What is there in Rome for me to see that others have not seen before me? What is there for me to touch that others have not touched? What is there for me to feel, to learn, to hear, to know, that shall thrill me before it pass to others? What can I discover?--Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. One charm of travel dies here.
Some Cross Cultural Comparisons
But if I were only a Roman!--If, added to my own I could be gifted with modern Roman sloth, modern Roman superstition, and modern Roman boundlessness of ignorance, what bewildering worlds of unsuspected wonders I would discover! Ah, if I were only a habitant of the Campagna five and twenty miles from Rome! Then I would travel.
But then I will let the reader go to the text in The Innocents Abroad: Chapter 26.
On Tour Guides
In this place I may as well jot down a chapter concerning those necessary nuisances, European guides. Many a man has wished in his heart he could do without his guide; but knowing he could not, has wished he could get some amusement out of him as a remuneration for the affliction of his society. We accomplished this latter matter, and if our experience can be made useful to others they are welcome to it.
You may, again, visit The innocents Abroad: Chapter 27 for this humorous sketch.
It begins to dawn upon me, now, that possibly, what I have been taking for uniform ugliness in the galleries may be uniform beauty after all. I honestly hope it is, to others, but certainly it is not to me. Perhaps the reason I used to enjoy going to the Academy of Fine Arts in New York was because there were but a few hundred paintings in it, and it did not surfeit me to go through the list. I suppose the Academy was bacon and beans in the Forty-Mile Desert, and a European gallery is a state dinner of thirteen courses. One leaves no sign after him of the one dish, but the thirteen frighten away his appetite and give him no satisfaction.
There is one thing I am certain of, though. With all the Michael Angelos, the Raphaels, the Guidos and the other old masters, the sublime history of Rome remains unpainted! They painted Virgins enough, and popes enough and saintly scarecrows enough, to people Paradise, almost, and these things are all they did paint. “Nero fiddling o’er burning Rome,” the assassination of Caesar, the stirring spectacle of a hundred thousand people bending forward with rapt interest, in the coliseum, to see two skillful gladiators hacking away each others’ lives, a tiger springing upon a kneeling martyr--these and a thousand other matters which we read of with a living interest, must be sought for only in books--not among the rubbish left by the old masters--who are no more, I have the satisfaction of informing the public.
They did paint, and they did carve in marble, one historical scene, and one only, (of any great historical consequence.) And what was it and why did they choose it, particularly? It was the Rape of the Sabines, and they chose it for the legs and busts.
I like to look at statues, however, and I like to look at pictures, also--even of monks looking up in sacred ecstacy, and monks looking down in meditation, and monks skirmishing for something to eat--and therefore I drop ill nature to thank the papal government for so jealously guarding and so industriously gathering up these things; and for permitting me, a stranger and not an entirely friendly one, to roam at will and unmolested among them, charging me nothing, and only requiring that I shall behave myself simply as well as I ought to behave in any other man’s house. I thank the Holy Father right heartily, and I wish him long life and plenty of happiness.
The Popes have long been the patrons and preservers of art, just as our new, practical Republic is the encourager and upholder of mechanics. In their Vatican is stored up all that is curious and beautiful in art; in our Patent Office is hoarded all that is curious or useful in mechanics. When a man invents a new style of horse-collar or discovers a new and superior method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent to him that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient statue in the Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold coin. We can make something of a guess at a man’s character by the style of nose he carries on his face. The Vatican and the Patent Office are governmental noses, and they bear a deal of character about them.
The guide showed us a colossal statue of Jupiter, in the Vatican, which he said looked so damaged and rusty--so like the God of the Vagabonds--because it had but recently been dug up in the Campagna. He asked how much we supposed this Jupiter was worth? I replied, with intelligent promptness, that he was probably worth about four dollars--may be four and a half. “A hundred thousand dollars!” Ferguson said. Ferguson said, further, that the Pope permits no ancient work of this kind to leave his dominions. He appoints a commission to examine discoveries like this and report upon the value; then the Pope pays the discoverer one-half of that assessed value and takes the statue. He said this Jupiter was dug from a field which had just been bought for thirty-six thousand dollars, so the first crop was a good one for the new farmer. I do not know whether Ferguson always tells the truth or not, but I suppose he does. I know that an exorbitant export duty is exacted upon all pictures painted by the old masters, in order to discourage the sale of those in the private collections. I am satisfied, also, that genuine old masters hardly exist at all, in America, because the cheapest and most insignificant of them are valued at the price of a fine farm. I proposed to buy a small trifle of a Raphael, myself, but the price of it was eighty thousand dollars, the export duty would have made it considerably over a hundred, and so I studied on it awhile and concluded not to take it.
Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth TO MEN OF GOOD WILL!
I wish here to mention an inscription I have seen, before I forget it:
“Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth TO MEN OF GOOD WILL!” It is not good scripture, but it is sound Catholic and human nature. This is in letters of gold around the apsis of a mosaic group at the side of the ‘scala santa’, church of St. John Lateran, the Mother and Mistress of all the Catholic churches of the world. The group represents the Saviour, St. Peter, Pope Leo, St. Silvester, Constantine and Charlemagne. Peter is giving the pallium to the Pope, and a standard to Charlemagne. The Saviour is giving the keys to St. Silvester, and a standard to Constantine. No prayer is offered to the Saviour, who seems to be of little importance any where in Rome; but an inscription below says, “Blessed Peter, give life to Pope Leo and victory to king Charles.” It does not say, “Intercede for us, through the Saviour, with the Father, for this boon,” but “Blessed Peter, give it us.”
In all seriousness--without meaning to be frivolous--without meaning to be irreverent, and more than all, without meaning to be blasphemous,--I state as my simple deduction from the things I have seen and the things I have heard, that the Holy Personages rank thus in Rome:
First--“The Mother of God"--otherwise the Virgin Mary.
Fourth--Some twelve or fifteen canonized Popes and martyrs.
Fifth--Jesus Christ the Saviour--(but always as an infant in arms.)
I may be wrong in this--my judgment errs often, just as is the case with other men’s--but it is my judgment, be it good or bad. Just here I will mention something that seems curious to me. There are no “Christ’s Churches” in Rome, and no “Churches of the Holy Ghost,” that I can discover. There are some four hundred churches, but about a fourth of them seem to be named for the Madonna and St. Peter. There are so many named for Mary that they have to be distinguished by all sorts of affixes, if I understand the matter rightly. Then we have churches of St. Louis; St. Augustine; St. Agnes; St. Calixtus; St. Lorenzo in Lucina; St. Lorenzo in Damaso; St. Cecilia; St. Athanasius; St. Philip Neri; St. Catherine, St. Dominico, and a multitude of lesser saints whose names are not familiar in the world--and away down, clear out of the list of the churches, comes a couple of hospitals: one of them is named for the Saviour and the other for the Holy Ghost!
Day after day and night after night we have wandered among the crumbling wonders of Rome; day after day and night after night we have fed upon the dust and decay of five-and-twenty centuries--have brooded over them by day and dreampt of them by night till sometimes we seemed moldering away ourselves, and growing defaced and cornerless, and liable at any moment to fall a prey to some antiquary and be patched in the legs, and “restored” with an unseemly nose, and labeled wrong and dated wrong, and set up in the Vatican for poets to drivel about and vandals to scribble their names on forever and forevermore.
But the surest way to stop writing about Rome is to stop. I wished to write a real “guide-book” chapter on this fascinating city, but I could not do it, because I have felt all the time like a boy in a candy-shop--there was every thing to choose from, and yet no choice. I have drifted along hopelessly for a hundred pages of manuscript without knowing where to commence. I will not commence at all. Our passports have been examined. We will go to Naples.