Back to the Index Page

From A Roman Note-Book by Henry James


DECEMBER 28, 1872.—In Rome again for the last three days—that second visit, which, if the first is not followed by a fatal illness in Florence, the story goes that one is doomed to pay. I didn't drink of the Fountain of Trevi when I was here before; but I feel as if I had drank of the Tiber itself. Nevertheless, as I drove from the station in the evening, I wondered what I should think of Rome at this first glimpse if I didn't know it. All manner of evil, I am afraid. Paris, as, I passed along the Boulevards three evenings before, to take the train, was swarming and glittering as befits a great capital. Here, in the black, narrow, crooked, empty streets, I saw nothing for a city to build an eternity upon. But there were new gas lamps round the spouting Triton in the Piazza Barberini and a newspaper stall on the corner of the Condotti and the Corso—salient signs that Rome had become a capital. An hour later I walked up to the Via Gregoriana by the Piazza di Spagna. It was all silent and deserted, and the great flight of steps looked surprisingly small. Everything seemed meagre, dusky, provincial. Could Rome, after all, be such an entertaining place? That queer old rococo garden gateway at the top of the Gregoriana stirred an old memory; it awoke into a consciousness of the delicious mildness of the air, and very soon, in a little crimson drawing-room, I concluded that Rome was pleasant enough. . . . Everything is dear (in the way of lodgings); but it hardly matters, as everything is taken and some one else is paying for it. I must make up my mind to be but half comfortable. But it seems a shame here to care for one's comfort or to be perplexed by the economical side of life. The intellectual side is so intense that you feel as if you ought to live on the mere atmosphere—the historic whisperings, the nameless romantic intimations. Literally, what an atmosphere it is! The weather is perfect, the sky as blue as the most exploded tradition fames it, the whole air glowing and throbbing with lovely colour. . . . Paris glitters with gaslight! And oh, the, monotonous, miles of rain-washed asphalt!

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

January 2d , 1873.—Two or three drives with A. To St. Paul's west of the Walls and back by a couple of old churches on the Aventine. I was freshly struck with the rare picturesqueness of the little Protestant cemetery at the gate, lying in the shadow of the black, sepulchral Pyramid and the thick-growing black cypresses. Bathed in the clear Roman light, the place seems intensely funereal. I don't know whether it should make one in love with death to lie there; it certainly makes death seem terribly irrevocable. The weight of a tremendous past seems to press upon the flowery sod, and the sleepers mortality feels the contact of all the mortality with which the brilliant air is tainted. . . . The restored Basilica is incredibly splendid. It seems a last pompous effort of formal Catholicism, and there are few more striking emblems of later Rome—the Rome foredoomed to see Victor Emanuel in the Quirinal—the Rome of abortive councils and unheeded anathemas. It rises there, gorgeous and useless, on it's miasmatic site, with an air of conscious bravado, like a florid advertisement of the superabundance of faith. Within, it is magnificent, and it's magnificence has no shabby places—a rare thing in Rome. Marble and mosaic, alabaster and malachite, lapis and porphyry incrust it from pavement to cornice, and flash back their polished lights at each other with such a splendour of effect that you seem to stand at the heart of some immense prismatic crystal. One has to come to Italy to know marbles and love them. I remember the fascination of the first great show of them I saw at Venice—at the Scalzi and the Gesuiti. Colour has in no other form so cool and unfading a purity and lustre. Softness of tone and hardness of substance—isn't that the sum of the artists desire? G., with his beautiful, caressing, open-lipped Roman utterance, which is so easy to understand, and, to my ear, so finely suggestive of Latin, urged upon us the charms of a return by the Aventine, to see a couple of old churches . . . . The best is Santa Sabina, a very fine old structure of the fifth century, mouldering in it's dusky solitude and consuming it's own antiquity. What a massive heritage Christianity and Catholicism are having here! What a substantial fact, in all it's decay, is this memorial Christian temple, outliving it's uses among the sunny gardens and vineyards! It has a noble nave, filled with a stale smell which (like that of the onion) brought tears to my eyes, and bordered with twenty-four fluted marble columns of pagan origin. The crudely primitive little mosaics along the entablature are extremely curious. A Dominican monk, still young, who showed us the church, seemed a creature generated from it's musty shadows and odours. His physiognomy was wonderfully de l'emploi, and his voice, which was most agreeable, had the strangest jaded humility. His lugubrious salute and sanctimonious impersonal appropriation of my departing franc would have been a master-touch on the stage. While we were still in the church a bell rang which he had to go and answer, and as he came back and approached us along the nave, he made with his white gown and hood and his cadaverous face, against the dark church background, one of those pictures which, thank the Muses, haven't yet been reformed out of Italy. It was strangely like the mental pictures suggested in reading certain plays and poems. We got back into the carriage and talked of profane things, and went home to dinner—drifting recklessly, it seemed to me, from æsthetic luxury to material.

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

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

16th.—A delightful walk last Sunday with Z. to Monte Mario. We drove to the Porta Angelica, the little gate hidden behind the right wing of Bernini's colonnade, and strolled thence up the winding road to the Villa Mellini, where one of the greasy peasants huddled under the wall in the sun admits you for half a franc into the finest old ilex-walk in Italy. (As fine there may be, but not a finer.) It is all vaulted grey-green shade, with blue Campagna stretches in the interstices. The day was perfect. The still sunshine, as we sat at the twisted base of the old trees, seemed to have the drowsy hum of midsummer. The charm of Italian vegetation is something indefinable. in a certain cheapness and thinness of substance (as compared with the English), it reminds me of our own, and it is relatively dry enough and pale enough to explain the contempt of many unimaginative Britons. But it has a kind of idle abundance and wantonness, a romantic shabbiness and dishevelment which appeals to one's tenderest perceptions. At the Villa Mellini is the famous lonely pine which “tells” so in the landscape from other points, bought off from destruction by (I believe) Lord Beaumont. He, at least, was not an unimaginative Briton. As you stand under it, it's far-away, shallow dome, supported on a single column almost white enough to he marble, seems to dwell in the dizziest depths of the blue. It's pale grey-blue boughs and it's silvery stem make a wonderful harmony with the ambient air. The Villa Mellini is full of the elder Italy of one's imagination—the Italy of Boccaccio. There are twenty places where his story-tellers might have sat round on the grass. Outside the villa walls, beneath the overcrowding orange, boughs, straggled old Italy as well, but not in Boccaccio's velvet—a row of ragged and livid contadini; some simply stupid in their squalor, but some good square brigands of romance (or of reality), with matted locks and terribly sullen eyes.

A couple of days later I walked for old acquaintance sake over to San Onofrio. The approach is one of the dirtiest adventures in Rome, and though the view is fine from the little terrace, the church and convent are of a meagre and musty pattern. Yet here—almost like pearls in a dunghill—are hidden mementoes of two of the most exquisite of Italian minds. Torquato Tasso spent the last months of his life here, and I saw his room and various warped and faded relics. The most interesting is a cast of his face, taken after death—looking, like all such casts, very gallant and distinguished. But who should look so if not he? . . . In a little shabby, chilly corridor adjoining, is a fresco of Leonardo, a Virgin and Child, with the donatorio. It is very small, simple, and faded, but it has all the artist's magic. It has that mocking, illusive refinement, that hint of a vague arrière-pensée, which marks every stroke of Leonardo's brush. Is it the perfection of irony or the perfection of tenderness? What does he mean, what does he affirm, what does he deny? Magic wouldnt be magic if we could explain it. As I glanced from the picture to the poor, stupid little red-faced frate at my side, I fancied it might pass for an elegant epigram on monasticism. Certainly, at any rate, there is more mind in it than under all the monkish tonsures it has seen coming and going these three hundred years.

21st.—The last three or four days I have regularly spent a couple of hours from noon baking myself in the sun, on the Pincio, to get rid of a cold. The weather perfect and the crowd (especially to-day) amazing. Such a staring, lounging, dandified, amiable crowd! Who does the vulgar, stay-at-home work of Rome? All the grandees and half the foreigners are there in their carriages, the bourgeoisie on foot, staring at them, and the beggars lining all the approaches. The great difference between public places in America and Europe is in the number of unoccupied people, of every age and condition, sitting about, early and late, on benches, and gazing at you, from your hat to your boots, as you pass. Europe is certainly the continent of staring. The ladies on the Pincio have to run the gauntlet; but they seem to do so complacently enough. The European woman is brought up to the sense of having a definite part (in the way of manners) to play in public. To lie back in a barouche alone, balancing a parasol, and seeming ~o ignore the extremely immediate gaze of two serried ranks of male creatures on each side of her path, save here and there to recognize one of them with an imperceptible nod, is one of her daily duties. The number of young men here who lead a purely contemplative life is enormous. They muster in especial force on the Pincio, but the Corso all day is thronged with them. They are well dressed, good-humoured, good-looking, polite; but they seem never to do a harder stroke of work than to stroll from the Piazza Colonna to the Hôtel de Rome, or vice versa. Some of them don't even stroll, but stand leaning by the hour against the doorways, sucking the knobs of their canes, feeling their back hair, and settling their shirt cuffs. At my café in the morning some of them stroll in, already (at nine o'clock) in light gloves. But they order nothing, turn on their heels, glance at the mirrors, and stroll out again. When it rains they herd under the portes-cochères and in the smaller cafes. . . . Yesterday Prince Humbert's little primogenito was on the Pincio in an open landau, with his governess. He is a sturdy, blond little fellow, and the image of the King. They had stopped to listen to the music, and the crowd was planted about the carriage wheels, staring and criticising under the child's snub little nose. It seemed to be bold, cynical curiosity, without the slightest manifestation of “loyalty,” and it gave me a singular sense of the vulgarisation of Rome under the new régime. When the Pope drove abroad it was a solemn spectacle; even if you neither kneeled nor uncovered, you were irresistibly impressed. But the Pope never stopped to listen to opera tunes, and he had no little popelings, under the charge of superior nurse-maids, whom you might take liberties with. The family at the Quirinal make something of a merit, I believe, of their modest and inexpensive way of life. The merit is great; but, picturesquely, what a change for the worse from a dispensation which proclaimed stateliness as a part of it's essence. The “divinity that doth hedge a king” is pretty well on the wane apparently. But how many more fine old traditions will the extremely sentimental traveller miss in the Italians over whom that little jostled prince in the landau will have come into his kinghood? . . . . But the Pincio has a great charm; it is a great resource. I am forever being reminded of the “æsthetic luxury" of living in Rome. To be able to choose of an afternoon for a lounge (respectfully speaking) between St. Peter's and the Pincio (counting nothing else), is a proof that if in Rome you may suffer from ennui, at least your ennui has a throbbing soul in it. It is something to say for the Pincio, that you don't always choose St. Peter's. Sometimes I lose patience with it's air of eternal idleness; but at others this very idleness is balm to ones conscience. Life on just these terms seems so easy, so monotonously sweet, that you feel as if it would be unsafe—really unwise—to change. The Roman atmosphere is most distinctly demoralizing.

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

At a later date—middle of March .—A ride with X. out of the Porta Pia to the meadows beyond the Ponte Nomentana—close to the site of Phaon's villa where Nero, in hiding, had himself stabbed. It was deeply delightful—more so than now one can really know or say. For these are predestined memories and the stuff that regrets are made of; the mild divine efflorescence of spring, the wonderful landscape, the talk suspended. for another gallop. . . . Returning, we dismounted at the gate of the Villa Medici and walked through the twilight of the vaguely-perfumed bird-haunted alleys to S.'s studio, hidden in the wood like a cottage in a fairy tale. I spent there a charming half hour in the fading light, looking at the pictures while X. discoursed of her errand. The studio, is small and more like a little salon; the painting refined, imaginative, somewhat marked, full of consummate French ability.. A portrait, idealized and etherealised, but a likeness of Mme. de —(from last years salon) in, white satin, quantities of lace a coronet, diamonds, and, pearls—a wonderful combination of brilliant silvery tones. A “Femme Sauvage,” a naked dusky girl in, a wood with a wonderfully clever pair of shy, passionate eyes. . . . S. is different enough from the American artists. They may be producers, but he's a product as well—a product of influences that don't touch us. One of them is his spending his days, his years, working away in, that unprofessional-looking little studio, with his enchanted wood on one side and the plunging wall of Rome on the other.

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

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

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

April 10th.—L went last night, in the rain, to Valle, to see a comedy of Goldoni, in Venetian dialect—“I Quattro Rustighi.” I could not half follow it; enough, however, to suspect that, with all it's fuss, it was not as good as Molière. The acting was capital—broad, free, and natural; the dialogue more conversational even than life itself; but, like all the Italian acting I have seen, it was wanting in finesse and culture. I contrasted the affair with the evening in December last that I walked over (also in the rain) to the Odéon and saw the “Plaideurs” and the “Malade Imaginaire.” There, too, was hardly more than a handful of spectators; but what rich, ripe; picturesque, intellectual comedy! and what polished, educated playing! . . . But these Italians have a marvellous entrain of their own; they seem even less than the French to recite. Some of the women—ugly, with red hands and shabby dresses—have an extraordinary faculty of natural utterance—of seeming to invent joyously as they go.

Later .—Last evening In—-'s box at the Apollo to hear Ernesto Rossi in “Othello.” He shares supremacy with Salvini in Italian tragedy. Beautiful great theatre, with boxes you can walk about in; brilliant audience. The Princess Margaret was there (I have never been to the theatre that she wasn't), and a number of other princesses in neighbouring boxes.—came in and instructed us that they were the M., the L., the P., etc. Rossi is both very bad and very good; bad where anything like taste and discretion is required, but quite tremendous in violent passion. The last act was really moving—as it couldn't well help being. The interesting thing to me was to observe the Italian conception of the part—to see how crude it was, how little it expressed the hero's moral side, his depth, his dignity—as anything more than his being a creature capable of being terrible in a rage. The great point was his seizing Iago's head and whacking it half a dozen times on the floor, and then flinging him twenty yards away. It was wonderfully done, but in the doing of it and in the evident relish for it in the house there seemed to me something unappreciative, unimaginative.

April 27th.—A morning with I. at the Villa Ludovisi, which we agreed that we shouldn't soon forget. The villa now belongs to the King, who has lodged his morganatic wife there. There is surely nothing better in Rome, nothing perhaps exactly so good. The grounds and gardens are immense, and the great rusty-red city wall stretches away behind them, and makes Rome seem vast without making them seem small. There is everything—dusky avenues, trimmed by the clippings of centuries, groves and dells, and glades and glowing pastures, and reedy fountains and great flowering meadows, studded with enormous slanting pines. The day was delicious, the trees were all one melody, the whole place seemed a revelation of what Italy and hereditary grandeur can do together. Nothing could well be more picturesque than this garden view of the city ramparts, lifting their fantastic battlements above the trees and flowers. They are all tapestried with vines, and made to serve as sunny fruit-walls—grim old defence as they once were, now giving nothing but a kind of magnificent privacy. The sculptures in the little Casino are few, but there are two great ones—the beautiful sitting Mars and the head of the great Juno, thrust into a corner behind a shutter. These things it is almost impossible to praise; we can only mark them well and be the wiser. . . . If I don't praise Guercino's Aurora in the greater Casino, it's for another reason; it's certainly a very muddy masterpiece. It figures on the ceiling of a small low hall; the painting is coarse, and the ceiling too near. Besides, it's unfair to pass straight from the Athenian mythology to the Bolognese. We were left to roam at will through the house;. the custode shut us in, and went to walk in the park. The apartments were all open, and I had an opportunity to reconstruct, from it's milieu at least, the character of a morganatic queen. I saw nothing to indicate that it was not amiable; but I should have thought more highly of the lady's discrimination if she had had the Juno removed from behind her shutter. In such a house, girdled about with such a park, methinks I could be amiable—and perhaps discriminating, too. The Ludovisi Casino is small, but it seems to me that the perfection of a life of leisure might be hid there. In an English house you are subject to the many small needs and observances—to say nothing of a red-faced butler, dropping his h's. You are oppressed with comfort. Here, the billiard table is old-fashioned—perhaps a trifle cracked; but you have Guercino above your head, and Guercino, after all, is almost as good as Guido. The rooms, I noticed, all please by their shape, by a lovely proportion, by a mass of delicate ornamentation on the high concave ceilings, it seems as if one might live over again here some gently hospitable life of a forgotten type. If I had fifty thousand dollars, I should certainly buy, for mere fancy's sake, an Italian villa (I am told there are very good ones still to be had) with graceful, old rooms, and immensely thick walls, and a winding stone staircase, and a view from the loggia on the top, as nearly as possible like that from the Villa Ludovisi—a view with twisted parasol-pines balanced high above a wooded horizon against a sky of faded sapphire.

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

Farewells, packing, etc. . . . One would like, after five months in Rome, to be able to make some general statement. of one's experience, one's gains. It's not easy. One has the sense of a kind of passion for the place, and of a large number of gathered impressions. Many of these have been intense, momentous, but one has trodden on the other, and one can hardly say what has become of them. They store themselves noiselessly away, I suppose, in the dim but safe places of memory, and we live in an insistent faith that they will emerge into vivid relief if life or art should demand them. As for the passion, we needn't trouble ourselves about that. Sooner or later it will be sure to bring us back.


Back to the Index Page