"He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth."
Oh, sublime faith of our fathers, where utter self-sacrifice alone was true love, the fragrance of whose unrequired subjection was pleasant as that of golden censers swung in purple-vapored chancels!
Never ceasing in the rhythm of her thoughts, articulated in music as they thronged, the memory of her first communion flashed over her. Again she was in that distant place on that sweet spring morning. Again the congregation rustled out, and the few remained, and she trembled to find herself among them.
How well she remembered the devout, quiet faces; too accustomed to the sacred feast to glow with their inner joy! how well the snowy linen at the altar, the silver vessels slowly and silently shifting! and as the cup approached and passed, how the sense of delicious perfume stole in and heightened the transport of her prayer, and she had seemed, looking up through the windows where the sky soared blue in constant freshness, to feel all heaven's balms dripping from the portals, and to scent the lilies of eternal peace! Perhaps another would not have felt so much ecstasy as satisfaction on that occasion; but it is a true, if a later disciple, who has said, "The Lord bestoweth his blessings there, where he findeth the vessels empty."—"And does it need the walls of a church to renew my communion?" she asked. "Does not every moment stand a temple four-square to God? And in that morning, with its buoyant sunlight, was I any dearer to the Heart of the World than now?" "My beloved is mine, and I am his," she sang over and over again, with all varied inflection and profuse tune. How gently all the winter-wrapt things bent toward her then! into what relation with her had they grown! how this common dependence was the spell of their intimacy! how at one with Nature had she become! how all the night and the silence and the forest seemed to hold its breath, and to send its soul up to God in her singing! It was no longer despondency, that singing. It was neither prayer nor petition. She had left imploring, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?" "Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death!" "For in death there is no remembrance of thee";—with countless other such fragments of supplication. She cried rather, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me";—and lingered, and repeated, and sang again, "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness."
Then she thought of the Great Deliverance, when he drew her up out of many waters, and the flashing old psalm pealed forth triumphantly:—
"The Lord descended from above, and bow'd the heavens hie; And underneath his feet he cast the darknesse of the skie. On cherubs and on cherubins full royally he road: And on the wings of all the winds came flying all abroad."
She forgot how recently, and with what a strange pity for her own shapeless form that was to be, she had quaintly sung,—
"Oh, lovely appearance of death! What sight upon earth is so fair? Not all the gay pageants that breathe Can with a dead body compare!"
She remembered instead,—"In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore"; and, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me"; "He will swallow up death in victory." Not once now did she say, "Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions"—for she knew that "the young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God." "O Lord, thou preservest man and beast!" she said.
She had no comfort or consolation in this season, such as sustained the Christian martyrs in the amphitheatre. She was not dying for her faith; there were no palms in heaven for her to wave; but how many a time had she declared,—"I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness!" And as the broad rays here and there broke through the dense covert of shade and lay in rivers of lustre on crystal sheathing and frozen fretting of trunk and limb and on the great spaces of refraction, they builded up visibly that house, the shining city on the hill, and singing, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the North, the city of the Great King," her vision climbed to that higher picture where the angel shows the dazzling thing, the holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, with its splendid battlements and gates of pearls, and its foundations, the eleventh a jacinth, the twelfth an amethyst,—with its great white throne, and the rainbow round about it, in sight like unto an emerald:—"And there shall be no night there,—for the Lord God giveth them light," she sang.
What whisper of dawn now rustled through the wilderness? How the night was passing! And still the beast crouched upon the bough, changing only the posture of his head, that again he might command her with those charmed eyes;—half their fire was gone; she could almost have released herself from his custody; yet, had she stirred, no one knows what malevolent instinct might have dominated anew. But of that she did not dream; long ago stripped of any expectation, she was experiencing in her divine rapture how mystically true it is that "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
Slow clarion cries now wound from the distance as the cocks caught the intelligence of day and reechoed it faintly from farm to farm,—sleepy sentinels of night, sounding the foe's invasion, and translating that dim intuition to ringing notes of warning. Still she chanted on. A remote crash of brushwood told of some other beast on his depredations, or some night-belated traveller groping his way through the narrow path. Still she chanted on. The far, faint echoes of the chanticleers died into distance,—the crashing of the branches grew nearer. No wild beast that, but a man's step,—a man's form in the moonlight, stalwart and strong,—on one arm slept a little child, in the other hand he held his gun. Still she chanted on.
Perhaps, when her husband last looked forth, he was half ashamed to find what a fear he felt for her. He knew she would never leave the child so long but for some direst need,—and yet he may have laughed at himself, as he lifted and wrapped it with awkward care, and, loading his gun and strapping on his horn, opened the door again and closed it behind him, going out and plunging into the darkness and dangers of the forest. He was more singularly alarmed than he would have been willing to acknowledge; as he had sat with his bow hovering over the strings, he had half believed to hear her voice mingling gayly with the instrument, till he paused and listened if she were not about to lift the latch and enter. As he drew nearer the heart of the forest, that intimation of melody seemed to grow more actual, to take body and breath, to come and go on long swells and ebbs of the night-breeze, to increase with tune and words, till a strange, shrill singing grew ever clearer, and, as he stepped into an open space of moonbeams, far up in the branches, rocked by the wind, and singing, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace," he saw his wife,—his wife,—but, great God in heaven! how? Some mad exclamation escaped him, but without diverting her. The child knew the singing voice, though never heard before in that unearthly key, and turned toward it through the veiling dreams. With a celerity almost instantaneous, it lay, in the twinkling of an eye, on the ground at the father's feet, while his gun was raised to his shoulder and levelled at the monster covering his wife with shaggy form and flaming gaze,—his wife so ghastly white, so rigid, so stained with blood, her eyes so fixedly bent above, and her lips, that had indurated into the chiselled pallor of marble, parted only with that flood of solemn song.
I do not know if it were the mother-instinct that for a moment lowered her eyes,—those eyes, so lately riveted on heaven, now suddenly seeing all life-long bliss possible. A thrill of joy pierced and shivered through her like a weapon, her voice trembled in its course, her glance lost its steady strength, fever-flushes chased each other over her face, yet she never once ceased chanting. She was quite aware, that, if her husband shot now, the ball must pierce her body before reaching any vital part of the beast,—and yet better that death, by his hand, than the other. But this her husband also knew, and he remained motionless, just covering the creature with the sight. He dared not fire, lest some wound not mortal should break the spell exercised by her voice, and the beast, enraged with pain, should rend her in atoms; moreover, the light was too uncertain for his aim. So he waited. Now and then he examined his gun to see if the damp were injuring its charge, now and then he wiped the great drops from his forehead. Again the cocks crowed with the passing hour,—the last time they were heard on that night. Cheerful home sound then, how full of safety and all comfort and rest it seemed! what sweet morning incidents of sparkling fire and sunshine, of gay household bustle, shining dresser, and cooing baby, of steaming cattle in the yard, and brimming milk-pails at the door! what pleasant voices! what laughter! what security! and here——
Now, as she sang on in the slow, endless, infinite moments, the fervent vision of God's peace was gone. Just as the grave had lost its sting, she was snatched back again into the arms of earthly hope. In vain she tried to sing, "There remaineth a rest for the people of God,"—her eyes trembled on her husband's, and she could think only of him, and of the child, and of happiness that yet might be, but with what a dreadful gulf of doubt between! She shuddered now in the suspense; all calm forsook her; she was tortured with dissolving heats or frozen with icy blasts; her face contracted, growing small and pinched; her voice was hoarse and sharp,—every tone cut like a knife,—the notes became heavy to lift,—withheld by some hostile pressure,—impossible. One gasp, a convulsive effort, and there was silence,—she had lost her voice.
The beast made a sluggish movement,—stretched and fawned like one awaking,—then, as if he would have yet more of the enchantment, stirred her slightly with his muzzle. As he did so, a sidelong hint of the man standing below with the raised gun smote him; he sprung round furiously, and, seizing his prey, was about to leap into some unknown airy den of the topmost branches now waving to the slow dawn. The late moon had rounded through the sky so that her gleam at last fell full upon the bough with fairy frosting; the wintry morning light did not yet penetrate the gloom. The woman, suspended in mid-air an instant, cast only one agonized glance beneath,—but across and through it, ere the lids could fall, shot a withering sheet of flame,—a rifle-crack, half heard, was lost in the terrible yell of desperation that bounded after it and filled her ears with savage echoes, and in the wide arc of some eternal descent she was falling;—but the beast fell under her. I think that the moment following must have been too sacred for us, and perhaps the three have no special interest again till they issue from the shadows of the wilderness upon the white hills that skirt their home. The father carries the child hushed again into slumber; the mother follows with no such feeble step as might be anticipated,—and as they slowly climb the steep under the clear gray sky and the paling morning star, she stops to gather a spray of the red-rose berries or a feathery tuft of dead grasses for the chimney-piece of the log-house, or a handful of brown ones for the child's play,—and of these quiet, happy folk you would scarcely dream how lately they had stolen from under the banner and encampment of the great King Death. The husband proceeds a step or two in advance; the wife lingers over a singular foot-print in the snow, stoops and examines it, then looks up with a hurried word. Her husband stands alone on the hill, his arms folded across the babe, his gun fallen,—stands defined against the pallid sky like a bronze. What is there in their home, lying below and yellowing in the light, to fix him with such a stare? She springs to his side. There is no home there. The log-house, the barns, the neighboring farms, the fences, are all blotted out and mingled in one smoking ruin. Desolation and death were indeed there, and beneficence and life in the forest. Tomahawk and scalping-knife, descending during that night, had left behind them only this work of their accomplished hatred and one subtle foot-print in the snow.
For the rest,—the world was all before them, where to choose.
* * * * *
Hast thou forgotten whose thou art? To what high service consecrate? I gave thee not a noble heart To wed with such ignoble fate.
I found thee where the laurels grow Around the lonely Delphian shrine; There, where the sacred fountains flow, I found thee, and I made thee mine.
I gave thy soul to agony, And strange unsatisfied desire, That thou mightst dearer be to me, And worthier of thy burning lyre.
O child, thy fate had made thee God, To thee such powers divine were given; The paths of fire thou mightst have trod Had led thee to the stars of heaven.
And those who in the early dawn Of beauty sat and sang of day, Deep in their twilight shades withdrawn, Had heard thy coming far away,—
With haunting music sweet and strange, And airs ambrosial blown before, Vague breathings of the floral change That glorifies the hills of yore:
Had felt the joy those only find Who in their secret souls have known The mystery of the poet mind That through all beauty feels its own:
Had felt the God within them rise To meet thy radiant soul divine; Had searched with their prophetic eyes The midnight luminous of thine.
So fondly did Urania deem! So proudly did she prophesy! Oh, ruin of a noble dream She thought too glorious to die!
Nor knew thy passionate songs of yore Were as a promise unfulfilled,— A stately portal set before The palace thou shall never build!
For is it come to this, at last? And thou forever must remain A godlike statue, formed and cast In marble attitude of pain,—
Proud lips that in their scorn are mute, And haunting eyes of anguished love, One hand that grasps a silent lute, And one convulsed hand above
That will not strike? Ah, scorn and shame! Shame for the apostate unforgiven, Beholding an unconquered fame In undiscovered fields of heaven!
For Beauty not by one alone In her completeness is revealed: The smiles and tears her face hath shown To thee from others are concealed.
Men see not in the midnight sky All miracles she worketh there: It is the blindness of the eye That paints its darkness on the air.
Two friends who wander by the shore Look not upon the selfsame seas, Hearing two voices in the roar, Because of different memories.
For him whose love the sea hath drowned, It moans the music of his wrong; For him whose life with love is crowned, It breaks upon the beach in song.
So dreaming not another's dream, But still interpreting thine own, By woodland wild and quiet stream Thou wanderest in the world alone.
Then what thou slayest none can save: Silent and dark oblivion rolls Over the glory in the grave Of fierce and suicidal souls.
From that dark wave no pleading ghost With pointing hand shall ever rise, To say,—The world hath treasure lost, And here the buried treasure lies!
Beware, and yet beware! my fear Unfolds a vision in the gloom Of Beauty borne upon her bier, And Darkness crouching in the tomb.
Beware, and yet beware! her end Is thine; or else, her shadowy hearse Beside, thy spirit shall descend The vast sepulchral universe,
And, with the passion that remains In desolated hearts, implore The spectre sitting bound in chains To yield what he shall not restore:—
The mystery whose soul divine Breathed love, and only love, on thee; Which better far had not been thine, Than, having been, to cease to be.
There have been in every age a few women of genius who have become the successful rivals of man in the paths which they have severally chosen. Three instances are of our time. Mrs. Browning is called a poet even by poets; the artists admit that Rosa Bonheur is a painter; and the mathematicians accord to Mary Somerville a high rank among themselves.
"In pure mathematics," said Humboldt, "Mrs. Somerville is strong." Of no other woman of the age could the remark have been made; and this would probably be true, were the walks of science as marked by the feminine footprint as are those of literature. To read mathematical works is an easy task; the formula can be learned and their meaning apprehended: to read the most profound of them, with such appreciation that one stands side by side with the great minds who originated them, requires a higher order of intellect; and far-reaching indeed is that which, pondering in the study on a few phenomena known by observation, develops the theory of worlds, traces back for ages their history, and sketches the outline of their future destiny.
Caroline Herschel, the sister of Sir William, was doubtless gifted with much of the Herschel talent, and, under other circumstances, her mind might have turned to original research; but she belonged rather to the last century, and Hanover was not a region favorable to intellectual efforts in her sex. She lived the life of a simple-hearted, truth-loving woman; most worthy of the name she bore, she made notes for her brother, she swept the heavens and found comets for him, she computed and tabulated his observations; it seems never to have occurred to her to be other than the patient, helping sister of a truly great man.
Mrs. Somerville's life has been more individual. She is the daughter of Admiral Fairfax, and was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, December 26, 1780, in the house of her uncle, the father of her present husband.
The home training and the school education of the daughters of Great Britain are very unlike those of their American sisters. The manners and customs of the Old World change so slowly, that one can scarcely assent to a remark made by Sir John Herschel:—"The Englishman sticks to his old ways, but is not cemented to them." The Englishwoman submits to authority from her infancy; belonging to the middle class, she does not expect the higher education of the nobility; a woman, she is not supposed to desire to enter into the studies of her brothers. A governess, generally the daughter of a curate, who prefers this position to that of "companion" to a fine lady, is provided for her in her early years. If the choice be fortunate and the parents watchful, the young girl is thoroughly taught in a few branches of what are commonly considered feminine studies. She learns to read and to speak French; tutors are employed for music and drawing: every young lady above the rank of the tradesman's daughter plays well upon the piano; every one has her portfolio of drawings, in which sketches from Nature can always be found, and frequently the family portraits. The history of the country is considered a study suitable for girls; the Englishman expects that his daughter shall know something of the past, of which he is so justly proud.
But the more solid book-learning given to the girls of New England, even in the public schools, is known only to the daughters of the higher classes, and among them an instance like that of Lady Jane Grey could scarcely now be found. As the girls and boys are never taught in the same schools, no taste is aroused by the example of manly studies. An English girl is astonished to hear that an American girl passes a public examination, like her brothers, and with them competes for prizes; she doubts the truthfulness of some of the representations of life found in American novels; and so little is the freedom of manners understood, that the American traveller is frequently asked,—"Can it really be as Mrs. Stowe represents in America? Does a young lady really give a party herself?"
The difference that one would expect is found between the women of England or Scotland and the women of New England. The young Englishwoman is tasteful and elegant, mindful of all the proprieties and graces of social life; she speaks slowly and cautiously, and gives her opinions with great modesty. These are not at present the characteristics of the American girl.
Mary Fairfax passed through the usual routine. At fourteen she had read the books to be found in her father's house, including the few works on Navigation which were necessary to him in his profession. She had thus obtained an idea of the world of science, and it was dull to return to worsted-work for amusement. The needle, which has been the fetter of so many women, became, however, in her hand, magnetic, and pointed her to her destiny. She was in the habit of taking her work into her brother's study, and listening to his recitations; the revelations of Geometry were thus opened to her; she listened and worked for a time, until the desire to know more of this region of form and law, of harmony and of relations, became too strong to be resisted; the worsted was thrown aside, and she ventured to ask the tutor to instruct her. The honest man told her that he was no mathematician: he could lend her Euclid, but he could do no more.
The first great step was now taken; Euclid was quickly read; other books were borrowed from other friends; Bonnycastle's and Euler's Algebra were obtained, and she exulted in the use of those mystic symbols, x, y, and z. Her parents looked on with indifference; so that the music were not neglected and the governess reported well of her studies, they felt there was no harm in her amusing herself as she chose. When the days of the governess were over, the young lady "came out" in Edinburgh, and mingled much with the best society. This most picturesque city had long been the resort of the most gifted minds; men of literature and men of science made the charm of its winter life. Never was it more the gathering-place of intellect than in the early part of this century; but there was no room for a woman of genius, and the young girl's friends advised her to conceal her pursuits. Move as quietly, however, and as unobtrusively as she might in the brilliant circle, her genius was not without recognition. There was a word of encouragement from Professor Playfair. "Persevere in your study," said he; "it will be a source of happiness to you when all else fails; for it is the study of truth." She had a champion, too, in the dreaded critic, Jeffrey. "I am told," said a friend, writing to him, "that the ladies of Edinburgh are literary, and that one of them sets up as a blue-stocking and an astronomer." "The lady of whom you speak," replied Jeffrey, "may wear blue stockings, but her petticoats are so long that I have never seen them."
Mrs. Somerville has been twice married. Her first husband, a gentleman of the name of Greig, regarded her pursuits as her parents had, simply with indifference. Dr. Somerville, her present husband, has taken the utmost pains to secure her time for her studies, and has himself relieved her from many household cares.
The simplicity of character which belonged to her in early life was not lost when her reputation became established. The Royal Society, whose doors do not open at every knock, admitted her to membership, and, by their order, her bust was sculptured by Chantrey, and now adorns the hall of the Society in Somerset House. During the sittings for this purpose, a lady, a friend of the sculptor, him to introduce her to Mrs. Somerville. Chantrey consented, and made a dinner-party for the purpose. The two ladies were placed side by side at table, and the benevolent artist rejoiced to perceive, from the flow of talk, that they were mutually pleased. The next day, to his astonishment, his friend called on him in a state of great indignation, believing herself the victim of a practical joke. "How could you do so?" said she. "You knew that I did not want to know that Mrs. Somerville; I wanted to know the astronomer: that lady talked of the theatre, the opera, and common things."
The anecdote so often told of Laplace's compliment is literally true. Mrs. Somerville dined with this great geometer in Paris. "I write books," said Laplace, "that no one can read. Only two women have ever read the 'Mecanique Celeste'; both are Scotch women: Mrs. Greig and yourself."
Upon the "Mecanique Celeste" Mrs. Somerville's greatest work is founded. "I simply translated Laplace's work," said she, "from algebra into common language." That is, she did what very few men and no other woman could do. It is of this work of Laplace that Bonaparte said, "I will give to it my first six months of leisure." The student who reads it by the aid of Dr. Bowditch's notes has little idea of the difficulties to be met in the original work. Even Dr. Bowditch himself said, "I never come across one of Laplace's 'Thus it plainly appears,' without feeling sure that I have got hours of hard study before me, to fill up the chasm and show how it plainly appears."
This "translation into common language" was undertaken at the request of Lord Brougham, who desired a mathematical work suited to the "Library of Useful Knowledge." The manuscript was submitted to Sir John Herschel, who expressed himself "delighted with it,—that it was a book for posterity, but quite above the class for which Lord Brougham's course was intended." It was published at once, and became the text-book for the students of Cambridge.
"The Connection of the Physical Sciences" and the "Physical Geography" are the later works of Mrs. Somerville. These volumes have probably been more read in our country than in Europe; for it is a common remark of the scientific writers of Great Britain, that their "readers are found in the United States." They contain vast collections of facts in all branches of Physical Science, connected together by the delicate web of Mrs. Somerville's own thought, showing an amount and variety of learning to be compared only to that of Humboldt.
Provided with an "open sesame" to her heart, in the shape of a letter from her old friend, Lady Herschel, we sought the acquaintance of Mrs. Somerville in the spring of 1858. She was at that time residing in Florence, and, sending the letter and a card to her by the servant, we awaited the reply in the large Florentine parlor, in the fireplace of which a wood-fire blazed, suggestive of English comfort,—a suggestion which in Italy rarely becomes a reality.
There was the usual delay; then a footstep came slowly through the outer room, and a very old man, exceedingly tall, with a red silk handkerchief around his head, entered, and introduced himself as Doctor Somerville. He is proud of his wife; a pardonable weakness in any man, especially so in the husband of Mary Somerville. He began at once to talk of her. "Mrs. Somerville," he said, "was much interested in the Americans, for she claimed a connection with the family of Washington. Washington's half-brother, Lawrence, married Anne Fairfax, who was of the Scotch family of that name. When Mrs. Somerville's father, as Lieutenant Fairfax, was ordered to America, General Washington wrote to him as a family relative, and invited him to his house. Lieutenant Fairfax applied to his commanding officer for leave to accept the invitation, and it was refused; they never met. Much to the regret of the Somervilles, the letter of Washington has been lost. The Fairfaxes of Virginia are of the same family, and occasionally some member of the American branch visits his Scotch cousins."
While Doctor Somerville was talking of these things, Mrs. Somerville came tripping into the room, speaking with the vivacity of a young person. She was seventy-seven years old, but appeared twenty years younger. Her face is pleasing, the forehead low and broad, the eyes blue,—the features so regular, that, as sculptured by Chantrey, in the bust at Somerset House, they convey the idea of a very handsome woman. Neither this bust nor the picture of her, however, gives a correct impression, except in the outline of the head and shoulders. She spoke with a strong Scotch accent, and was slightly affected by deafness.
At this time, Mrs. Somerville was re-writing her "Physical Geography." She said that she worked as well as when she was younger, but was more quickly fatigued; yet, in order to gain time, she had given up her afternoon nap, without apparent injury to her health. Her working hours were in the morning, and she never refused a visitor after noon. For her first work she said she computed a good deal; and here she stepped quickly into an adjoining room, and brought out a mass of manuscript computations made for that work, the mere sight of which would give a headache to most women. The conversation was rather of the familiar and chatty order, and marked by great simplicity. She touched upon the recent discoveries in chemical science,—upon California, its gold and its consequences, some good from which she thought would be found in the improvement of seamanship,—on the nebulae, more and more of which she thought would be resolved, while yet there might exist irresolvable nebulous matter, such as composed the tails of comets, or the satellites of the planets, which she thought had other uses than as their subordinates. Of Doctor Whewell's attempt to prove that our planet is the only one inhabited she spoke with disapprobation; she said she believed that the other planets might be inhabited by beings of a higher order than ourselves.
On subsequent visits, Mrs. Somerville had much to say of the Americans. She regretted that she so rarely received scientific articles from America; the papers of Lieutenant Maury alone reached her. She spoke of the late Doctor Bowditch with great interest, and said she had had some correspondence with one of his sons; of Professor Peirce as a great mathematician; and she was much interested in the successful photography of the stars by Mr. Whipple. To a traveller, thousands of miles from home, the mere mention of familiar names is cheering.
Mrs. Somerville resides in Florence on account of the health of her husband. A little garden, well-stocked with rose-bushes, which she shows with great pride to her visitors, furnishes her with a means of healthy recreation after her severe studies. Her children are a son by Mr. Greig and two daughters by Doctor Somerville. In early life, Mrs. Somerville was a fine musician: the daughters have inherited this talent; and having lived long in Florence, they speak Italian with a perfect accent. "I speak Italian," said Mrs. Somerville; "but no one could ever take me for other than a Scotchwoman."
No one can make the acquaintance of this remarkable woman without increased admiration for her. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science has not unfitted her for the drawing-room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of the wife and the mother; the mind that has turned to rigid demonstration has not thereby lost its faith in the truths which figures will not prove. "I have no doubt," said she, in speaking of the heavenly bodies, "that in another state of existence we shall know more about these things."
ROBA DI ROMA.
MAY IN ROME.
May has come again,—"the delicate-footed May," her feet hidden in flowers as she wanders over the Campagna, and the cool breeze of the Campagna blowing back her loosened hair. She calls to us from the open fields to leave the wells of damp churches and shadowy streets, and to come abroad and meet her where the mountains look down from roseate heights of vanishing snow upon plains of waving grain. The hedges have put on their best draperies of leaves and flowers, and, girdled in at their waist by double osier bands, stagger luxuriantly along the road like a drunken Bacchanal procession, crowned with festive ivy, and holding aloft their snowy clusters of elder-blossoms like thyrsi. Among their green robes may be seen thousands of beautiful wild-flowers,—the sweet-scented laurustinus, all sorts of running vetches and wild sweet-pea, the delicate vases of dewy morning-glories, clusters of eglantine or sweetbrier roses, fragrant acacia-blossoms covered with bees and buzzing flies, the gold of glowing gorses, and scores of purple and yellow flowers, of which I know not the names. On the gray walls, vines, grass, and the humble class of flowers which go by the ignoble name of weeds straggle and cluster; and over them, held down by the green cord of the stalk, balance the bursted balloons of hundreds of flaming scarlet poppies that seem to have fed on fire. The undulating swell of the Campagna is here ablaze with them for acres, and there deepening with growing grain, or snowed over with myriads of daisies. Music and song, too, are not wanting; hundreds of birds are in the hedges. The lark, "from his moist cabinet rising," rains down his trills of incessant song from invisible heights of blue sky; and whenever one passes the wayside groves, a nightingale is sure to bubble into song. The oranges, too, are in blossom, perfuming the air; locust-trees are tasselled with odorous flowers; and over the walls of the Campagna villa bursts a cascade of vines covered with foamy Banksia roses.
The Carnival of the kitchen-gardens is now commencing. Peas are already an old story, strawberries are abundant, and cherries are beginning to make their appearance, in these first days of May; old women sell them at every corner, tied together in tempting bunches, as in "the cherry-orchard" which Miss Edgeworth has made fairy-land in our childish memories. Asparagus also has long since come; and artichokes make their daily appearance on the table, sliced up and fried, or boiled whole, or coming up roasted and gleaming with butter, with more outside capes and coats than an ideal English coachman of the olden times. Finocchi, too, are here, tasting like anisette, and good to mix in the salads. And great beans lie about in piles, the contadini twisting them out of their thick pods with their thumbs, to eat them raw. Nay, even the signoria of the noble families do the same, as they walk through the gardens, and think them such a luxury that they eat them raw for breakfast. But over and above all other vegetables are the lettuces, which are one of the great staples of food for the Roman people, and so crisp, fresh, delicate, and high-flavored, that be who eats them once will hold Nebuchadnezzar no longer a subject for compassion, but rather of envy. Drowned in fresh olive-oil and strong with vinegar, they are a feast for the gods; and even in their natural state, without condiments, they are by no means to be despised. At the corners of the streets they lie piled in green heaps, and are sold at a baiocco for five heads. At noontide, the contadini and laborers feed upon them without even the condiment of salt, crunching their white teeth through the crisp, wet leaves, and alternating a bite at a great wedge of bread; and toward nightfall, one may see carts laden high up with closely packed masses of them, coming in from the Campagna for the market. In a word, the festa of the vegetables, at which they do not eat, but are eaten, and the Carnival of the kitchen-garden have come.
But—a thousand, thousand pardons, O mighty Cavolo!—how have I dared omit thy august name? On my knees, O potentest of vegetables, I crave forgiveness! I will burn at thy shrine ten waxen candles, in penance, if thou wilt pardon the sin and shame of my forgetfulness! The smoke of thy altar-fires, the steam of thy incense, and the odors of thy sanctity rise from every hypaethral shrine in Rome. Out-doors and in-doors, wherever the foot wanders, on palatial stairs or in the hut of poverty, in the convent pottage and the Lepre soup, in the wooden platter of the beggar and the silver tureen of the prince, thou fillest our nostrils, thou satisfiest our stomach. Thou hast no false pride; great as thou art, thou condescendest to be exchanged for a baiocco. Dear enchantress! to thee, and to thy glorious cousin Broccoli, that tender-hearted, efflorescent nymph, the Egeria of the osteria con cucina, the peerless maid that goes with the steak and accepts martyrdom without moan, to drive away the demon of Hunger from her devoted followers,—all honor! Far away, whenever I inhale thy odor, I shall think of "Roman Joys"; a whiff from thine altar in a foreign land will bear me back to the Eternal City, "the City of the Soul," the City of the Cabbage, the home of the Dioscuri, Cavolo and Broccoli! Yes, as Paris is recalled by the odor of chocolate, and London by the damp steam of malt, so shall Rome come back when my nostrils are filled with thy penetrative fragrance!
Saunter out at any of the city-gates, or lean over the wall at San Giovanni, (and where will you find a more charming spot?) or look down from the windows of the Villa Negroni, and your eye will surely fall on one of the Roman kitchen-gardens, patterned out in even rows and squares of green. Nothing can be prettier or more tasteful in their arrangement than these variegated carpets of vegetables. A great cistern of running water crowns the height of the ground, which is used for the purposes of irrigation, and towards nightfall the vent is opened, and you may see the gardeners imbanking the channelled rows to let the inundation flow through hundreds of little lanes of intersection and canals between the beds, and then banking them up at the entrance when a sufficient quantity of water has entered. In this way they fertilize and refresh the soil, which else would parch under the continuous sun. And this, indeed, is all the fertilization they need,—so strong is the soil all over the Campagna. The accretions and decay of thousands of years have covered it with a loam whose richness and depth are astonishing. Dig where you will, for ten feet down, and you do not pass through its wonderfully fertile loam into gravel, and the slightest labor is repaid a hundred-fold.
As one looks from the Villa Negroni windows, he cannot fail to be impressed by the strange changes through which this wonderful city has passed. The very spot on which Nero, the insane emperor-artist, fiddled while Rome was burning has now become a vast kitchen-garden, belonging to Prince Massimo, (himself a descendant, as he claims, of Fabius Cunctator,) where men no longer, but only lettuces, asparagus, and artichokes, are ruthlessly cut down. The inundations are not for mock sea-fights among slaves, but for the peaceful purposes of irrigation. And though the fiddle of Nero is only traditional, the trumpets of the French, murdering many an unhappy strain near by, are a most melancholy fact. In the bottom of the valley, a noble old villa, covered with frescoes, has been turned into a manufactory of bricks, and the very Villa Negroni itself is now doomed to be the site of a railway station. Yet here the princely family of Negroni lived, and the very lady at whose house Lucrezia Borgia took her famous revenge may once have sauntered under the walls, which still glow with ripening oranges, to feed the gold-fish in the fountain, or walked with stately friends through the long alleys of clipped cypresses, and pic-nicked alia Giorgione on lawns which are now but kitchen-gardens, dedicated to San Cavolo. It pleases me, also, descending in memories to a later time, to look up at the summer-house built above the gateway, and recall the days when Shelley and Keats came there to visit their friend Severn, the artist, (for that was his studio,) and look over the same alleys and gardens, and speak words one would have been so glad to hear,—and, coming still later down, to recall the hearty words and brave heart of America's best sculptor and my dear friend, Crawford.
But to return to the kitchen-gardens. Pretty as they are to the eye, they are not considered to be wholesome; and no Roman will live in a house near one of them, especially if it lie on the southern and western side, so that the Sirocco and the prevalent summer winds blow over it. The daily irrigation, in itself, would be sufficient to frighten all Italians away; for they have a deadly fear of all effluvia arising from decomposing vegetable substances, and suppose, with a good deal of truth, that, wherever there is water on the earth, there is decomposition. But this is not the only reason; for the same prejudice exists in regard to all kinds of gardens, whether irrigated or not,—and even to groves of trees and clusters of bushes, or vegetation of any kind, around a house. This is the real reason why, even in their country villas, their trees are almost always planted at a distance from the house, so as to expose it to the sun and to give it a free ventilation; these they do not care for; damp is their determined foe, and therefore they will not purchase the luxury of shade from trees at the risk of the damp it is supposed to engender. On the north, however, gardens are not thought to be so prejudicial as on the south and west,—as the cold, dry winds come from the former direction. The malaria, as we call it, though the term is unknown to Romans, is never so dangerous as after a slight rain, just sufficient to wet the surface of the earth without deeply penetrating it; for decomposition is then stimulated, and the miasma arising from the Campagna is blown abroad. So long as the earth is dry, there is no danger of fever, except at morning and nightfall, and then simply because of the heavy dews which the porous and baked earth then inhales and expires. After the autumn has given a thorough, drenching rain, Rome is healthy and free from fever.
Rome has with strangers the reputation of being unhealthy; but this opinion I cannot think well founded,—to the extent, at least, of the common belief. The diseases of children there are ordinarily very light, while in America and England they are terrible. Scarlet and typhus fevers, those fearful scourges in the North, are known at Rome only under most mitigated forms. Cholera has shown no virulence there; and for diseases of the throat and lungs the air alone is almost curative. The great curse of the place is the intermittent fever, in which any other illness is apt to end. But this, except in its peculiar phase of Perniciosa, though a very annoying, is by no means a dangerous disease, and has the additional advantage of a specific remedy. The Romans themselves of the better class seldom suffer from it, and I cannot but think that with a little prudence it may be easily avoided. Those who are most attacked by it are the laborers and contadini on the Campagna; and how can it be otherwise with them? They sleep often on the bare ground, or on a little straw under a capanna just large enough to admit them on all-fours. Their labor is exhausting, and performed in the sun, and while in a violent perspiration they are often exposed to sudden draughts and checks. Their food is poor, their habits careless, and it would require an iron constitution to resist what they endure. But, despite the life they lead and their various exposures, they are for the most part a very strong and sturdy class. This intermittent fever is undoubtedly a far from pleasant thing; but Americans who are terrified at it in Rome give it no thought in Philadelphia, where it is more prevalent,—and while they call Rome unhealthy, live with undisturbed confidence in cities where scarlet and typhus fevers annually rage.
It is a curious fact, that the French soldiers, who in 1848 made the siege of Rome, suffered no inconvenience or injury to their health from sleeping on the Campagna, and that, despite the prophecies to the contrary, very few cases of fever appeared, though the siege lasted during all the summer months. The reason of this is doubtless to be found in the fact that they were better clothed, better fed, and in every way more careful of themselves, than the contadini. Foreigners, too, who visit Rome, are very seldom attacked by intermittent fever; and it may truly be said, that, when they are, it is, for the most part, their own fault. There is generally the grossest inconsistency between their theories and their practice. Believing as they do that the least exposure will induce fever, they expose themselves with singular recklessness to the very causes of fever. After hurrying through the streets and getting into a violent perspiration, they plunge at once into some damp pit-like church or chill gallery, where the temperature is at least ten degrees lower than the outer air. The bald-headed, rosy John Bull, steaming with heat, doffs at once the hat which he wore in the street, and, of course, is astounded, if the result prove just what it would be anywhere else,—and if he take cold and get a fever, charges it to the climate, and not to his own stupidity and recklessness. Beside this, foreigners will always insist on carrying their home-habits with them wherever they go, and it is exceedingly difficult to persuade any one that he does not understand the climate better than the Italians themselves, whom he puts down as a poor set of timid ignoramuses. However, the longer one lives in Rome, the more he learns to value the Italian rules of health. There is probably no people so careful in these matters as the Italians, and especially the Romans. They understand their own climate, and they have a special dislike of death. In France and England suicides are very common; in Italy they are almost unknown. The American recklessness of life completely astounds the Italian. He enjoys life, studies every method to preserve it, and considers any one who risks it unnecessarily as simply a fool.
What, then, are their rules of life? In the first place, in all their habits they are very regular. They eat at stated times, and cannot be persuaded to partake of anything in the intervals. If it be not their hour for eating, they will refuse the choicest viands, and will sit at your table fasting, despite every temptation you can offer them. They are also very abstemious in their diet, and gluttony is the very rarest of vices. I do not believe there is another nation in Europe that eats so sparingly. In the morning they take a cup of coffee, generally without milk, sopping in it some light brioche. Later in the day they take a slight lunch of soup and macaroni, with a glass of wine. This lasts them until dinner, which begins with a watery soup; after which the lesso or boiled meat comes on and is eaten with one vegetable, which is less a dish than a garnish to the meat; then comes a dish of some vegetable eaten with bread; then, perhaps, a chop, or another dish of meat, garnished with a vegetable; some light dolce or fruit, and a cup of black coffee,—the latter for digestion's sake,—finish the repast. The quantity is very small, however, compared to what is eaten in England, France, America, or, though last, not least, Germany. Late in the evening they have a supper. When dinner is taken in the middle of the day, lunch is omitted. This is the rule of the better classes. The workmen and middle classes, after their cup of coffee and bit of bread or brioche in the morning, take nothing until night, except another cup of coffee and bread,—and their dinner finishes their meals after their work is done. From my own observation, I should say that an Italian does not certainly eat more than half as much as a German, or two-thirds as much as an American. The climate will not allow of gormandizing, and much less food is required to sustain the vital powers than in America, where the atmosphere is so stimulating to the brain and the digestion, or in England, where the depressing effects of the climate must be counteracted by stimulants. Go to any table d'hote in the season, and you will at once know all the English who are new comers by their bottle of ale or claret or sherry or brandy; for the Englishman assimilates with difficulty, and unwillingly puts off his home-habits. The fresh American will always be recognized by the morning-dinner, which he calls a breakfast.
If you wish to keep your health in Italy, follow the example of the Italians. Eat a third less than you are accustomed to at home. Do not drink habitually of brandy, porter, ale, or even Marsala, but confine yourselves to the lighter wines of the country or of France. Do not walk much in the sun; "only Englishmen and dogs" do that, as the proverb goes; and especially take heed not to expose yourself, when warm, to any sudden changes of temperature. If you have heated yourself with walking in the sun, be careful not to go at once, and especially towards nightfall, into the lower and shaded streets, which have begun to gather the damps, and which are kept cool by the high, thick walls of the houses. Remember that the difference of temperature is very great between the narrow, shaded streets and the high, sunny Pincio. If you have the misfortune to be of the male sex, and especially if you suffer under the sorrow of the first great Caesar in being bald, buy yourself a little skullcap, (it is as good as his laurels for the purpose,) and put it on your head whenever you enter the churches and cold galleries. Almost every fever here is the result of suddenly checked transpiration of the skin; and if you will take the precaution to cool yourself before entering churches and galleries, and not to expose yourself while warm to sudden changes of temperature, you may live twenty years in Rome without a fever. Do not stand in draughts of cold air, and shut your windows when you go to bed. There is nothing an Italian fears like a current of air, and with reason. He will never sit between two doors or two windows. If he has walked to see you and is in the least warm, pray him to keep his hat on until he is cool, if you would be courteous to him. You will find that he will always use the same gentilezza to you. The reason why you should shut your windows at night is very simple. The night-air is invariably damp and cold, contrasting greatly with the warmth of the day, and it is then that the miasma from the Campagna drifts into the city. And oh, my American friends! repress your national love for hot rooms and great fires, and do not make an oven of your salon. Bake yourselves, kiln-dry yourselves, if you choose, in your furnaced houses at home, but, if you value your health, "reform that altogether" in Italy. Increase your clothing and suppress your fires, and you will find yourselves better in head and in pocket. With your great fires you will always be cold and always have colds; for the houses are not tight, and you only create great draughts thereby. You will not persuade an Italian to sit near them;—"Scusa, Signore" he will say, "mi fa male; se non gli dispiace, mi metto in questo cantone,"—and with your permission he takes the farthest corner away from the fire. Seven winters in Rome have convinced me of the correctness of their rule. Of course, you do not believe me or them; but it would be better for you, if you did,—and for me, too, when I come to visit you.
But I must beg pardon for all this advice; and as my business is not to write a medical thesis here, let me return to pleasanter things.
Scarcely does the sun drop behind St. Peter's on the first day of May, before bonfires begin to blaze from all the country towns on the mountain-sides, showing like great beacons. This is a custom founded in great antiquity, and common to the North and South. The first of May is the Festival of the Holy Apostles in Italy; but in Germany, and still farther north, in Sweden and Norway, it is Walpurgisnacht,—when goblins, witches, hags, and devils hold high holiday, mounting on their brooms for the Brocken. And it was on this night that Mephistopheles carried Faust on his wondrous ride, and showed him the spectre of Margaret with the red line round her throat. Miss Bremer, in her "Life in Dalecarlia," gives the following account of the origin of this custom:—"It is so old," she says, "that there is no perfect certainty either of its origin or signification. It is, however, believed that it derives its origin from a heathen sacrificatory festival; and there is ground for the acceptation that children were sacrificed alive at this very feast,—and this, in fact, in order to expel or reconcile the evil spirits, of whom the people believed, that, partly flying, partly riding, they commenced their passages over fields and woods at the beginning of spring, and which are to this day called enchanters, witches, nymphs, and so forth. It is also believed that about this time the spirits of the earth came forth from out of the bosom of the earth and the heart of the mountains in order to seek intercourse with the children of men. Fires were frequently kindled upon the sepulchral hills, and at these, sacrifices were offered, chiefly to the good powers, namely, to those who provide for a fruitful year. At present I should scarcely think there is an individual who believes in such superstitious stuff. But they still, as in days of yore, kindle fires upon the mountains on this night, and still look upon it as a bad omen, if any common or ugly-formed creature, whether beast or man, makes its appearance at the fire."
In the Neapolitan towns great fires are built on this festival, around which the people dance, jumping through the flames, and flinging themselves about in every wild and fantastic attitude. It is probably a relic of some old sacrificatory festival to Maia, who has given her name to this month,—the custom still remaining after its significance is gone.
The month of May is the culmination of the spring and the season of seasons at Rome. No wonder that foreigners who have come when winter sets in and take wing before April shows her sky sometimes growl at the weather, and ask if this is the beautiful Italian clime. They have simply selected the rainy season for their visit; and one cannot expect to have sun the whole year through, without intermission. Where will they find more sun in the same season? where will they find milder and softer air? Days even in the middle of winter, and sometimes weeks, descend as it were from heaven to fill the soul with delight; and a lovely day in Rome is lovelier than under any other sky on earth. But just when foreigners go away in crowds, the weather is settling into the perfection of spring, and then it is that Rome is most charming. The rains are over, the sun is a daily blessing, all Nature is bursting into leaf and flower, and one may spend days on the Campagna without fear of colds and fever. Stay in Rome during May, if you wish to feel its beauty.
The best rule for a traveller who desires to enjoy the charms of every clime would be to go to the North in the winter and to the South in the spring and summer. Cold is the speciality of the North, and all its sports and gayeties take thence their tone. The houses are built to shut out the demon of Frost, and protect one from his assaults of ice and snow. Let him howl about your windows and scrawl his wonderful landscapes on your panes and pile his fantastic wreaths outside, while you draw round the blazing hearth and enjoy the artificial heat and warm in the social converse that he provokes. Your punch is all the better for his threats; by contrast you enjoy the more. Or brave him outside in a flying sledge, careering with jangling bells over white wastes of snow, while the stars, as you go, fly through the naked trees that are glittering with ice-jewels, and your blood tingles with excitement, and your breath is blown like a white incense to the skies. That is the real North. How tame he will look to you, when you go back in August and find a few hard apples, a few tough plums, and some sour little things which are apologies for grapes! He looks sneaky enough then, with his make-believe summer, and all his furs off. No, then is the time for the South. All is simmering outside, and the locust saws and shrills till he seems to heat the air. You stay in the house at noon, and know what a virtue there is in thick walls which keep out the fierce heats, in gaping windows and doors that will not shut because you need the ventilation. You will not now complain of the stone and brick floors that you cursed all winter long, and on which you now sprinkle water to keep the air cool in your rooms. The blunders and stupidities of winter are all over. The breezy loggia is no longer a joke. You are glad enough to sit there and drink your wine and look over the landscape. Manuccia brings in a great basket of grapes that are grapes, which the wasp envies you as you eat, and comes to share. And here are luscious figs bursting with seedy sweetness, and apricots rusted in the sun, and velvety peaches that break into juice in your mouth, and great black-seeded cocomeri. Nature empties her cornucopia of fruits and flowers and vegetables all over your table. Luxuriously you enjoy them and fan yourself and take your siesta, with full appreciation of your dolce far niente. When the sun begins to slope westward, if you are in the country, you wander through the green lanes festooned with vines and pluck the grapes as you go; or, if you are in the city, you saunter the evening long through the streets, where all the world are strolling, and take your granito of ice or sherbet, and talk over the things of the day and the time, and pass as you go home groups of singers and serenaders with guitars, flutes, and violins,—serenade, perhaps, sometimes, yourself; and all the time the great planets and stars palpitate in the near heavens, and the soft air full of fragrance blows against your cheek. And you can really say, This is Italy! For it is not what you do, so much as what you feel, that makes Italy.
But pray remember, when you go there, that in the South every arrangement is made for the nine hot months, and not for the three cold and rainy ones you choose to spend there, and perhaps your views may be somewhat modified in respect of this "miserable people," who, you say, "have no idea of comfort,"—meaning, of course, English comfort. Perhaps, I say; for it is in the nature of travellers to come to sudden conclusions upon slight premises, to maintain with obstinacy preconceived notions, and to quarrel with all national traits except their own. And being English, unless you have a friend in India who has made you aware that cane-bottom chairs are India-English, you will be pretty sure to believe that there is no comfort without carpets and coal; or being an American, you will be apt to undervalue a gallery of pictures with only a three-ply carpet on the floor, and to "calculate," that, if they could see your house in Washington Street, they would feel rather ashamed. However, there is a great deal of human nature in mankind, wherever you go,—except in Paris, perhaps, where Nature is rather inhuman and artificial. And when I instance the Englishman and American as making false judgments, let me not be misunderstood as supposing them the only nations in that category. No, no! did not my Parisian acquaintance the other day assure me very gravely, after lamenting the absurdity of the Italians' not speaking French instead of their own language,—"But, Sir, what is this Italian? nothing but bad French!"—and did not another of that same polished nation, in describing his travels to Naples, say, in answer to the question, whether he had seen the grand old temples of Paestum,—"Ah, yes, I have seen Paestum; 'tis a detestable country!—like the Campagna of Rome"? I am perfectly aware that there are differences of opinion.
Let me, then, beg you to remain in Rome during the mouth of May, if you can possibly make your arrangements to do so.
May is the month of the Madonna, and on every festa-day you will see at the corners of the streets a little improvised shrine, or it may be only a festooned print of the Madonna hung against the walls of some house or against the back of a chair, and tended by two or three children, who hold out to you a plate, as you pass, and beg for charity, sometimes, I confess, in the most pertinacious way,—the money thus raised to be expended in oil for the lamps before the Madonna shrines in the streets. The monasteries of nuns are also busy with processions and celebrations in honor of "the Mother of God," which are carried on pleasantly within their precincts and seen only of female friends. Sometimes you will meet a procession of ladies outside the gates following a cross on foot, while their carriages come after in a long file. These are societies which are making the pilgrimage of the Seven Basilicas outside the Walls. They set out early in the morning, stopping in each basilica for a half-hour to say their prayers, and return to Rome at Ave Maria.
Life, too, is altogether changed now. All the windows are wide open, and there is at least one head and shoulders leaning out at every house. And the poorer families are all out on their door-steps, working and chatting together, while their children run about them in the streets, sprawling, playing, and fighting. Many a beautiful theme for the artist is now to be found in these careless and characteristic groups; and curly-headed Saint Johns may be seen in every street, half naked, with great black eyes and rounded arms and legs. It is this which makes Rome so admirable a residence for an artist. All things are easy and careless in the out-of-doors life of the common people,—all poses unsought, all groupings accidental, all action unaffected and unconscious. One meets Nature at every turn,—not braced up in prim forms, not conscious in manners, not made up into the fashionable or the proper, but impulsive, free, and simple. With the whole street looking on, they are as unconscious and natural as if they were where no eye could see them,—ay, and more natural, too, than it is possible for some people to be, even in the privacy of their solitary rooms. They sing at the top of their lungs as they sit on their door-steps at their work, and often shout from house to house across the street a long conversation, and sometimes even read letters from upper windows to their friends below in the street. The men and women who cry their fruits, vegetables, and wares up and down the city, laden with baskets or panniers, and often accompanied by a donkey, stop to chat with group after group, or get into animated debates about prices, or exercise their wits and lungs at once in repartee in a very amusing way. Everybody is in dishabille in the morning, but towards twilight the girls put on their better dresses, and comb their glossy raven hair, heaping it up in great solid braids, and, hanging two long golden ear-rings in their ears and collane round their full necks, come forth conquering and to conquer, and saunter bare-headed up and down the streets, or lounge about the doorways or piazzas in groups, ready to give back to any jeerer as good as he sends. You see them marching along sometimes in a broad platoon of five or six, all their brows as straight as if they had been ruled, and their great dark eyes flashing out under them, ready in a moment for a laugh or a frown. What stalwart creatures they are! What shoulders, bosoms, and backs they have! what a chance for the lungs under those stout busti! and what finished and elegant heads! They are certainly cast in a large mould, with nothing belittled or meagre about them, either in feature or figure.
Early in the morning you will see streaming through the streets or gathered together in picturesque groups, some standing, some couching on the pavement, herds of long-haired goats, brown and white and black, which have been driven, or rather which have followed their shepherd, into the city to be milked. The majestical, long-bearded, patriarchal rams shake their bells and parade solemnly round,—while the silken females clatter their little hoofs as they run from the hand of the milker when he has filled his can. The shepherd is kept pretty busy, too, milking at everybody's door; and before the fashionable world is up at nine, the milk is gone and the goats are off.
You may know that it is May by the orange and lemon stands, which are erected in almost every piazza. These are little booths covered with canvas, and fantastically adorned with lemons and oranges intermixed, which, piled into pyramids and disposed about everywhere, have a very gay effect. They are generally placed near a fountain, the water of which is conducted through a canna into the centre of the booth, and there, finding its own level again, makes a little spilling fountain from which the bibite are diluted. Here for a baiocco one buys lemonade or orangeade and all sorts of curious little drinks or bibite, with a feeble taste of anisette or some other herb to take off the mawkishness of the water,—or for a half-baiocco one may have the lemonade without sugar, and in this way it is usually drunk. On all festa-days, little portable tables are carried round the streets, hung to the neck of the limonaro, and set down at convenient spots, or whenever a customer presents himself, and the cries of "Acqua fresca,—limonaro, limonaro,—chi vuol bere?" are heard on all sides; and I can assure you, that, after standing on tiptoe for an hour in the heat and straining your neck and head to get sight of some Church procession, you are glad enough to go to the extravagance of even a lemonade with sugar; and smacking your lips, you bless the institution of the limonaro as one which must have been early instituted by the Good Samaritan. Listen to his own description of himself in one of the popular canzonetti sung about the streets by wandering musicians to the accompaniment of a violin and guitar:—
"Ma per altro son uomo ingegnoso, Non possiedo, ma sono padrone; Vendo l' acqua con spirto e limone Finche dura d' estate il calor.
"Ho an capello di paglia,—ma bello! Un zinale di sopra fino; Chi mi osserva nel mio tavolino, Gli vien sete, se sete non ha.
"Spaccio spirti, siroppi, acquavite Fo 'ranciate di nuova invenzione; Voi vedete quante persone Chiedon acqua,—e rispondo,—Son qua!"
The limonaro is the exponent, the algebraic power, of the Church processions which abound this month; and he is as faithful to them as Boswell to Johnson;—wherever they appear, he is there to console and refresh. Nor is his office a sinecure now; and let us hope that he has his small profits, as well as the Church,—though they spell theirs differently.
The great procession of the year takes place this month on Corpus Domini, and is well worth seeing, as being the very finest and most characteristic of all the Church festivals. It was instituted in honor of the famous miracle at Bolsena, when the wafer dripped blood, and is, therefore, in commemoration of one of the cardinal doctrines of the Roman Church, Transubstantiation, and one of its most theological miracles. The Papal procession takes place in the morning, in the piazza of Saint Peter's; and if you would be sure of it, you must be on the spot as soon as eight o'clock at the latest. The whole circle of the piazza itself is covered with an awning, festooned gayly with garlands of box, under which the procession passes; and the ground is covered with yellow sand, over which box and bay are strewn. The celebration commences with morning mass in the basilica, and that over, the procession issues from one door, and, making the whole circuit of the piazza, returns into the church. First come the Seminaristi, or scholars and attendants of the various hospitals and charity-schools, such as San Michele and Santo Spirito,—all in white. Then follow the brown-cowled, long-bearded Franciscans, the white Carmelites, and the black Benedictines, bearing lighted candles and chanting hoarsely as they go. You may see pass before you now all the members of these different conventual orders that there are in Rome, and have an admirable opportunity to study their physiognomies in mass. If you are a convert to Romanism, you will perhaps find in their bald beads and shaven crowns and bearded faces a noble expression of reverence and humility; but, suffering as I do under the misfortune of being a heretic, I could but remark on their heads an enormous development of the two organs of reverence and firmness, and a singular deficiency in the upper forehead, while there was an almost universal enlargement of the lower jaw and of the base of the brain. Being, unfortunately, a friend of Phrenology, as well as a heretic, I drew no very auspicious augury from these developments; and looking into their faces, the physiognomical traits were narrow-mindedness, bigotry, or cunning. The Benedictine heads showed more intellect and will; the Franciscans more dulness and good-nature.
But while I am criticizing them, they are passing by, and a picturesque set of fellows they are. Much as I dislike the conventual creed, I should be sorry to see the costume disappear. Directly on the heels of their poverty come the three splendid triple crowns of the Pope, glittering with gorgeous jewels, and borne in triumph on silken embroidered cushions, and preceded by the court jeweller. After them follow the chapters, canons, and choirs of the seven basilicas, chanting in lofty altos and solid basses and clear ringing tenors from their old Church books, each basilica bearing a typical tent of colored stripes and a wooden campanile and a bell which is constantly rung. Next come the canons of the churches and the monsignori, in splendid dresses and rich capes of beautiful lace falling below their waists; the bishops clad in cloth of silver with mitres on their heads; the cardinals brilliant in gold embroidery and gleaming in the sun; and at last the Pope himself, borne on a platform splendid with silver and gold, with a rich canopy over his head. Beneath this he kneels, or rather, seems to kneel; for, though his splendid draperies and train are skilfully arranged so as to present this semblance, being drawn behind him over two blocks which are so placed as to represent his heels, yet in fact he is seated on a sunken bench or chair, as any careful eye can plainly see. However, kneeling or sitting, just as you will, there he is, before an altar, holding up the ostia, which is the corpus Domini, "the body of God," and surrounded by officers of the Swiss guards in glittering armor, chamberlains in their beautiful black and Spanish dresses with ruffs and swords, attendants in scarlet and purple costumes, and the guardia nobile in their red dress uniforms. Nothing could be more striking than this group. It is the very type of the Church,—pompous, rich, splendid, imposing. After them follow the dragoons mounted,—first a company on black horses, then another on bays, and then a third on grays; foot-soldiers with flashing bayonets bring up the rear, and the procession is over. As the last soldiers enter the church, there is a stir among the gilt equipages of the cardinals which line one side of the piazza,—the horses toss their scarlet plumes, the liveried servants sway as the carriages lumber on, and you may spend a half-hour hunting out your own humble vehicle, if you have one, or throng homeward on foot with the crowd through the Borgo and over the bridge of Sant' Angelo.
This grand procession strikes the note of all the others, and in the afternoon each parish brings out its banners, arrays itself in its choicest dresses, and with pomp and music bears the ostia through the streets, the crowd kneeling before it, and the priests chanting. During the next ottava or eight days, all the processions take place in honor of this festival; and when the week has passed, everything ends with the Papal procession in Saint Peter's piazza, when, without music, and with uncovered heads, the Pope, cardinals, monsignori, canons, and the rest of the priests and officials, make the round of the piazza, bearing great Church banners.
One of the most striking of their celebrations took place this year at the church of San Rocco in the Ripetta, when the church was made splendid with lighted candles and gold bands, and a preacher held forth to a crowded audience in the afternoon. At Ave Maria there was a great procession, with banners, music, and torches, and all the evening the people sauntered to and fro in crowds before the church, where a platform was erected and draped with old tapestries, from which a band played constantly. Do not believe, my dear Presbyterian friend, that these spectacles fail deeply to affect the common mind. So long as human nature remains the same, this splendor and pomp of processions, these lighted torches and ornamented churches, this triumphant music and glad holiday of religion will attract more than your plain conventicles, your ugly meeting-houses, and your compromise with the bass-viol. For my own part, I do not believe that music and painting and all the other arts really belong to the Devil, or that God gave him joy and beauty to deceive with, and kept only the ugly, sour, and sad for himself. We are always better when we are happy; and we are about as sure of being good when we are happy, as of being happy when we are good. Cheerfulness and happiness are, in my humble opinion, duties and habits to be cultivated; but, if you don't think so, I certainly would not deny you the privilege of being wretched: don't let us quarrel about it.
Rather let us turn to the Artists' Festival, which takes place in this month, and is one of the great attractions of the season. Formerly, this festival took place at Cerbara, an ancient Etruscan town on the Campagna, of which only certain subterranean caves remain. But during the revolutionary days which followed the disasters of 1848, it was suspended for two or three years by the interdict of the Papal government, and when it was again instituted, the place of meeting was changed to Fidenae, the site of another Etruscan town, with similar subterranean excavations, which were made the head-quarters of the festival. But the new railway to Bologna having been laid out directly over this ground, the artists have been again driven away, and this year the festa was held, for the first time, in the grove of Egeria, one of the most beautiful spots on the whole Campagna,—and here it is to be hoped it will have an abiding rest.
This festival was instituted by the German artists, and, though the artists of all nations now join in it, the Germans still remain its special patrons and directors. Early in the morning, the artists rendezvous at an appointed osteria outside the walls, dressed in every sort of grotesque and ludicrous costume which can be imagined. All the old dresses which can be rummaged out of the studios or theatres, or pieced together from masking wardrobes, are now in requisition. Indians and Chinese, ancient warriors and mediaeval heroes, militia-men and Punches, generals in top-boots and pigtails, doctors in gigantic wigs and small-clothes, Falstaffs and justices "with fair round belly with good capon lined," magnificent foolscaps, wooden swords with terrible inscriptions, gigantic chapeaus with plumes made of vegetables, in a word, every imaginable absurdity is to be seen. Arrived at the place of rendezvous, they all breakfast, and then the line of march is arranged. A great wooden cart, adorned with quaint devices, garlanded with laurel and bay, bears the president and committee. This is drawn by great white oxen, who are decorated with wreaths and flowers and gay trappings, and from it floats the noble banner of Cerbara or Fidenae. After this follows a strange and motley train,—some mounted on donkeys, some on horses, and some afoot,—and the line of march is taken up for the grove of Egeria. What mad jests and wild fun now take place it is impossible to describe; suffice it to say, that all are right glad of a little rest when they reach their destination.
Now begin to stream out from the city hundreds of carriages,—for all the world will be abroad to-day to see,—and soon the green slopes are swarming with gay crowds. Some bring with them a hamper of provisions and wine, and, spreading them on the grass, lunch and dine when and where they will; but those who would dine with the artists must have the order of the mezzo baiocco hanging to their buttonhole, which is distributed previously in Rome to all the artists who purchase tickets. Some few there are who also bear upon their breasts the nobler medal of troppo merito, gained on previous days, and those are looked upon with due reverence.
But before dinner or lunch there is a high ceremony to take place,—the great feature of the day. It is the mock-heroic play. This year it was the meeting of Numa with the nymph Egeria at the grotto; and thither went the festive procession; and the priest, befilletted and draped in white, burned upon the altar as a sacrifice a great toy sheep, whose offence "smelt to heaven"; and then from the niches suddenly appeared Numa, a gallant youth in spectacles, and Egeria, a Spanish artist with white dress and fillet, who made vows over the smoking sheep, and then were escorted back to the sacred grove with festal music by a joyous, turbulent crowd.
Last year, however, at Fidenae, it was better. We had a travesty of the taking of Troy, which was eminently ludicrous, and which deserves a better description than I can give. Troy was a space inclosed within paper barriers, about breast-high, painted "to present a wall," and within these were the Trojans, clad in red, and all wearing gigantic paper helmets. There was old Priam, in spectacles, with his crown and robes,—Laocooen, in white, with a white wool beard and wig,—Ulysses, in a long, yellow beard and mantle,—and Aeneas, with a bald head, in a blue, long-tailed coat, and tall dickey, looking like the traditional Englishman in the circus who comes to hire the horse. The Grecians were encamped at a short distance. All had round, basket-work shields,—some with their names painted on them in great letters, and some with an odd device, such as a cat or pig. There were Ulysses, Agamemnon, Ajax, Nestor, Patroclus, Diomedes, Achilles, "all honorable men." The drama commenced with the issuing of Paris and Helen from the walls of Troy,—he in a tall, black French hat, girdled with a gilt crown, and she in a white dress, with a great wig hanging round her face in a profusion of carrotty curls. Queer figures enough they were, as they stepped along together, caricaturing love in a pantomime, he making terrible demonstrations of his ardent passion, and she finally falling on his neck in rapture. This over, they seated themselves near by two large pasteboard rocks, he sitting on his shield and taking out his flute to play to her, while she brought forth her knitting and ogled him as he played. While they were thus engaged, came creeping up with the stage stride of a double step, and dragging one foot behind him, Menelaus, whom Thersites had, meantime, been taunting, by pointing at him two great ox-horns. He walked all round the lovers, pantomiming rage and jealousy in the accredited ballet style, and then, suddenly approaching, crushed poor Paris's great black hat down over his eyes. Both, very much frightened, then took to their heels and rushed into the city, while Menelaus, after shaking Paris's shield, in defiance, at the walls, retired to the Grecian camp. Then came the preparations for battle. The Trojans leaned over their paper battlements, with their fingers to their noses, twiddling them in scorn, while the Greeks shook their fists back at them. The battle now commenced on the "ringing-plains of Troy," and was eminently absurd. Paris, in hat and pantaloons, (a la mode de Paris,) soon showed the white feather, and incontinently fled. Everybody hit nowhere, fiercely striking the ground or the shields, and always carefully avoiding, as on the stage, to hit in the right place. At last, however, Patroclus was killed, whereupon the battle was suspended, and a grand tableau of surprise and horror took place, from which at last they recovered, and the Greeks prepared to carry him off on their shoulders. Then terrible to behold was the grief of Achilles. Homer himself would have wept to see him. He flung himself on the body, and shrieked, and tore his hair, and violently shook the corpse, which, under such demonstrations, now and then kicked up. Finally, he rises and challenges Hector to single combat, and out comes the valiant Trojan, and a duel ensues with wooden axes. Such blows and counter blows were never seen, only they never hit, but often whirled the warrior who dealt them completely round; they tumbled over their own blows, panted with feigned rage, lost their robes and great pasteboard helmets, and were even more absurd than Richmond and Richard ever were on the country boards at a fifth-rate theatre. But Hector is at last slain and borne away, and a ludicrous lay figure is laid out to represent him, with bunged-up eyes and a general flabbiness of body and want of features, charming to behold. On their necks the Trojans bear him to their walls, and with a sudden jerk pitch him over them head first, and he tumbles, in a heap, into the city. Then Ulysses harangues the Greeks. He has brought out a quarteruola barrel of wine, which, with most expressive pantomime, he shows to be the wooden horse that must be carried into Troy. His proposition is joyfully accepted, and, accompanied by all, he rolls the cask up to the walls, and, flourishing a tin cup in one hand, invites the Trojans to partake. At first there is confusion in the city, and fingers are twiddled over the walls, but after a time all go out and drink, and become ludicrously drunk, and stagger about, embracing each other in the most maudlin style. Even Helen herself comes out, gets tipsy with the rest, and dances about like the most disreputable of Maenades. A great scena, however, takes place as they are about to drink. Laocooen, got up in white wool, appears, and violently endeavors to dissuade them, but in vain. In the midst of his harangue, a long string of blown up sausage-skins is dragged in for the serpent, and suddenly cast about his neck. His sons and he then form a group, the sausage-snake is twined about them,—only the old story is reversed, and he bites the serpent instead of the serpent biting him,—and all die in agony, travestying the ancient group.
All, being now drunk, go in, and Ulysses with them. A quantity of straw is kindled, the smoke rises, the Greeks approach and dash in the paper walls with clubs, and all is confusion. Then Aeneas, in his blue long-tailed circus-coat, broad white hat, and tall shirt-collar, carries off old Anchises on his shoulders with a cigar in his mouth, and bears him to a painted section of a vessel, which is rocked to and fro by hand, as if violently agitated by the waves. Aeneas and Anchises enter the boat, or rather stand behind it so as to conceal their legs, and off it sets, rocked to and fro constantly,—Aeolus and Tramontana following behind, with bellows to blow up a wind, and Fair Weather, with his name written on big back, accompanying them. The violent motion, however, soon makes Aeneas sick, and as he leans over the side in a helpless and melancholy manner, and almost gives up the ghost, as well as more material things, the crowd burst into laughter. However, at last they reach two painted rocks, and found Latium, and a general rejoicing takes place.—The donkey who was to have ended all by dragging the body of Hector round the walls came too late, and this part of the programme did not take place.
So much of the entertainment over, preparations are made for dinner. In the grove of Egeria the plates are spread in circles, while all the company sing part-songs and dance. At last all is ready, the signal is given, and the feast takes place after the most rustic manner. Great barrels of wine covered with green branches stand at one side, from which flagons are filled and passed round, and the good appetites soon make direful gaps in the beef and mighty plates of lettuce. After this, and a little sauntering about for digestion's sake, come the afternoon sports. And there are donkey races, and tilting at a ring, and foot-races, and running in sacks. Nothing can be more picturesque than the scene, with its motley masqueraders, its crowds of spectators seated along the slopes, its little tents here and there, its races in the valley, and, above all, the glorious mountains looking down from the distance. Not till the golden light slopes over the Campagna, gilding the skeletons of aqueducts, and drawing a delicate veil of beauty over the mountains, can we tear ourselves away, and rattle back in our carriage to Rome.
The wealthy Roman families, who have villas in the immediate vicinity of Rome, now leave the city to spend a month in them and breathe the fresh air of spring. Many and many a tradesman who is well to do in the world has a little vigna outside the gates, where he raises vegetables and grapes and other fruits; and every festa-day you will be sure to find him and his family out in his little villetta, wandering about the grounds or sitting beneath his arbors, smoking and chatting with his children around him. His friends who have no villas of their own here visit him, and often there is a considerable company thus collected, who, if one may judge from their cheerful countenances and much laughter, enjoy themselves mightily. Knock at any of these villa-gates, and, if you happen to have the acquaintance of the owner, or are evidently a stranger of respectability, you will be received with much hospitality, invited to partake of the fruit and wine, and overwhelmed with thanks for your gentilezza when you take your leave; for the Italians are a most good-natured and social people, and nothing pleases them better than a stranger who breaks the common round of topics by accounts of his own land. Everything new is to them wonderful, just as it is to a child. They are credulous of everything you tell them about America, which is to them in some measure what it was to the English in the days of Raleigh, Drake, and Hawkins, and say "Per Bacco!" to every new statement. And they are so magnificently ignorant, that you have carte blanche for your stories. Never did I know any one staggered by anything I chose to say, but once. I was walking with my respectable old padrone, Nisi, about his little garden one day, when an ambition to know something about America inflamed his breast.
"Are there any mountains?" he asked.
I told him "Yes," and, with a chuckle of delight, he cried,—
"Per Bacco! And have you any cities?"
"Yes, a few little ones,"—for I thought I would sing small, contrary to the general "'Ercles vein" of my countrymen. He was evidently pleased that they were small, and, swelling with natural pride, said,—
"Large as Rome, of course, they could not be"; then, after a moment, he added, interrogatively, "And rivers, too,—have you any rivers?"
"A few," I answered.
"But not as large as our Tiber," he replied,—feeling assured, that, if the cities were smaller than Rome, as a necessary consequence, the rivers that flowed by them must be in the same category.
The bait now offered was too tempting. I measured my respectable and somewhat obese friend carefully with my eye, for a moment, and then hurled this terrible fact at him:—
"We have some rivers three thousand miles long."
The effect was awful. He stood and stared at me, as if petrified, for a moment. Then the blood rushed into his face, and, turning on his heel, he took off his hat, said suddenly, "Buona sera," and carried my fact and his opinions together up into his private room. I am afraid that Don Pietro decided, on consideration, that I had been taking unwarrantable liberties with him, and exceeding all proper bounds, in my attempt to impose on his good-nature. From that time forward he asked me no more questions about America.
And here, by the way, I am reminded of an incident, which, though not exactly pertinent, may find here a parenthetical place, merely as illustrating some points of Italian character. One fact and two names relating to America they know universally,—Columbus and his discovery of America, and Washington.
"Si, Signore," said a respectable person some time since, as he was driving me to see a carriage which he wished to sell me, and therefore desired to be particularly polite to me and my nation,—"a great man, your Vashintoni! but I was sorry to hear, the other day, that his father had died in London."