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Chapter 6


The journey to Italy was undertaken by advice of Sir James Clark,
reckoned the chief authority in pulmonary therapeutics; who prophesied
important improvements from it, and perhaps even the possibility
henceforth of living all the year in some English home. Mrs. Sterling
and the children continued in a house avowedly temporary, a furnished
house at Hastings, through the winter. The two friends had set off
for Belgium, while the due warmth was still in the air. They
traversed Belgium, looking well at pictures and such objects; ascended
the Rhine; rapidly traversed Switzerland and the Alps; issuing upon
Italy and Milan, with immense appetite for pictures, and time still to
gratify themselves in that pursuit, and be deliberate in their
approach to Rome. We will take this free-flowing sketch of their
passage over the Alps; written amid "the rocks of Arona,"--Santo
Borromeo's country, and poor little Mignon's! The "elder Perdonnets"
are opulent Lausanne people, to whose late son Sterling had been very
kind in Madeira the year before:--

"_To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London_.
"ARONA on the LAGO MAGGIORE, 8th Oct., 1838.

"MY DEAR MOTHER,--I bring down the story of my proceedings to the
present time since the 29th of September. I think it must have been
after that day that I was at a great breakfast at the elder
Perdonnets', with whom I had declined to dine, not choosing to go out
at night.... I was taken by my hostess to see several pretty
pleasure-grounds and points of view in the neighborhood; and latterly
Calvert was better, and able to go with us. He was in force again,
and our passports were all settled so as to enable us to start on the
morning of the 2d, after taking leave of our kind entertainer with
thanks for her infinite kindness.

"We reached St. Maurice early that evening; having had the Dent du
Midi close to us for several hours; glittering like the top of a
silver teapot, far up in the sky. Our course lay along the Valley of
the Rhone; which is considered one of the least beautiful parts of
Switzerland, and perhaps for this reason pleased us, as we had not
been prepared to expect much. We saw, before reaching the foot of the
Alpine pass at Brieg, two rather celebrated Waterfalls; the one the
Pissevache, which has no more beauty than any waterfall one hundred or
two hundred feet high must necessarily have: the other, near
Tourtemagne, is much more pleasing, having foliage round it, and being
in a secluded dell. If you buy a Swiss Waterfall, choose this one.

"Our second day took us through Martigny to Sion, celebrated for its
picturesque towers upon detached hills, for its strong Romanism and
its population of _cretins_,--that is, maimed idiots having the
_goitre_. It looked to us a more thriving place than we expected.
They are building a great deal; among other things, a new Bishop's
Palace and a new Nunnery,--to inhabit either of which _ex officio_ I
feel myself very unsuitable. From Sion we came to Brieg; a little
village in a nook, close under an enormous mountain and glacier, where
it lies like a molehill, or something smaller, at the foot of a
haystack. Here also we slept; and the next day our voiturier, who had
brought us from Lausanne, started with us up the Simplon Pass; helped
on by two extra horses.

"The beginning of the road was rather cheerful; having a good deal of
green pasturage, and some mountain villages; but it soon becomes
dreary and savage in aspect, and but for our bright sky and warm air,
would have been truly dismal. However, we gained gradually a distinct
and near view of several large glaciers; and reached at last the high
and melancholy valleys of the Upper Alps; where even the pines become
scanty, and no sound is heard but the wheels of one's carriage, except
when there happens to be a storm or an avalanche, neither of which
entertained us. There is, here and there, a small stream of water
pouring from the snow; but this is rather a monotonous accompaniment
to the general desolation than an interruption of it. The road itself
is certainly very good, and impresses one with a strong notion of
human power. But the common descriptions are much exaggerated; and
many of what the Guide-Books call 'galleries' are merely parts of the
road supported by a wall built against the rock, and have nothing like
a roof above them. The 'stupendous bridges,' as they are called,
might be packed, a dozen together, into one arch of London Bridge; and
they are seldom even very striking from the depth below. The roadway
is excellent, and kept in the best order. On the whole, I am very
glad to have travelled the most famous road in Europe, and to have had
delightful weather for doing so, as indeed we have had ever since we
left Lausanne. The Italian descent is greatly more remarkable than
the other side.

"We slept near the top, at the Village of Simplon, in a very fair and
well-warmed inn, close to a mountain stream, which is one of the great
ornaments of this side of the road. We have here passed into a region
of granite, from that of limestone, and what is called gneiss. The
valleys are sharper and closer,--like cracks in a hard and solid
mass;--and there is much more of the startling contrast of light and
shade, as well as more angular boldness of outline; to all which the
more abundant waters add a fresh and vivacious interest. Looking back
through one of these abysmal gorges, one sees two torrents dashing
together, the precipice and ridge on one side, pitch-black with shade;
and that on the other all flaming gold; while behind rises, in a huge
cone, one of the glacier summits of the chain. The stream at one's
feet rushes at a leap some two hundred feet down, and is bordered with
pines and beeches, struggling through a ruined world of clefts and
boulders. I never saw anything so much resembling some of the
_Circles_ described by Dante. From Simplon we made for Duomo
d'Ossola; having broken out, as through the mouth of a mine, into
green and fertile valleys full of vines and chestnuts, and white
villages,--in short, into sunshine and Italy.

"At this place we dismissed our Swiss voiturier, and took an Italian
one; who conveyed us to Omegna on the Lake of Orta; a place little
visited by English travellers, but which fully repaid us the trouble
of going there. We were lodged in a simple and even rude Italian inn;
where they cannot speak a word of French; where we occupied a
barn-like room, with a huge chimney fit to lodge a hundred ghosts,
whom we expelled by dint of a hot woodfire. There were two beds, and
as it happened good ones, in this strange old apartment; which was
adorned by pictures of Architecture, and by Heads of Saints, better
than many at the Royal Academy Exhibition, and which one paid nothing
for looking at. The thorough Italian character of the whole scene
amused us, much more than Meurice's at Paris would have done; for we
had voluble, commonplace good-humor, with the aspect and accessories
of a den of banditti.

"To-day we have seen the Lake of Orta, have walked for some miles
among its vineyards and chestnuts; and thence have come, by Baveno, to
this place;--having seen by the way, I believe, the most beautiful
part of the Lago Maggiore, and certainly the most cheerful, complete
and extended example of fine scenery I have ever fallen in with. Here
we are, much to my wonder,--for it seems too good to be true,--fairly
in Italy; and as yet my journey has been a pleasanter and more
instructive, and in point of health a more successful one, than I at
all imagined possible. Calvert and I go on as well as can be. I let
him have his way about natural science, and he only laughs benignly
when he thinks me absurd in my moral speculations. My only regrets
are caused by my separation from my family and friends, and by the
hurry I have been living in, which has prevented me doing any
work,--and compelled me to write to you at a good deal faster rate
than the _vapore_ moves on the Lago Maggiore. It will take me
to-morrow to Sesto Calende, whence we go to Varese. We shall not be
at Milan for some days. Write thither, if you are kind enough to
write at all, till I give you another address. Love to my Father.

"Your affectionate son,

Omitting Milan, Florence nearly all, and much about "Art," Michael
Angelo, and other aerial matters, here are some select terrestrial
glimpses, the fittest I can find, of his progress towards Rome:--

_To his Mother_.

"_Lucca, Nov. 27th_, 1838.--I had dreams, like other people, before I
came here, of what the Lombard Lakes must be; and the week I spent
among them has left me an image, not only more distinct, but far more
warm, shining and various, and more deeply attractive in innumerable
respects, than all I had before conceived of them. And so also it has
been with Florence; where I spent three weeks: enough for the first
hazy radiant dawn of sympathy to pass away; yet constantly adding an
increase of knowledge and of love, while I examined, and tried to
understand, the wonderful minds that have left behind them there such
abundant traces of their presence.... On Sunday, the day before I
left Florence, I went to the highest part of the Grand Duke's Garden
of Boboli, which commands a view of most of the City, and of the vale
of the Arno to the westward; where, as we had been visited by several
rainy days, and now at last had a very fine one, the whole prospect
was in its highest beauty. The mass of buildings, chiefly on the
other side of the River, is sufficient to fill the eye, without
perplexing the mind by vastness like that of London; and its name and
history, its outline and large and picturesque buildings, give it
grandeur of a higher order than that of mere multitudinous extent.
The Hills that border the Valley of the Arno are also very pleasing
and striking to look upon; and the view of the rich Plain, glimmering
away into blue distance, covered with an endless web of villages and
country-houses, is one of the most delightful images of human
well-being I have ever seen....

"Very shortly before leaving Florence, I went through the house of
Michael Angelo; which is still possessed by persons of the same
family, descendants, I believe, of his Nephew. There is in it his
'first work in marble,' as it is called; and a few drawings,--all with
the stamp of his enginery upon them, which was more powerful than all
the steam in London.... On the whole, though I have done no work in
Florence that can be of any use or pleasure to others, except my
Letters to my Wife,--I leave it with the certainty of much valuable
knowledge gained there, and with a most pleasant remembrance of the
busy and thoughtful days I owe to it.

"We left Florence before seven yesterday morning [26th November] for
this place; travelling on the northern side of the Arno, by Prato,
Pistoia, Pescia. We tried to see some old frescos in a Church at
Prato; but found the Priests all about, saying mass; and of course did
not venture to put our hands into a hive where the bees were buzzing
and on the wing. Pistoia we only coasted. A little on one side of
it, there is a Hill, the first on the road from Florence; which we
walked up, and had a very lively and brilliant prospect over the road
we had just travelled, and the town of Pistoia. Thence to this place
the whole land is beautiful, and in the highest degree prosperous,--in
short, to speak metaphorically, all dotted with Leghorn bonnets, and
streaming with olive-oil. The girls here are said to employ
themselves chiefly in platting straw, which is a profitable
employment; and the slightness and quiet of the work are said to be
much more favorable to beauty than the coarser kinds of labor
performed by the country-women elsewhere. Certain it is that I saw
more pretty women in Pescia, in the hour I spent there, than I ever
before met with among the same numbers of the 'phare sect.'
Wherefore, as a memorial of them, I bought there several Legends of
Female Saints and Martyrs, and of other Ladies quite the reverse, and
held up as warnings; all of which are written in _ottava rima_, and
sold for three halfpence apiece. But unhappily I have not yet had
time to read them. This Town has 30,000 inhabitants, and is
surrounded by Walls, laid out as walks, and evidently not at present
intended to be besieged,--for which reason, this morning, I merely
walked on them round the Town, and did not besiege them....

"The Cathedral [of Lucca] contains some Relics; which have undoubtedly
worked miracles on the imagination of the people hereabouts. The
Grandfather of all Relics (as the Arabs would say) in the place is the
_Volto Santo_, which is a Face of the Saviour appertaining to a wooden
Crucifix. Now you must know that, after the ascension of Christ,
Nicodemus was ordered by an Angel to carve an image of him; and went
accordingly with a hatchet, and cut down a cedar for that purpose. He
then proceeded to carve the figure; and being tired, fell asleep
before he had done the face; which however, on awaking, he found
completed by celestial aid. This image was brought to Lucca, from
Leghorn, I think, where it had arrived in a ship, 'more than a
thousand years ago,' and has ever since been kept, in purple and fine
linen and gold and diamonds, quietly working miracles. I saw the gilt
Shrine of it; and also a Hatchet which refused to cut off the head of
an innocent man, who had been condemned to death, and who prayed to
the _Volto Santo_. I suppose it is by way of economy (they being a
frugal people) that the Italians have their Book of Common Prayer and
their Arabian Nights' Entertainments condensed into one."

_To the Same_.

"_Pisa, December 2d_, 1838.--Pisa is very unfairly treated in all the
Books I have read. It seems to me a quiet, but very agreeable place;
with wide clean streets, and a look of stability and comfort; and I
admire the Cathedral and its appendages more, the more I see them.
The leaning of the Tower is to my eye decidedly unpleasant; but it is
a beautiful building nevertheless, and the view from the top is, under
a bright sky, remarkably lively and satisfactory. The Lucchese Hills
form a fine mass, and the sea must in clear weather be very distinct.
There was some haze over it when I was up, though the land was all
clear. I could just see the Leghorn Light-house. Leghorn itself I
shall not be able to visit....

"The quiet gracefulness of Italian life, and the mental maturity and
vigor of Germany, have a great charm when compared with the restless
whirl of England, and the chorus of mingled yells and groans sent up
by our parties and sects, and by the suffering and bewildered crowds
of the laboring people. Our politics make my heart ache, whenever I
think of them. The base selfish frenzies of factions seem to me, at
this distance, half diabolic; and I am out of the way of knowing
anything that may be quietly a-doing to elevate the standard of wise
and temperate manhood in the country, and to diffuse the means of
physical and moral well-being among all the people.... I will write
to my Father as soon as I can after reaching the capital of his friend
the Pope,--who, if he had happened to be born an English gentleman,
would no doubt by this time be a respectable old-gentlemanly gouty
member of the Carlton. I have often amused myself by thinking what a
mere accident it is that Phillpotts is not Archbishop of Tuam, and
M'Hale Bishop of Exeter; and how slight a change of dress, and of a
few catchwords, would even now enable them to fill those respective
posts with all the propriety and discretion they display in their
present positions."

At Rome he found the Crawfords, known to him long since; and at
different dates other English friends old and new; and was altogether
in the liveliest humor, no end to his activities and speculations. Of
all which, during the next four months, the Letters now before me give
abundant record,--far too abundant for our objects here. His grand
pursuit, as natural at Rome, was Art; into which metaphysical domain
we shall not follow him; preferring to pick out, here and there,
something of concrete and human. Of his interests, researches,
speculations and descriptions on this subject of Art, there is always
rather a superabundance, especially in the Italian Tour.
Unfortunately, in the hard weather, poor Calvert fell ill; and
Sterling, along with his Art-studies, distinguished himself as a
sick-nurse till his poor comrade got afoot again. His general
impressions of the scene and what it held for him may be read in the
following excerpts. The Letters are all dated _Rome_, and addressed
to his Father or Mother:--

"_December 21st_, 1838.--Of Rome itself, as a whole, there are
infinite things to be said, well worth saying; but I shall confine
myself to two remarks: first, that while the Monuments and works of
Art gain in wondrousness and significance by familiarity with them,
the actual life of Rome, the Papacy and its pride, lose; and though
one gets accustomed to Cardinals and Friars and Swiss Guards, and
ragged beggars and the finery of London and Paris, all rolling on
together, and sees how it is that they subsist in a sort of spurious
unity, one loses all tendency to idealize the Metropolis and System of
the Hierarchy into anything higher than a piece of showy
stage-declamation, at bottom, in our day, thoroughly mean and prosaic.
My other remark is, that Rome, seen from the tower of the Capitol,
from the Pincian or the Janiculum, is at this day one of the most
beautiful spectacles which eyes ever beheld. The company of great
domes rising from a mass of large and solid buildings, with a few
stone-pines and scattered edifices on the outskirts; the broken bare
Campagna all around; the Alban Hills not far, and the purple range of
Sabine Mountains in the distance with a cope of snow;--this seen in
the clear air, and the whole spiritualized by endless recollections,
and a sense of the grave and lofty reality of human existence which
has had this place for a main theatre, fills at once the eyes and
heart more forcibly, and to me delightfully, than I can find words to

"_January 22d_, 1839.--The Modern Rome, Pope and all inclusive, are a
shabby attempt at something adequate to fill the place of the old
Commonwealth. It is easy enough to live among them, and there is much
to amuse and even interest a spectator; but the native existence of
the place is now thin and hollow, and there is a stamp of littleness,
and childish poverty of taste, upon all the great Christian buildings
I have seen here,--not excepting St. Peter's; which is crammed with
bits of colored marble and gilding, and Gog-and-Magog colossal statues
of saints (looking prodigiously small), and mosaics from the worst
pictures in Rome; and has altogether, with most imposing size and
lavish splendor, a tang of Guildhall finery about it that contrasts
oddly with the melancholy vastness and simplicity of the Ancient
Monuments, though these have not the Athenian elegance. I recur
perpetually to the galleries of Sculpture in the Vatican, and to the
Frescos of Raffael and Michael Angelo, of inexhaustible beauty and
greatness, and to the general aspect of the City and the Country round
it, as the most impressive scene on earth. But the Modern City, with
its churches, palaces, priests and beggars, is far from sublime."

Of about the same date, here is another paragraph worth inserting:
"Gladstone has three little agate crosses which he will give you for
my little girls. Calvert bought them, as a present, for 'the bodies,'
at Martigny in Switzerland, and I have had no earlier opportunity of
sending them. Will you despatch them to Hastings when you have an
opportunity? I have not yet seen Gladstone's _Church and State_; but
as there is a copy in Rome, I hope soon to lay hands on it. I saw
yesterday in the _Times_ a furious, and I am sorry to say, most absurd
attack on him and it, and the new Oxonian school."

"_February 28th, 1839_.--There is among the people plenty of squalid
misery; though not nearly so much as, they say, exists in Ireland; and
here there is a certain freedom and freshness of manners, a dash of
Southern enjoyment in the condition of the meanest and most miserable.
There is, I suppose, as little as well can be of conscience or
artificial cultivation of any kind; but there is not the affectation
of a virtue which they do not possess, nor any feeling of being
despised for the want of it; and where life generally is so inert,
except as to its passions and material wants, there is not the bitter
consciousness of having been beaten by the more prosperous, in a race
which the greater number have never thought of running. Among the
laboring poor of Rome, a bribe will buy a crime; but if common work
procures enough for a day's food or idleness, ten times the sum will
not induce them to toil on, as an English workman would, for the sake
of rising in the world. Sixpence any day will put any of them at the
top of the only tree they care for,--that on which grows the fruit of
idleness. It is striking to see the way in which, in magnificent
churches, the most ragged beggars kneel on the pavement before some
favorite altar in the midst of well-dressed women and of gazing
foreigners. Or sometimes you will see one with a child come in from
the street where she has been begging, put herself in a corner, say a
prayer (probably for the success of her petitions), and then return to
beg again. There is wonderfully little of any moral strength
connected with this devotion; but still it is better than nothing, and
more than is often found among the men of the upper classes in Rome.
I believe the Clergy to be generally profligate, and the state of
domestic morals as bad as it has ever been represented."--

Or, in sudden contrast, take this other glance homeward; a Letter to
his eldest child; in which kind of Letters, more than in any other,
Sterling seems to me to excel. Readers recollect the hurricane in St.
Vincent; the hasty removal to a neighbor's house, and the birth of a
son there, soon after. The boy has grown to some articulation, during
these seven years; and his Father, from the new foreign scene of
Priests and Dilettanti, thus addresses him:--

"_To Master Edward C. Sterling, Hastings_.
"ROME, 21st January, 1839.

"MY DEAR EDWARD,--I was very glad to receive your Letter, which showed
me that you have learned something since I left home. If you knew how
much pleasure it gave me to see your handwriting, I am sure you would
take pains to be able to write well, that you might often send me
letters, and tell me a great many things which I should like to know
about Mamma and your Sisters as well as yourself.

"If I go to Vesuvius, I will try to carry away a bit of the lava,
which you wish for. There has lately been a great eruption, as it is
called, of that Mountain; which means a great breaking-out of hot
ashes and fire, and of melted stones which is called lava.

"Miss Clark is very kind to take so much pains with you; and I trust
you will show that you are obliged to her, by paying attention to all
she tells you. When you see how much more grown people know than you,
you ought to be anxious to learn all you can from those who teach you;
and as there are so many wise and good things written in Books, you
ought to try to read early and carefully; that you may learn something
of what God has made you able to know. There are Libraries containing
very many thousands of Volumes; and all that is written in these
is,--accounts of some part or other of the World which God has made,
or of the Thoughts which he has enabled men to have in their minds.
Some Books are descriptions of the earth itself, with its rocks and
ground and water, and of the air and clouds, and the stars and moon
and sun, which shine so beautifully in the sky. Some tell you about
the things that grow upon the ground; the many millions of plants,
from little mosses and threads of grass up to great trees and forests.
Some also contain accounts of living things: flies, worms, fishes,
birds and four-legged beasts. And some, which are the most, are about
men and their thoughts and doings. These are the most important of
all; for men are the best and most wonderful creatures of God in the
world; being the only ones able to know him and love him, and to try
of their own accord to do his will.

"These Books about men are also the most important to us, because we
ourselves are human beings, and may learn from such Books what we
ought to think and to do and to try to be. Some of them describe what
sort of people have lived in old times and in other countries. By
reading them, we know what is the difference between ourselves in
England now, and the famous nations which lived in former days. Such
were the Egyptians who built the Pyramids, which are the greatest
heaps of stone upon the face of the earth: and the Babylonians, who
had a city with huge walls, built of bricks, having writing on them
that no one in our time has been able to make out. There were also
the Jews, who were the only ancient people that knew how wonderful and
how good God is: and the Greeks, who were the wisest of all in
thinking about men's lives and hearts, and who knew best how to make
fine statues and buildings, and to write wise books. By Books also we
may learn what sort of people the old Romans were, whose chief city
was Rome, where I am now; and how brave and skilful they were in war;
and how well they could govern and teach many nations which they had
conquered. It is from Books, too, that you must learn what kind of
men were our Ancestors in the Northern part of Europe, who belonged to
the tribes that did the most towards pulling down the power of the
Romans: and you will see in the same way how Christianity was sent
among them by God, to make them wiser and more peaceful, and more
noble in their minds; and how all the nations that now are in Europe,
and especially the Italians and the Germans, and the French and the
English, came to be what they now are.--It is well worth knowing (and
it can be known only by reading) how the Germans found out the
Printing of Books, and what great changes this has made in the world.
And everybody in England ought to try to understand how the English
came to have their Parliaments and Laws; and to have fleets that sail
over all seas of the world.

"Besides learning all these things, and a great many more about
different times and countries, you may learn from Books, what is the
truth of God's will, and what are the best and wisest thoughts, and
the most beautiful words; and how men are able to lead very right
lives, and to do a great deal to better the world. I have spent a
great part of my life in reading; and I hope you will come to like it
as much as I do, and to learn in this way all that I know.

"But it is a still more serious matter that you should try to be
obedient and gentle; and to command your temper; and to think of other
people's pleasure rather than your own, and of what you _ought_ to do
rather than what you _like_. If you try to be better for all you
read, as well as wiser, you will find Books a great help towards
goodness as well as knowledge, and above all other Books, the Bible;
which tells us of the will of God, and of the love of Jesus Christ
towards God and men.

"I had a Letter from Mamma to-day, which left Hastings on the 10th of
this month. I was very glad to find in it that you were all well and
happy; but I know Mamma is not well, and is likely to be more
uncomfortable every day for some time. So I hope you will all take
care to give her as little trouble as possible. After sending you so
much advice, I shall write a little Story to divert you.--I am, my
dear Boy,

"Your affectionate Father,

The "Story" is lost, destroyed, as are many such which Sterling wrote,
with great felicity, I am told, and much to the satisfaction of the
young folk, when the humor took him.

Besides these plentiful communications still left, I remember long
Letters, not now extant, principally addressed to his Wife, of which
we and the circle at Knightsbridge had due perusal, treating with
animated copiousness about all manner of picture-galleries, pictures,
statues and objects of Art at Rome, and on the road to Rome and from
it, wheresoever his course led him into neighborhood of such objects.
That was Sterling's habit. It is expected in this Nineteenth Century
that a man of culture shall understand and worship Art: among the
windy gospels addressed to our poor Century there are few louder than
this of Art;--and if the Century expects that every man shall do his
duty, surely Sterling was not the man to balk it! Various extracts
from these picture-surveys are given in Hare; the others, I suppose,
Sterling himself subsequently destroyed, not valuing them much.

Certainly no stranger could address himself more eagerly to reap what
artistic harvest Rome offers, which is reckoned the peculiar produce
of Rome among cities under the sun; to all galleries, churches,
sistine chapels, ruins, coliseums, and artistic or dilettante shrines
he zealously pilgrimed; and had much to say then and afterwards, and
with real technical and historical knowledge I believe, about the
objects of devotion there. But it often struck me as a question,
Whether all this even to himself was not, more or less, a nebulous
kind of element; prescribed not by Nature and her verities, but by the
Century expecting every man to do his duty? Whether not perhaps, in
good part, temporary dilettante cloudland of our poor Century;--or can
it be the real diviner Pisgah height, and everlasting mount of vision,
for man's soul in any Century? And I think Sterling himself bent
towards a negative conclusion, in the course of years. Certainly, of
all subjects this was the one I cared least to hear even Sterling talk
of: indeed it is a subject on which earnest men, abhorrent of
hypocrisy and speech that has no meaning, are admonished to silence in
this sad time, and had better, in such a Babel as we have got into for
the present, "perambulate their picture-gallery with little or no

Here is another and to me much more earnest kind of "Art," which
renders Rome unique among the cities of the world; of this we will, in
preference; take a glance through Sterling's eyes:--

"January 22d, 1839.--On Friday last there was a great Festival at St.
Peter's; the only one I have seen. The Church was decorated with
crimson hangings, and the choir fitted up with seats and galleries,
and a throne for the Pope. There were perhaps a couple of hundred
guards of different kinds; and three or four hundred English ladies,
and not so many foreign male spectators; so that the place looked
empty. The Cardinals in scarlet, and Monsignori in purple, were
there; and a body of officiating Clergy. The Pope was carried in in
his chair on men's shoulders, wearing the Triple Crown; which I have
thus actually seen: it is something like a gigantic Egg, and of the
same color, with three little bands of gold,--very large Egg-shell
with three streaks of the yolk smeared round it. He was dressed in
white silk robes, with gold trimmings.

"It was a fine piece of state-show; though, as there are three or four
such Festivals yearly, of course there is none of the eager interest
which breaks out at coronations and similar rare events; no explosion
of unwonted velvets, jewels, carriages and footmen, such as London and
Milan have lately enjoyed. I guessed all the people in St. Peter's,
including performers and spectators, at 2,000; where 20,000 would
hardly have been a crushing crowd. Mass was performed, and a stupid
but short Latin sermon delivered by a lad, in honor of St. Peter, who
would have been much astonished if he could have heard it. The
genuflections, and train-bearings, and folding up the tails of silk
petticoats while the Pontiff knelt, and the train of Cardinals going
up to kiss his Ring, and so forth,--made on me the impression of
something immeasurably old and sepulchral, such as might suit the
Grand Lama's court, or the inside of an Egyptian Pyramid; or as if the
Hieroglyphics on one of the Obelisks here should begin to pace and
gesticulate, and nod their bestial heads upon the granite tablets.
The careless bystanders, the London ladies with their eye-glasses and
look of an Opera-box, the yawning young gentlemen of the _Guarda
Nobile_, and the laugh of one of the file of vermilion Priests round
the steps of the altar at the whispered good thing of his neighbor,
brought one back to nothing indeed of a very lofty kind, but still to
the Nineteenth Century."--

"At the great Benediction of the City and the World on Easter Sunday
by the Pope," he writes afterwards, "there was a large crowd both
native and foreign, hundreds of carriages, and thousands of the lower
orders of people from the country; but even of the poor hardly one in
twenty took off his hat, and a still smaller number knelt down. A few
years ago, not a head was covered, nor was there a knee which did not
bow."--A very decadent "Holiness of our Lord the Pope," it would

Sterling's view of the Pope, as seen in these his gala days, doing his
big play-actorism under God's earnest sky, was much more substantial
to me than his studies in the picture-galleries. To Mr. Hare also he
writes: "I have seen the Pope in all his pomp at St. Peter's; and he
looked to me a mere lie in livery. The Romish Controversy is
doubtless a much more difficult one than the managers of the
Religious-Tract Society fancy, because it is a theoretical dispute;
and in dealing with notions and authorities, I can quite understand
how a mere student in a library, with no eye for facts, should take
either one side or other. But how any man with clear head and honest
heart, and capable of seeing realities, and distinguishing them from
scenic falsehoods, should, after living in a Romanist country, and
especially at Rome, be inclined to side with Leo against Luther, I
cannot understand."[20]

It is fit surely to recognize with admiring joy any glimpse of the
Beautiful and the Eternal that is hung out for us, in color, in form
or tone, in canvas, stone, or atmospheric air, and made accessible by
any sense, in this world: but it is greatly fitter still (little as
we are used that way) to shudder in pity and abhorrence over the
scandalous tragedy, transcendent nadir of human ugliness and
contemptibility, which under the daring title of religious worship,
and practical recognition of the Highest God, daily and hourly
everywhere transacts itself there. And, alas, not there only, but
elsewhere, everywhere more or less; whereby our sense is so blunted to
it;--whence, in all provinces of human life, these tears!--

But let us take a glance at the Carnival, since we are here. The
Letters, as before, are addressed to Knightsbridge; the date _Rome_:--

"_February 5th_, 1839.--The Carnival began yesterday. It is a curious
example of the trifling things which will heartily amuse tens of
thousands of grown people, precisely because they are trifling, and
therefore a relief from serious business, cares and labors. The Corso
is a street about a mile long, and about as broad as Jermyn Street;
but bordered by much loftier houses, with many palaces and churches,
and has two or three small squares opening into it. Carriages, mostly
open, drove up and down it for two or three hours; and the contents
were shot at with handfuls of comfits from the windows,--in the hope
of making them as non-content as possible,--while they returned the
fire to the best of their inferior ability. The populace, among whom
was I, walked about; perhaps one in fifty were masked in character;
but there was little in the masquerade either of splendor of costume
or liveliness of mimicry. However, the whole scene was very gay;
there were a good many troops about, and some of them heavy dragoons,
who flourished their swords with the magnanimity of our Life-Guards,
to repel the encroachments of too ambitious little boys. Most of the
windows and balconies were hung with colored drapery; and there were
flags, trumpets, nosegays and flirtations of all shapes and sizes.
The best of all was, that there was laughter enough to have frightened
Cassius out of his thin carcass, could the lean old homicide have been
present, otherwise than as a fleshless ghost;--in which capacity I
thought I had a glimpse of him looking over the shoulder of a
particolored clown, in a carriage full of London Cockneys driving
towards the Capitol. This good-humored foolery will go on for several
days to come, ending always with the celebrated Horse-race, of horses
without riders. The long street is cleared in the centre by troops,
and half a dozen quadrupeds, ornamented like Grimaldi in a London
pantomime, scamper away, with the mob closing and roaring at their

"_February_ 9th, 1839.--The usual state of Rome is quiet and sober.
One could almost fancy the actual generation held their breath, and
stole by on tiptoe, in presence of so memorable a past. But during
the Carnival all mankind, womankind and childkind think it unbecoming
not to play the fool. The modern donkey pokes its head out of the
lion's skin of old Rome, and brays out the absurdest of asinine
roundelays. Conceive twenty thousand grown people in a long street,
at the windows, on the footways, and in carriages, amused day after
day for several hours in pelting and being pelted with handfuls of
mock or real sugar-plums; and this no name or presence, but real
downright showers of plaster comfits, from which people guard their
eyes with meshes of wire. As sure as a carriage passes under a window
or balcony where are acquaintances of theirs, down comes a shower of
hail, ineffectually returned from below. The parties in two crossing
carriages similarly assault each other; and there are long balconies
hung the whole way with a deep canvas pocket full of this mortal shot.
One Russian Grand Duke goes with a troop of youngsters in a wagon, all
dressed in brown linen frocks and masked, and pelts among the most
furious, also being pelted. The children are of course preeminently
vigorous, and there is a considerable circulation of real sugar-plums,
which supply consolation for all disappointments."

The whole to conclude, as is proper, with a display, with two
displays, of fireworks; in which art, as in some others, Rome is

"_February 9th_, 1839.--It seems to be the ambition of all the lower
classes to wear a mask and showy grotesque disguise of some kind; and
I believe many of the upper ranks do the same. They even put St.
Peter's into masquerade; and make it a Cathedral of Lamplight instead
of a stone one. Two evenings ago this feat was performed; and I was
able to see it from the rooms of a friend near this, which command an
excellent view of it. I never saw so beautiful an effect of
artificial light. The evening was perfectly serene and clear; the
principal lines of the building, the columns, architrave and pediment
of the front, the two inferior cupolas, the curves of the dome from
which the dome rises, the ribs of the dome itself, the small oriel
windows between them, and the lantern and ball and cross,--all were
delineated in the clear vault of air by lines of pale yellow fire.
The dome of another great Church, much nearer to the eye, stood up as
a great black mass,--a funereal contrast to the luminous tabernacle.

"While I was looking at this latter, a red blaze burst from the
summit, and at the same moment seemed to flash over the whole
building, filling up the pale outline with a simultaneous burst of
fire. This is a celebrated display; and is done, I believe, by the
employment of a very great number of men to light, at the same
instant, the torches which are fixed for the purpose all over the
building. After the first glare of fire, I did not think the second
aspect of the building so beautiful as the first; it wanted both
softness and distinctness. The two most animated days of the Carnival
are still to come."

"_April 4th_, 1839.--We have just come to the termination of all the
Easter spectacles here. On Sunday evening St. Peter's was a second
time illuminated; I was in the Piazza, and admired the sight from a
nearer point than when I had seen it before at the time of the

"On Monday evening the celebrated fire-works were let off from the
Castle of St. Angelo; they were said to be, in some respects more
brilliant than usual. I certainly never saw any fireworks comparable
to them for beauty. The Girandola is a discharge of many thousands of
rockets at once, which of course fall back, like the leaves of a lily,
and form for a minute a very beautiful picture. There was also in
silvery light a very long Facade of a Palace, which looked a residence
for Oberon and Titania, and beat Aladdin's into darkness. Afterwards
a series of cascades of red fire poured down the faces of the Castle
and of the scaffoldings round it, and seemed a burning Niagara. Of
course there were abundance of serpents, wheels and cannon-shot; there
was also a display of dazzling white light, which made a strange
appearance on the houses, the river, the bridge, and the faces of the
multitude. The whole ended with a second and a more splendid

Take finally, to people the scene a little for us, if our imagination
be at all lively, these three small entries, of different dates, and
so wind up:--

"_December 30th_, 1838.--I received on Christmas-day a packet from Dr.
Carlyle, containing Letters from the Maurices; which were a very
pleasant arrival. The Dr. wrote a few lines with them, mentioning
that he was only at Civita Vecchia while the steamer baited on its way
to Naples. I have written to thank him for his despatches."

"_March 16th_, 1839.--I have seen a good deal of John Mill, whose
society I like much. He enters heartily into the interest of the
things which I most care for here, and I have seldom had more pleasure
than in taking him to see Raffael's Loggie, where are the Frescos
called his Bible, and to the Sixtine Chapel, which I admire and love
more and more. He is in very weak health, but as fresh and clear in
mind as possible.... English politics seem in a queer state, the
Conservatives creeping on, the Whigs losing ground; like combatants on
the top of a breach, while there is a social mine below which will
probably blow both parties into the air."

"_April 4th_, 1839.--I walked out on Tuesday on the Ancona Road, and
about noon met a travelling carriage, which from a distance looked
very suspicious, and on nearer approach was found really to contain
Captain Sterling and an Albanian manservant on the front, and behind
under the hood Mrs. A. Sterling and the she portion of the tail. They
seemed very well; and, having turned the Albanian back to the rear of
the whole machine, I sat by Anthony, and entered Rome in
triumph."--Here is indeed a conquest! Captain A. Sterling, now on his
return from service in Corfu, meets his Brother in this manner; and
the remaining Roman days are of a brighter complexion. As these
suddenly ended, I believe he turned southward, and found at Naples the
Dr. Carlyle above mentioned (an extremely intimate acquaintance of
mine), who was still there. For we are a most travelling people, we
of this Island in this time; and, as the Prophet threatened, see
ourselves, in so many senses, made "like unto a wheel!"--

Sterling returned from Italy filled with much cheerful imagery and
reminiscence, and great store of artistic, serious, dilettante and
other speculation for the time; improved in health, too; but probably
little enriched in real culture or spiritual strength; and indeed not
permanently altered by his tour in any respect to a sensible extent,
that one could notice. He returned rather in haste, and before the
expected time; summoned, about the middle of April, by his Wife's
domestic situation at Hastings; who, poor lady, had been brought to
bed before her calculation, and had in few days lost her infant; and
now saw a household round her much needing the master's presence. He
hurried off to Malta, dreading the Alps at that season; and came home,
by steamer, with all speed, early in May, 1839.

Thomas Carlyle

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