Charles Dickens.

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were yet heavy on its conscience.

A short ride from this lake, brought us to Ronciglione ; a
little town like a large pig-sty, where we passed the night.
Next morning at seven o'clock, we started for Rome.

As soon as we were out of the pig-sty, we entered on the
Campagne Romana ; an undulating flat (as you know), where
few people can live ; and where, for miles and miles, there is
nothing to relieve the terrible monotony and gloom. Of all
kinds of country that could, by possibility, lie outside the
gates of Rome, this is the aptest and fittest burial-ground for
the Dead City. So sad, so quiet, so sullen ; so secret in its
covering up of great masses of ruin, and hiding them ; so
like the waste places into which the men possessed with devils
used to go and howl, and rend themselves, in the old days
of Jerusalem. We had to traverse thirty miles of this
Campagna; and for two-and-twenty we went on and on,
seeing nothing but now and then a lonely house, or a
villainous-looking shepherd : with matted hair all over his
face, and himself wrapped to the chin in a frowsy brown
mantle, tending his sheep. At the end of that distance, we
stopped to refresh the horses, and to get some lunch, in a
common malaria-shaken, despondent little public-house, whose
every inch of wall and beam, inside, was (according to custom)
painted and decorated in a way so miserable that every room
looked like the wrong side of another room, and, with its
wretched imitation of drapery, and lop-sided little daubs of


lyres, seemed to have been plundered from behind the scenes
of some travelling circus.

When we were fairly going off again, we began, in a perfect
fever, to strain our eyes for Rome ; and when, after another
mile or two, the Eternal City appeared, at length, in the
distance ; it looked like I am half afraid to write the word
like LONDON ! ! ! There it lay, under a thick cloud, with
innumerable towers, and steeples, and roofs of houses, rising
up into the sky, and high above them all, one Dome. I
swear, that keenly as I felt the seeming absurdity of the
comparison, it was so like London, at that distance, that if
you could have shown it me, in a glass, I should have taken
it for nothing else.


WE entered the Eternal City, at about four o'clock in the
afternoon, on the thirtieth of January, by the Porta del
Popolo, and came immediately it was a dark, muddy day,
and there had been heavy rain on the skirts of the Carnival.
We did not, then, know that we were only looking at the
fag end of the masks, who were driving slowly round and
round the Piazza until they could find a promising oppor-
tunity for falling into the stream of carriages, and getting,
in good time, into the thick of the festivity ; and coming
among them so abruptly, all travel-stained and weary, was
not coming very well prepared to enjoy the scene.

We had crossed the Tiber by the Ponte Molle two or three
miles before. It had looked as yellow as it ought to look,
and hurrying on between its worn-away and miry banks, had
a promising aspect of desolation and ruin. The masquerade
dresses on the fringe of the Carnival, did great violence to
this promise. There were no great ruins, no solemn tokens
of antiquity, to be seen ; they all lie on the other side of
the city. There seemed to be long streets of commonplace
shops and houses, such as are to be found in any European
town ; there were busy people, equipages, ordinary walkers to
and fro ; a multitude of chattering strangers. It was no
more my Rome : the Rome of anybody's fancy, man or boy ;
degraded and fallen and lying asleep in the sun among a
heap of ruins ; than the Place de la Concorde in Paris is.

ST. PETER'S. 437

A cloudy sky, a dull cold rain, and muddy streets, I was
prepared for, but not for this : and I confess to having gone
to bed, that night, in a very indifferent humour, and with a
very considerably quenched enthusiasm.

Immediately on going out next day, we hurried off to St.
Peter's. It looked immense in the distance, but distinctly
and decidedly small, by comparison, on a near approach.
The beauty of the Piazza, on which it stands, with its clusters
of exquisite columns, and its gushing fountains so fresh, so
broad, and free, and beautiful nothing can exaggerate. The
first burst of the interior, in all its expansive majesty and
glory : and, most of all, the looking up into the Dome : is a
sensation never to be forgotten. But, there were preparations
for a Festa ; the pillars of stately marble were swathed in
some impertinent frippery of red and yellow ; the altar, and
entrance to the subterranean chapel : which is before it : in
the centre of the church : were like a goldsmith's shop, or
one of the opening scenes in a very lavish pantomime. And
though I had as high a sense of the beauty of the building
(I hope) as it is possible to entertain, I felt no very strong
emotion. I have been infinitely more affected in many
English cathedrals when the organ has been playing, and in
many English country churches when the congregation have
been singing. I had a much greater sense of mystery and
wonder, in the Cathedral of San Mark at Venice.

When we came out of the church again (we stood nearly
an hour staring up into the dome: and would not have "gone
over 11 the Cathedral then, for any money), we said to the
coachman, " Go to the Coliseum." In a quarter of an hour
or so, he stopped at the gate, and we went in.

It is no fiction, but plain, sober, honest Truth, to say : so
suggestive and distinct is it at this hour : that, for a moment
actually in passing in they who will, may have the whole
great pile before them, as it used to be, with thousands of
eager faces staring down into the arena, and such a whirl of
strife, and blood, and dust going on there, as no language


can describe. Its solitude, its awful beauty, and its utter
desolation, strike upon the stranger the next moment, like a
softened sorrow ; and never in his life, perhaps, will he be so
moved and overcome by any sight, not immediately connected
Avith his own affections and afflictions.

To see it crumbling there, an inch a year; its walls and
arches overgrown with green ; its corridors open to the day ;
the long grass growing in its porches ; young trees of
yesterday, springing up on its ragged parapets, and bearing
fruit : chance produce of the seeds dropped there by the
birds who build their nests within its chinks and crannies ;
to see its Pit of Fight filled up with earth, and the peaceful
Cross planted in the centre; to climb into its upper halls,
and look down on ruin, ruin, ruin, all about it ; the triumphal
arches of Constantine, Septimus Severus, and Titus ; the
Roman Forum ; the Palace of the Caesars ; the temples of the
old religion, fallen down and gone ; is to see the ghost of old
Rome, wicked wonderful old city, haunting the very ground
on which its people trod. It is the most impressive, the
most stately, the most solemn, grand, majestic, mournful
sight, conceivable. Never, in its bloodiest prime, can the
sight of the gigantic Coliseum, full and running over with
the lustiest life, have moved one heart, as it must move all
who look upon it now, a ruin. GOD be thanked : a ruin !

As it tops the other ruins: standing there, a mountain
among graves : so do its ancient influences outlive all other
remnants of the old mythology and old butchery of Rome, in
the nature of the fierce and cruel Roman people. The Italian
face changes as the visitor approaches the city ; its beauty
becomes devilish ; and there is scarcely one countenance in
a hundred, among the common people in the streets, that
would not be at home and happy in a renovated Coliseum

Here was Rome indeed at last; and such a Rome as no
one can imagine in its full and awful grandeur ! We
wandered out upon the Appian Way, and then went on,


through miles of ruined tombs and broken walls, with here
and there a desolate and uninhabited house : past the Circus
of Romulus, where the course of the chariots, the stations of
the judges, competitors, and spectators, are yet as plainly to be
seen as in old time : past the tomb of Cecilia Metella : past
all inclosure, hedge, or stake, wall or fence: away upon the
open Campagna, where on that side of Rome, nothing is to
be beheld but Ruin. Except where the distant Apennines
bound the view upon the left, the whole wide prospect is one
field of ruin. Broken aqueducts, left in the most picturesque
and beautiful clusters of arches ; broken temples ; broken
tombs. A desert of decay, sombre and desolate beyond all
expression ; and with a history in every stone that strews the

On Sunday, the Pope assisted in the performance of High
Mass at St. Peter's. The effect of the Cathedral on my mind,
on that second visit, was exactly what it was at first, and what
it remains after many visits. It is not religiously impressive
or affecting. It is an immense edifice, with no one point for
the mind to rest upon ; and it tires itself with wandering
round and round. The very purpose of the place, is not
expressed in anything you see there, unless you examine its
details and all examination of details is incompatible with
the place itself. It might be a Pantheon, or a Senate House,
or a great architectural trophy, having no other object than
an architectural triumph. There is a black statue of St.
Peter, to be sure, under a red canopy ; which is larger than
life, and which is constantly having its great toe kissed by
good Catholics. You cannot help seeing that : it is so very
prominent and popular. But it does not heighten the effect
of the temple, as a work of art ; and it is not expressive to
me at least of its high purpose.

A large space behind the altar, was fitted up with box.-,,
shaped like those at the Italian Opera in England, but in
their decoration much more gaudy. In the centre of the kind


of theatre thus railed off, was a canopied dais with the Pope's
chair upon it. The pavement was covered with a carpet of
the brightest green ; and what with this green, and the in-
tolerable reds and crimsons, and gold borders of the hangings,
the whole concern looked like a stupendous Bonbon. On
either side of the altar, was a large box for lady strangers.
These were filled with ladies in black dresses and black veils.
The gentlemen of the Pope's guard, in red coats, leather
breeches, and jack-boots, guarded all this reserved space, with
drawn swords that were very flashy in every sense ; and from
the altar all down the nave, a broad lane was kept clear by
the Pope's Swiss guard, who wear a quaint striped surcoat,
and striped tight legs, and carry halberds like those which are
usually shouldered by those theatrical supernumeraries, who
never can get off the stage fast enough, and who may be
generally observed to linger in the enemy's camp after the
open country, held by the opposite forces, has been split up
the middle by a convulsion of Nature.

I got upon the border of the green carpet, in company with
a great many other gentlemen, attired in black (no other
passport is necessary), and stood there at my ease, during the
performance of Mass. The singers were in a crib of wirework
(like a large meat-safe or bird-cage) in one corner ; and sang
most atrociously. All about the green carpet, there was
a slowly moving crowd of people : talking to each other :
staring at the Pope through eye-glasses ; defrauding one another,
in moments of partial curiosity, out of precarious seats on the
bases of pillars : and grinning hideously at the ladies. Dotted
here and there, were little knots of friars (Francescani, or
Cappuccini, in their coarse brown dresses and peaked hoods)
making a strange contrast to the gaudy ecclesiastics of higher
degree, and having their humility gratified to the utmost, by
being shouldered about, and elbowed right and left, on all
sides. Some of these had muddy sandals and umbrellas, and
stained garments : having trudged in from the country. The
faces of the greater part were as coarse and heavy as their


dress ; their dogged, stupid, monotonous stare at all the glory
and splendour, having something in it, half miserable, and half

Upon the green carpet itself, and gathered round the altar,
was a perfect army of cardinals and priests, in red, gold,
purple, violet, white, and fine linen. Stragglers from these,
went to and fro among the crowd, conversing two and two,
or giving and receiving introductions, and exchanging saluta-
tions ; other functionaries in black gowns, and other func-
tionaries in court-dresses, were similarly engaged. In the
midst of all these, and stealthy Jesuits creeping in and out,
and the extreme restlessness of the Youth of England, who
were perpetually wandering about, some few steady persons in
black cassocks, who had knelt down with their faces to he
wall, and were poring over their missals, became, unintention-
ally, a sort of humane man-traps, and with their own devout
legs, tripped up other people's by the dozen.

There was a great pile of candles lying down on the floor
near me, which a very old man in a rusty black gown with
an open-work tippet, like a summer ornament for a fireplace
in tissue-paper, made himself very busy in dispensing to all
the ecclesiastics : one a-piece. They loitered about with these
for some time, under their arms like walking-sticks, or in
their hands like truncheons. At a certain period of the
ceremony, however, each carried his candle up to the Pope,
laid it across his two knees to be blessed, took it back again,
and filed off. This was done in a very attenuated procession,
as you may suppose, and occupied a long time. Not because
it takes long to bless a candle through and through, but be-
cause there were so many candles to be blessed. At last they
were all blessed; and then they were all lighted; and then
the Pope was taken up, chair and all, and carried round the

I must say, that I never saw anything, out of November, so
like the popular English commemoration of the fifth of that
month. A bundle of matches and a lantern, would have made


it perfect. Nor did the Pope, himself, at all mar the resem-
blance, though he has a pleasant and venerable face ; for, as
this part of the ceremony makes him giddy and sick, he shuts
his eyes when it is performed : and having his eyes shut and
a great mitre on his head, and his head itself wagging to
and fro as they shook him in carrying, he looked as if his
mask were going to tumble off. The two immense fans which
are always borne, one on either side of him, accompanied
him, of course, on this occasion. As they carried him along,
he blessed the people with the mystic sign ; and as he passed
them, they kneeled down. When he had made the round
of the church, he was brought back again, and if I am not
mistaken, this performance was repeated, in the whole, three
times. There was, certainly, nothing solemn or effective in
it ; and certainly very much that was droll and tawdry. But
this remark applies to the whole ceremony, except the raising
of the Host, when every man in the guard dropped on one
knee instantly, and dashed his naked sword on the ground ;
which had a fine effect.

The next time I saw the cathedral, was some two or three
weeks afterwards, when I climbed up into the ball ; and
then, the hangings being taken down, and the carpet taken
up, but all the framework left, the remnants of these decora-
tions looked like an exploded cracker.

The Friday and Saturday having been solemn Festa days,
and Sunday being always a dies non in carnival proceedings,
we had looked forward, with some impatience and curiosity, to
the beginning of the new week : Monday and Tuesday being
the two last and best days of the Carnival.

On the Monday afternoon at one or two o'clock, there
began to be a great rattling of carriages into the court-yard
of the hotel ; a hurrying to and fro of all the servants in it ;
and, now and then, a swift shooting across some doorway or
balcony, of a straggling stranger in a fancy dress : not yet
sufficiently well used to the same, to wear it with confidence,


and defy public opinion. All the carriages were open, and
had the linings carefully covered with white cotton or calico,
to prevent their proper decorations from being spoiled by
the incessant pelting of sugar-plums ; and people were pack-
ing and cramming into every vehicle as it waited for its
occupants, enormous sacks and baskets full of these confetti,
together with such heaps of flowers, tied up in little nose-
gays, that some carriages were not only brimful of flowers,
but literally running over : scattering, at every shake and jerk
of the springs, some of their abundance on the ground. Not
to be behindhand in these essential particulars, we caused
two very respectable sacks of sugar-plums (each about three
feet high) and a large clothes-basket full of flowers to be con-
veyed into our hired barouche, with all speed. And from
our place of observation, in one of the upper balconies of the
hotel, we contemplated these arrangements with the liveliest
satisfaction. The carnages now beginning to take up their
company, and move away, we got into ours, and drove off
too, armed with little wire masks for our faces ; the sugar-
plums, like FalstafTs adulterated sack, having lime in their

The Corso is a street a mile long; a street of shops, and
palaces, and private houses, sometimes opening into a broad
piazza. There are verandahs and balconies, of all shapes and
sizes, to almost every house not on one story alone, but
often to one room or another on every story put there in
general with so little order or regularity, that if, year after
year, and season after season, it had rained balconies, hailed
balconies, snowed balconies, blown balconies, they could
scarcely have come into existence in a more disorderly

This is the great fountain-head and focus of the Carnival.
But all the streets in which the Carnival is held, being vigi-
lantly kept by dragoons, it is necessary for carriages, in the
first instance, to pass, in line, down another thoroughfare,
and so come into the Corso at the end remote from the


Piazza del Popolo ; which is one of its terminations. Accord-
ingly, we fell into the string of coaches, and, for some time,
jogged on quietly enough ; now crawling on at a very slow
walk ; now trotting half-a-dozen yards ; now backing fifty ;
and now stopping altogether : as the pressure in front obliged
us. If any impetuous carriage dashed out of the rank and
clattered forward, with the wild idea of getting on faster, it
was suddenly met, or overtaken, by a trooper on horseback,
who, deaf as his own drawn sword to all remonstrances,
immediately escorted it back to the very end of the row, and
made it a dim speck in the remotest perspective. Occasion-
ally, we interchanged a volley of confetti with the carriage
next in front, or the carriage next behind ; but as yet, this
capturing of stray and errant coaches by the military, was
the chief amusement.

Presently, we came into a narrow street, where, besides one
line of carriages going, there was another line of carriages
returning. Here the sugar-plums and the nosegays began to
fly about, pretty smartly ; and I was fortunate enough to
observe one gentleman attired as a Greek warrior, catch a
light- whiskered brigand on the nose (he was in the very act
of tossing up a bouquet to a young lady in a first-floor
window) with a precision that was much applauded by the
bystanders. As this victorious Greek was exchanging a
facetious remark with a stout gentleman in a doorway one-
half black and one-half white, as if he had been peeled up
the middle who had offered him his congratulations on this
achievement, he received an orange from a house-top, full
on his left ear, and was much surprised, not to say discomfited.
Especially, as he was standing up at the time ; and in
consequence of the carriage moving on suddenly, at the same
moment, staggered ignominiously, and buried himself among
his flowers.

Some quarter of an hour of this sort of progress, brought
us to the Corso ; and anything so gay, so bright, and lively
as the whole scene there, it would be difficult to imagine.


From all the innumerable balconies : from the remotest and
highest, no less than from the lowest and nearest : hangings of
bright red, bright green, bright blue, white and gold, were
fluttering in the brilliant sunlight. From windows, and from
parapets, and tops of houses, streamers of the richest colours,
and draperies of the gaudiest and most sparkling hues, were
floating out upon the street. The buildings seemed to have
been literally turned inside out, and to have all their gaiety
towards the highway. Shop-fronts were taken down, and the
windows filled with company, like boxes at a shining theatre ;
doors were carried off their hinges, and long tapestried groves,
hung with garlands of flowers and evergreens, displayed within ;
builders' 1 scaffoldings were gorgeous temples, radiant in silver,
gold, and crimson ; and in every nook and corner, from the
pavement to the chimney-tops, where women's eyes could
glisten, there they danced, and laughed, and sparkled, like
the light in water. Every sort of bewitching madness of
dress was there. Little preposterous scarlet jackets ; quaint
old stomachers, more wicked than the smartest bodices ; Polish
pelisses, strained and tight as ripe gooseberries ; tiny Greek
caps, all awry, and clinging to the dark hair, Heaven knows
how; every wild, quaint, bold, shy, pettish, madcap fancy
had its illustration in a dress ; and every fancy was as dead
forgotten by its owner, in the tumult of merriment, as if the
three old aqueducts that still remain entire had brought
Lethe into Rome, upon their sturdy arches, that morning.

The carriages were now three abreast; in broader places
four; often stationary for a long time together; always one
close mass of variegated brightness ; showing, the whole street-
full, through the storm of flowers, like flowers of a larger
growth themselves. In some, the horses were richly caparisoned
in magnificent trappings; in others they were decked from
head to tail, with flowing ribbons. Some were driven by coach-
men with enormous double faces : one face leering at the horses :
the other cocking its extraordinary eyes into the carriage :
and both rattling again, under the hail of sugar-plums.


Other drivers were attired as women, wearing long ringlets
and no bonnets, and looking more ridiculous in any real
difficulty with the horses (of which, in such a concourse, there
were a great many) than tongue can tell, or pen describe.
Instead of sitting in the carnages, upon the seats, the hand-
some Roman women, to see and to be seen the better, sit in
the heads of the barouches, at this time of general licence,
with their feet upon the cushions and oh the flowing skirts
and dainty waists, the blessed shapes and laughing faces, the
free, good-humoured, gallant figures that they make ! There
were great vans, too, full of handsome girls thirty, or more
together, perhaps and the broadsides that were poured into,
and poured out of, these fairy fire-shops, splashed the air with
flowers and bon-bons for ten minutes at a time. Carriages,
delayed long in one place, would begin a deliberate engage-
ment with other carriages, or with people at the lower
windows ; and the spectators at some upper balcony or
window, joining in the fray, and attacking both parties,
would empty down great bags of confetti, that descended like
a cloud, and in an instant made them white as millers. Still,
carriages on carriages, dresses on dresses, colours on colours,
crowds upon crowds, without end. Men and boys clinging
to the wheels of coaches, and holding on behind, and follow-
ing in their wake, and diving in among the horses 1 feet to
pick up scattered flowers to sell again ; maskers on foot (the
drollest generally) in fantastic exaggerations of court-dresses,
surveying the throng through enormous eye-glasses, and
always transported with an ecstasy of love, on the discovery
of any particularly old lady at a window ; long strings of
Policinelli, laying about them with blown bladders at the
ends of sticks ; a waggon-full of madmen, screaming and tear-
ing to the life ; a coach-full of grave mamelukes, with their

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 36 of 43)