Elihu Vedder.

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He went back on his friends however in one particular. He was
fond of expatiating to them on his intention of being buried in
Rome, and how he was going to leave a fund that would enable
them yearly to pour champagne on his grave yet he was per-
suaded to have his body taken home. He seemed always to feel
that he would die young. He had a habit when dining, no matter
where, of throwing out his hands ; then, of course, all the glasses
in his vicinity went by the board. This habit gave his dearest lady
friend, Mrs. H., an opportunity for showing her magnanimity,
for, seated next him wearing a new Worth dress, he indulged in
one of his displays and completely deluged the dress with red
wine. He was in despair, but she comforted him by saying it was
an old thing she was trying to wear out, and that she was glad it
happened, as it gave her a good excuse for getting rid of it.

And that was it. He was always breaking things and always
asking pardon. And this was his way until the very last ; for when
he was dying, surrounded by his grief-stricken friends, his very last
act was to throw out his arms in the old way, sweep a glass off the
night-stand, and say, as he heard it break, "I beg your pardon/*
He had always been pardoned in this world, and I dare say it was
not denied him in the next. I will take my chances with Rinie.

One day, when revisiting the glimpses of the moon, I bought
one of the two remaining little tables of the Caffe Greco around
which the boys used to sit in the good old days for they were


good old days, in spite of these superior times, and I cherish them ;
they are my only inheritance'.

The day I bought it they were putting on the door the an-
nouncement that the Caffe had been established just one hundred
years before. This little table stands by my bedside and I ought
to say that I hear the murmur of voices long gone and the merry
tales but I do not. It never says one word ; it knows too much.

In the long room, way back in the Caffe "The Omnibus"
the American and English artists used to congregate. This
room the modern proprietor has decorated with plaster bas-re-
liefs, portraits of the great men who used to frequent it, some of
whom are forgotten already. It is very foolish, but somehow I
imagined that when I left the place youth went with me. I have
been there lately, and to my amazement found that the whole
thing was being enacted over again. I suppose that when the new
boys get old and drop off, a new proprietor will put up a new set
of bas-reliefs.

Among the shades about the little table comes McDonald. I
do not remember much about him ; I remember him mostly from
having been the brother of Jock. Now McDonald himself was
a well-educated man, which his brother Jock was not. In that
respect Jock held the same relation to his brother that I held to
mine but in this respect only, for the humble Jock kept the
studio in order, paid the men, and was only McD.'s brother.

His reading was not extensive, but he had observed in his
brother's library that it took a great many volumes to make out
a complete set of Plutarch's Lives. So when one day a man said,
:< Jock, what would you do if a man treated you as this man has
treated me ? " he answered without hesitation : " I 'd kill um
I 'd kill um if he had as many lives as Plutarch /"


334 THE


This was a fine new story I took it home myself. It is some-
what shopworn now,A>ut so is "to be or not to be."

Jock used to call the aqueducts "adequates." Something like
our handsome Italian nyid who calls the Catacombs the "Cat-
atombe " - Catatomb^ just as good. As the little Caffe Greco
table perhaps wisely~nolds its tongue, I will drag a few things out
of the " Catatomb " of memory things which it must have
heard as we sat about it on the winter evenings when the "vino
caldo" smoked on the brass tray which it upheld trifles, but
yet having the aroma of those old days. My Caffe Greco days
were the three years spent in working and waiting for the event of
my marriage. When that took place of course the Caffe was
changed for the hospitable houses of our friends some older,
some younger. We belonged to the young set, but the sets dove-
tailed together very harmoniously. I knew very little, for instance,
of the Gibson period although I knew all I wanted to of his
fair pupil. I saw the ascetic Overbeck, walking about in the scene
of his former glory and old Mr. Severn, and have since re-
gretted that I did not realise how much of interest I might have
collected from him of the days of Shelley, Keats and Byron. By
the way, my friends George Simmonds and Charley Coleman in-
stalled themselves in the Keats apartment, and we revelled I fear
somewhat regardless of the poet's memory for we were desper-
ately enamoured of our own lively lives just then. After this time
came the period of the young married couples and dancing and
picnics, and struggles and sorrows which came to us all alike,
but which only served to draw us closer together all that in
due time, or as much of it as will prove interesting or amusing,
for it must be remembered these things are written " Just for



We used in those days to go out for long walks in the Cam-
pagna. On one of these occasions young Simmit was with us.
Now Simmit was witty and wise, but never pretended to be as
wise as Solomon, although as a matter of course he was supposed
to hold some of his relative's peculiar views. We had walked far
and were very hungry and thirsty, but were fortunate in finding
an osteria with its bush, and turned in, right glad to rest and re-
fresh ourselves. We had to take what we could get bread,
wine, ham and eggs. We drank and ate voraciously, Simmit keep-
ing up with the rest.

The weather had been menacing, but we were not prepared for
what followed. The sky darkened, there was a muttering of thun-
der, and the rain began to fall. Simmit went to the door to see
what our chances were of getting to Rome with dry skins. Just
then there came a blinding flash of lightning, followed by a tre-
mendous roar of thunder, and all Hell seemed to break loose.
Simmit coming back to the table, sat down, and quietly remarked
as if to himself, " By Jove, what a fearful pother about a little
pork!" Thus making another household word.

It was at the Caffe Greco Simmit used to hold forth on the
themes Astronomy and Natural History. I am sorry I cannot
remember more of the Natural History, for although not intended
for publication, his contributions to that science were varied and
valuable. I remember some of his observations on Astronomy.
He always began by saying it was most important to bear in
mind " that the moon revolves around the earth at right angles
and at great length." He would then allude to the study of the
globes celestial and terrestrial, and particularly the care needed
to keep them free from dust. "Some people cover them with
green baize, but I prefer brown Holland carefully hemmed by


a trustworthy seamstress." Before taking observations with the
telescope he strongly advised "first freeing the tube from nut-
shells or orange-peel, owing to the tiresome habits of children."
He also pointed out that it is quite useless to try to make observa-
tions of the heavenly bodies "while a friend playfully holds his
hat. over the end of the telescope." He considered the theodolite
a most valuable instrument "with the matting off, of course."
He was somewhat doubtful as to perihelions. He had "once kept
two in a bottle, but did not think they were very amusing." His
most astounding assertion was one in regard to Natural History,
a fact not generally known namely, that the " elephant gives
birth to its young in large and carefully corded packages." This
he usually kept to the last, and I give it as the last you will ever
hear through me of Simmit.

Having told of a storm in the Campagna and how it elicited an
opinion from Simmit which seemed far from justifying " the ways
of God to man," I will now try to give an account of another storm
not a real storm, an imitation storm, which our friend Casi-
miro caused to pass over his own placid features. His was
borrowed thunder, however, as he only pretended to give an imi-
tation of an imitation of what he had seen another do but you
felt, when he had smoothed his naturally bland face as a prelim-
inary, representing the quiet which goes before a storm, that so
far as it went, it the quiet could not be better expressed.
Gradually the serene brow would darken and a tremor of the eye-
lids and a quick sidelong glance showed where the sheet-lightning
was beginning to flash in the distance. Gradually the brow grew
more lowering, and flashes of the eyes from side to side more fre-
quent, and slight spasmodic openings of the mouth showed the
nearer approach of the tempest and the muttering of the thunder ;


then the eyes would suddenly open widely, and the mouth also
until with set, glaring eyes and a simultaneous chattering of the
mandibles, followed by an open-mouthed blank stare, was indi-
cated the final culminating crash. Then the features smoothed
over, the sun burst forth, and when Casimiro had fully resumed
his own peaceful face, no one could ever imagine it capable of
representing such a "pother."

Here, to keep up that assumption of vanity, which I seem to do
so easily, I feel like crying out with the little boy, "Me too! Me
too!" and will tell one of my own after-dinner tricks. It is a
little discovery of my own which would have covered Columbus
with confusion, and doubtless has by this time, he being immortal.
You ask the waiter for a couple of boiled eggs, but arrange before-
hand that one be hard-boiled, the other merely dipped in hot
water ; this is essential. When brought, they of course remind you
of Columbus ; you call him a duffer and offer to prove it, and also
show the superiority of our modern scientific methods over those
of his period. You say and be careful how you word it that
you will place an egg on the table, and when you take away your
hands, it will of itself, unaided, rise and stand on end for some
time. And in fact, if you place it on its side and give it a strong
twirl, it will rise and stand on end revolving for a long time. In
vain your friend with the other (soft) egg (but he must know no-
thing of that) tries to do the same, and you may borrow Mr. Doo-
ley's expression and tell him he may try till he " lays an egg him-
self" before succeeding. Better have a dish of unboiled eggs
brought with one hard-boiled previously marked which you
take for yourself, and set the whole table twirling eggs ; and all
your friends will look just like those people seen in woodcuts in
the "Boys' Own Book" looking at a scientific experiment in a


dark room. In short, a hard-boiled egg when twirled will stand on
end. Why in the name of goodness did I not think of saying that
before ?

It was once the fashion and still holds, to go in the season of the
artichoke (carcioffoli) across the river to the Ghetto to eat " car-
cioffoli alia Giudea " that is, cooked in the Jewish manner.
And they are very good, too, when washed down with the wine of
the Castelli, and eaten in good company. The place now in
vogue is Father Abraham's in the Ghetto ; but long before his
time, in the good old days, we used to go across the river. You
always went through the black and lofty kitchen, with its boiling
cauldrons of oil and the busy cooks ; that was part of the fun. The
artichokes are brought in, golden, and very crisp, but you are apt
to find a few sharp points. One time, when our friend Griswold
was along and seemed happy, he stopped eating suddenly, as if
he had trodden on a tooth, and observed gravely, "I see that in
eating carcioffoli, one must chaw carefully" -which saying in
its day was considered rather neat.

Pepoon at Pompeji. The name of Pepoon is pleasing, and he
had a pleasing adventure. It was this.

P. and a party of friends went to Pompeji in a vettura. They
were a jolly crowd and had a good time. Now P. is a very stout
man, but it is not all fat, as I know from his having made me feel
his muscles. He was as hard as a board a solid man.

While there, he stood watching a man shovelling earth into a
cart from a newly excavated house. The man was on the other
side of the cart and the guard was on an eminence close by, gazing
at the surrounding country. The cart was full, so a lump of com-
pacted ashes rolled off the top of the load and fell at Pepoon's


feet. A suspicion flashed through his mind, and he avoided flying
in the face of Providence by putting his foot on it. The cartman
was not looking, the guard was still gazing, and Pepoon, affecting
to tie his shoe, stooped, and quickly put the lump in his pocket.
During the return to Naples, Pepoon's abstracted air had been
noticed, but nothing much was said about it. From the moment
he had secured the lump he had never ceased to fool with it : his
hand was always in his pocket picking and rubbing at the lump,
till something hard seemed to be developing. From the weight
he felt sure it was bronze, and as nearly as he could guess it
seemed a figure ; this grew to be almost a certainty.

With the excuse of washing and dressing for dinner, he rushed
to his room, locked the door, and drew from its hiding-place a
beautiful little bronze statue. Sacrificing a tooth-brush, he soon
fully developed a figure of Hercules, naked as the day he was
born, but with his club and lions' skin mantle. But Pepoon kept
still and never felt safe until he set it on his library table at home
in New York. He told me afterward that he had shown it to
J. Q. A. Ward, the sculptor, and that Ward fell in love with it,
and would have bought it from him at his own price.

If Pepoon was lucky, he was also wise. He held that pure water
was the only thing for good whiskey ; he only drank the best
whiskey, and would say when the twowere properly proportioned,
"Now, don't drink that just yet; let us converse affably a few
moments ; - it ripens it."

There were two men of this period who passed over the surface
of events without making a stir and departed without leaving a
ripple, and yet I remember them so well I suppose because
they were such beautiful specimens of background or the sel-
dom heard cymbal and triangle in the orchestra. Of the latter,


Montie represented at times the loud cymbal and Haviland the
tinkling triangle or, better, body and soul.

Montie was remarkable for there being so little to remark about
him. He was of French origin, was built like a Hercules, and
looked, with his Turkish fez on, just like a strong, patient, good-
natured Turk. I never saw him angry, but would have given him
a wide berth in such a case. He was neither temperate nor intem-
perate, but smoked a good deal. He was never idle, but worked
at a good easy jog-trot, so many hours a day, and this, as he sel-
dom sold anything, had covered the walls of his studio from
floor to ceiling with pictures all of the same size and handling,
and all of Constantinople only the point of view differing.

He was never in debt so far as I knew, but evidently lived
always on the verge of it. One day Roanoke sent him up a pur-
chaser, and he sold a picture. Coming right down he said, " Roan-
oke, give me a drink, I've sold a picture." It never entered his
innocent mind to treat Roanoke. He had never been known to
treat any one ; he never had the money. I once remarked to him,
"Montie, you seem to be a pretty contented sort of fellow." He
answered, " I believe I must be. You give me food enough to eat,
wine enough to drink, tobacco to smoke, warm clothes in winter
and cool in summer, a room to work and sleep in, and perhaps
a French novel and I really cannot think of anything else
I need."

How such a man could die I can't imagine but he did. His
pictures paid for his funeral and not a cent was left over. No one
was glad or sorry ; but some one once noticed that his place at
the Caffe Greco was vacant.

If I have put Montie under the heading of Mediocrity, I surely
must put good old Mr. Haviland under the heading of Modesty,


for he was so modest that he had never attempted to do anything in
his life, and thus could never be mediocre ; on the contrary he had
quite a reputation for being good for nothing. Good he certainly
was, and every one was his friend, so among them was always
found a quiet corner where he could be librarian or do something
which would not interrupt his calm meditations. For in his bon-
net he had a bee buzzing quite imperceptibly. I liked to be with
him ; he was so soothing. He was a Swedenborgian, and had all
of Swedenborg's works, which he kept on a long shelf. I read
about three feet, or a good yard of them, and at one time knew
the meaning of discreet degrees, but now I only use the expression
and think it a good one.

He had the head of a sage, the smile of a saint, and a slight
stutter. One day he made this announcement, as the result of
years of experience : "A man may be as wise as Solomon and
as strong as Samson but if he has n't got the money he can't
pay his debts"; thus making a much appreciated Household

I will add one more shade to these background people and let
them all fade away together. Palo is a little place on the coast
near Rome. In America you would get there in about fifteen min-
utes by rail ; here it takes much longer. It is a fever-stricken place,
but if you eat well and stay close to the sea, and are cheerful, and
don't go there during the fever season, it does very well. When
the bathers come in crowded trains, it is lively ; when they leave,
the evenings are deadly dull. It was then that Sor Adriano was at
his best, for he was a man for ever joking. Why this fun-loving,
caffe-haunting Italian was banished to Palo was only known to
himself and family, for evidently they were well off, and he evi-
dently was not ; but so it was. Once an inhabitant reproved him,


saying, " Sor Adriano, you are never serious ; you are eternally
joking." "Why," said he in return, "I am not half as funny as I
could be ; now if I should be serious with you, that would be funny
indeed." It was at Palo I performed the surgical operation of
cutting off that poor boy's fingers who had tried to play with a
threshing-machine. Also there I painted some of my best little
pictures but Prince Odescalchi has restored a fine old castle
and ruined the place by cutting off the beach from the public.

I shall write of Rauch, not to fill or round out these reminis-
cences of people I have known here, but because the spirit moves
me to write of Rauch. In fact I fear that there will be no round-
ing off, but that I shall stop when I have nothing more to say or
most likely long before that.

Rauch was poor ; his father, an eminent painter of his day, left
him a very little income, but as he gave it mostly away, he had
to work hard to make up enough to keep him, his very little horse,
and his very big Campagna dog. For the sake of the horse he had
always to live in a studio on the ground floor for they all lived
together in one large room. I only knew him well after the death
of the horse, an event which took place in the Via Margutta and
was made the occasion of a demonstrazione on the part of his pen-
sioners, the models, who assembled in large numbers, half in
sport and half in real sympathy ; for Rauch was a real friend to
them in their troubles and was not only loved by them, but by that
somewhat heartless thing, Society, the doors of which seemed
always open to Rauch.

The fact is, Rauch loved everybody, but did not write poems
about it, but put his hand into those poor old check-breeches pock-
ets of his and gave not only his sympathy but his money, when he



happened to have any and the result was that high and low
loved Rauch. The ensemble of Rauch was composed of a thin
man in an equally thin suit of check, a large grey shawl and a
large white dog; add to this an infant's smile, and you have
Rauch. After the death of his horse he came to live on the floor
below me in the Via San Basilio. Whenever I heard the long-


drawn-out preparatory notes of the nightingale or the song of the
speckled starling or the cluck of the quail, I would go to my bal-
cony and look down, and Rauch would look up with a smile and
say that it was a " passa tempo " like any other. I presume all the
birds knew him ; certainly the blind, the halt, and the lame did.
The hour I went to my studio was the hour he was returning from
his sketching, always with the shawl, his traps, and the dog. He
never wore, winter or summer, anything but that old check suit
of his all the time I knew him, except that he had a rusty suit of
black when he went into society ; even then bets might have been


made as to under which ear the bow of his cravat would be worn.
I used to say, " But you ought to wear something warmer this cold
weather." His answer was that he was used to it. " But you at
least ought to have a fire in your studio " (it was such a little one) ;
but he would say, " Look at the dog ; what a thick coat he has ; he
could n't stand a fire." " But why do you give up your bed to the
dog?" Then it would be, "That's just it; you see he could n't
stand a fire, but he suffers from rheumatism, and so I let him take
the bed, and covered up with the shawl he seems to do very well."

" And so you have been to Egypt," he said to me ; " I have often
wanted to go there, and would go but " Here he lowered his
voice, and pointing over his shoulder continued, "While he lives,
how can I ? " " But, Rauch, you ought to eat meat and drink
wine;. you are running down." "Meat? yes, of course I get it
for the dog; he must have his meat, but I don't think it agrees
with me, and wine I can't stand it as I used to do."

The fact was, Rauch was a very sick man. The dog went to
where dogs go, and Rauch went on painting his water-colours and
thus earned his bread and water, but gave more than half the
bread to the birds. We all became anxious about him. It was
something wrong with his stomach. It never changed his sweet
childlike smile, and smiling he faded away. He had a splendid
funeral : people not only sent their carriages, but went themselves.

Shortly after his death I was out on the Campagna : the sky-
larks were sending down floods of song ; and I most certainly
heard the long prelude of the nightingale coming down from
the sky together with the shrill delight of the larks. Now the
nightingale, although of course he sings all days, does so always
in the dense shade of the ilex ; then how was it possible in an
open field ? Could it have been ? Of course not.



My friend Costa and I always maintained against odds that
"Tintoretto " had a sincere love for a certain quality which he
achieved in his pictures a broad atmospheric quality ; this he
was successful in, and the technic was also his own invention, and
he was quite right when he said it would be hard to imitate.
Whether he was right when he turned his pictures upside down
and asked you if you did not feel dizzy, or when he told you to go
up on the Pincio and look at St. Peter's through your legs is
another matter. He once painted a picture of the Lagoons at
Venice (his happy hunting-ground), which I have always thought
to be a great picture, in regard to this broad quality.

He was fond of making three qualities out of this one and insist-
ing a picture should have these three things : namely, rest, tranquil-
lity and repose. As a man he was singularly deficient in all three.
As I have said, this quality he loved and his technic was his own
invention. He used to make a decoction of Spanish aloes which he
passed over his pictures to give them tone. "Now what is the
greatest quality in a painting ?" he would ask; " toone toone"
(for he had quite caught the English accent). "And what is
toone?" "Spanish aloes!" A good specimen of his logic.

To leave out " Tintoretto " in describing the Rome of those
days would be like leaving the big drum out of a band, or, in
describing Whistler, leaving out the white lock ; so I feel I am
committing no indiscretion in telling of two incidents, one
always told about him, and the other told me by the ladies
themselves, to whom it happened. It appears that T. was sit-

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 20 of 29)