Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Roman Rides

I shall always remember the first I took: out of the Porta del
Popolo, to where the Ponte Molle, whose single arch sustains a
weight of historic tradition, compels the sallow Tiber to flow
between its four great-mannered ecclesiastical statues, over the
crest of the hill and along the old posting-road to Florence. It
was mild midwinter, the season peculiarly of colour on the Roman
Campagna; and the light was full of that mellow purple glow, that
tempered intensity, which haunts the after-visions of those who
have known Rome like the memory of some supremely irresponsible
pleasure. An hour away I pulled up and at the edge of a meadow
gazed away for some time into remoter distances. Then and there,
it seemed to me, I measured the deep delight of knowing the
Campagna. But I saw more things in it than I can easily tell. The
country rolled away around me into slopes and dells of long-drawn
grace, chequered with purple and blue and blooming brown. The
lights and shadows were at play on the Sabine Mountains--an
alternation of tones so exquisite as to be conveyed only by some
fantastic comparison to sapphire and amber. In the foreground a
contadino in his cloak and peaked hat jogged solitary on his ass;
and here and there in the distance, among blue undulations, some
white village, some grey tower, helped deliciously to make the
picture the typical "Italian landscape" of old-fashioned art. It
was so bright and yet so sad, so still and yet so charged, to the
supersensuous ear, with the murmur of an extinguished life, that
you could only say it was intensely and adorably strange, could
only impute to the whole overarched scene an unsurpassed secret
for bringing tears of appreciation to no matter how ignorant--
archaeologically ignorant--eyes. To ride once, in these
conditions, is of course to ride again and to allot to the
Campagna a generous share of the time one spends in Rome.

It is a pleasure that doubles one's horizon, and one can scarcely
say whether it enlarges or limits one's impression of the city
proper. It certainly makes St. Peter's seem a trifle smaller and
blunts the edge of one's curiosity in the Forum. It must be the
effect of the experience, at all extended, that when you think of
Rome afterwards you will think still respectfully and regretfully
enough of the Vatican and the Pincio, the streets and the
picture-making street life; but will even more wonder, with an
irrepressible contraction of the heart, when again you shall feel
yourself bounding over the flower-smothered turf, or pass from
one framed picture to another beside the open arches of the
crumbling aqueducts. You look back at the City so often from some
grassy hill-top--hugely compact within its walls, with St.
Peter's overtopping all things and yet seeming small, and the
vast girdle of marsh and meadow receding on all sides to the
mountains and the sea--that you come to remember it at last as
hardly more than a respectable parenthesis in a great sweep of
generalisation. Within the walls, on the other hand, you think of
your intended ride as the most romantic of all your
possibilities; of the Campagna generally as an illimitable
experience. One's rides certainly give Rome an inordinate scope
for the reflective--by which I suppose I mean after all the
aesthetic and the "esoteric"--life. To dwell in a city which,
much as you grumble at it, is after all very fairly a modern
city; with crowds and shops and theatres and cafes and balls and
receptions and dinner-parties, and all the modern confusion of
social pleasures and pains; to have at your door the good and
evil of it all; and yet to be able in half an hour to gallop away
and leave it a hundred miles, a hundred years, behind, and to
look at the tufted broom glowing on a lonely tower-top in the
still blue air, and the pale pink asphodels trembling none the
less for the stillness, and the shaggy-legged shepherds leaning
on their sticks in motionless brotherhood with the heaps of ruin,
and the scrambling goats and staggering little kids treading out
wild desert smells from the top of hollow-sounding mounds; and
then to come back through one of the great gates and a couple of
hours later find yourself in the "world," dressed, introduced,
entertained, inquiring, talking about "Middlemarch" to a young
English lady or listening to Neapolitan songs from a gentleman in
a very low-cut shirt--all this is to lead in a manner a double
life and to gather from the hurrying hours more impressions than
a mind of modest capacity quite knows how to dispose of.

I touched lately upon this theme with a friend who, I fancied,
would understand me, and who immediately assured me that he had
just spent a day that this mingled diversity of sensation made to
the days one spends elsewhere what an uncommonly good novel may
be to the daily paper. "There was an air of idleness about it, if
you will," he said, "and it was certainly pleasant enough to have
been wrong. Perhaps, being after all unused to long stretches of
dissipation, this was why I had a half-feeling that I was reading
an odd chapter in the history of a person very much more of a
héros de roman than myself." Then he proceeded to relate
how he had taken a long ride with a lady whom he extremely
admired. "We turned off from the Tor di Quinto Road to that
castellated farm-house you know of--once a Ghibelline fortress--
whither Claude Lorraine used to come to paint pictures of which
the surrounding landscape is still so artistically, so
compositionally, suggestive. We went into the inner court, a
cloister almost, with the carven capitals of its loggia columns,
and looked at a handsome child swinging shyly against the half-
opened door of a room whose impenetrable shadow, behind her, made
her, as it were, a sketch in bituminous water-colours. We talked
with the farmer, a handsome, pale, fever-tainted fellow with a
well-to-do air that didn't in the least deter his affability from
a turn compatible with the acceptance of small coin; and then we
galloped away and away over the meadows which stretch with hardly
a break to Veii. The day was strangely delicious, with a cool
grey sky and just a touch of moisture in the air stirred by our
rapid motion. The Campagna, in the colourless even light, was
more solemn and romantic than ever; and a ragged shepherd,
driving a meagre straggling flock, whom we stopped to ask our way
of, was a perfect type of pastoral, weather-beaten misery. He was
precisely the shepherd for the foreground of a scratchy etching.
There were faint odours of spring in the air, and the grass here
and there was streaked with great patches of daisies; but it was
spring with a foreknowledge of autumn, a day to be enjoyed with a
substrain of sadness, the foreboding of regret, a day somehow to
make one feel as if one had seen and felt a great deal--quite, as
I say, like a heros de roman. Touching such characters, it
was the illustrious Pelham, I think, who, on being asked if he
rode, replied that he left those violent exercises to the ladies.
But under such a sky, in such an air, over acres of daisied turf,
a long, long gallop is certainly a supersubtle joy. The elastic
bound of your horse is the poetry of motion; and if you are so
happy as to add to it not the prose of companionship riding comes
almost to affect you as a spiritual exercise. My gallop, at any
rate," said my friend, "threw me into a mood which gave an
extraordinary zest to the rest of the day." He was to go to a
dinner-party at a villa on the edge of Rome, and Madam X--, who
was also going, called for him in her carriage. "It was a long
drive," he went on, "through the Forum, past the Colosseum. She
told me a long story about a most interesting person. Toward the
end my eyes caught through the carriage window a slab of rugged
sculptures. We were passing under the Arch of Constantine. In the
hall pavement of the villa is a rare antique mosaic--one of the
largest and most perfect; the ladies on their way to the drawing-
room trail over it the flounces of Worth. We drove home late, and
there's my day."

On your exit from most of the gates of Rome you have generally
half-an-hour's progress through winding lanes, many of which are
hardly less charming than the open meadows. On foot the walls and
high hedges would vex you and spoil your walk; but in the saddle
you generally overtop them, to an endless peopling of the minor
vision. Yet a Roman wall in the springtime is for that matter
almost as interesting as anything it conceals. Crumbling grain by
grain, coloured and mottled to a hundred tones by sun and storm,
with its rugged structure of brick extruding through its coarse
complexion of peeling stucco, its creeping lacework of wandering
ivy starred with miniature violets, and its wild fringe of
stouter flowers against the sky--it is as little as possible a
blank partition; it is practically a luxury of landscape. At the
moment at which I write, in mid-April, all the ledges and
cornices are wreathed with flaming poppies, nodding there as if
they knew so well what faded greys and yellows are an offset to
their scarlet. But the best point in a dilapidated enclosing
surface of vineyard or villa is of course the gateway, lifting
its great arch of cheap rococo scroll-work, its balls and shields
and mossy dish-covers--as they always perversely figure to me--
and flanked with its dusky cypresses. I never pass one without
taking out my mental sketch-book and jotting it down as a
vignette in the insubstantial record of my ride. They are as sad
and dreary as if they led to the moated grange where Mariana
waited in desperation for something to happen; and it's easy to
take the usual inscription over the porch as a recommendation to
those who enter to renounce all hope of anything but a glass of
more or less agreeably acrid vino romano. For what you
chiefly see over the walls and at the end of the straight short
avenue of rusty cypresses are the appurtenances of a
vigna--a couple of acres of little upright sticks
blackening in the sun, and a vast sallow-faced, scantily windowed
mansion, whose expression denotes little of the life of the mind
beyond what goes to the driving of a hard bargain over the tasted
hogsheads. If Mariana is there she certainly has no pile of old
magazines to beguile her leisure. The life of the mind, if the
term be in any application here not ridiculous, appears to any
asker of curious questions, as he wanders about Rome, the very
thinnest deposit of the past. Within the rococo gateway, which
itself has a vaguely esthetic self-consciousness, at the end of
the cypress walk, you will probably see a mythological group in
rusty marble--a Cupid and Psyche, a Venus and Paris, an Apollo
and Daphne--the relic of an age when a Roman proprietor thought
it fine to patronise the arts. But I imagine you are safe in
supposing it to constitute the only allusion savouring of culture
that has been made on the premises for three or four generations.

There is a franker cheerfulness--though certainly a proper amount
of that forlornness which lurks about every object to which the
Campagna forms a background--in the primitive little taverns
where, on the homeward stretch, in the waning light, you are
often glad to rein up and demand a bottle of their best. Their
best and their worst are indeed the same, though with a shifting
price, and plain vino bianco or vino rosso (rarely
both) is the sole article of refreshment in which they deal.
There is a ragged bush over the door, and within, under a dusky
vault, on crooked cobble-stones, sit half-a-dozen contadini in
their indigo jackets and goatskin breeches and with their elbows
on the table. There is generally a rabble of infantile beggars at
the door, pretty enough in their dusty rags, with their fine eyes
and intense Italian smile, to make you forget your private vow of
doing your individual best I to make these people, whom you like
so much, unlearn their old vices. Was Porta Pia bombarded three
years ago that Peppino should still grow up to whine for a
copper? But the Italian shells had no direct message for
Peppino's stomach--and you are going to a dinner-party at a
villa. So Peppino "points" an instant for the copper in the dust
and grows up a Roman beggar. The whole little place represents
the most primitive form of hostelry; but along any of the roads
leading out of the city you may find establishments of a higher
type, with Garibaldi, superbly mounted and foreshortened, painted
on the wall, or a lady in a low-necked dress opening a fictive
lattice with irresistible hospitality, and a yard with the
classic vine-wreathed arbour casting thin shadows upon benches
and tables draped and cushioned with the white dust from which
the highways from the gates borrow most of their local colour.
None the less, I say, you avoid the highroads, and, if you are a
person of taste, don't grumble at the occasional need of
following the walls of the city. City walls, to a properly
constituted American, can never be an object of indifference; and
it is emphatically "no end of a sensation" to pace in the shadow
of this massive cincture of Rome. I have found myself, as I
skirted its base, talking of trivial things, but never without a
sudden reflection on the deplorable impermanence of first
impressions. A twelvemonth ago the raw plank fences of a Boston
suburb, inscribed with the virtues of healing drugs, bristled
along my horizon: now I glance with idle eyes at a compacted
antiquity in which a more learned sense may read portentous dates
and signs--Servius, Aurelius, Honorius. But even to idle eyes
the prodigious, the continuous thing bristles with eloquent
passages. In some places, where the huge brickwork is black with
time and certain strange square towers look down at you with
still blue eyes, the Roman sky peering through lidless loopholes,
and there is nothing but white dust in the road and solitude in
the air, I might take myself for a wandering Tartar touching on
the confines of the Celestial Empire. The wall of China must have
very much such a gaunt robustness. The colour of the Roman
ramparts is everywhere fine, and their rugged patchwork has been
subdued by time and weather into a mellow harmony that the brush
only asks to catch up. On the northern side of the city, behind
the Vatican, St. Peter's and the Trastevere, I have seen them
glowing in the late afternoon with the tones of ancient bronze
and rusty gold. Here at various points they are embossed with the
Papal insignia, the tiara with its flying bands and crossed keys;
to the high style of which the grace that attaches to almost any
lost cause--even if not quite the "tender" grace of a day that is
dead--considerably adds a style. With the dome of St. Peter's
resting on their cornice and the hugely clustered architecture of
the Vatican rising from them as from a terrace, they seem indeed
the valid bulwark of an ecclesiastical city. Vain bulwark, alas!
sighs the sentimental tourist, fresh from the meagre
entertainment of this latter Holy Week. But he may find
monumental consolation in this neighbourhood at a source where,
as I pass, I never fail to apply for it. At half-an-hour's walk
beyond Porta San Pancrazio, beneath the wall of the Villa Doria,
is a delightfully pompous ecclesiastical gateway of the
seventeenth century, erected by Paul V to commemorate his
restoration of the aqueducts through which the stream bearing his
name flows towards the fine florid portico protecting its clear-
sheeted outgush on the crest of the Janiculan. It arches across
the road in the most ornamental manner of the period, and one can
hardly pause before it without seeming to assist at a ten
minutes' revival of old Italy--without feeling as if one were in
a cocked hat and sword and were coming up to Rome, in another
mood than Luther's, with a letter of recommendation to the
mistress of a cardinal.

The Campagna differs greatly on the two sides of the Tiber; and
it is hard to say which, for the rider, has the greater charm.
The half-dozen rides you may take from Porta San Giovanni possess
the perfection of traditional Roman interest and lead you through
a far-strewn wilderness of ruins--a scattered maze of tombs and
towers and nameless fragments of antique masonry. The landscape
here has two great features; close before you on one side is the
long, gentle swell of the Alban Hills, deeply, fantastically blue
in most weathers, and marbled with the vague white masses of
their scattered towns and villas. It would be difficult to draw
the hard figure to a softer curve than that with which the
heights sweep from Albano to the plain; this a perfect example of
the classic beauty of line in the Italian landscape--that beauty
which, when it fills the background of a picture, makes us look
in the foreground for a broken column couched upon flowers and a
shepherd piping to dancing nymphs. At your side, constantly, you
have the broken line of the Claudian Aqueduct, carrying its broad
arches far away into the plain. The meadows along which it lies
are not the smoothest in the world for a gallop, but there is no
pleasure greater than to wander near it. It stands knee-deep in
the flower-strewn grass, and its rugged piers are hung with ivy
as the columns of a church are draped for a festa. Every archway
is a picture, massively framed, of the distance beyond--of the
snow-tipped Sabines and lonely Soracte. As the spring advances
the whole Campagna smiles and waves with flowers; but I think
they are nowhere more rank and lovely than in the shifting shadow
of the aqueducts, where they muffle the feet of the columns and
smother the half-dozen brooks which wander in and out like silver
meshes between the legs of a file of giants. They make a niche
for themselves too in every crevice and tremble on the vault of
the empty conduits. The ivy hereabouts in the springtime is
peculiarly brilliant and delicate; and though it cloaks and
muffles these Roman fragments far less closely than the castles
and abbeys of England it hangs with the light elegance of all
Italian vegetation. It is partly doubtless because their mighty
outlines are still unsoftened that the aqueducts are so
impressive. They seem the very source of the solitude in which
they stand; they look like architectural spectres and loom
through the light mists of their grassy desert, as you recede
along the line, with the same insubstantial vastness as if they
rose out of Egyptian sands. It is a great neighbourhood of ruins,
many of which, it must be confessed, you have applauded in many
an album. But station a peasant with sheepskin coat and bandaged
legs in the shadow of a tomb or tower best known to drawing-room
art, and scatter a dozen goats on the mound above him, and the
picture has a charm which has not yet been sketched away.

The other quarter of the Campagna has wider fields and smoother
turf and perhaps a greater number of delightful rides; the earth
is sounder, and there are fewer pitfalls and ditches. The land
for the most part lies higher and catches more wind, and the
grass is here and there for great stretches as smooth and level
as a carpet. You have no Alban Mountains before you, but you have
in the distance the waving ridge of the nearer Apennines, and
west of them, along the course of the Tiber, the long seaward
level of deep-coloured fields, deepening as they recede to the
blue and purple of the sea itself. Beyond them, of a very clear
day, you may see the glitter of the Mediterranean. These are the
occasions perhaps to remember most fondly, for they lead you to
enchanting nooks, and the landscape has details of the highest
refinement. Indeed when my sense reverts to the lingering
impressions of so blest a time, it seems a fool's errand to have
attempted to express them, and a waste of words to do more than
recommend the reader to go citywards at twilight of the end of
March, making for Porta Cavalleggieri, and note what he sees. At
this hour the Campagna is to the last point its melancholy self,
and I remember roadside "effects" of a strange and intense
suggestiveness. Certain mean, mouldering villas behind grass-
grown courts have an indefinably sinister look; there was one in
especial of which it was impossible not to argue that a
despairing creature must have once committed suicide there,
behind bolted door and barred window, and that no one has since
had the pluck to go in and see why he never came out. Every
wayside mark of manners, of history, every stamp of the past in
the country about Rome, touches my sense to a thrill, and I may
thus exaggerate the appeal of very common things. This is the
more likely because the appeal seems ever to rise out of heaven
knows what depths of ancient trouble. To delight in the aspects
of sentient ruin might appear a heartless pastime, and the
pleasure, I confess, shows the note of perversity. The sombre and
the hard are as common an influence from southern things as the
soft and the bright, I think; sadness rarely fails to assault a
northern observer when he misses what he takes for comfort.
Beauty is no compensation for the loss, only making it more
poignant. Enough beauty of climate hangs over these Roman
cottages and farm-houses--beauty of light, of atmosphere and of
vegetation; but their charm for the maker-out of the stories in
things is the way the golden air shows off their desolation. Man
lives more with Nature in Italy than in New or than in Old
England; she does more work for him and gives him more holidays
than in our short-summered climes, and his home is therefore much
more bare of devices for helping him to do without her, forget
her and forgive her. These reflections are perhaps the source of
the character you find in a moss-coated stone stairway climbing
outside of a wall; in a queer inner court, befouled with rubbish
and drearily bare of convenience; in an ancient quaintly carven
well, worked with infinite labour from an overhanging window; in
an arbour of time-twisted vines under which you may sit with your
feet in the dirt and remember as a dim fable that there are races
for which the type of domestic allurement is the parlour hearth-
rug. For reasons apparent or otherwise these things amuse me
beyond expression, and I am never weary of staring into gateways,
of lingering by dreary, shabby, half-barbaric farm-yards, of
feasting a foolish gaze on sun-cracked plaster and unctuous
indoor shadows. I mustn't forget, however, that it's not for
wayside effects that one rides away behind St. Peter's, but for
the strong sense of wandering over boundless space, of seeing
great classic lines of landscape, of watching them dispose
themselves into pictures so full of "style" that you can think of
no painter who deserves to have you admit that they suggest him--
hardly knowing whether it is better pleasure to gallop far and
drink deep of air and grassy distance and the whole delicious
opportunity, or to walk and pause and linger, and try and grasp
some ineffaceable memory of sky and colour and outline. Your pace
can hardly help falling into a contemplative measure at the time,
everywhere so wonderful, but in Rome so persuasively divine, when
the winter begins palpably to soften and quicken. Far out on the
Campagna, early in February, you feel the first vague earthly
emanations, which in a few weeks come wandering into the heart of
the city and throbbing through the close, dark streets.
Springtime in Rome is an immensely poetic affair; but you must
stand often far out in the ancient waste, between grass and sky,
to measure its deep, full, steadily accelerated rhythm. The
winter has an incontestable beauty, and is pre-eminently the time
of colour--the time when it is no affectation, but homely verity,
to talk about the "purple" tone of the atmosphere. As February
comes and goes your purple is streaked with green and the rich,
dark bloom of the distance begins to lose its intensity. But your
loss is made up by other gains; none more precious than that
inestimable gain to the ear--the disembodied voice of the lark.
It comes with the early flowers, the white narcissus and the
cyclamen, the half-buried violets and the pale anemones, and
makes the whole atmosphere ring like a vault of tinkling glass.
You never see the source of the sound, and are utterly unable to
localise his note, which seems to come from everywhere at once,
to be some hundred-throated voice of the air. Sometimes you fancy
you just catch him, a mere vague spot against the blue, an
intenser throb in the universal pulsation of light. As the weeks
go on the flowers multiply and the deep blues and purples of the
hills, turning to azure and violet, creep higher toward the
narrowing snow-line of the Sabines. The temperature rises, the
first hour of your ride you feel the heat, but you beguile it
with brushing the hawthorn-blossoms as you pass along the hedges,
and catching at the wild rose and honeysuckle; and when you get
into the meadows there is stir enough in the air to lighten the
dead weight of the sun. The Roman air, however, is not a tonic
medicine, and it seldom suffers exercise to be all exhilarating.
It has always seemed to me indeed part of the charm of the latter
that your keenest consciousness is haunted with a vague languor.
Occasionally when the sirocco blows that sensation becomes
strange and exquisite. Then, under the grey sky, before the dim
distances which the south-wind mostly brings with it, you seem to
ride forth into a world from which all hope has departed and in
which, in spite of the flowers that make your horse's footfalls
soundless, nothing is left save some queer probability that your
imagination is unable to measure, but from which it hardly
shrinks. This quality in the Roman element may now and then
"relax" you almost to ecstasy; but a season of sirocco would be
an overdose of morbid pleasure. You may at any rate best feel the
peculiar beauty of the Campagna on those mild days of winter when
the mere quality and temper of the sunshine suffice to move the
landscape to joy, and you pause on the brown grass in the sunny
stillness and, by listening long enough, almost fancy you hear
the shrill of the midsummer cricket. It is detail and ornament
that vary from month to month, from week to week even, and make
your returns to the same places a constant feast of
unexpectedness; but the great essential features of the prospect
preserve throughout the year the same impressive serenity.
Soracte, be it January or May, rises from its blue horizon like
an island from the sea and with an elegance of contour which no
mood of the year can deepen or diminish. You know it well; you
have seen it often in the mellow backgrounds of Claude; and it
has such an irresistibly classic, academic air that while you
look at it you begin to take your saddle for a faded old arm-
chair in a palace gallery. A month's rides in different
directions will show you a dozen prime Claudes. After I had seen
them all I went piously to the Doria gallery to refresh my memory
of its two famous specimens and to enjoy to the utmost their
delightful air of reference to something that had become a part
of my personal experience. Delightful it certainly is to feel the
common element in one's own sensibility and those of a genius
whom that element has helped to do great things. Claude must have
haunted the very places of one's personal preference and adjusted
their divine undulations to his splendid scheme of romance, his
view of the poetry of life. He was familiar with aspects in which
there wasn't a single uncompromising line. I saw a few days ago a
small finished sketch from his hand, in the possession of an
American artist, which was almost startling in its clear
reflection of forms unaltered by the two centuries that have
dimmed and cracked the paint and canvas.

This unbroken continuity of the impressions I have tried to
indicate is an excellent example of the intellectual background
of all enjoyment in Rome. It effectually prevents pleasure from
becoming vulgar, for your sensation rarely begins and ends with
itself; it reverberates--it recalls, commemorates, resuscitates
something else. At least half the merit of everything you enjoy
must be that it suits you absolutely; but the larger half here is
generally that it has suited some one else and that you can never
flatter yourself you have discovered it. It has been addressed to
some use a million miles out of your range, and has had great
adventures before ever condescending to please you. It was in
admission of this truth that my discriminating friend who showed
me the Claudes found it impossible to designate a certain
delightful region which you enter at the end of an hour's riding
from Porta Cavalleggieri as anything but Arcadia. The exquisite
correspondence of the term in this case altogether revived its
faded bloom; here veritably the oaten pipe must have stirred the
windless air and the satyrs have laughed among the brookside
reeds. Three or four long grassy dells stretch away in a chain
between low hills over which delicate trees are so discreetly
scattered that each one is a resting place for a shepherd. The
elements of the scene are simple enough, but the composition has
extraordinary refinement. By one of those happy chances which
keep observation in Italy always in her best humour a shepherd
had thrown himself down under one of the trees in the very
attitude of Meliboeus. He had been washing his feet, I suppose,
in the neighbouring brook, and had found it pleasant afterwards
to roll his short breeches well up on his thighs. Lying thus in
the shade, on his elbow, with his naked legs stretched out on the
turf and his soft peaked hat over his long hair crushed back like
the veritable bonnet of Arcady, he was exactly the figure of the
background of this happy valley. The poor fellow, lying there in
rustic weariness and ignorance, little fancied that he was a
symbol of old-world meanings to new-world eyes.

Such eyes may find as great a store of picturesque meanings in
the cork-woods of Monte Mario, tenderly loved of all equestrians.
These are less severely pastoral than our Arcadia, and you might
more properly lodge there a damosel of Ariosto than a nymph of
Theocritus. Among them is strewn a lovely wilderness of flowers
and shrubs, and the whole place has such a charming woodland air,
that, casting about me the other day for a compliment, I
declared that it. reminded me of New Hampshire. My compliment had
a double edge, and I had no sooner uttered it than I smiled--or
sighed--to perceive in all the undiscriminated botany about me
the wealth of detail, the idle elegance and grace of Italy alone,
the natural stamp of the land which has the singular privilege of
making one love her unsanctified beauty all but as well as those
features of one's own country toward which nature's small
allowance doubles that of one's own affection. For this effect of
casting a spell no rides have more value than those you take in
Villa Doria or Villa Borghese; or don't take, possibly, if you
prefer to reserve these particular regions--the latter in
especial--for your walking hours. People do ride, however, in
both villas, which deserve honourable mention in this regard.
Villa Doria, with its noble site, its splendid views, its great
groups of stone-pines, so clustered and yet so individual, its
lawns and flowers and fountains, its altogether princely
disposition, is a place where one may pace, well mounted, of a
brilliant day, with an agreeable sense of its being rather a more
elegant pastime to balance in one's stirrups than to trudge on
even the smoothest gravel. But at Villa Borghese the walkers have
the best of it; for they are free of those adorable outlying
corners and bosky byways which the rumble of barouches never
reaches. In March the place becomes a perfect epitome of the
spring. You cease to care much for the melancholy greenness of
the disfeatured statues which has been your chief winter's
intimation of verdure; and before you are quite conscious of the
tender streaks and patches in the great quaint grassy arena round
which the Propaganda students, in their long skirts, wander
slowly, like dusky seraphs revolving the gossip of Paradise, you
spy the brave little violets uncapping their azure brows beneath
the high-stemmed pines. One's walks here would take us too far,
and one's pauses detain us too long, when in the quiet parts
under the wall one comes across a group of charming small school-
boys in full-dress suits and white cravats, shouting over their
play in clear Italian, while a grave young priest, beneath a
tree, watches them over the top of his book. It sounds like
nothing, but the force behind it and the frame round it, the
setting, the air, the chord struck, make it a hundred wonderful


Henry James