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    A Few Other Roman Neighbourhoods

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    Chapter 14
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    If I find my old notes, in all these Roman connections,
    inevitably bristle with the spirit of the postscript, so I give
    way to this prompting to the extent of my scant space and with
    the sense of other occasions awaiting me on which I shall have to
    do no less. The impression of Rome was repeatedly to renew itself
    for the author of these now rather antique and artless accents;
    was to overlay itself again and again with almost heavy
    thicknesses of experience, the last of which is, as I write,
    quite fresh to memory; and he has thus felt almost ashamed to
    drop his subject (though it be one that tends so easily to turn
    to the infinite) as if the law of change had in all the years had
    nothing to say to his case. It's of course but of his case alone
    that he speaks--wondering little what he may make of it for the
    profit of others by an attempt, however brief, to point the moral
    of the matter, or in other words compare the musing mature
    visitor's "feeling about Rome" with that of the extremely
    agitated, even if though extremely inexpert, consciousness
    reflected in the previous pages. The actual, the current Rome
    affects him as a world governed by new conditions altogether and
    ruefully pleading that sorry fact in the ear of the antique
    wanderer wherever he may yet mournfully turn for some re-capture
    of what he misses. The city of his first unpremeditated rapture
    shines to memory, on the other hand, in the manner of a lost
    paradise the rustle of whose gardens is still just audible enough
    in the air to make him wonder if some sudden turn, some recovered
    vista, mayn't lead him back to the thing itself. My genial, my
    helpful tag, at this point, would doubtless properly resolve
    itself, for the reader, into a clue toward some such successful
    ingenuity of quest; a remark I make, I may add, even while
    reflecting that the Paradise isn't apparently at all "lost" to
    visitors not of my generation. It is the seekers of that
    remote and romantic tradition who have seen it, from one period
    of ten, or even of five, years to another, systematically and
    remorselessly built out from their view. Their helpless plaint,
    their sense of the generally irrecoverable and unspeakable, is
    not, however, what I desire here most to express; I should like,
    on the contrary, with ampler opportunity, positively to enumerate
    the cases, the cases of contact, impression, experience, in which
    the cold ashes of a long-chilled passion may fairly feel
    themselves made to glow again. No one who has ever loved Rome as
    Rome could be loved in youth and before her poised basketful of
    the finer appeals to fond fancy was actually upset, wants to stop
    loving her; so that our bleeding and wounded, though perhaps not
    wholly moribund, loyalty attends us as a hovering admonitory,
    anticipatory ghost, one of those magnanimous life-companions who
    before complete extinction designate to the other member of the
    union their approved successor. So it is at any rate that I
    conceive the pilgrim old enough to have become aware in all these
    later years of what he misses to be counselled and pacified in
    the interest of recognitions that shall a little make up for it.

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

    [Illustration: VILLA D'ESTE, TIVOLI]

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

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

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

    [Illustration: SUBIACO]

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

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

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

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

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