« PreviousContinue »
also to their entire distrust of the possibility of legal redress in the courts. He observes, that
'in the half-organized society of the less civilized parts of the United States, the pistol and bowie-knife are as frequent arbiters of disputes as the stiletto is among the Italians. But it would be a gross error to argue from this, that the Americans are violent and passionate by nature; for, among the same people in the older States, where justice is cheaply and strictly administered, the pistol and bowie-knife are almost unknown.'—i. 112-3.
The chief fault of the book is, that the author is not content with his proper work. In the opening chapter he professes to write for travellers, • to whom the common out-door pictures of modern Roman life would have a charm as special as the galleries and antiquities, and to whom a sketch of many things, which wise and serious travellers have passed by as unworthy
their notice, might be interesting The common life of the
modern Romans, the games, customs, and habits of the people, the every-day of To-day .... this (he says) is the subject which has specially interested me' (i. 7). We expect, therefore, to find in Mr. Story's volumes the result of his observation of actual Roman life—sketches of things which every traveller may see, but sketches drawn with an understanding which is beyond the reach of the mere passing traveller; and such is the best part of the book. But, unhappily, Mr. Story is not satisfied with the character of a skilful observer and sketcher, but is bent on showing us that he is a man of vast learning and profound research; and hence it has come to pass that by far too large a portion of his pages is occupied with matter fitter for the grave and sober treatises with which, in the passage just quoted, he disclaims all rivalry— fit for anything rather than for a work of light and agreeable gossip.
Nor can we say that the learning which is thus ostentatiously thrust on us is of any very satisfactory kind. There may be simple persons in the world who would look with awe on such a string of references as the following :—
'Tertullian de an., cap. 46; id., lib. i. cap. 82; lib. iii. cap. 28; lib. iv. cap. 25. Artemidorus de Somn., lib. xi. cap. 14 and 49. Fulgentius Mythol., lib. i. Cicero de Divinat., lib. i. See also Leopardi, Dei Sogni, p. 68.'—i. 134.
But there is something about the physiognomy of this note which to any one who has had some experience of the artifices of literature, must suggest an uncomfortable suspicion; and, without baving attempted to 'see Leopardi,' we are pretty certain that the other references are borrowed from him wholesale. And so it is with Mr. Story's learning throughout. It has a second-hand look; and, in proportion as his references become more plentiful, we find ourselves the less inclined to give him credit for acquaintance with the writings which he cites.
The continual blunders in Latin and other foreign words may be charitably accounted for by the supposition that Mr. Story was not in England while his book was in the press, and therefore had not the opportunity of correcting his proof-sheets. We cannot suppose that he wrote such things as 'Circus Agonal*?' (ii. 113, 199); or 'Suetonius in Vit. Titiw' (i. 227); or 'Vopiscus in Vit. Probits' (ib.); that it was he himself who repeatedly gave us cloacina for cloaca (i. 316-7), and Lepsius for Lipsius; who put ' old Jason' for ^Eson (ii. 315); who made ' versipelles ' singular, and 'naumachia ' plural (i. 231); or that, when he thought it expedient to mention Philo's Legation to Caligula by its Greek title, he was unable to give us anything more like the correct form than 'Ylpea^euv; Tirpo? aiov' (ii. 44). Yet surely Mr. Story, if unable to superintend his own printing, might have secured the help of some competent corrector; or, at least, he might have set the matter right in his second edition. But what are we to say to such a specimen of Mr. Story's Latin as the interpretation of the Italian name for spring—primavera—by 'the first true thing' (i. 87)? Or what excuse can be made for the blunders which crowd the page when he displays his knowledge of history? But we must beg the reader to understand why we notice his blunders, whether of language or of history. It is not that we would blame him for not knowing things which he is in nowise bound to know, but because he pretends, out of place, to a knowledge which he really has not; because he affects an acquaintance with somewhat recondite books, whereas he seems really to know them only through the medium of other books.
Little as we like Mr. Story's learning, we relish his wit still less. His jocosity is really overwhelming, and will never leave us any peace. In the midst of descriptions which ought to be simple, he douches us with puns, tags of quotation distorted to facetious uses, and other bad jokes of all sorts, in a way that is quite distressing; and both in the comic and in the graver parts there are, as is common in American writings, too evident traces of a study of cockney models. The style, as might be expected, has all those latest improvements which are fast changing our English tongue to something very different from its older self. Here is a specimen :—
'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 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 laurustinas, all sorts of running vetches and wild sweet-pea,' (&c. &c, ending with the bursting of ' a cascade of vines covered with foamy Banksia roses.')— i. 152-3.
But, after all, what is gained by all these fine varieties of words? Might not the picture of May have been set quite as well before us without them?
Good humoured as Mr. Story unquestionably is, there is vet a kind of flippant superciliousness about him which is very provoking. And in matters connected with religion (which necessarily come often before us in a book relating to Rome) this is especially annoying, whether it take the form of contemptuous toleration, of indignant denunciation, or (which is most usual) of sarcastic badinage. The explanation of much that offends us in Mr. Story is to be found at vol. ii. p. 224, where he tells us that 'the most careful investigations of the catacombs . . . have failed to elicit the slightest indication in favour of the peculiar tenets of the Roman Church respecting the Trinity, the worship of the Virgin, the adoration of saints, or the supremacy of the Pope as Vicar of Christ.' Without inquiring how this may be, it is enough to observe that the doctrine of the Trinity, unlike those with which it is here strangely joined as peculiar to Rome, has ample warrant in the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers ; so that it has no need of any evidence from the catacombs. But we quote the passage, not with any controversial views, but in order to furnish a key to Mr. Story's tone on religious matters, and to reprobate the lack of judgment which has led him to introduce religious controversy into such a work as this.
But, having eased our conscience by pointing out certain faults of Mr. Story's book, let us now turn to the more agreeable task of looking over his pages for the sake of the amusement which is to be found in them. In the earlier chapters—of which, as he tells us, the substance originally appeared in an American magazine—he takes his subjects according to the course of the Roman year. Beginning with his arrival at Rome for the third time, on the 6th of December, 1856, he sketches his entrance from Civita Vecchia:—
'After leaving the Pia2za [of St. Peter's], we get a glimpse of Hadrian's Mole, and of the rusty Tiber, as it hurries, "retortis littore Etrusco violenter undis," as of old, under the statued bridge of St. Angelo,—and then we plungo into long, damp, narrow, dirty streets. Yet—shall I confess it ?—they had a charm for me. Twilight was deepening into dark as we passed through them. Confused cries and loud Italian voices sounded about me. Children were screaming,— men howling their wares for sale. Bells were ringing everywhere. Priests, soldiers, contadini, and beggars thronged along. The Trasteverini were going home, with their jackets hanging over one shoulder. Women, in their rough woollen gowns, stood in the doorways bareheaded, or looked out from windows and balconies, their black hair shining under the lanterns. Lights were twinkling in the little cavernous shops, and under the Madonna-shrines far within them. A funeral procession, with its black banners, gilt with a death's-head and cross-bones, was passing by, its wavering candles borne by the confraternith, who marched carelessly along, shrouded from head to foot in white, with only two holes for the eyes to glare through.'— i. 4, 5.
At present, although the traveller misses the plunge into the glories of St. Peter's on entering the city, the drive from the station outside the Porta Portese, through the squalor of the Trastcvere, across the island, and by the Theatre of Marcellus, is even more strangely striking than that which Mr. Story here describes. But before the English next begin their annual occupation of the Piazza di Spagna and its neighbourhood, all this will be changed, as the railway will have been carried across the Tiber into the central station, close to the Baths of Diocletian, from which the way to the Piazza, or to the Corso, will lie through streets which have but little of the peculiarly Roman character. But let Mr. Story go on:—
'It was dirty, but it was Eome; and to any one who has long lived in Eome even its very dirt has a charm which the neatness of no other place ever had. All depends, of course, on what wo call dirt. No one would defend the condition of some of the streets, or some of the habits of tho people. But the soil and stain which many call dirt I call colour; and the cleanliness of Amsterdam would ruin Eome for the artist. Thrift and exceeding cleanness are sadly at war with the picturesque. To whatever the hand of man builds the hand of Timo adds a grace, and nothing is so prosaic as the rawly new. Fancy for a moment the difference for the worse, if all tho grim, browned, rotted walls of Eome, with their pooling mortar, their thousand daubs of varying grays and yellows, their jutting brickwork and patched stonework, from whose intervals the cement has crumbled off, their waving weeds and grasses and flowers, now sparsely fringing their top, now thickly protruding from their sides, or clinging and making a home in the clefts and crevices of decay, were to be smoothed to a complete level, and whitewashed over into one uniform and monotonous tint. What a gain in cleanliness ! what a loss in beauty! An old wall like this I remember on the road from Grotta Ferrata to Frascati, which was to my eyes a constant delight. One day the owner took it into his head to whitewash it all over,—to clean it, as some would say. I look upon that man as little better than a Vandal in taste,—one from whom "knowledge at one entrance" was " quite shut out." '—i. 5, 6.
The beggars of Rome are innumerable, and swarm everywhere. They beset you in your walks, and, if you stop a moment, in carriage or on foot, half a dozen of them are upon you at once. They thrust themselves between you and your friend when you are in the most anxious discussion of your plans and movements, and noisily urge their affairs on you as far more important to you than your own. And, as the superstition of Rome tends to affect the sense of religion unfavourably, so the beggary of Rome—much of it feigned, and all of it importunate—tends to lessen the feelings of sympathy with human misery. It very speedily becomes clear to the most literal of Christians that the precept, 'Give to every one that asketh thee,' cannot have been meant to be observed to the letter. If so, it would be necessary to sally forth every morning with a huge bag of copper, and to hire a porter—one of that class which travellers in Italy have reason to abhor for its extortion above all other classes—to carry it for you. Towards the end of the last Roman season—so late, indeed, that but few English remained to observe the effect—an edict against mendicancy was issued. No one was to beg unless fortified with a government certificate, and every holder of such a certificate, instead of being allowed to ply his trade all over the city, was restricted to one specified place. At first this regulation seemed to do its work in a considerable degree; but, if we may trust the late correspondence of English papers, it has since proved an utter mockery. But Roman beggary, at its worst, Wiis a trifle in comparison to that of some places in Southern Italy. At Amain, that melancholy wreck of a great commercial city, the beggars are so nearly the entire population, that it seems as if they must live mainly on each other; and if you go into the Ciithedral of Sorrento on a Sunday afternoon, you may find that children break away from catechism-classes to persecute you with cries for a 'bottiglia!'
One renowned personage of the beggar class is described by Mr. Story with great zest.
'As one ascends to the last platform, before reaching the upper piazza in front of the Trinita de' Monti, a curious squat figure, with two withered and crumpled legs, spread out at right angles, and clothed in long blue stockings, comes shuffling along on his knees