When the present Queen of Italy first came to Rome as Princess Margaret, and drove through the city to obtain a general impression of it, she reached the Piazza Colonna and asked what the column might be which is the most conspicuous landmark in that part of Rome and gives a name to the square, and to the whole Region. The answer of the elderly officer who accompanied the Princess and her ladies is historical. 'That column,' he answered, 'is the Column of Piazza Colonna'—'the Column of Column Square,' as we might say—and that was all he could tell concerning it, for his business was not archæology, but soldiering. The column was erected by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose equestrian statue stands on the Capitol, to commemorate his victory over the Marcomanni.
It is remarkable that so many of the monuments still preserved comparatively intact should have been set up by the adoptive line of the so-called Antonines, from Trajan to Marcus Aurelius, and that the two monster columns, the one in Piazza Colonna and the one in Trajan's Forum, should be the work of the last and the first of those emperors, respectively. Among other memorials of them are the Colosseum, the Arch of Titus and the statue mentioned above. The lofty Septizonium is levelled to the ground, the Palaces of the Cæsars are a mountain of ruins, the triumphal arches of Marcus Aurelius and of Domitian have disappeared with those of Gratian, of Valens, of Arcadius and of many others; but the two gigantic columns still stand erect with their sculptured tales of victory and triumph almost unbroken, surmounted by the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, whose memory was sacred to all Christians long before the monuments were erected, and to whom, respectively, they have been dedicated by a later age.
There may have been a connection, too, in the minds of the people, between the 'Column of Piazza Colonna' and the Column of the Colonna family, since a great part of this Region had fallen under the domination of the noble house, and was held by them with a chain of towers and fortifications; but the pillar which is the device of the Region terminates in the statue of the Apostle Peter, whereas the one which figures in the shield of Colonna is crowned with a royal crown, in memory of the coronation of Lewis the Bavarian by Sciarra, who himself generally lived in a palace facing the small square which bears his name, and which is only a widening of the Corso just north of San Marcello, the scene of Jacopo Colonna's brave protest against his kinsman's mistaken imperialism.
The straight Corso itself, or what is the most important part of it to Romans, runs through the Region from San Lorenzo in Lucina to Piazza di Sciarra, and beyond that, southwards, it forms the western boundary of Trevi as far as the Palazzo di Venezia, and the Ripresa de' Barberi—the 'Catching of the Racers.' West of the Corso, the Region takes in the Monte Citorio and the Piazza of the Pantheon, but not the Pantheon itself, and eastwards it embraces the new quarter which was formerly the Villa Ludovisi, and follows the Aurelian wall, from Porta Salaria to Porta Pinciana. Corso means a 'course,' and the Venetian Paul the Second, who found Rome dull compared with Venice, gave it the name when he made it a race-course for the Carnival, towards the close of the fifteenth century. Before that it was Via Lata,—'Broad Street,'—and was a straight continuation of the Via Flaminia, the main northern highway from the city. For centuries it has been the chief playground of the Roman Carnival, a festival of which, perhaps, nothing but the memory will remain in a few years, when the world will wonder how it could be possible that the population of the grave old city should have gone mad each year for ten days and behaved itself by day and night like a crowd of schoolboys let loose.
'Carnival' is supposed to be derived from 'Carnelevamen,' a 'solace for the flesh.' Byron alone is responsible for the barbarous derivation 'Carne Vale,' farewell meat—a philological impossibility. In the minds of the people it is probably most often translated as 'Meat Time,' a name which had full meaning in times when occasional strict fasting and frequent abstinence were imposed on Romans almost by law. Its beginnings are lost in the dawnless night of time—of Time, who was Kronos, of Kronos who was Saturn, of Saturn who gave his mysterious name to the Saturnalia in which Carnival had its origin. His temple stood at the foot of the Capitol hill, facing the corner of the Forum, and there are remains of it today, tall columns in a row, with architrave and frieze and cornice; from the golden milestone close at hand, as from the beginning of time, were measured the ways of the world to the ends of the earth; and the rites performed within it were older than any others, and different, for here the pious Roman worshipped with uncovered head, whereas in all other temples he drew up his robes as a veil lest any sight of evil omen should meet his eyes, and here waxen tapers were first burned in Rome in honour of a god. And those same tapers played a part, to the end, on the last night of Carnival. But in the coincidence of old feasts with new ones, the festival of Lupercus falls nearer to the time of Ash Wednesday, for the Lupercalia were celebrated on the fifteenth of February, whereas the Carnival of Saturn began on the seventeenth of December.
Lupercus was but a little god, yet he was great among the shepherds in Rome's pastoral beginnings, for he was the driver away of wolves, and on his day the early settlers ran round and round their sheepfold on the Palatine, all dressed in skins of fresh-slain goats, praising the Faun god, and calling upon him to protect their flocks. And in truth, as the winter, when wolves are hungry and daring, was over, his protection was a foregone conclusion till the cold days came again. The grotto dedicated to him was on the northwest slope of the Palatine, nearly opposite the Church of Saint George in Velabro, across the Via di San Teodoro; and all that remains of the great festival in which Mark Antony and the rest ran like wild men through the streets of Rome, smiting men and women with the purifying leathern thong, and offering at last that crown which Cæsar thrice refused, is merged and forgotten, with the Saturnalia, in the ten days' feasting and rioting that change to the ashes and sadness of Lent, as the darkest night follows the brightest day. For the Romans always loved strong contrasts.
Carnival, in the wider sense, begins at Christmas and ends when Lent begins; but to most people it means but the last ten days of the season, when festivities crowd upon each other till pleasure fights for minutes as for jewels; when tables are spread all night and lights are put out at dawn; when society dances itself into distraction and poor men make such feasting as they can; when no one works who can help it, and no work done is worth having, because it is done for double price and half its value; when affairs of love are hastened to solution or catastrophe, and affairs of state are treated with the scorn they merit in the eyes of youth, because the only sense is laughter, and the only wisdom, folly. That is Carnival, personified by the people as a riotous old red-cheeked, bottle-nosed hunchback, animated by the spirit of fun.
In a still closer sense, Carnival is the Carnival in the Corso, or was; for it is dead beyond resuscitation, and such efforts as are made to give it life again are but foolish incantations that call up sad ghosts of joy, spiritless and witless. But within living memory, it was very different. In those days which can never come back, the Corso was a sight to see and not to be forgotten. The small citizens who had small houses in the street let every window to the topmost story for the whole ten days; the rich whose palaces faced the favoured line threw open their doors to their friends; every window was decorated, from every balcony gorgeous hangings, or rich carpets, or even richer tapestries hung down; the street was strewn thick with yellow sand, and wheresoever there was an open space wooden seats were built up, row above row, where one might hire a place to see the show and join in throwing flowers, and the lime-covered 'confetti' that stung like small shot and whitened everything like meal, and forced everyone in the street or within reach of it to wear a shield of thin wire netting to guard the face, and thick gloves to shield the hands; or, in older times, a mask, black, white, or red, or modelled and painted with extravagant features, like evil beings in a dream.
In the early afternoon of each day except Sunday it all began, day after day the same, save that the fun grew wilder and often rougher as the doom of Ash Wednesday drew near. First when the people had gathered in their places, high and low, and already thronged the street from side to side, there was a distant rattle of scabbards and a thunder of hoofs, and all fell back, crowding and climbing upon one another, to let a score of cavalrymen trot through, clearing the way for the carriages of the 'Senator' and Municipality, which drove from end to end of the Corso with their scarlet and yellow liveries, before any other vehicles were allowed to pass, or any pelting with 'confetti' began. But on the instant when they had gone by, the showers began, right, left, upwards, downwards, like little storms of flowers and snow in the afternoon sunshine, and the whole air was filled with the laughter and laughing chatter of twenty thousand men and women and children—such a sound as could be heard nowhere else in the world. Many have heard a great host cheer, many have heard the battle-cries of armies, many have heard the terrible deep yell that goes up from an angry multitude in times of revolution; but only those who remember the Carnival as it used to be have heard a whole city laugh, and the memory is worth having, for it is like no other. The sound used to flow along in great waves, following the sights that passed, and swelling with them to a peal that was like a cheer, and ebbing then to a steady, even ripple of enjoyment that never ceased till it rose again in sheer joy of something new to see. Nothing can give an idea of the picture in times when Rome was still Roman; no power of description can call up the crowd that thronged and jammed the long, narrow street, till the slowly moving carriages and cars seemed to force their way through the stiffly packed mass of humanity as a strong vessel ploughs her course up-stream through packed ice in winter. Yet no one was hurt, and an order reigned which could never have been produced by any means except the most thorough good temper and the determination of each individual to do no harm to his neighbour, though all respect of individuals was as completely gone as in any anarchy of revolution. The more respectable a man looked who ventured into the press in ordinary clothes, the more certainly he became at once the general mark for hail-storms of 'confetti.' No uniform nor distinguishing badge was respected, excepting those of the squad of cavalrymen who cleared the way, and the liveries of the Municipality's coaches. Men and women were travestied and disguised in every conceivable way, as Punch and Judy, as judges and lawyers with enormous square black caps, black robes and bands, or in dresses of the eighteenth century, or as Harlequins, or even as bears and monkeys, singly, or in twos and threes, or in little companies of fifteen or twenty, all dressed precisely alike and performing comic evolutions with military exactness. Everyone carried a capacious pouch, or a fishing-basket, or some receptacle of the kind for the white 'confetti,' and arms and hands were ceaselessly swung in air, flinging vast quantities of the snowy stuff at long range and short. At every corner and in every side street, men sold it out of huge baskets, by the five, and ten, and twenty pounds, weighing it out with the ancient steelyard balance. Every balcony was lined with long troughs of it, constantly replenished by the house servants; every carriage and car had a full supply. And through all the air the odd, clean odour of the fresh plaster mingled with the fragrance of the box-leaves and the perfume of countless flowers. For flowers were thrown, too, in every way, loose and scattered, or in hard little bunches, the 'mazzetti,' that almost hurt when they struck the mark, and in beautiful nosegays, rarely flung at random when a pretty face was within sight at a window. The cars, often charmingly decorated, were filled with men and women representing some period of fashion, or some incident in history, or some allegorical subject, and were sometimes two or three stories high, and covered all over with garlands of flowers and box and myrtle. In the intervals between them endless open carriages moved along, lined with white, filled with white dominos, drawn by horses all protected and covered with white cotton robes, against the whiter 'confetti'—everyone fighting mock battles with everyone else, till it seemed impossible that anything could be left to throw, and the long perspective of the narrow street grew dim between the high palaces, and misty and purple in the evening light.
A gun fired somewhere far away as a signal warned the carriages to turn out, and make way for the race that was to follow. The last moments were the hottest and the wildest, as flowers, 'confetti,' sugar plums with comet-like tails, wreaths, garlands, everything, went flying through the air in a final and reckless profusion, and as the last car rolled away the laughter and shouting ceased, and all was hushed in the expectation of the day's last sight. Again, the clatter of hoofs and scabbards, as the dragoons cleared the way; twenty thousand heads and necks craning to look northward, as the people pushed back to the side pavements; silence, and the inevitable yellow dog that haunts all race-courses, scampering over the white street, scared by the shouts, and catcalls, and bursts of spasmodic laughter; then a far sound of flying hoofs, a dead silence, and the quick breathing of suppressed excitement; louder and louder the hoofs, deader the hush; and then, in the dash of a second, in the scud of a storm, in a whirlwind of light and colour and sparkling gold leaf, with straining necks, and flashing eyes, and wide red nostrils flecked with foam, the racing colts flew by as fleet as darting lightning, riderless and swift as rock-swallows by the sea.
Then, if it were the last night of Carnival, as the purple air grew brown in the dusk, myriads of those wax tapers first used in Saturn's temple of old lit up the street like magic and the last game of all began, for every man and woman and child strove to put out another's candle, and the long, laughing cry, 'No taper! No taper! Senza moccolo!' went ringing up to the darkling sky. Long canes with cloths or damp sponges or extinguishers fixed to them started up from nowhere, down from everywhere, from window and balcony to the street below, and from the street to the low balconies above. Put out at every instant, the little candles were instantly relighted, till they were consumed down to the hand; and as they burned low, another cry went up, 'Carnival is dead! Carnival is dead!' But he was not really dead till midnight, when the last play of the season had been acted in the playhouses, the last dance danced, the last feast eaten amid song and laughter, and the solemn Patarina of the Capitol tolled out the midnight warning like a funeral knell. That was the end.
The riderless race was at least four hundred years old when it was given up. The horses were always called Bárberi, with the accent on the first syllable, and there has been much discussion about the origin of the name. Some say that it meant horses from Barbary, but then it should be pronounced Barbéri, accented on the penultimate. Others think it stood for Bárbari—barbarian, that is, unridden. The Romans never misplace an accent, and rarely mistake the proper quantity of a syllable long or short. For my own part, though no scholar has as yet suggested it, I believe that the common people, always fond of easy witticisms and catchwords, coined the appellation, with an eye to the meaning of both the other derivations, out of Barbo, the family name of Pope Paul the Second, who first instituted the Carnival races, and set the winning post under the balcony of the huge Palazzo di Venezia, which he had built beside the Church of Saint Mark, to the honour and glory of his native city.
He made men run foot-races, too: men, youths and boys, of all ages; and the poor Jews, in heavy cloth garments, were first fed and stuffed with cakes and then made to run, too. The jests of the Middle Age were savage compared with the roughest play of later times.
The pictures of old Rome are fading fast. I can remember, when a little boy, seeing the great Carnival of 1859, when the Prince of Wales was in Rome, and the masks which had been forbidden since the revolution were allowed again in his honour; and before the flower throwing began, I saw Liszt, the pianist, not yet in orders, but dressed in a close-fitting and very fashionable grey frock-coat, with a grey high hat, young then, tall, athletic and erect; he came out suddenly from a doorway, looked to the right and left in evident fear of being made a mark for 'confetti,' crossed the street hurriedly and disappeared—not at all the silver-haired, priestly figure the world knew so well in later days. And by and by the Prince of Wales came by in a simple open carriage, a thin young man in a black coat, with a pale, face and a quiet smile, looking all about him with an almost boyish interest, and bowing to the right and left.
Then in deep contrast of sadness, out of the past years comes a great funeral by night, down the Corso; hundreds of brown, white-bearded friars, two and two with huge wax candles, singing the ancient chant of the penitential psalms; hundreds of hooded lay brethren of the Confraternities, some in black, some in white, with round holes for their eyes that flashed through, now and then, in the yellow glare of the flaming tapers; hundreds of little street boys beside them in the shadow, holding up big horns of grocers' paper to catch the dripping wax; and then, among priests in cotta and stole, the open bier carried on men's shoulders, and on it the peaceful figure of a dead girl, white-robed, blossom crowned, delicate as a frozen flower in the cold winter air. She had died of an innocent love, they said, and she was borne in through the gates of the Santi Apostoli to her rest in the solemn darkness. Nor has anyone been buried in that way since then.
In the days of Paul the Second, what might be called living Rome, taken in the direction of the Corso, began at the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, long attributed to Domitian, which stood at the corner of the small square called after San Lorenzo in Lucina. Beyond that point, northwards and eastwards, the city was a mere desert, and on the west side the dwelling-houses fell away towards the Mausoleum of Augustus, the fortress of the Colonna. The arch itself used to be called the Arch of Portugal, because a Portuguese Cardinal, Giovanni da Costa, lived in the Fiano palace at the corner of the Corso. No one would suppose that very modern-looking building, with its smooth front and conventional balconies, to be six hundred years old, the ancient habitation of all the successive Cardinals of Saint Lawrence. Its only other interest, perhaps, lies in the fact that it formed part of the great estates bestowed by Sixtus the Fifth on his nephews, and was nevertheless sold over their children's heads for debt, fifty-five years after his death. The swineherd's race was prodigal, excepting the 'Great Friar' himself, and, like the Prodigal Son, it was not long before the Peretti were reduced to eating the husks.
It was natural that the palaces of the Renascence should rise along the only straight street of any length in what was then the inhabited part of the city, and that the great old Roman Barons, the Colonna, the Orsini, the Caetani, should continue to live in their strongholds, where they had always dwelt. The Caetani, indeed, once bought from a Florentine banker what is now the Ruspoli palace, and Sciarra Colonna had lived far down the Corso; but with these two exceptions, the princely habitations between the Piazza del Popolo and the Piazza di Venezia are almost all the property of families once thought foreigners in Rome. The greatest, the most magnificent private dwelling in the world is the Doria Pamfili palace, as the Doria themselves were the most famous, and became the most powerful of those many nobles who, in the course of centuries, settled in the capital and became Romans, not only in name but in fact—Doria, Borghese, Rospigliosi, Pallavicini and others of less enduring fame or reputation, who came in the train or alliance of a Pope, and remained in virtue of accumulated riches and acquired honour.
Two hundred and fifty years have passed since a council of learned doctors and casuists decided for Pope Innocent the Tenth the precise limit of his just power to enrich his nephews and relations, the Pamfili, by an alliance with whom the original Doria of Genoa added another name to their own, and inherited the vast estates. But nearly four hundred years before Innocent, the Doria had been high admirals and almost despots of Genoa. For they were a race of seamen from the first, in a republic where seamanship was the first essential to distinction. Albert Doria overcame the Pisans off Meloria in 1284, slaying five thousand, and taking eleven thousand prisoners. Conrad, his son, was 'Captain of the Genoese Freedom,' and 'Captain of the People.' Lamba Doria vanquished the Venetians under the brave Andrea Dandolo, and Paganino Doria conquered them again under another Andrea Dandolo; and then an Andrea Doria took service with the Pope, and became the greatest sailor in Europe, the hero of a hundred sea-fights, at one time the ally of Francis the First of France, and the most dangerous opponent of Gonzalvo da Cordova, then high admiral of the Empire under Charles the Fifth, a destroyer of pirates, by turns the idol, the enemy and the despot of his own city, Genoa, and altogether such a type of a soldier-sailor of fortune as the world has not seen before or since. And there were others after him, notably Gian Andrea Doria, remembered by the great victory over the Turks at Lepanto, whence he brought home those gorgeous Eastern spoils of tapestry and embroideries which hang in the Doria palace today.
The history of the palace itself is not without interest, for it shows how property, which was not in the possession of the original Barons, sometimes passed from hand to hand, changing names with each new owner, in the rise and fall of fortunes in those times. The first building seems to have belonged to the Chapter of Santa Maria Maggiore, which somehow ceded it to Cardinal Santorio, who spent an immense sum in rebuilding, extending and beautifying it. When it was almost finished, Julius the Second came to see it, and after expressing the highest admiration for the work, observed that such a habitation was less fitting for a prince of the church than for a secular duke—meaning, by the latter, his own nephew, Francesco della Rovere, then Duke of Urbino; and the unfortunate Santorio, who had succeeded in preserving his possessions under the domination of the Borgia, was forced to offer the most splendid palace in Rome as a gift to the person designated by his master. He died of a broken heart within the year. A hundred years later, the Florentine Aldobrandini, nephew of Clement the Eighth, bought it from the Dukes of Urbino for twelve thousand measures of grain, furnished them for the purpose by their uncle, and finally, when it had fallen in inheritance to Donna Olimpia Aldobrandini, Innocent the Tenth married her to his nephew, Camillo Pamfili, from whom, by the fusion of the two families, it at last came into the hands of the Doria-Pamfili.
The Doria palace is almost two-thirds of the size of Saint Peter's, and within the ground plan of Saint Peter's the Colosseum could stand. It used to be said that a thousand persons lived under the roof outside of the gallery and the private apartments, which alone surpass in extent the majority of royal residences. Without some such comparison mere words can convey nothing to a mind unaccustomed to such size and space, and when the idea is grasped, one asks, naturally enough, how the people lived who built such houses—the people whose heirs, far reduced in splendour, if not in fortune, are driven to let four-fifths of their family mansion, because they find it impossible to occupy more rooms than suffice the Emperor of Germany or the Queen of England. One often hears foreign visitors, ignorant of the real size of palaces in Rome, observe, with contempt, that the Roman princes 'let their palaces.' It would be more reasonable to inquire what use could be made of such buildings, if they were not let, or how any family could be expected to inhabit a thousand rooms, and, ultimately, for what purpose such monstrous residences were ever built at all.
The first thing that suggests itself in answer to the latter question as the cause of such boundless extravagance is the inherited giantism of the Latins, to which reference has been more than once made in these pages, and to which the existence of many of the principal buildings in Rome must be ascribed. Next, we may consider that at one time or another, each of the greater Roman palaces has been, in all essentials, the court of a pope or of a reigning feudal prince. Lastly, it must be remembered that each palace was the seat of management of all its owner's estates, and that such administration in those times required a number of scribes and an amount of labour altogether out of proportion with the income derived from the land.
At first sight the study of Italian life in the Middle Age does not seem very difficult, because it is so interesting. But when one has read the old chronicles that have survived, and the histories of those times, one is amazed to see how much we are told about people and their actions, and how very little about the way in which people lived. It is easier to learn the habits of the Egyptians, or the Greeks, or the ancient Romans, or the Assyrians, than to get at the daily life of an Italian family between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, from such books as we have. There are two reasons for this. One is the scarcity of literature, excepting historical chronicles, until the time of Boccaccio and the Italian storytellers. The other is the fact that what we call the Middle Age was an age of transition from barbarism to the civilization of the Renascence, and the Renascence was reached by sweeping away all the barbarous things that had gone before it.
One must have lived a lifetime in Italy to be able to call up a fairly vivid picture of the eleventh, twelfth, or thirteenth centuries. One must have actually seen the grand old castles and gloomy monasteries, and feudal villages of Calabria and Sicily, where all things are least changed from what they were, and one should understand something of the nature of the Italian people, where the original people have survived; one must try also to realize the violence of those passions which are ugly excrescences on Italian character even now, and which were once the main movers of that character.
There are extant many inventories of lordly residences of earlier times in Italy, for the inventory was taken every time the property changed hands by inheritance or sale. Everyone of these inventories begins at the main gate of the stronghold, and the first item is 'Rope for giving the cord.' Now 'to give the cord' was a torture, and all feudal lords had the right to inflict it. The victim's hands were tied behind his back, the rope was made fast to his bound wrists, and he was hoisted some twenty feet or so to the heavy iron ring which is fixed in the middle of the arch of every old Italian castle gateway; he was then allowed to drop suddenly till his feet, to which heavy weights were sometimes attached, were a few inches from the ground, so that the strain of his whole weight fell upon his arms, twisted them backwards, and generally dislocated them at the shoulders. And this was usually done three times, and sometimes twenty times, in succession, to the same prisoner, either as a punishment or by way of examination, to extract a confession of the truth. As the rope of torture was permanently rove through the pulley over the front door, it must have been impossible not to see it and remember what it meant every time one went in or out. And such quick reminders of danger and torture, and sudden, painful death, give the pitch and key of daily existence in the Middle Age. Every man's life was in his hand until it was in his enemy's. Every man might be forced, at a moment's notice, to defend not only his honour, and his belongings, and his life, but his women and children, too,—not against public enemies only, but far more often against private spite and personal hatred. Nowadays, when most men only stake their money on their convictions, it is hard to realize how men reasoned who staked their lives at every turn; or to guess, for instance, at what women felt whose husbands and sons, going out for a stroll of an afternoon, in the streets of Rome, might as likely as not be brought home dead of a dozen sword-wounds before evening. A husband, a father, was stabbed in the dark by treachery; try and imagine the daily and year-long sensations of the widowed mother, bringing up her only son deliberately to kill her husband's murderer; teaching him to look upon vengeance as the first, most real and most honourable aim of life, from the time he was old enough to speak, to the time when he should be strong enough to kill. Everything was earnest then. One should remember that most of the stories told by Boccaccio, Sacchetti and Bandello—the stories from which Shakespeare got his Italian plays, his Romeo and Juliet, his Merchant of Venice—were not inventions, but were founded on the truth. Everyone has read about Cæsar Borgia, his murders, his treacheries and his end, and he is held up to us as a type of monstrous wickedness. But a learned Frenchman, Émile Gebhart, has recently written a rather convincing treatise, to show that Cæsar Borgia was not a monster at all, nor even much of an exception to the general rule among the Italian despots of his day, and his day was civilized compared with that of Rienzi, of Boniface the Eighth, of Sciarra Colonna.
In order to understand anything about the real life of the Middle Age, one should begin at the beginning; one should see the dwellings, the castles, and the palaces with their furniture and arrangements, one should realize the stern necessities as well as the few luxuries of that time. And one should make acquaintance with the people themselves, from the grey-haired old baron, the head of the house, down to the scullery man and the cellarer's boy and the stable lads. And then, knowing something of the people and their homes, one might begin to learn something about their household occupations, their tremendously tragic interests and their few and simple amusements.
The first thing that strikes one about the dwellings is the enormous strength of those that remain. The main idea, in those days, when a man built a house, was to fortify himself and his belongings against attacks from the outside, and every other consideration was secondary to that. That is true not only of the Barons' castles in the country and of their fortified palaces in town,—which were castles, too, for that matter,—but of the dwellings of all classes of people who could afford to live independently, that is, who were not serfs and retainers of the rich. We talk of fire-proof buildings nowadays, which are mere shells of iron and brick and stone that shrivel up like writing-paper in a great fire. The only really fire-proof buildings were those of the Middle Age, which consisted of nothing but stone and mortar throughout, stone walls, stone vaults, stone floors, and often stone tables and stone seats. I once visited the ancient castle of Muro, in the Basilicata, one of the southern provinces in Italy, where Queen Joanna the First paid her life for her sins at last, and died under the feather pillow that was forced down upon her face by two Hungarian soldiers. It is as wild and lonely a place as you will meet with in Europe, and yet the great castle has never been a ruin, nor at any time uninhabited, since it was built in the eleventh century, over eight hundred years ago. Nor has the lower part of it ever needed repair. The walls are in places twenty-five feet thick, of solid stone and mortar, so that the embrasure by which each narrow window is reached is like a tunnel cut through rock, while the deep prisons below are hewn out of the rock itself. Up to what we should call the third story, every room is vaulted. Above that the floors are laid on beams, and the walls are not more than eight feet thick—comparatively flimsy for such a place! Nine-tenths of it was built for strength—the small remainder for comfort; there is not a single large hall in all the great fortress, and the courtyard within the main gate is a gloomy, ill-shaped little paved space, barely big enough to give fifty men standing room. Nothing can give any idea of the crookedness of it all, of the small dark corridors, the narrow winding steps, the dusky inclined ascents, paved with broad flagstones that echo the lightest tread, and that must have rung and roared like sea caves to the tramp of armed men. And so it was in the cities, too. In Rome, bits of the old strongholds survive still. There were more of them thirty years ago. Even the more modern palaces of the late Renascence are built in such a way that they must have afforded a safe refuge against everything except artillery. The strong iron-studded doors and the heavily grated windows of the ground floor would stand a siege from the street. The Palazzo Gabrielli, for two or three centuries the chief dwelling of the Orsini, is built in the midst of the city like a great fortification, with escarpments and buttresses and loop-holes; and at the main gate there is still a portcullis which sinks into the ground by a system of chains and balance weights and is kept in working order even now.
In the Middle Age, each town palace had one or more towers, tall, square and solid, which were used as lookouts and as a refuge in case the rest of the palace should be taken by an enemy. The general principle of all mediæval towers was that they were entered through a small window at a great height above the ground, by means of a jointed wooden ladder. Once inside, the people drew the ladder up after them and took it in with them, in separate pieces. When that was done, they were comparatively safe, before the age of gunpowder. There were no windows to break, it was impossible to get in, and the besieged party could easily keep anyone from scaling the tower, by pouring boiling oil or melted lead from above, or with stones and missiles, so that as long as provisions and water held out, the besiegers could do nothing. As for water, the great rainwater cistern was always in the foundations of the tower itself, immediately under the prison, which got neither light nor air excepting from a hole in the floor above. Walls from fifteen to twenty feet thick could not be battered down with any engines then in existence. Altogether, the tower was a safe place in times of danger. It is said that at one time there were over four hundred of these in Rome, belonging to the nobles, great and small.
The small class of well-to-do commoners, the merchants and goldsmiths, such as they were, who stood between the nobles and the poor people, imitated the nobles as much as they could, and strengthened their houses by every means. For their dwellings were their warehouses, and in times of disturbance the first instinct of the people was to rob the merchants, unless they chanced to be strong enough to rob the nobles, as sometimes happened. But in Rome the merchants were few, and were very generally retainers or dependants of the great houses. It is frequent in the chronicles to find a man mentioned as the 'merchant' of the Colonna family, or of the Orsini, or of one of the independent Italian princes, like the Duke of Urbino. Such a man acted as agent to sell the produce of a great estate; part of his business was to lend money to the owner, and he also imported from abroad the scanty merchandise which could be imported at all. About half of it usually fell into the hands of highwaymen before it reached the city, and the price of luxuries was proportionately high. Such men, of course, lived well, though there was a wide difference between their mode of life and that of the nobles, not so much in matters of abundance and luxury, as in principle. The chief rule was that the wives and daughters of the middle class did a certain amount of housekeeping work, whereas the wives and daughters of the nobles did not. The burgher's wife kept house herself, overlooked the cooking, and sometimes cooked a choice dish with her own hands, and taught her daughters to do so. A merchant might have a considerable retinue of men, for his service and protection, and they carried staves when they accompanied their master abroad, and lanterns at night. But the baron's men were men-at-arms,—practically soldiers,—who wore his colours, and carried swords and pikes, and lit the way for their lord at night with torches, always the privilege of the nobles. As a matter of fact, they were generally the most dangerous cutthroats whom the nobleman was able to engage, highwaymen, brigands and outlaws, whom he protected against the semblance of the law; whereas the merchant's train consisted of honest men who worked for him in his warehouse, or they were countrymen from his farms, if he had any.
It is not easy to give any adequate idea of those great mediæval establishments, except by their analogy with the later ones that came after them. They were enormous in extent, and singularly uncomfortable in their internal arrangement.
A curious book, published in 1543, and therefore at the first culmination of the Renascence, has lately been reprinted. It is entitled 'Concerning the management of a Roman Nobleman's Court,' and was dedicated to 'The magnificent and Honourable Messer Cola da Benevento,' forty years after the death of the Borgia Pope and during the reign of Paul the Third, Farnese, who granted the writer a copyright for ten years. The little volume is full of interesting details, and the attendant gentlemen and servants enumerated give some idea of what according to the author was not considered extravagant for a nobleman of the sixteenth century. There were to be two chief chamberlains, a general controller of the estates, a chief steward, four chaplains, a master of the horse, a private secretary and an assistant secretary, an auditor, a lawyer and four literary personages, 'Letterati,' who, among them, must know 'the four principal languages of the world, namely, Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Italian.' The omission of every other living language but the latter, when Francis the First, Charles the Fifth and Henry the Eighth were reigning, is pristinely Roman in its contempt of 'barbarians.' There were also to be six gentlemen of the chambers, a private master of the table, a chief carver and ten waiting men, a butler of the pantry with an assistant, a butler of the wines, six head grooms, a marketer with an assistant, a storekeeper, a cellarer, a carver for the serving gentlemen, a chief cook, an under cook and assistant, a chief scullery man, a water carrier, a sweeper,—and last in the list, a physician, whom the author puts at the end of the list, 'not because a doctor is not worthy of honour, but in order not to seem to expect any infirmity for his lordship or his household.'
This was considered a 'sufficient household' for a nobleman, but by no means an extravagant one, and many of the officials enumerated were provided with one or more servants, while no mention is made of any ladies in the establishment nor of the numerous retinue they required. But one remembers the six thousand servants of Augustus, all honourably buried in one place, and the six hundred who waited on Livia alone; and the modest one hundred and seven which were reckoned 'sufficient' for the Lord Cola of Benevento sink into comparative insignificance. For Livia, besides endless keepers of her robes and folders of her clothes—a special office—and hairdressers, perfumers, jewellers and shoe keepers, had a special adorner of her ears, a keeper of her chair and a governess for her favourite lap-dog.
The little book contains the most complete details concerning daily expenditure for food and drink for the head of the house and his numerous gentlemen, which amounted in a year to the really not extravagant sum of four thousand scudi, or dollars, over fourteen hundred being spent on wine alone. The allowance was a jug—rather more than a quart—of pure wine daily to each of the 'gentlemen,' and the same measure diluted with one-third of water to all the rest. Sixteen ounces of beef, mutton, or veal were reckoned for every person, and each received twenty ounces of bread of more or less fine quality, according to his station; and an average of twenty scudi was allowed daily as given away in charity,—which was not ungenerous, either, for such a household. The olive oil used for the table and for lamps was the same, and was measured together, and the household received each a pound of cheese, monthly, besides a multitude of other eatables, all of which are carefully enumerated and valued. Among other items of a different nature are 'four or five large wax candles daily, for his lordship,' and wax for torches 'to accompany the dishes brought to his table, and to accompany his lordship and the gentlemen out of doors at night,' and 'candles for the altar,' and tallow candles for use about the house. As for salaries and wages, the controller and chief steward received ten scudi, each month, whereas the chaplain only got two, and the 'literary men,' who were expected to know Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were each paid one hundred scudi yearly. The physician was required to be not only 'learned, faithful, diligent and affectionate,' but also 'fortunate' in his profession. Considering the medical practices of those days, a doctor could certainly not hope to heal his patients without the element of luck.
The old-fashioned Roman character is careful, if not avaricious, with occasional flashes of astonishing extravagance, and its idea of riches is so closely associated with that of power as to make the display of a numerous retinue its first and most congenial means of exhibiting great wealth; so that to this day a Roman in reduced fortune will live very poorly before he will consent to exist without the two or three superfluous footmen who loiter all day in his hall, or the handsome equipage in which his wife and daughters are accustomed to take the daily drive, called from ancient times the 'trottata,' or 'trot,' in the Villa Borghese, or the Corso, or on the Pincio, and gravely provided for in the terms of the marriage contract. At a period when servants were necessary, not only for show but also for personal protection, it is not surprising that the nobles should have kept an extravagant number of them.
Then also, to account for the size of Roman palaces, there was the patriarchal system of life, now rapidly falling into disuse. The so-called 'noble floor' of every mansion is supposed to be reserved exclusively for the father and mother of the family, and the order of arranging the rooms is as much a matter of rigid rule as in the houses of the ancient Romans, where the vestibule preceded the atrium, the atrium the peristyle, and the latter the last rooms which looked upon the garden. So in the later palace, the door from the first landing of the grand staircase opens upon an outer hall, uncarpeted, but crossed by a strip of matting, and furnished only with a huge table and old-fashioned chests, made with high backs, on which are painted or carved the arms of the family. Here, at least two or three footmen are supposed to be in perpetual readiness to answer the door, the lineally descended representatives of the armed footmen who lounged there four hundred years ago. Next to the hall comes the antechamber, sometimes followed by a second, and here is erected the 'baldacchino,' the coloured canopy which marks the privilege of the sixty 'conscript families' of Rome, who rank as princes. It recalls the times when, having powers of justice, and of life and death, the lords sat in state under the overhanging silks, embroidered with their coats of arms, to administer the law. Beyond the antechamber comes the long succession of state apartments, lofty, ponderously decorated, heavily furnished with old-fashioned gilt or carved chairs that stand symmetrically against the walls, and on the latter are hung pictures, priceless works of old masters beside crude portraits of the last century, often arranged much more with regard to the frames than to the paintings. Stiff-legged pier-tables of marble and alabaster face the windows or are placed between them; thick curtains that can be drawn quite back cover the doors; strips of hemp carpet lead straight from one door to another; the light is dim and cold, half shut out by the window curtains, and gets a peculiar quality of sadness and chilliness, which is essentially characteristic of every old Roman house, where the reception rooms are only intended to be used at night, and the sunny side is exclusively appropriated to the more intimate life of the owners. There may be three, four, six, ten of those big drawing-rooms in succession, each covering about as much space as a small house in New York or London, before one comes to the closed door that gives access to the princess' boudoir, beyond which, generally returning in a direction parallel with the reception rooms, is her bedroom, and the prince's, and the latter's study, and then the private dining-room, the state dining-room, the great ballroom, with clear-story windows, and as many more rooms as the size of the apartment will admit. In the great palaces, the picture gallery takes a whole wing and sometimes two, the library being generally situated on a higher story.
The patriarchal system required that all the married sons, with their wives and children and servants, should be lodged in the same building with their parents. The eldest invariably lived on the second floor, the second son on the third, which is the highest, though there is generally a low rambling attic, occupied by servants, and sometimes by the chaplain, the librarian and the steward, in better rooms. When there were more than two married sons, which hardly ever happened under the old system of primogeniture, they divided the apartments between them as best they could. The unmarried younger children had to put up with what was left. Moreover, in the greatest houses, where there was usually a cardinal of the name, one wing of the first floor was entirely given up to him; and instead of the canopy in the antechamber, flanked by the hereditary coloured umbrellas carried on state occasions by two lackeys behind the family coach, the prince of the Church was entitled to a throne room, as all cardinals are. The eldest son's apartment was generally more or less a repetition of the state one below, but the rooms were lower, the decorations less elaborate, though seldom less stiff in character, and a large part of the available space was given up to the children.
It is clear from all this that even in modern times a large family might take up a great deal of room. Looking back across two or three centuries, therefore, to the days when every princely household was a court, and was called a court, it is easier to understand the existence of such phenomenally vast mansions as the Doria palace, or those of the Borghese, the Altieri, the Barberini and others, who lived in almost royal state, and lodged hundreds upon hundreds of retainers in their homes.
And not only did all the members of the family live under one roof, as a few of them still live, but the custom of dining together at one huge table was universal. A daily dinner of twenty persons—grandparents, parents and children, down to the youngest that is old enough to sit up to its plate in a high chair, would be a serious matter to most European households. But in Rome it was looked upon as a matter of course, and was managed through the steward by a contract with the cook, who was bound to provide a certain number of dishes daily for the fixed meals, but nothing else—not so much as an egg or a slice of toast beyond that. This system still prevails in many households, and as it is to be expected that meals at unusual hours may sometimes be required, an elaborate system of accounts is kept by the steward and his clerks, and the smallest things ordered by any of the sons or daughters are charged against an allowance usually made them, while separate reckonings are kept for the daughters-in-law, for whom certain regular pin-money is provided out of their own dowries at the marriage settlement, all of which goes through the steward's hands. The same settlement, even in recent years, stipulated for a fixed number of dishes of meat daily, generally only two, I believe, for a certain number of new gowns and other clothes, and for a great variety of details, besides the use of a carriage every day, to be harnessed not more than twice, that is, either in the morning and afternoon, or once in the daytime and once at night. Everything,—a cup of tea, a glass of lemonade,—if not mentioned in the marriage settlement, had to be paid for separately. The justice of such an arrangement—for it is just—is only equalled by its inconvenience, for it requires the machinery of a hotel, combined with an honesty not usual in hotels. Undoubtedly, the whole system is directly descended from the practice of the ancients, which made every father of a family the absolute despot of his household, and made it impossible for a son to hold property or have any individual independence during his father's life, and it has not been perceptibly much modified since the Middle Age, until the last few years. Its existence shows in the strongest light the main difference between the Latin and the Anglo-Saxon races, in the marked tendency of the one to submit to despotic government, and of the other to govern itself; of the one to stay at home under paternal authority, and of the other to leave the father's house and plunder the world for itself; of the sons of the one to accept wives given them, and of the other's children to marry as they please.
Roman family life, from Romulus to the year 1870, was centred in the head of the house, whose position was altogether unassailable, whose requirements were necessities, and whose word was law. Next to him in place came the heir, who was brought up with a view to his exercising the same powers in his turn. After him, but far behind him in importance, if he promised to be strong, came the other sons, who, if they took wives at all, were expected to marry heiresses, and one of whom, almost as a matter of course, was brought up to be a churchman. The rest, if there were any, generally followed the career of arms, and remained unmarried; for heiresses of noble birth were few, and their guardians married them to eldest sons of great houses whenever possible, while the strength of caste prejudice made alliances of nobles with the daughters of rich plebeians extremely unusual.
It is possible to trace the daily life of a Roman family in the Middle Age from its regular routine of today, as out of what anyone may see in Italy the habits of the ancients can be reconstructed with more than approximate exactness. And yet it is out of the question to fix the period of the general transformation which ultimately turned the Rome of the Barons into the Rome of Napoleon's time, and converted the high-handed men of Sciarra Colonna's age into the effeminate fops of 1800, when a gentleman of noble lineage, having received a box on the ear from another at high noon in the Corso, willingly followed the advice of his confessor, who counselled him to bear the affront with Christian meekness and present his other cheek to the smiter. Customs have remained, fashions have altogether changed; the outward forms of early living have survived, the spirit of life is quite another; and though some families still follow the patriarchal mode of existence, the patriarchs are gone, the law no longer lends itself to support household tyranny, and the subdivision of estates under the Napoleonic code is guiding an already existing democracy to the untried issue of a problematic socialism. Without attempting to establish a comparison upon the basis of a single cause, where so many are at work, it is permissible to note that while in England and Germany a more or less voluntary system of primogeniture is admitted and largely followed from choice, and while in the United States men are almost everywhere entirely free to dispose of their property as they please, and while the population and wealth of those countries are rapidly increasing, France, enforcing the division of estates among children, though she is accumulating riches, is faced by the terrible fact of a steadily diminishing census; and Italy, under the same laws, is not only rapidly approaching national bankruptcy, but is in parts already depopulated by an emigration so extensive that it can only be compared with the westward migration of the Aryan tribes. The forced subdivision of property from generation to generation is undeniably a socialistic measure, since it must, in the end, destroy both aristocracy and plutocracy; and it is surely a notable point that the two great European nations which have adopted it as a fundamental principle of good government should both be on the road to certain destruction, while those powers that have wholly and entirely rejected any such measure are filling the world with themselves and absorbing its wealth at an enormous and alarming rate.
The art of the Renascence has left us splendid pictures of mediæval public life, which are naturally accepted as equally faithful representations of the life of every day. Princes and knights, in gorgeous robes and highly polished armour, ride on faultlessly caparisoned milk-white steeds; wondrous ladies wear not less wonderful gowns, fitted with a perfection which women seek in vain today, and embroidered with pearls and precious stones that might ransom a rajah; young pages, with glorious golden hair, stand ready at the elbows of their lords and ladies, or kneel in graceful attitude to deliver a letter, or stoop to bear a silken train, clad in garments which the modern costumer strives in vain to copy. After three or four centuries, the colours of those painted silks and satins are still richer than anything the loom can weave. In the great fresco, each individual of the multitude that fills a public place, or defiles in open procession under the noonday light, is not only a masterpiece of fashion, but a model of neatness; linen, delicate as woven gossamer, falls into folds as finely exact as an engraver's point could draw; velvet shoes tread without speck or spot upon the well-scoured pavement of a public street; men-at-arms grasp weapons and hold bridles with hands as carefully tended as any idle fine gentleman's, and there is neither fleck nor breath of dimness on the mirror-like steel of their armour; the very flowers, the roses and lilies that strew the way, are the perfection of fresh-cut hothouse blossoms; and when birds and beasts chance to be necessary to the composition of the picture, they are represented with no less care for a more than possible neatness, their coats are combed and curled, their attitudes are studied and graceful, they wear carefully made collars, ornamented with chased silver and gold.
Centuries have dimmed the wall-painting, sunshine has faded it, mould has mottled the broad surfaces of red and blue and green, and a later age has done away with the dresses represented; yet, when the frescos in the library of the Cathedral at Siena, for instance, were newly finished, they were the fashion-plates of the year and month, executed by a great artist, it is true, grouped with matchless skill and drawn with supreme mastery of art, but as far from representing the ordinary scenes of daily life as those terrible coloured prints published nowadays for tailors, in which a number of beautiful young gentlemen, in perfectly new clothes, lounge in stage attitudes on the one side, and an equal number of equally beautiful young butlers, coachmen, grooms and pages, in equally perfect liveries, appear to be discussing the æsthetics of an ideal and highly salaried service, at the other end of the same room. In the comparison there is all the brutal profanity of truth that shocks the reverence of romance; but in the respective relations of the great artist's masterpiece and of the poor modern lithograph to the realities of each period, there is the clue to the daily life of the Middle Age.
Living was outwardly rough as compared with the representations of it, though it was far more refined than in any other part of Europe, and Italy long set the fashion to the world in habits and manners. People kept their fine clothes for great occasions, there was a keeper of robes in every large household, and there were rooms set apart for the purpose. In every-day life, the Barons wore patched hose and leathern jerkins, stained and rusted by the joints of the armour that was so often buckled over them, or they went about their dwellings in long dressing-gowns which hid many shortcomings. When gowns, and hose, and jerkins were well worn, they were cut down for the boys of the family, and the fine dresses, only put on for great days, were preserved as heirlooms from generation to generation, whether they fitted the successive wearers or not. The beautiful tight-fitting hose which, in the paintings of the time, seem to fit like theatrical tights, were neither woven nor knitted, but were made of stout cloth, and must often have been baggy at the knees in spite of the most skilful cutting; and the party-coloured hose, having one leg of one piece of stuff and one of another, and sometimes each leg of two or more colours, were very likely first invented from motives of economy, to use up cuttings and leavings. Clothes were looked upon as permanent and very desirable property, and kings did not despise a gift of fine scarlet cloth, in the piece, to make them a gown or a cloak. As for linen, as late as the sixteenth century, the English thought the French nobles very extravagant because they put on a clean shirt once a fortnight and changed their ruffles once a week.
The mediæval Roman nobles were most of them great farmers as well as fighters. Then, as now, land was the ultimate form of property, and its produce the usual form of wealth; and then, as now, many families were 'land-poor,' in the sense of owning tracts of country which yielded little or no income but represented considerable power, and furnished the owners with most of the necessaries of life, such rents as were collected being usually paid in kind, in oil and wine, in grain, fruit and vegetables, and even in salt meat, and horses, cattle for slaughtering and beasts of burden, not to speak of wool, hemp and flax, as well as firewood. But money was scarce and, consequently, all the things which only money could buy, so that a gown was a possession, and a corselet or a good sword a treasure. The small farmer of our times knows what it means to have plenty to eat and little to wear. His position is not essentially different from that of the average landed gentry in the Middle Age, not only in Italy, but all over Europe. In times when superiority lay in physical strength, courage, horsemanship and skill in the use of arms, the so-called gentleman was not distinguished from the plebeian by the newness or neatness of his clothes so much as by the nature and quality of the weapons he wore when he went abroad in peace or war, and very generally by being mounted on a good horse.
In his home he was simple, even primitive. He desired space more than comfort, and comfort more than luxury. His furniture consisted almost entirely of beds, chests and benches, with few tables except such as were needed for eating. Beds were supported by boards laid on trestles, raised very high above the floor to be beyond the reach of rats, mice and other creatures. The lower mattress was filled with the dried leaves of the maize, and the upper one contained wool, with which the pillows also were stuffed. The floors of dwelling rooms were generally either paved with bricks or made of a sort of cement, composed of lime, sand and crushed brick, the whole being beaten down with iron pounders, while in the moist state, during three days. There were no carpets, and fresh rushes were strewn everywhere on the floors, which in summer were first watered, like a garden path, to lay the dust. There was no glass in the windows of ordinary rooms, and the consequence was that during the daytime people lived almost in the open air, in winter as well as summer; sunshine was a necessity of existence, and sheltered courts and cloistered walks were built like reservoirs for the light and heat.
In the rooms, ark-shaped chests stood against the walls, to contain the ordinary clothes not kept in the general 'guardaroba.' In the deep embrasures of the windows there were stone seats, but there were few chairs, or none at all, in the bedrooms. At the head of each bed hung a rough little cross of dark wood—later, as carving became more general, a crucifix—and a bit of an olive branch preserved from Palm Sunday throughout the year. The walls themselves were scrupulously whitewashed; the ceilings were of heavy beams, supporting lighter cross-beams, on which in turn thick boards were laid to carry the cement floor of the room overhead.
Many hundred men-at-arms could be drawn up in the courtyards, and their horses stalled in the spacious stables. The kitchens, usually situated on the ground floor, were large enough to provide meals for half a thousand retainers, if necessary; and the cellars and underground prisons were a vast labyrinth of vaulted chambers, which not unfrequently communicated with the Tiber by secret passages. In restoring the palace of the Santacroce, a few years ago, a number of skeletons were discovered, some still wearing armour, and all most evidently the remains of men who had died violent deaths. One of them was found with a dagger driven through the skull and helmet. The hand that drove it must have been strong beyond the hands of common men.
The grand staircase led up from the sunny court to the state apartments, such as they were in those days. There, at least, there were sometimes carpets, luxuries of enormous value, and even before the Renascence the white walls were hung with tapestries, at least in part. In those times, too, there were large fireplaces in almost every room, for fuel was still plentiful in the Campagna and in the near mountains; and where the houses were practically open to the air all day, fires were an absolute necessity. Even in ancient times it is recorded that the Roman Senate, amidst the derisive jests of the plebeians, once had to adjourn on account of the extreme cold. People rose early in the Middle Age, dined at noon, slept in the afternoon when the weather was warm, and supped, as a rule, at 'one hour of the night,' that is to say an hour after 'Ave Maria,' which was rung half an hour after sunset, and was the end of the day of twenty-four hours. Noon was taken from the sun, but did not fall at a regular hour of the clock, and never fell at twelve. In winter, for instance, if the Ave Maria bell rang at half-past five of our modern time, the noon of the following day fell at 'half-past eighteen o'clock' by the mediæval clocks. In summer, it might fall as early as three quarters past fifteen; and this manner of reckoning time was common in Rome thirty-five years ago, and is not wholly unpractised in some parts of Italy still.
It was always an Italian habit, and a very healthy one, to get out of doors immediately on rising, and to put off making anything like a careful toilet till a much later hour. Breakfast, as we understand it, is an unknown meal in Italy, even now. Most people drink a cup of black coffee, standing; many eat a morsel of bread or biscuit with it and get out of doors as soon as they can; but the greediness of an Anglo-Saxon breakfast disgusts all Latins alike, and two set meals daily are thought to be enough for anyone, as indeed they are. The hard-working Italian hill peasant will sometimes toast himself a piece of corn bread before going to work, and eat it with a few drops of olive oil; and in the absence of tea or coffee, the people of the Middle Age often drank a mouthful of wine on rising to 'move the blood,' as they said. But that was all.
Every mediæval palace had its chapel, which was sometimes an adjacent church communicating with the house, and in many families it is even now the custom to hear the short low Mass at a very early hour. But probably nothing can give an adequate idea of the idleness of the Middle Age, when the day was once begun. Before the Renascence, there was no such thing as study, and there were hardly any pastimes except gambling and chess, both of which the girls and youths of the Decameron seem to have included in one contemptuous condemnation when they elected to spend their time in telling stories. The younger men of the household, of course, when not actually fighting, passed a certain number of hours in the practice of horsemanship and arms; but the only real excitement they knew was in love and war, the latter including everything between the battles of the Popes and Emperors, and the street brawls of private enemies, which generally drew blood and often ended in a death.
It does not appear that the idea of 'housekeeping' as the chief occupation of the Baron's wife ever entered into the Roman mind. In northern countries there has always been more equality between men and women, more respect for woman as an intelligent being, and less care for her as a valuable possession to be guarded against possible attacks from without. In Rome and the south of Italy the women in a great household were carefully separated from the men, and beyond the outer halls in which visitors were received, business transacted and politics discussed, there were closed doors, securely locked, leading to the women's apartments beyond. In every Roman palace and fortress there was a revolving 'dumb-waiter' between the women's quarters and the men's, called the 'wheel,' and used as a means of communication. Through this the household supplies were daily handed in, for the cooking was very generally done by women, and through the same machine the prepared food was passed out to the men, the wheel being so arranged that men and women could not see each other, though they might hear each other speak. To all intents and purposes the system was oriental and the women were shut up in a harem. The use of the dumb-waiter survived the revolution in manners under the Renascence, and the wheel itself remains as a curiosity of past times in more than one Roman dwelling today. It had its uses and was not a piece of senseless tyranny. In order to keep up an armed force for all emergencies the Baron took under his protection as men-at-arms the most desperate ruffians, outlaws and outcasts whom he could collect, mostly men under sentence of banishment or death for highway robbery and murder, whose only chance of escaping torture and death lay in risking life and limb for a master strong enough to defy the law, the 'bargello' and the executioner, in his own house or castle, where such henchmen were lodged and fed, and were controlled by nothing but fear of the Baron himself, of his sons, when they were grown up, and of his poorer kinsmen who lived with him. There were no crimes which such malefactors had not committed, or were not ready to commit for a word, or even for a jest. The women, on the other hand, were in the first place the ladies and daughters of the house, and of kinsmen, brought up in almost conventual solitude, when they were not actually educated in convents; and, secondly, young girls from the Baron's estates who served for a certain length of time, and were then generally married to respectable retainers. The position of twenty or thirty women and girls under the same roof with several hundreds of the most atrocious cutthroats of any age was undeniably such as to justify the most tyrannical measures for their protection.
There are traces, even now, of the enforced privacy in which they lived. For instance, no Roman lady of today will ever show herself at a window that looks on the street, except during Carnival, and in most houses something of the old arrangement of rooms is still preserved, whereby the men and women occupy different parts of the house.
One must try to call up the pictures of one day, to get any idea of those times; one must try and see the grey dawn stealing down the dark, unwindowed lower walls of the fortress that flanks the Church of the Holy Apostles,—the narrow and murky street below, the broad, dim space beyond, the mystery of the winding distances whence comes the first sound of the day, the far, high cry of the waterman driving his little donkey with its heavy load of water-casks. The beast stumbles along in the foul gloom, through the muddy ruts, over heaps of garbage at the corners, picking its way as best it can, till it starts with a snort and almost falls with its knees upon a dead man, whose thrice-stabbed body lies right across the way. The waterman, ragged, sandal-shod, stops, crosses himself, and drags his beast back hurriedly with a muttered exclamation of mingled horror, disgust and fear for himself, and makes for the nearest corner, stumbling along in his haste lest he should be found with the corpse and taken for the murderer. As the dawn forelightens, and the cries go up from the city, the black-hooded Brothers of Prayer and Death come in a little troop, their lantern still burning as they carry their empty stretcher, seeking for dead men; and they take up the poor nameless body and bear it away quickly from the sight of the coming day.
Then, as they disappear, the great bell of the Apostles' Church begins to toll the morning Angelus, half an hour before sunrise,—three strokes, then four, then five, then one, according to ancient custom, and then after a moment's silence, the swinging peal rings out, taken up and answered from end to end of the half-wasted city. A troop of men-at-arms ride up to the great closed gate 'in rusty armour marvellous ill-favoured,' as Shakespeare's stage direction has it, mud-splashed, their brown cloaks half concealing their dark and war-worn mail, their long swords hanging down and clanking against their huge stirrups, their beasts jaded and worn and filthy from the night raid in the Campagna, or the long gallop from Palestrina. The leader pounds three times at the iron-studded door with the hilt of his dagger, a sleepy porter, grey-bearded and cloaked, slowly swings back one half of the gate and the ruffians troop in, followed by the waterman who has gone round the fortress to avoid the dead body. The gate shuts again, with a long thundering rumble. High up, wooden shutters, behind which there is no glass, are thrown open upon the courtyard, and one window after another is opened to the morning air; on one side, girls and women look out, muffled in dark shawls; from the other grim, unwashed, bearded men call down to their companions, who have dismounted and are unsaddling their weary horses, and measuring out a little water to them, where water is a thing of price.
The leader goes up into the house to his master, to tell him of the night's doings, and while he speaks the Baron sits in a great wooden chair, in his long gown of heavy cloth, edged with coarse fox's fur, his feet in fur slippers, and a shabby cap upon his head, but a manly and stern figure, all the same, slowly munching a piece of toasted bread and sipping a few drops of old white wine from a battered silver cup.
Then Mass in the church, the Baron, his kinsmen, the ladies and the women kneeling in the high gallery above the altar, the men-at-arms and men-servants and retainers crouching below on the stone pavement; a dusky multitude, with a gleam of steel here and there, and red flashing eyes turned up with greedy longing towards the half-veiled faces of the women, met perhaps, now and then, by a furtive answering glance from under a veil or hoodlike shawl, for every woman's head is covered, but of the men only the old lord wears his cap, which he devoutly lifts at 'Gloria Patri' and 'Verbum Caro,' and at 'Sanctus' and at the consecration. It is soon over, and the day is begun, for the sun is fully risen and streams through the open unglazed windows as the maids sprinkle water on the brick floors, and sweep and strew fresh rushes, and roll back the mattresses on the trestle beds, which are not made again till evening. In the great courtyard, the men lead out the horses and mount them bareback and ride out in a troop, each with his sword by his side, to water them at the river, half a mile away, for not a single public fountain is left in Rome; and the grooms clean out the stables, while the peasants come in from the country, driving mules laden with provisions for the great household, and far away, behind barred doors, the women light the fires in the big kitchen.
Later again, the children of the noble house are taught to ride and fence in the open court; splendid boys with flowing hair, bright as gold or dark as night, dressed in rough hose and leathern jerkin, bright-eyed, fearless, masterful already in their play as a lion's whelps, watched from an upper window by their lady mother and their little sisters, and not soon tired of saddle or sword—familiar with the grooms and men by the great common instinct of fighting, but as far from vulgar as Polonius bade Laertes learn to be.
So morning warms to broad noon, and hunger makes it dinner-time, and the young kinsmen who have strolled abroad come home, one of them with his hand bound up in a white rag that has drops of blood on it, for he has picked a quarrel in the street and steel has been out, as usual, though no one has been killed, because the 'bargello' and his men were in sight, down there near the Orsini's theatre-fortress. And at dinner when the priest has blessed the table, the young men laugh about the scrimmage, while the Baron himself, who has killed a dozen men in battle, with his own hand, rebukes his sons and nephews with all the useless austerity which worn-out age wears in the face of unbroken youth. The meal is long, and they eat much, for there will be nothing more till night; they eat meat broth, thick with many vegetables and broken bread and lumps of boiled meat, and there are roasted meats and huge earthen bowls of salad, and there is cheese in great blocks, and vast quantities of bread, with wine in abundance, poured for each man by the butler into little earthen jugs from big earthenware flagons. They eat from trenchers of wood, well scoured with ashes; forks they have none, and most of the men use their own knives or daggers when they are not satisfied with the carving done for them by the carver. Each man, when he has picked a bone, throws it under the table to the house-dogs lying in wait on the floor, and from time to time a basin is passed and a little water poured upon the fingers. The Baron has a napkin of his own; there is one napkin for all the other men; the women generally eat by themselves in their own apartments, the so-called 'gentlemen' in the 'tinello,' and the men-at-arms and grooms, and all the rest, in the big lower halls near the kitchens, whence their food is passed out to them through the wheel.
After dinner, if it be summer and the weather hot, the gates are barred, the windows shut, and the whole household sleeps. Early or late, as the case may be, the lords and ladies and children take the air, guarded by scores of mounted men, riding towards that part of the city where they may neither meet their enemies nor catch a fever in the warm months. In rainy weather they pass the time as they can, with telling of many tales, short, dramatic and strong as the framework of a good play, with music, sometimes, and with songs, and with discussing of such news as there may be in such times. And at dusk the great bells ring to even-song, the oil lamp is swung up in the great staircase, the windows and gates are shut again, the torches and candles and little lamps are lit for supper, and at last, with rushlights, each finds the way along the ghostly corridors to bed and sleep. That was the day's round, and there was little to vary it in more peaceful times.
Over all life there was the hopeless, resentful dulness that oppressed men and women till it drove them half mad, to the doing of desperate things in love and war; there was the everlasting restraint of danger without and of forced idleness within—danger so constant that it ceased to be exciting and grew tiresome, idleness so oppressive that battle, murder and sudden death were a relief from the inactivity of sluggish peace; a state in which the mind was no longer a moving power in man, but only by turns the smelting pot and the anvil of half-smothered passions that now and then broke out with fire and flame and sword to slash and burn the world with a history of unimaginable horror.
That was the Middle Age in Italy. A poorer race would have gone down therein to a bloody destruction; but it was out of the Middle Age that the Italians were born again in the Renascence. It deserved the name.
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