Chapter VII. Palestrina — Olevano — Second Roman Winter.

From: The Life and Letters of Christopher Pearse Cranch (1917)
Author: Leonora Cranch Scott
Published: Houghton Mifflin Company 1917 Boston


  THE Autobiography continues:—

  Palestrina (the ancient Præneste) is an old, queer-looking town on the slope of a pretty steep hill, on the top of which stand the ruins of an ancient fortress.

  Our landlady is a fat, jolly, muscular woman who has had sixteen children, thirteen of whom she has brought up, and are in the house, for which she has received a pension from the Papal Government. She prides herself greatly on her hearty, young, and plump appearance, after having “made,” as the Italians say, sixteen children. And well she may. She is the most extraordinary woman as to her physique I ever saw, with the most jolly expression in her black eyes, and her fine teeth, all showing as she smiles; she bounces up to you, and bawls out in a voice which would be at the top of the lungs of any ordinarily large woman,—“E bello, quello bambino suo! E bello! Anche e bella la sposa. Ma, signore, io fatto sedice.” Then away she sails like a man-of-war, superintending her girls in the kitchen, scolding, tasting, and devising all manner of comfortable things for her guests. She gives us excellent fare for an Italian country town, and whatever we want is somehow procured for us. And the generous bottles of wine are enough to do one’s heart good. Her eldest daughter, Carlotta, is a beauty, and promises to be like her mother one of these days. All the family seem so jolly and happy and ready to oblige that it is a striking contrast to our mean fare at Tivoli.

  From Mr. Cranch’s Journal:—

  . . . I have not seen any place that combines so much a landscape painter can make use of as Tivoli. There is the great ravine with the old picturesque town overlooking it, and its one beautiful relic of classic times, the Sibyl’s temple. There are the grottos, the deep, weird chasms, where waterfalls shoot down roaring, as into the mouth of hell, and disappear to the eyes. There are the numerous beautiful cascades, tumbling and foaming down the rocky ravine; the old rocks themselves on which the town stands, looking like old wormy cheese or petrified pudding, full of holes and caves, out of which the water is here and there issuing, after going under the town. There are the beautiful views of the Villa of Mæcenas and the distant Campagna, with the dome of St. Peter’s looming up on the far horizon. There is the Villa d ‘Este, a wonderful old place, with its fanciful fountains all in ruins, and its magnificent somber cypresses, the most beautiful I have yet seen.

  July 25. Three miles from Palestrina we pass through Cavi, an exceedingly picturesque town. We left the main road and approached it along a high bank covered with splendid chestnuts. The town and mountains beyond were beautiful in the light of the early morning. Leaving Cavi we approach another picturesquely situated town, Genazano, seven miles distant. Leaving it on our left, we walked on, the mountains growing more bold and grand in their forms, and by a long winding road arrived at Olevano, lying on the slopes of a steep rock; the streets and stairs are narrower and dingier than any l have yet seen. A fine old ruined castle overtops the whole. . . . At Subiaco I spent three days. I visited the old Church and Convent of San Benedetto, high up on a mountain side among huge gray rocks and overlooking a deep mountain chasm. An old, snuffy, smiling friar took me all over the establishment. The church and cloisters are very ancient.

  From Mrs. Cranch’s Journal:—

  Olevano, September 12. The time has gone so quickly that I can scarcely believe it is nearly two months since I last wrote here.

  Pearse has been busy with the mountains and trees, for we have the grandest of mountains all around us. The town itself is built upon the peak of a mountain, and the scenery has been the study of landscape painters for hundreds of years. We have two Germans and one Belgian in our locanda, all artists. Yesterday morning as I sat at the window sewing on one of Georgie’s little dresses, and admiring the distant mountains, it was pleasant to think of so many artists all studying around me. There were the Belgian and Pearse seated a short distance up the hill, studying a horse, with two Italian boys holding him; Signor Franz, a handsome, blonde young German, off among the mountains, drawing from the grand studies around him subjects for his illustrations of scripture; then the other German, Signor Gulielmo, in the studio next door, painting from one of the fine young Italian women. The two American painters, Ashton and Terry, who are staying at the other house with Banks and his wife, were out also with sketch books in hand. A locanda above us on the hill is full of artists, mostly German. Our little Giorgio has been sitting, or rather standing, for his portrait to one of the German artists. He goes to the studio and stays two hours at a time, playing with the maul-stick, while the German draws him. It is certainly very early for him to commence being a model, but I would like him to be in a studio early in life, for I have no higher ambition for him than to be a good man, and an artist, should he show tendencies that way.

  The winter of 1847-48 we passed in Rome in the Via Sistina. I found a studio near by.1

  From Mr. Cranch’s Journal:—

  From my studio-window I have a grand view of Rome. The house stands on the Pincio in the Via Gregoriana. Next door is the house where Salvator Rosa lived; and a few doors farther lived Claude and Poussin. From my window to the South I see St. Peter’s and the Vatican towering on the horizon. Besides this dome I see eleven or twelve other smaller ones, and cupolas and towers innumerable. What a place for an architect is Rome!

  At my right the horizon terminates in Monte Mario, in front, with the hill of San Pietro in Montorio, and the beautiful tall pines of the Villa Pamfili Doria. On my left looms up the tower of the Capitol, and far beyond these is a little glimpse of the level Campagna.

  I walk out, and wherever I go, I tread upon earth consecrated by the footsteps of the great of other days. Near me, at the head of the Spanish stairs, stands the Church and Convent of Trinità di Monte, where is Daniele di Volterra’s Descent from the Cross; and where on Sunday twilights the secluded nuns sing sweet vespers. Descending a broad flight of one hundred and thirty-two steps you are in the busy and fashionable Piazza di Spagna, where are rich bankers and ambassadors, and great hotels, and cafés, and white-gloved English, and porters and pedlers and monks and costume-models, and dirty children and fighting dogs. In the centre the boat-shaped fountain gushes on,—night and day in its abundance and purity, careless of all the motley life. At one end of the Piazza stands the huge Propaganda College, from which at times issue troops of students clad in long black robes and solemnly paraded two by two, on their daily walks. At the other end you enter the Babuino, and follow it along to the Piazza del Popolo, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, with its churches, obelisk, statues, and spouting lions. At the end is the Porta del Popolo designed by Michael Angelo.

  Passing the old gate and turning to the right you enter the Villa Borghese, whose gates the munificence of the prince throws open daily to the public. Here you may saunter for hours amid fountains, statues, temples, noble Italian pines, firs, cypresses, ilexes and oaks, and flower beds. Here go the entire fashionable world in gay carriages; yet here are deep green secluded retreats. Here stands the Cuino, embowered in roses, and containing works of art. Here you pass Raphael’s house and the picturesque little Villa Cenci—both long since untenanted and in mournful decay.

  Near the Borghese is the old deserted Villa Poniatowski. Here in fine weather go English lady tourists to sketch, and landscape painters to make studies of the large aloes and· bits of garden omament which decorate the place.

  And now let us return by the gardens of the Pincio and the Villa Medici, now the French Academy, the public promenade of Rome. Here flows all the tide of fashion in the sunny afternoons. Here stroll the lazy priests, here lounge the young city beaus and belles; here roll the shining chariots of the rich forestieri, with livery and lap dogs; here come the nurses with babies of all ages, who romp under the trees and over the smooth gravel bed walks; while outside the gates wait the beggars clamoring for mezzo-baiocchi. And all the while a fine band discourses lively or plaintive music.

  From the Autobiography:—

  In the winter of 1848 Mr. Charles C. Perkins, of Boston, gave occasional musical soirées at his rooms; we had choice programmes from the great German composers. I had not heard anything of Beethoven since we left America. Among the Italians there seemed to be a dearth of fine music. One gets tired of nothing but Verdi and the hymn to Pio Nono. It was absolutely a refreshment one night at the opera to listen to the brilliant but superficial music of Rossini’s “Italiani in Algieri.” But at Mr. Perkins’s, we had the waters of the true Helicon.

  One evening at Tom Hicks’s room, I truly enjoyed myself in a more social, though less elevated, style. By great good luck there were four of us who sang Moore’s “Melodies.” We had also glees and solos, and the evening passed away delightfully. Social meetings will never approach perfection till the greater number who come together can join musically as well as intellectually and sympathetically.

  One night at the Apollo, with the Storys, we went to Verdi’s “Nebuchodonosor.” Some parts of it were quite fine. The mise en scène was very showy—but the music lacked depth and feeling.

  I enjoyed the festivities of the Carnival—but did n’t go into it with quite the furor of the year before. With my linen blouse, scarlet neckhandkerchief and broad black hat looped up at the side with the tricolored cockade and three feathers, I joined the throng in the crowded Corso—with a basket of bouquets in my hand and a pocket full of plaster confetti in case of attack. There were bright eyes and handsome faces enough; handsome dresses too and grotesque ones. On the whole I had a deal of fun.

  Twice I went with a party of friends to see the gallery of the Vatican by torchlight. These divine statues revealed new beauties by night, which were hidden in the daylight. We seem to get nearer to their soul, and to the genius of the artist. A deeper, more subtle beauty and force of expression breathed from these still, white, marble forms.

  One day in the last of March, Story and I strolled in the deserted Villa Poniatowski. The day was beautiful and perfectly springlike. Gigantic aloes grow in the grass. Old gray mossy steps of stone, weather beaten statues and obelisks and vases lie half in sunlight and half in shadow under the dark pines and cypresses, through whose tops the wind sighs like the sea.

  Between the trees are glimpses of St. Peter’s, and the many shining domes of the city, all glittering in the sun. And, afar, Monte Cavi, Soracte, and the beautiful Sabine Mountains with a dark-blue, soft plum color, here and there covered with snow of a dazzling whiteness. Around us, as we lay on the grass, wild roses and other flowers bloomed, and bees hummed, and butterflies flitted, and lizards rustled, and birds sang and flew. Midway in the distance were patches of brown earth, newly ploughed, and delicate green trees just leafing out, and old gray houses alone in the fields; and against the blue Alban Mount, the old Roman wall and the old cypresses of the Villa Ludovisi, made a picturesque effect. Were it not that the Italians warn us against exposure to a March sun, and against the shade of the moist ground, one might be tempted to lie and dream hours in this lonely old place.

  One night there was a glorious Moccoletti on the day of the receipt of the news of the Viennese Revolution. In the morning the bells rang and cannon and musketry were fired for several hours. The whole city was like a carnival for joy. The Corso was crowded, everybody wearing tri-colored cockades, feathers and badges and sprigs of box. They collected in large numbers about the grim old Venetian Palace, the residence of the Austrian Ambassador—and ascending the walls with a ladder, tore down the Austrian arms with triumphant shouts, threw the escutcheon into the street and danced upon it. After which it was dragged (by a donkey, I was told) all the way to the Piazza del Popolo, and publicly burned. People went about with pieces of the wood stuck in their hat-bands. In the evening I thought I would walk into the Corso to see what was going on—when the whole blaze of the Moccoletti burst at once upon me. This regular finale of the carnival festivities had been omitted at the regular time, in consequence of the sympathy of the Romans with the future of the Lombards, and now it blazed out to celebrate the prospect of their success. I never saw such jubilant joy and enthusiasm; crowds upon crowds singing national hymns, and shouting, and all holding up their lights—others stemming the tide in carriages, and all keeping their lights unquenched—none offering to put out his neighbor’s, after the usual custom.

  I got into Perkins’s carriage, and after looking at the scene as long as we chose, with our flaming torches in our hands we drove home to the Pincio. On the College of the Jesuits they wrote Locanda (to let); and were hardly restrained from doing violence to the premises.

  Young George William Curtis was in Germany during the autumn and winter, somewhat homesick for Italy, but greatly enjoying German music. Space allows us to give but scattered extracts from the full and delightful letters he sent to his friends in Rome:—

VIENNA, October 26, 1847.
  I am head-full and heart-full of Jenny Lind. It is no longer voice and vision in the air, but a star and flower in my memory. . . . I do not feel that she would be unequal to the grandest parts. She is naturally an artist. Her acting is as simple and natural as her singing, and that is the most wonderful and easiest—I ever thought of. Her voice is a pure soprano, but so flexible, so sweet, so strong, so keen, it is wrought into such magnificent elaborations and effects, it so reels and soars and sways and twinkles, so dies into softness, like a star melting in darkness, perfect until it is lost, and advances again and echoes deepening like a rushing choir of swallows trembling audibly in the spring morning, that I thought at once how she was something not different in degree only, but in kind from any artist and voice I ever knew. . . .

  We were in Dresden and the passport was viséd for Vienna, when we heard by mere chance in a German conversation at the table d’hôte that she was in Berlin. It needed but an hour to change the visés and to be off at daybreak for Berlin, where she was to sing only four nights, and had already sung two. We arrived while she was singing the third night, but places were not. By great exertion and a promise of any price, we obtained good places for her last night and a benefit, in the “Sonnambula,” and the next evening in a concert, which was very beautiful, as she sang an air of Mozart’s, the finale of Weber’s “Euryanthe” with the chorus, and a Swedish song, besides several others . .. .

  I have never before seen such entire nobility in the address of an artist to an audience. There was not the hint or shadow of claptrap, no bravuras or cadenzas, but when she did ornament a song it was a richness drawn from its own nature, so that it was overflowed with itself-it was steeped in beauty as great as its melody—not hung upon it, but incorporated with it, so that the audience could only murmur like waves restrained by a fairy wand. And when at the close the applause rose and roared around her she smiled quietly with delight, for why should she not enjoy her exquisite power and the delight it conferred?

            “Can such things be.
And overcome us like a summer cloud,
Without our special wonder?”
For this is one of the overarching joys of life—this is that morning sky and Shelley’s skylark who sang and soared into it. May you one day know what it is, or if not, have faith that the same genius which drew us to Rome does not fail of another expression in our own day. . . .
BERLIN, November 12, 1847.
  . . . You will have heard, perhaps before now, that Mendelssohn is dead,—the great balance to the world of music. He was in Leipzig taken a little sick and grew suddenly worse until he died just a week ago, the very day on which he was to have brought out his new oratorio “Elijah” here. It will be brought out in January. His body was brought from Leipzig to Berlin by a night train. At every station while it passed, solemn hymns, chiefly of his own, were sung around the coffin, which presently darted off with flaring torches to another bewailing. The funeral here was at sunrise, but so private that I did not know of it. But night before last the orchestra of the Royal Academy gave their second concert for the winter, and made it a remembrance and requiem for their great lover, leader, and master. The concert commenced with the funeral march from Beethoven’s “Heroic Symphony,” and all the rest was made up of Mendelssohn’s music,—a kyrie eleison, a symphony, the overture to the “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the “Forty-third Psalm,” the overture to the “Fingal’s Cave,” and a song. I may call it the most perfect instrumental concert I ever heard. You can have no idea of the wonderful unity and delicacy of the performance, and for his music which is so like woven gold in threads, it was entirely satisfactory. The audience was immense and utterly silent. There was no applause, not a single clap, and they would not permit the rustling of a dress or a bill while the performance was proceeding. The last song ended in this way,—you will have remarked the exquisite delicacy of the whole thing, and see how this seals it,—
“‘Nun musst du mich auch recht versteh’n,
Wenn Menschen auseinander geh’n
So sagen sie, auf Wiederseh’n,—auf Wiederseh’n.”
  Mendelssohn was yet a young man, only thirty-eight years old. But like all Germans who are called to do anything, he did it while it was day. That is one thing I feel so strongly this side of the Alps,—the industry and accuracy of all work. At cafés and gardens where fine music is to be heard the broad-browed fraus sit with their knitting and the grave husband sits beside smoking and reading the paper with the tankards of beer decreasing in most conjugal harmony. And how, my dear Xtopher, condemned to silence in solemn old Rome, can I convey to you the knowledge of the capital which reeks with music? Every week there is a symphony concert and constantly a German and Italian opera, and every night also quartettes, trios, overtures,—concerts in the small way, which undertake great music and do it well, so that it seems as if I must be nothing but ear and soul this winter.

  Evening. I see to-day that the Trio Company will give an extra concert on Monday to which all ticket-holders may go, for the purpose of playing trios of Mendelssohn’s, and so to show their respect and regard for him. Did I say that his body was received in Berlin at daybreak by a company who went down to the station, singing and carrying palm branches? They preceded it to his house and then with great multitudes of people and the boys and girls of the school to which he had been specially kind, accompanied to the grave, where at sunrise it was met by the same choir whom we heard the other evening, and while they sang one of his own hymns, it was laid in the grave. To-day too I read in the papers that grey-headed leaders of choirs and orchestras came down to the various stations upon the road, and weeping and sobbing, sang dirges in the cold midnight until the train disappeared. I remember nothing more beautiful than the picture of these old servants in the art rendering such sympathetic reverence and regard to their dead Master, and he so young too.

BERLIN, Dec. 14, 1847.
  My dear Pearse, drain that beaker full of the warm South while your lips are at the goblet. If not so sweet and wonderful to the taste, be sure that when the wine and the cap are laid away in the dim Treasury of Memory all that seems now vague and only half delight, will come out into the perfect form of pleasure as clouds at sunset, which, as they grow fainter and recede, take all wondrous shapes of faërie and fame, until the pay goes down in a splendid sky-Romance and History. Yet Italy adorns Germany as the Summer the Winter. There is nothing new or picturesque, and the Germans are so graceless and unhandsome every way, that the day when I pass a girl whom I wish to see again is a bright day in the calendar. While I am housed studying, it is well eno’, but when I step out, the regular, broad-streeted city with no people whom I care to see, and if by chance, the want of a good opera or other music desolates the evening. These things make me foreign and cold in my turn. Germany, in these parts, is a spiritual, not an external world. . . . With summer and more acquaintance all sorts of new revelations may come.

  Behold me no more plain Signor Giorgio, but The Well-Born Philosophical Student Curtis! That is my present address upon all shoe and other bills. For I have passed the Rubicon of German matriculation and am one of the two thousand regular students of the Berlin University, and as I am neither in the law nor theological departments, I am necessarily philosophical, which is the only other. But have no fancies of him who whilom basked in Capri’s sun, now grappling in midnight struggles with Kant or Fichte or Hegel. I lead my flocks of philosophical research by the still waters of Professor Ritter’s lectures upon Universal Geography and those of Professor Gelzer upon German literature. These at present, while I do not so well understand,—others by and by. Ritter I can follow entirely, and really get much news from what he says. His theme is the History of the Knowledge of the Earth from the first beams of breaking light upon that subject. This leads him into all the Oriental ideas of the earth—by illustration—to the expedition of the Argonauts and such things—to Strabo and Ptolemaus, to all the Grecian theories, and so we march majestically forward from darkness to light. But it is a most picturesque and attractive darkness. The complete theory of the Indians that the lotus flower was the symbol of the earth, the vague fancies of the Greeks, the eminence of poor, old, dear Egypt, seem to have a deeper interest because they are spoken of in a language from which I can just extricate them. I am pleased with my progress.

BERLIN, February 6, 1848.
  . . . Since Christmas there has been most solemn calm in Berlin. Have I mentioned what a quiet, provincial town it is, laid out in broad, regular streets, as unhandsome and graceless as the dear, clumsy, semi-disgusting and semi-sublime Germans. No balconies and roofs and doorways, no meaningless beams and juts, which make up the picturesqueness of the stillest Italian town; and although a metropolis, no air of any sort, no fine equipages, no fine stores, no fine houses, nothing which becomes a great city except a magnificent group of buildings at the end of one spacious, tree-planted street, and except the unequalled music and the University. It lies on a great plain, a vast city of more than 400,000 people, but far less beautiful and busy and gay than Naples or Milan or Vienna, or even Munich.

  But this is only Berlin, and not Germany. Sometimes I have a vague fear that our Germany, that which we have known and loved in books, is nowhere to be found. . . . Now and then a face, a little talk, a scene in a public garden recalls some strain of the German song, but the great universal life does not yet do it.

  Last night we went to a beautiful performance of Schlegel’s translation of the “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with Mendelssohn’s exquisite, shall I dare to say, equal music, and the Puck was most delicately done by a girl who resembled the water nymphs, who in Kaulbach’s illustration of Goethe’s Fisher, push aside the river rushes and look out from under their heavy, weird brows in glances full of elfish and wonderful beauty. In the same place we have seen Goethe’s “Iphigénie” and Sophocles’ “Antigone” played before the King and court with all the music of Mendelssohn again, and arranged in the pure Grecian style, the curtain going down instead of up and the chorus ascending in front of the stage, and there surrounding the altar. . . . I have heard Garcia a great deal. She is a pleasing, but by no means a great singer. Her talent is very versatile. I have heard her in “Norma” and “Rosina” and the “Iphigénie” of Gluck and Bellini’s “Montecchi and Capuletti,”—in which she was Romeo—and “Don Juan,” and Halvy’s “Jewels.” She is very good in all, a perfect mistress of the stage with a voice that is not very powerful nor very sweet, but elaborately cultivated, and in gay Spanish songs very fascinating. She is exceedingly homely.

  Gluck’s “Iphigénie” was a new thing, though one of the oldest of operas. It is an imposing, majestic work. The music flows on in a steady, solemn stream like lyrical church music, rarely breaking into tunes, but never falling into dry recitative. An elderly gentleman sat by me entranced. During the acts he said, “I suppose you have never heard this.” I replied no, and expressed my pleasure, and his eyes fairly glistened as he smiled and said, “Ack, Gott, mein Herr, wenn man diese Musik liebt so hat man einen wahr geschmach in Musik.” Then he fell to telling me stories of Gluck,—what a religious man he was in music, how I might in this opera have some idea of a style of religious music now quite unknown. Indeed, there was a strong feeling of the Germany which we anticipate, in the genial, gentle conversation of the old gentleman.

BERLIN, March 5, 1848.
  I sent you a letter telling of our revolution, and could I have detained it an hour, it should have told you also of the end; for as I returned from mailing it, I passed the palace at which the arming of the citizens was already taking place. Three nights in the three capitals of Europe have sufficed to establish in form the government of popular intelligence, as it already existed in fact; or a night apiece to France, Prussia, and Austria could not have done the business [better]. We have been through all the stages—the solemn burial of the dead, which were here numbered by hundreds; the illuminations; the appearance of the King with the tricolor, the gold, red, and black of Germany which floated over the barricades during that tremendous night. The liberation of the Polish prisoners, and the hurrahs, the disturbance; and, unlike Paris, the immediate return to the old appearance of things, except the enormous numbers of soldiers. They are all gone—even the gens d ‘armes and the Berlin lieutenants have left none but melancholy traces. In the midst of the mangled and horrible corpses, which were exposed last Sunday, lay one young man, an officer, clad in his handsome military suit, his hands folded upon his breast, his light, curling hair waving in the wind, with no gash or scar, and a calm smile upon his marble face. These are the things that make one willing to die; and try if elsewhere the order of life is not more delicate. This Prussian military monarchy fell in a night, and will have few relics. I know many young officers who have now nothing to do. The Burgher guard alone hold the arms and the city. The King wished to abdicate, but they will retain him chained to his throne. “Leave to the royal race the golden throne,” says the most revolutionary .song I have seen. Every one wears a national, German, not Prussian, cockade, and the same tricolored flag hangs upon every house.

  The press, suddenly perfectly free, leaps and rejoices in its power. Nothing proves to me so strongly the intelligent, popular feeling in Europe as the ease with which such entire political earthquakes are endured.

  A war with Russia is now the only fear. But it will be a war waged by Russia, not against Prussia and Austria alone, but against all Europe. For the events of the months have shown Europeans that they are really friends and brothers. In the midst of such events I have the keenest interest, but it is not weighty enough to encroach farther here. . . .

1 Autobiography.

All Sub-Works of The Life and Letters of Christopher Pearse Cranch (1917):
PDF Sub-Works open in a new tab. Close the tab when done viewing to return here.