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A Roman Holiday

It is certainly sweet to be merry at the right moment; but the
right moment hardly seems to me the ten days of the Roman
Carnival. It was my rather cynical suspicion perhaps that they
wouldn't keep to my imagination the brilliant promise of legend;
but I have been justified by the event and have been decidedly
less conscious of the festal influences of the season than of the
inalienable gravity of the place. There was a time when the
Carnival was a serious matter--that is a heartily joyous one;
but, thanks to the seven-league boots the kingdom of Italy has
lately donned for the march of progress in quite other
directions, the fashion of public revelry has fallen woefully out
of step. The state of mind and manners under which the Carnival
was kept in generous good faith I doubt if an American can
exactly conceive: he can only say to himself that for a month in
the year there must have been things--things considerably of
humiliation--it was comfortable to forget. But now that Italy is
made the Carnival is unmade; and we are not especially tempted to
envy the attitude of a population who have lost their relish for
play and not yet acquired to any striking extent an enthusiasm
for work. The spectacle on the Corso has seemed to me, on the
whole, an illustration of that great breach with the past of
which Catholic Christendom felt the somewhat muffled shock in
September, 1870. A traveller acquainted with the fully papal
Rome, coming back any time during the past winter, must have
immediately noticed that something momentous had happened--
something hostile to the elements of picture and colour and
"style." My first warning was that ten minutes after my arrival I
found myself face to face with a newspaper stand. The
impossibility in the other days of having anything in the
journalistic line but the Osservatore Romano and the
Voce della Verità used to seem to me much connected with
the extraordinary leisure of thought and stillness of mind to
which the place admitted you. But now the slender piping of the
Voice of Truth is stifled by the raucous note of eventide vendors
of the Capitale, the Libertà and the
Fanfulla; and Rome reading unexpurgated news is another
Rome indeed. For every subscriber to the Libertà there may
well be an antique masker and reveller less. As striking a sign
of the new régime is the extraordinary increase of population.
The Corso was always a well-filled street, but now it's a
perpetual crush. I never cease to wonder where the new-comers are
lodged, and how such spotless flowers of fashion as the gentlemen
who stare at the carriages can bloom in the atmosphere of those
camere mobiliate of which I have had glimpses. This,
however, is their own question, and bravely enough they meet it.
They proclaimed somehow, to the first freshness of my wonder, as
I say, that by force of numbers Rome had been secularised. An
Italian dandy is a figure visually to reckon with, but these
goodly throngs of them scarce offered compensation for the absent
monsignori, treading the streets in their purple stockings and
followed by the solemn servants who returned on their behalf the
bows of the meaner sort; for the mourning gear of the cardinals'
coaches that formerly glittered with scarlet and swung with the
weight of the footmen clinging behind; for the certainty that
you'll not, by the best of traveller's luck, meet the Pope
sitting deep in the shadow of his great chariot with uplifted
fingers like some inaccessible idol in his shrine. You may meet
the King indeed, who is as ugly, as imposingly ugly, as some
idols, though not so inaccessible. The other day as I passed the
Quirinal he drove up in a low carriage with a single attendant;
and a group of men and women who had been waiting near the gate
rushed at him with a number of folded papers. The carriage
slackened pace and he pocketed their offerings with a business-
like air--hat of a good-natured man accepting handbills at a
street-corner. Here was a monarch at his palace gate receiving
petitions from his subjects--being adjured to right their wrongs.
The scene ought to have thrilled me, but somehow it had no more
intensity than a woodcut in an illustrated newspaper. Homely I
should call it at most; admirably so, certainly, for there were
lately few sovereigns standing, I believe, with whom their people
enjoyed these filial hand-to-hand relations. The King this year,
however, has had as little to do with the Carnival as the Pope,
and the innkeepers and Americans have marked it for their own.

It was advertised to begin at half-past two o'clock of a certain
Saturday, and punctually at the stroke of the hour, from my room
across a wide court, I heard a sudden multiplication of sounds
and confusion of tongues in the Corso. I was writing to a friend
for whom I cared more than for any mere romp; but as the minutes
elapsed and the hubbub deepened curiosity got the better of
affection, and I remembered that I was really within eye-shot of
an affair the fame of which had ministered to the daydreams of my
infancy. I used to have a scrap-book with a coloured print of the
starting of the bedizened wild horses, and the use of a library
rich in keepsakes and annuals with a frontispiece commonly of a
masked lady in a balcony, the heroine of a delightful tale
further on. Agitated by these tender memories I descended into
the street; but I confess I looked in vain for a masked lady who
might serve as a frontispiece, in vain for any object whatever
that might adorn a tale. Masked and muffled ladies there were in
abundance; but their masks were of ugly wire, perfectly
resembling the little covers placed upon strong cheese in German
hotels, and their drapery was a shabby water-proof with the hood
pulled over their chignons. They were armed with great tin scoops
or funnels, with which they solemnly shovelled lime and flour
out of bushel-baskets and down on the heads of the people in the
street. They were packed into balconies all the way along the
straight vista of the Corso, in which their calcareous shower
maintained a dense, gritty, unpalatable fog. The crowd was
compact in the street, and the Americans in it were tossing back
confetti out of great satchels hung round their necks. It was
quite the "you're another" sort of repartee, and less seasoned
than I had hoped with the airy mockery tradition hangs about
this festival. The scene was striking, in a word; but somehow not
as I had dreamed of its being. I stood regardful, I suppose, but
with a peculiarly tempting blankness of visage, for in a moment I
received half a bushel of flour on my too-philosophic head.
Decidedly it was an ignoble form of humour. I shook my ears like
an emergent diver, and had a sudden vision of how still and sunny
and solemn, how peculiarly and undisturbedly themselves, how
secure from any intrusion less sympathetic than one's own,
certain outlying parts of Rome must just then be. The Carnival
had received its deathblow in my imagination; and it has been
ever since but a thin and dusky ghost of pleasure that has
flitted at intervals in and out of my consciousness.

I turned my back accordingly on the Corso and wandered away to
the grass-grown quarters delightfully free even from the
possibility of a fellow-countryman. And so having set myself an
example I have been keeping Carnival by strolling perversely
along the silent circumference of Rome. I have doubtless lost a
great deal. The Princess Margaret has occupied a balcony opposite
the open space which leads into Via Condotti and, I believe, like
the discreet princess she is, has dealt in no missiles but
bonbons, bouquets and white doves. I would have waited half an
hour any day to see the Princess Margaret hold a dove on her
forefinger; but I never chanced to notice any preparation for
that effect. And yet do what you will you can't really elude the
Carnival. As the days elapse it filters down into the manners of
the common people, and before the week is over the very beggars
at the church-doors seem to have gone to the expense of a domino.
When you meet these specimens of dingy drollery capering about in
dusky back-streets at all hours of the day and night, meet them
flitting out of black doorways between the greasy groups that
cluster about Roman thresholds, you feel that a love of "pranks,"
the more vivid the better, must from far back have been implanted
in the Roman temperament with a strong hand. An unsophisticated
American is wonderstruck at the number of persons, of every age
and various conditions, whom it costs nothing in the nature of an
ingenuous blush to walk up and down the streets in the costume of
a theatrical supernumerary. Fathers of families do it at the head
of an admiring progeniture; aunts and uncles and grandmothers do
it; all the family does it, with varying splendour but with the
same good conscience. "A pack of babies!" the doubtless too self-
conscious alien pronounces it for its pains, and tries to imagine
himself strutting along Broadway in a battered tin helmet and a
pair of yellow tights. Our vices are certainly different; it
takes those of the innocent sort to be so ridiculous. A self-
consciousness lapsing so easily, in fine, strikes me as so near a
relation to amenity, urbanity and general gracefulness that, for
myself, I should be sorry to lay a tax on it, lest these other
commodities should also cease to come to market.

I was rewarded, when I had turned away with my ears full of
flour, by a glimpse of an intenser life than the dingy foolery of
the Corso. I walked down by the back streets to the steps
mounting to the Capitol--that long inclined plane, rather, broken
at every two paces, which is the unfailing disappointment, I
believe, of tourists primed for retrospective raptures. Certainly
the Capitol seen from this side isn't commanding. The hill is so
low, the ascent so narrow, Michael Angelo's architecture in the
quadrangle at the top so meagre, the whole place somehow so much
more of a mole-hill than a mountain, that for the first ten
minutes of your standing there Roman history seems suddenly to
have sunk through a trap-door. It emerges however on the other
side, in the Forum; and here meanwhile, if you get no sense of
the sublime, you get gradually a sense of exquisite composition.
Nowhere in Rome is more colour, more charm, more sport for the
eye. The mild incline, during the winter months, is always
covered with lounging sun-seekers, and especially with those more
constantly obvious members of the Roman population--beggars,
soldiers, monks and tourists. The beggars and peasants lie
kicking their heels along that grandest of loafing-places the
great steps of the Ara Coeli. The dwarfish look of the Capitol is
intensified, I think, by the neighbourhood of this huge blank
staircase, mouldering away in disuse, the weeds thick in its
crevices, and climbing to the rudely solemn facade of the church.
The sunshine glares on this great unfinished wall only to light
up its featureless despair, its expression of conscious,
irremediable incompleteness. Sometimes, massing its rusty screen
against the deep blue sky, with the little cross and the
sculptured porch casting a clear-cut shadow on the bricks, it
seems to have even more than a Roman desolation, it confusedly
suggests Spain and Africa--lands with no latent
risorgimenti, with absolutely nothing but a fatal past.
The legendary wolf of Rome has lately been accommodated with a
little artificial grotto, among the cacti and the palms, in the
fantastic triangular garden squeezed between the steps of the
church and the ascent to the Capitol, where she holds a perpetual
levee and "draws" apparently as powerfully as the Pope himself.
Above, in the piazzetta before the stuccoed palace which rises so
jauntily on a basement of thrice its magnitude, are more loungers
and knitters in the sun, seated round the massively inscribed
base of the statue of Marcus Aurelius. Hawthorne has perfectly
expressed the attitude of this admirable figure in saying that it
extends its arm with "a command which is in itself a
benediction." I doubt if any statue of king or captain in the
public places of the world has more to commend it to the general
heart. Irrecoverable simplicity--residing so in irrecoverable
Style--has no sturdier representative. Here is an impression
that the sculptors of the last three hundred years have been
laboriously trying to reproduce; but contrasted with this mild
old monarch their prancing horsemen suggest a succession of
riding-masters taking out young ladies' schools. The admirably
human character of the figure survives the rusty decomposition of
the bronze and the slight "debasement" of the art; and one may
call it singular that in the capital of Christendom the portrait
most suggestive of a Christian conscience is that of a pagan
emperor.

You recover in some degree your stifled hopes of sublimity as you
pass beyond the palace and take your choice of either curving
slope to descend into the Forum. Then you see that the little
stuccoed edifice is but a modern excrescence on the mighty cliff
of a primitive construction, whose great squares of porous tufa,
as they underlie each other, seem to resolve themselves back into
the colossal cohesion of unhewn rock. There are prodigious
strangenesses in the union of this airy and comparatively fresh-
faced superstructure and these deep-plunging, hoary foundations;
and few things in Rome are more entertaining to the eye than to
measure the long plumb-line which drops from the inhabited
windows of the palace, with their little over-peeping balconies,
their muslin curtains and their bird-cages, down to the rugged
constructional work of the Republic. In the Forum proper the
sublime is eclipsed again, though the late extension of the
excavations gives a chance for it.

Nothing in Rome helps your fancy to a more vigorous backward
flight than to lounge on a sunny day over the railing which
guards the great central researches. It "says" more things to you
than you can repeat to see the past, the ancient world, as you
stand there, bodily turned up with the spade and transformed from
an immaterial, inaccessible fact of time into a matter of soils
and surfaces. The pleasure is the same--in kind--as what you
enjoy of Pompeii, and the pain the same. It wasn't here, however,
that I found my compensation for forfeiting the spectacle on the
Corso, but in a little church at the end of the narrow byway
which diverges up the Palatine from just beside the Arch of
Titus. This byway leads you between high walls, then takes a bend
and introduces you to a long row of rusty, dusty little pictures
of the stations of the cross. Beyond these stands a small church
with a front so modest that you hardly recognise it till you see
the leather curtain. I never see a leather curtain without
lifting it; it is sure to cover a constituted scene of
some sort--good, bad or indifferent. The scene this time was
meagre--whitewash and tarnished candlesticks and mouldy muslin
flowers being its principal features. I shouldn't have remained
if I hadn't been struck with the attitude of the single
worshipper--a young priest kneeling before one of the sidealtars,
who, as I entered, lifted his head and gave me a sidelong look so
charged with the languor of devotion that he immediately became
an object of interest. He was visiting each of the altars in turn
and kissing the balustrade beneath them. He was alone in the
church, and indeed in the whole region. There were no beggars
even at the door; they were plying their trade on the skirts of
the Carnival. In the entirely deserted place he alone knelt for
religion, and as I sat respectfully by it seemed to me I could
hear in the perfect silence the far-away uproar of the maskers.
It was my late impression of these frivolous people, I suppose,
joined with the extraordinary gravity of the young priest's face-
-his pious fatigue, his droning prayer and his isolation--that
gave me just then and there a supreme vision of the religious
passion, its privations and resignations and exhaustions and its
terribly small share of amusement. He was young and strong and
evidently of not too refined a fibre to enjoy the Carnival; but,
planted there with his face pale with fasting and his knees stiff
with praying, he seemed so stern a satire on it and on the crazy
thousands who were preferring it to his way, that I half
expected to see some heavenly portent out of a monastic legend
come down and confirm his choice. Yet I confess that though I
wasn't enamoured of the Carnival myself, his seemed a grim
preference and this forswearing of the world a terrible game--a
gaining one only if your zeal never falters; a hard fight when it
does. In such an hour, to a stout young fellow like the hero of
my anecdote, the smell of incense must seem horribly stale and
the muslin flowers and gilt candlesticks to figure no great
bribe. And it wouldn't have helped him much to think that not so
very far away, just beyond the Forum, in the Corso, there was
sport for the million, and for nothing. I doubt on the other hand
whether my young priest had thought of this. He had made himself
a temple out of the very elements of his innocence, and his
prayers followed each other too fast for the tempter to slip in a
whisper. And so, as I say, I found a solider fact of human nature
than the love of coriandoli.

One of course never passes the Colosseum without paying it one's
respects--without going in under one of the hundred portals and
crossing the long oval and sitting down a while, generally at
the foot of the cross in the centre. I always feel, as I do so,
as if I were seated in the depths of some Alpine valley. The
upper portions of the side toward the Esquiline look as remote
and lonely as an Alpine ridge, and you raise your eyes to their
rugged sky-line, drinking in the sun and silvered by the blue
air, with much the same feeling with which you would take in a
grey cliff on which an eagle might lodge. This roughly
mountainous quality of the great ruin is its chief interest;
beauty of detail has pretty well vanished, especially since the
high-growing wild-flowers have been plucked away by the new
government, whose functionaries, surely, at certain points of
their task, must have felt as if they shared the dreadful trade
of those who gather samphire. Even if you are on your way to the
Lateran you won't grudge the twenty minutes it will take you, on
leaving the Colosseum, to turn away under the Arch of
Constantine, whose noble battered bas-reliefs, with the chain of
tragic statues--fettered, drooping barbarians--round its summit,
I assume you to have profoundly admired, toward the piazzetta of
the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, on the slope of Caelian. No
spot in Rome can show a cluster of more charming accidents. The
ancient brick apse of the church peeps down into the trees of the
little wooded walk before the neighbouring church of San
Gregorio, intensely venerable beneath its excessive
modernisation; and a series of heavy brick buttresses, flying
across to an opposite wall, overarches the short, steep, paved
passage which leads into the small square. This is flanked on one
side by the long mediaeval portico of the church of the two
saints, sustained by eight time-blackened columns of granite and
marble. On another rise the great scarce-windowed walls of a
Passionist convent, and on the third the portals of a grand
villa, whose tall porter, with his cockade and silver-topped
staff, standing sublime behind his grating, seems a kind of
mundane St. Peter, I suppose, to the beggars who sit at the
church door or lie in the sun along the farther slope which leads
to the gate of the convent. The place always seems to me the
perfection of an out-of-the-way corner--a place you would think
twice before telling people about, lest you should find them
there the next time you were to go. It is such a group of
objects, singly and in their happy combination, as one must come
to Rome to find at one's house door; but what makes it peculiarly
a picture is the beautiful dark red campanile of the church,
which stands embedded in the mass of the convent. It begins, as
so many things in Rome begin, with a stout foundation of antique
travertine, and rises high, in delicately quaint mediaeval
brickwork--little tiers and apertures sustained on miniature
columns and adorned with small cracked slabs of green and yellow
marble, inserted almost at random. When there are three or four
brown-breasted contadini sleeping in the sun before the convent
doors, and a departing monk leading his shadow down over them, I
think you will not find anything in Rome more sketchable.

If you stop, however, to observe everything worthy of your water-
colours you will never reach St. John Lateran. My business was
much less with the interior of that vast and empty, that cold
clean temple, which I have never found peculiarly interesting,
than with certain charming features of its surrounding precinct--
the crooked old court beside it, which admits you to the
Baptistery and to a delightful rear-view of the queer
architectural odds and ends that may in Rome compose a florid
ecclesiastical façade. There are more of these, a stranger jumble
of chance detail, of lurking recesses and wanton projections and
inexplicable windows, than I have memory or phrase for; but the
gem of the collection is the oddly perched peaked turret, with
its yellow travertine welded upon the rusty brickwork, which was
not meant to be suspected, and the brickwork retreating beneath
and leaving it in the odd position of a tower under which
you may see the sky. As to the great front of the church
overlooking the Porta San Giovanni, you are not admitted behind
the scenes; the term is quite in keeping, for the architecture
has a vastly theatrical air. It is extremely imposing--that of
St. Peter's alone is more so; and when from far off on the
Campagna you see the colossal images of the mitred saints along
the top standing distinct against the sky, you forget their
coarse construction and their inflated draperies. The view from
the great space which stretches from the church steps to the city
wall is the very prince of views. Just beside you, beyond the
great alcove of mosaic, is the Scala Santa, the marble staircase
which (says the legend) Christ descended under the weight of
Pilate's judgment, and which all Christians must for ever ascend
on their knees; before you is the city gate which opens upon the
Via Appia Nuova, the long gaunt file of arches of the Claudian
aqueduct, their jagged ridge stretching away like the vertebral
column of some monstrous mouldering skeleton, and upon the
blooming brown and purple flats and dells of the Campagna and the
glowing blue of the Alban Mountains, spotted with their white,
high-nestling towns; while to your left is the great grassy
space, lined with dwarfish mulberry-trees, which stretches across
to the damp little sister-basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
During a former visit to Rome I lost my heart to this idle
tract,[1]

[1] Utterly overbuilt and gone--1909.]

and wasted much time in sitting on the steps of the church and
watching certain white-cowled friars who were sure to be passing
there for the delight of my eyes. There are fewer friars now, and
there are a great many of the king's recruits, who inhabit the
ex-conventual barracks adjoining Santa Croce and are led forward
to practise their goose-step on the sunny turf. Here too the poor
old cardinals who are no longer to be seen on the Pincio descend
from their mourning-coaches and relax their venerable knees.
These members alone still testify to the traditional splendour of
the princes of the Church; for as they advance the lifted black
petticoat reveals a flash of scarlet stockings and makes you
groan at the victory of civilisation over colour.

[Illustration: THE FAÇADE OF ST. JOHN LATERAN, ROME.]

If St. John Lateran disappoints you internally, you have an easy
compensation in pacing the long lane which connects it with Santa
Maria Maggiore and entering the singularly perfect nave of that
most delightful of churches. The first day of my stay in Rome
under the old dispensation I spent in wandering at random through
the city, with accident for my valet-de-place. It served
me to perfection and introduced me to the best things; among
others to an immediate happy relation with Santa Maria Maggiore.
First impressions, memorable impressions, are generally
irrecoverable; they often leave one the wiser, but they rarely
return in the same form. I remember, of my coming uninformed and
unprepared into the place of worship and of curiosity that I have
named, only that I sat for half an hour on the edge of the base
of one of the marble columns of the beautiful nave and enjoyed a
perfect revel of--what shall I call it?--taste, intelligence,
fancy, perceptive emotion? The place proved so endlessly
suggestive that perception became a throbbing confusion of
images, and I departed with a sense of knowing a good deal that
is not set down in Murray. I have seated myself more than once
again at the base of the same column; but you live your life only
once, the parts as well as the whole. The obvious charm of the
church is the elegant grandeur of the nave--its perfect
shapeliness and its rich simplicity, its long double row of white
marble columns and its high flat roof, embossed with intricate
gildings and mouldings. It opens into a choir of an extraordinary
splendour of effect, which I recommend you to look out for of a
fine afternoon. At such a time the glowing western light,
entering the high windows of the tribune, kindles the scattered
masses of colour into sombre bright-ness, scintillates on the
great solemn mosaic of the vault, touches the porphyry columns of
the superb baldachino with ruby lights, and buries its shining
shafts in the deep-toned shadows that hang about frescoes and
sculptures and mouldings. The deeper charm even than in such
things, however, is the social or historic note or tone or
atmosphere of the church--I fumble, you see, for my right
expression; the sense it gives you, in common with most of the
Roman churches, and more than any of them, of having been prayed
in for several centuries by an endlessly curious and complex
society. It takes no great attention to let it come to you that
the authority of Italian Catholicism has lapsed not a little in
these days; not less also perhaps than to feel that, as they
stand, these deserted temples were the fruit of a society
leavened through and through by ecclesiastical manners, and that
they formed for ages the constant background of the human drama.
They are, as one may say, the churchiest churches in
Europe--the fullest of gathered memories, of the experience of
their office. There's not a figure one has read of in old-world
annals that isn't to be imagined on proper occasion kneeling
before the lamp-decked Confession beneath the altar of Santa
Maria Maggiore. One sees after all, however, even among the most
palpable realities, very much what the play of one's imagination
projects there; and I present my remarks simply as a reminder
that one's constant excursions into these places are not the
least interesting episodes of one's walks in Rome.

I had meant to give a simple illustration of the church-habit, so
to speak, but I have given it at such a length as leaves scant
space to touch on the innumerable topics brushed by the pen that
begins to take Roman notes. It is by the aimless flânerie
which leaves you free to follow capriciously every hint of
entertainment that you get to know Rome. The greater part of the
life about you goes on in the streets; and for an observer fresh
from a country in which town scenery is at the least monotonous
incident and character and picture seem to abound. I become
conscious with compunction, let me hasten to add, that I have
launched myself thus on the subject of Roman churches and Roman
walks without so much as a preliminary allusion to St. Peter's.
One is apt to proceed thither on rainy days with intentions of
exercise--to put the case only at that--and to carry these out
body and mind. Taken as a walk not less than as a church, St.
Peter's of course reigns alone. Even for the profane
"constitutional" it serves where the Boulevards, where Piccadilly
and Broadway, fall short, and if it didn't offer to our use the
grandest area in the world it would still offer the most
diverting. Few great works of art last longer to the curiosity,
to the perpetually transcended attention. You think you have
taken the whole thing in, but it expands, it rises sublime again,
and leaves your measure itself poor. You never let the ponderous
leather curtain bang down behind you--your weak lift of a scant
edge of whose padded vastness resembles the liberty taken in
folding back the parchment corner of some mighty folio page--
without feeling all former visits to have been but missed
attempts at apprehension and the actual to achieve your first
real possession. The conventional question is ever as to whether
one hasn't been "disappointed in the size," but a few honest folk
here and there, I hope, will never cease to say no. The place
struck me from the first as the hugest thing conceivable--a real
exaltation of one's idea of space; so that one's entrance, even
from the great empty square which either glares beneath the deep
blue sky or makes of the cool far-cast shadow of the immense
front something that resembles a big slate-coloured country on a
map, seems not so much a going in somewhere as a going out. The
mere man of pleasure in quest of new sensations might well not
know where to better his encounter there of the sublime shock
that brings him, within the threshold, to an immediate gasping
pause. There are days when the vast nave looks mysteriously
vaster than on others and the gorgeous baldachino a longer
journey beyond the far-spreading tessellated plain of the
pavement, and when the light has yet a quality which lets things
loom their largest, while the scattered figures--I mean the
human, for there are plenty of others--mark happily the scale of
items and parts. Then you have only to stroll and stroll and gaze
and gaze; to watch the glorious altar-canopy lift its bronze
architecture, its colossal embroidered contortions, like a temple
within a temple, and feel yourself, at the bottom of the abysmal
shaft of the dome, dwindle to a crawling dot.

Much of the constituted beauty resides in the fact that it is all
general beauty, that you are appealed to by no specific details,
or that these at least, practically never importunate, are as
taken for granted as the lieutenants and captains are taken for
granted in a great standing army--among whom indeed individual
aspects may figure here the rather shifting range of decorative
dignity in which details, when observed, often prove poor (though
never not massive and substantially precious) and sometimes prove
ridiculous. The sculptures, with the sole exception of Michael
Angelo's ineffable "Pieta," which lurks obscurely in a side-
chapel--this indeed to my sense the rarest artistic
combination of the greatest things the hand of man has
produced--are either bad or indifferent; and the universal
incrustation of marble, though sumptuous enough, has a less
brilliant effect than much later work of the same sort, that for
instance of St. Paul's without the Walls. The supreme beauty is
the splendidly sustained simplicity of the whole. The thing
represents a prodigious imagination extraordinarily strained, yet
strained, at its happiest pitch, without breaking. Its happiest
pitch I say, because this is the only creation of its strenuous
author in presence of which you are in presence of serenity. You
may invoke the idea of ease at St. Peter's without a sense of
sacrilege--which you can hardly do, if you are at all spiritually
nervous, in Westminster Abbey or Notre Dame. The vast enclosed
clearness has much to do with the idea. There are no shadows to
speak of, no marked effects of shade; only effects of light
innumerably--points at which this element seems to mass itself in
airy density and scatter itself in enchanting gradations and
cadences. It performs the office of gloom or of mystery in Gothic
churches; hangs like a rolling mist along the gilded vault of the
nave, melts into bright interfusion the mosaic scintillations of
the dome, clings and clusters and lingers, animates the whole
huge and otherwise empty shell. A good Catholic, I suppose, is
the same Catholic anywhere, before the grandest as well as the
humblest altars; but to a visitor not formally enrolled St.
Peter's speaks less of aspiration than of full and convenient
assurance. The soul infinitely expands there, if one will, but
all on its quite human level. It marvels at the reach of our
dreams and the immensity of our resources. To be so impressed and
put in our place, we say, is to be sufficiently "saved"; we can't
be more than the heaven itself; and what specifically celestial
beauty such a show or such a substitute may lack it makes up for
in certainty and tangibility. And yet if one's hours on the scene
are not actually spent in praying, the spirit seeks it again as
for the finer comfort, for the blessing, exactly, of its example,
its protection and its exclusion. When you are weary of the
swarming democracy of your fellow-tourists, of the unremunerative
aspects of human nature on Corso and Pincio, of the oppressively
frequent combination of coronets on carriage panels and stupid
faces in carriages, of addled brains and lacquered boots, of ruin
and dirt and decay, of priests and beggars and takers of
advantage, of the myriad tokens of a halting civilisation, the
image of the great temple depresses the balance of your doubts,
seems to rise above even the highest tide of vulgarity and make
you still believe in the heroic will and the heroic act. It's a
relief, in other words, to feel that there's nothing but a cab-
fare between your pessimism and one of the greatest of human
achievements.

[Illustration: THE COLONNADE OF ST. PETER, ROME.]

This might serve as a Lenten peroration to these remarks of mine
which have strayed so woefully from their jovial text, save that
I ought fairly to confess that my last impression of the Carnival
was altogether Carnivalesque.. The merry-making of Shrove Tuesday
had life and felicity; the dead letter of tradition broke out
into nature and grace. I pocketed my scepticism and spent a long
afternoon on the Corso. Almost every one was a masker, but you
had no need to conform; the pelting rain of confetti effectually
disguised you. I can't say I found it all very exhilarating; but
here and there I noticed a brighter episode--a capering clown
inflamed with contagious jollity, some finer humourist forming a
circle every thirty yards to crow at his indefatigable sallies.
One clever performer so especially pleased me that I should have
been glad to catch a glimpse of the natural man. You imagined for
him that he was taking a prodigious intellectual holiday and that
his gaiety was in inverse ratio to his daily mood. Dressed as a
needy scholar, in an ancient evening-coat and with a rusty black
hat and gloves fantastically patched, he carried a little volume
carefully under his arm. His humours were in excellent taste, his
whole manner the perfection of genteel comedy. The crowd seemed
to relish him vastly, and he at once commanded a glee-fully
attentive audience. Many of his sallies I lost; those I caught
were excellent. His trick was often to begin by taking some one
urbanely and caressingly by the chin and complimenting him on the
intelligenza della sua fisionomia. I kept near him as long
as I could; for he struck me as a real ironic artist, cherishing
a disinterested, and yet at the same time a motived and a moral,
passion for the grotesque. I should have liked, however--if
indeed I shouldn't have feared--to see him the next morning, or
when he unmasked that night over his hard-earned supper in a
smoky trattoria. As the evening went on the crowd
thickened and became a motley press of shouting, pushing,
scrambling, everything but squabbling, revellers. The rain of
missiles ceased at dusk, but the universal deposit of chalk and
flour was trampled into a cloud made lurid by flaring pyramids of
the gas-lamps that replaced for the occasion the stingy Roman
luminaries. Early in the evening came off the classic exhibition
of the moccoletti, which I but half saw, like a languid
reporter resigned beforehand to be cashiered for want of
enterprise. From the mouth of a side-street, over a thousand
heads, I caught a huge slow-moving illuminated car, from which
blue-lights and rockets and Roman candles were in course of
discharge, meeting all in a dim fuliginous glare far above the
house-tops. It was like a glimpse of some public orgy in ancient
Babylon. In the small hours of the morning, walking homeward from
a private entertainment, I found Ash Wednesday still kept at bay.
The Corso, flaring with light, smelt like a circus. Every one was
taking friendly liberties with every one else and using up the
dregs of his festive energy in convulsive hootings and
gymnastics. Here and there certain indefatigable spirits, clad
all in red after the manner of devils and leaping furiously about
with torches, were supposed to affright you. But they shared the
universal geniality and bequeathed me no midnight fears as a
pretext for keeping Lent, the carnevale dei preti, as I
read in that profanely radical sheet the Capitale. Of this
too I have been having glimpses. Going lately into Santa
Francesca Romana, the picturesque church near the Temple of
Peace, I found a feast for the eyes--a dim crimson-toned light
through curtained windows, a great festoon of tapers round the
altar, a bulging girdle of lamps before the sunken shrine
beneath, and a dozen white-robed Dominicans scattered in the
happiest composition on the pavement. It was better than the
moccoletti.

1873.

Henry James