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    The After-Season in Rome

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    Chapter 12
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    One may at the blest end of May say without injustice to anybody
    that the state of mind of many a forestiero in Rome is one
    of intense impatience for the moment when all other
    forestieri shall have taken themselves off. One may
    confess to this state of mind and be no misanthrope. The place
    has passed so completely for the winter months into the hands of
    the barbarians that that estimable character the passionate
    pilgrim finds it constantly harder to keep his passion clear. He
    has a rueful sense of impressions perverted and adulterated; the
    all-venerable visage disconcerts us by a vain eagerness to see
    itself mirrored in English, American, German eyes. It isn't
    simply that you are never first or never alone at the classic or
    historic spots where you have dreamt of persuading the shy
    genius loci into confidential utterance; it isn't simply
    that St. Peter's, the Vatican, the Palatine, are for ever ringing
    with the false note of the languages without style: it is the
    general oppressive feeling that the city of the soul has become
    for the time a monstrous mixture of watering-place and curiosity-
    shop and that its most ardent life is that of the tourists who
    haggle over false intaglios and yawn through palaces and temples.
    But you are told of a happy time when these abuses begin to pass
    away, when Rome becomes Rome again and you may have her all to
    yourself. "You may like her more or less now," I was assured at
    the height of the season; "but you must wait till the month of
    May, when she'll give you all she has, to love her. Then
    the foreigners, or the excess of them, are gone; the galleries
    and ruins are empty, and the place," said my informant, who was a
    happy Frenchman of the Académie de France, "renait a
    ellememe."
    Indeed I was haunted all winter by an irresistible
    prevision of what Rome must be in declared spring. Certain
    charming places seemed to murmur: "Ah, this is nothing! Come back
    at the right weeks and see the sky above us almost black with its
    excess of blue, and the new grass already deep, but still vivid,
    and the white roses tumble in odorous spray and the warm radiant
    air distil gold for the smelting-pot that the genius loci
    then dips his brush into before making play with it, in his
    inimitable way, for the general effect of complexion."

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

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

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

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

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