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Chapter 15


The Roman carnival in three moods--Apples of Sodom--Poor, battered,
wilted, stained hearts--A living protest and scourge--Dulce est
desipere in loco--A rollicking world of happy fools--Endless sunshine
of some sort--Greenwich Fair was worth a hundred of it--They thundered
past, never drawing rein--"Senza moccolo!"--Nothing more charming and
strange could be imagined--Girls surprised in the midst of dressing
themselves--A Unitarian clergyman with his fat wife--Apparent license
under courteous restraint--He laughed and pelted and was
pelted--William Story, as vivid as when I saw him last--A too facile
power--A deadly shadow gliding close behind--Set afire by his own
sallies--"Thy face is like thy mother's, my fair child!"--Cleopatra in
the clay--"War nie sein Brod mit thranen ass."

--

THE Roman carnival opened about a month after our arrival in Rome. The
weather was bad nearly all the time, and my father's point of view was
correspondingly unsympathetic. The contrast between his mood now and a
year later, when he was not only stimulated by his daughter's recovery
from illness, but, also, was looking at everything rather as the
romancer than as the man, is worth bringing out. My father likewise
describes the carnival in the romance; there we see it in a third
phase--as art. But the passages in the note-books are written from the
realistic stand-point. In her transcriptions of the journals for the
press my mother was always careful to omit from the former everything
that had been "used" in the book; the principle, no doubt, was sound,
but it might be edifying for once, in a way, to do just the opposite,
in order to mark, if we choose to take the trouble, what kind of
changes or modifications Hawthorne the romancer would make in the work
of my father the observer of nature. Take your Marble Faun and turn to
two of the latter chapters and compare them with the corresponding
pages in my excerpts from the journals in the Biography. In the latter
you will find him always in a critical and carping humor; seeing
everything with abundant keenness, but recognizing nothing worth while
in it. The bouquets, he noticed, for example, were often picked up out
of the street and used again and again; "and," he adds, "I suppose
they aptly enough symbolized the poor, battered, wilted, stained
hearts that had flown from one hand to another along the muddy pathway
of life, instead of being treasured up in one faithful bosom. Really,
it was great nonsense."

It is true--such uncongenial interpretation--if you feel that way
about it. And I remember, in my rambles along the famous thoroughfare,
seeing a saturnine old fellow in a dingy black coat and slouch hat,
with a sour snarl on his unprepossessing features, who made it his
business, all day, to cuff and kick the little boys whom he caught
throwing confetti, or picking up the fallen bouquets, and to shove the
latter down into the sewer which ran beneath the street, through the
apertures opening underneath the curb. He seemed to have stationed
himself there as a living protest and scourge against and of the whole
spirit of the carnival; to hate it just because the rest of the world
enjoyed it, and to wish that he might make everybody else as miserable
and uncharitable as he was. He was like a wicked and ugly Mrs.
Partington, trying to sweep back the Atlantic of holiday merriment
with his dirty mop. But this crabbed humor of his, while it made him
conspicuous against the broad background of gayety, of course had no
effect on the gayety itself. The flood of laughter, jocundity, and
semi-boisterous frolic continued to roll up and down the Corso all day
long, never attempting to be anything but pure nonsense, indeed, but
achieving, nevertheless, the wise end of nonsense in the right time
and place--that of refreshing and lightening the mind and heart. Dulce
est desipere in loco--that old saw might have been made precisely to
serve as the motto of the Roman carnival; and very likely it was
actually suggested to its renowned author by some similar sport
belonging to the old Roman days, before Christianity was thought of.
The young fellows--English, American, or of whatever other
nationality--would stride up and down the overflowing street hour
after hour, clad in linen dust-coats down to their heels, with a bag
of confetti slung on one side and another full of bouquets on the
other; and they would plunge a warlike hand into the former and hurl
ammunition at their rivals; or they would, pick out a bunch of flowers
from the latter for a pretty girl--not that the flowers were worth
anything intrinsically, nor was that their fault--but just to show the
fitting sentiment. There was only one rule, the unwritten one that
everybody was to take everything that came with a smile or a laugh,
and never get angry at anything; and this universal good-humor lifted
the whole affair into a wholesome and profitable sphere. Then there
was the double row of carriages forever moving in opposite directions,
and passing within easy arm's-reach of each other; and the jolly
battle was waged between their occupants, with side conflicts with the
foot-farers at the same time. And as the same carriages would repass
one another every forty minutes or so, the persons in them would soon
get to recognize one another; and, if they were of the sterner sex,
they would be prepared to renew desperate battle; or if there was a
pretty girl or two in one of them, she would be the recipient of a
deluge of flowers or of really pretty bonbons. It was all play, all
laughter, all a new, rollicking world of happy fools, of comic
chivalry, of humorous gallantry. For my part, I thought it was the
world which I had been born to live in; and I was too happy in it to
imagine even that anybody could be less happy than I was. My sole
grief was when my supply of confetti had given out, and I had no money
to buy more. I used to look at those great baskets at the
street-corners, filled with the white agglomeration, with longing
eyes, and wish I had it all in my pockets. I picked up the fallen
bouquets, muddy or not, with no misgiving, and flung them at the girls
with the unquestioning faith of boyhood. I looked up at the people in
the windows and on the draped balconies with romantic emotions, and
exchanged smiles and beckonings with them. The February days were
never long enough for me; I only wished that the whole year was made
up of those days; if it rained, or was cold, I never knew it. There
was an endless sunshine of some sort which sufficed for me. But my
father, at this epoch, could catch not a glimpse of it. "I never in my
life knew a shallower joke than the carnival at Rome; such a rainy and
muddy day, too; Greenwich Fair (at the very last of which I assisted)
was worth a hundred of it."

The masking day, and the ensuing night of the moccolo, were the
culminating features of the carnival; and it was on the afternoon of
this day, I think, that the horse-race, with bare-backed horses, took
place. The backs of these horses, though bare of riders, had attached
to them by strings little balls with sharp points in them, which, as
the horses ran, bobbed up and down, and did the office of spurs. The
race was preceded by a thundering gallop of cavalry down the whole
length of the Corso (the street having been cleared of carriages
beforehand), ostensibly to prevent anybody from being run over by the
race-horses; but, as a matter of fact, if any one were killed, it was
much more likely to be by the ruthless riding of these helmeted
dragoons than by the riderless steeds. They thundered past, never
drawing rein, no matter what stood or ran in their way; and then,
after an interval, during which the long crowds, packed back on the
opposite sidewalks, craned forward as far as they dared to see them,
came the eight or ten racers at a furious pace. They were come and
gone in a breath; and finally, after the body of them were passed,
came a laggard, who had been left at the post, and was trying to make
up for lost time. I believe it was this horse who actually killed
somebody on the course. The race over, back into the street thronged
the crowd, filling it from wall to wall; then there was a gradual
thinning away, as the people went home for supper; and finally came
the night and the moccoli, with the biggest crowd of all. I was there
with my twist of moccolo and a box of matches; except the moccoli,
there was no other illumination along the length of the Corso. But
their soft lights were there by myriads, and made a lovely sight, to
my eyes at least. "Senza moccolo!" was the universal cry; young
knights-errant, singly or in groups, pressed their way up and down,
shouting the battle-cry, and quenching all lights within reach, while
striving to maintain the flame of their own; using now the whisk of a
handkerchief, now a puff of breath, now the fillip of a finger;
contriving to extinguish a fair lady's taper with the same effusion of
vain words wherewith they told her of their passion. Most of the
ladies thus assailed sat in the lower balconies, elevated only a foot
or two above the level of the sidewalk; but those in the higher
retreats made war upon one another, and upon their own cavaliers; none
was immune from peril. The cry, uttered at once by such innumerable
voices far and near, made a singular murmur up and down the Corso; and
the soft twinkling of the lights, winking in and out as they were put
out or relighted, gave a singular fire-fly effect to the whole
illumination. It seemed to me then, and it still seems in the
retrospect, that nothing more charming and strange could be imagined;
and through it all was the constant blossoming of laughter, more
inextinguishable than the moccoletti themselves. The colors of the
tapestries and stuffs dependent from the windows and balconies glowed
out in light, or were dimmed by shadow; and the faces of the
thousandfold crowd of festival-makers glimmered forth and were lost
again on the background of the night, like the features of spirits in
the glimpses of a dream. How long it all lasted I know not; but it
had its term, like other mortal things, even in this fairyland of
carnival; and when the last light was out the carnival was no more,
and Lent, unawares, had softly settled down upon us with the darkness.

But let us now listen to my father when, for the second time, he made
proof of the carnival in the year following our return from Florence,
and after Una had left her sick-room and could be at his side. "The
weather has been splendid," he writes, "and the merriment far more
free and riotous than as I remember it in the preceding year. Tokens
of the festival were seen in flowers on street-stands, or borne aloft
on people's heads, while bushels of confetti were displayed, looking
like veritable sugarplums, so that a stranger might have thought that
the whole commerce and business of stern old Rome lay in flowers and
sweets. One wonders, however, that the scene should not be even more
rich and various when there has been so long a time (the immemorial
existence of the carnival) to prepare it, and adorn it with shapes of
gayety and humor. There was an infinite number of clowns and
particolored harlequins; a host of white dominoes; a multitude of
masks, set in eternal grins, or with monstrous noses, or made in the
guise of monkeys, bears, dogs, or whatever beast the wearer chooses to
be akin to; a great many men in petticoats, and almost as many girls
and women, no doubt, in breeches; figures, too, with huge, bulbous
heads and all manner of such easy monstrosities and exaggerations..
It is strange how the whole humor of the thing, and the separate humor
of each individual character, vanishes the moment I try to grasp it
and describe it; and yet there really was fun in the spectacle as it
flitted by--for instance, in the long line of carriages a company of
young men in flesh-colored tights and chemises, representing a party
of girls surprised in the midst of dressing themselves, while an old
nurse in the midst of them expressed ludicrous horror at their
predicament. Then the embarrassment of gentlemen who, while quietly
looking at the scene, are surrounded by groups of maskers, grimacing
at them, squeaking in their ears, hugging them, dancing round them,
till they snatch an opportunity to escape into some doorway; or when a
poor man in a black coat and cylinder hat is whitened all over with a
half-bushel of confetti and lime-dust; the mock sympathy with which
his case is investigated by a company of maskers, who poke their
stupid, pasteboard faces close to his, still with the unchangeable
grin; or when a gigantic female figure singles out some shy, harmless
personage, and makes appeals to his heart, avowing her passionate love
in dumb show, and presenting him with her bouquet; and a hundred other
nonsensicalities, among which the rudest and simplest are not the
least effective. A resounding thump on the back with a harlequin's
sword, or a rattling blow with a bladder half full of dried pease or
corn, answers a very good purpose. There was a good deal of absurdity
one day in a figure in a crinoline petticoat, riding on an ass and
almost filling the Corso with the circumference of crinoline from side
to side. Some figures are dressed in old-fashioned garbs, perhaps of
the last century, or, even more ridiculous, of thirty years ago, or in
the stately Elizabethan (as we should call them) trunk hose, tunics,
and cloaks of three centuries since. I do not know anything that I
have seen queerer than a Unitarian clergyman (Mr. Mountford), who
drives through the Corso daily with his fat wife in a one-horse
chaise, with a wreath of withered flowers and oak leaves round his
hat, the rest of his dress remaining unchanged, except that it is well
powdered with the dust of confetti. That withered wreath is the
absurdest thing he could wear (though, perhaps, he may not mean it to
be so), and so, of course, the best. I can think of no other masks
just now, but will go this afternoon and try to catch some more." You
see, he has that romance in view again. "Clowns, or zanies," he
resumes, after fresh inspection, "appear in great troupes, dancing
extravagantly and scampering wildly; everybody seems to do whatever
folly comes into his head; and yet, if you consider the matter, you
see that all this apparent license is kept under courteous restraint.
There is no rudeness, except the authorized pelting with confetti or
blows of harlequins' swords, which, moreover, are within a law of
their own. But nobody takes rough hold of another, or meddles with his
mask, or does him any unmannerly violence. At first sight you would
think that the whole world had gone mad, but at the end you wonder how
people can let loose all their mirthful propensities without
unchaining the mischievous ones. It could not be so in America or in
England; in either of those countries the whole street would go mad in
earnest and come to blows and bloodshed were the populace to let
themselves loose to the extent we see here. All this restraint is
self-imposed and quite apart from the presence of the soldiery."

This mood, we see, is far more gentle and sympathetic than the former
one; there is sunshine within as well as without; and, indeed, I
remember with what glee my father took part in the frolic, as well as
looked on at it; he laughed and pelted and was pelted; he walked down
the Corso and back again; he drove to and fro in a carriage; he
mounted to Mr. Motley's balcony and took long shots at the crowd
below. The sombre spirit of criticism had ceased, for a time, to haunt
him.

We went quite often to the studio of William Story, whom my father had
slightly known in Salem before he became a voluntary exile from
America. Mr. Story was at this time a small, wiry, nervous personage,
smiling easily, but as much through nervousness as from any inner
source or outward provocation of mirth, and as he smiled he would
stroke his cheeks, which were covered with a short, brown beard, with
the fingers and thumb of his right hand, while wrinkles would appear
round his bright, brown eyes. "He looks thin and worn already," wrote
my father; "a little bald and a very little gray, but as vivid as when
I saw him last; he cannot, methinks, be over thirty-seven." He was
thirty-nine in 1858. "The great difficulty with him, I think, is a too
facile power," my father goes on; "he would do better things if it
were more difficult for him to do merely good ones. Then, too, his
sensibility is too quick; being easily touched by his own thoughts, he
cannot estimate what is required to touch a colder and duller person,
and so stops short of the adequate expression." He commented on the
vein of melancholy beneath the sparkle of his surface, as if, in the
midst of prosperity, he was conscious of a "deadly shadow gliding
close behind." Boys of twelve are not troubled with insight, unless of
that unconscious, intuitive kind that tells them that a person is
likeable, or the reverse, no matter what the person may do or say. I
liked Mr. Story, and thought him as light of spirit as he seemed; not
that he was not often earnest enough in his talks with my father, to
whom he was wont to apply himself with a sort of intensity, suggesting
ideas, and watching, with his nervous smile, my father's reception of
them; plunging into deep matters, beyond my comprehension, dwelling
there a few minutes, and then emerging again with a sparkle of wit; he
was certainly very witty, and the wit was native and original, not
memorized. When he got into the current of drollery, he would, as it
were, set himself afire by his own sallies, and soar to astonishing
heights, which had an irresistible contagion for the hearers; and he
would sometimes, sitting at a table with pen and paper at hand,
illustrate his whimsicalities with lightning sketches of immense
cleverness, considering their impromptu character. I have preserved a
sheet of letter-paper covered with such drawings. The conversation had
got upon Byron, whom Mr. Story chose to ridicule; as he talked, he
drew a head of "Byron as he thought he was," followed by one of "Byron
as he was," and by another of "Byron as he might have been," showing a
very pronounced negro type. Then he made a portrait of "Ada, sole
daughter of my house and heart," and wrote under it, "Thy face was like
thy mother's, my fair child!" a hideous, simpering miss, with a snub
nose and a wooden mouth--"A poet's dream!" He also showed the
appearance of the Falls of Terni, "as described by Byron," and added
studies of infant phenomena, mother's darlings, a Presidential
candidate, and other absurdities, accompanying it all with a running
comment and imaginative improvisations which had the charm of genius
in them, and made us ache with laughter, young and old alike. Such a
man, nervous, high-strung, of fine perceptions and sensibilities, must
inevitably pass through rapid and extreme alternations of feeling;
and, no doubt, an hour after that laughing seance of ours, Mr. Story
was plunged deep in melancholy. Yet surely his premonitions of evil
were unfulfilled; Story lived long and was never other than fortunate.
Perhaps he was unable to produce works commensurate with his
conceptions; but unhappiness from such a cause is of a noble sort, and
better than most ordinary felicities.

I remember very well the statue of Cleopatra while yet in the clay.
There she sat in the centre of the large, empty studio, pondering on
Augustus and on the asp. The hue of the clay added a charm to the
figure which even the pure marble has not quite maintained. Story said
that he never was present while the cast of one of his statues was
being made; he could not endure the sight of the workmen throwing the
handfuls of plaster at the delicate clay. Cleopatra was substantially
finished, but Story was unwilling to let her go, and had no end of
doubts as to the handling of minor details. The hand that rests on her
knee--should the forefinger and thumb meet or be separated? If they
were separated, it meant the relaxation of despair; if they met, she
was still meditating defiance or revenge. After canvassing the
question at great length with my father, he decided that they should
meet; but when I saw the marble statue in the Metropolitan Museum the
other day I noticed that they were separated. In the end the artist
had preferred despair. Such things indicate the man's character, and,
perhaps, explain his failure to reach the great heights of art. He
could not trust a great idea to manage itself, but sought subtler
expression through small touches, and thus, finally, lost the feeling
of the larger inspiration. A little more of the calm, Greek spirit
would have done him good.

He had many projects for other statues, which he would build up in
fancy before my father and discuss with him. His words and gestures
made the ideas he described seem actual and present, but he seldom got
them into marble; he probably found, upon trial, that they did not
belong to sculpture. He had the ambition to make marble speak not its
own language merely, but those of painting and of poetry likewise; and
when this proved impossible he was unhappy and out of conceit with
himself, On the other hand, he did good work in poetry and in prose;
but neither did these content him. After all, my father's observation
hit the mark; things came too easy to him. Goethe speaks the word for
him:

"Wer nie sein Brod mit thranen ass,
Er kennt euch nicht, ihr ewige Machte!"


Julian Hawthorne

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