From: At Home and Abroad, or Things and Thoughts in Europe (1856)
Author: Margaret Fuller Ossoli
Published: and Company 1856 Boston
THIS 17th day of December I rise to see the floods of sunlight blessing us, as they have almost every day since I returned to Rome,—two months and more,—with scarce three or four days of rainy weather. I still see the fresh roses and grapes still each morning on my table, though both these I expect to give up at Christmas.
This autumn is something like, as my country men say at home. Like what, they do not say; so I always supposed they meant like the ideal standard. Certainly this weather corresponds with mine; and I begin to believe the climate of Italy is really what it has been represented. Shivering here last spring in an air no better than the cruel east wind of Puritan Boston, I thought all the praises lavished on
would turn out to be figments of the brain; and that even Byron, usually accurate beyond the conception of plodding pedants, had deceived us when he says, you have the happiness in Italy to
and not, according to a view which exercises a withering influence on the enthusiasm of youth in my native land, and be forced to regard each pleasant day as a weather-breeder.
How delightful, too, is the contrast between this time and the spring in another respect! Then I was here, like travellers in general, expecting to be driven away in a short time. Like others, I went through the painful process of sight-seeing, so unnatural everywhere, so counter to the healthful methods and true life of the mind. You rise in the morning knowing there are a great number of objects worth knowing, which you may never have a chance to see again. You go every day, in all moods, under all circumstances; feeling, probably, in seeing them, the inadequacy of your preparation for understanding or duly receiving them. This consciousness would be most valuable if one had time to think and study, being the natural way in which the mind is lured to cure its defects; but you have no time; you are always wearied, body and mind, confused, dissipated, sad. The objects are of commanding beauty or full of suggestion, but there is no quiet to let that beauty breathe its life into the soul; no time to follow up these suggestions, and plant for the proper harvest. Many persons run about Rome for nine days, and then go away; they might as well expect to appreciate the Venus by throwing a stone at it, as hope really to see Rome this time. I stayed in Rome nine weeks, and came away unhappy as he who, having been taken in the visions of night through some wondrous realm, wakes unable to recall anything but the hues and outlines of the pageant; the real knowledge, the recreative power induced by a familiar love, the assimilation of its soul and substance,—all the true value of such a revelation,—is wanting; and he remains a poor Tantalus, hungrier than before he had tasted this spiritual food.
No; Rome is not a nine-days wonder; and those who try to make it such lose the ideal Rome (if they ever had it), without gaining any notion of the real. For those who travel, as they do everything else, only because others do, I do not speak; they are nothing. Nobody counts in the estimate of the human race who has not a character.
For one, I now really live in Rome, and I begin to see and feel the real Rome. She reveals herself day by day; she tells me some of her life. Now I never go out to see a sight, but I walk every day; and here I cannot miss of some object of consummate interest to end a walk. In the evenings, which are long now, I am at leisure to follow up the inquiries suggested by the day.
As one becomes familiar, Ancient and Modern Rome, at first so painfully and discordantly jumbled together, are drawn apart to the mental vision. One sees where objects and limits anciently were; the superstructures vanish, and you recognize the local habitation of so many thoughts. When this begins to happen, one feels first truly at ease in Rome. Then the old kings, the consuls and tribunes, the emperors, drunk with blood and gold, the warriors of eagle sight and remorseless beak, return for us, and the togated procession finds room to sweep across the scene; the seven hills tower, the innumerable temples glitter, and the Via Sacra swarms with triumphal life once more.
Ah! how joyful to see once more this Rome, instead of the pitiful, peddling, Anglicized Rome, first viewed in unutterable dismay from the coupé of the vettura,—a Rome all full of taverns, lodging-houses, cheating chambermaids, vilest vile valets de place and fleas!! A Niobe of nations indeed! Ah! why, secretly the heart blasphemed, did the sun omit to kill her too, when all the glorious race which wore her crown, fell beneath his ray? Thank Heaven, it is possible to wash away all this dirt, and come at the marble yet.
Then the later Papal Rome: it requires much acquaintance, much thought, much reference to books, for the child of Protestant Republican America to see where belong the legends illustrated by rite and picture, the sense of all the rich tapestry, where it has a united and poetic meaning, where it is broken by some accident of history. For all these things,—a senseless mass of juggleries to the uninformed eye—are really growths of the human spirit struggling to develop its life, and full of instruction for those who learn to understand them.
Then Modern Rome,—still ecclesiastical, still darkened and damp in the shadow of the Vatican, but where bright hopes gleam now amid the ashes! Never was a people who have had more to corrupt them,—bloody tyranny, and incubus of priestcraft, the invasions first of Goths, then of trampling emperors and kings, then of sight-seeing foreigners,—everything to turn them from a sincere, hopeful, fruitful life; and they are much corrupted, but still a fine race. I cannot look merely with a pictorial eye on the lounge of the Roman Dandy, the bold, Juno gait of all the Roman Contadina. I love them,—dandies and all? I believe the natural expression of these fine forms will animate them yet. Certainly there never was a people that showed a better heart than they do in this day of love, of purely moral influence. It makes me very happy to be for once in a place ruled by a father’s love, and where the pervasive glow of one good, generous heart is felt in every pulse of every day.
I have seen the Pope several times since my return, and it is a real pleasure to see him in the thoroughfares, where his passage is always greeted as that of the living soul.
The first week of November there is much praying for the dead here in the chapels of the cemeteries. I went to Santo Spirito. This cemetery stands high, and all the way up the slope was lined with beggars petitioning for alms, in every attitude and tone, (I mean tone that belongs to the professional beggar’s gamut, for that is peculiar,) and under every pretext imaginable, from the quite legless elderly gentleman to the ragged ruffian with the roguish twinkle in his eye, who has merely a slight stiffness in one arm and one leg. I could not help laughing, it was such a show,—greatly to the alarm of my attendant, who declared they would kill me, if ever they caught me alone; but I was not afraid. I am sure the endless falsehood in which such creatures live must make them very cowardly. We entered the cemetery; it was a sweet, tranquil place, lined with cypresses, and soft sunshine lying on the stone coverings where repose the houses of clay in which once dwelt joyous Roman hearts,—for the hearts here do take pleasure in life. There were several chapels; in one boys were chanting, in others people on their knees silently praying for the dead. In another was one of the groups in wax exhibited in such chapels through the first week of November. It represented St. Carlo Borromeo as a beautiful young man in a long scarlet robe, pure and brilliant as was the blood of the martyrs, relieving the poor who were grouped around him,—old people and children, the halt, the maimed, the blind; he had called them all in to the feast of love. The chapel was lighted and draped so as to give very good effect to this group; the spectators were mainly children and young girls, listening with ardent eyes, while their parents or the nuns explained to them the group, or told some story of the saint. It was a pretty scene, only marred by the presence of a villainous-looking man, who ever and anon shook the poor’s box. I cannot understand the bad taste of choosing him, when there were frati and priests enough of expression less unprepossessing.
I next entered a court-yard, where the stations, or different periods in the Passion of Jesus, are painted on the wall. Kneeling before these were many persons: here a Franciscan, in his brown robe and cord; there a pregnant woman, uttering, doubtless, some tender aspiration for the welfare of the yet unborn dear one; there some boys, with gay yet reverent air; while all the while these fresh young voices were heard chanting. It was a beautiful moment, and despite the wax saint, the ill-favored friar, the professional mendicants, and my own removal, wide as pole from pole, from the position of mind indicated by these forms, their spirit touched me, and I prayed too; prayed for the distant, every way distant,—for those who seem to have forgotten me, and with me all we had in common; prayed for the dead in spirit, if not in body; prayed for myself, that I might never walk the earth
and prayed in general for all unspoiled and loving hearts,—no less for all who suffer and find yet no helper.
Going out, I took my road by the cross which marks the brow of the hill. Up the ascent still wound the crowd of devotees, and still the beggars beset them. Amid that crowd, how many lovely, warm-hearted women! The women of Italy are intellectually in a low place, but—they are unaffected; you can see what Heaven meant them to be, and I believe they will be yet the mothers of a great and generous race. Before me lay Rome,—now exquisitely tranquil in the sunset! Never was an aspect that for serene grandeur could vie with that of Rome at sunset.
Next day was the feast of the Milanese saint, whose life has been made known to some Americans by Manzoni, when speaking in his popular novel of the cousin of St. Carlo, Federigo Borromeo. The Pope came in state to the Church of St. Carlo, in the Corso. The show was magnificent; the church is not very large, and was almost filled with the Papal court and guards, in all their splendid harmonies of color. An Italian child was next to me, a little girl of four or five years, whom her mother had brought to see the Pope. As in the intervals of gazing the child smiled and made signs to me, I nodded in return and asked her name. “Virginia,” said she; “and how is Signora named?” “Margherita.” “My name,” she rejoined, “is Virginia Gentili.” I laughed, but did not follow up the cunning, graceful lead,—still I chatted and played with her now and then. At last, she said to her mother, “La Signora e molto cara,” (“The Signora is very dear,” or, to use the English equivalent, a darling.) “show her my two sisters.” So the mother, herself a fine-looking woman, introduced two handsome young ladies, and with the family I was in a moment pleasantly intimate for the hour.
Before me sat three young English ladies, the pretty daughters of a noble Earl; their manners were a strange contrast to this Italian graciousness, best expressed by their constant use of the pronoun that. “See that man!” (i.e. some high dignitary of the Church,) “Look at that dress!” dropped constantly from their lips. Ah! without being a Catholic one may well wish Rome was not dependent on English sight-seers, who violate her ceremonies with acts that bespeak their thoughts full of wooden shows and warming-pans. Can anything be more sadly expressive of times out of joint than the fact that Mrs. Trollope is a resident in Italy? Yes! she is fixed permanently in Florence, as I am told, pensioned at the rate of two thousand pounds a year to trail her slime over the fruit of Italy. She is here in Rome this winter, and after having violated the virgin beauty of America, will have for many a year her chance to sully the imperial matron of the civilized world. What must the English public be, if it wishes to pay two thousand pounds a year to get Italy Trollopified?
But, to turn to a pleasanter subject. When the Pope entered, borne in his chair of state amid the pomp of his tiara and his white and gold robes, he looked to me thin, or as the Italians murmur anxiously at times, consumato, or wasted. But during the ceremony he seemed absorbed in his devotions, and at the end I think he had become exhilarated by thinking of St. Carlo, who was such another over of the human race as himself, and his face wore a bright glow of faith. As he blessed the people he raised his eyes to Heaven, with a gesture quite natural; it was the spontaneous act of a soul which felt that moment more than usual its relation with things above it, and sure of support from a higher Power. I saw him to still greater advantage a little while after, when riding on the Campagna with a young gentleman who had been ill, we met the Pope on foot, taking exercise. He often quits his carriage at the gates and walks in this way. He walked rapidly, robed in a simple white drapery, two young priests in spotless purple walked on either side; they gave silver to the poor who knelt beside the way, while the beloved Father gave his benediction. My companion knelt; he is not a Catholic, but he felt that “this blessing would do him no harm.” The Pope saw at once he was ill, and gave him a mark of interest, with that expression of melting love, the true, the only charity, which assures all who look on him that, were his power equal to his will, no living thing would ever suffer more. This expression the artists try in vain to catch; all busts and engravings of him are caricatures; it is a magnetic sweetness, a lambent light that plays over his features, and of which only great genius or a soul tender as his own would form an adequate image.
The Italians have one term of praise peculiarly characteristic of their highly endowed nature. They say of such and such, Ha una phisonomia simpatico,—“He has a sympathetic expression”; and this is praise enough. This may be pre-eminently said of that of Pius IX. He looks, indeed, as if nothing human could be foreign to him. Such alone are the genuine kings of men.
He has shown undoubted wisdom, clear-sightedness, bravery and firmness; but it is, above all, his generous human heart that gives him his power over this people. His is a face to shame the selfish, redeem the sceptic, alarm the wicked, and cheer to new effort the weary and heavy-laden. What form the issues of his life may take is yet uncertain; in my belief, they are such as he does not think of; but they cannot fail to be for good. For my part, I shall always rejoice to have been here in this time. The working of his influence confirms all my theories, and it a positive treasure to me to have seen him. I have never been presented, not wishing to approach so real a presence in the path of mere etiquette. I am quite content to see him standing amid the crowd, while the band plays the music he has inspired.
Yes, awake, and let no police-officer put you again to sleep in prison, as has happened to those who were called by the Marsellaise.
Affairs look well. The king of Sardinia has at last, though with evident distrust and heartlessness, entered the upward path in a way that makes it difficult to return. The Duke of Modena, the most senseless of all these ancient gentlemen, after publishing a declaration, which made him more ridiculous than would the bitterest pasquinade penned by another, that he would fight to the death against reform, finds himself obliged to lend an ear as to the league for the customs; and if he joins that, other measures follow of course. Austria trembles; and, in fine, cannot sustain the point of Ferrara. The king of Naples, after having shed much blood, for which he has a terrible account to render, (ah! how many sad, fair romances are to tell already about the Calabrian difficulties!) still finds the spirit fomenting in his people; he cannot put it down. The dragon’s teeth are sown, and the Lazzaroni may be men yet! The Swiss affairs have taken the right direction, and good will ensue, if other powers act with decent honesty, and think of healing the wounds of Switzerland, rather than merely of tying her down, so that she cannot annoy them.
In Rome, here, the new Council is inaugurated, and elections have given tolerable satisfaction. Already, struggles ended in other places begin to be renewed here, as to gas-lights, introduction of machinery, &c. We shall see at the end of the winter how they have gone on. At any rate, the wants of the people are in some measure represented; and already the conduct of those who have taken to themselves so large a portion of the loaves and fishes on the very platform supposed to be selected by Jesus for a general feeding of his sheep, begins to be the subject of spoken as well as whispered animadversion. Torlonia is assailed in his bank, Campana amid his urns or his Monte di Pieti; but these assaults have yet to be verified.
On the day when the Council was to be inaugurated, great preparations were made by representatives of other parts of Italy, and also foreign nations friendly to the cause of progress. It was considered to represent the same fact as the feast of 12th of September in Tuscany,—the dawn of an epoch when the people should find their wants and aspirations represented and guarded. The Americans showed a warm interest; the gentlemen subscribing to buy a flag, the United States having none before in Rome, and the ladies meeting to make it. The same distinguished individual, indeed, who at Florence made a speech to prevent “the American Eagle being taken out on so trifling an occasion,” with similar perspicuity and superiority of view, on the present occasion was anxious to prevent “rash demonstrations, which might embroil the United States with Austria”; but the rash youth here present rushed on, ignorant how to value his Nestorian prudence,—fancying, hot-headed simpletons, that the cause of Freedom was the cause of America and her eagle at home, wherever the sun shed a warmer ray, and, there was reason to hope a happier life for man. So they hurried to buy their silk, red, white, and blue, and inquired of recent arrivals how many States there are this winter in the Union, in order to making the proper number of stars. A magnificent spread-eagle was procured, not without difficulty, as this, once the eyrie of the king of birds, is now a rookery rather, full of black, ominous fowl, ready to eat the harvest sown by industrious hands. This eagle, having previously spread its wings over a piece of furniture where its back was sustained by the wall, was somewhat deficient in a part of its anatomy. But we flattered ourselves he should be held so high that no Roman eye, if disposed, could carp and criticize. When lo! just as the banner was ready to unfold its young glories in the home of Horace, Virgil and Tacitus, or ordinance appeared, prohibiting the display of any but the Roman ensign.
This ordinance was, it is said, caused by representations made to the Pope that the Oscurantists, ever on the watch to do mischief, meant to make this the occasion of disturbance,—as it is their policy to seek to create irritation here; that the Neapolitan and Lombardo-Venetian flags would appear draped with black, and thus the signal be given for tumult. I cannot help thinking these fears were groundless; that the people, on their guard, would have indignantly crushed at once any of these malignant efforts. However that may be, no one can ever be really displeased with any measure of the Pope, knowing his excellent intentions. But the limitation of the festival deprived it of the noble character of the brotherhood of nations and an ideal aim, worn by that of Tuscany. The Romans, chilled and disappointed, greeted their Councillors with but little enthusiasm. The procession, too, was but a poor affair for Rome. Twenty-four carriages had been lent by the princes and nobles, at the request of the city, to convey the Councillors. I found something symbolical in this. Thus will they be obliged to furnish from their old grandeur the vehicles of the new ideas. Each deputy was followed by his target and banner. When the deputy for Ferrara passed, many garlands were thrown upon his carriage. There has been deep respect and sympathy felt for the citizens of Ferrara, they have conducted so well under their late trying circumstances. They contained themselves, knowing that the least indiscretion would give a handle for aggression to the enemies of the good cause. But the daily occasions of irritation must have been innumerable, and they have shown much power of wise and dignified self-government.
After the procession passed, I attempted to go on foot from the Café Novo, in the Corso, to St. Peter’s, to see the decorations of the streets, but it was impossible. In that dense, but most vivacious, various and good-humored crowd, with all best will on their part to aid the foreigner, it was impossible to advance. So I saw only themselves; but that was a great pleasure. There is so much individuality of character here, that it is a great entertainment to be in the crowd.
In the evening there was a ball given at the Argentina. Lord Minto was there; Prince Corsini, now Senator; the Torlonias, in uniform of the Civic Guard,—Princess Torlonia in a sash of their colors, given her by the Civic Guard, which she waved often in answer to their greetings. But the beautiful show of the evening was the Trasteverini dancing the Saltarello in their most brilliant costume. I saw them thus to much greater advantage than ever before. Several were nobly handsome, and danced admirably; it was really like Pinelli.
The Saltarello enchants me; in this is really the Italian wine, the Italian sun. The first time, I saw it danced one night very unexpectedly near the Colosseum; it carried me quite beyond myself, so that I most unamiably insisted on staying, while the friends in my company, not heated by enthusiasm like me, were shivering and catching cold from the damp night-air. I fear they remember it against me; nevertheless I cherish the memory of the moments wickedly stolen at their expense, for it is only the first time seeing such a thing that you enjoy a peculiar delight. But since, I love to see and study it much.
The Pope, in receiving the Councillors, made a speech,—such as the king of Prussia intrenched himself in on a similar occasion, only much better and shorter,—implying that he meant only to improve, not to reform, and should keep things in statu quo, safe locked with the keys of St. Peter. This little speech was made, no doubt, more to reassure czars, emperors, and kings than from the promptings of the spirit. But the fact of its necessity, as well as the inferior freedom and spirit of the Roman journals to those of Tuscany, seems to say that the pontifical government, though from the accident of this one man’s accession it has taken the initiative to better times, yet may not, after a while, from its very nature, be able to keep in the vanguard.
A sad contrast to the feast of this day was presented by the same persons, a fortnight after, following the body of Silvani, one of the Councillors, who died suddenly. The Councillors, the different Societies of Rome, a corps frati bearing tapers, the Civic Guard with drums slowly beating, the same state carriages with their liveried attendants all slowly, sadly moving, with torches and banners, drooped along the Corso in the dark night. A single horseman, with his long white plume and torch reversed, governed the procession; it was the Prince Aldobrandini. The whole had that grand effect so easily given by this artist people, who seize instantly the natural poetry of an occasion, and with unanimous tact hasten to represent it. More and much anon.
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