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Chapter 40


Dec. 29.

One day's walk through Rome--how shall I describe it? The Capitol, the Forum, St. Peter's, the Coliseum--what few hours' ramble ever took in places so hallowed by poetry, history and art? It was a golden leaf in my calendar of life. In thinking over it now, and drawing out the threads of recollection from the varied woof of thought I have woven to-day, I almost wonder how I dared so much at once; but within reach of them all, how was it possible to wait? Let me give a sketch of our day's ramble.

Hearing that it was better to visit the ruins by evening or moonlight, (alas! there is no moon now) we started out to hunt St. Peter's. Going in the direction of the Corso, we passed the ruined front of the magnificent Temple of Antoninus, now used as the Papal Custom House. We turned to the right on entering the Corso, expecting to have a view of the city from the hill at its southern end. It is a magnificent street, lined with palaces and splendid edifices of every kind, and always filled with crowds of carriages and people. On leaving it, however, we became bewildered among the narrow streets--passed through a market of vegetables, crowded with beggars and contadini--threaded many by-ways between dark old buildings--saw one or two antique fountains and many modern churches, and finally arrived at a hill.

We ascended many steps, and then descending a little towards the other side, saw suddenly below us the Roman Forum! I knew it at once--and those three Corinthian columns that stood near us--what could they be but the remains of the temple of Jupiter Stator? We stood on the Capitoline Hill; at the foot was the Arch of Septimus Severus, brown with age and shattered; near it stood the majestic front of the Temple of Fortune, its pillars of polished granite glistening in the sun, as if they had been erected yesterday, while on the left the rank grass was waving from the arches and mighty walls of the Palace of the Csars! In front, ruin upon ruin lined the way for half a mile, where the Coliseum towered grandly through the blue morning mist, at the base of the Esquiline Hill!

Good heavens, what a scene! Grandeur, such as the world never saw, once rose through that blue atmosphere; splendor inconceivable, the spoils of a world, the triumphs of a thousand armies had passed over that earth; minds which for ages moved the ancient world had thought there, and words of power and glory, from the lips of immortal men, had been syllabled on that hallowed air. To call back all this on the very spot, while the wreck of what once was, rose mouldering and desolate around, aroused a sublimity of thought and feeling too powerful for words.

Returning at hazard through the streets, we came suddenly upon the column of Trajan, standing in an excavated square below the level of the city, amid a number of broken granite columns, which formed part of the Forum dedicated to him by Rome, after the conquest of Dacia. The column is one hundred and thirty-two feet high, entirely covered with bas-reliefs representing his victories, winding about it in a spiral line to the top. The number of figures is computed at two thousand five hundred, and they were of such excellence that Raphael used many of them for his models. They are now much defaced, and the column is surmounted by a statue of some saint. The inscription on the pedestal has been erased, and the name of Sixtus V. substituted. Nothing can exceed the ridiculous vanity of the old popes in thus mutilating the finest monuments of ancient art. You cannot look upon any relic of antiquity in Rome, but your eyes are assailed by the words "PONTIFEX MAXIMUS," in staring modern letters. Even the magnificent bronzes of the Pantheon were stripped to make the baldachin under the dome of St. Peter's.

Finding our way back again, we took a fresh start, happily in the right direction, and after walking some time, came out on the Tiber, at the Bridge of St. Angelo. The river rolled below in his muddy glory, and in front, on the opposite bank, stood "the pile which Hadrian retired on high"--now, the Castle of St. Angelo. Knowing that St. Peter's was to he seen from this bridge, I looked about in search of it. There was only one dome in sight, large and of beautiful proportions. I said at once, "surely that cannot be St. Peter's!" On looking again, however, I saw the top of a massive range of building near it, which corresponded so nearly with the pictures of the Vatican, that I was unwillingly forced to believe the mighty dome was really before me. I recognized it as one of those we saw from the Capitol, but it appeared so much smaller when viewed from a greater distance, that I was quite deceived. On considering we were still three-fourths of a mile from it, and that we could see its minutest parts distinctly, the illusion was explained.

Going directly down the Borgo Vecchio, towards it, it seemed a long time before we arrived at the square of St. Peter's; when at length we stood in front with the majestic colonnade sweeping around--the fountains on each side sending up their showers of silvery spray--the mighty obelisk of Egyptian granite piercing the sky--and beyond, the great front and dome of the Cathedral, I confessed my unmingled admiration. It recalled to my mind the grandeur of ancient Rome, and mighty as her edifices must have been, I doubt if there were many views more overpowering than this. The faade of St. Peter's seemed close to us, but it was a third of a mile distant, and the people ascending the steps dwindled to pigmies.

I passed the obelisk, went up the long ascent, crossed the portico, pushed aside the heavy leathern curtain at the entrance, and stood in the great nave. I need not describe my feelings at the sight, but I will tell the dimensions, and you may then fancy what they were. Before me was a marble plain six hundred feet long, and under the cross four hundred and seventeen feet wide! One hundred and fifty feet above, sprang a glorious arch, dazzling with inlaid gold, and in the centre of the cross there were four hundred feet of air between me and the top of the dome! The sunbeam, stealing through the lofty window at one end of the transept, made a bar of light on the blue air, hazy with incense, one-tenth of a mile long, before it fell on the mosaics and gilded shrines of the other extremity. The grand cupola alone, including lantern and cross, is two hundred and eighty-five feet high, or sixty feet higher than the Bunker Hill Monument, and the four immense pillars on which it rests are each one hundred and thirty-seven feet in circumference! It seems as if human art had outdone itself in producing this temple--the grandest which the world ever erected for the worship of the Living God! The awe felt in looking up at the giant arch of marble and gold, did not humble me; on the contrary, I felt exalted, ennobled--beings in the form I wore planned the glorious edifice, and it seemed that in godlike power perseverance, they were indeed but "a little lower than the angels!" I felt that, if fallen, my race was still mighty and immortal.

The Vatican is only open twice a week, on days which are not festas; most fortunately, to-day happened to be one of these, and we took a run through its endless halls. The extent and magnificence of the gallery of sculpture is perfectly amazing. The halls, which are filled to overflowing with the finest works of ancient art, would, if placed side by side, make a row more than two miles in length! You enter at once into a hall of marble, with a magnificent arched ceiling, a third of a mile long; the sides are covered for a great distance with inscriptions of every kind, divided into compartments according to the era of the empire to which they refer. One which I examined, appeared to be a kind of index of the roads in Italy, with the towns on them; and we could decipher on that time-worn block, the very route I had followed from Florence hither.

Then came the statues, and here I am bewildered, how to describe them. Hundreds upon hundreds of figures--statues of citizens, generals, emperors and gods--fauns, satyrs and nymphs--children, cupids and tritons--in fact, it seemed inexhaustible. Many of them, too, were forms of matchless beauty; there were Venuses and nymphs, born of the loftiest dreams of grace; fauns on whose faces shone the very soul of humor, and heroes and divinities with an air of majesty worthy the "land of lost gods and godlike men!"

I am lost in astonishment at the perfection of art attained by the Greeks and Romans. There is scarcely a form of beauty, that has ever met my eye, which is not to be found in this gallery. I should almost despair of such another blaze of glory on the world, were it not my devout belief that what has been done may be done again, and had I not faith that the dawn in which we live will bring another day equally glorious. And why should not America, with the experience and added wisdom which three thousand years have slowly yielded to the old world, joined to the giant energy of her youth and freedom, re-bestow on the world the divine creations of art? Let Powers answer!

But let us step on to the hemicycle of the Belvidere, and view some works greater than any we have yet seen, or even imagined. The adjoining gallery is filled with masterpieces of sculpture, but we will keep our eyes unwearied and merely glance along the rows. At length we reach a circular court with a fountain flinging up its waters in the centre. Before us is an open cabinet; there is a beautiful, manly form within, but you would not for an instant take it for the Apollo. By the Gorgon head it holds aloft, we recognize Canova's Perseus--he has copied the form and attitude of the Apollo, but he could not breathe into it the same warming fire. It seemed to me particularly lifeless, and I greatly preferred his Boxers, who stand on either side of it. One, who has drawn back in the attitude of striking, looks as if he could fell an ox with a single blow of his powerful arm. The other is a more lithe and agile figure, and there is a quick fire in his countenance which might overbalance the massive strength of his opponent.

Another cabinet--this is the far-famed Antinous. A countenance of perfect Grecian beauty, with a form such as we would imagine for one of Homer's heroes. His features are in repose, and there is something in their calm, settled expression, strikingly like life.

Now we look on a scene of the deepest physical agony. Mark how every muscle of old Laocoon's body is distended to the utmost in the mighty struggle! What intensity of pain in the quivering, distorted, features! Every nerve, which despair can call into action, is excited in one giant effort, and a scream of anguish seems just to have quivered on those marble lips. The serpents have rolled their strangling coils around father and sons, but terror has taken away the strength of the latter, and they make but feeble resistance. After looking with indifference on the many casts of this group, I was the more moved by the magnificent original. It deserves all the admiration that has been heaped upon it.

I absolutely trembled on approaching the cabinet of the Apollo, I had built up in fancy a glorious ideal, drawn from all that bards have sung or artists have rhapsodized about its divine beauty. I feared disappointment--I dreaded to have my ideal displaced and my faith in the power of human genius overthrown by a form less than perfect. However, with a feeling of desperate excitement, I entered and looked upon it.

Now what shall I say of it? How make you comprehend its immortal beauty? To what shall I liken its glorious perfection of form, or the fire that imbues the cold marble with the soul of a god? Not with sculpture, for it stands alone and above all other works of art--nor with men, for it has a majesty more than human. I gazed on it, lost in wonder and joy--joy that I could, at last, take into my mind a faultless ideal of godlike, exalted manhood. The figure appears actually to possess a spirit, and I looked on it, not as on a piece of marble, but a being of loftier mould, and half expected to see him step forward when the arrow had reached its mark. I would give worlds to feel one moment the sculptor's mental triumph when his work was completed; that one exulting thrill must have repaid him for every ill he might have suffered on earth! With what divine inspiration has he wrought its faultless lines! There is a spirit in every limb which mere toil could not have given. It must have been caught in those lofty moments.

"When each conception was a heavenly guest--a ray of immortality--and stood star-like, around, until they gathered to a god?"

We ran through a series of halls, roofed with golden stars on a deep blue, midnight sky, and filled with porphyry vases, black marble gods, and mummies. Some of the statues shone with the matchless polish they had received from a Theban artisan before Athens was founded, and are, apparently, as fresh and perfect as when looked upon by the vassals of Sesostris. Notwithstanding their stiff, rough-hewn limbs, there were some figures of great beauty, and they gave me a much higher idea of Egyptian sculpture. In an adjoining hall, containing colossal busts of the gods, is a vase forty-one feet in circumference, of one solid block of red porphyry.

The "Transfiguration" is truly called the first picture in the world. The same glow of inspiration which created the Belvidere, must have been required to paint the Saviour's aerial form. The three figures hover above the earth in a blaze of glory, seemingly independent of all material laws. The terrified Apostles on the mount, and the wondering group below, correspond in the grandeur of their expression to the awe and majesty of the scene. The only blemish in the sublime perfection of the picture is the introduction of the two small figures on the left hand; who, by-the-bye, were Cardinals, inserted there by command. Some travelers say the color is all lost, but I was agreeably surprised to find it well preserved. It is, undoubtedly, somewhat imperfect in this respect, as Raphael died before it was entirely finished; but "take it all in all," you may search the world in vain to find its equal.

January 1, 1846.

New Year's Day in the Eternal City! It will be something to say in after years, that I have seen one year open in Rome--that, while my distant friends were making up for the winter without, with good cheer around the merry board, I have walked in sunshine by the ruins of the Coliseum, watched the orange groves gleaming with golden fruitage in the Farnese gardens, trodden the daisied meadow around the sepulchre of Caius Cestius, and mused by the graves of Shelley, Keats and Salvator Rosa! The Palace of the Cassars looked even more mournful in the pale, slant sunshine, and the yellow Tiber, as he flowed through the "marble wilderness," seemed sullenly counting up the long centuries during which degenerate slaves have trodden his banks. A leaden-colored haze clothed the seven hills, and heavy silence reigned among the ruins, for all work was prohibited, and the people were gathered in their churches. Rome never appeared so desolate and melancholy as to-day.

In the morning I climbed the Quirinal Hill, now called Monte Cavallo, from the colossal statues of Castor and Pollux, with their steeds, supposed to be the work of Phidias and Praxiteles. They stand on each side of an obelisk of Egyptian granite, beside which a strong stream of water gushes up into a magnificent bronze basin, found in the old Forum. The statues, entirely browned by age, are considered masterpieces of Grecian art, and whether or not from the great masters, show in all their proportions, the conceptions of lofty genius.

We kept on our way between gardens filled with orange groves, whose glowing fruit reminded me of Mignon's beautiful reminiscence--"Im dunkeln Laub die Gold Orangen glhn!" Rome, although subject to cold winds from the Appenines, enjoys so mild a climate that oranges and palm trees grow in the open air, without protection. Daisies and violets bloom the whole winter, in the meadows of never-fading green. The basilic of the Lateran equals St. Peter's in splendor, though its size is much smaller. The walls are covered with gorgeous hangings of velvet embroidered with gold, and before the high altar, which glitters with precious stones, are four pillars of gilt bronze, said to be those which Augustus made of the spars of Egyptian vessels captured at the battle of Actium.

We descended the hill to the Coliseum, and passing under the Arch of Constantine, walked along the ancient triumphal way, at the foot of the Palatine Hill, which is entirely covered with the ruins of the Csars' Palace. A road, rounding its southern base towards the Tiber, brought us to the Temple of Vesta--a beautiful little relic which has been singularly spared by the devastations that have overthrown so many mightier fabrics. It is of circular form, surrounded by nineteen Corinthian columns, thirty-six feet in height; a clumsy tiled roof now takes the place of the elegant cornice which once gave the crowning charm to its perfect proportions. Close at hand are the remains of the temple of Fortuna Virilis, of which some Ionic pillars alone are left, and the house of Cola di Rienzi--the last Tribune of Rome.

As we approached the walls, the sepulchre of Caius Cestius came in sight--a single solid pyramid, one hundred feet in height. The walls are built against it, and the light apex rises far above the massive gate beside it, which was erected by Belisarius. But there were other tombs at hand, for which we had more sympathy than that of the forgotten Roman, and we turned away to look for the graves of Shelley and Keats.

They lie in the Protestant burying ground, on the side of a mound that slopes gently up to the old wall of Rome, beside the pyramid of Cestius. The meadow around is still verdant and sown thick with daisies, and the soft green of the Italian pine mingles with the dark cypress above the slumberers. Huge aloes grow in the shade, and the sweet bay and bushes of rosemary make the air fresh and fragrant. There is a solemn, mournful beauty about the place, green and lonely as it is, beside the tottering walls of ancient Rome, that takes away the gloomy associations of death, and makes one wish to lie there, too, when his thread shall be spun to the end.

We found first the simple head-stone of Keats, alone, in the grassy meadow. Its inscription states that on his death-bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malice of his enemies, be desired these words to be written on his tombstone: "Here lies one whose name was written in water." Not far from him reposes the son of Shelley.

Shelley himself lies at the top of the shaded slope, in a lonely spot by the wall, surrounded by tall cypresses. A little hedge of rose and bay surrounds his grave, which bears the simple inscription--


"Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange."

Glorious, but misguided Shelley! He sleeps calmly now in that silent nook, and the air around his grave is filled with sighs from those who mourn that the bright, erratic star should have been blotted out ere it reached the zenith of its mounting fame. I plucked a leaf from the fragrant bay, as a token of his fame, and a sprig of cypress from the bough that bent lowest over his grave; and passing between tombs shaded with blooming roses or covered with unwithered garlands, left the lovely spot.

Amid the excitement of continually changing scenes, I have forgotten to mention our first visit to the Coliseum. The day after our arrival we set out with two English friends, to see it by sunset. Passing by the glorious fountain of Trevi, we made our way to the Forum, and from thence took the road to the Coliseum, lined on both sides with the remains of splendid edifices. The grass-grown ruins of the Palace of the Csars stretched along on our right; on our left we passed in succession the granite front of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the three grand arches of the Temple of Peace and the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome. We went under the ruined triumphal arch of Titus, with broken friezes representing the taking of Jerusalem, and the mighty walls of the Coliseum gradually rose before us. They grew in grandeur as we approached them, and when at length we stood in the centre, with the shattered arches and grassy walls rising above and beyond one another, far around us, the red light of sunset giving them a soft and melancholy beauty, I was fain to confess that another form of grandeur had entered my mind, of which I before knew not.

A majesty like that of nature clothes this wonderful edifice. Walls rise above walls, and arches above arches, from every side of the grand arena, like a sweep of craggy, pinnacled mountains around an oval lake. The two outer circles have almost entirely disappeared, torn away by the rapacious nobles of Rome, during the middle ages, to build their palaces. When entire, and filled with its hundred thousand spectators, it must have exceeded any pageant which the world can now produce. No wonder it was said--

"While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
And when Rome falls, the world!"

--a prediction, which time has not verified. The world is now going forward, prouder than ever, and though we thank Rome for the legacy she has left us, we would not wish the dust of her ruin to cumber our path.

While standing in the arena, impressed with the spirit of the scene around me, which grew more spectral and melancholy as the dusk of evening began to fill up the broken arches, my eye was assailed by the shrines ranged around the space, doubtless to remove the pollution of paganism. In the middle stands also a cross, with an inscription, granting an absolution of forty days to all who kiss it. Now, although a simple cross in the centre might be very appropriate, both as a token of the heroic devotion of the martyr Telemachus and the triumph of a true religion over the barbarities of the Past, this congregation of shrines and bloody pictures mars very much the unity of association so necessary to the perfect enjoyment of any such scene.

We saw the flush of sunset fade behind the Capitoline Hill, and passed homeward by the Forum, as its shattered pillars were growing solemn and spectral through the twilight. I intend to visit them often again, and "meditate amongst decay." I begin already to grow attached to their lonely grandeur. A spirit, almost human, speaks from the desolation, and there is something in the voiceless oracles it utters, that strikes an answering chord in my own breast.

In the Via de' Pontefici, not far distant from the Borghese Palace, we saw the Mausoleum of Augustus. It is a large circular structure somewhat after the plan of that of Hadrian, but on a much smaller scale. The interior has been cleared out, seats erected around the walls, and the whole is now a summer theatre, for the amusement of the peasantry and tradesmen. What a commentary on greatness! Harlequin playing his pranks in the tomb of an Emperor, and the spot which nations approached with reverence, resounding with the mirth of beggars and degraded vassals!

I visited lately the studio of a young Philadelphian, Mr. W. B. Chambers, who has been here two or three years. In studying the legacies of art which the old masters left to their country, he has caught some of the genuine poetic inspiration which warmed them. But he is modest as talented, and appears to undervalue his works, so long as they do not reach his own mental ideal. He chooses principally subjects from the Italian peasant-life, which abounds with picturesque and classic beauty. His pictures of the shepherd boy of the Albruzzi, and the brown maidens of the Campagna are fine illustrations of this class, and the fidelity with which he copies nature, is an earnest of his future success.

I was in the studio of Crawford, the sculptor; he has at present nothing finished in the marble. There were many casts of his former works, which, judging from their appearance in plaster, must be of no common excellence--for the sculptor can only be justly judged in marble. I saw some fine bas-reliefs of classical subjects, and an exquisite group of Mercury and Psyche, but his masterpiece is undoubtedly the Orpheus. There is a spirit in this figure which astonished me. The face is full of the inspiration of the poet, softened by the lover's tenderness, and the whole fervor of his soul is expressed in the eagerness with which he gazes forward, on stepping past the sleeping Cerberus. Crawford is now engaged on the statue of an Indian girl, pierced by an arrow, and dying. It is a simple and touching figure, and will, I think, be one of his best works.

We are often amused with the groups in the square of the Pantheon, which we can see from our chamber-window. Shoemakers and tinkers carry on their business along the sunny side, while the venders of oranges and roasted chesnuts form a circle around the Egyptian obelisk and fountain. Across the end of an opposite street we get a glimpse of the vegetable-market, and now and then the shrill voice of a pedlar makes its nasal solo audible above the confused chorus. As the beggars choose the Corso, St. Peter's, and the ruins for their principal haunts, we are now spared the hearing of their lamentations. Every time we go out we are assailed with them. "Maladetta sia la vostra testa!"--"Curses be upon your head!"--said one whom I passed without notice. The priests are, however, the greatest beggars. In every church are kept offering boxes, for the support of the church or some unknown institution; they even go from house to house, imploring support and assistance in the name of the Virgin and all the saints, while their bloated, sensual countenances and capacious frames tell of anything but fasts and privations. Once, as I was sitting among the ruins, I was suddenly startled by a loud, rattling sound; turning my head, I saw a figure clothed in white from head to foot, with only two small holes for the eyes. He held in his hand a money-box, on which was a figure of the Virgin, which he held close to my lips, that I might kiss it. This I declined doing, but dropped a baiocco into his box, when, making the sign of the cross, he silently disappeared.

Our present lodging (Trattoria del Sole) is a good specimen of an Italian inn for mechanics and common tradesmen. Passing through the front room, which is an eating-place for the common people--with a barrel of wine in the corner, and bladders of lard hanging among orange boughs in the window--we enter a dark court-yard filled with heavy carts, and noisy with the neighing of horses and singing of grooms, for the stables occupy part of the house. An open staircase, running all around this hollow square, leads to the second, third, and fourth stories,

On the second story is the dining-room for the better class of travelers, who receive the same provisions as those below for double the price, and the additional privilege of giving the waiter two baiocchi. The sleeping apartments are in the fourth story, and are named according to the fancy of a former landlord, in mottos above each door. Thus, on arriving here, the Triester, with his wife and child, more fortunate than our first parents, took refuge in "Paradise," while we Americans were ushered into the "Chamber of Jove." We have occupied it ever since, and find a paul (ten cents) apiece cheap enough for a good bed and a window opening on the Pantheon.

Next to the Coliseum, the baths of Caracalla are the grandest remains of Rome. The building is a thousand feet square, and its massive walls look as if built by a race of giants. These Titan remains are covered with green shrubbery, and long, trailing vines sweep over the cornice, and wave down like tresses from architrave and arch. In some of its grand halls the mosaic pavement is yet entire. The excavations are still carried on; from the number of statues already found, this would seem to have been one of the most gorgeous edifices of the olden time.

I have been now several days loitering and sketching among the ruins, and I feel as if I could willingly wander for months beside these mournful relics, and draw inspiration from the lofty yet melancholy lore they teach. There is a spirit haunting them, real and undoubted. Every shattered column, every broken arch and mouldering wall, but calls up more vividly to mind the glory that has passed away. Each lonely pillar stands as proudly as if it still helped to bear up the front of a glorious temple, and the air seems scarcely to have ceased vibrating with the clarions that heralded a conqueror's triumph.

"--the old majestic trees
Stand ghost-like in the Csar's home,
As if their conscious roots were set
In the old graves of giant Rome,
And drew their sap all kingly yet!"

*     *     *     *     *     

"There every mouldering stone beneath
Is broken from some mighty thought,
And sculptures in the dust still breathe
The fire with which their lines were wrought,
And sunder'd arch and plundered tomb
Still thunder back the echo--'Rome!'"

In Rome there is no need that the imagination be excited to call up thrilling emotion or poetic reverie--they are forced on the mind by the sublime spirit of the scene. The roused bard might here pour forth his thoughts in the wildest climaces, and I could believe he felt it all. This is like the Italy of my dreams--that golden realm whose image has been nearly chased away by the earthly reality. I expected to find a land of light and beauty, where every step crushed a flower or displaced a sunbeam--whose very air was poetic inspiration, and whose every scene filled the soul with romantic feelings. Nothing is left of my picture but the far-off mountains, robed in the sapphire veil of the Ausonian air, and these ruins, amid whose fallen glory sits triumphant the spirit of ancient song.

I have seen the flush of morn and eve rest on the Coliseum; I have seen the noon-day sky framed in its broken loopholes, like plates of polished sapphire; and last night, as the moon has grown into the zenith, I went to view it with her. Around the Forum all was silent and spectral--a sentinel challenged us at the Arch of Titus, under which we passed and along the Csar's wall, which lay in black shadow. Dead stillness brooded around the Coliseum; the pale, silvery lustre streamed through its arches, and over the grassy walls, giving them a look of shadowy grandeur which day could not bestow. The scene will remain fresh in my memory forever.

Bayard Taylor