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Chapter 16


Drilled in Roman history--Lovely figures made of light and
morning--What superb figures!--The breath and strength of immeasurable
antiquity--Treasures coming direct from dead hands into mine--A
pleasant sound of coolness and refreshment--Receptacles of death now
dedicated to life--The Borghese is a forest of Ardennes--Profound and
important communings--A smiling deceiver--Of an early-rising
habit--Hauling in on my slack--A miniature cabinet magically made
Titanic--"If I had a murder on my conscience"--None can tell the
secret origin of his thoughts--A singularly beautiful young woman--She
actually ripped the man open--No leagues of chivalry needed in Rome--A
resident army--Five foot six--Corsets and padding--She was wounded in
the house of her friends.

--

We children had been drilled in Roman history, from Romulus to Caesar,
and we could, and frequently did, repeat by heart the Lays of Ancient
Rome by Macaulay, which were at that period better known, perhaps,
than they are now. Consequently, everything in Rome had a certain
degree of meaning for us, and gave us a pleasure in addition to the
intrinsic beauty or charm that belonged thereto. Our imagination
thronged the Capitol with senators; saw in the Roman Forum the
contentions of the tribunes and the patricians; heard the populus
Romanus roar in the Coliseum; beheld the splendid processions of
victory wind cityward through the Arch of Titus; saw Caesar lie
bleeding at the base of Pompey's statue; pondered over the fatal
precipice of the Tarpeian Rock; luxuriated in the hollow spaces of the
Baths of Caracalla; lost ourselves in gorgeous reveries in the palace
of the Caesars, and haunted the yellow stream of Tiber, beneath which
lay hidden precious treasures and forgotten secrets. And we were no
less captivated by the galleries and churches, which contained the
preserved relics of the great old times, and were in themselves so
beautiful. My taste for blackened old pictures and faded frescoes was,
indeed, even more undeveloped than my father's; but I liked the
brilliant reproductions in mosaic at St. Peter's and certain
individual works in various places. I formed a romantic attachment for
the alleged Beatrice Cenci of Guido, or of some other artist, and was
very sorry that she should be so unhappy, though, of course, I was
ignorant of the occasion of her low spirits. But I liked much better
Guide's large design of Aurora, partly because I had long been
familiar with it on the head-board of my mother's bedstead. Before her
marriage she had bought a set of bedroom furniture, and had painted it
a dull gold color, and on this surface she had drawn in fine black
lines the outlines of several classical subjects, most of them from
Flaxman; but in the space mentioned she had executed an outline of
this glorious work of the Italian artist. I knew every line of the
composition thoroughly; and, by-the-way, I doubt if a truer, more
inspired copy of the picture was ever produced by anybody. But the
color had to be supplied by the observer's imagination; now, for the
first time, I saw the hues as laid on by the original painter. In
spite of time, they were pure and exquisite beyond description; these
lovely figures seemed made of light and morning. Another favorite
picture of mine was the same artist's "Michael Overcoming the Evil
One," and I even had the sense to like the painting better than the
mosaic copy. Raphael's "Transfiguration" I also knew well from the old
engraving of it that used to hang on our parlor wall from my earliest
recollections; it still hangs yonder. But I never cared for this
picture; it was too complicated and ingenious--it needed too much
co-operation from the observer's mind. Besides, I had never seen a boy
with anything approaching the muscular development of the epileptic
youth in the centre. The thing in the picture that I most approved of
was the end of the log in the little pool, in the foreground; it
looked true to life.

But my delight in the statues was endless. It seems to me that I knew
personally every statue and group in the Vatican and in the Capitol.
Again and again, either with my parents, or with Eddy, or even alone,
I would pass the warders at the doors and enter those interminable
galleries, and look and look at those quiet, stained-marble effigies.
My early studies of Flaxman had, in a measure, educated me towards
appreciation of them. I never tired of them, as I did of the
Cleopatras and the Greek Slaves. What superb figures! What power and
grace and fleetness and athletic loins! The divine, severe Minerva,
musing under the shadow of her awful helmet; the athlete with the
strigil, resting so lightly on his tireless feet; the royal Apollo,
disdaining his own victory; the Venus, half shrinking from the
exquisiteness of her own beauty; the swaying poise of the Discobulus,
caught forever as he drew his breath for the throw; the smooth-limbed,
brooding Antinous; the terrible Laocoon, which fascinated me, though
it always repelled me, too; the austere simplicity of the Dying
Gladiator's stoop to death--the most human of all the great statues;
the heads of heroic Miltiades, of Antony, of solitary Cassar, of
indifferent Augustus; the tranquil indolence of mighty Nile, clambered
over by his many children--these, and a hundred others, spoke to me
out of their immortal silence. I can conceive of no finer discipline
for a boy; I emulated while I adored them. Power, repose, beauty,
nobility, were in their message: "Do you, too, possess limbs and
shoulders like ours!" they said to me; "such a bearing, such a spirit
within!" I cannot overestimate even the physical good they did me; it
was from them that I gained the inspiration for bodily development and
for all athletic exercise which has, since then, helped me over many a
rough passage in the path of life. But they also awoke higher
ambitions and conferred finer benefits.

From these excursions into the ideal I would return to out-of-doors
with another inexhaustible zest. That ardent, blue Roman sky and
penetrating, soft sunshine filled me with life and joy. The breath
and strength of immeasurable antiquity emanated from those massive
ruins, which time could deface but never conquer. Emerald lizards
basked on the hot walls; flowers grew in the old crevices; butterflies
floated round them; they were haunted by spirits of heroes. There is
nothing else to be compared with the private, intimate, human, yet
sublimated affection which these antique monuments wrought in me. They
were my mighty brothers, condescending to my boyish thoughts and
fancies, smiling upon me, welcoming me, conscious of my love for them.
Each ruin had its separate individuality for me, so that to-day I must
play with the Coliseum, to-morrow with the Forum, or the far-ranging
arches of the Aqueduct, or the Temple of Vesta. Always, too, my eyes
were alert for treasures in the old Roman soil, coming, as it seemed,
direct from the dead hands of the vanished people into mine. I valued
the scraps that I picked up thus more than anything to be bought in
shops or seen in museums. These bits of tinted marble had felt the
touch of real Romans; their feet had trodden on them, on them their
arms had rested, their hands had grasped them. Two thousand years had
dulled the polish of their surfaces; I took them to the stone-workers,
who made them glow and bloom again--yellow, red, black, green, white.
They were good-natured but careless men, those marble-polishers, and
would sometimes lose my precious relics, and when I called for them
would say, every day, "Domane--domane," or try to put me off with some
substitute--as if a boy could be deceived in such a matter! I once
found in the neighborhood of a recent excavation a semi-transparent
tourmaline of a cool green hue when held to the light; it had once
been set in the ring of some Roman beauty. It had, from long abiding
in the earth, that wonderful iridescent surface which ancient glass
acquires. Rose, my sister, picked up out of a rubbish heap a little
bronze statuette, hardly three inches high, but, as experts said, of
the best artistic period. Such things made our Roman history books
seem like a tale of yesterday, or they transported us back across the
centuries, so that we trod in the footsteps of those who had been but
a moment before us.

In those warm days, after our walks and explorations, Eddy and I, and
little Hubert, who sometimes was permitted to accompany us, though we
deemed him hardly in our class, would greatly solace ourselves with
the clear and gurgling fountains which everywhere in Rome flow forth
into their marble and moss-grown basins with a pleasant sound of
coolness and refreshment. Rome without her fountains would not be
Rome; every memory of her includes them. In the streets, in the
piazzas, in the wide pleasaunces and gardens, the fountains allure us
onward, and comfort us for our weariness. In the Piazza d' Espagna,
at the foot of the famous steps, was that great, boat-shaped fountain
whose affluent waters cool the air which broods over the wide, white
stairway; and not far away is the mighty Trevi, with its turmoil of
obstreperous figures swarming round bragging Neptune, and its cataract
of innumerable rills welling forth and plunging downward by devious
ways to meet at last in the great basin, forever agitated with baby
waves lapping against the margins. These, and many similar elaborate
structures, are for the delight of the eye; but there are scores of
modest fountains, at the corners of the ways, in shady or in sunny
places, formed of an ancient sarcophagus receiving the everlasting
tribute of two open-mouthed lion-heads, or other devices, whose
arching outgush splashes into the receptacle made to hold death, but
now immortally dedicated to the refreshment of life. It was at these
minor fountains that we quenched our boyish thirst, each drinking at
the mouth of a spout; and when we discovered that by stopping up one
spout with our thumb the other would discharge with double force, we
played roguish tricks on each other, deluging each other at unawares
with unmanageable gushes of water, till we were forced to declare a
mutual truce of honor. But what delicious draughts did we suck in from
those lion-mouths into our own; never elsewhere did water seem so
sweet and revivifying. And then we would peer into the transparent
depths of the old sarcophagus, with its fringes of green, silky moss
waving slightly with the movement of the water, and fish out
tiny-spired water-shells; or dip in them the bits of ancient marbles
we had collected on our walk, to see the hues revive to their former
splendor. Many-fountained Rome ought to be a cure for wine-bibbers;
yet I never saw an Italian drink at these springs; they would rather
quaff the thin red and white wines that are sold for a few baiocchi at
the inns.

The Pincian Hill and the adjoining grounds of the Borghese Palace came
at length to be our favorite haunts. The Borghese is a delectable
spot, as my father remarks in one of those passages in his diary which
was afterwards expanded into the art-picture of his romance. "Broad
carriageways," he says, "and wood-paths wander beneath long vistas of
sheltering boughs; there are ilex-trees, ancient and sombre, which, in
the long peace of their lifetime, have assumed attitudes of indolent
repose; and stone-pines that look like green islands in the air, so
high above earth are they, and connected with it by such a slender
length of stem; and cypresses, resembling dark flames of huge,
funereal candles. These wooded lawns are more beautiful than English
park scenery; all the more beautiful for the air of neglect about
them, as if not much care of men were bestowed upon them, though
enough to keep wildness from growing into deformity, and to make the
whole scene like nature idealized--the woodland scenes the poet
dreamed of--a forest of Ardennes, for instance. These lawns and gentle
valleys are beautiful, moreover, with fountains flashing into marble
basins, or gushing like natural cascades from rough rocks; with bits
of architecture, as pillared porticos, arches, columns, of marble or
granite, with a touch of artful ruin on them; and, indeed, the pillars
and fragments seem to be remnants of antiquity, though put together
anew, hundreds of years old, perhaps, even in their present form, for
weeds and flowers grow out of the chinks and cluster on the tops of
arches and porticos. There are altars, too, with old Roman
inscriptions on them. Statues stand here and there among the trees, in
solitude, or in a long range, lifted high on pedestals, moss-grown,
some of them shattered, all grown gray with the corrosion of the
atmosphere. In the midst of these sunny and shadowy tracts rises the
stately front of the villa, adorned with statues in niches, with
busts, and ornamented architecture blossoming in stone-work. Take
away the malaria, and it might be a very happy place."

Here was a playground for boys of imaginative but not too destructive
proclivities, such as the world hardly furnishes elsewhere. But much
of my enjoyment of it I ascribe to my friend Eddy. My conversation
with no person since then has rivalled the profundity and importance
of my communings with his sympathetic soul. We not only discussed our
future destinies and philosophical convictions, but we located in
these delicious retreats the various worlds which we purposed to
explore and inhabit during the next few hundred years. Here we passed
through by anticipation all our future experiences. Sometimes we were
accompanied by other boys; but then our visits lost their distinction;
we merely had good times in the ordinary way of boys; we were robber
barons, intrenched in our strongholds, and attacked by other robbers;
or we ran races, or held other trials of strength and activity, or we
set snares for the bright-colored fishes which lurked in some of the
fountains. The grounds were occasionally invaded by gangs of Italian
boys, between whom and ourselves existed an irreconcilable feud. We
could easily thrash them in the Anglo-Saxon manner, with nature's
weapons; but they would ambush us and assail us with stones; and once
one of them struck at me with a knife, which was prevented from
entering my side only by the stout leather belt which I chanced to
wear. We denounced these assassins to the smiling custode of the
grounds, and he promised, smilingly, to bar the entrance to them
thenceforth; but he was a smiling deceiver; our enemies came just the
same. After all, we would have regretted their absence; they added the
touch of peril to our chronic romance which made it perfect. It is
forty-four years since then. Are there any other Borghese Gardens to
come for me in the future, I wonder? There was a rough pathway along
the banks of the Tiber, extending up the stream for two or three
miles, as far as the Ponte Molle, where the corktrees grew, and
farther, for aught I know. This was a favorite walk of mine, because
of the fragments of antique marbles to be found there, and also the
shells which so mysteriously abounded along the margin, as shown by
the learned conchological author hereinbefore cited. And, being of an
early rising habit, it was my wont to get up long before breakfast and
tramp up and down along the river for an hour or two, thinking, I
suppose, as I gazed upon the turbulent flood, of brave Horatius
disdainfully escaping from the serried hosts of Lars Porsena and false
Sextus, or of Caesar and Cassius buffeting the torrent on a "dare,"
and with lusty sinews flinging it aside. There were also lovely
effects of dawn upon the dome of St. Peter's, and the redoubtable mass
of St. Angelo, with its sword-sheathing angel. Moreover, sunrise, at
twelve years of age, is an exhilarating and congenial phenomenon. And
I painted my experiences in colors so attractive that our Ada Shepard
was inflamed with the idea of accompanying me on my rambles. She was a
child in heart, though so mature in intellect, and her spirit was
valiant, though her flesh was comparatively infirm. It was my custom
to set out about five o'clock in the morning, and Miss Shepard
promised to be ready at that hour. But after keeping awake most of the
night in order not to fail of the appointment, she fell asleep and
dreamed only of getting up; and, after waiting for her for near an
hour, I went without her. She was much mortified at her failure, and
suggested a plan to insure her punctuality, in which I readily agreed
to collaborate. When she went to bed she attached a piece of string to
one of her toes, the other end of the filament being carried
underneath doors and along passages to my own room. I was instructed
to haul in on my slack at the proper hour; and this I accordingly did,
with good-will, and was at once made conscious that I had caught
something, not only by the resistance which my efforts encountered,
but by the sound of cries of feminine distress and supplication, heard
in the distance. However, my companion appeared in due season, and we
took our walk, which, she declared, fulfilled all the anticipations which
my reports had led her to form.

Nevertheless, I cannot remember that we ever again made the expedition
together; it is a mistake to try to repeat a perfect joy.

It seems to me that I must have been a pretty constant visitor at St.
Peter's. The stiff, heavy, leathern curtain which protects the
entrance having been strenuously pushed aside (always with remembrance
of Corinne's impossible act of grace and courtesy in holding it aside
with one hand for Lord Neville), the glorious interior expanded,
mildly radiant, before me. As has been the case with so many other
observers, the real magnitude of the spectacle did not at first affect
me; the character of the decoration and detail prevented the
impression of greatness; it was only after many times traversing that
illimitable pavement, and after frequent comparisons with ordinary
human measurements of the aerial heights of those arches and that
dome, that one conies to understand, by a sort of logical compulsion,
how immense it all is. It is a miniature cabinet magically made
titanic; but the magic which could transform inches into roods could
not correspondingly enlarge the innate character of the ornament; so
that, instead of making the miniature appear truly vast, it only makes
us seem unnaturally small. Still, after all criticisms, St. Peter's
remains one of the most delightful places in the world; its sweet
sumptuousness and imperial harmonies seem somehow to enter into us and
make us harmonious, rich, and sweet. The air that we inhale is just
touched with the spirit of incense, and mellowed as with the still
memories of the summers of five hundred years ago. The glistening
surfaces of the colored marbles, dimmed with faint, fragrant mists,
and glorified with long slants of brooding sunshine, soothe the eye
like materialized music; and the soft twinkle of the candles on the
altars, seen in daylight, has a jewel-like charm. As I look back upon
it, however, and contrast it with the cathedrals of England, the total
influence upon the mind of St. Peter's seems to me voluptuous rather
than religious. It is a human palace of art more than a shrine of the
Almighty. A prince might make love to a princess there without feeling
guilty of profanation. St. Peter himself, sitting there in his chair,
with his highly polished toe advanced, is a doll for us to play with.
On one occasion I was in the church with my father, and the great nave
was thronged with people and lined with soldiers, and down the midst
went slowly a gorgeous procession, with Pope Pio Nono borne aloft,
swayingly, the triple crown upon his head. He blessed the crowd, as
he passed along, with outstretched hand. One can never forget such a
spectacle; but I was not nearly so much impressed in a religious sense
as when, forty years later, I stood in the portals of a Mohammedan
mosque in Central India and saw a thousand turbaned Moslems prostrate
themselves with their foreheads in the dust before a voice which
proclaimed the presence of the awful, unseen God.

My father enjoyed the church more after each visit to it. But it was
the confessionals and their significance that most interested him.
"What an institution the confessional is! Man needs it so, that it
seems as if God must have ordained it." And he dwells upon the idea
with remarkable elaboration and persistence. Those who have followed
the painful wanderings of heart-oppressed Hilda to the carven
confessional in the great church, where she found peace, will
recognize the amply unfolded flower of this seed. What I supposed to
be my notion of St. Peter's looking like the enlargement of some
liliputian edifice is also there, though I had forgotten it till I
myself reread the pages. In this book of my memories, which is also
the book of my forgettings, I must walk to and fro freely, if I am to
walk at all. None can tell the secret origin of his thoughts.

Besides the monumental and artistic features of Rome, the human side
of it appealed to me. There was something congenial in the Romans,
and, indeed, in the Italians generally, so that I seemed to be
renewing my acquaintance with people whom I had partly forgotten. I
picked up the conversational language with unusual ease, perhaps owing
to the drilling in Latin which my father had given me; and I liked the
easy, objectless ways of the people, and the smiles which so readily
took the place of the sallow gravity which their faces wore in repose.
But it was the Transteverini women who chiefly attracted me; they wore
an antique costume familiar enough in paintings, and they claimed to
be descendants of the ancient race; they had the noble features and
bearing which one would have looked for in such descendants, at all
events. Looking in their dark, haughty eyes, one seemed to pass back
through the terrible picturesqueness of mediaeval Italy, with its
Borgias and Bella Donnas, its Lorenzos and Fornarinas, to the Rome of
Nero, Augustus, Scipio, and Tarquin. Eddy and I would sometimes make
excursions across the river to Transtevere, and stroll up and down
those narrow streets, imagining all manner of suitable adventures and
histories for the inhabitants, stalking there in their black and
scarlet and yellow habiliments, and glancing imperially from under the
black brows of their dark countenances. One afternoon during the
carnival I was in a dense crowd in the piazza, towards the lower end
of the Corso, and found myself pushed into the neighborhood of a
singularly beautiful young woman of this class, dressed in the height
of her fashion, who was slowly making her way in my direction through
the press. All at once a man, smartly clad in the garb of recent
civilization, stepped in front of her and said something to her; what
it was I knew not. She drew herself back, as from something poisonous
or revolting, and the expression of her face became terrible. At the
same time her right hand went swiftly to the masses of her sable hair,
and as swiftly back again, armed with the small, narrow dagger which
these women wear by way of hair-pin. Before the unhappy creature who
had accosted her knew what was happening, she thrust the dagger, with
a powerful movement--while her white teeth showed, set edge to edge,
through her drawn lips--deep into his body. As he collapsed forward
she drew the weapon upward, putting the whole strength of her body
into the effort, and actually ripped the man open. Down he fell at
her feet. There was a score or more of Roman citizens within
arm's-reach of her at the moment; no one spoke, still less attempted
to restrain her. On the contrary, as she turned they respectfully
opened a way for her through the midst of them, and none made an offer
to assist the dying wretch who lay writhing and faintly coughing on
the cobble-stone pavement of the piazza. I was soon elbowed quietly
away from the spot where he lay; I caught a glimpse of the crimson
head-dress of his slayer passing away afar amid the crowd; presently
the cocked hat of a gendarme appeared from another direction,
advancing slowly against manifest obstructions; everybody seemed to
get in his way, without appearing to intend it. Such was the attitude
towards assassination of the Roman people in those days. I have often
thought over the incident since then. Their sympathy is with private
vengeance, never with ordained statute law. They love to use the
poniard and to see it used, and will do their best to shield the
users. Pity for the victim they have none; they assume that he has his
deserts. For that matter, my own sympathies, filled though I was with
horror at the spectacle of actual murder done before my eyes, were
wholly with the savage beauty, and not with the fatuous creature who
had probably insulted her. It is needless to say that the women of
Transtevere were not so often called upon to resent insults as are the
ladies of New York and other American cities. They did not wait for
policemen or for "leagues of chivalry" to avenge them.

Towards the French soldiers I was cordially disposed. Their dark-blue
tunics and baggy, red peg-tops were never out of sight, and though I
had seen troops in England, and had once observed the march of a
British regiment in Liverpool going to embark for the Crimea (whence,
I believe, very few of this particular regiment returned), yet the
conception of a resident army first came to me in Rome. About the
French army of those days still hovered the lustre bestowed upon it by
the deeds of the great Napoleon, which their recent exploits in the
Crimea had not diminished. There were among them regiments of fierce
and romantic looking zouaves, with Oriental complexions and
semi-barbaric attire, marching with a long swing, and appearing savage
and impetuous enough to annihilate anything; and there was also a
brigade, the special designation of which I have forgotten, every man
of which was a trained athlete, and whose drill was something
marvellous to witness. But the average French soldier was simply a
first-class soldier, good-natured, light-hearted, active, trim, and
efficient; in height averaging not more than five foot six; carrying
muskets which seemed out of proportion large, though they handled them
lightly enough, and wearing at their sides a short sword, like the
sword of ancient Rome, which was also used as a bayonet. There was
always a drill or a march in progress somewhere, and sentinels paced
up and down before the palaces. The officers were immensely
impressive; the young ones had wasp waists, surpassing those of the
most remorseless belles of fashion; and the old ones were, en
revanche, immensely stout in that region, as if outraged nature were
resolved to assert herself at last. But, young or old, their swords
were sun-bright and lovely to behold--I used to polish my own little
weapon in vain in the attempt to emulate them. Hopelessly envious was
I, too, of the heroic chests of these warriors (not knowing them to be
padded, as the waists were corseted), and I would swell out my own
little pectoral region to its utmost extent as I walked along the
streets, thereby, though I knew it not, greatly benefiting my physical
organism. Of course I had no personal commerce with the officers, but
the rank and file fraternized with me and my companions readily; there
was always a number of them strolling about Rome and its environs on
leave, in pairs or groups, and they were just as much boys as we were.
They would let me heft their short, strong swords, and when they
understood that I was gathering shells they would climb lightly about
the ruins, and bring me specimens displayed in their broad, open
palms. Our conversation was restricted to few words and many grunts
and gestures, but we understood one another and were on terms of gay
camaraderie. A dozen years afterwards, when there was war between
France and Germany, my sympathies were ardently with the former, and
great were my astonishment and regret at the issue of the conflict.
Man for man, and rightly led and managed, I still believe that Gaul
could wipe up the ground with the Teuton, without half trying. But
there were other forces than those of Moltke and Bismarck fighting
against poor France in that fatal campaign. She was wounded in the
house of her friends.

Julian Hawthorne

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