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    Roman Rides

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    Chapter 10
    Previous Chapter
    I shall always remember the first I took: out of the Porta del
    Popolo, to where the Ponte Molle, whose single arch sustains a
    weight of historic tradition, compels the sallow Tiber to flow
    between its four great-mannered ecclesiastical statues, over the
    crest of the hill and along the old posting-road to Florence. It
    was mild midwinter, the season peculiarly of colour on the Roman
    Campagna; and the light was full of that mellow purple glow, that
    tempered intensity, which haunts the after-visions of those who
    have known Rome like the memory of some supremely irresponsible
    pleasure. An hour away I pulled up and at the edge of a meadow
    gazed away for some time into remoter distances. Then and there,
    it seemed to me, I measured the deep delight of knowing the
    Campagna. But I saw more things in it than I can easily tell. The
    country rolled away around me into slopes and dells of long-drawn
    grace, chequered with purple and blue and blooming brown. The
    lights and shadows were at play on the Sabine Mountains--an
    alternation of tones so exquisite as to be conveyed only by some
    fantastic comparison to sapphire and amber. In the foreground a
    contadino in his cloak and peaked hat jogged solitary on his ass;
    and here and there in the distance, among blue undulations, some
    white village, some grey tower, helped deliciously to make the
    picture the typical "Italian landscape" of old-fashioned art. It
    was so bright and yet so sad, so still and yet so charged, to the
    supersensuous ear, with the murmur of an extinguished life, that
    you could only say it was intensely and adorably strange, could
    only impute to the whole overarched scene an unsurpassed secret
    for bringing tears of appreciation to no matter how ignorant--
    archaeologically ignorant--eyes. To ride once, in these
    conditions, is of course to ride again and to allot to the
    Campagna a generous share of the time one spends in Rome.

    It is a pleasure that doubles one's horizon, and one can scarcely
    say whether it enlarges or limits one's impression of the city
    proper. It certainly makes St. Peter's seem a trifle smaller and
    blunts the edge of one's curiosity in the Forum. It must be the
    effect of the experience, at all extended, that when you think of
    Rome afterwards you will think still respectfully and regretfully
    enough of the Vatican and the Pincio, the streets and the
    picture-making street life; but will even more wonder, with an
    irrepressible contraction of the heart, when again you shall feel
    yourself bounding over the flower-smothered turf, or pass from
    one framed picture to another beside the open arches of the
    crumbling aqueducts. You look back at the City so often from some
    grassy hill-top--hugely compact within its walls, with St.
    Peter's overtopping all things and yet seeming small, and the
    vast girdle of marsh and meadow receding on all sides to the
    mountains and the sea--that you come to remember it at last as
    hardly more than a respectable parenthesis in a great sweep of
    generalisation. Within the walls, on the other hand, you think of
    your intended ride as the most romantic of all your
    possibilities; of the Campagna generally as an illimitable
    experience. One's rides certainly give Rome an inordinate scope
    for the reflective--by which I suppose I mean after all the
    aesthetic and the "esoteric"--life. To dwell in a city which,
    much as you grumble at it, is after all very fairly a modern
    city; with crowds and shops and theatres and cafes and balls and
    receptions and dinner-parties, and all the modern confusion of
    social pleasures and pains; to have at your door the good and
    evil of it all; and yet to be able in half an hour to gallop away
    and leave it a hundred miles, a hundred years, behind, and to
    look at the tufted broom glowing on a lonely tower-top in the
    still blue air, and the pale pink asphodels trembling none the
    less for the stillness, and the shaggy-legged shepherds leaning
    on their sticks in motionless brotherhood with the heaps of ruin,
    and the scrambling goats and staggering little kids treading out
    wild desert smells from the top of hollow-sounding mounds; and
    then to come back through one of the great gates and a couple of
    hours later find yourself in the "world," dressed, introduced,
    entertained, inquiring, talking about "Middlemarch" to a young
    English lady or listening to Neapolitan songs from a gentleman in
    a very low-cut shirt--all this is to lead in a manner a double
    life and to gather from the hurrying hours more impressions than
    a mind of modest capacity quite knows how to dispose of.

    I touched lately upon this theme with a friend who, I fancied,
    would understand me, and who immediately assured me that he had
    just spent a day that this mingled diversity of sensation made to
    the days one spends elsewhere what an uncommonly good novel may
    be to the daily paper. "There was an air of idleness about it, if
    you will," he said, "and it was certainly pleasant enough to have
    been wrong. Perhaps, being after all unused to long stretches of
    dissipation, this was why I had a half-feeling that I was reading
    an odd chapter in the history of a person very much more of a
    héros de roman than myself." Then he proceeded to relate
    how he had taken a long ride with a lady whom he extremely
    admired. "We turned off from the Tor di Quinto Road to that
    castellated farm-house you know of--once a Ghibelline fortress--
    whither Claude Lorraine used to come to paint pictures of which
    the surrounding landscape is still so artistically, so
    compositionally, suggestive. We went into the inner court, a
    cloister almost, with the carven capitals of its loggia columns,
    and looked at a handsome child swinging shyly against the half-
    opened door of a room whose impenetrable shadow, behind her, made
    her, as it were, a sketch in bituminous water-colours. We talked
    with the farmer, a handsome, pale, fever-tainted fellow with a
    well-to-do air that didn't in the least deter his affability from
    a turn compatible with the acceptance of small coin; and then we
    galloped away and away over the meadows which stretch with hardly
    a break to Veii. The day was strangely delicious, with a cool
    grey sky and just a touch of moisture in the air stirred by our
    rapid motion. The Campagna, in the colourless even light, was
    more solemn and romantic than ever; and a ragged shepherd,
    driving a meagre straggling flock, whom we stopped to ask our way
    of, was a perfect type of pastoral, weather-beaten misery. He was
    precisely the shepherd for the foreground of a scratchy etching.
    There were faint odours of spring in the air, and the grass here
    and there was streaked with great patches of daisies; but it was
    spring with a foreknowledge of autumn, a day to be enjoyed with a
    substrain of sadness, the foreboding of regret, a day somehow to
    make one feel as if one had seen and felt a great deal--quite, as
    I say, like a heros de roman. Touching such characters, it
    was the illustrious Pelham, I think, who, on being asked if he
    rode, replied that he left those violent exercises to the ladies.
    But under such a sky, in such an air, over acres of daisied turf,
    a long, long gallop is certainly a supersubtle joy. The elastic
    bound of your horse is the poetry of motion; and if you are so
    happy as to add to it not the prose of companionship riding comes
    almost to affect you as a spiritual exercise. My gallop, at any
    rate," said my friend, "threw me into a mood which gave an
    extraordinary zest to the rest of the day." He was to go to a
    dinner-party at a villa on the edge of Rome, and Madam X--, who
    was also going, called for him in her carriage. "It was a long
    drive," he went on, "through the Forum, past the Colosseum. She
    told me a long story about a most interesting person. Toward the
    end my eyes caught through the carriage window a slab of rugged
    sculptures. We were passing under the Arch of Constantine. In the
    hall pavement of the villa is a rare antique mosaic--one of the
    largest and most perfect; the ladies on their way to the drawing-
    room trail over it the flounces of Worth. We drove home late, and
    there's my day."

    On your exit from most of the gates of Rome you have generally
    half-an-hour's progress through winding lanes, many of which are
    hardly less charming than the open meadows. On foot the walls and
    high hedges would vex you and spoil your walk; but in the saddle
    you generally overtop them, to an endless peopling of the minor
    vision. Yet a Roman wall in the springtime is for that matter
    almost as interesting as anything it conceals. Crumbling grain by
    grain, coloured and mottled to a hundred tones by sun and storm,
    with its rugged structure of brick extruding through its coarse
    complexion of peeling stucco, its creeping lacework of wandering
    ivy starred with miniature violets, and its wild fringe of
    stouter flowers against the sky--it is as little as possible a
    blank partition; it is practically a luxury of landscape. At the
    moment at which I write, in mid-April, all the ledges and
    cornices are wreathed with flaming poppies, nodding there as if
    they knew so well what faded greys and yellows are an offset to
    their scarlet. But the best point in a dilapidated enclosing
    surface of vineyard or villa is of course the gateway, lifting
    its great arch of cheap rococo scroll-work, its balls and shields
    and mossy dish-covers--as they always perversely figure to me--
    and flanked with its dusky cypresses. I never pass one without
    taking out my mental sketch-book and jotting it down as a
    vignette in the insubstantial record of my ride. They are as sad
    and dreary as if they led to the moated grange where Mariana
    waited in desperation for something to happen; and it's easy to
    take the usual inscription over the porch as a recommendation to
    those who enter to renounce all hope of anything but a glass of
    more or less agreeably acrid vino romano. For what you
    chiefly see over the walls and at the end of the straight short
    avenue of rusty cypresses are the appurtenances of a
    vigna--a couple of acres of little upright sticks
    blackening in the sun, and a vast sallow-faced, scantily windowed
    mansion, whose expression denotes little of the life of the mind
    beyond what goes to the driving of a hard bargain over the tasted
    hogsheads. If Mariana is there she certainly has no pile of old
    magazines to beguile her leisure. The life of the mind, if the
    term be in any application here not ridiculous, appears to any
    asker of curious questions, as he wanders about Rome, the very
    thinnest deposit of the past. Within the rococo gateway, which
    itself has a vaguely esthetic self-consciousness, at the end of
    the cypress walk, you will probably see a mythological group in
    rusty marble--a Cupid and Psyche, a Venus and Paris, an Apollo
    and Daphne--the relic of an age when a Roman proprietor thought
    it fine to patronise the arts. But I imagine you are safe in
    supposing it to constitute the only allusion savouring of culture
    that has been made on the premises for three or four generations.

    There is a franker cheerfulness--though certainly a proper amount
    of that forlornness which lurks about every object to which the
    Campagna forms a background--in the primitive little taverns
    where, on the homeward stretch, in the waning light, you are
    often glad to rein up and demand a bottle of their best. Their
    best and their worst are indeed the same, though with a shifting
    price, and plain vino bianco or vino rosso (rarely
    both) is the sole article of refreshment in which they deal.
    There is a ragged bush over the door, and within, under a dusky
    vault, on crooked cobble-stones, sit half-a-dozen contadini in
    their indigo jackets and goatskin breeches and with their elbows
    on the table. There is generally a rabble of infantile beggars at
    the door, pretty enough in their dusty rags, with their fine eyes
    and intense Italian smile, to make you forget your private vow of
    doing your individual best I to make these people, whom you like
    so much, unlearn their old vices. Was Porta Pia bombarded three
    years ago that Peppino should still grow up to whine for a
    copper? But the Italian shells had no direct message for
    Peppino's stomach--and you are going to a dinner-party at a
    villa. So Peppino "points" an instant for the copper in the dust
    and grows up a Roman beggar. The whole little place represents
    the most primitive form of hostelry; but along any of the roads
    leading out of the city you may find establishments of a higher
    type, with Garibaldi, superbly mounted and foreshortened, painted
    on the wall, or a lady in a low-necked dress opening a fictive
    lattice with irresistible hospitality, and a yard with the
    classic vine-wreathed arbour casting thin shadows upon benches
    and tables draped and cushioned with the white dust from which
    the highways from the gates borrow most of their local colour.
    None the less, I say, you avoid the highroads, and, if you are a
    person of taste, don't grumble at the occasional need of
    following the walls of the city. City walls, to a properly
    constituted American, can never be an object of indifference; and
    it is emphatically "no end of a sensation" to pace in the shadow
    of this massive cincture of Rome. I have found myself, as I
    skirted its base, talking of trivial things, but never without a
    sudden reflection on the deplorable impermanence of first
    impressions. A twelvemonth ago the raw plank fences of a Boston
    suburb, inscribed with the virtues of healing drugs, bristled
    along my horizon: now I glance with idle eyes at a compacted
    antiquity in which a more learned sense may read portentous dates
    and signs--Servius, Aurelius, Honorius. But even to idle eyes
    the prodigious, the continuous thing bristles with eloquent
    passages. In some places, where the huge brickwork is black with
    time and certain strange square towers look down at you with
    still blue eyes, the Roman sky peering through lidless loopholes,
    and there is nothing but white dust in the road and solitude in
    the air, I might take myself for a wandering Tartar touching on
    the confines of the Celestial Empire. The wall of China must have
    very much such a gaunt robustness. The colour of the Roman
    ramparts is everywhere fine, and their rugged patchwork has been
    subdued by time and weather into a mellow harmony that the brush
    only asks to catch up. On the northern side of the city, behind
    the Vatican, St. Peter's and the Trastevere, I have seen them
    glowing in the late afternoon with the tones of ancient bronze
    and rusty gold. Here at various points they are embossed with the
    Papal insignia, the tiara with its flying bands and crossed keys;
    to the high style of which the grace that attaches to almost any
    lost cause--even if not quite the "tender" grace of a day that is
    dead--considerably adds a style. With the dome of St. Peter's
    resting on their cornice and the hugely clustered architecture of
    the Vatican rising from them as from a terrace, they seem indeed
    the valid bulwark of an ecclesiastical city. Vain bulwark, alas!
    sighs the sentimental tourist, fresh from the meagre
    entertainment of this latter Holy Week. But he may find
    monumental consolation in this neighbourhood at a source where,
    as I pass, I never fail to apply for it. At half-an-hour's walk
    beyond Porta San Pancrazio, beneath the wall of the Villa Doria,
    is a delightfully pompous ecclesiastical gateway of the
    seventeenth century, erected by Paul V to commemorate his
    restoration of the aqueducts through which the stream bearing his
    name flows towards the fine florid portico protecting its clear-
    sheeted outgush on the crest of the Janiculan. It arches across
    the road in the most ornamental manner of the period, and one can
    hardly pause before it without seeming to assist at a ten
    minutes' revival of old Italy--without feeling as if one were in
    a cocked hat and sword and were coming up to Rome, in another
    mood than Luther's, with a letter of recommendation to the
    mistress of a cardinal.

    The Campagna differs greatly on the two sides of the Tiber; and
    it is hard to say which, for the rider, has the greater charm.
    The half-dozen rides you may take from Porta San Giovanni possess
    the perfection of traditional Roman interest and lead you through
    a far-strewn wilderness of ruins--a scattered maze of tombs and
    towers and nameless fragments of antique masonry. The landscape
    here has two great features; close before you on one side is the
    long, gentle swell of the Alban Hills, deeply, fantastically blue
    in most weathers, and marbled with the vague white masses of
    their scattered towns and villas. It would be difficult to draw
    the hard figure to a softer curve than that with which the
    heights sweep from Albano to the plain; this a perfect example of
    the classic beauty of line in the Italian landscape--that beauty
    which, when it fills the background of a picture, makes us look
    in the foreground for a broken column couched upon flowers and a
    shepherd piping to dancing nymphs. At your side, constantly, you
    have the broken line of the Claudian Aqueduct, carrying its broad
    arches far away into the plain. The meadows along which it lies
    are not the smoothest in the world for a gallop, but there is no
    pleasure greater than to wander near it. It stands knee-deep in
    the flower-strewn grass, and its rugged piers are hung with ivy
    as the columns of a church are draped for a festa. Every archway
    is a picture, massively framed, of the distance beyond--of the
    snow-tipped Sabines and lonely Soracte. As the spring advances
    the whole Campagna smiles and waves with flowers; but I think
    they are nowhere more rank and lovely than in the shifting shadow
    of the aqueducts, where they muffle the feet of the columns and
    smother the half-dozen brooks which wander in and out like silver
    meshes between the legs of a file of giants. They make a niche
    for themselves too in every crevice and tremble on the vault of
    the empty conduits. The ivy hereabouts in the springtime is
    peculiarly brilliant and delicate; and though it cloaks and
    muffles these Roman fragments far less closely than the castles
    and abbeys of England it hangs with the light elegance of all
    Italian vegetation. It is partly doubtless because their mighty
    outlines are still unsoftened that the aqueducts are so
    impressive. They seem the very source of the solitude in which
    they stand; they look like architectural spectres and loom
    through the light mists of their grassy desert, as you recede
    along the line, with the same insubstantial vastness as if they
    rose out of Egyptian sands. It is a great neighbourhood of ruins,
    many of which, it must be confessed, you have applauded in many
    an album. But station a peasant with sheepskin coat and bandaged
    legs in the shadow of a tomb or tower best known to drawing-room
    art, and scatter a dozen goats on the mound above him, and the
    picture has a charm which has not yet been sketched away.

    The other quarter of the Campagna has wider fields and smoother
    turf and perhaps a greater number of delightful rides; the earth
    is sounder, and there are fewer pitfalls and ditches. The land
    for the most part lies higher and catches more wind, and the
    grass is here and there for great stretches as smooth and level
    as a carpet. You have no Alban Mountains before you, but you have
    in the distance the waving ridge of the nearer Apennines, and
    west of them, along the course of the Tiber, the long seaward
    level of deep-coloured fields, deepening as they recede to the
    blue and purple of the sea itself. Beyond them, of a very clear
    day, you may see the glitter of the Mediterranean. These are the
    occasions perhaps to remember most fondly, for they lead you to
    enchanting nooks, and the landscape has details of the highest
    refinement. Indeed when my sense reverts to the lingering
    impressions of so blest a time, it seems a fool's errand to have
    attempted to express them, and a waste of words to do more than
    recommend the reader to go citywards at twilight of the end of
    March, making for Porta Cavalleggieri, and note what he sees. At
    this hour the Campagna is to the last point its melancholy self,
    and I remember roadside "effects" of a strange and intense
    suggestiveness. Certain mean, mouldering villas behind grass-
    grown courts have an indefinably sinister look; there was one in
    especial of which it was impossible not to argue that a
    despairing creature must have once committed suicide there,
    behind bolted door and barred window, and that no one has since
    had the pluck to go in and see why he never came out. Every
    wayside mark of manners, of history, every stamp of the past in
    the country about Rome, touches my sense to a thrill, and I may
    thus exaggerate the appeal of very common things. This is the
    more likely because the appeal seems ever to rise out of heaven
    knows what depths of ancient trouble. To delight in the aspects
    of sentient ruin might appear a heartless pastime, and the
    pleasure, I confess, shows the note of perversity. The sombre and
    the hard are as common an influence from southern things as the
    soft and the bright, I think; sadness rarely fails to assault a
    northern observer when he misses what he takes for comfort.
    Beauty is no compensation for the loss, only making it more
    poignant. Enough beauty of climate hangs over these Roman
    cottages and farm-houses--beauty of light, of atmosphere and of
    vegetation; but their charm for the maker-out of the stories in
    things is the way the golden air shows off their desolation. Man
    lives more with Nature in Italy than in New or than in Old
    England; she does more work for him and gives him more holidays
    than in our short-summered climes, and his home is therefore much
    more bare of devices for helping him to do without her, forget
    her and forgive her. These reflections are perhaps the source of
    the character you find in a moss-coated stone stairway climbing
    outside of a wall; in a queer inner court, befouled with rubbish
    and drearily bare of convenience; in an ancient quaintly carven
    well, worked with infinite labour from an overhanging window; in
    an arbour of time-twisted vines under which you may sit with your
    feet in the dirt and remember as a dim fable that there are races
    for which the type of domestic allurement is the parlour hearth-
    rug. For reasons apparent or otherwise these things amuse me
    beyond expression, and I am never weary of staring into gateways,
    of lingering by dreary, shabby, half-barbaric farm-yards, of
    feasting a foolish gaze on sun-cracked plaster and unctuous
    indoor shadows. I mustn't forget, however, that it's not for
    wayside effects that one rides away behind St. Peter's, but for
    the strong sense of wandering over boundless space, of seeing
    great classic lines of landscape, of watching them dispose
    themselves into pictures so full of "style" that you can think of
    no painter who deserves to have you admit that they suggest him--
    hardly knowing whether it is better pleasure to gallop far and
    drink deep of air and grassy distance and the whole delicious
    opportunity, or to walk and pause and linger, and try and grasp
    some ineffaceable memory of sky and colour and outline. Your pace
    can hardly help falling into a contemplative measure at the time,
    everywhere so wonderful, but in Rome so persuasively divine, when
    the winter begins palpably to soften and quicken. Far out on the
    Campagna, early in February, you feel the first vague earthly
    emanations, which in a few weeks come wandering into the heart of
    the city and throbbing through the close, dark streets.
    Springtime in Rome is an immensely poetic affair; but you must
    stand often far out in the ancient waste, between grass and sky,
    to measure its deep, full, steadily accelerated rhythm. The
    winter has an incontestable beauty, and is pre-eminently the time
    of colour--the time when it is no affectation, but homely verity,
    to talk about the "purple" tone of the atmosphere. As February
    comes and goes your purple is streaked with green and the rich,
    dark bloom of the distance begins to lose its intensity. But your
    loss is made up by other gains; none more precious than that
    inestimable gain to the ear--the disembodied voice of the lark.
    It comes with the early flowers, the white narcissus and the
    cyclamen, the half-buried violets and the pale anemones, and
    makes the whole atmosphere ring like a vault of tinkling glass.
    You never see the source of the sound, and are utterly unable to
    localise his note, which seems to come from everywhere at once,
    to be some hundred-throated voice of the air. Sometimes you fancy
    you just catch him, a mere vague spot against the blue, an
    intenser throb in the universal pulsation of light. As the weeks
    go on the flowers multiply and the deep blues and purples of the
    hills, turning to azure and violet, creep higher toward the
    narrowing snow-line of the Sabines. The temperature rises, the
    first hour of your ride you feel the heat, but you beguile it
    with brushing the hawthorn-blossoms as you pass along the hedges,
    and catching at the wild rose and honeysuckle; and when you get
    into the meadows there is stir enough in the air to lighten the
    dead weight of the sun. The Roman air, however, is not a tonic
    medicine, and it seldom suffers exercise to be all exhilarating.
    It has always seemed to me indeed part of the charm of the latter
    that your keenest consciousness is haunted with a vague languor.
    Occasionally when the sirocco blows that sensation becomes
    strange and exquisite. Then, under the grey sky, before the dim
    distances which the south-wind mostly brings with it, you seem to
    ride forth into a world from which all hope has departed and in
    which, in spite of the flowers that make your horse's footfalls
    soundless, nothing is left save some queer probability that your
    imagination is unable to measure, but from which it hardly
    shrinks. This quality in the Roman element may now and then
    "relax" you almost to ecstasy; but a season of sirocco would be
    an overdose of morbid pleasure. You may at any rate best feel the
    peculiar beauty of the Campagna on those mild days of winter when
    the mere quality and temper of the sunshine suffice to move the
    landscape to joy, and you pause on the brown grass in the sunny
    stillness and, by listening long enough, almost fancy you hear
    the shrill of the midsummer cricket. It is detail and ornament
    that vary from month to month, from week to week even, and make
    your returns to the same places a constant feast of
    unexpectedness; but the great essential features of the prospect
    preserve throughout the year the same impressive serenity.
    Soracte, be it January or May, rises from its blue horizon like
    an island from the sea and with an elegance of contour which no
    mood of the year can deepen or diminish. You know it well; you
    have seen it often in the mellow backgrounds of Claude; and it
    has such an irresistibly classic, academic air that while you
    look at it you begin to take your saddle for a faded old arm-
    chair in a palace gallery. A month's rides in different
    directions will show you a dozen prime Claudes. After I had seen
    them all I went piously to the Doria gallery to refresh my memory
    of its two famous specimens and to enjoy to the utmost their
    delightful air of reference to something that had become a part
    of my personal experience. Delightful it certainly is to feel the
    common element in one's own sensibility and those of a genius
    whom that element has helped to do great things. Claude must have
    haunted the very places of one's personal preference and adjusted
    their divine undulations to his splendid scheme of romance, his
    view of the poetry of life. He was familiar with aspects in which
    there wasn't a single uncompromising line. I saw a few days ago a
    small finished sketch from his hand, in the possession of an
    American artist, which was almost startling in its clear
    reflection of forms unaltered by the two centuries that have
    dimmed and cracked the paint and canvas.

    This unbroken continuity of the impressions I have tried to
    indicate is an excellent example of the intellectual background
    of all enjoyment in Rome. It effectually prevents pleasure from
    becoming vulgar, for your sensation rarely begins and ends with
    itself; it reverberates--it recalls, commemorates, resuscitates
    something else. At least half the merit of everything you enjoy
    must be that it suits you absolutely; but the larger half here is
    generally that it has suited some one else and that you can never
    flatter yourself you have discovered it. It has been addressed to
    some use a million miles out of your range, and has had great
    adventures before ever condescending to please you. It was in
    admission of this truth that my discriminating friend who showed
    me the Claudes found it impossible to designate a certain
    delightful region which you enter at the end of an hour's riding
    from Porta Cavalleggieri as anything but Arcadia. The exquisite
    correspondence of the term in this case altogether revived its
    faded bloom; here veritably the oaten pipe must have stirred the
    windless air and the satyrs have laughed among the brookside
    reeds. Three or four long grassy dells stretch away in a chain
    between low hills over which delicate trees are so discreetly
    scattered that each one is a resting place for a shepherd. The
    elements of the scene are simple enough, but the composition has
    extraordinary refinement. By one of those happy chances which
    keep observation in Italy always in her best humour a shepherd
    had thrown himself down under one of the trees in the very
    attitude of Meliboeus. He had been washing his feet, I suppose,
    in the neighbouring brook, and had found it pleasant afterwards
    to roll his short breeches well up on his thighs. Lying thus in
    the shade, on his elbow, with his naked legs stretched out on the
    turf and his soft peaked hat over his long hair crushed back like
    the veritable bonnet of Arcady, he was exactly the figure of the
    background of this happy valley. The poor fellow, lying there in
    rustic weariness and ignorance, little fancied that he was a
    symbol of old-world meanings to new-world eyes.

    Such eyes may find as great a store of picturesque meanings in
    the cork-woods of Monte Mario, tenderly loved of all equestrians.
    These are less severely pastoral than our Arcadia, and you might
    more properly lodge there a damosel of Ariosto than a nymph of
    Theocritus. Among them is strewn a lovely wilderness of flowers
    and shrubs, and the whole place has such a charming woodland air,
    that, casting about me the other day for a compliment, I
    declared that it. reminded me of New Hampshire. My compliment had
    a double edge, and I had no sooner uttered it than I smiled--or
    sighed--to perceive in all the undiscriminated botany about me
    the wealth of detail, the idle elegance and grace of Italy alone,
    the natural stamp of the land which has the singular privilege of
    making one love her unsanctified beauty all but as well as those
    features of one's own country toward which nature's small
    allowance doubles that of one's own affection. For this effect of
    casting a spell no rides have more value than those you take in
    Villa Doria or Villa Borghese; or don't take, possibly, if you
    prefer to reserve these particular regions--the latter in
    especial--for your walking hours. People do ride, however, in
    both villas, which deserve honourable mention in this regard.
    Villa Doria, with its noble site, its splendid views, its great
    groups of stone-pines, so clustered and yet so individual, its
    lawns and flowers and fountains, its altogether princely
    disposition, is a place where one may pace, well mounted, of a
    brilliant day, with an agreeable sense of its being rather a more
    elegant pastime to balance in one's stirrups than to trudge on
    even the smoothest gravel. But at Villa Borghese the walkers have
    the best of it; for they are free of those adorable outlying
    corners and bosky byways which the rumble of barouches never
    reaches. In March the place becomes a perfect epitome of the
    spring. You cease to care much for the melancholy greenness of
    the disfeatured statues which has been your chief winter's
    intimation of verdure; and before you are quite conscious of the
    tender streaks and patches in the great quaint grassy arena round
    which the Propaganda students, in their long skirts, wander
    slowly, like dusky seraphs revolving the gossip of Paradise, you
    spy the brave little violets uncapping their azure brows beneath
    the high-stemmed pines. One's walks here would take us too far,
    and one's pauses detain us too long, when in the quiet parts
    under the wall one comes across a group of charming small school-
    boys in full-dress suits and white cravats, shouting over their
    play in clear Italian, while a grave young priest, beneath a
    tree, watches them over the top of his book. It sounds like
    nothing, but the force behind it and the frame round it, the
    setting, the air, the chord struck, make it a hundred wonderful
    things.

    1873.
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