afternoon sky and the desolate sweetness and concentrated
rarity of the picture all kept their appointment, to fond memory,
with that especial form of Roman faith, the fine aesthetic
conscience in things, that is never, never broken. We had wound
through tangled lanes and met handsome sallow country-folk
lounging at leisure, as became the Sunday, and ever so pleasantly
and garishly clothed, if not quite consistently costumed, as just
on purpose to feed our wanton optimism; and then we had addressed
ourselves with a soft superficiality to the open, the exquisite
little Ostian reliquary, an exhibition of stony vaguenesses half
straightened out. The ruins of the ancient port of Rome, the
still recoverable identity of streets and habitations and other
forms of civil life, are a not inconsiderable handful, though
making of the place at best a very small sister to Pompeii; but a
soft superficiality is ever the refuge of my shy sense before any
ghost of informed reconstitution, and I plead my surrender to it
with the less shame that I believe I "enjoy" such scenes even on
such futile pretexts as much as it can be appointed them by the
invidious spirit of History to be enjoyed. It may be said,
of course, that enjoyment, question-begging term at best, isn't
in these austere connections designated--but rather some
principle of appreciation that can at least give a coherent
account of itself. On that basis then--as I could, I profess,
but revel in the looseness of my apprehension, so wide it
seemed to fling the gates of vision and divination--I won't
pretend to dot, as it were, too many of the i's of my
incompetence. I was competent only to have been abjectly
interested. On reflection, moreover, I see that no impression of
over-much company invaded the picture till the point was exactly
reached for its contributing thoroughly to character and
amusement; across at Fiumincino, which the age of the bicycle has
made, in a small way, the handy Gravesend or Coney Island of
Rome, the cafés and birrerie were at high pressure, and
the bustle all motley and friendly beside the melancholy river,
where the water-side life itself had twenty quaint and vivid
notes and where a few upstanding objects, ancient or modern,
looked eminent and interesting against the delicate Roman sky
that dropped down and down to the far-spreading marshes of
malaria. Besides which "company" is ever intensely gregarious,
hanging heavily together and easily outwitted; so that we had but
to proceed a scant distance further and meet the tideless
Mediterranean, where it tumbled in a trifle breezily on the
sands, to be all to ourselves with our tea-basket, quite as in
the good old fashion--only in truth with the advantage that the
contemporary tea-basket is so much improved.

I jumble my memories as a tribute to the whole idyll--I give the
golden light in which they come back to me for what it is worth;
worth, I mean, as allowing that the possibilities of charm of the
Witch of the Seven Hills, as we used to call her in magazines,
haven't all been vulgarised away. It was precisely there, on such
an occasion and in such a place, that this might seem signally to
have happened; whereas in fact the mild suburban riot, in which
the so gay but so light potations before the array of little
houses of entertainment were what struck one as really making
most for mildness, was brushed over with a fabled grace, was
harmonious, felicitous, distinguished, quite after the fashion of
some thoroughly trained chorus or phalanx of opera or ballet.
Bicycles were stacked up by the hundred; the youth of Rome are
ardent cyclists, with a great taste for flashing about in more or
less denuded or costumed athletic and romantic bands and guilds,
and on our return cityward, toward evening, along the right bank
of the river, the road swarmed with the patient wheels and bent
backs of these budding cives Romani quite to the effect of
its finer interest. Such at least, I felt, could only be one's
acceptance of almost any feature of a scene bathed in that
extraordinarily august air that the waning Roman day is so
insidiously capable of taking on when any other element of style
happens at all to contribute. Weren't they present, these other
elements, in the great classic lines and folds, the fine academic
or historic attitudes of the darkening land itself as it hung
about the old highway, varying its vague accidents, but achieving
always perfect "composition"? I shamelessly add that cockneyfied
impression, at all events, to what I have called my jumble; Rome,
to which we all swept on together in the wondrous glowing medium,
saved everything, spreading afar her wide wing and
applying after all but her supposed grand gift of the secret of
salvation. We kept on and on into the great dim rather sordidly
papal streets that approach the quarter of St. Peter's; to the
accompaniment, finally, of that markedly felt provocation of fond
wonder which had never failed to lie in wait for me under any
question of a renewed glimpse of the huge unvisited rear of the
basilica. There was no renewed glimpse just then, in the
gloaming; but the region I speak of had been for me, in fact,
during the previous weeks, less unvisited than ever before, so
that I had come to count an occasional walk round and about it as
quite of the essence of the convenient small change with which
the heterogeneous City may still keep paying you. These
frequentations in the company of a sculptor friend had been
incidental to our reaching a small artistic foundry of fine
metal, an odd and interesting little establishment placed, as who
should say in the case of such a mere left-over scrap of a large
loose margin, nowhere: it lurked so unsuspectedly, that is, among
the various queer things that Rome comprehensively refers to as
"behind St. Peter's."

We had passed then, on the occasion of our several pilgrimages,
in beneath the great flying, or at least straddling buttresses to
the left of the mighty façade, where you enter that great idle
precinct of fine dense pavement and averted and sacrificed
grandeur, the reverse of the monstrous medal of the front. Here
the architectural monster rears its back and shoulders on an
equal scale and this whole unregarded world of colossal
consistent symmetry and hidden high finish gives you the measure
of the vast total treasure of items and features. The outward
face of all sorts of inward majesties of utility and ornament
here above all correspondingly reproduces itself; the expanses of
golden travertine--the freshness of tone, the cleanness of
surface, in the sunny air, being extraordinary--climb and soar
and spread under the crushing weight of a scheme carried out in
every ponderous particular. Never was such a show of
wasted art, of pomp for pomp's sake, as where all the
chapels bulge and all the windows, each one a separate
constructional masterpiece, tower above almost grassgrown
vacancy; with the full and immediate effect, of course, of
reading us a lesson on the value of lawful pride. The pride is
the pride of indifference as to whether a greatness so founded be
gaped at in all its features or not. My friend and I were alone
to gape at them most often while, for the unfailing impression of
them, on our way to watch the casting of our figure, we extended
our circuit of the place. To which I may add, as another example
of that tentative, that appealing twitch of the garment of Roman
association of which one kept renewing one's consciousness, the
half-hour at the little foundry itself was all charming--with
its quite shabby and belittered and ramshackle recall of the old
Roman "art-life" of one's early dreams. Everything was somehow in
the picture, the rickety sheds, the loose paraphernalia, the
sunny, grassy yard where a goat was browsing; then the queer
interior gloom of the pits, frilled with little overlooking
scaffoldings and bridges, for the sinking fireward of the image
that was to take on hardness; and all the pleasantness and
quickness, the beguiling refinement, of the three or four light
fine "hands" of whom the staff consisted and into whose type and
tone one liked to read, with whatever harmless extravagance, so
many signs that a lively sense of stiff processes, even in humble
life, could still leave untouched the traditional rare feeling
for the artistic. How delightful such an occupation in such a
general setting--those of my friend, I at such moments
irrepressibly moralised; and how one might after such a fashion
endlessly go and come and ask nothing better; or if better, only
so to the extent of another impression I was to owe to him: that
of an evening meal spread, in the warm still darkness that made
no candle flicker, on the wide high space of an old loggia that
overhung, in one quarter, the great obelisked Square preceding
one of the Gates, and in the other the Tiber and the far
Trastevere and more things than I can say--above all, as it were,
the whole backward past, the mild confused romance of the Rome
one had loved and of which one was exactly taking leave under
protection of the friendly lanterned and garlanded feast and the
commanding, all-embracing roof-garden. It was indeed a
reconciling, it was an altogether penetrating, last hour.



One day in midwinter, some years since, during a journey from
Rome to Florence perforce too rapid to allow much wayside
sacrifice to curiosity, I waited for the train at Narni. There
was time to stroll far enough from the station to have a look at
the famous old bridge of Augustus, broken short off in mid-Tiber.
While I stood admiring the measure of impression was made to
overflow by the gratuitous grace of a white-cowled monk who came
trudging up the road that wound to the gate of the town. Narni
stood, in its own presented felicity, on a hill a good space
away, boxed in behind its perfect grey wall, and the monk, to
oblige me, crept slowly along and disappeared within the
aperture. Everything was distinct in the clear air, and the view
exactly as like the bit of background by an Umbrian master as it
ideally should have been. The winter is bare and brown enough in
southern Italy and the earth reduced to more of a mere anatomy
than among ourselves, for whom the very crânerie of its
exposed state, naked and unashamed, gives it much of the robust
serenity, not of a fleshless skeleton, but of a fine nude statue.
In these regions at any rate, the tone of the air, for the eye,
during the brief desolation, has often an extraordinary charm:
nature still smiles as with the deputed and provisional charity
of colour and light, the duty of not ceasing to cheer man's
heart. Her whole behaviour, at the time, cast such a spell on
the broken bridge, the little walled town and the trudging friar,
that I turned away with the impatient vow and the fond vision of
how I would take the journey again and pause to my heart's
content at Narni, at Spoleto, at Assisi, at Perugia, at Cortona,
at Arezzo. But we have generally to clip our vows a little when
we come to fulfil them; and so it befell that when my blest
springtime arrived I had to begin as resignedly as possible, yet
with comparative meagreness, at Assisi.

[Illustration: ASSISI.]

I suppose enjoyment would have a simple zest which it often lacks
if we always did things at the moment we want to, for it's mostly
when we can't that we're thoroughly sure we would, and we
can answer too little for moods in the future conditional. Winter
at least seemed to me to have put something into these seats of
antiquity that the May sun had more or less melted away--a
desirable strength of tone, a depth upon depth of queerness and
quaintness. Assisi had been in the January twilight, after my
mere snatch at Narni, a vignette out of some brown old missal.
But you'll have to be a fearless explorer now to find of a fine
spring day any such cluster of curious objects as doesn't seem
made to match before anything else Mr. Baedeker's polyglot
estimate of its chief recommendations. This great man was at
Assisi in force, and a brand-new inn for his accommodation has
just been opened cheek by jowl with the church of St. Francis. I
don't know that even the dire discomfort of this harbourage makes
it seem less impertinent; but I confess I sought its protection,
and the great view seemed hardly less beautiful from my window
than from the gallery of the convent. This view embraces the
whole wide reach of Umbria, which becomes as twilight deepens a
purple counterfeit of the misty sea. The visitor's first errand
is with the church; and it's fair furthermore to admit that when
he has crossed that threshold the position and quality of his
hotel cease for the time to be matters of moment. This two-fold
temple of St. Francis is one of the very sacred places of Italy,
and it would be hard to breathe anywhere an air more heavy with
holiness. Such seems especially the case if you happen thus to
have come from Rome, where everything ecclesiastical is, in
aspect, so very much of this world--so florid, so elegant, so
full of accommodations and excrescences. The mere site here makes
for authority, and they were brave builders who laid the
foundation-stones. The thing rises straight from a steep
mountain-side and plunges forward on its great substructure of
arches even as a crowned headland may frown over the main. Before
it stretches a long, grassy piazza, at the end of which you look
up a small grey street, to see it first climb a little way the
rest of the hill and then pause and leave a broad green slope,
crested, high in the air, with a ruined castle. When I say before
it I mean before the upper church; for by way of doing something
supremely handsome and impressive the sturdy architects of the
thirteenth century piled temple upon temple and bequeathed a
double version of their idea. One may imagine them to have
intended perhaps an architectural image of the relation between
heart and head. Entering the lower church at the bottom of the
great flight of steps which leads from the upper door, you seem
to push at least into the very heart of Catholicism.

For the first minutes after leaving the clearer gloom you catch
nothing but a vista of low black columns closed by the great
fantastic cage surrounding the altar, which is thus placed, by
your impression, in a sort of gorgeous cavern. Gradually you
distinguish details, become accustomed to the penetrating chill,
and even manage to make out a few frescoes ; but the general
effect remains splendidly sombre and subterranean. The vaulted
roof is very low and the pillars dwarfish, though immense in
girth, as befits pillars supporting substantially a cathedral.
The tone of the place is a triumph of mystery, the richest
harmony of lurking shadows and dusky corners, all relieved by
scattered images and scintillations. There was little light but
what came through the windows of the choir over which the red
curtains had been dropped and were beginning to glow with the
downward sun. The choir was guarded by a screen behind which a
dozen venerable voices droned vespers ; but over the top of the
screen came the heavy radiance and played among the ornaments of
the high fence round the shrine, casting the shadow of the whole
elaborate mass forward into the obscured nave. The darkness of
vaults and side-chapels is overwrought with vague frescoes, most
of them by Giotto and his school, out of which confused richness
the terribly distinct little faces characteristic of these
artists stare at you with a solemn formalism. Some are faded and
injured, and many so ill-lighted and ill-placed that you can only
glance at them with decent conjecture; the great group, however--
four paintings by Giotto on the ceiling above the altar--may be
examined with some success. Like everything of that grim and
beautiful master they deserve examination; but with the effect
ever of carrying one's appreciation in and in, as it were, rather
than of carrying it out and out, off and off, as happens for us
with those artists who have been helped by the process of
"evolution" to grow wings. This one, "going in" for emphasis at
any price, stamps hard, as who should say, on the very spot of
his idea--thanks to which fact he has a concentration that has
never been surpassed. He was in other words, in proportion to his
means, a genius supremely expressive; he makes the very shade of
an intended meaning or a represented attitude so unmistakable
that his figures affect us at moments as creatures all too
suddenly, too alarmingly, too menacingly met. Meagre, primitive,
undeveloped, he yet is immeasurably strong; he even suggests that
if he had lived the due span of years later Michael Angelo might
have found a rival. Not that he is given, however, to complicated
postures or superhuman flights. The something strange that
troubles and haunts us in his work springs rather from a kind of
fierce familiarity.

It is part of the wealth of the lower church that it contains an
admirable primitive fresco by an artist of genius rarely
encountered, Pietro Cavallini, pupil of Giotto. This represents
the Crucifixion; the three crosses rising into a sky spotted with
the winged heads of angels while a dense crowd presses below. You
will nowhere see anything more direfully lugubrious, or more
approaching for direct force, though not of course for amplitude
of style, Tintoretto's great renderings of the scene in Venice.
The abject anguish of the crucified and the straddling authority
and brutality of the mounted guards in the foreground are
contrasted in a fashion worthy of a great dramatist. But the most
poignant touch is the tragic grimaces of the little angelic heads
that fall like hailstones through the dark air. It is genuine
realistic weeping, the act of irrepressible "crying," that the
painter has depicted, and the effect is pitiful at the same time
as grotesque. There are many more frescoes besides; all the
chapels on one side are lined with them, but these are chiefly
interesting in their general impressiveness--as they people the
dim recesses with startling presences, with apparitions out of
scale. Before leaving the place I lingered long near the door,
for I was sure I shouldn't soon again enjoy such a feast of
scenic composition. The opposite end glowed with subdued colour;
the middle portion was vague and thick and brown, with two or
three scattered worshippers looming through the obscurity; while,
all the way down, the polished pavement, its uneven slabs
glittering dimly in the obstructed light, was of the very essence
of expensive picture. It is certainly desirable, if one takes the
lower church of St. Francis to represent the human heart, that
one should find a few bright places there. But if the general
effect is of brightness terrorised and smothered, is the symbol
less valid? For the contracted, prejudiced, passionate heart let
it stand.

One thing at all events we can say, that we should rejoice to
boast as capacious, symmetrical and well-ordered a head as the
upper sanctuary. Thanks to these merits, in spite of a brave
array of Giottesque work which has the advantage of being easily
seen, it lacks the great character of its counterpart. The
frescoes, which are admirable, represent certain leading events
in the life of St. Francis, and suddenly remind you, by one of
those anomalies that are half the secret of the consummate
mise-en-scene of Catholicism, that the apostle of
beggary, the saint whose only tenement in life was the ragged
robe which barely covered him, is the hero of this massive
structure. Church upon church, nothing less will adequately
shroud his consecrated clay. The great reality of Giotto's
designs adds to the helpless wonderment with which we feel the
passionate pluck of the Hero, the sense of being separated from
it by an impassable gulf, the reflection on all that has come and
gone to make morality at that vertiginous pitch impossible. There
are no such high places of humility left to climb to. An
observant friend who has lived long in Italy lately declared to
me, however, that she detested the name of this moralist, deeming
him chief propagator of the Italian vice most trying to the
would-be lover of the people, the want of personal self-respect.
There is a solidarity in the use of soap, and every cringing
beggar, idler, liar and pilferer flourished for her under the
shadow of the great Francisan indifference to it. She was
possibly right; at Rome, at Naples, I might have admitted she was
right; but at Assisi, face to face with Giotto's vivid chronicle,
we admire too much in its main subject the exquisite play of that
subject's genius--we don't remit to him, and this for very envy,
a single throb of his consciousness. It took in, that human, that
divine embrace, everything but soap.

I should find it hard to give an orderly account of my next
adventures or impressions at Assisi, which could n't well be
anything more than mere romantic flanerie. One may easily
plead as the final result of a meditation at the shrine of St.
Francis a great and even an amused charity. This state of mind
led me slowly up and down for a couple of hours through the steep
little streets, and at last stretched itself on the grass with me
in the shadow of the great ruined castle that decorates so
grandly the eminence above the town. I remember edging along the
sunless side of the small mouldy houses and pausing very often to
look at nothing in particular. It was all very hot, very hushed,
very resignedly but very persistently old. A wheeled vehicle in
such a place is an event, and the forestiero's
interrogative tread in the blank sonorous lanes has the privilege
of bringing the inhabitants to their doorways. Some of the better
houses, however, achieve a sombre stillness that protests against
the least curiosity as to what may happen in any such century as


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