THE SPIRIT OF ROME
THE SPIRIT OF ROME.
LEAVES FROM A DIARY.
DIS MANIBVS SACRVM.
TO ALL THE FRIENDS
LIVING AND DEAD
REAL AND IMAGINARY
MORTAL AND IMMORTAL
WHO HAVE MADE ROME
WHAT IT IS TO ME.
EXPLANATORY AND APOLOGETIC.
I was brought up in Rome, from the age of twelve to that of seventeen,
but did not return there for many years afterwards. I discovered it
anew for myself, while knowing all its sites and its details;
discovered, that is to say, its meaning to my thoughts and feelings.
Hence, in all my impressions, a mixture of familiarity and of
astonishment; a sense, perhaps answering to the reality, that Rome—it
sounds a platitude—is utterly different from everything else, and
that we are therefore in different relations to it.
Probably for this reason I have found it impossible to use up, in what
I have written upon places and their genius, these notes about Rome. I
cannot focus Rome into any definite perspective, or see it in the
colour of one mood. And whatever may have happened there to my small
person has left no trace in what I have written. What I meet in Rome
is Rome itself. Rome is alive (only the more so for its occasional air
of death), and one is too busy loving, hating, being harassed or
soothed, and ruminating over its contradictions, to remember much of
the pains and joys which mere mortals have given one in its presence.
A similar reason has prevented all attempt to rewrite or alter these
notes. One cannot sit down and attempt a faithful portrait of Rome; at
least I cannot. And the value of these notes to those who love Rome,
or are capable of loving it, is that they express, in however
stammering a manner, what I said to myself about Rome; or, perhaps, if
the phrase is not presumptuous, what Rome, day after day and year
after year, has said to me.
THE SPIRIT OF ROME.
FIRST RETURN TO ROME.
Strange that in the confusion of impressions, not new mainly, but
oddly revived (the same things transposed by time into new keys), my
most vivid impression should be of something so impersonal, so
unimportant, as an antique sarcophagus serving as base to a mediæval
tomb. Impressions? Scarcely. My mind seems like an old blotting-book,
full of fragments of sentences, of words suggesting something, which
refuses to absorb any more ink.
How I had forgotten them, and how well I know them, these little
details out of the past! the darkish sponge-like holes in the
travertine, the reversed capital on the Trinità dei Monti steps, the
caryatides of the Stanza dell' Incendio, the scowl or smirk of the
Emperors and philosophers at the Capitol: a hundred details. I seem to
have been looking at nothing else these fifteen years, during which
they have all been absolutely forgotten.
The very Campagna to-day, driving out beyond Cecilia Metella, little
as I knew it before, seems quite familiar, leaves no impression. Yes,
the fences tied like that with reeds, overtopped by sprouting elders,
the fat weeds on wall and tomb, the undulations of sere green plain,
the white snow-masses floating, as it were, in the blue of the sky;
the straddling bits of aqueduct, the lumps of masonry. Am I utterly
and for ever spoilt for this? Has it given me so much that it can
never give me any more?—that the sight of Arezzo and its towers
beneath the blueness and the snow of Falterona, the green marshy
valley, with the full Tiber issuing from beneath the last Umbrian
Mountains, seemed so much more poignant than all this. Is it possible
that Rome in three days can give me nothing more vivid and heady than
the thought of that sarcophagus, let into the wall of the Ara Cœli,
its satyrs and cupids and grapes and peacocks surmounted by the mosaic
crosses, the mediæval inscriptions of Dominus Pandulphus Sabelli?
Rome, February 1888.
A PONTIFICAL MASS AT THE SIXTINE CHAPEL.
I never knew so many hours pass so pleasantly as in this tribune,
surrounded by those whispering, elbowing, plunging, veiled women in
black, under the wall painted with Perugino's Charge of St. Peter, and
dadoed with imitation Spanish leather, superb gold and blue scrolls of
Rhodian pomegranate pattern and Della Rovere shields with the
My first impression is of the magnificence of all these costumes, the
Swiss with their halberts, the Knights of Malta, the Chamberlains like
so many Rubenses or Frans Halses, the Prelates and cardinals, each
with his little train of purple priestlets; particularly of the
perfection in wearing these clothes, something analogous to the
brownish depth of the purple, the carnation vividness of the scarlet,
due to all these centuries of tradition. At the same time, an
impression of the utter disconnectedness of it all, the absence of all
spirit or meaning; this magnificence being as the turning out
rag bag of purple and crimson and gold, of superb artistic things all
out of place, useless, patternless, and almost odious: pageantry,
ritual, complicated Palestrina music, crowded Renaissance frescoes,
that huge Last Judgment, that mass of carefully grouped hideous
nudities, brutal, butcher-like, on its harsh blue ground; that ceiling
packed with superb pictures and figures, symmetrical yet at random,
portentous arm and thighs and shoulders hitting one as it were in the
eye. The papal procession, white robes, gold candlesticks, a wizen old
priest swaying, all pale with sea-sickness, above the crowd, above the
halberts and plumes, between the white ostrich fans, and dabbing about
benedictions to the right and left. The shuffle of the people down
onto their knees, and scuffle again onto their feet, the shrill
reading of the Mass, and endless unfinished cadences, overtopped by
unearthly slightly sickening quaverings of the choir; the ceaseless
moving about of all this mass of black backs, veils, cloaks, outlines
of cheek and ear presenting every now and then among the various kinds
of rusty black; no devotion, no gravity, no quiet anywhere, among
these creatures munching chocolates and adjusting opera-glasses.
M.P.'s voice at my ear, now about Longus and Bonghi's paganism, now
about the odiousness of her neighbour who won't let her climb on her
seat, the dreadful grief of not seeing the Cardinal's tails, the
wonderfulness of Christianity having come out of people like the
Apostles (I having turned out Gethsemane in St. Matthew in the Gospel
which she brought, together with a large supply of chocolate and the
Fioretti di S. Francesco), the ugliness of the women, &c. &c. And
meanwhile the fat pink profile perdu, the toupé of grey hair like
powder of a colossal soprano sways to and fro fatuously over the gold
grating above us.
All this vaguely on for a space of time seeming quite indeterminate.
Little by little, however, a change came over things, or my impression
of them. Is it that one's body being well broken, one's mind becomes
more susceptible of homogeneous impressions? I know not. But the
higher light, the incense, fills the space above all those black
women's heads, over the tapers burning yellow on the carved marble
balustrades with the Rovere arms, with a luminous grey vagueness; the
blue background of the Last Judgment grows into a kind of deep
hyacinthine evening sky, on which twist and writhe like fleshy snakes
the group of demons and damned, the naked Christ thundering with His
empty hand among them; the voices moving up and down, round and round
in endless unended cadences, become strange instruments (all sense of
register and vocal cords departing), unearthly harps and bugles and
double basses, rasping often and groaning like a broken-down organ,
above which warbles the hautboy quaver of the sopranos. And the huge
things on the ceiling, with their prodigious thighs and toes and arms
and jowls crouch and cower and scowl, and hang uneasily on arches, and
strain themselves wearily on brackets, dreary, magnificent, full of
inexplicable feelings all about nothing: the colossal prophetic
creature in green and white over the altar, on the keystone of the
vault, striking out his arms—to pull it all down or prop it all up?
The very creation of the world becoming the creation of chaos, the
Creator scudding away before Himself as He separates the light from
the darkness. Chaos, chaos, and all these things moving, writhing,
making fearful efforts, in a way living, all about nothing and in
nothing, much like those voices grating and quavering endlessly long.
Rome, March 4, 1888.
SECOND RETURN TO ROME.
I feel very much the grandeur of Rome; not in the sense of the heroic
or tragic; but grandeur in the sense of splendid rhetoric. The great
size of most things, the huge pilasters and columns of churches, the
huge stretches of palace, the profusion of water, the stature of the
people, their great beards and heads of hair, their lazy drawl—all
this tends to the grand, the emphatic. It is not a grandeur of effort
and far-fetchedness like that of Jesuit Spain, still less of
achievement and restrained force like that of Tuscany. It is a
splendid wide-mouthed rhetoric; with a meaning certainly, but with no
restriction of things to mere meaning.
The man who has understood Rome best, in this respect, is Piranesi.
His edifices, always immensely too big, his vegetation, extravagantly
too luxurious, are none too much to render Rome. And those pools of
blackness and immense lakes of ink.
ROME, February 20, 1889.
Ended the morning characteristically at Ara Cœli, one of the churches
here I like best, or rather one of the few I like at all. I find that
the pleasure I derive from churches is mainly due to their being the
most inhabited things in the world: inhabited by generation after
generation, each bringing its something grand or paltry like its
feelings, sometimes things stolen from previous generations like the
rites themselves with their Pagan and Hebrew colour; bringing
something, sticking in something, regardless of crowding (as life is
ever regardless of other life): tombs, pictures, silver hearts and
votive pictures of accidents and illnesses, paper flowers, marbled
woodwork pews, hangings. And each generation also wearing something
away, the bricks and marble discs into unevenness, the columns into
polish, effacing with their tread the egotism of the effigies,
reducing them to that mere film, mere outline of rigid feet,
cushioned head and folded hands which is so pious and pathetic.
Such a church as Ara Cœli—like those of Ravenna—has this character
all the more, that its very pillars are stolen from antique edifices,
and show, in their broken flutings or scarred granite, that the
weather also has felt its feelings about them, that they have shared
in the life not merely of this religion or of that, Pagan or
Christian, but in the life of the winds and rains. Such churches as
this, anything but swept and garnished, correspond in a way to
Browning's poetry; there is the high solemnity brought home to you,
not disturbed, by the very triviality of the details; mysteries and
wonders overarching the real living life of ex-votos and pictures of
runaway horses and houses on fire; the life worn like the porphyry
discs of the pavement, precious bits trodden into the bricks, the life
of the present filched out of the past, like the columns of the temple
supporting arches painted with seventeenth-century saints.
The organ was playing to the chanting of the monks; and standing
before the chapel of S. Bernardino, where the Christ in the gold
almond and the worshipping and music-making angels of Pinturicchio
rise out of the blue darkness behind the grating, I felt oddly that
music of the organ. The sonorous rasping of the bass tubes, the
somewhat nasal quaver of the vox humana and the hautboy, was actually
the music made by these beribboned Umbrian angels, those long ages
ago, in the gloom of their blue cloudy sky, with the blessing, newly
arisen Christ in the cherub-spangled gold almond among them.
Several miles along the Via Nomentana, we came to a strange place,
situate in an oasis in the wilderness, or rather in what is already
the beginning of a new country—the mere mounds of tufo turning into
high slopes, and a few trees (it is odd how they immediately give a
soul to this soulless desert), leafless at present, serpentine along
the greener grass. And there, with the russet of an oakwood behind,
rises a square huddle of buildings, a tall brick watch-tower,
battlemented and corbelled in the midst, and a great bay-tree at each
corner. On the tower, immediately below the battlements, is the
inscription, in huge letters, made, I should think, of white majolica
tiles—Villa Cæsia. The lettering, besides being broken, is certainly
not modern, and has a sharpness of outline telling of the Renaissance.
What solitary humanist may have put up that inscription, coming out
from Rome to commune in that wilderness, amid the rustle of the
oakwood and of the laurel-trees, and the screaming of magpies and
owls, with the togaed poets and philosophers of the Past?
The back of the Pantheon, and its side, as seen from the steps of the
Minerva, the splendid circle of masonry, and arched courses of
rose-coloured brickwork, lichened and silvered over, broken off,
turned into something almost like a natural cliff of rosy limestone;
and at its foot the capitols of magnificent columns, and fragments of
delicate dolphined frieze.
BY THE CEMETERY.
I am struck again this time by one of the things which on my first
return after so many years got to mean for my mind Rome. The Aventine,
where it slopes down to the Tiber white with fruit blossom, the trees
growing freely in masonry and weeds, against the moist sky; this
ephemeral exquisiteness seeming to mean more here among the centuries
than in any other place.
I was right, I think, when I wrote the other day that it would be
easier for us to face the thought of danger, death, change, here in
Rome than elsewhere. K. told me she felt it when we met at the
Cemetery at her poor old aunt's grave. To die here might seem, one
would think, more like re-entering into the world's outer existence,
returning, as Epictetus has it, _where one is wanted_. The cypresses
of the graveyard, there under the city walls, among the ruins, do not
seem to unite folk with the terrible unity Death, so much as with the
everlasting life of the centuries.
March 4, 1893.
Along the road to Civita Castellana, absolutely deserted. The Tiber
between low, interrupted slopes, some covered with longest most
compact green grass, others of brown, unreal tufo, like crumbled
masonry, or hollowed into Signorelli-looking grottoes, with deep
growths of Judas-tree, broom, and scant asphodels; all green and
brown, of such shapes that one wonders whether they also, like so many
seeming boulders scattered in their neighbourhood, are not in reality
masonry, long destroyed towns.
The Tiber, pale fawn colour, flush, among greenness, receiving
delicate little confluents which have come along under lush foliage;
smooth dark shallow streams, stoneless on sandy bottom; one imagines
each fought about in those first Roman days. The country is a great
pale circular greenness under tender melting sky, with pale distant
mountains all round.
How Rome seems to have been isolated from all life save the life
eternal and unchangeable of grass and water, and cattle and larks; to
have been suspended in a sort of void!
Further along, reed hovels (some propped in aqueduct arches), hovels
also in caves, and squalid osterias, into whose side are built
escutcheoned mediæval capitals. A few mounted drovers trot slowly by.
At Prima Porta, in this wilderness, a hillock of grass, descending
into which you find a small chamber painted all round with a deep
hedge of orchard and woodland plants, pomegranates, apples, arbutus,
small pines and spruce firs, all most lovingly and knowingly given,
with birds nesting and pecking, in brilliant enamel like encaustic on
an enamel blue sky.
Coming home in rain, Rome appears with cupola of St. Peter's and
Vatican gardens so disposed as to seem only a colossal sanctuary in
Durer?? Portrait of a red-haired Colonna with the ruins of Rome behind
him; ruins which, with his violent, wild-man-of-the-woods face, he
looks as if he had made.
The lovely floor, the minute pieces of marble forming a
far-more-lovely-than possible faded purple and lilac rug. Also, the
pathetically trodden-down-to-bits porphyry discs in the doorway. And
the little cippus of a Roman girl who lived sixteen years and
twenty-eight days. Against the apse, outside, the great python of a
Looking down into the deserted church through the window of the
loggia, one half expects to see stoled ghosts in the vagueness below.
Outside and opposite, the immense counterforts of the Palatine, and
its terrace and sparse cypresses.
S. PAOLO FUORI.
The wonderful loveliness of the double colonnade of polished granite
pillars on the polished pale grey marble floor; fantastic, like
transfigured pools and streams of purest water.
Asphodels on the banks. As we come up, the peasants drive into the
stable, one by one, a lot of mares with their foals. Along the road a
drove of great long-horned grey oxen; a bull-calf canters among them.
Between us and St. Peter's is a dell full of scrub ilex; walls also,
full of valerian and that grey myrrh-like weed.
From that little height we face a tremendous black storm, against
which all the Sabine and Alban hills flash in the low sunlight, above
the green Campagna pale like a strip of sea.
RETURN AT MIDNIGHT.
Driving from the station at midnight, the immensity of everything,
gigantic proportions of silent palaces and closed churches. Passing in
front of the Quirinal, the colossal Dioscuri with their horses, the
fountain flowing down and spurting upwards between them, white under
the electric light, against the deep blue darkness.
Even the incredible huge vulgarity of modern things, advertisements,
yards long at the street corners under the gas, and immense rows of
jerry-built houses, somehow help to make up the impression of Rome as
a theatre of the ages: a gigantic stage, splendidly impressive to eye
and fancy, where Time has strutted and ranted, and ever will continue.
At night particularly one feels the Piranesi grandeur, but also the
Callot picturesqueness which are secondary qualities of Rome. As a
whole the town belongs mainly to the shabby and magnificent
seventeenth century. Those hundreds of architecturally worthless
Jesuit churches are not, as we are apt stupidly to say, absurd or
meaningless, but quite the contrary; admirably suited to their place
and function among ruins and vagueness. The beggars and loafers, the
inconceivable squalor and lousiness, are also, in this sense, in
The great empty, unfinished, hulk, very grand and with delicate
details, stranded like the ark on Ararat on its hillside of brushwood
and market-garden, seems to sum up, in a shape only a little more
splendid than usual, the story told on all sides. For on all sides
there are great mouldering unfinished villas, barrocco casinos, even
fifteenth-century small palaces, deserted among the fields; and
everywhere monumental gateways leading to nothing. Their story is that
of the unceasing enterprise of pope after pope, and cardinal after
cardinal against the inexorable climate of Rome. Each shortlived
generation of old men, come to Rome too late to learn, already
accustomed to order about and to swagger, refusing to see the ruins
left by its predecessors; insisting on having its way with those
malarious hillocks and riversides; only to die like the rest, leaving
another gaunt enclosure behind.
One of the fascinations of Rome is undoubtedly not its murderous
quality as such, but the character of which that seems a part, the
quality of being a living creature, with unbreakable habits and
unanswerable reasons, making it massacre quite quietly, whatever came
in its way.
Rome, as perhaps only Venice, is an organic city, almost a living
being; its genius loci no allegory, but its own real self.
FROM VALMONTONE TO OLEVANO.
Valmontone, on the railway line to Naples, to which we bicycled back
from Segni—a savage village on a hill, pigs burrowing and fighting at
its foot—and on its skirt a great stained Palazzo Farnese-like
Crossing the low hills of the wide valley between the Alban and Sabine
chains, magnificent bare mountains appear seated opposite,
crystalline, almost gemlike; and splendid, almost crepuscular, colours
in the valley even at noon: deep greens and purples, the pointed straw
stacks replacing, as black accents, our Tuscan cypresses. Quantities
of blue and white wind-flowers on the banks, and wine-coloured
anemones under the thick ilex-like olives; and all round the splendid
pale-blue chains of jagged and conical mountains. A population of
tattered people and galled horses; much misery; a sort of more savage
Umbrian landscape, and without Umbrian serenity; deserted, deserted
roads. I am writing from the olive yard above the inn; the rugged
little Olevano hanging, almost sliding, down the hillside opposite,
black houses and yellow-lichened roofs.
Olevano March 28.
FROM OLEVANO TO SUBIACO.
Yesterday afternoon bicycled and walked from Olevano to Subiaco. A
steep mile and a half up to the very crest of the mountains, and then
down some sharp corners and one or two very precipitous zigzags,
letting myself run down; the first time I have had such a sensation, a
sensation largely of fear, partly of joy: a changing view in front, on
the side—steeps of sere woods, great mountains, like jasper or some
other stone that should be veined amethyst, a smell of freshness,
whiffs of violets, at one point a small green lake deep, deep below
(Stagno di Rojate); yet an annihilation of both space and time. It was
better when Ch. Br. and I dismounted and walked down; the road cut out
of the steep wooded hills; on the shady side trickling with water and
delicious with moss, primroses, and violets among the sere chestnuts.
Here and there a cherry-tree in the valley deep below, like a little
puff of smoke. The sweetness of those mountain woods with the great
bare lilac mountains all round!
A sharp zigzag, a swish over a bridge, where as one rather felt than
saw the full green Anio dashing through rocks; and just at sunset we
came upon Subiaco—rising violet, with its great pointing castle
mound, from the green valley of water and budding poplars into a
purple and fiery sky. Then in the dusk through the little town, where
the bells were ringing.
Tivoli March 29.
I sha'n't forget, on the long bleak road from Subiaco to Vicovaro, a
violent dry wind against us, veiling all things in dust, a spring near
Spiagge: a wide runnel of water spirting out of the travertine and
running off into clear rills where the mules drink. The water they
collect up here for the Acqua Marcia, whose aqueducts we see about,
old arches and new; water, cold, infinitely pure, exquisite, one might
say almost fragrant. It was such spirts from the rock, as well as the
sight of pure mountain streams, which taught St. Francis his verse
about Suor Acqua. St. Francis must have wandered in these fastnesses
which (totally unlike the country between Segni and Olevano) are very
Umbrian in character. There is a portrait of him, said to be by a
contemporary monk, on a pilaster of one of the subterranean chapels of
the Sacro Speco above Subiaco: blond, wide-eyed, the cowl drawn over
Tivoli March 29.
THE SACRO SPECO.
The Sacro Speco was a very charming surprise. The series of little
churches and chapels up and down flights of steps, vaulted and painted
in Gothic style, with shrine lamps here and there, were quite open and
empty. We walked into them, or rather into a crooked vestibule
frescoed by some Umbrian, with no sudden transition from the splendid
grove of ilexes, immense branches like beams overhead, from the great
hillside of bluish-grey tufo, with only a few bitter herbs on it. The
convent of the Sacro Speco is a half-fortified little place into which
we could not penetrate. Only a surly monk, found with difficulty
(another entered the chapels with a great bundle of wall-flowers and
irises), took us into the microscopic garden under the convent
battlements hedged with flowering rosemary, where the roses in which
St. Benedict rolled are grown (May roses, only bright leaves as yet)
literally in the shape of a bed or gridiron, row along row.
Though it is not remote-looking, 'tis a splendid place for a hermit's
thoughts: the blue-grey hillside running down into the green rushing
Anio, the great bare bluish mountains all round, far enough to be
visible, a great sense of air and space, for a valley. No vegetation,
save a few olives and scrub oaks and the bitter herbs and euphorbus.
No scented happy Tuscan things. And deep below, the arches of Nero's
Villa—with demons no doubt galore. Those giottesque chapels hold in
them, all hung with lamps, a small tufo grotto, the one down which, as
in Sodoma's fresco, the angels sent baskets of provisions and the
devils made horns at St. Benedict.
Rome, March 30.
THE VALLEY OF THE ANIO.
There is a nice Cosmati cloister at S. Scolastica, lower on the hill,
an enormous also fortified-looking monastery, but to which also there
is only a mule path. These places are splendidly meditative, but
they do not give me the idea of hermitages in the wilderness like that
ruined Abbey of Sassovivo above Foligno. But the Sacro Speco's little
up and down chapels, a miniature Assisi, empty, yet not abandoned on
this sunburnt rock, are very impressive.
I take great pleasure following the Anio, which we first met coming
out of the narrow gorge round the S. Scolastica hill (the other side
behind Nero's ruins is a hill covered with pale green scrub, beech, or
more likely alder), down below Subiaco. In the ever-widening valley it
is an impetuous stream, but not at all a torrent; pale green filling
up a narrow bed between pale green willows, here and there slackening
into pools with delicate green waving plants: a very unexpected and
(to me) inexplicable sight among those mountains which are more arid
than any Tuscan ones, and from which very few tributary streams seem
to descend. (I can remember crossing only one, full and with waving
The Anio swirls round a beautiful wooded promontory, ilexes and even a
few cypresses, between Spiagge and Vicovaro, making a little church
into a miniature Tivoli Sibilla. One becomes very fond of such a
stream, and it is a great delight to see it in its triumph at Tivoli
racing headlong into the abyss of the big fall, only a spray cloud
revealing it among the thick green; or breaking out into tiny delicate
fountains—garden fountains, you would think—among the ilexes and
grottoes under the little round Temple; a wonderful mixture of
wildness and art, a place, with its high air, its leaping waters and
glimpses of distant plain, such as one would really wish for a sibyl,
and might imagine for Delphi. An enchanted place with its flight and
twitter of birds above the water. I should like to follow the Anio
into the Tiber.
At sunset, had there been one, we went into the Villa d'Este, entering
through the huge deserted courts and grottoed halls of the colossal
palace, surprised to find the enchanted gardens, the terraces and
cypresses descending on the other side, the grey vague plain and
distant mountains—and always the sound of waters. What a solemn
magnificent place! How strange a contrast from the Benedictine
monastery on its arid rocks, to this huge, solemn, pompous palace,
with its plumed gardens and statued hedges, hanging on a hillside too,
but what a different one!
Rome, March 30.
There was cultivation all down the valley of the Anio, lots of
blossoming cherry-trees; and the peasant-women in stays, and some men
in knee breeches, looked prosperous. Subiaco seeming a sort of S.
Vicovaro is a delightful village above the Anio, with a fine palace of
the Bolognettis, a good many houses with handsome carved windows and
lintels as in Umbria, a nice circular church with fourteenth-century
elaborate statued porch, and a very charming temple portico. Here
also the people looked well-to-do and civilised, on the whole like
Umbrians; whereas on the Olevano side, even on Sunday, they were in
rags and miserably stolid. The little caffè where we eat was lined
with political caricatures.
Places like Vicovaro and still more the many apparently inaccessible
other villages incredibly high up—Cantalupo, Castel Madama, S. Vito,
&c., each with its distinguishing palazzone—makes one understand
what Rome is made of—the feudal, savage mountains whence, even like
its drinking water which splashes in Bernini fountains, this sixteenth
and seventeenth century Rome has descended. For Rome is not an Urban
City; and underneath all the Bernini palaces, we must imagine things
like Palazzo Capranica, with the few mullioned and Gothic windows
picked in its fortress-like walls. How I seem to feel what Rome is
made of—its strange living components in the past!
At Subiaco the streets were strewn, as for a procession, with shredded
petals of violets. All kinds of violets grow on those hills, some
reddish and as big as pansies; and as we swished past, instead of the
dry scent of myrrh and mint of our Tuscan hills, there came a moist
smell of violets from the hedgerows.
Rome, March 31.
Drove to-day with Maria outside Porta Maggiore, little changed since
my childhood. Stormy sunshine, the mountains blue, with patches of
violet, like dark rainbow splendours, flashing out with white towns;
cherry blossoms among the reeds, vague gardens with statues and bits
of relief stuck about. Finally the circular domed tomb of Empress
Helena, with a tiny church, a bit of orphanage built into it, and all
round the priest's well-kept garden and orphans' vegetable garden. A
sound of harmonium and girls' hymn issuing out of the ruin, on which
grow against the sky great tufts of fennel, of stuff like London pride
and of budding lentisk. This is Rome!
We crossed the Anio twice—first at Ponte Mammolo, where it is
Tiber-coloured, and it tugs at the willows; then before it has been
polluted by the sulphur water of the Acque Albule (though the sulphur
blue water is itself lovely) at a magnificent tower under Tivoli, like
Cecilia Metella. An Anio green, rushing flush as at Subiaco, among
poplars and willows, fields of sprouting reeds.
Villa Adriana: you see it from a distance at the foot of the Tivoli
hills—sloping olive woods and domes of pines. What a place! The
Armida gardens for a Faust-Rinaldo. Antiquity like a belle au bois
dormant in the groves of colossal ilexes, the rows of immense
cypresses, above all, enclosed in the magic of those thick old
silver-coloured huge unpruned olives, of the high flowering grasses.
These vestiges of porticoes and domes and grottoes are not in the
least beautiful architecturally; and every statue, every bit of frieze
has been ruthlessly removed, only the broken slabs of marble, of
wainscot and a few broken mosaics remaining—'tis the only garden near
Rome with not one statue in it! But somehow the divine vegetation,
the divine view of near blue mountains and blue plain seem to
transform all this brick and cement into something beautiful and
precious, to turn the few remaining columns and stalked broken
capitals (all the rest, vases, baths, floors, marbles, gone to the
Vatican) into something exquisite. Perhaps 'tis the very absence of
statues which makes one think what statues must have stood there, and
feel as if they were still present. Anyhow this quite accidental
place, this vanished palace covered over by the olive groves, the box
hedges, cypress avenues and pastures of little trumpery farm
villas—is far more beautiful and wonderful than any of the art-made
Roman gardens, and is, so to speak, their original—much as those
Tivoli falls seem the prototype of all the Roman fountains.
It began to rain as we were there, and thundered through the great
halls. Then as it cleared over the mountains, the plain green, vague!
was blotted with black rain, a threatening yellow sky above.
S. LORENZO FUORI.
The fine ambones; the very peculiar and beautiful galleries, with
delicate columns, like a triforium on either side of choir for women;
the choir with splendid episcopal seat and pale cipolin
benches—Tadema like—for priests all round.
We must imagine classic antiquity full of this wonderful blond colour
of marbles; arrangements of palest lilac, green, rosy yellow, and a
white shimmer. Colours such as we see on water at sunset, ineffable.
ON THE ALBAN HILLS.
The big olives, pruned square, but of full dense foliage, not
smoke-like, but the colour of old dark silver; the vineyards of pale
criss-cross blond canes on violet ground. The railway goes round Lake
Albano, reflecting blue stormy sky and white cloud balls; a gash when
the current alters shows marvellous hyacinth blue. A fringe of budding
little trees and of great pale asphodels; the smell of them and of
Beautiful circular church, cupola silvery, ribbed outside, at Ariccia,
opposite Palazzo Chigi; a great grim palace, stained grey with damp
and time, flanked by four sorts of towers; windows scarce. This solemn
type of sixteenth-century White Devil of Italy palace or villa
recurs in this neighbourhood; places to keep their secrets; some
apparently on the very border of the Campagna, where vines and olives
end. Wonderful woods full of flowers between Albano and Genzano.
The little round Lake of Nemi disappointed me.
Bicycling to Marino, Lake Albano seen from above, waters reflecting
black storm, sere oakwoods of Rocca di Papa stormy purple too, and
round the highest Latin peak, which looks like an altar slab, a great
inky storm, water, hills, sky, all threatening inky green and violet;
and against them, on the hill ridge of stones, the delicate pale pink
chandeliers of the asphodels.
On the other side the slopes of vineyards and pale blue campagna and
faint shining sea line, blond under a clear sky. Lovely woods of oak
near Marino, through which, alas! we swished down hill. A whole flock
of sheep, newly raddled, and faunlike shepherds lying in the shade
In Villa Torlonia at Albano, a pond, surrounded by masks (whence water
spouted), deep green water, broken by fountain, green deep ilex groves
round; every stone picked out with delicate green moss. And at the end
of the vistas the campagna in green, purple blue modelling of evening,
hillocks and farms and aqueducts, hay and straw stacks vaguely
visible. And beyond the white shiny sea. The storm has disappeared,
leaving only a few clouds veiling the Subiaco mountains which we see.
How different in memory from these Latin Hills! All up the hill great
terraced gardens, piled-up villas: Aldobrandini, Falconieri,
Rome, April 13.
Yesterday, Giovedi Santo evening, the washing of the high-altar of St.
Peter's. A sudden impression of the magnificence of this church, its
vastness filled with dusk, a few wax tapers scattered along the nave;
in the far distance a lit-up altar throwing its light up into the
vault of an aisle, showing the shimmer of golden coffering; the crowd
Then the ceremony of washing the high-altar: all the canons, priests
and choir-boys mounted onto its dais; and, as they passed, wiped the
great slab with a brush of white shavings dipped in oil and wine; then
walked round the church in solemn procession, tiny choir-boys first,
purple canons, and, lastly, a tall cardinal with scarlet cap, all with
their white mops; a penetrating sweet smell of wine and oil filling
the place, and seeming to waken paganism. As they turned again towards
the high-altar, its huge twisted gilded columns glimmering in the
light of the tapers, lights appeared in the Veronica balcony; priests
moved to and fro with a great gold cross in that distant lit-up gloom;
the canons fell on their knees, great purple poppies. There was the
noise of a rattle; more lights in that balcony, and another gold
shining thing was displayed; the Veronica this time, with (as you
guessed) the outline of a bearded face.
It was twilight outside; and St. Peter's, its colonnade, St. Angelo's,
the Tiber, looked colossal.
It was overcast yesterday, and the sun set as we approached this
place, the train passing through woods of myrtle and lentisk scrub.
Suddenly we came upon green fields lying against the skyline, and full
of asphodels—a pale golden-rosy sunset under mists, a pinkish full
moon rising in the misty blue opposite; and against this pale, serene
sky, the hundreds of asphodels, each distinct like a candlestick,
rising out of the green. I never saw such a vision of the Elysian
Here at Anzio we found a Gesù Morto procession winding with a band,
and a red-and-white confraternity, through the little fishing town. At
one moment the great black erect Madonna appeared among the
torch-light against the deep blue sky, the misty blue moonlit sea.
Much less fine than such processions are in Tuscany; but impressive.
The little boats, with folded lateen sails, near the pier had coloured
lanterns slung from the mast to the bowsprit. The sea broke like
Anzio, April 17.
Like Johnson and his wall-fruit, I have never had as many asphodels to
look at as I wanted. Ever since I saw them first, rushing by train
through the Maremma, nay ever since I saw them in a photograph of a
Sicilian temple, nay perhaps, secretly, since hearing their name, I
have felt a longing for them, and a secret sense that I was never
going to be shown as many as I want. Here I have. Yesterday morning
bicycling inland, along a rising road along which alternate green
pastures and sea, and woods of dense myrtle and lentisk scrub
overtopped by ilexes and cork-trees, there were asphodels enough:
deep plantations, little fields, like those of cultivated narcissus,
compact masses of their pale salmon and grey shot colours and
greyish-green leaves, or fringes, each flower distinct against field
or sky, on the ledges of rock and the high earth banks. The flowers
are rarely perfect when you pick them, some of the starry blossoms
having withered and left an untidy fringe instead; but at a distance
this half-decay gives them a singular distinction, makes the light
fall on the very tips, the silvery buds, sinking the stretching out
branches and picking out the pale rose colour with grey. The beauty of
the plant is in the candlestick thrust of the branches. The flower has
a faint oniony smell, but fresh like box hedge.
Anzio, Easter Day.
Nettuno, a little castellated town on the rocks; battlemented walls
and towers, a house with fortified windows, a sixteenth-century
fortress, very beautiful. All manner of vines, weeds and lilac flowers
growing in the walls. Men in boots and breeches and brigand hats
about, women with outside stays. In the evening a flock of goats being
milked. Strings of mules, literally strings, beasts tied together.
Last evening we bicycled beyond Nettuno on the way to Torre Astura,
which you see bounding this semicircular gulf, vague great mountains
behind. The Cape of Circe, which looks (and surely must have been) an
island, came out faint towards evening, a great cliff ending in
something like a castle, apparently in the middle of the sea,
mysterious. We got, skirting the sea, to a large heath—a heath, black
sandy soil, of budding bracken, grass and asphodels; immense,
inexpressibly solemn and fresh; a little wood of cork-trees in the
distance, a broken Roman ruin, blue Apennines half hidden in clouds. A
few shepherds were going home, looking immense on the flatness, and
goats and horses. Song of larks, and suddenly an unexpected booming of
surf. Following the sound inexplicably loud, across the deeper black
sandy soil, we got to the sea. Most strange against it, a fringe of
marshy grass, of bulrushes! Far off the tower of Astura, and the faint
Cape of Circe among mists. It began to rain.
Yesterday evening bicycled farther in the direction of Torre Astura,
which seemed quite near in its solitude. The dunes were covered with
thick bushes of lentisk, myrtle and similar shrubs; every step bruised
some scented thing. Along the sands, black, hard and full of coloured
shells, was a strip of bulrushes. The sea, which is tame and messy in
the artificial bay formed by the pier of Anzio, was fresh and rushing;
the wind swept the brown dark sand like smoke along the ground.
Monte Circeo was quite distinct, blue and white its summit an
overhanging rock, no castle. Inland stretched the fields of asphodels
and the deep woods.
We found in the morning a lane or road gone to ruin, running high up
from Anzio to Nettuno, and entirely under splendid overarching ilexes;
a sunk lane, with here and there a glimpse of blue sea among the
Anzio, April 19.
Drove from Porta Angelica to Porta Portese; an immense round,
possible, conceivable, only in Rome. I see for the first time the
outside of the Vatican, galleries and gardens, realising the sort of
fortified town it is, a Rome within Rome. And a fortified one: that
long passage (Hall of the Ariadne) between the Belvedere and the
Rotunda has battlements (oddly enough, Ghibelline); there are towers
and counterforts I cannot identify; and then the immense buttressed
walls, with their green vegetation, and slabs and coats of arms of
Medicis, Roveres; with the clipped ilexes of the gardens, the pines
and bays overtopping, on and on. And in a gap, suddenly, and close
enough to take one's breath away, the immensity of St. Peter's and the
And that this town, which is the Vatican and St. Peter's, these
centres of so much life, should, as a fact, look on one side straight
onto forsaken roads, and the most desolate of countries! Such a thing
is impossible except in Rome; and even in Rome I never suspected it.
Continuing outside the walls, we come to the little church of San
Pancrazio, on an empty road hedged with reed-tied dry thorns: the
little porched doorway leading into an atrium which is an olive
garden, big old trees set orderly, and a pillar with the cross;
outside at least, a solemn little basilica, making one think of
We drove, apparently for miles, up and down, round and round, between
two immediately successive gates, San Pancrazio and Portese. Green
slopes, dry vineyards with almond blossom among the criss-cross canes,
brakes of reeds; here and there rows of little triumphal bay-trees in
flower over the walls; great overhanging ornamental gateways, leading
to nothing; and, at long intervals, mouldering little villas and
trattorie, with mulberry-trees clipped into umbrellas. Rome totally
disappeared, hidden, heaven knows where, in this country of which
there seems an unlimited amount: always more green slopes, more dry
vineyards, more distant Campagna. And yet, seemingly close by, the
great bells of St. Peter's ring out the thanksgiving service for the
Antonia said, "Shall we go for a minute into St. Peter's? It will be
all lit up."
And, in that endless emptiness, the words sounded absurd. St. Peter's?
This morning, rambling along the unfinished Tiber quays, and the
half pulled-down houses of the old Jewish quarter, attracted a
little, perhaps, by the name "Vicolo dei Cenci," I let myself be
importuned by a red-haired woman into entering the Casa di Beatrice
Cenci, a dreary, squalid palace, given over to plasterers among the
And afterwards, beguiled further up flights and flights of black
stairs into someone's filthy little kitchen, I was made to look down,
through a mysterious window, into the closed church of the Cencis.
Looking down, always a curious impression, into a dark, musty place
and onto vague somethings which are, they tell me, the tombs of the
A grim and sordid impression altogether; and heaven knows how
sickening a story. Yet what power of popular romance, of great poetry,
has enveloped it all! A story one would be ashamed to read through in
a cheap newspaper … and yet!…
Yesterday, with Maria, Antonia, and the poet Pascarella, to Rocca di
Papa, lunching in a piece of the woods which M. has bought.
The grass of the campagna, beyond the aqueducts, is powdered with
daisies like a cake with sugar. Further, where the slopes begin, the
exquisite brilliant pink of the peach blossom is on the palest yellow
criss-cross of reeds in the dry vineyards.
I am struck once more by the majestic air of that opening square of
Frascati, expanding upwards into terraces, lawns, and ilexes, all
flanked by pinnacled and voluted buildings, Villa Aldobrandini, or
whatever it is.
We drive up through the sere chestnut woods, where wind-flowers and
blue squills come up everywhere among the russet leaves. Suddenly, in
the faint light, above a clearing, the stacked white trunks, the lilac
sereness of the trees; and high up, shimmering and misty, the rock of
Rocca di Papa with its piled-up houses.
Then through the woods again, on foot, up a path first deep in dry
leaves, then paved with hard volcanic flags; chestnut woods, but no
longer cut for charcoal (the smoke of its burning rises from below),
but in clumps, straight slender boles rising from immense roots.
Chestnuts so unlike those of our Apennines that, when, higher up, they
are exchanged for beeches, it is only by picking up the fallen dry
leaves that we could tell the difference. And beyond, descending
towards Nemi, the woods reveal themselves for alder only by their
Immediately above the town of Rocca di Papa, before you begin that
ascent through the woods of Monte Cavo, are the Campi d'Annibale, the
former crater of the volcano of Mons Latialis, grass fields whose
legend Pascarella tells us: that when Hannibal encamped there the
Romans raised the necessary money by selling the ground of the enemy's
camp! A strange, unexpected place; a great green basin, bleak and
bare, marked only by fences like some northern hill-top; on such fell
sides shall the Romans camp above the Tyne and Tweed.
We climbed up through the woods, Antonia and I, following the keeper
in his riding boots, silent, or at most exchanging a word about the
flowers, all blue, borage, squill, and dog violets, among the fallen
leaves. And little by little there unrolled, deep below us, the dim
green plain with a whiteness which is St. Peter's; and then there
unfolded, gradually, unexpected, the pale blue of one lake and of a
second. Till, near the top, they had both turned into steely mirrors,
tarnished, as by breath, by the rapidly passing clouds. And the pink
of the leafless woods stretches away, soft and feathery, to distant
towns and villages. And we ascend, with the wind arising to meet us,
always through softly winding paths, to the summit of the Latin
mountain. To a long, gaunt, white, empty house, a circle of ancient
moss-grown walls, a circle of old, wind-bent, leafless beeches, with
the whole world of earliest Rome misty below, and thin clouds passing
rapidly overhead. This is that sort of natural altar, visible as such
even from the streets of Rome, of the Latin Jove, which, when we saw
it again later from the ridge near Castel Gandolfo, above the deep
circular chasm (fringed with asphodel) of the lake, seemed to smoke
with a superhuman sacrifice.
How Renan, in the Pr être di Némi, has rendered, without
descriptions, the charm of that outlook towards Rome from this lower
portion of the Latin hills! They cover a very small amount of country,
volcanic and isolated; they are a kind of living whole in themselves,
with their towns, woods, and those two deep lakes hidden in their
fastnesses. The most living range of hills, surely, out of which the
greatest life has spread, the vastest, perhaps, in the world.
Up there one looks not merely into space unlimited, but into time.
What a strange country this Roman one! How different from the rest of
Italy; this, with its great plain, its isolated groups of hills, its
disdain of river-valley and gorge; a country set aside for different
And yet I own that what these hills represent most to me is the
keenness of the air, the sweetness of those straight-boled, pinkish,
leafless woods, the freshness of sprouting grass and flowers.
A RIVER GOD.
We have been bicycling these two days in the campagna; sunny, windy
days, the hills faint in the general blueness. About three miles along
the Via Ardeatina we alighted and sat on the grass in a little valley.
A little valley between two low grass hills; a stream, a few reeds,
two or three scant trees in bud, and the usual fences, leading up to
the mountain, framed in, with its white towns, between the green
slopes. Grass still short and dry; larks, invisible, singing; a flock
of sheep going along with shepherds stopping to set the new-born,
tottering lambs to suck.
At the valley's mouth, over a wide horse-trough where a donkey cart
was watering, a little recumbent river god, rudely carved and much
A bright day of iciest tramontana, cutting you in two in the square,
under the colonnades, and in the narrow chink-opening of the great
green bronze doors.
Almost entirely empty, that great round place, the light, the cold
haunting its grey dome. At the high-altar some priests in purple; the
Crucifix and pictures veiled in violet silk. And in the organ loft,
buttoned up in great coats, five wretched musicians; not on high, but
in a sort of cage set down by the altar. Such singing! but an alto,
two tenors and a bass, as in Marcello's psalms. And, frightful as was
the performance, I was fascinated by their unaccompanied song:
something of long vague passages, and suspended cadences, fitting, in
its mixture of complexity and primitiveness, its very rudeness,
barbarousness of execution, into the great round bleak temple, with
the cold windy sky looking down its roof, the bleakness of outdoors,
enclosed, as it were, within doors.
Palm Sunday, 1899.
SANTI QUATTRO CORONATI.
I went into several small churches to see the sepulchres. Not like our
Tuscan ones; wretched things, mainly tinsel and shabby frippery.
At Santa Prisca we trespassed into orchards, almond trees barely
green, artichokes and dust-heaps, with the belfries of the Aventine
behind, the pillared loggia of San Saba, and the great blocks of the
Baths of Caracalla in front. The church, shut on ordinary days, was
quite empty, only a dozen Franciscans at office, kneeling by the frame
of lighted candles, one of which was extinguished with each verse of
hoarse liturgy by a monk kneeling apart.
After Sta. Prisca, San Clemente, very Byzantine and fine in the gloom,
and then to that dear church of the Santi Quattro Coronati, which has
beckoned to me ever since my childhood; and which, with its
fortified-looking apse, its yard and great gate-tower, looks like a
remote abbey one would drive to, forgotten, hidden, unheard of, for
hours and hours from some out-of-the-way country town. "We'll take you
to so and so," one's host would say, and one would never have heard
the name before…. And there it is, above the modernest slums of
The church was darkish; a little light from the sunset just picking
out some green and purple of the broken pavement; the tapers of a
curtained-off chapel, and tapers above the sepulchre, throwing a broad
weak yellow light up to the arched triforium, to the grated gallery
whence came the voices of nuns chanting the Lamentations.
From round the illuminated sepulchre rose, like a flock of birds on
our entrance, a bevy of kneeling nuns in
cloak and cap. And
in the apse, before the high-altar, was stretched on the slabs, with a
night-light at each corner, something dark and mysterious: the
crucifix, the form barely defined, shrouded in violet.
When the nuns went away a number of children, tiny, tiny girls came
in, and knelt round that veiled mysterious thing; a baby at the end of
their procession. One of the little girls could not resist, and lifted
a corner of the violet silk. But her elder sister quickly slapped her,
pulled her kerchief straight, and all was order and piety.
The dear church, quite empty save for these children, was full of the
smell of the fresh flowers round the sepulchre. A holy, fragrant,
venerable, kindly church, safe-hidden behind its pillared atrium and
gate-tower; and looking from afar like a hillside fortress among the
jerry-built modern streets.
Maundy Thursday, 1899.
BEYOND PONT MOLLE.
A meadow near the Tiber, of grass and daisies, tufted with
yellow-hearted jonquils. Larks and sun and wind overhead; in the
distance the pale mountains, patched with snow. All round, the pale
green embosomings of the soft earth hills. If the Umbrians got their
love of circular hill lines at home, they learned in Rome the real
existence of the green grass valleys and hills unbroken by
cultivation, like those behind Perugino's Crucifixion and Spagna's
All round, as I sit in that place, the dry last year's stalks dance in
the wind above the new grass and flowers. O Easter, Resurrection,
The larks proclaim it!
OUTSIDE THE GATES.
Rome took hold of me again as usual, yesterday, bicycling near Porta
S. Sebastiano. On the walls which enclose those remote forsaken vignas
(fit abode for lamias and female vampyres, as in Frau von Degen's
tale), nay, even on the gates of old Rome are painted great
advertisements exhorting the traveller to go to such or such a
curiosity shop. The Arch of Drusus was surrounded by a band of
Cookites, listening inattentively to their Bear Leader; and the whole
Via Appia, to beyond Cecilia Metella, was alive with cabs and landaus.
But such things, which desecrate Venice and spoil Florence, are all
right in Rome; Rome, somehow, knows how to subdue them all to her
eternal harmony. That all the vulgarities of all the furthest lands
should all pass through Rome, like all the barbarians, the nations and
centuries, seems proper and fit. The spirit of the place requires
them, as much as the captives who came in the triumphs, as the Goths
and Huns, as the pilgrims of the Mediæval Jubilees, and it subdues
them: subdues them, as it subdues with the chemistry of this odd
climate of crumble and decay, the new dreadful houses; as it has
made, with the marvellous rank Roman vegetation, a sort of Forum or
Palatine of the knocked-down modern houses, the empty unfinished
basements behind the hoardings under my window. Driving at midnight
from the station, my eye and mind were caught not merely by Castor and
Pollux under the electric light, and by the endless walls of high
palaces, but also by a colossal advertisement of Anzio, in English,
setting forth to the traveller its merits connected with Nero, and I
think Coriolanus—Nero and Coriolanus as elements of r éclame!
But here it seems all right; becoming only one of those immense
ironies of Time, more dignified than any of Time's paltry creatures of
which this place is full. Time, whose presence, whose very cruelties
and gigantic jests, brings such peace to the soul in this place. Peace
because hope. This litter, this dust-heap (for it is after all not
much better, few great or precious or perfect things remaining),
dust-heap or rag-fair symbolised by its own most barbarous and vilest
and most venerable parts along the Tiber and under the Capitoline,—this
Rome accustoms one to take patience and heart of grace. It helps one
to conceive the fact that life comes everywhere out of death and
subdues it; to feel that, as there are centuries in the Past, so there
will be centuries and centuries in the Future. It helps the
imagination with its remnants of old, used-up theatre scenes, to guess
at all the scene-shifting that will be accomplished, and to take its
stand, be it only in the emotion of an instant, as witness of the
vague phantasmagoria of the future. Why despair? Why be impatient?
only give time, only secure all the possible tickets in the lottery
of chance, and our hopes must at last be realised, all will be all
right. 'Tis only our miserable impatience, our miserable sense of our
own impotent mortality, which makes us fret: and Rome bids us take
patience and comfort.
We despair of the future, for one reason, because we attribute to the
future our own growing sense of fatigue, the feelings of evening. But
the future will, for those to whom it belongs, be morning, with the
vigour and buoyancy of the awakening. Our ideal would be to preserve
in the future the beautiful things—certain flowers of tradition and
privilege—of the past. 'Tis a delusion. We might as well hope to keep
the old leaves on the trees into next summer. But after the old leaves
have fallen and the trees have stood bare, new ones will come, not the
same, but similar.
As a matter of fact Rome has never been so much Rome, never expressed
its full meaning so completely, as nowadays. This change and
desecration, this inroad of modernness, merely completes its eternity.
Goethe has an epigram of a Chinese he met here; but a Chinese of the
eighteenth century completed Rome less than an American of the
nineteenth. Not only all roads in space, but all roads across Time,
Went to take the English seeds to the gardener at S. Saba, and got in
return some plants of border pinks. The most poetical and real place
in all Rome.
Afterwards bicycled to S. Balbina. Impression of primitive church (the
outside has from a distance a look as of something in a Pinturicchio
fresco) given over to the Franciscan nuns—thirty—who look after two
hundred unruly girls off the streets. Their thick grey cloaks are
folded on the pews; images, screens, lecterns, all the litter of a
priestly lumber-room, poked here and there, a little portable iron
pulpit, not unlike a curtained washstand, in front of a beautiful tomb
of a grave mediæval person above a delicate mosaic of the Cosmatis,
and a small coloured Rue Bonaparte St. Joseph on the episcopal mosaic
throne in the apse!
To-day Catacombs of S. Domitilla in Via Sette Chiese, with Maria,
Guido and Pascarella. The impression of walking for miles by
taper-light between those close walls of brown friable stone, or that
soft dusty ground, in a warm vague stifling air; the monotonous rough
sides, the monotonous corners, the widenings in and out of little
Galla Placidia-like crypts, with rough hewn pillars and faded
frescoes; of the irregularly cut pigeon-holes, where bits of bone
moulder, and the brown earth seems half composed of bone.
That brown soft earth of the Catacombs, the stuff you would scratch
off the damp walls with your nail; rotting stone, rotting bone: the
very soil of Rome lilackish like cocoa, friable, light, which used
somehow to give me the horrors already as a child; the soil in which
the gardener of S. Saba grows his pinks and freesias without a spade
or hoe visible anywhere; the soil which seems to demand no plough; the
farthest possible from the honest and stiff clay, demanding human
work, of nature; the Roman soil, a compost, as Whitman would say,
ready manured! The work of man in this earth (of which a pinch
transported into church front or roof produces great tufts of fennel
and wild mignonette), the work of man in it merely to have died!
No sense of the ages in these Catacombs, or of the solemnity of death,
or of the sweetness of religion; black narrow passages gutted for
centuries, the poor wretched human remains (save those few turned up
by the modern spade) packed, sent off, made presents of, sold to all
the churches and convents of Christendom; bits of bones in cotton
wool, with faded labels, in glass cases, such as we see in sacristies,
&c., or enclosed in glories of enamel and gold!
But all gone, gone, those poor humble inhabitants, who were so anxious
to be entire for the resurrection of the body!—patrician ladies,
slaves, soldiers, eunuchs, theologians—all gone piecemeal all over
the distant earth! the corridors swept and empty, the pigeon-holes
with only a little brown cocoa-like dust!
It was raining all day, dull, dismal. Yet coming out of that place,
out of that brown crumbly darkness, what was not the interest of the
wet grey sky! How great the beauty, the movements of the lazy clouds!
How complex and lovely the bare lane of wattled dry reeds—the
ineffable exquisiteness of patches of green corn, of a few scant pink
blossoms, of the shoots of elder! I remember the solemnity of the
subterranean tombs at Perugia; the grisliness of the Beauchamp crypt
at Warwick. But these catacombs, emptiness, desolation and that old
brown lilacky, crumbly Roman earth, in which no plough need move nor
spade,—that terriccio, that pot-mould of the past.
THE RIONE MONTI.
Yesterday, in gusty weather, wandered round muddy streets of Rione
Monti, and entered some churches. S.S. Cosmae Damiano in Forum: it has
got lost, so to speak, in the excavations, and you seek it through
blind alleys and a long dark passage—a dirty, tawdry church, with a
few frowsy, sluttish people; and behind the ballroom chandeliers above
the altar, a Ravenna apse, gold and blue; and lambs in procession on a
Then S. Pietro in Vincoli, which has a delightful position, with its
big palm and tower and a certain Romantic Catherine Sforza character;
also, what always refreshes me in Rome, its early Renaissance
character, before Jesuits, &c. &c., an imported thing from Tuscany,
and the fact of the tomb of the Pollajuolos! Michel Angelo's Moses
somehow belongs to Rome—has Rome's grandeur, emphasis, and Rome's
theatrical quality. All round are buried seventeenth-century prelates.
Cinthio Aldobrandini, &c., setting forth glories, but with skeletons
Decidedly Rome was never more Roman than at present—the pulling down
and building and excavating, the inappropriate jostlings of time and
character merely add to the eternal quality, serene and ironical.
Besides, these demolitions have disclosed many things hitherto hidden,
and soon destroyed: here in Rione Monti, for instance, above the
tram-lines, great green walls, boulders from Antiquity, and quiet
convent gardens, with spaliered lemons, suddenly displayed above the
illustrated hoardings of a street to be. In the midst of it, in a
filthy, half modern, crowded street, a rugged Lombard church porch,
dark ages all over: the object of my search, St. Praxed's church; but
it was walled up, and I entered by a door in a side lane. Entered to
remain on threshold, a Mass at a side altar. Eight small boys blocking
the way, with a crowd of sluttish, tawdry worshippers, with the usual
Roman church stifling dirty smell. These Roman churches, all save the
basilicas, are inconceivably ill kept, frowsy, musty, tawdry,
sluttish: they belong not to God, but to Rome—the same barbarous Rome
of the tumble-down houses, the tattered begging people, the whole
untidy squalor of its really Roman parts. Nothing swept and garnished;
nothing evincing one grain of past or present reverence—a
down-at-heel indifferent idolatry. At last the crowd streamed out,
Mass being over, and I entered—and, oh wonder! found myself in a
place of all Byzantine splendour: that little chapel, tapestried with
crimson silk, lit with hanging lamps, its vaults a marvellous glory of
golden—infinite tinted golden—mosaics with great white angels. A bit
of Venice, of S. Mark's in this sluttish Rome.
Poets really make places. I cannot pass the Consolazione Hospital
without thinking of Pompilia's death there; and the imaginary bishop,
of whom there is no visible trace, haunts Sta. Prassede.
In the afternoon we went to the Via Appia, and in the excavations of
Villa Lugari, among sprouting corn and under the song of larks, saw
those amphoræ Pascarella had told us of, which, after holding pagan
wine, were used to bury Christian children. To me there is nothing
repulsive in the thought of this burial in the earth's best product.
MASS AT THE LATERAN.
To-day, on the way to Porta Furba (the country, where one sees it near
the gate, is beginning to be powdered over with peach blossom), I went
into the Lateran, and heard and saw a beautiful canonical Mass. Here
was the swept and garnished (but it was behind glass doors!)
sanctuary, the canons dainty in minever, a splendid monsignore,
grey-haired, in three shades of purple; exquisite white and gold
officiating priests, like great white peacocks, at the altar; the
perfect movement of the incensing, perfect courtesy and dignity of the
mutual salutations; and a well-played organ, on a reed stop, giving an
imitation Bach musette. The whole ceremony, rather like the 6/8 of
that musette, perhaps a trifle too much of the dancing element, but
grave and very perfect. Why should not, at some future period, our
philosophers sit in carved oak stalls, in minever and purple, and
salute and be saluted, and speak with intervals of musettes on the
organ? It would suit Renan at least; and surely this, which is so
venerable and sanctioned by time in our eyes, would have seemed quite
as odd and grotesque a thing if foretold to St. Paul.
I feel that, among other good things, Rome, while it gave my childhood
notions of dignity, of time and solemn things, kept my eye and fancy
on very short commons. How stunted are the trees (all except the
weeds) here! how flowerless the hedges! how empty of life, grace,
detail the country!
I remember the sort of rapture of the first acquaintance with Tuscan
valleys, hills, woods, fields, and all the lovely fulness of dainty
Rome, as I said before, is all theatre scenes; marvellous coup
d'œils, into which, advancing (from the Capitol) from opposite the
Palatine palms, from the Lateran steps, from the Tiber quays, you
find nothing to go on with; and in so far it fits, it symbolises,
perhaps, its own history—for what is history but a series of such
admirable theatrical views; mere delusion, and behind them prose,
mere prose? The reality of Rome is, one feels it, in its distant hills.
There you can penetrate; thence history streamed.
SANTA MARIA IN COSMEDIN.
After wandering between tremendous hailstorms about the Aventine (the
black sky and turbid Tiber from S. Alessio, in odd contrast with the
lemons and oranges and freesias of S. Sabina, and with the chill empty
churches), I waited for a Mass at S. M. in Cosmedin. Garlands (how
poor and inartistic compared to the Tuscan and Venetian ones!) hanging
in porch and box strewn at the door. The church, just restored, very
swept and garnished still, with its Byzantine delicacy of fluted
ribbed columns, carved precious ambones and carpet of lovely marbles,
a place for the perfect ritual and splendid vestments of an
aristocratic worship, slowly filled with, oh! such a poor, poor,
wretched congregation, while the two priests, two sacristans and small
choir-boys looked on (with a glance at watch) like people preparing
for a play and waiting for a full house; the bell-ringer occasionally
hanging on to the rope near the door, and giving a jump as he let go.
I don't mean merely poor in fortune, in ragged draggled clothes, the
sweepings of those rag-fair quarters, but poor in wretched, ill-grown,
ill, dull, stupid bodies and souls, draggle-tailed like their clothes,
only two savage-looking peasants having dignity or grace. More like an
Irish congregation than an Italian, the two policemen, the women
nursing their babies, the dreary sickly nuns, the broken,
idiot-looking shabby elderly men in overcoats.
At last the priests and choir-boys, to match, went in procession to
the altar, and the service began; merely chants with a response from
the crowd. But as soon as they began everything seemed to pull
together, to be all right, to have significance….
Is it possible that of religious things only the æsthetic side is
vital, universal, is what gives or seems to give a meaning, deludes us
into a belief in some spirituality? Sometimes one suspects as much:
that the unifying element is not so much religion, as, after all, art.
These are fragments of inscriptions from the Macellus Liviæ, of the
time of Valens and Gratian, now transferred to the porch of S. Maria
in Trastevere: "Maceus vixit dulcissime cum suis ad supremam diem. C.
Gannius primogenitus vix: ann. VII. Desine jam mater lacrimis rinovare
querellas—namque dolor talis non tibi contigit uni." So at least I
Another states that "M. Cocceius Ambrosius Aug: Lib: præpositus
vestis albæ triumphalis (?) fecit." When he had lived with Nice (?)
his wife forty-five years eleven days "sine ulla querela."
Also, "Dis Manib. Rhodope fecerent (?) Berenice et Drusilla delicatæ
dulcissimæ suae (sic)."
Also, "Attidiæ felicissimæ uxori rariosimæ Fl: Antoninus."
How these inscriptions, of which I copied out a few yesterday during a
heavy shower in the portico of S. M. in Trastevere, make one feel,
again by this magic of Rome, the other half of the truth: How little
the centuries matter, how vain are these thousands of years, which
exist only in our thoughts, how solely important are the brief pangs
of us poor obscure shortlived forgotten creatures!
PALAZZO ORSINI, FORMERLY SAVELLI.
This is the most Roman house, in my sense, of all Rome. The first
evening, when I came into my room, the sunset streaming in, the lights
beginning below, it was fantastic and overwhelming. What I said of
this being a unique moment in Roman history—the genius of the city
stripped of all veils, visible everywhere, is especially true about
the view from this window. During my childhood Rome was closed,
uniform, without either the detail or the panoramic efforts which
speak to the imagination; and ten or fifteen years hence the great
gaps will be filled up, and the deep historical viscera, so to speak,
of the city closed and grown together. Now, with the torn-down houses,
the swept-away quarters, one has not only views of hills and river and
bridges, and of gardens and palaces and loggias, hidden once and to be
hidden again, but into the very life of the people: the squalor of
back streets revealed, of yards looked into, of the open places turned
into immondezzaio and play and grazing ground, showing the barbarism
and nakedness of the land—showing one that there is here no tradition
of anything more active, decent or human than this present demolition.
And the Sventramento also reveals the past! From my window, under
that sunset behind the trees and fountains and churches of the
Janiculum, I look down on a sort of mediæval city of the
Trastevere—upon a still stranger, imaginary one made by perspective
and fancy; the old bridge, with its two double hermes leading
between towers, and the long prison-like walls of the inland
buildings, into an imaginary square—an imaginary city with more
towers, more Romanesque belfries. This is a case of the imaginary
place due to perspective, to bird's-eye view, to some reminiscence. (I
trace a resemblance to the arsenal gate at Venice, perhaps also to the
inner town at Castelfranco.) This case is an illustration of how large
a part illusion, even recognised as such, plays in our feeling.
And similarly as regards the invisible view. Here am I, in a house
nesting in the theatre of Marcellus, the little orange and lemon
garden presumably built actually onto those remaining black arches in
which coppersmiths and coopers and saddlers, all the humble trades of
a backward little country town or village, have burrowed: the thought
of Virgil's line with it all. The mangy green grass in front, where
the children fly kites and the inconceivable skeleton horses graze, is
the site of the former Ghetto; and behind its remaining synagogue, the
little belfry, the houses of the Cencis, are down at heel carts and
ragged peasants round the little isolated Ghetto fountain; and on the
other side the Aventine, the bridge of—was it Cocles? a land of
ballad, of popular romance, of tragedy.
Appalling morning of wind and dust; I bicycled in agitation of spirit
to Domine quo Vadis. A wretched little church, no kind of beauty about
it, full of decayed, greasy pictures, and, far better than they, penny
coloured prints of the Saviour and Infant Baptist, and of the Life and
Death of the Religious and the Irreligious Person about 1850, both in
high hats and tail-coats. The old custodian crone tells me she is half
blind, and envies me my glasses. She points out a bit of fresco:
"Questo è Gesu Nazzareno"—as the housekeeper might say, "This is the
present Earl"—also points out the marble copy of the slab bearing the
print of i suoi santissimi piedi, square little feet, of such a
squat, fat, short-jointed Christ, about as miraculous or venerable as
the pattern on a pat of butter.
Turning my face, in that tornado of dust, towards Rome, its walls
stretch suddenly before me across the vineyards and fields, broken
walls, of any mediæval city you please, and hiding, it would seem,
emptiness behind them. The desolation of this distant city, with its
foreground of squalid hovels, and ill-favoured wine shop and smithies
where the very inscriptions, "Vino di Marino," or "Ferracocchio," or
"Ova di Giornata," look as if a megalomaniac, escaped from an asylum,
had dipped a brush into a paint-pot and splashed all over; this
foreground of vague tombs, masonry heaven knows what, all flowered
with huge wild mignonette; this other moving background of ragged
peasants and unutterable galled horses; the desolation of this dead
city which I feel behind those mediæval walls comes home to
like the sting of the dust whirlpools and roar of the wind. Quomodo
sedet sola civitas!
Meanwhile, close to one of those city gates, is a poster announcing
lectures "Sur le costume des Premiers Chr étiens!"
But not less incongruous, behind those walls of Rome, are all of us,
bringing our absurd modernnesses, our far-fetched things of
civilisation into the solemn, starved, lousy, silent Past! At moments
like these I feel that one needs be entirely engrossed either in
making two ends meet (a clerk or shopkeeper, or one of these
haranguing archæologists holding forth under the Arch of Drusus) for
his dinner or in tea parties and "jours," and "sport," to endure the
company of Rome.
I went into the vigna of S. Cesario for the key of the church. It is
the place where there is a small fifteenth-century villa, with those
mullioned windows like Palazzo di Venezia, and a little portico,
seeming to tell, among the rubbish heaps and onions, of Riario and
Borgia suppers. And in this church and the neighbouring one the
impression of the inscriptions recording succession of popes and
cardinals, all the magnificent locusts who came swarm after swarm, to
devour this land, leaving the broken remains of their hurried
magnificence, volutes, plaster churches, and, inscriptions!
Villa Falconieri, Frascati—abandoned, overgrown—the wonderful
outline of huge Mondragone, with its pines against the mountains. All
these villas near each other, and while they open up into the hill and
woods (the lovely delicate rose of the budding chestnuts) are still
almost within hail of the little town across the valley. So different
from the Tuscan villa, even the grandest, say Mte. Gufoni, which is
only the extended fattoria, its place chosen by the accident of
agricultural business. This mouldering rococo villa is inhabited in
summer by the Trappists of Tre Fontane, of that Abbey of St. Anastasia
which was the suzerain of all Maremma, great part of Umbria and the
Tuscan islands! At the end of their miserably cultivated little
orto, presiding over the few leeks and garlics, on the balustrade
towards Rome of all divinities, who but Hortorum Deus!
Near Grottaferrata in a flat green field, a nun, all in white, was
seated under one of the big olives: a curious biblical figure.
Yesterday with P. D. P. at Porta Latina. He told me an extraordinary
thing. In the blocked-up arch of that suppressed gate, at the end of a
blind alley, an old old couple—a man of ninety and a woman of eighty,
had taken up their abode for months; helped occasionally by the monks
of the neighbouring convent (with pretty rose-garden) of S. Giovanni a
Porta Latina, to whom however permission was refused (the Superior
referring to the Card. Vicar and the Card. Vicar to his Confessor)
to give a roof to the couple because of the woman; also there was a
suspicion that the couple had not been married in church. All this P.
D. had learned when these people were still there, in the arch. But we
found them gone; and the strangest sight instead. In the immense
thickness of the gate a heap of reeds in a corner; and strewn all
about in this artificial grotto, old rusty utensils, a grater, a
strainer, broken pots, papers, rags, half-burnt logs, a straw hat, and
a walking stick! And over a kind of recess, on a plank, a little
shrine, two broken Madonnas picked out of some dust-heap, withered
flowers in a crock, and a sprig of olive, evidently of last Palm
Sunday! Poor little properties, so poor, so wretched that they had
remained unmolested, despised even by the poorest, safe at the end of
that blind road in that closed-up gate of Rome! That two human beings
in our day should have lived there for months, even years (for they
returned after an absence, the monk told us); lived, like some
anchorites of old, in the ruins, in a grotto made by human hands;
with the vineyards all round, and the shrubs and flowers waving from
the broken masonry! Their rags and shreds of paper littered the rank
grass and acanthus by the walled-up gate, where the little
Bramantesque temple stands, built by a French prelate under Julius
II., and inscribed "Au plaisir de Dieu." Au plaisir de Dieu!
Over the walls, the great bones of the Baths of Caracalla half hidden
by trees: and, closing the distance, St. Peters. We went into the
little damp church, with a twelfth-century campanile and well in the
rose-garden; a deserted little place, only a bit of opus Alexandrinum,
and a string of Cosmati work remaining, all the rest overlaid by the
frescoes and stuccoes of a seventeenth-century Rasponi. The grey
Franciscan who showed us round told us that a lady had given five
hundred francs for admission of the old man and woman of the gate at
the Petites Soeurs; but these required the religious marriage. About a
month ago the couple was married and taken off to the Petites Soeurs;
the day after the poor old man died! The old people had desired the
monks to distribute their bedding and rags to the poor, now they
themselves were provided for. And that is how the place came to be
abandoned. The old man told the monks he much preferred the arch to
the damp cellar where a greengrocer of Rome used to make him sleep.
"They had good sides those people," I remarked. "Sfido! bonissimi,"
said the Franciscan; he was from Albi, but had got to speak with a
While we were there, under the impression of that story, of the
deserted church, the ragged grey monk, and of that whole squalid,
imaginative Roman corner, a little cart drove up with a young man and
two little girls, who went round with us and gathered sprays of
hawthorn off the walls, leaving the pony to graze meanwhile. "No
Romans," said P. D.; and indeed they turned out to be Vicentines, the
young man a student of law taking out his young cousins for a
scampagnata. P. D. very characteristically made them write their
names for him in his pocket-book, and bowed to the little girls as if
they were duchesses. More characteristically still, my friend carried
off the old beggar's stick to keep in his study.
Yesterday wandered in Trastevere and about Piazza Mattei and Montanara
and back by 'bus; again this morning tramm'd to Lateran in showers.
The squalor of this Rome and of its people! The absence of all trace
of any decent past, ancient barbarism as down at heel and unkempt as
any modern slum! The starved galled horses, broken harness, unmended
clothes and wide-mouthed sluttishness under the mound on which stand
the Cenci's houses, a foul mound of demolition and rag-pickers, only a
stone's-throw from the brand-new shop streets, the Lungo Tevere, the
magnificence of palaces like the Mattei, Caetani, &c. If Rome
undoubtedly gives the soul peace by its assurance that the present is
as nothing in the centuries, it also depresses one, in other moods,
with the feeling that all history is but a vast rubbish-heap and sink;
that nothing matters, nothing comes out of all the ages save rags and
brutishness. There is a great value for our souls in any place which
tells us, by however slight indications, of a past of self-respect,
activity and beauty; and I long for Tuscany.
In the Forum this morning with Css. B. and the excavator Boni. In the
Director's shed a "Campionario," literally pattern sheets of the
various strata of excavation: bits of crock, stone, tile, iron, little
earthenware spoons for putting sacrificial salt in the fire, even what
looked like a set of false teeth. Time represented thus in space. And
similarly with the excavations themselves: century under century, each
also represented by little more than foot-prints, bases of gone
columns, foundations of rough edifices. Among these neatly-dug-out
layers of nothingness, these tidy heaps of chips with so few things,
stand out the few old column- and temple-ends which Piranesi already
I felt very keenly that the past is only a creation of the present.
Boni, a very interesting and ardent mind, poetical and mystical,
showed us things not really of this earth, not really laid bare by the
spade, but existing in realms of fantastic speculation, shaped by
argument, faultlessly cast in logical moulds. Too faultlessly
methought, for looking at the mere heaps of architectural rubbish, let
alone the earth, the various vegetations which have accumulated upon
it, I had a sense of the infinite intricacy of all reality, and of the
partiality and insufficiency of the paths which our reason (or our
fancy in the garb of reason) cuts into it. Rituals and laws whose
meaning had become mere shibboleths two thousand years ago, races
whose very mien and aspect (often their language) can only be
speculated on: all this reappears, takes precision and certainty. But
is not this a mere creation, like that of art or of systematic
metaphysics? What struck me as the only certainty among these
admirable cogent arguments was that the once tank of Juturna, round
whose double springs Rome must have arisen to drink and worship, this
sacred and healing water where the Dioscuri watered their steeds after
Lake Regillus, has been fouled by human privies so deeply that years
of dredging and pumping will be required to restore its purity. Of how
many things is not this tank a symbol as cogent as any which our
archæologist ascribed to those old symbol-mongers of his discourse!
With us was a man who took no interest in all these matters; none in
the significance of rituals, symbols, or the laws of racial growth and
decadence. He wanted to be shown the place where Cæsar had fallen;
he was a survivor of the old school of historical interest. Very out
of date and droll; but is not this old-fashioned interest in
half-imaginary dramatic figures as legitimate as our playing with
races, rituals, the laws, the metaphysical essence of the past?
The meet the other day, at Maglianella, beyond Porta S. Pancrazio.
Desolate, rolling country, pale green wide dells, where streams should
be, but are not; roads excavated in the brown volcanic rock, here and
there fringed with a few cork-trees; the approach, very much, to
Toscanella. But raced along by carriages, bicycles and motor-cars, and
leading to a luncheon tent, a car full of hounds, school of cavalry
officers, and the redcoats preparing to start. The cloud banks sat
on the horizon as on the sea; the sky very pale and blue, moist, with
song of larks descending from it. And as the horses cantered along the
soft grass, the scent of last year's mint and fennel rose from
stubble-fields, and the rank, fresh smell of crushed succulent
The cabman who, yesterday evening, took me to Palazzo Gabbrielli
instead of Palazzo Orsini, excused himself saying that priests even
blunder at the altar—"anche li preti sbajano all' altare." Very
With E. de V. on Monte Mario. The weather has cleared; slight
tramontana, pure sky, with white storm- or snow-clouds collected like
rolled-up curtains, everywhere on the horizon. Great green slopes of
grass appear as far as one could see, here and there a little valley
full of ilex scrub; in the mist of the distance conical shepherds'
huts, with smoke wreath. We sat on a piece of turf, cut in by horses'
hoofs, by a stack of faggots; song of lark and bleating of sheep. But
for the road, the carriage, it might have been in the Maremma for
utter loneliness and freshness. Turning round a few yards further,
carriages and motor-cars, and all Rome, with its unfinished new
quarters nearest, stretched under us.
Day before yesterday with dear Paso along Via Ostiense. Perhaps the
most solemn of all those solemn Roman roads, with the solemnity and
desolation of the great brimful brown Tiber, between barren banks of
mud, added to the solemnity of the empty green country. It is the
refusal of vegetation in great part which makes this country strange
and solemn. Such vegetation as there is, the asphodels and rare
blackthorn along the road, the stumpy oaks or cork-trees or the bends
of the river, gaining an importance, a significance out of all
proportion; and the thinnest little distant spinny, looking like a
mysterious consecrated wood. We got to the top of a hill, and there,
far off against the grey flatness, was the lavender line of the sea.
It was a brilliant day of freshly fallen distant snow; the air keen
and windless, with a feel of the sea as we went towards it.
Yesterday P. D. P. took me to see a former Marescotti palace in the
Via della Pigna. A very quiet aristocratic part of Rome, of narrow
streets between high palaces, and little untraversed squares. The
gloominess of the outside succeeded by the sunlight, the spaciousness
of a vast courtyard, on to which look sixteenth-, seventeenth-,
eighteenth-century windows, closed by the back of a church with its
clock-tower, so that, as Pierino says, it might almost be the piazza
of a provincial town. A campanile, fountain, piazza, almost a sun,
all to oneself. One wonders with what these palaces could ever have
been filled by the original owners.
We then went into another palace yard; and there was a shop with three
young men working at a huge sawdust doll, with porcelain sandalled
feet. I thought it was a doll for displaying surgical apparatus, but
it turned out to be a female saint, whose head we were shown,
life-size, properly expressive with rolling eyes and a little halo.
RETURN TO ROME.
That I should feel it most on return here; find I have returned
without her, travelled without her, that she is not there to tell;
the sense of utter loneliness, of the letter one would write, the
greeting one would give—and which no creature now wants!
Yesterday morning, feeling ill and very sad, Rome came for half-hour
with its odd consolation. I sat on the balcony of the corner room,
very high up, in the sunshine. Cabs, with their absurd Roman canter,
crossing the diaper of the little square, circling, as I remember them
doing in my childhood, round the unwilling fare. A soldier rode
across, dismounted, took his beast by the bridle to the cattle-trough
in the palace wall opposite; a bit of campagna intruded into town. And
motor-cars snorted and bells rang. High up on the same level with me
was the hidden real Rome—all that you do not guess while walking in
the streets below. Colonna gardens with bridges over the way, and
green-clipped hedges and reddening Judas-trees under the big pines,
and a row of marble Emperors turning their backs; and, further, the
Quirinal with tip of obelisk, and plaster trumpet-blowing Fame; and a
palm-tree, its head rising out of I know not what hidden yard, in
front of a terrace of drying rags. And at every vista end, pines of
the Pincian, Villa Doria, &c.; and domes; and the pale blond roofs
with the telephone wires like gossamer stretched over them. Sunshine;
distant noise and incessant bells. Rome in a fashion consoling; but
This morning I know not what ceremony in the Portico of SS. Apostoli:
a little procession, some monks, a priest in purple, and a few
draggle-tailed people before the closed door, chanting at intervals,
till the door opened and they entered, their silver cross in its
purple bag ahead, and their little branches of olive. The fine carved
Roman eagle in its magnificent garland of oak-leaves, presiding, very
fierce and contemptuous, over this little scene. When one effaces the
notion of habit, how very odd to see a company of nineteenth-century
people, battered and galled by life like old cab-horses, stationing in
a portico singing verses and holding branches of olive! There is
something refreshing, something of the fields and hills, of leisure
and childishness, in the proceeding, if only the poor creatures
realised it. But to most of them, I take it, the bearing of a silver
cross, of an olive branch, is in reality as utilitarian (though
utilitarian in regard to another world) as holding the tail of a
saucepan or rattling a money-box. For how many, one wonders, is that
door, opening to the cross and the olive branches, the door of an
inner temple, of a place swept and garnished in the pious fancy? alas!
I went on, on foot, past the Capitol, through the Montanara region,
with a growing sense, which I have had ever since return here, of the
squalor, the lousiness, the dust-heap, the unblushing immondezzaio
quality of Rome and its inhabitants. Everything ragged, filthy,
listless; the very cauliflowers they were selling looking all stalk,
fit for that refuse midden which symbolises the city. By the Temple of
Vesta a lot of carts were drawn up, with galled horses and ragged
crouching peasants—that sort of impression which Piranesi gives.
A school of little girls, conducted by a nun, was filing out of S.
Maria in Cosmedin, and I helped up the leathern curtain for them to
pass. Tatters, squalor, with that abundant animal strength and beauty
of these people; one feels they have been eating and drinking, and
befouling the earth and the streets with the excrements of themselves
and their lives, love-making and begetting, and suffering stolidly all
through the centuries, and one wonders why? as one wonders before a
ditch full of tadpoles. Low mass was going on at a side altar, and the
canon's mass in the beautiful marble choir, behind the ambones, behind
those delicate marble railings and seats, which, with their inclusion,
makes the fine aristocratic, swept and garnished quality of that
Byzantine architecture more delicate and dainty still. The church was
finished restoring two years ago, but the population of that low part
of Rome, the Piazza Montanara St. Giles, has already given it the
squalor of ages. I cannot say how deeply, though vaguely, I felt the
meaningless tragic triviality of these successive generations of
reality, in the face of that solemn,
abstraction which we
call history, which we call humanity, the centuries, Rome.
The great holes through which, as through earthquake rents, the
innermost life of Rome has become visible in the last thirty years,
are beginning to close up. In that sort of rag-fair, witch-burning
ground limited only by the island and the belfries of Trastevere which
I used to look down upon from Palazzo Orsini, the Jews are building a
colossal synagogue. One does not grudge it them, after their Holy
Cross Days! But that strange simultaneous vision of the centuries
(like that of their life which drowning folk are said to have) is
ending with the death agony of old Rome.
The white peacocks apparently all gone; but two superb green ones,
their tails outspread, glittering on the grass under the olives just
below the villa terrace. Near the terrace, where a lot of olive wood
was being chopped on a stump of fine fluted column, a bay-tree of the
girth of a good-sized oak, bearing pale yellow leaves and blossom, as
of beaten metal, the golden bough of the Sibyl. Hard by another
bay-tree, a ramping python, rearing up a head of bright green leaves.
The loveliness of the chestnut woods on the hill behind, not yet in
leaf, but rosy with rising sap; big round olives also, dark silver in
front. The same colours and same wonderful rounded dimpled volcanic
lie of the land as round Villa Lante at Viterbo. We walked, the Carlo
R.'s little governess and I, along round above Mondragone and down by
Villa Falconieri; the three children on donkeys in front, Gabriella's
boys and their cousins. The pleasantness of the children's voices, of
their bear-fighting in the train coming back. A splendid day of sun,
wind, of dove's-wing distant Campagna view.
San Saba to-day, for the second time this year, with those pleasant
English people the P.s. It was Thursday, and we were not admitted into
the garden (though we were very kindly allowed into the loggia)
because the pupils of the Germanic College were having their weekly
recreation, a hundred of them. We saw their gowns, like geraniums or
capsicums, moving between the columns and under the blossoming
orange-trees. And a party of them sat among the fallen pillars and
broken friezes outside the little churches singing—and what?—the
Lorelei in chorus, "Sie kämmt sich mit goldenem Kamme und singt ein
Lied dabei." Oh, friendly romance of Germany, lurking even in the
house of the Lord, and cheek-by-jowl with De Propaganda Fide!
Pal. Sciarra, April 16.
This morning with Antonia at S. Cecilia in Trastevere, having a
special permission from Minister to see the Cavalieri frescoes in the
nuns' choir gallery (like poorer, clumsier, jowlier Duccio;
Byzantine, with antique braided hair and "Greek" features). The
impression of the convent clausura—little vestibule, a strongly
grated small window inside it, apparently ending only in darkness; the
"Ruota," behind which a voice spoke mysteriously as through a
telephone, the wooden shelf turning on itself and offering us a
key—key opening (by instructions of mysterious voice) an adjacent
small room: two straw chairs on either side of small table before a
thick black grating; another grating behind that, and a kind of
perforated shutter between. The latter rattled away, a nun's face
uncertainly seen—faded cheeks, immense eyes, white dress, behind the
black double bars; the key restored to the Ruota, and engulfed after
directions from the mysterious voice; another door, sound of keys and
bolts. In all this a predominant and lugubrious impression of keys and
bolts. The little portress, Donna Maria Geltude (for these nuns are
Benedictines, and have the handle to their names), a wizen, very ugly
little woman, in incredibly shabby but spotless dress, white wool
washed threadbare to an appearance of linen, voluminous skirts and
black veil. A glazed cloister (with twelfth-century columns), a few
pictures, seventeenth-century tables and chairs, as in a passage; more
passages similar, with prie Dieu and scant peasant furniture. The
little library, a smallish glass press with nothing but Filotea, Fr.
de Sales, Vite dei Santi, &c. Might they read them? Yes, but only on
asking the Abbess. Terror of nun lest Antonia and I should go on or
into anything not mentioned in our permit—the impression that in this
life all can be done, but done only by permission. "Men allowed to
visit?" Only by permission of Cardinal Segretario di Stato. "Men
working in garden, masons, &c.?" Yes, but always with special
permission; permission and bars!
In all these corridors and stairs not a creature; only at one moment a
door stirred, Antonia thought she saw a nun?? Little garden, with box
hedges and lemon-trees. The inner windows (cells) open on this garden,
are large, ordinary, and without bars. There was even one long ground
floor window with a little balcony and steps with a cat on them. But
never a soul! Great bareness, fair neatness, and order.
The gilt box of the choir, looking down into church; the stalls; the
Abbess's gold-headed crozier stuck into her stall (St. Cecilia with
harp in it), two lecterns with Latin lessons of the day—the day's
With Contessa Z. to-day in Colonna Gardens. Great surprise on finding
them more romantic than from the outside. A terrace, with all Rome,
blond; all manner of unexpected towers and cupolas. The pines of the
Janiculum, staircase fountains, waterless but noisy, the Roman veil of
vegetation everywhere; and great vague walls of spaliered roses and
lemons. In the midst of these terraces and balustrades and crowded
nurseries of flowers, the surprise of finding that that great vague
building I have noticed from below is a ruin, roofless, full of wild
fig, a castle's square keep. Mediæval? antique? the place surely
whence the imaginary Nero watched the burning, and harped!
Palo Beach yesterday; motored there by my French friends. I have had
fever some days past, and there was more than mere pleasure and
amusement in sitting on the sand and breathing the clean cloudless
sea-air, instead of the scirocco stuff we had left, alternately
simmering and shivering in Rome. By the way, how little the sea gives
to Rome (except at the Aventine corner sometimes by a violent
libeccio), and how one feels the futility of this tideless
Mediterranean, unable to purify or renovate even a few yards of the
inland! Think of the estuaries of the North! of the cleansing
vivifying tides and draughts which the ocean thrusts into the very
vitals of the countries!
No one, one feels, ever landed (since Æneas and his companions) upon
this shallow strand, save the raiding Saracens and Barbary pirates,
against whom the castle, the martello tower, barely more of Palo, was
built. For there is not even here what represents the life of the
Mediterranean, the jutting rocks, the sucking in of sea, by the
cliffs, the sudden squalls of the stony coasts where sea and land
really play and fight together, waves leaping tower-high, and
battering at hillsides and swirling in and out of creeks. Here, one
understands that a storm would mean mere passive submerging: the water
rising higher, covering the straight narrow beach, the low green
fields, noiselessly, and retreating when so inclined, with neat stacks
of seaweed and samphire left behind. The renovation of Rome, like its
drinking water, has always come from the mountains; the Tiber mouth is
their outlet, not the inlet of the sea. And the mountain clouds change
in shape, stagnate and brood in this low trough; the mountain air
faints, dies, in these fever levels.
The beach of Palo is only a few yards wide: a low natural wall of
corroded tufo, covered with no maritime bent, but ordinary grass; a
line of sea refuse, a band of fine black sparkling sand, and little
waves fringed black with that mournful sand, breaking feebly against
it. A high sky, with a few sailing clouds; and in it, rather than on
the sea, some boats, like toy ducks, on the offing, motionless. We sat
on the sand, digging into its moist warmth, and amused (I at least)
that this glittering beach left no trace on the land; making Carpaccio
St. George Dragons (with inserted eyes of sand flint) out of blistered
drift-wood; and looking about, later, for bits of antique marble and
brick upon the sands. For this lazy sea appears to wash no pebbles of
its own bringing, but only fragments of stone brought by man, broken
off man's buildings, shot by him into the Tiber, in the days, no
doubt, when columns were sawed into discs and smashed into
petal-shaped wedges for the Opus Alexandrinum. I don't think we saw
one natural looking stone upon that beach; everything seemed vaguely,
precious and outlandish, basalt, porphyry, agate, Rossoantique, and
serpentine still bearing its original polish; also fine white marble,
Mme. B. possessing a beautiful piece of salty Parian found there, and
shaped delicately, curved and bossy, into a perfect heart, the heart
of a marble Artemis or Amazon. This the lazy Roman sea does, and it is
surely an unusual feat: roll its shingle into vague shapes of symbolic
hearts, hearts of serpentine, of jasper, of various beautiful rose and
lilac breccias, of basalt, and of fine rose brick, all scattered on
the glittering black sand (with funny mourning edges of violet
shells), and in the lip of those little black waves. But far more
beautiful and extraordinary and brilliant (and to me far more
wonderful and odd) was the still uncorrupted little corpse of a
kingfisher: sky-blue breast, greenish turquoise ruff, and glossy dark
back, lying in state, as dead birds do.
Three days ago, in heavy rain, taken in motor to Fiumicino. Impression
of grass, yellow with buttercups, soused with rain, opening, falling
aside as we swish noiselessly into it, under the moving dark sky.
Magliana: a big farm; one takes a minute in the soaking filthy yard,
among manure and litter, to recognise that this dilapidated,
leprous-looking building is a palace, with mullioned fifteenth-century
windows and coats of arms and inscriptions of Cibo and Riario popes.
From the top of the wide low-stepped staircase (like that, also of the
Cibo's originally, of Pal. Ruffo), wide views of meadows of pale
rumpled grass, yellow here, and there with clover, and a great yellow
Tiber arm unaccountable in this sort of England. This is the place, I
believe, where the quails are shot and netted at this time of year;
and I suppose Leo X. was on some such expedition when he caught his
Fiumicino, a canal or arm of the Tiber, a yellowish marsh, a big,
uprooted looking martello tower by the beach, and a little pier with a
green boat like a beetle in the rain. The look of Viareggio or Porto
Corsini, of all the little God-forsaken and strangled harbours of this
country. The sacred island, I suppose, on the other side of a bridge
of boats, covered with what seems a scrub of ilex and lentisk.
Yesterday, again in pelting rain, far along Via Ardeatina (the brutes
have taken away the little river god from off that trough in the
little valley of poplars). The hollows full of foaming yellow streams,
and yellow water gushing everywhere. The great wet green slopes under
the dark low sky, with only sheep and here and there a stump of
masonry, no trees, no hedges, no walls save of rough stones, no
bounding mountains, visible; the whole country transformed into some
northern high-lying moorland. A sort of tiny half-ruined, towered and
walled St. Gimignano, with many olives about it, seems a ghostly
apparition in it all.
This morning, trying to lose time before lunching at Monte Savella, I
was attracted into that little round brick church nearly always
closed, which stands in a circular hole under the Palatine. You go
down a flight of steps into a round paved place: and this, with a
worn-down sacrificial altar, carved with laurel wreaths, was strewn
this morning with ivy leaves and bay. Lifting the big green drapery
which had first attracted me to that church, for it hung outside it,
and pushing the door, there was a shock of surprise; a plunge into
mystery. The round church was empty, dark, but full of the smell of
fresh incense; and in that darkness I was fairly blinded by the
effulgence of the high-altar, tier upon tier of tapers. When I was
able to see, there were three women, black, with red scapulars about
their necks, kneeling; and on either side, in the extreme corners of
the lit-up altar, two figures, or what, after a second, I decided must
be figures, kneeling also. They were on either side of the empty
praying stool in front of the altar, on which lay big gilt books and a
couple of shimmering stoles. Lit up by that blaze of candles, their
whitish folded robes looked almost like fluted marble columns; and as
they knelt they ended off like broken columns, for they were, to all
appearance, headless. Round their middle each had a white rope, about
as thick as a hand, cutting the flutings of the robe; and where the
head disappeared, a white penitent's hood thrown backward. They
remained absolutely motionless, so that after awhile I began almost to
doubt whether I had not interpreted some column or curtain into human
figures. But after about five minutes one of the two—the right-hand
one—moved slightly, just enough to show the thing was living. There
they remained motionless, stooping in their fluted robes and
thrown-back hoods, headless; and I went out, leaving them so, through
the circular yard strewn with ivy and bay all round that worn away
altar. What was it all? I have a vague notion this church is connected
with the Cave of Cacus, or the lair of Romulus' she-wolf.
Palo again. The little pineta or grove rather of young pines, very
close together and tufty, which open out and close fanlike in long
green avenues, each with its prismatic star of shivering light, as we
race through in the motor. A place where laurel-crowned poets in white
should wander with verse-like monotony upon the soft green turf.
Beyond, a band of lilac sere field, a band of blue sea; and between
the fringe of the compact round pines, the sun setting, its light
shivering diamond-like among the needles.
A WALK AT DUSK.
Yesterday went, in a band at dusk, for a melancholy stroll through the
back streets. The Piranesi effect: yards of palaces, Marescotti,
Massimo alle Colonne, the staircase of Palazzo Altieri. These immense
grass-grown yards, with dreary closed windows all round, fountains
alone breaking their silence, look like a bit of provincial life, of
some tiny mountain town, enclosed in Rome. At Monte Giordano (Palazzo
Gabbrielli) it becomes the walled Umbrian town, castellated. In this
gloom, this sadness of icy evening sky between the high roofs, and
after the appalling sadness of a church, squalid, dark, a few people
kneeling, and the sacristan extinguishing the altars after a
Benediction (every grief, one would think, laid down on that floor
only to pick up a weight of the grief of others); after this there was
something sweet and country-like in the splash of the fountains at
Monte Giordano; the water bringing from the free mountains into this
gloomy city; and to me the recollection of a Tuscan villa, of peace
To Tusculum to-day with Maria and Du B. This is the place I carried
away in my thoughts and wishes, a mere rapidly passed steep grassy
hill, topped with pines and leafless chestnuts, from that motor drive
last year round by Monte Compatri and Grottaferrata. The steepness and
bareness of that great grass slope was heightened to-day by the
tremendous gales blowing in a cloudless sky; one felt as if it were
that wind which had kept the place so inaccessible, so virgin of trees
and people, nay, had made the grass slippery, and polished the black
basalt slabs of the path. And that wind struggling upwards against it
in the sunshine, with the great rose and lilac sere hills opposite,
the pale blond valley behind, seemed to clear the soul also of all
rank vegetation, of all thoughts and feelings thick and muddy and
leaden; to sweep away all that gets between the reality of things and
One should contrive to have impressions like these sufficiently often
in life: this is the excitement which is helpful; the heartbeating,
the breathlessness, the pain even, which brace and make us widely
sensitive. Brother Wind—why did St. Francis not invoke him?—played
with us roughly and healthfully, telling us, in the hurtling against
houses, the rustling, soughing among trees, and the whistling in our
own hair and ears, of the greatness of the universe's life and the
greatness of our own.
On the crest, under the thin fringe of bare trees, with the plain of
Rome, the snow of the Apennines on one side, the violet woods of Monte
Laziale on the other, the surprise of suddenly coming on a rude stone
cottage, with headless statues of athletes and togaed Romans built
into its rough walls. And in a hollow under delicate leafless
chestnuts that wonderful little theatre, cut out of black volcanic
stone, as if the representation were to be storm and full moon, making
and unmaking of mountains and countries, and the whole of history….
Beginning to come down, and just above that little theatre, as we
turned, we saw, beyond the dark ridge of Castel Gandolfo, cupolaed and
towered, a narrow belt of light, more brilliant than that of the sky:
the light upon the sea.
The greatness of the place had taken me, and quite unexpectedly, at
once: the pale shimmer of the marble and the gold, the little
encampment of yellow lights ever so far off close to the ground at the
Confession; and, above all, the spaciousness, the vast airiness and
emptiness, which seemed in a way to be rather a mode of myself than a
quality of the place. I had come to see, if I could, Pollaiolo's tomb
in the Chapel of the Sacrament. I found the grating closed; and
kneeling before it, a foreign northern-looking man, with grizzled,
curly hair and beard, and a torn fustian coat and immense nailed
shoes. He was muttering prayers, kissing his rosary or medal at
intervals, and slightly prostrating himself. But what struck me, and
apparently others (for people approached and stared), was his
extraordinary intentness and fervour. He was certainly conscious of no
one and nothing save whatever his eyes were fixed upon—either the
sacrament or the altar behind that railing, or merely some vision of
his own. And he seemed not only different from everyone else, but
separate, isolated from that vast place which made all the rest of us
so small, such tiny details of itself. He was no detail, but an
independent reality—he and his prayer, his belief, his nailed shoes:
all come who knows how far in what loneliness! I got the sacristan to
open, and went in to see the tomb—a mad masquerade thing, everything
in wrong relief and showing the wrong side, the very virtues or
sciences flat on their backs, so that you could not see them. And in
the middle, presenting his stark bronze feet, the brown,
mummied-looking, wicked pope, with great nose under his tiara. An
insane thing—more so than any Bernini monument, I thought. Perhaps it
was the presence of that man praying away outside which affected me to
think this. There he was, as little likely to move away, apparently,
as the bronze pope stretched out, soles protruded, among the absurd
allegories. I went also to see the Pietà, and then stayed a long while
walking up and down; but still the man was kneeling there, and might
be kneeling, doubtless, till now or till doomsday, if the vergers had
not, in closing the doors, turned him out.
Yesterday the Grotte Vaticane, the Crypts of St. Peter's, a horrible
disappointment, and on the whole absurd impression. That of being
conducted (down a little staircase carpeted with stair cloth) through
the basement of a colossal hotel, with all the electric light turned
on at midday—a basement with lumber-rooms full of rather tawdry
antiquities giving off its corridors, and other antiquities (as we see
them in Italian inns) crammed against walls and into corners.
Donatello and Mino bas-reliefs become sham by their surroundings,
apocryphal Byzantine mosaics, second-rate pictures. Even empty
sarcophagi and desecrated tombs just as at Riettis or Della Torres at
Venice, and with seventeenth-century gilding and painting obbligato
overhead. And then into wider corridors, whitewashed, always with that
glare of electricity from the low roof; corridors where you expect
automatic trucks of coals, or dinner lifts; and where the vague
whitewashed cubes of masonry against the walls suggest new-fangled
washing or heating apparatus. And instead! they are the resting-place
of the Stuarts, only labels telling us so, or of mediæval popes. And
that vague arched thing with wooden cover, painted to imitate
porphyry, is the tomb of the Emperor Otho; and there, as we go on, it
grows upon one that the carved and mitred figures tucked away under
arches are not warehoused for sale to forestiere, but lying on the
sarcophagus, over the bones or the praecordia of Boniface VIII. of
Roveres and Borgias.
Waiting at the head of that staircase for the beadle, faint strains of
music come from very far. In St. Peter's a great choral service like
this one going on in the left-hand chapel, becomes a detail lost as in
the life of a whole city.
San Stefano Rotondo on that rainy afternoon, the extraordinary
grandeur of this circular church filled with diffuse white light.
Architecturally one of the most beautiful Roman churches, certainly,
with its circle of columns surrounding the great central well, where
two colossal pillars carry the triumphal arch, carry a great blank
windowed wall above it, immensely high up. Those columns, that wall,
pearly white, of carved and broken marble against pure chalky
brilliancy of whitewash, seem in a way the presiding divinities of
this great circular sanctuary in the church's centre; or is it the
white light, the solemn pure emptiness among them? An immanent
presence, greater certainly than could be any gigantic statue.
Afterwards, in fitful rain, we went to the Tombs and the little
roofless basilica near them in the Via Latina; and walked up and down,
a melancholy little party enough, grubbing up marbles and picking them
out of the rubbish heap among the quickening grass. The delicate grey
sky kept dissolving in short showers; the corn and ploughed purple
earth (that compost!) were drenched and fragrant with new life; and
the air was full of the twitter of invisible larks. But in this warm
soft renewal there was, for us, only the mood of lost things and
imminent partings; and the song of the peasants in the field hard by
told not, as it should, of their mountains, but of this sad, wet
landscape traversed by endless lines of ruins. Suddenly in the clouds,
a solid dark spot appeared; the top, the altar slab of Mons Latialis.
And little by little the clouds slipped lower, the whole mountain
range of hills stepped forth from the vapours, with its great peaceful
life and strength.
Yesterday, after D. Laura's, took Du B. that walk through the Ghetto,
along the Tiber quays by the island; a stormy, wet day. Rome again! As
we stood by the worn Januses of the bridge and looked into the
swirling water, thinking of how that Terme Apollo had lain there, the
Tiber, like Marsyas, flaying one fair flank of the god; I felt Rome
and its unchanging meaning grip me again, and liberate me from the
frettings of my own past and present.
We went in to see some people who are furnishing an apartment in
Palazzo Orsini. A very Roman impression this: the central court of
that fortified palace built into the theatre of Marcellus; lemons
spaliered and rows of Tangerine trees, with little Moorish-looking
fountains between; only the sky above, only the sound of the bubbling
You look out of a window and behold, close by, the unspeakable
rag-fair of that foul quarter, with its yells and cries rising up and
stench of cheap cooking. We saw some small Renaissance closets, still
with their ceilings and fire-places, where tradition says a last
Savelli was stabbed. A feudal fortress this, and, like those of the
hills round Rome which these ruins mimic, raising its gardens and
pompous rooms above the squalor of the mediæval village. Immediately
below, the corridors of the theatre; below that, the shops, where
pack-saddles, ploughs, scythes, wooden pails—the things of a
village—are for sale in the midst of those black arches. And then the
dining-room, library, bath-rooms of excellent New Englanders crowning
it all; and in the chapel, their telephone! "Take care," I said, "the
message will come some day—not across space, but across time. Con
chi parlo?" Well, say, The White Devil of Italy!
In that Campitelli quarter, the constant blind turnings behind the
great giant palaces; places for cut-throats, for the sudden onslaught
I feel very often that if one lived in all this picturesqueness, the
horrors of the past, the vacuity of the present, would drive one I
know not whither. I have had, more than ever this time, the sense of
horror at the barbarism of Rome, of civilisation being encamped in all
this human refuse, and doing nothing for it; and the feeling of horror
at this absorbing Italy, and at one's liking it! They are impressions
of the sort I had at Tangier. And the face of an idiot beggar—the
odd, pleased smile above his filth—suddenly brought back to me that
special feeling, I suppose of the East. We are wretched, transitional
creatures to be so much moved by such things, by this dust-heap of
time, and to be pacified in spirit by the sight of all this litter of
ages; 'tis a Hamlet and the gravedigger's attitude; and the attitude
of Whitman in the fertile field of This Compost is a deal better.
Yesterday morning, while looking through, with a view to copying out,
my Roman notes of the last eighteen years, I felt, with odd vividness,
the various myselfs who suffered and hoped while writing them. And,
even more, I felt the presence of the beloved ones who, unmentioned,
not even alluded to, had been present in those various successive
Romes of mine. All of them have changed; some are dead, others were
never really living. But while I turned over my note-books, there they
were back. Back with their feeling of then; back with their presence
(in one case the presence of a distant companion, to whom I could show
these things only in thought); their complete realisation, or their
half explicit charm, their still unshattered promise. Of all these I
find not a word, barely a name; nothing telling of them to others.
Only to me, in these sites, impersonal and almost eternal, on these
walls which have stood two thousand years and may stand two thousand
more, and these hillsides and roads full of the world's legend—there
appear, visible, distinct, the shadows cast by my own life; the forms
and faces of those changed, gone, dead ones; and my own.
Florence, April, 1905.