Cambridge Sketches
by Frank Preston Stearns

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Leaves From a Roman Diary

February, 1869

(Rewritten in 1897)

As I look out of P——’s windows on the Via Frattina every morning at the plaster bust of Pius IX., I like his face more and more, and feel that he is not an unworthy companion to George Washington and the young Augustus. [Footnote: Three busts in a row.] I think there may be something of the fox, or rather of the crow, in his composition, but his face has the wholeness of expression which shows a sound and healthy mind,—not a patchwork character. I was pleased to hear that he was originally a liberal; and the first, after the long conservative reaction of Metternich, to introduce reforms in the states of the Church. The Revolution of 1848 followed too quickly, and the extravagant proceedings of Mazzini and Garibaldi drove him into the ranks of the conservatives, where he has remained ever since. Carlyle compared him to a man who had an old tin-kettle which he thought he would mend, but as soon as he began to tinker it the thing went to pieces in his hands. The Revolution of 1848 proved an unpractical experiment, but it opened the way for Victor Emanuel and a more sound liberalism in 1859.

We attended service at the Sistine Chapel yesterday in company with two young ladies from Philadelphia, who wore long black veils so that Pius IX. might not catch the least glimpse of their pretty faces. I was disappointed in my hope of obtaining a view of the Pope’s face. Cardinal Bonaparte sat just in front of us, a man well worth observing. He looks to be the ablest living member of that family, and bears a decided resemblance to the old Napoleon. His features are strong, his eyes keen, and he wears his red cap in a jaunty manner on the side of his head. When the blessing was passed around the conclave of Cardinals, Bonaparte transferred it to his next neighbor as if he meant to put it through him. It is supposed that he will be the successor of Pius IX.; but, as Rev. Samuel Longfellow says, that will depend very much upon whether Louis Napoleon is alive at the time of the election.

The singing in the Sistine Chapel is not worth listening to, besides having unpleasant associations; so during the service we had an excellent opportunity to study Michael Angelo’s Last Judgment—for there was nothing else to be done.

Kugler considers the picture an inharmonious composition, and that nothing could be more disagreeable than the stout figure of St. Bartholomew holding a flaying knife in one hand and his own mortal hide in the other. This is not a pleasant spectacle; but Michael Angelo did not paint for other people’s pleasure, but rather to satisfy his own conscience. It was customary to introduce St. Bartholomew in this manner, for there was no other way in which he could be identified. We found the towering form of St. Christopher on the left side of the Saviour rather more of an eyesore than St. Bartholomew, whose expression of awe partially redeems his appearance.

The Saviour has a herculean frame, but his face and head are magnificent. He has no beard, and his hair is arranged in festoons which gives the impression of a wreath of grape leaves. The expression of his face is the noblest I have seen in any work of art in Rome; the face that has risen through suffering; calm, compassionate, immutable. The Madonna seems like a girl beside this stalwart form, and she draws close to her son with naive timidity at the vast concourse which crowds about them. Her face is expressive of resignation and compassion rather than any joyful feeling.

The left side of this vast painting, in which the bodies of men and women are rising from their graves, is less interesting than the right side, where the saints and blessed are gathered together above and the sinners are hurled down below. Michael Angelo’s saints and apostles look like vigorous men of affairs, and are all rather stout and muscular. The attitudes of some of them are by no means conventional, but they are natural and unconstrained. St. Peter, holding forth the keys, is a magnificent figure. The group of the saved who are congregated above the saints is the pleasantest portion of the picture. Here Damion and Pythias embrace each other; a young husband springs to greet the wife whom he lost too early; a poor unfortunate to whom life was a curse is timidly raising his eyes, scarcely believing that he is in paradise; men with fine philosophic heads converse together; and a number of honest serving- women express their astonishment with such gestures as are customary among that class of persons.

In the lunettes above, wingless angels are hovering with the cross, the column, and other instruments of Christ’s agony, which they clasp with a loving devotion. In the lower right-hand corner, Charon appears (taken from pagan mythology) with a boat-load of sinners, whom he smites with his oar according to Dante’s description. He is truly a terrible demon, and his fiery eyes gleam across the length of the chapel. Minos, who receives the boat-load in the likeness of Biagio da Cesena, the pope’s master of ceremonies, is another to match him. A modern fop with banged hair is stepping from the boat to the shore of hell. This is said to be the best painted portion of the picture,—most life-like and free from mannerism. It is a mighty work, and too little appreciated, like many other works of art, chiefly owing to the critics, who do not understand it, and write a lingo of their own which is not easy to make out and does not come to much after all. [Footnote: All this shows what a heart there was in Michael Angelo, and dissipates the assertion of a recent English biographer that Michael Angelo painted masks instead of faces, with little or no expression.]

After the service we went into St. Peter’s with the ladies, and walked the whole circuit of the church. Our ladies talked meanwhile exactly as they might at an American watering-place, without apparently observing anything about them. When we came to the statue of St. Peter, P—— said, pointing to the big toe: “You see there the mischief that can be done by too much kissing.” Nearly a third of the toe has been worn away by the oscular applications of the faithful.

Feb. 4.—Dr. B. B. Appleton, an American resident of Florence, is here on a flying visit. We have heard from many sources of the kindness of this man to American travellers, especially to young students. In fact, he took P—— into his house while at Florence, and entertained him in the most generous manner. He has done the same for Mrs. Julia Ward Howe and many others. He lives with an Italian family who were formerly in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and who were ruined by the recent change of rulers. Dr. Appleton boards with them, and helps to support them in other ways. In spite of his goodness he does not seem to be happy.

One of his chief friends in Florence is Fraulein Assig, who was banished from Prussia together with her publisher for editing Von Humboldt’s memoirs, which were perhaps too severely critical of the late king of Prussia. The book, however, had an excellent sale, and she now lives contentedly in Florence, where she is well acquainted both with prominent liberals and leading members of the government. Dr. Appleton reports that a cabinet officer lately said to her, “We may move to Rome at any time.”

Louis Napoleon is the main-stay of the papacy, and the only one it has. The retrocession of Venetia to Italy has separated Austria effectually from the states of the Church, and the Spaniards are too much taken up with their internal affairs to interfere at present in the pope’s behalf. Napoleon’s health is known to be delicate, and prayers for his preservation are offered up daily in Roman churches. If he should die before his son comes of age great political changes may be looked for.

Meanwhile murmurs of discontent are heard on all sides. The city is unclean and badly cared for. The civil offices are said to be filled mainly with nephews of cardinals and other prelates. Even Italians of the lower classes know enough of political economy to foresee that if Rome was the capital of Italy it would be more prosperous than it is at present. The value of land would rise, and all the small trades would flourish. This is what is really undermining the power of Pius IX. A most curious sign of the times is the general belief among the Roman populace that the Pope has an evil eye. How long since this originated I have not been able to learn; but it is not uncommon for those who chance to see the pope in his carriage, especially women, to go immediately into the nearest church for purification. A few days since the train from Rome to Florence ran into a buffalo, and the locomotive was thrown off the track. Even this was attributed to the fact that the engineer had encountered the pope near the Quirinal the previous Sunday.

Dr. Appleton told us a story at dinner about the youth of Louis Napoleon. His Florentine housekeeper, Gori, remembers Hortense and her two sons very distinctly; for Louis once met him in the Boboli Gardens and insisted on his smoking a cigar, in order to laugh at him when it had made him sick,—as it was Gori’s first experience with tobacco. He also says that on one occasion when the young princes had some sort of a feast together, the others all gave the caterer from five to ten francs as a pour-boir, but Louis Napoleon gave him a twenty-franc piece. When his companions expressed their surprise at this Louis said: “It is only right that I should do so, for some day I shall be Emperor.”

As a rule few Italian men attend church. The women go; but the men, if not heretical, are at least rather indifferent, on the subject of religion. Macaulay refers to this fact in his essay on Macchiavelli, and Dr. Appleton, who has lived among them, knows it to be true. To make amends for it, English and American ladies are returning to the fold of St. Peter in large numbers; and many of them bring their male relatives eventually with them. I believe this to be largely a matter of fashion. They have always accepted the Protestant creed as a matter of course, and coming here, where they are separated from all previous associations, they find themselves out of tune with their surroundings. They feel lonely, as all travellers do at times, and being in need of sympathy are easily impressed by those about them. Most of them have Catholic maids, who often serve as stepping-stones to the acquaintance of the priest. Conversion gives them a kind of importance, which Catholic ladies of rank know how to make the most of. The external grandeur of Catholicism as we see it here has also its due influence.

Feb. 9.—I was greatly disgusted last evening while calling on two New England ladies, who were formerly my schoolmates, to have a pompous priest walk in and take possession of the parlor, spoiling my pleasant tete-a-tete. He sat in the middle of the room like a pail of water, and stared about in the most ill-mannered way. My friends remarked that he was the abbate of the Pantheon, and he inquired if I had been to see it; to which I replied that I had, and that I considered it the noblest building in Rome. This seemed to be a new idea to him, and one which he did not altogether like. Not long since I came upon a priest drinking wine with some young artists, and laughing at jokes for which a stage-driver might be ashamed. There are fine exceptions among them, but as a class they appear to me coarse and even vicious,—by no means spiritually attractive. Monks are not attractive either, but in their way they are much more interesting. Religion seems to be meat and drink to them.

P—— and I were invited to dine by an American Catholic lady who was formerly a friend of Margaret Fuller, and who having been incautiously left in Rome by her husband, embraced Catholicism before he was fairly across the Atlantic,—to his lasting sorrow and vexation. Being in an influential position she has made many converts, and it is said that she has come to Rome on the present occasion to be sainted by the pope. She has already loaned P—— a biography of Father Lacordaire, which he has not had leisure to read. He referred to it, as soon as politeness permitted, with a shrewd inquiry as to whether the book did not give rather a rose-colored view of practical Catholicism. Mrs. X—— turned to her daughters and said with all imaginable sweetness: “Just hear him,— the poor child!” Then she went off into a long, eloquent, and really interesting discourse on the true, sole, and original Christian Church. She admitted, however, that during the sixteenth century the Christian faith had much fallen into decay, and that Martin Luther was not to be blamed for his exhortations against the evil practices of popes and cardinals. Now that the Church had been reformed it was altogether different. She told us how she became converted. It came to her like a vision on a gloomy winter day, while she was looking into the embers of a wood-fire.

Then she talked about Margaret Fuller, whom she called the most brilliant woman she had ever known. She had never loved another woman so much; but it was a dangerous love. If she wrote a rather gushing letter to Margaret, she would receive in reply, “How could you have written so beautifully! You must have been inspired.” This, she said, had all the effect of flattery without being intended for it, and was so much the more mischievous. “Emerson and Margaret Fuller,” said Mrs. X——, “put inspiration in the place of religion. They believed that some people had direct communication with the Almighty.” P—— and I thought this might be true of Miss Fuller, but doubted it in Emerson’s case.

Miss X—— told me that she had lately ascended to the rotunda of the Capitol, from which the pope’s flag flies all day, and that she had asked the Swiss guard what he would do if she hoisted the tricolor there. He replied: “I should shoot you.” Nothing could be more kind or truly courteous than the manner in which these ladies treated us.

Another distinguished convert here is Mrs. Margaret Eveleth, a rare, spirituelle woman, who was born within a mile of my father’s house. She was formerly a Unitarian, but soon became a Catholic on coming to Rome. While she was in process of transition from one church to the other she wrote a number of letters to her former pastor in New York, requesting information on points of faith. Not one of these letters was ever answered, and it is incredible to suppose that they would not have been if he had received them. It is highly probable that they never left Rome. I have myself been warned to attach my stamps to letters firmly, so that they may not be stolen in passing through the Post-office. Postage here is also double what it is in Florence.

Feb. 12.—I have been looking for some time to find a good picture of Marcus Aurelius, and have generally become known among Roman photographers as the man who wants the Marc Aureli. This morning I had just left my room when I discovered Rev. Samuel Longfellow in a photograph shop in the Via Frattina. “I was just coming to see you,” he said; “and I stopped here to look for a photograph of Marcus Aurelius." He laughed when I told him that I had been on the same quest, and suggested that we should walk to the Capitol together and look at the statue and bust of our favorite emperor. “I think he was the greatest of the Romans,” said Mr. Longfellow, “if not the noblest of all the ancients.”

So we walked together—as we never shall again—through the long Corso with its array of palaces, past the column of Aurelius and the fragments of Trajan’s forum, until we reached the ancient Capitol of Rome, rearranged by Michael Angelo. Here we stood before the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, and considered how it might be photographed to advantage. “I do not think,” said Rev. Mr. Longfellow, “that we can obtain a satisfactory picture of it. The face is too dark to be expressive, and it is the man’s face that I want; and I suppose you do also.”

I asked him how he could explain the creation of such a noble statue in the last decline of Greek art; he said he would not attempt to explain it except on the ground that things do not always turn out as critics and historians would have them. It was natural that the arts should revive somewhat under the patronage of Hadrian and the Antonines.

We went into the museum of the Capitol to look for the bust of the young Aurelius, which shone like a star (to use Homer’s expression) among its fellows, but we discovered from the earth-stains on portions of it why the photographers had not succeeded better with it. We decided that our best resource would be to have Mr. Appleton’s copy of it photographed, and Rev. Mr. Longfellow agreed to undertake the business with me in the forenoon of the next day.

The busts of the Roman emperors were interesting because their characters are so strongly marked in history. The position would seem to have made either brutes or heroes of them. Tiberius, who was no doubt the natural son of Augustus, resembles him as a donkey does a horse. Caligula, Nero, and Domitian had small, feminine features; Nero a bullet-head and sensual lips, but the others quite refined. During the first six years of Nero’s reign he was not so bad as he afterwards became; and I saw an older bust of him in Paris which is too horrible to be looked at more than once. Vespasian has a coarse face, but wonderfully good-humored; and Titus, called “the delight of mankind,” looks like an improvement on Augustus. The youthful Commodus bears a decided resemblance to his father, and there is no indication in his face to suggest the monster which he finally became.

Early in the next forenoon I reached the Hotel Costanzi in good season and inquired for the Rev. Mr. Longfellow. He soon appeared, together with Mr. T. G. Appleton, who was evidently pleased at my interest in the young Aurelius, and remarked that it was a more interesting work than the young Augustus. The bust had been sent to William Story’s studio to be cleaned, and thither we all proceeded in the best possible spirits.

We found a photographer named Giovanni Braccia on the floor a piano above Mr. Story; and after a lengthy discussion with him, in which Mr. Longfellow was the leading figure, he agreed to take the photographs at two napoleons a dozen. [Footnote: These pictures proved to be fine reproductions, and are still to be met with in Boston and Cambridge parlors.] When the bust was brought in Mr. Longfellow called my attention to the incisions representing pupils in the eyes, which he said were a late introduction in sculpture, and not generally considered an improvement. After this Mr. Appleton called to us to come with him to the studio of an English painter in the same building, whose name I cannot now recollect. He was the type of a graceful, animated young artist, and had just finished a painting representing ancient youths and maidens in a procession with the light coming from the further side, so that their faces were mostly in shadow, with bright line along the profile,—an effect which it requires skill to render.

On returning to the street we looked into Mr. Story’s outer room again, where the casts of all his statues were seated in a double row like persons at a theatre. Mr. Appleton was rather severe in his criticism of them, though he admitted that the Cleopatra (which I believe was a replica) had a finely modulated face.

Feb. 15.—Warrington Wood invited P—— and myself to lunch with him in his studio, and at the appointed time a waiter appeared from the Lapre with a great tin box on his shoulder filled with spaghetti, roast goat, and other Italian dishes. We had just spread these on a table in front of the clay model of Michael and Satan, when Wood’s marble- cutter rushed in to announce the King and Queen of Naples. Wood hastily threw a green curtain over the dishes, while P—— and I retreated to the further end of the room.

The Queen of Naples is a fine-looking and spirited person, still quite young, and talks English well. She conversed with Wood and asked him a number of questions about his group, and also about the stag-hound, Eric, that was standing sentinel. The King said almost nothing, and moving about as if he know not what to do with himself, finally backed up against the table where our lunch was covered by the green cloth. I think he had an idea of sitting down on it, but the dishes set up such a clatter that he beat a hasty retreat. The King did not move a muscle of his countenance, but the Queen looked around and said something to him in Italian, laughing pleasantly. She is said to be friendly to Americans and is quite intimate with Miss Harriet Hosmer. She is at least a woman of noble courage, and when Garibaldi besieged Naples she went on to the ramparts and rallied the soldiers with the shells bursting about her.

They subscribed themselves in Wood’s register under the name of Bourbon, and after their departure we found our lunch cold, but perhaps we relished it better for this visitation of royalty. Then we all went to the carnival, where an Italian lazzaroni attempted to pick Wood’s pocket, but was caught in the act and soundly kicked by Wood.

This was the most entertaining event of the afternoon. The best part of the carnival was the quantity of fresh flowers that were brought in from the country and sold at very moderate prices. P—— distinguished himself throwing bouquets to ladies in the balconies. It is said that he has an admirer among them. For the first hour or so I found it entertaining enough, but after that I became weary of its endless repetition. Eighty years since Goethe, seated in one of these balconies, was obliged to ask for paper and pencil to drive away ennui, as he afterwards confessed. The carnival now is almost entirely given up to the English and Americans; while many of the lower class of Italians mix in it disguised in masks and fancy dresses. Four masked young women greeted us with confetti and danced about me on the sidewalk. One tipped up my hat behind and another whispered a name in my ear which I did not suppose was known in Europe. I have not yet discovered who they were.

Feb. 19.—I have had the pleasure of dining with that remarkable woman and once distinguished actress, Miss Charlotte Cushman. Her nephew was consul at Rome, appointed by William II. Seward, who was one of her warmest American friends. She is still queen of the stage, and of her own household, and unconsciously gives orders to the servants in a dramatic manner which is sometimes very amusing. So it was to hear her sing, “Mary, call the cattle home,” as if she were sending for the heavy artillery. She impresses me, however, as one of the most genuine of womankind; and her conversation is delightful,—so sympathetic, appreciative, full of strong good sense, and fresh original views. She has small mercy on newly-converted Catholics. “The faults of men,” she said, “are chiefly those of strength, but the faults of my own sex arise from weakness.” I happened to refer to Mr. Appleton’s bust of Aurelius, and she said she was surprised he had purchased it, for it did not seem to her a satisfactory copy; a conclusion that I had been slowly coming to myself. She has a bronze replica of Story’s “Beethoven” which, like most of his statues, is seated in a chair, and a rather realistic work, as Miss Cushman admitted. I judged from the conversation at table that she is not treated with full respect by the English and American society here, although looked upon as a distinguished person. The reason for this may be more owing to the social position of her relatives than her former profession. Mrs. Trelawney, the wife of Byron’s eccentric friend, spoke of her to me a few days ago in terms of the highest esteem. She is a great-hearted woman, and her presence would be a moral power anywhere.

There is snobbishness enough in Rome—English, American, and Italian. Doolittle, who is the son of a highly respectable New York lawyer, went to the hunt last week, as he openly confessed, to give himself distinction. A young lady was thrown from her horse, and he was the first person to come to her assistance. She thanked him for it at the time, but two days afterwards declined to recognize his acquaintance. This was probably because he was an artist, or rather sets up for one, for he is more like a gentleman of leisure.


Preface  •  The Close of the War  •  Francis J. Child  •  Longfellow  •  Lowell  •  Cranch  •  T. G. Appleton  •  The Whip of the Sky  •  Pompeii  •  Doctor Holmes  •  Frank W. Bird, and the Bird Club  •  Sumner  •  Chevalier Howe  •  The War Governor  •  The Colored Regiments  •  Emerson’s Tribute to George L. Stearns  •  Elizur Wright  •  Dr. W. T. G. Morton  •  William T. G. Morton  •  Leaves From a Roman Diary  •  My Last Visit to the Longfellows  •  Centennial Contributions  •  The Emerson Centennial  •  The Hawthorne Centennial  •  Hawthorne and Hamlet

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