Part 2 out of 5
Thus arrayed in snowy hue, like the lilies of the field, he perambulates
during the hot season the wildest parts of South Italy, strangely
unprejudiced, heedless of bugs and brigands--a real danger in 1828: did
he not find the large place Rossano actually blocked by them?--sleeping
in stables and execrable inns, viewing sites of antiquity and natural
beauty, interrogating everybody about everything and, in general,
"satisfying his curiosity." That curiosity took a great deal to satisfy.
It is a positive relief to come upon a sentence in this book, a sentence
unique, which betrays a relaxing or waning of this terrible curiosity.
"It requires a strong mania for antiquities to persevere examining such
remains as Alife furnishes, and I was soon satisfied with what I had
seen." Nor did he climb to the summit of Mount Vulture, as he would have
done if the view had not been obscured by a haze.
His chief concern could not be better summed up than in the sub-title he
has chosen for this volume: Wanderings in search of ancient remains and
modern superstitions. To any one who knows the country it appears
astonishing how much he contrived to see, and in how brief a space of
time. He accomplished wonders. For it was no mean task he had proposed
to himself, namely, "to visit every spot in Italy which classic writers
had rendered famous."
To visit every spot--what a Gargantuan undertaking! None but a quite
young man could have conceived such a project, and even Ramage, with all
his good health and zest, might have spent half a lifetime over the
business but for his habit of breathless hustle, which leaves the reader
panting behind. He is always on the move. He reminds one of Mr. Phineas
Fogg in that old tale. The moment he has "satisfied his curiosity" there
is no holding him; off he goes; the smiles of the girls whom he adores,
the entreaties of some gentle scholar who fain would keep him as guest
for the night--they are vain; he is tired to death, but "time is
precious" and he "tears himself away from his intelligent host" and
scampers into the wilderness once more, as if the Furies were at his
heels. He thinks nothing of rushing from Catanzaro to Cotrone, from
Manduria to Brindisi, in a single day--at a time when there was hardly a
respectable road in the country. Up to the final paragraph of the book
he is "hurrying" because time is "fast running out."
This sense of fateful hustle--this, and the umbrella--they impart quite
a peculiar flavour to his pages.
One would like to learn more about so lovable a type--for such he was,
unquestionably; one would like to know, above all things, why his
descriptions of other parts of Italy have never been printed. Was the
enterprise interrupted by his death? He tells us that the diaries of his
tours through the central and northern regions were written; that he
visited "every celebrated spot in Umbria and Etruria" and wandered "as
far as the valley of the Po." Where are these notes? Those on Etruria,
especially, would make good reading at this distance of time, when even
Dennis has acquired an old-world aroma. The Dictionary of National
Biography might tell us something about him, but that handy little
volume is not here; moreover, it has a knack of telling you everything
about people save what you ought to know.
So, for example, I had occasion not long ago to look up the account of
Charles Waterton the naturalist.  He did good work in his line, but
nothing is more peculiar to the man than his waywardness. It was
impossible for him to do anything after the manner of other folks. In
all his words and actions he was a freak, a curiosity, the prince of
eccentrics. Yet this, the essence of the man, the fundamental trait of
his character which shines out of every page of his writing and every
detail of his daily life--this, the feature by which he was known to his
fellows and ought to be known to posterity--it is intelligible from that
account only if you read between the lines. Is that the way to write
Fortunately he has written himself down; so has Ramage; and it is
instructive to compare the wayside reflections of these two
contemporaries as they rove about the ruins of Italy; the first, ardent
Catholic, his horizon close-bounded by what the good fathers of
Stonyhurst had seen fit to teach him; the other, less complacent, all
alive indeed with Calvinistic disputatiousness and ready to embark upon
bold speculations anent the origin of heathen gods and their modern
representatives in the Church of Rome; amiable scholars and gentlemen,
both of them; yet neither venturing to draw those plain conclusions
which the "classic remains of paganism" would have forced upon anybody
else--upon anybody, that is, who lacked their initial warp, whose mind
had not been twisted in youth or divided, rather, into watertight
A long sentence....
After a glacial journey--those English! They will not even give us coal
for steam-heating--I arrived here. It is warmer, appreciably warmer. Yet
I leave to-morrow or next day. The streets of the town, the distant
beach of San Rossore and its pine trees--they are fraught with sad
memories; memories of an autumn month in the early nineties. A city of
The old hotel had put on a new face; freshly decorated, it wears none
the less a poverty-stricken air. My dinner was bad and insufficient. One
grows sick of those vile maccheroni made with war-time flour. The place
is full of rigid officers taking themselves seriously. Odd, how a
uniform can fill a simpleton with self-importance. What does Bacon say?
I forget. Something apposite--something about the connection between
military costumes and vanity. For the worst of this career is that it is
liable to transform even a sensible man into a fool. I never see these
sinister-clanking marionettes without feelings of distrust. They are the
outward symbol of an atavistic striving: the modern infame. We have been
dying for sometime past from over-legislation. Now we are caught in the
noose. A bureaucracy is bad enough. A bureaucracy can at least be
bribed. Militarism dries up even that little fount of the imagination.
Another twenty years of this, and we may be living in caves again; they
came near it, at the end of the Thirty Years' War. Such a cataclysm as
ours may account for the extinction of the great Cro-Magnon
civilization--as fine a race, physically, as has yet appeared on earth;
they too may have been afflicted with the plague of nationalism, unless,
as is quite likely, that horrid work was accomplished by a microbe of
In the hour of evening, under a wintry sky amid whose darkly massed
vapours a young moon is peering down upon this maddened world, I wander
alone through deserted roadways towards that old solitary brick-tower.
Here I stand, and watch the Arno rolling its sullen waves. In Pisa, at
such an hour, the Arno is the emblem of Despair. Swollen with melted
snow from the mountains, it has gnawed its miserable clay banks and now
creeps along, leaden and inert, half solid, like a torrent of liquid
mud--irresolute whether to be earth or water; whether to stagnate here
for ever at my feet, or crawl onward yet another sluggish league into
the sea. So may Lethe look, or Styx: the nightmare of a flood.
There is dreary monotony in all Italian rivers, once they have reached
the plain. They are livelier in their upper reaches. At Florence--where
those citron-tinted houses are mirrored in the stream--you may study the
Arno in all its ever-changing moods. Seldom is its colour quite the
same. The hue of cafe-au-lait in full spate, it shifts at other times
between apple-green and jade, between celadon and chrysolite and
eau-de-Nil. In the weariness of summer the tints are prone to fade
altogether out of the waves. They grow bleached, devitalized; they are
spent, withering away like grass that has lain in the sun.  Yet with
every thunder-storm on yonder hills the colour-sprite leaps back into
Your Florentine of the humbler sort loves to dawdle along the bank on a
bright afternoon, watching the play of the river and drawing a kind of
philosophic contentment out of its cool aquatic humours. Presently he
reaches that bridge--the jewellers' bridge. He thinks he must buy a
ring. Be sure the stone will reflect his Arno in one of its moods. I
will wager he selects a translucent chrysoprase set in silver, a cheap
and stubborn gem whose frigidly uncompromising hue appeals in mysterious
fashion to his own temperament.
Whoever suffers from insomnia will find himself puzzling at night over
questions which have no particular concern for him at other times. And
one seems to be more wide awake, during those moments, than by day. Yet
the promptings of the brain, which then appear so lucid, so novel and
convincing, will seldom bear examination in the light of the sun. To
test the truth of this, one has only to jot down one's thoughts at the
time, and peruse them after breakfast. How trite they read, those
For reasons which I cannot fathom, I pondered last night upon the
subject of heredity; a subject that had a certain fascination for me in
my biological days. The lacunae of science! We weigh the distant stars
and count up their ingredients. Yet here is a phenomenon which lies
under our very hand and to which is devoted the most passionate study:
what have we learnt of its laws? Be that as it may, there occurred to me
last night a new idea. It consisted in putting together two facts which
have struck me separately on many occasions, but never conjointly. Taken
together, I said to myself, and granted that both are correct, they may
help to elucidate a dark problem of national psychology.
The first one I state rather tentatively, having hardly sufficient
material to go upon. It is this. You will find it more common in Italy
than in England for the male offspring of a family to resemble the
father and the female the mother. I cannot suggest a reason for this. I
have observed the fact--that is all.
Let me say, in parenthesis, that it is well to confine oneself to adults
in such researches. Childhood and youth is a period of changing lights
and half-tones and temperamental interplay. Characteristics of body and
mind are held, as it were, in solution. We think a child takes after its
mother because of this or that feature. If we wait for twenty-five
years, we see the true state of affairs; the hair has grown dark like
the father's, the nose, the most telling item of the face, has also
approximated to his type, likewise the character--in fact the offspring
is clearly built on paternal lines. And vice-versa. To study children
for these purposes would be waste of time.
The second observation I regard as axiomatic. It is this. You will
nowhere find an adult offspring which reproduces in any marked degree
the physical features of one parent displaying in any marked degree the
mental features of the other. That man whose external build and
complexion is entirely modelled upon that of his hard materialistic
father and who yet possesses all the artistic idealism of his maternal
parent--such creatures do not exist in nature, though you may encounter
them as often as you please in the pages of novelists.
Let me insert another parenthesis to observe that I am speaking of the
broad mass, the average, in a general way. For it stands to reason that
the offspring may be vaguely intermediate between two parents, may
resemble one or both in certain particulars and not in others, may hark
back to ancestral types or bear no appreciable likeness to any one
discoverable. It is a theme admitting of endless combinations and
permutations. Or again, in reference to the first proposition, it would
be easy for any traveller in this country to point out, for example, a
woman who portrays the qualities of her father in the clearest manner. I
know a dozen such cases. Hundreds of them would not make them otherwise
than what I think they are--rarer here than in England.
Granting that both these propositions are correct, what should we expect
to find? That in Italy the male type of character and temperament is
more constant, more intimately associated with the male type of feature;
and the same with the female. In other words, that the categories into
which their men and women fall are fewer and more clearly defined, by
reason of the fact that their mental and moral sex-characteristics are
more closely correlated with their physical sex-characteristics. That
the Englishman, on the other hand, male or female, does not fall so
easily into categories; he is complex and difficult to "place," the
psychological sex-boundaries being more hazily demarcated. There is
iridescence and ambiguity here, whereas Italians of either sex, once the
rainbow period of youth is over, are relatively unambiguous; easily
Is this what we find? I think so.
I never pass through Pisa without calling to mind certain rat-hunts in
company with J. O. M., who was carried out of the train at this very
station, dead, because he refused to follow my advice. He was my
neighbour at one time; he lived near the river Mole in relative
seclusion; coursing rats with Dandie Dinmonts was the only form of
exercise which entailed no strain on his weakened constitution. How he
This O---- was a man of mystery and violence, who threw himself into
every kind of human activity with superhuman, Satanic, zest; traveller,
sportsman, financier, mining expert, lover of wine and women, of books
and prints; one of the founders, I believe, of the Rhodesia Company;
faultlessly dressed, infernally rich and, when he chose--which was
fairly often--preposterously brutal. Neither manner nor face were
winning. He was swarthy almost to blackness, quite un-English in looks,
with rather long hair, a most menacing moustache and the fiercest eyes
imaginable; a king of the gipsies, so far as features went. Something
sinister hung about his personality. A predatory type, unquestionably;
never so happy as when pitting his wits or strength against others,
tracking down this or that--by choice, living creatures. He had taken
life by the throat, and excesses of various kinds having shattered his
frame, there was an end, for the time being, of deer-stalking and
tigers; it was a tame period of rat-hunts with those terriers whose
murderous energies were a pis aller, yielding a sort of vicarious
pleasure. The neighbourhood was depopulated of such beasts, purchased at
fancy prices; when a sufficient quantity (say, half a hundred) had been
collected together, I used to receive a telegram containing the single
word "rats." Then the pony was saddled, and I rode down for the grand
We once gave the hugest of these destroyed rodents, I remember, to an
amiable old sow, a friend of the family. What was she going to do? She
ate it, as you would eat a pear. She engulfed the corpse methodically,
beginning at the head, working her way through breast and entrails while
her chops dripped with gore, and ending with the tail, which gave some
little trouble to masticate, on account of its length and tenuity.
Altogether, decidedly good sport....
Then O---- disappeared from my ken. Years went by. Improving health, in
the course of time, tempted him back into his former habits; he built
himself a shooting lodge in the Alps. We were neighbours again, having
no ridge worth mentioning save the Schadona pass between us. I joined
him once or twice--chamois, instead of rats. This place was constructed
on a pretentious scale, and he must have paid fantastic sums for the
transport of material to that remote region (you could watch the chamois
from the very windows) and for the rights over all the country round
about.  O---- told me that the superstitious Catholic peasants raised
every kind of difficulty and objection to his life there; it was a
regular conspiracy. I suggested a more friendly demeanour, especially
towards their priests. That was not his way. He merely said: "I'll be
even with them. Mark my words."....
There followed another long interval, during which he vanished
completely. Then, one April afternoon on the Posilipo, a sailor climbed
up with a note from him. The Consul-General said I lived here. If so,
would I come to Bertolini's hotel at once? He was seriously ill.
Neighbours once more!
I left then and there, and was appalled at the change in him. His skin
was drawn tight as parchment over a face the colour of earth, there was
no flesh on his hands, the voice was gone, though fire still gleamed
viciously in the hollows of his eyes. That raven-black hair was streaked
with grey and longer than ever, which gave him an incongruously devout
appearance. He had taken pitiful pains to look fresh and appetizing.
So we sat down to dinner on Bertolini's terrace, in the light of a full
moon. O---- ate nothing whatever.
He arrived from Egypt some time ago, on his way to England. The doctor
had forbidden further travelling or any other exertion on account of
various internal complications; among other things, his heart, he told
me, was as large as a child's head.
"I hope you can stand this food," he whispered, or rather croaked. "For
God's sake, order anything you fancy. As for me, I can't even eat like
you people. Asses' milk is what I get, and slops. Done for, this time.
I'm a dying man; anybody can see that. A dying man----"
"Something," I said, "is happening to that moon."
It was in eclipse. Half the bright surface had been ominously obscured
since we took our seats. O---- scowled at the satellite, and went on:
"But I won't be carried out of this dirty hole (Bertolini's)--not feet
first. Would you mind my gasping another day or two at your place? Rolfe
has told me about it."
We moved him, with infinite trouble. The journey woke his dormant
capacities for invective. He cursed at the way they jolted him about; he
cursed himself into a collapse that day, and we thought it was all over.
Then he rallied, and became more abusive than before. Nothing was right.
Stairs being forbidden, the whole lower floor of the house was placed at
his disposal; the establishment was dislocated, convulsed; and still he
swore. He swore at me for the better part of a week; at the servants,
and even at the good doctor Malbranc, who came every morning in a
specially hired steam-launch to make that examination which always ended
in his saying to me: "You must humour him. Heart-patients are apt to be
irritable." Irritable was a mild term for this particular patient. His
appetite, meanwhile, began to improve.
It was soon evident that my cook had not the common sense to prepare his
invalid dishes; a second one was engaged. Then, my gardener and
sailor-boy being manifest idiots, it became necessary to procure an
extra porter to fetch the numberless odd things he needed from town
every day, and every hour of the day. I wrote to the messenger people to
send the most capable lad on their books; we would engage him by the
week, at twice his ordinary pay. He arrived; a limp and lean nonentity,
with a face like a boiled codfish.
This miserable youth promptly became the object of O----'s bitterest
execration. I soon learnt to dread those conferences, those terrific
scenes which I was forced to witness in my capacity of interpreter.
O---- revelled in them with exceeding gusto. He used to gird his loins
for the effort of vituperation; I think he regarded the performance as a
legitimate kind of exercise--his last remaining one. As soon as the boy
returned from town and presented himself with his purchases, O---- would
glare at him for two or three minutes with such virulence, such
concentration of hatred and loathing, such a blaze of malignity in his
black eyes, that one fully expected to see the victim wither away; all
this in dead silence. Then he would address me in his usual whisper,
quite calmly, as though referring to the weather:
"Would you mind telling that double-distilled abortion that if he goes
on making such a face I shall have to shoot him. Tell him, will you;
there's a good fellow."
And I had to "humour" him.
"The gentleman"--I would say--"begs you will try to assume another
expression of countenance," or words to that effect; whereto he would
tearfully reply something about the will of God and the workmanship of
his father and mother, honest folks, both of them. I was then obliged to
"You had better try, all the same, or he may shoot you. He has a
revolver in his pocket, and a shooting licence from your government."
This generally led to the production of a most ghastly smile, calculated
to convey an ingratiating impression.
"Look at him," O---- would continue. "He is almost too good to be shot.
And now let's see. What does he call these things? Ask him, will you?"
"Tell him that when I order asparagus I mean asparagus and not
walking-sticks. Tell him that if he brings me such objects again, I'll
ram the whole bundle up--down his throat. What does he expect me to do
with them, eh? You might ask him, will you? And, God! what's this? Tell
him (accellerando) that when I send a prescription to be made up at the
"He explained about that. He went to the other place because he wanted
to hurry up."
"To hurry up? Tell him to hurry up and get to blazes. Oh, tell him----"
"You'll curse yourself into another collapse, at this rate."
To the doctor's intense surprise, he lingered on; he actually grew
stronger. Although never seeming to gain an ounce in weight, he could
eat a formidable breakfast and used to insist, to my horror and shame,
in importing his own wine, which he accused my German maid Bertha of
drinking on the sly. Callers cheered him up--Rolfe the Consul, Dr. Dohrn
of the Aquarium, and old Marquis Valiante, that perfect botanist--all of
them dead now! After a month and a half of painful experiences, we at
last learnt to handle him. The household machinery worked smoothly.
A final and excruciating interview ended in the dismissal of the
errand-boy, and I personally selected another one--a pretty little
rascal to whom he took a great fancy, over-tipping him scandalously. He
needed absolute rest; he got it; and I think was fairly happy or at
least tranquil (when not writhing in agony) at the end of that period. I
can still see him in the sunny garden, his clothes hanging about an
emaciated body--a skeleton in a deck-chair, a death's head among the
roses. Humiliated in this inactivity, he used to lie dumb for long
hours, watching the butterflies or gazing wistfully towards those
distant southern mountains which I proposed to visit later in the
season. Once a spark of that old throttling instinct flared up. It was
when a kestrel dashed overhead, bearing in its talons a captured lizard
whose tail fluttered in the air: the poor beast never made a faster
journey in its life. "Ha!" said O----. "That's sport."
At other times he related, always in that hoarse whisper, anecdotes of
his life, a life of reckless adventure, of fortunes made and fortunes
lost; or spoke of his old passion for art and books. He seemed to have
known, at one time or another, every artist and connoisseur on either
side of the Atlantic; he told me it had cost about L10,000 to acquire
his unique knowledge and taste in the matter of mezzotints, and that he
was concerned about the fate of his "Daphnis and Chloe" collection which
contained, he said, a copy of every edition in every language--all
except the unique Elizabethan version in the Huth library (now British
Museum). I happened to have one of the few modern reprints of that
stupid and ungainly book: would he accept it? Not likely! He was after
One day he suddenly announced:
"I am leaving you my small library of erotic literature, five or six
hundred pieces, worth a couple of thousand, I should say. Some wonderful
old French stuff, and as many Rops as you like, and Persian and Chinese
things--I can see you gloating over them! Don't thank me. And now I'm
off to England."
The doctor peremptorily forbade the journey; if he must go, let him wait
another couple of weeks and gain some more strength. But O---- was
obdurate; buoyed up, I imagine, with the prospect of movement and of
causing some little trouble at home. As the weather had grown unusually
hot, I booked at his own suggestion a luxurious cabin on a home-bound
liner and engaged a valet for the journey. On my handing him the
tickets, he said he had just changed his mind; he would travel overland;
there were some copper mines in Etruria of which he was director; he
meant to have a look at them en route and "give those people Hell" for
something or other. I tried to dissuade him, and all in vain. Finally I
"You'll die, if you travel by land in this heat."
So he did. They carried him out of the train in the early days of June,
here at Pisa, feet first....
I never learnt the fate of that library of erotic literature. But his
will contained one singular provision: the body was to be cremated and
its ashes scattered among the hills of his Alpine property. This was his
idea of "being even" with the superstitious peasantry, who would
thenceforward never have ventured out of doors after dark, for fear of
encountering his ghost. He would harass them eternally! It was no bad
notion of revenge. A sandy-haired gentleman came from Austria to Italy
to convey this handful of potential horrors to the mountains, but the
customs officials at Ala refused to allow it to enter the country and it
ultimately came to rest in England.
Another queer thing happened. Since his arrival from Egypt, O---- had
never been able to make up his mind to pay any of his innumerable bills;
the creditors, aware of the man's wealth and position, not pressing for
a settlement. I rather think that this procrastination, this reluctance
to disburse ready money, is a symptom of his particular state of
ill-health; I have observed it with several heart-patients (and others
as well); however that may be, it became a source of real vexation to
me, for hardly was the news of his death made public before I began to
be deluged with outstanding accounts from every quarter--tradespeople,
hotel keepers, professional men, etc. I finally sent the documents with
a pressing note to his representatives who, after some demur, paid up,
English-fashion, in full. Then a noteworthy change came over the faces
of men. Everybody beamed upon me in the streets, and there arrived
multitudinous little gifts at my house--choice wines, tie-pins, game,
cigars, ebony walking-sticks, confectionery, baskets of red mullets, old
prints, Capodimonte ware, candied fruits, amber mouthpieces,
maraschino--all from donors who plainly desired to remain anonymous.
Such things were dropped from the clouds, so to speak, on my doorstep:
an enigmatic but not unpleasant state of affairs. Gradually it dawned
upon me, it was forced upon me, that I had worked a miracle. These good
people, thinking that their demands upon O----'s executors would be cut
down, Italian-fashion, by at least fifty per cent, had anticipated that
eventuality by demanding twice or thrice as much as was really due to
them. And they got it! No wonder men smiled, when the benefactor of the
human race walked abroad.
Viareggio, dead at this season, is a rowdy place in summer; not rowdy,
however, after the fashion of Margate. There is a suggestive difference
between the two. The upper classes in both towns are of course
irreproachable in externals--it is their uniformity of behaviour
throughout the world which makes them so uninteresting from a
spectacular point of view. A place does not receive its tone from them
(save possibly Bournemouth) but from their inferiors; and here, in this
matter of public decorum, the comparison is to the credit of Italy. It
is beside the point to say that the one lies relatively remote, while
the other is convenient for cheap trips from a capital. Set Viareggio
down at the very gate of Rome and fill it with the scum of Trastevere:
the difference would still be there. It might be more noisy than
Margate. It would certainly be less blatant.
As for myself, I hate Viareggio at all seasons, and nothing would have
brought me here but the prospect of visiting the neighbouring Carrara
mines with Attilio to whom I have written, enclosing a postcard for
For this is a modern town built on a plain of mud and sand, a town of
heartrending monotony, the least picturesque of all cities in the
peninsula, the least Italian. It has not even a central piazza! You may
conjure up visions of Holland and detect something of an old-world
aroma, if you stroll about the canal and harbour where sails are now
flapping furiously in the north wind; you may look up to the
snow-covered peaks and imagine yourself in Switzerland, and then thank
God you are not there; of Italy I perceive little or nothing. The people
are birds of prey; a shallow and rapacious brood who fleece visitors
during those summer weeks and live on the proceeds for the rest of the
year. There is no commerce to liven them up and make them smilingly
polite; no historical tradition to give them self-respect; no
agriculture worth mentioning (the soil is too poor)--in other words, no
peasantry to replenish the gaps in city life and infuse an element of
decency and depth. An inordinate amount of singing and whistling goes on
all day long. Is it not a sign of empty-headedness? I would like the
opinion of schoolmasters on this point, whether, among the children
committed to their charge, the habitual whistlers be not the dullest of
And so five days have passed. A pension proving uninhabitable, and most
of the better-class hotels being closed for the winter, I threw myself
upon the mercy of an octroi official who stood guarding a forlorn gate
somewhere in the wilderness. He has sent me to a villa bearing the name
of a certain lady and situated in a street called after a certain
politician. He has done well.
A kindlier dame than my hostess could nowhere be found. She hails from
the province of the Marche and has no high opinion of this town, where
she only lives on account of her husband, a retired something-or-other
who owns the house. Although convulsed with grief, both of them, at the
moment of my arrival--a favourite kitten had just been run over--they at
once set about making me comfortable in a room with exposure due south.
The flooring is of cement: the usual Viareggio custom. Bricks are cold,
stone is cold, tiles are cold; but cement! It freezes your marrow
through double carpets. For meals I go to the "Assassino" or the
Vittoria hotel; the fare is better at the first, the company at the
The large dining-room at the "Vittoria" is not in use just now. We take
our meals in two smaller rooms adjoining each other, one of which leads
into the kitchen where privileged guests may talk secrets with the cook
and poke their noses into saucepans. At a table by herself sits the
little signorina who controls the establishment, wide awake, pale of
complexion, slightly hump-backed, close-fisted as the devil though
sufficiently vulnerable to a bluff masculine protest. Our waiter is
noteworthy in his line. He is that exceptional being, an Italian snob;
he can talk of nothing but dukes and princes, Bourbons by choice,
because he once served at a banquet given by some tuppenny Parma
royalties round the corner.
The food would be endurable, save for those vile war-time maccheroni.
The wine is of doubtful origin. Doubtful, at least, to the uninitiated
who smacks his lips and wonders vaguely where he has tasted the stuff
before. The concoction has so many flavours--a veritable Proteus! I know
it well, though its father and mother would be hard to identify. It was
born on the banks of the Tiber and goes by the name of ripa: ask any
Roman. Certain cheap and heady products of the south--Sicily, Sardinia,
Naples, Apulia, Ischia--have contributed their share to its composition;
Tiber-water is the one and constant ingredient. This ripa is exported by
the ton to wine-less centres like Genoa and there drunk under any name
you please. A few butts have doubtless been dropped overboard at
Viareggio for the poisoning of its ten thousand summer visitors.
Quite a jolly crowd of folk assembles here every evening. There is, of
course, the ubiquitous retired major; also some amusing gentlemen who
run up and down between this place and Lucca on mysterious errands
connected, I fancy, with oil; as well as a dissipated young marquis sent
hither from Rimini by the ridiculously old-fashioned father to expiate
his sins--his gambling debts, his multifarious and costly
love-adventures, and the manslaughter of a carpenter whom he ran over in
his car.  My favourite is a fat creature with a glorious fleshy face,
the face of some Neronian parvenu--a memorable face, full of the brutal
prosperity of Trimalchio's Banquet. He told me, yesterday, a long story
about a local saint in one of their villages--a saint of yesterday who,
curing diseases and performing various other miracles, began to think
himself, as their manner is, God Almighty, or something to that effect.
The police shot him as a revolutionary, because he had gathered a few
"Rather an extreme measure," I suggested.
"It is. Not that I love the saints. But I love the police still less."
"Like every good Italian."
"Like every good Italian...."
News from Attilio. He cannot come. Both mother and sister are ill. He
delayed writing in the hopes of their getting better; he wanted to join
me, but they are always "auguale"--the same; in short, he must stay at
home, as appears from the following plaintive and rather puzzling
postcard, the address of which I had providentially written myself:
Caro G. N. Dorcola ho ricevuto la sua cara lettera e son cozi contento
da sentire le sue notizzie io non posso venire perche mia madre e
amalata e mia sorella Enrica era tardato ascirvere perche mi credevo che
tesano mellio ma invece sono sempre auguale perche volevo venire ci
mando dici mille baci e una setta dimano addio al Signior D. Dor.
But for the fact that, counting on a fortnight's trip to Carrara, I have
asked for certain printed matter to be forwarded here from England, I
would jump into the next train for anywhere.
Running along the sea on either side of Viareggio is a noble forest of
stone pines where the wind is scarce felt, though you may hear it
sighing overhead among the crowns. This is the place for a promenade at
all hours of the day. Children climb the trunks to fetch down a few
remaining cones or break off dried branches as fuel. A sportsman told me
that several of them lose their lives every year at this adventure. What
was he doing here, with a gun? Waiting for a hare, he said. They always
wait for hares. There are none!
Then a poor thin woman, dressed in black and gathering the prickly
stalks of gorse for firewood, began to converse with me, reasonably
enough at first. All of a sudden her language changed into a burning
torrent of insanity, with wild gesticulations. She was the Queen of the
country, she avowed, the rightful Queen, and they had robbed her of all
her children, every one of them, and all her jewels. I agreed--what else
could one do? Being in the combustible stage, she went over the argument
again and again, her eyes fiercely flashing. Nothing could stop the flow
of her words. I was right glad when another woman came to my rescue and
pushed her along, as you would a calf, saying:
"You go home now, it's getting dark, run along!--yes, yes! you're the
Queen right enough--she was in the asylum, Sir, for three months and
then they let her out, the fools--of course you are, everybody knows
that! But you really mustn't annoy this gentleman any more--her husband
and son were both killed in the war, that's what started it--we'll fetch
them tomorrow at the palace, all those things, and the children, only
don't talk so much--they thought she was cured, but just hark at
her!--va bene, it's all yours, only get along--she'll be back there in a
day or two, won't she?--really, you are chattering much too much, for a
Queen; va bene, va bene, va bene--"
A sad little incident, under the pines....
A fortnight has elapsed.
I refuse to budge from Viareggio, having discovered the village of
Corsanico on the heights yonder and, in that village, a family
altogether to my liking. How one stumbles upon delightful folks! Set me
down in furthest Cathay and I will undertake to find, soon afterwards,
some person with whom I am quite prepared to spend the remaining years
The driving-road to Corsanico is a never-ending affair. Deep in mire, it
meanders perversely about the plain; meanders more than ever, but of
necessity, once the foot of the hills is reached. I soon gave it up in
favour of the steam-tram to Cammaiore which deposits you at a station
whose name I forget, whence you may ascend to Corsanico through a
village called, I think, Momio. That route, also, was promptly abandoned
when the path along the canal was revealed to me. This waterway runs in
an almost straight line from Viareggio to the base of that particular
hill on whose summit lies my village. It is a monotonous walk at this
season; the rich marsh vegetation slumbers in the ooze underground,
waiting for a breath of summer. At last you cross that big road and
strike the limestone rock.
Here is no intermediate region, no undulating ground, between the upland
and the plain. They converge abruptly upon each other, as might have
been expected, seeing that these hills used to be the old sea-board and
this green level, in olden days, the Mediterranean. Three different
tracks, leading steeply upward through olives and pines and chestnuts
from where the canal ends, will bring you to Corsanico. I know them all.
I could find my way in darkest midnight.
Days have passed; days of delight. I climb up in the morning and descend
at nightfall, my mind well stored with recollections of pleasant talk
and smiling faces. A large place, this Corsanico, straggling about the
hill-top with scattered farms and gardens; to reach the
tobacconist--near whose house, by the way, you obtain an unexpected
glimpse into the valley of Cammaiore--is something of an excursion. As a
rule we repose, after luncheon, on a certain wooded knoll. We are high
up; seven or eight hundred feet above the canal. The blue Tyrrhenian is
dotted with steamers and sailing boats, and yonder lies Viareggio in its
belt of forest; far away, to the left, you discern the tower of Pisa. A
placid lake between the two, wood-engirdled, is now famous as being the
spot selected by the great Maestro Puccini to spend a summer month in
much-advertised seclusion. I am learning the name of every locality in
the plain, of every peak among the mountains at our back.
"And that little ridge of stone," says my companion, "--do you see it,
jutting into the fields down there? It has a queer name. We call it La
It is good to live in a land where such memories cling to old rocks.
By what a chance has the name survived to haunt this inland crag,
defying geological changes, outlasting the generations of men, their
creeds and tongues and races! How it takes one back--back into hoary
antiquity, into another landscape altogether! One thinks of those Greek
mariners coasting past this promontory, and pouring libations to the
Siren into an ocean on whose untrampled floor the countryman now sows
his rice and turnips.
Paganisme immortel, es-tu mort? On le dit.
Mais Pan, tout bas, s'en moque, et la Sirene en rit.
They are still here, both sea and Siren; they have only agreed to
separate for a while. The ocean shines out yonder in all its luminous
splendour of old. And the Siren, too, can be found by those to whom the
gods are kind.
My Siren dwells at Corsanico.
Those Sirens! They have called me back, after nearly three months in
Florence, to that village on the hill-top. Nothing but smiles up there.
And never was Corsanico more charming, all drenched in sunlight and
pranked out with fresh green. On this fourteenth of May, I said to
myself, I am wont to attend a certain yearly festival far away, and
there enjoy myself prodigiously. Yet--can it be possible?--I am even
happier here. Seldom does the event surpass one's hopes.
Later than usual, long after sunset, under olives already heavy-laden,
through patches of high-standing corn and beans, across the little
brook, past that familiar and solitary farmhouse, I descended to the
canal, in full content. Another golden moment of life! Strong
exhalations rose up from the swampy soil, that teemed and steamed under
the hot breath of spring; the pond-like water, once so bare, was
smothered under a riot of monstrous marsh-plants and loud with the music
of love-sick frogs. Stars were reflected on its surface.
Star-gazing, my Star? Would I were Heaven, to gaze on thee with many
Such was my mood, a Hellenic mood, a mood summed up in that one word
[Greek: tetelestai]--not to be taken, however, in the sense of "all's
over." Quite the reverse! Did Shelley ever walk in like humour along
this canal? I doubt it. He lacked the master-key. An evangelist of a
kind, he was streaked, for all his paganism, with the craze of
world-improvement. One day he escaped from his chains into those
mountains and there beheld a certain Witch--only to be called back to
mortality by a domestic and critic-bitten lady. He tried to translate
the Symposium. He never tried to live it....
I have now interposed a day of rest.
My welcome in the villa situated in the street called after a certain
politician was that of the Prodigal Son. There was a look bordering on
affection in the landlady's eyes. She knew I would come back, once the
weather was warmer. She would now give me a cool room, instead of that
old one facing south. Those much-abused cement floors--they were not so
inconvenient, were they, at this season? The honey for breakfast?
Assuredly; the very same. And there was a tailor she had discovered in
the interval, cheaper and better than that other one, if anything
And thus, having lived long at the mercy of London landladies and London
charwomen--having suffered the torments of Hell, for more years than I
care to remember, at the hands of these pickpockets and hags and harpies
and drunken sluts--I am now rewarded by the services of something at the
other end of the human scale. Impossible to say too much of this good
dame's solicitude for me. Her main object in life seems to be to save my
money and make me comfortable. "Don't get your shoes soled there!" she
told me two days ago. "That man is from Viareggio. I know a better
place. Let me see to it. I will say they are my husband's, and you will
pay less and get better work." With a kind of motherly instinct she
forestalls my every wish, and at the end of a few days had already known
my habits better than one of those London sharks and furies would have
known them at the end of a century....
My thoughts go back to her of Florence, whom I have just left. Equally
efficient, she represented quite a different type. She was not of the
familiar kind, but rather grave and formal, with spectacles, dyed hair
and an upright carriage. She never mothered me; she conversed, and gave
me the impression of being in the presence of a grande dame. Such, I
used to say to myself, while listening to her well-turned periods
enlivened with steely glints of humour--such were the feelings of those
who conversed with Madame de Maintenon; such and not otherwise. It would
be difficult to conceive her saying anything equivocal or vulgar. Yet
she must have been a naughty little girl not long ago. She never dreams
that I know what I do know: that she is mistress of a high police
functionary and greatly in favour with his set--a most useful landlady,
in short, for a virtuous young bachelor like myself.
On learning this fact, I made it my business to study her weaknesses and
soon discovered that she was fond of a particular brand of Chianti. A
flask of this vintage was promptly secured; then, dissatisfied with its
materialistic aspect, I caused it to be garlanded with a wreath of
violets and despatched it to her private apartment by the prettiest
child I could pick up in the street. That is the way to touch their
hearts. The offering was repeated at convenient intervals.
A little item in the newspaper led to some talk, one morning, about the
war. I found she shared the view common to many others, that this is an
"interested" war. Society has organized itself on new lines, lines which
work against peace. There are so many persons "interested" in keeping up
the present state of affairs, people who now make more money than they
ever made before. Everybody has a finger in the pie. The soldier in the
field, the chief person concerned, is voiceless and of no account when
compared with this army of civilians, every one of whom would lose, if
the war came to an end. They will fight like demons, to keep the fun
going. What else should they do? Their income is at stake. A man's heart
is in his purse.
"Supposing, Madame, you desired to end the war, how would you set about
Whereupon a delightfully Tuscan idea occurred to her.
"I think I would abolish this Red-Cross nonsense. It makes things too
pleasant. It would bring the troops to their senses and cause them to
march home and say: Basta! We have had enough."
"Don't you find the Germans a little prepotenti?" "Prepotenti: yes. By
all means let us break their heads. And then, caro Lei, let us learn to
That afternoon, I remember, being wondrously fine and myself in such
mellow mood that I would have shared my last crust with some shipwrecked
archduchess and almost forgiven mine enemies, though not until I had hit
them back--I strolled about the Cascine. They have done something to
make this place attractive; just then, at all events, the shortcomings
were unobserved amid the burst of green things overhead and underfoot.
Originally it must have been an unpromising stretch of land, running, as
it does, in a dead level along the Arno. Yet there is earth and water;
and a good deal can be done with such materials to diversify the
surface. More might have been accomplished here. For in the matter of
hill and dale and lake, and variety of vegetation, the Cascine are not
remarkable. One calls to mind what has been attained at Kew Gardens in
an identical situation, and with far less sunshine for the landscape
gardener to play with. One thinks of a certain town in Germany where, on
a plain as flat as a billiard table, they actually reared a mountain,
now covered with houses and timber, for the disport of the citizens. To
think that I used to skate over the meadows where that mountain now
There was no horse-racing in the Cascine that afternoon; nothing but the
usual football. The pastime is well worth a glance, if only for the sake
of sympathizing with the poor referee. Several hundred opprobrious
epithets are hurled at his head in the course of a single game, and play
is often suspended while somebody or other hotly disputes his decision
and refuses to be guided any longer by his perverse interpretation of
the rules. And whoever wishes to know whence those plastic artists of
old Florence drew their inspiration need only come here. Figures of
consummate grace and strength, and clothed, moreover, in a costume which
leaves little to the imagination. Those shorts fully deserve their name.
They are shortness itself, and their brevity is only equalled by their
tightness. One wonders how they can squeeze themselves into such an
outfit or, that feat accomplished, play in it with any sense of comfort.
Play they do, and furiously, despite the heat.
Watching the game and mindful of that morning's discourse with Madame de
Maintenon, a sudden wave of Anglo-Saxon feeling swept over me. I grew
strangely warlike, and began to snort with indignation. What were all
these young fellows doing here? Big chaps of eighteen and twenty! Half
of them ought to be in the trenches, damn it, instead of fooling about
with a ball.
It would have been instructive to learn the true ideas of the rising
generation in regard to the political outlook; to single out one of the
younger spectators and make him talk. But these better-class lads
cluster together at the approach of a stranger, and one does not want to
start a public discussion with half a dozen of them. My chance came from
another direction. It was half-time and a certain player limped out of
the field and sat down on the grass. I was beside him before his friends
had time to come up. A superb specimen, all dewy with perspiration.
Nothing much, he gasped. A man on the other side had just caught him
with the full swing of his fist under the ribs. It hurt confoundedly.
"Hardly fair play," I commented.
"It was cleverly done."
"Ah, well," I said, warming to my English character, "you may get harder
knocks in the trenches. I suppose you are nearly due?"
Not for a year or so, he replied. And even then ... of course, he was
quite eligible as to physique ... it was really rather awkward ... but
as to serving in the army ... there were other jobs going. ... Was
anything more precious than life?... Could anything replace his life to
him?... To die at his age....
"It would certainly be a pity from an artistic point of view. But if
everybody thought like that, where would the Isonzo line be?"
If everybody thought as he did, there would be no Isonzo line at all.
German influence in Italy--why not? They had been there before; it was
no dark page in Italian history. Was his own government so admirable
that one should regret its disappearance? A pack of knaves and
cutthroats. Patriotism--a phrase; auto-intoxication. They say one thing
and mean another. The English too. Yes, the English too. Purely
mercenary motives, for all their noble talk.
It is always entertaining to see ourselves as others see us. I had the
presence of mind to interject some anti-British remark, which produced
the desired effect.
"Now they howl about the sufferings of Belgium, because their money-bags
are threatened. They fight for poor Belgium. They did not fight for
France in 1870, or for Denmark or Poland or Armenia. Trade was not
threatened. There was no profit in view. Profit! And they won't even
supply us with coal----"
Always that coal.
It is clear as daylight. England has failed in her duty--her duty being
to supply everybody with coal, ships, money, cannons and anything else,
at the purchaser's valuation.
He made a few more statements of this nature, and I think he enjoyed his
little fling at that, for him, relatively speaking, since the war began,
rara avis, a genuine Englishman (Teutonic construction); I certainly
relished it. Then I asked:
"Where did you learn this? About Armenia, I mean, and Poland?"
"From my father. He was University Professor and Deputy in Parliament.
One also picks up a little something at school. Don't you agree with
"Not altogether. You seem to forget that a nation cannot indulge in
those freaks of humanitarianism which may possibly befit an individual.
A certain heroic dreamer told men to give all they had to the poor. You,
if you like, may adopt this idealistic attitude. You may do generous
actions such as your country cannot afford to do, since a nation which
abandons the line of expediency is on the high road to suicide. If I
have a bilious attack, by all means come and console me; if Poland has a
bilious attack, there is no reason why England should step in as
dry-nurse; there may be every reason, indeed, why England should stand
aloof. Now in Belgium, as you say, money is involved. Money, in this
national sense, means well-being; and well-being, in this national
sense, is one of the few things worth fighting for. However, I am only
throwing out one or two suggestions. On some other day, I would like to
discuss the matter with you point by point--some other day, that is,
when you are not playing football and have just a few clothes on. I am
now at a disadvantage. You could never get me to impugn your statements
courageously--not in that costume. It would be like haggling with Apollo
Belvedere. Why do you wear those baby things?"
"We are all wearing them, this season."
"So I perceive. How do you get into them?"
"Are they elastic?"
"I wish they were."....
Four minutes' talk. It gave me an insight. He was an intellectualist. As
such, he admired brute force but refused to employ it. He was civilized.
Like many products of civilization, he was unaware of its blessings and
unconcerned in its fate. Is it not a feature peculiar to civilization
that it thinks of everything save war? That is why they are uprooted,
these flowerings, each in its turn.
My father told me; often one hears that remark, even from adults. As if
a father could not be a fool like anybody else! That a child should have
hard-and-fast opinions--it is engaging. Children are egocentric. A
fellow of this size ought to be less positive.
These refined youths are fastidious about their clothes. They would not
dream of buying a ready-made suit, however well-fitting. They are
content to take their opinions second-hand. Unlike ours, they are seldom
alone; they lack those stretches of solitude during which they might
wrestle with themselves and do a little thinking on their own account.
When not with their family, they are always among companions, being far
more sociable and fond of herding together than their English
representatives. They talk more; they think less; they seem to do each
other's thinking, which takes away all hesitation and gives them a
precocious air of maturity. If this decorative lad engages in some
profession like medicine or engineering there is hope for him, even as
others of his age rectify their perspective by contact with crude
facts--groceries and calicoes and carburettors and so forth. Otherwise,
his doom is sealed. He remains a doctrinaire. This country is full of
And then--the sterilizing influence of pavements. Even when summer comes
round, they all flock in a mass to some rowdy place like this Viareggio
or Ancona where, however pleasant the bathing, spiritual life is yet
shallower than at home. What says Craufurd Tait Ramage, LL.D.? "Their
country life consists merely in breathing a different air, though in
nothing else does it differ from the life they live in town."
He notices things, does Ramage; and might, indeed, have elaborated this
argument. The average Italian townsman seems to have lost all sense for
the beauty of rural existence; he is incurious about it; dislodge him
from the pavement--no easy task--and he gasps like a fish out of water.
Squares and cafes--they stimulate his fancy; the doings and opinions of
fellow-creatures--thence alone he derives inspiration. What is the
result? A considerable surface polish, but also another quality which I
should call dewlessness. Often glittering like a diamond, he is every
bit as dewless. His materialistic and supercilious outlook results, I
think, from contempt or nescience of nature; you will notice the trait
still more at Venice, whose inhabitants seldom forsake their congested
mud-flat. Depth of character and ideality and humour--such things
require a rustic landscape for their nurture. These citizens are arid,
for lack of dew; unquestionably more so than their English
POSTSCRIPT.--The pavements of Florence, by the way, have an
objectionable quality. Their stone is too soft. They wear down rapidly
and an army of masons is employed in levelling them straight again all
the year round. And yet they sometimes use this very sandstone, instead
of marble, for mural inscriptions. How long are these expected to remain
legible? They employ the same material for their buildings, and I
observe that the older monuments last, on the whole, better than the new
ones, which flake away rapidly--exfoliate or crack, according to the
direction from which the grain of the rock has been attacked by the
chisel. It may well be that Florentines of past centuries left the hewn
blocks in their shady caverns for a certain length of time, as do the
Parisians of to-day, in order to allow for the slow discharge and
evaporation of liquid; whereas now the material, saturated with
moisture, is torn from its damp and cool quarries and set in the blazing
sunshine. At the Bourse, for instance,--quite a modern structure--the
columns already begin to show fissures. 
Amply content with Viareggio, because the Siren dwells so near, I stroll
forth. The town is awake. Hotels are open. Bathing is beginning. Summer
has dawned upon the land.
I am not in the city mood, three months in Florence having abated my
interest in humanity. Past a line of booths and pensions I wander in the
direction of that pinery which year by year is creeping further into the
waves, and driving the sea back from its old shore. There is peace in
this green domain; all is hushed, and yet pervaded by the mysterious
melody of things that stir in May-time. Here are no sombre patches, as
under oak or beech; only a tremulous interlacing of light and shade. A
peculiarly attractive bole not far from the sea, gleaming rosy in the
sunshine, tempts me to recline at its foot.
This insomnia, this fiend of the darkness--the only way to counteract
his mischief is by guile; by snatching a brief oblivion in the hours of
day, when the demon is far afield, tormenting pious Aethiopians at the
Antipodes. How well one rests at such moments of self-created night,
merged into the warm earth! The extreme quietude of my present room,
after Florentine street-noises, may have contributed to this
restlessness. Also, perhaps, the excitement of Corsanico. But chiefly,
the dream--that recurrent dream.
Everybody, I suppose, is subject to recurrent dreams of some kind. My
present one is of a painful or at least sad nature; it returns
approximately every three months and never varies by a hair's breadth. I
am in a distant town where I lived many years back, and where each stone
is familiar to me. I have come to look for a friend--one who, as a
matter of fact, died long ago. My sleeping self refuses to admit this
fact; once embarked on the dream-voyage, I hold him to be still alive.
Glad at the prospect of meeting my friend again, I traverse cheerfully
those well-known squares in the direction of his home.... Where is it,
that house; where has it gone? I cannot find it. Ages seem to pass while
I trample up and down, in ever-increasing harassment of mind, along
interminable rows of buildings and canals; that door, that
well-remembered door--vanished! All search is vain. I shall never meet
him: him whom I came so far to see. The dismal truth, once established,
fills me with an intensity of suffering such as only night-visions can
inspire. There is no reason for feeling so strongly; it is the way of
dreams! At this point I wake up, thoroughly exhausted, and say to
myself: "Why seek his house? Is he not dead?"
This stupid nightmare leaves me unrefreshed next morning, and often
bears in its rear a trail of wistfulness which may endure a week. Only
within the last few years has it dared to invade my slumbers. Before
that period there was a series of other recurrent dreams. What will the
next be? For I mean to oust this particular incubus. The monster annoys
me, and even our mulish dream-consciousness can be taught to acquiesce
in a fact, after a sufficient lapse of time.
There are dreams peculiar to every age of man. That celebrated one of
flying, for instance--it fades away with manhood. I once indulged in a
correspondence about it with a well-known psychologist,  and would
like to think, even now, that this dream is a reminiscence of leaping
habits in our tree-haunting days; a ghost of the dim past, therefore,
which revisits us at night when recent adjustments are cast aside and
man takes on the credulity and savagery of his remotest forefathers; a
ghost which comes in youth when these ancient etchings are easier to
decypher, being not yet overscored by fresh personal experiences. What
is human life but a never-ending palimpsest?
So I pondered, when my musings under that pine tree were interrupted by
the arrival on the scene of a young snake. I cannot say with any degree
of truthfulness which of us two was more surprised at the encounter. I
picked him up, as I always do when they give me a chance, and began to
make myself agreeable to him. He had those pretty juvenile markings
which disappear with maturity. Snakes of this kind, when they become
full-sized, are nearly always of a uniform shade, generally black. And
when they are very, very old, they begin to grow ears and seek out
solitary places. What is the origin of this belief? I have come across
it all over the country. If you wish to go to any remote or inaccessible
spot, be sure some peasant will say: "Ah! There you find the serpent
These snakes are not easy to catch with the hand, living as they do
among stones and brushwood, and gliding off rapidly once their
suspicions are aroused. This one, I should say, was bent on some
youthful voyage of discovery or amorous exploit; he walked into the trap
from inexperience. As a rule, your best chance for securing them is when
they bask on the top of some bush or hedge in relative unconcern,
knowing they are hard to detect in such places. They climb into these
aerial situations after the lizards, which go there after the insects,
which go there after the flowers, which go there after the sunshine,
struggling upwards through the thick undergrowth. You must have a quick
eye and ready hand to grasp them by the tail ere they have time to lash
themselves round some stem where, once anchored, they will allow
themselves to be pulled in pieces rather than yield to your efforts. If
you fail to seize them, they trickle earthward through the tangle like a
thread of running water.
He belonged to that common Italian kind which has no English
name--Germans call them Zornnatter, in allusion to their choleric
disposition. Most of them are quite ready to snap at the least
provocation; maybe they find it pays, as it does with other folks, to
assume the offensive and be first in the field, demanding your place in
the sun with an air of wrathful determination. Some of the big fellows
can draw blood with their teeth. Yet the jawbones are weak and one can
force them asunder without much difficulty; whereas the bite of a
full-grown emerald lizard, for instance, will provide quite a novel
sensation. The mouth closes on you like a steel trap, tightly
compressing the flesh and often refusing to relax its hold. In such
cases, try a puff of tobacco. It works! Two puffs will daze them; a
fragment of a cigar, laid in the mouth, stretches them out dead. And
this is the beast which, they say, will gulp down prussic acid as if it
But snakes vary in temperament as we do, and some of these Zamenis
serpents are as gentle and amiable as their cousin the Aesculap snake.
My friend of this afternoon could not be induced to bite. Perhaps he was
naturally mild, perhaps drowsy from his winter sleep or ignorant of the
ways of the world; perhaps he had not yet shed his milk teeth. I am
disposed to think that he forgot about biting because I made a
favourable impression on him from the first. He crawled up my arm. It
was pleasantly warm, but a little too dark; soon he emerged again and
glanced around, relieved to discover that the world was still in its old
place. He was not clever at learning tricks. I tried to make him stand
on his head, but he refused to stiffen out. Snakes have not much sense
Lizards are far more companionable. During two consecutive summers I had
a close friendship with a wall-lizard who spent in my society certain of
his leisure moments--which were not many, for he always had an
astonishing number of other things on hand. He was a full-grown male,
bejewelled with blue spots. A fierce fighter was Alfonso (such was his
name), and conspicuous for a most impressive manner of stamping his
front foot when impatient. Concerning his other virtues I know little,
for I learnt no details of his private life save what I saw with my
eyes, and they were not always worthy of imitation. He was a polygamist,
or worse; obsessed, moreover, by a deplorable habit of biting off the
tails of his own or other people's children. He went even further. For
sometimes, without a word of warning, he would pounce upon some innocent
youngster and carry him in his powerful jaws far away, over the wall,
right out of my sight. What happened yonder I cannot guess. It was
probably a little old-fashioned cannibalism.
Though my meals in those days were all out of doors, his attendance at
dinner-time was rather uncertain; I suspect he retired early in order to
spend the night, like other polygamists, in prayer and fasting. At the
hours of breakfast and luncheon--he knew them as well as I did--he was
generally free, and then quite monopolized my company, climbing up my
leg on to the table, eating out of my hand, sipping sugar-water out of
his own private bowl and, in fact, doing everything I suggested. I did
not suggest impossibilities. A friendship should never be strained to
breaking-point. Had I cared to risk such a calamity, I might have taught
him to play skittles....
For the rest, it is not very amusing to be either a lizard or a snake in
Italy. Lizards are caught in nooses and then tied by one leg and made to
run on the remaining three; or secured by a cord round the neck and
swung about in the air--mighty good sport, this; or deprived of their
tails and given to the baby or cat to play with; or dragged along at the
end of a string, like a reluctant pig that is led to market. There are
quite a number of ways of making lizards feel at home.
With snakes the procedure is simple. They are killed; treated to that
self-same system to which they used to treat us in our arboreal days
when the glassy eye of the serpent, gleaming through the branches, will
have caused our fur to stand on end with horror. No beast provokes human
hatred like that old coiling serpent. Long and cruel must have been his
reign for the memory to have lingered--how many years? Let us say, in
order to be on the safe side, a million. Here, then, is another ghost of
the past, a daylight ghost.
And look around you; the world is full of them. We live amid a legion of
ancestral terrors which creep from their limbo and peer in upon our
weaker moments, ready to make us their prey. A man whose wits are not
firmly rooted in earth, in warm friends and warm food, might well live a
life of ceaseless trepidation. Many do. They brood over their immortal
soul--a ghost. Others there are, whose dreams have altogether devoured
their realities. These live, for the most part, in asylums.
There flits, along this very shore, a ghost of another kind--that of
Shelley. Maybe the spot where they burnt his body can still be pointed
out. I have forgotten all I ever read on that subject. An Italian
enthusiast, the librarian of the Laurentian Library in Florence,
garnered certain information from ancient fishermen of Viareggio in
regard to this occurrence and set it down in a little book, a book with
white covers which I possessed during my Shelley period. They have
erected a memorial to the English poet in one of the public squares
here. The features of the bust do not strike me as remarkably etherial,
but the inscription is a good specimen of Italian adapted to lapidary
uses--it avoids those insipid verbal terminations which weaken the
language and sometimes render it almost ridiculous.
Smollet lies yonder, at Livorno; and Ouida hard by, at Bagni di Lucca.
She died in one of these same featureless streets of Viareggio, alone,
half blind, and in poverty....
I know Suffolk, that ripe old county of hers, with its pink villages
nestling among drowsy elms and cornfields; I know their "Spread Eagles"
and "Angels" and "White Horses" and other taverns suggestive--sure sign
of antiquity--of zoological gardens; I know their goodly ale and old
brown sherries. Her birthplace, despite those venerable green mounds, is
comparatively dull--I would not care to live at Bury; give me Lavenham
or Melford or some place of that kind. While looking one day at the
house where she was born, I was sorely tempted to crave permission to
view the interior, but refrained; something of her own dislike of prying
and meddlesomeness came over me. Thence down to that commemorative
fountain among the drooping trees. The good animals for whose comfort it
was built would have had some difficulty in slaking their thirst just
then, its basin being chocked up with decayed leaves.
We corresponded for a good while and I still possess her letters
somewhere; I see in memory that large and bold handwriting, often only
two words to a line, on the high-class slate-coloured paper. The sums
she spent on writing materials! It was one of her many ladylike traits.
I tried to induce her to stay with me in South Italy. She made three
conditions: to be allowed to bring her dogs, to have a hot bath every
day, and two litres of cream. Everything could be managed except the
cream, which was unprocurable. Later on, while living in the Tyrolese
mountains, I renewed the invitation; that third condition could now be
fulfilled as easily as the other two. She was unwell, she replied, and
could not move out of the house, having been poisoned by a cook. So we
never met, though she wrote me much about herself and about
"Helianthus," which was printed after her death. In return, I dedicated
to her a book of short stories; they were published, thank God, under a
pseudonym, and eight copies were sold.
She is now out of date. Why, yes. Those guardsmen who drenched their
beards in scent and breakfasted off caviare and chocolate and sparkling
Moselle--they certainly seem fantastic. They really were fantastic. They
did drench their beards in scent. The language and habits of these
martial heroes are authenticated in the records of their day; glance,
for instance, into back numbers of Punch. The fact is, we were all
rather ludicrous formerly. The characters of Dickens, to say nothing of
Cruikshank's pictures of them: can such beings ever have walked the
If her novels are somewhat faded, the same cannot be said of her letters
and articles and critiques. To our rising generation of authors--the
youngsters, I mean; those who have not yet sold themselves to the
devil--I should say: read these things of Ouida's. Read them
attentively, not for their matter, which is always of interest, nor yet
for their vibrant and lucid style, which often rivals that of Huxley.
Read them for their tone, their temper; for that pervasive good
breeding, that shining honesty, that capacity of scorn. These are
qualities which our present age lacks, and needs; they are conspicuous
in Ouida. Abhorrence of meanness was her dominant trait. She was
intelligent, fearless; as ready to praise without stint as to voice the
warmest womanly indignation. She was courageous not only in matters of
literature; courageous, and how right! Is it not satisfactory to be
right, when others are wrong? How right about the Japanese, about
Feminism and Conscription and German brutalitarianism! How she puts her
finger on the spot when discussing Marion Crawford and D'Annunzio! Those
local politicians--how she hits them off! Hers was a sure touch. Do we
not all now agree with what she wrote at the time of Queen Victoria and
Joseph Chamberlain? When she remarks of Tolstoy, in an age which adored
him (I am quoting from memory), that "his morality and monogamy are
against nature and common sense," adding that he is dangerous, because
he is an "educated Christ"--out of date? When she says that the world is
ruled by two enemies of all beauty, commerce and militarism--out of
date? When she dismisses Oscar Wilde as a cabotin and yet thinks that
the law should not have meddled with him--is not that the man and the
situation in a nutshell?
No wonder straightforward sentiments like these do not appeal to our age
of neutral tints and compromise, to our vegetarian world-reformers who
are as incapable of enthusiasm as they are of contempt, because their
blood-temperature is invariably two degrees below the normal. Ouida's
critical and social opinions are infernally out of date--quite
inconveniently modern, in fact. There is the milk of humanity in them,
glowing conviction and sincerity; they are written from a standpoint
altogether too European, too womanly, too personally-poignant for
present-day needs; and in a language, moreover, whose picturesque and
vigorous independence comes as a positive shock after the colourless
Grub-street brand of to-day.
They come as a shock, these writings, because in the brief interval
since they were published our view of life and letters has shifted. A
swarm of mystics and pragmatists has replaced the lonely giants of
Ouida's era. It is an epoch of closed pores, of constriction. The novel
has changed. Pick up the average one and ask yourself whether this
crafty and malodorous sex-problem be not a deliberately commercial
speculation--a frenzied attempt to "sell" by scandalizing our
unscandalizable, because hermaphroditic, middle classes? Ouida was not
one of these professional hacks, but a personality of refined instincts
who wrote, when she cared to write at all, to please her equals; a
rationalistic anti-vulgarian; a woman of wide horizons who fought for
generous issues and despised all shams; the last, almost the last, of
lady-authors. What has such a genial creature in common with our anaemic
and woolly generation? "The Massarenes" may have faults, but how many of
our actual woman-scribes, for all their monkey-tricks of cleverness,
could have written it? The haunting charm of "In Maremma": why ask our
public to taste such stuff? You might as well invite a bilious
nut-fooder to a Lord Mayor's banquet.
The mention of banquets reminds me that she was blamed for preferring
the society of duchesses and diplomats to that of the Florentine
literati, as if there were something reprehensible in Ouida's fondness
for decent food and amusing talk when she could have revelled in Ceylon
tea and dough-nuts and listened to babble concerning Quattro-Cento
glazes in any of the fifty squabbling art-coteries of that City of
Misunderstandings. It was one of her several failings, chiefest among
them being this: that she had no reverence for money. She was unable to
hoard--an unpardonable sin. Envied in prosperity, she was smugly pitied
in her distress. Such is the fate of those who stand apart from the
crowd, among a nation of canting shopkeepers. To die penniless, after
being the friend of duchesses, is distinctly bad form--a slur on
society. True, she might have bettered her state by accepting a
lucrative proposal to write her autobiography, but she considered such
literature a "degrading form of vanity" and refused the offer. She
preferred to remain ladylike to the last, in this and other little
trifles--in her lack of humour, her redundancies, her love of expensive
clothes and genuinely humble people, of hot baths and latinisms and
flowers and pet dogs and sealing-wax. All through life she made no
attempt to hide her woman's nature, her preference for male over female
company; she was even guilty of saying that disease serves the world
better than war, because it kills more women than men. Out of date, with
There recurs to me a sentence in a printed letter written by a
celebrated novelist of the artificial school, a sentence I wish I could
forget, describing Ouida as "a little terrible and finally pathetic
grotesque." Does not a phrase like this reveal, even better than his own
romances, the essentially non-human fibre of the writer's mind? Whether
this derivative intellectualist spiderishly spinning his own plots and
phrases and calling Ouida a "grotesque"--whether this echo ever tried to
grasp the bearing of her essays on Shelley or Blind Guides or Alma
Veniesia or The Quality of Mercy--tried to sense her burning words of
pity for those that suffer, her hatred of hypocrisy and oppression and
betrayal of friendship, her so righteous pleadings, coined out of the
heart's red blood, for all that makes life worthy to be lived? He may
have tried. He never could succeed. He lacked the sympathy, the sex. He
lacked the sex. Ah, well--Schwamm drueber, as the Norwegians say. Ouida,
for all her femininity, was more than this feline and gelatinous New
The railway station at Rome has put on a new face. Blown to the winds is
that old dignity and sense of leisure. Bustle everywhere; soldiers in
line, officers strutting about; feverish scurryings for tickets. A young
baggage employe, who allowed me to effect a change of raiment in the
inner recesses of his department, alone seemed to keep up the traditions
of former days. He was unruffled and polite; he told me, incidentally,
that he came from ----. That was odd, I said; I had often met persons
born at ----, and never yet encountered one who was not civil beyond the
common measure. His native place must be worthy of a visit.
"It is," he replied. "There are also certain fountains...."
That restaurant, for example--one of those few for which a man in olden
days of peace would desert his own tavern in the town--how changed! The
fare has deteriorated beyond recognition. Where are those succulent
joints and ragouts, the aromatic wine, the snow-white macaroni, the
cafe-au-lait with genuine butter and genuine honey?
Conversed awhile with an Englishman at my side, who was gleefully
devouring lumps of a particular something which I would not have liked
to touch with tongs.
"I don't care what I eat," he remarked.
So it seemed.
I don't care what I eat: what a confession to make! Is it not the same
as saying, I don't care whether I am dirty or clean? When others tell me
this, I regard it as a pose, or a poor joke. This person was manifestly
sincere in his profession of faith. He did not care what he ate. He
looked it. Were I afflicted with this peculiar ailment, this attenuated
form of coprophagia, I should try to keep the hideous secret to myself.
It is nothing to boast of. A man owes something to those traditions of
our race which has helped to raise us above the level of the brute. Good
taste in viands has been painfully acquired; it is a sacred trust.
Beware of gross feeders. They are a menace to their fellow-creatures.
Will they not act, on occasion, even as they feed? Assuredly they will.
Everybody acts as he feeds.
Then lingered on the departure platform, comparing its tone with that of
similar places in England. A mournful little crowd is collected here.
Conscripts, untidy-looking fellows, are leaving--perhaps for ever. They
climb into those tightly packed carriages, loaded down with parcels and
endless recommendations. Some of the groups are cheerful over their
farewells, though the English note of deliberate jocularity is absent.
The older people are resigned; in the features of the middle generation,
the parents, you may read a certain grimness and hostility to fate; they
are the potential mourners. The weeping note predominates among the
sisters and children, who give themselves away pretty freely. An
infectious thing, this shedding of tears. One little girl, loth to part
from that big brother, contrived by her wailing to break down the
reserve of the entire family....
It rains persistently in soft, warm showers. Rome is mirthless.
There arises, before my mind's eye, the vision of a sweet old lady
friend who said to me, in years gone by:
"When next you go to Rome, please let me know if it is still raining
It was here that she celebrated her honeymoon--an event which must have
taken place in the 'sixties or thereabouts. She is dead now. So is her
husband, the prince of moralizers, the man who first taught me how
contemptible the human race may become. Doubtless he expired with some
edifying platitude on his lips and is deblatterating them at this very
moment in Heaven, where the folks may well be seasoned to that kind of
Let us be charitable, now that he is gone!
To have lived so long with a person of this incurable respectability
would have soured any ordinary woman's temper. Hers it refined; it made
her into something akin to an angel. He was her cross; she bore him
meekly and not, I like to think, without extracting a kind of sly, dry
fun out of the horrible creature. A past master in the art of gentle
domestic nagging, he made everybody miserable as long as he lived, and I
would give something for an official assurance that he is now miserable
himself. He was a worm; a good man in the worse sense of the word. It
was the contrast--the contrast between his gentle clothing and ungentle
heart, which moved my spleen. What a self-sufficient and inhuman brood
were the Victorians of that type, hag-ridden by their nightmare of duty;
a brood that has never yet been called by its proper name. Victorians?
Why, not altogether. The mischief has its roots further back. Addison,
for example, is a fair specimen.
Why say unkind things about a dead man? He cannot answer back.
Upon my word, I am rather glad to think he cannot. The last thing I ever
wish to hear again is that voice of his. And what a face: gorgonizing in
its assumption of virtue! Now the whole species is dying out, and none
too soon. Graft abstract principles of conduct upon natures devoid of
sympathy and you produce a monster; a sanctimonious fish; the coldest
beast that ever infested the earth. This man's affinities were with
Robespierre and Torquemada--both of them actuated by the purest
intentions and without a grain of self-interest: pillars of integrity.
What floods of tears would have been spared to mankind, had they only
been a little corrupt! How corrupt a person of principles? He lacks the
vulgar yet divine gift of imagination.
That is what these Victorians lacked. They would never have subscribed
to this palpable truth: that justice is too good for some men, and not
good enough for the rest. They cultivated the Cato or Brutus tone; they
strove to be stern old Romans--Romans of the sour and imperfect
Republic; for the Empire, that golden blossom, was to them a period of
luxury and debauch. Nero--most reprehensible! It was not Nero, however,
but our complacent British reptiles, who filled the prisons with the
wailing of young children, and hanged a boy of thirteen for stealing a
spoon. I wish I had it here, that book which everybody ought to read,
that book by George Ives on the History of Penal Methods--it would help
me to say a few more polite things. The villainies of the virtuous: who
shall recount them? I can picture this vastly offensive old man acting
as judge on that occasion and then, his "duties towards society"
accomplished, being driven home in his brougham to thank Providence for
one of those succulent luncheons, the enjoyment of which he invariably
managed to ruin for every one except himself.
God rest his soul, the unspeakable phenomenon! He ought to have
throttled himself at his mother's breast. Only a woman imbued with
ultra-terrestrial notions of humour could have tolerated such an
infliction. Anybody else would have poisoned him in the name of
Christian charity and common sense, and earned the gratitude of
generations yet unborn.
Well, well! R.I.P....
On returning to Rome after a considerable absence--a year or so--a few
things have to be done for the sake of auld lang syne ere one may again
feel at home. Rites must be performed. I am to take my fill of memories
and conjure up certain bitter-sweet phantoms of the past. Meals must be
taken in definite restaurants; a certain church must be entered; a sip
of water taken from a fountain--from one, and one only (no easy task,
this, for most of the fountains of Rome are so constructed that, however
abundant their flow, a man may die of thirst ere obtaining a mouthful);
I must linger awhile at the very end, the dirty end, of the horrible Via
Principe Amedeo and, again, at a corner near the Portico d'Ottavia;
perambulate the Protestant cemetery, Monte Mario, and a few quite
uninteresting modern sites; the Acqua Acetosa, a stupid place, may on no
account be forgotten, nor yet that bridge on the Via Nomentana--not the
celebrated bridge but another one, miles away in the Campagna, the
dreariest of little bridges, in the dreariest of landscapes. Why? It has
been hallowed by the tread of certain feet.
Thus, by a kind of sacred procedure, I immerge myself into those old
stones and recreate my peculiar Roman mood. It is rather ridiculous.
Tradition wills it.
To-day came the turn of the Protestant cemetery. I have a view of this
place, taken about the 'seventies--I wish I could reproduce it here, to
show how this spot has been ruined. A woman who looks after the
enclosure was in a fairly communicative mood; we had a few minutes'
talk, among the tombs. What a jumble of names and nationalities, by the
way! What a mixed assemblage lies here, in this foreign earth! One would
like to write down all their names, shake them in a bag, pick out fifty
at random and compose their biographies. It would be a curious
They have now a dog, the woman tells me, a ferocious dog who roams among
the tombs, since several brass plates have been wrenched off by
marauders. At night? I inquire. At night. At night.... Slowly, warily, I
introduce the subject of fiammelle. It is not a popular theme. No! She
has heard of such things, but never seen them; she never comes here at
night, God forbid!
What are fiammelle? Little flames, will-o'-the-wisps which hover about
the graves at such hours, chiefly in the hot months or after autumn
rains. It is a well-authenticated apparition; the scientist Bessel saw
one; so did Casanova, here at Rome. He describes it as a pyramidal flame
raised about four feet from the ground which seemed to accompany him as
he walked along. He saw the same thing later, at Cesena near Bologna.
There was some correspondence on the subject (started by Dr. Herbert
Snow) in the Observer of December 1915 and January 1916. Many are the
graveyards I visited in this country and in others with a view to
"satisfying my curiosity," as old Ramage would say, on this point, and
all in vain. My usual luck! The fiammelle, on that particular evening,
were coy--they were never working. They are said to be frequently
observed at Scanno in the Abruzzi province, and the young secretary of
the municipality there, Mr. L. O., will tell you of our periodical
midnight visits to the local cemetery. Or go to Licenza and ask for my
intelligent friend the schoolmaster. What he does not know about
fiammelle is not worth knowing. Did he not, one night, have a veritable
fight with a legion of them which the wind blew from the graveyard into
his face? Did he not return home trembling all over and pale as
Here reposes, among many old friends, the idealist Malwida von
Meysenbug; that sculptured medallion is sufficient to proclaim her
whereabouts to those who still remember her. It is good to pause awhile
and etheralize oneself in the neighbourhood of her dust. She lived a
quiet life in an old brown house, since rebuilt, that overlooks the
Coliseum, on whose comely ellipse and blood-stained history she loved to
pasture eyes and imagination. Often I walked thence with her, in those
sparkling mornings, up the Palatine hill, to stroll about the ilexes and
roses in view of the Forum, to listen to the blackbirds, or the siskins
in that pine tree. She was of the same type, the same ethical parentage,
as the late Mathilde Blind, a woman of benignant and refined enthusiasm,
full of charity to the poor and, in those later days, almost
shadowy--remote from earth. She had saturated herself with Rome, for
whose name she professed a tremulous affection untainted by worldly
considerations such as mine; she loved its "persistent spiritual life";
it was her haven of rest. So, while her arm rested lightly on mine, we
wandered about those gardens, the saintly lady and myself; her mind
dwelling, maybe, on memories of that one classic love-adventure and the
part she came nigh to playing in the history of Europe, while mine was
lost in a maze of vulgar love-adventures, several of which came nigh to
making me play a part in the police-courts of Rome.
What may have helped to cement our strange friendship was my
acquaintance, at that time, with the German metaphysicians. She must
have thought me a queer kind of Englishman to discuss with such
familiarity the tenets of these cloudy dreamers. Malwida loved them in a
bland and childlike fashion. She would take one of their dicta as a
starting-point--establish herself, so to speak, within this or that
nebular hypothesis--and argue thence in academic fashion for the sake of
intellectual exercise and the joy of seeing where, after a thousand
twists and turnings, you were finally deposited. A friend of ours--some
American--had lately published a Socratic dialogue entitled "The
Prison"; it formed a fruitful theme of conversation.  Nietzsche was
also then to the fore, and it pleases me to recollect that even in those
days I detected his blind spot; his horror of those English materialists
and biologists. I did not pause to consider why he hated them so
ardently; I merely noted, more in sorrow than in anger, this fact which
seemed to vitiate his whole outlook--as indeed it does. Now I know the
reason. Like all preacher-poets, he is anthropocentric. To his way of
thinking the human mind is so highly organized, so different from that
of beasts, that not all the proofs of ethnology and physiology would
ever induce him to accept the ape-ancestry of man. This monkey-business
is too irksome and humiliating to be true; he waives it aside, with a
sneer at the disgusting arguments of those Englishmen.
That is what happens to men who think that "the spirit alone lives; the
life of the spirit alone is true life." A philosopher weighs the value
of evidence; he makes it his business, before discoursing of the origin
of human intellect, to learn a little something of its focus, the brain;
a little comparative anatomy. These men are not philosophers.
Metaphysicians are poets gone wrong. Schopenhauer invents a "genius of
the race"--there you have his cloven hoof, the pathetic fallacy, the
poet's heritage. There are things in Schopenhauer which make one blush
for philosophy. The day may dawn when this man will be read not for what
he says, but for how he says it; he being one of the few of his race who
can write in their own language. Impossible, of course, not to hit upon
a good thing now and then, if you brood as much as he did. So I remember
one passage wherein he adumbrates the theory of "Recognition Marks"
propounded later by A. R. Wallace, who, when I drew his attention to it,
wrote that he thought it a most interesting anticipation. 
He must have stumbled upon it by accident, during one of his excursions
into the inane.
And what of that jovial red-bearded personage who scorned honest work
and yet contrived to dress so well? Everyone liked him, despite his
borrowing propensities. He was so infernally pleasant, and always on the
spot. He had a lovely varnish of culture; it was more than varnish; it
was a veneer, a patina, an enamel: weather-proof stuff. He could talk
most plausibly--art, music, society gossip--everything you please;
everything except scandal. No bitter word was known to pass his lips. He
sympathized with all our little weaknesses; he was too blissfully
contented to think ill of others; he took it for granted that everybody,
like himself, found the world a good place to inhabit. That, I believe,
was the secret of his success. He had a divine intuition for discovering
the soft spots of his neighbours and utilizing the knowledge, in a frank
and gentlemanly fashion, for his own advantage. It was he who invented a
saying which I have since encountered more than once: "Never run after
an omnibus or a woman. There will be another one round in a minute." And
also this: "Never borrow from a man who really expects to be paid back.
You may lose a friend."
What lady is he now living on?
"A good-looking fellow like me--why should I work? Tell me that.
Especially with so many rich ladies in the world aching for somebody to
relieve them of their spare cash?"
"The wealthy woman," he once told me, after I had begun to know him more
intimately, "is a great danger to society. She is so corruptible! People
make her spend money on all kinds of empty and even harmful projects.
Think of the mischief that is done, in politics alone, by the money of
these women. Think of all the religious fads that spring up and are kept
going in a state of prosperity because some woman or other has not been
instructed as to the proper use of her cheque-book. I foresee a positive
decline ahead of us, if this state of affairs is allowed to go on. We
must club together, we reasonable men, and put an end to the scandal.
These women need trimmers; an army of trimmers. I have done a good deal
of trimming in my day. Of course it involves some trouble and a close
degree of intimacy, now and then. But a sensible man will always know
where to draw the line."
"Where do you draw it?"
Whether he ever dared to tap the venerable Malwida for a loan? Likely
enough. He often played with her feelings in a delicate style, and his
astuteness in such matters was only surpassed by his shamelessness. He
was capable of borrowing a fiver from the Pope--or at least of
attempting the feat; of pocketing some hungry widow's last mite and
therewith purchasing a cigarette before her eyes. All these sums he took
as his due, by right of conquest. Whether he ever "stung" Malwida? I
should have liked to see the idealist's face when confronted in that
cheery off-hand manner with the question whether she happened to have
five hundred francs to spare.
"No? Whatever does it matter, my dear Madame de Meysenbug? Perhaps I
shall be more fortunate another day. But pray don't put yourself out for
an extravagant rascal like myself. I am always spending money--can't
live without it, can one?--and sometimes, though you might not believe
it, on quite worthy objects. There is a poor family I would like to take
you to see one day; the father was cut to pieces in some wretched
agricultural machine, the mother is dying in a hospital for consumption,
and the six little children, all shivering under one blanket--well,
never mind! One does what one can, in a small way. That was an
interesting lecture, wasn't it, on Friday? He made a fine point in what
he said about the relation of the Ego to the Cosmos. All the same, I
thought he was a little hard on Fichte. But then, you know, I always
felt a sort of tenderness for Fichte. And did you notice that the room
was absolutely packed? I doubt whether that would have been the case in
any other European capital. This must be the secret charm of Rome, don't
you think so? This is what draws one to the Eternal City and keeps one
here and makes one love the place in spite of a few trivial
annoyances--this sense of persistent spiritual life."
The various sums derived from ladies were regarded merely as
adventitious income. I found out towards the end of our acquaintance,
when I really began to understand his "method," that he had a second
source of revenue, far smaller but luckily "fixed." It was drawn from
the other sex, from that endless procession of men passing through Rome
and intent upon its antiquities. Rome, he explained, was the very place
"This is what keeps me here and makes me love the place in spite of a
few trivial annoyances--this persistent coming and going of tourists.
Everybody on the move, all the time! A man must be daft if he cannot
talk a little archaeology or something and make twenty new friends a
year among such a jolly crowd of people. They are so grateful for having
things explained to them. Another lot next year! And there are really
good fellows among them; fellows, mind you, with brains; fellows with
money. From each of those twenty he can borrow, say, ten pounds; what is
that to a rich stranger who comes here for a month or so with the
express purpose of getting rid of his money? Of course I am only talking
about the medium rich; one need never apply to the very rich--they are
always too poor. Well, that makes about two hundred a year. It's not
much, but, thank God, it's safe as a house and it supplements the
ladies. Women are so distressingly precarious, you know. You cannot
count on a woman unless you have her actually under your thumb. Under
your thumb, my boy; under your thumb. Don't ever forget it."
I have never forgotten it.
Where is he now? Is he dead? A gulf intervenes between that period and
this. What has become of him? You might as well ask me about his
contemporary, the Piccadilly goat. I have no idea what became of the
Piccadilly goat, though I know pretty well what would become of him,
were he alive at this moment.
Yet I can make a guess at what is happening to my red-haired friend. He
is not dead, but sleepeth. He is being lovingly tended, in a crapulous
old age, by one of the hundred ladies he victimized. He takes it as a
matter of course. I can hear him chuckling dreamily, as she smooths his
pillow for him. He will die in her arms unrepentant, and leave her to
pay for the funeral.
"Work!" he once said. "To Hell with work. The man who talks to me about
work is my enemy."
One sunny morning during this period there occurred a thunderous
explosion which shattered my windows and many others in Rome. A
gunpowder magazine had blown up, somewhere in the Campagna; the
concussion of air was so mighty that it broke glass, they said, even at
We drove out later to view the site. It resembled a miniature volcano.
There I left the party and wandered alone into one of those tortuous
stream-beds that intersect the plain, searching for a certain kind of
crystal which may be found in such places, washed out of the soil by
wintry torrents. I specialized in minerals in those days--minerals and
girls. Dangerous and unprofitable studies! Even at that tender age I
seem to have dimly discerned what I now know for certain: that dangerous
and unprofitable objects are alone worth pursuing. The taste for
minerals died out later, though I clung to it half-heartedly for a long
while, Dr. Johnston-Lavis, Professor Knop and others fanning the dying
embers. One day, all of a sudden, it was gone. I found myself riding
somewhere in Asiatic Turkey past a precipice streaked in alternate veins
of purest red and yellow jasper, with chalcedony in between: a discovery
which in former days would have made me half delirious with joy. It left
me cold. I did not even dismount to examine the site. "Farewell to
stones" I thought....
Often we lingered by the Fontana Trevi to watch the children disporting
themselves in the water and diving for pennies--a pretty scene which has
now been banished from the politer regions of Rome (the town has grown
painfully proper). There, at the foot of that weedy and vacuous and yet
charming old Neptune--how perfectly he suits his age!--there, if you
look, you will see certain gigantic leaves sculptured into the rock. I
once overheard a German she-tourist saying to her companion, as she
pointed to these things: "Ist doch sonderbar, wie das Wasser so die
Pflanzen versteinert." She thought they were natural plants petrified by
the water's action.
What happened yesterday was equally surprising. We were sitting at the
Arch of Constantine and I was telling my friend about the Coliseum hard
by and how, not long ago, it was a thicket of trees and flowers, looking
less like a ruin than some wooded mountain. Now the Coliseum is surely
one of the most famous structures in the world. Even they who have never
been to the spot would recognize it from those myriad reproductions
--especially, one would think, an Italian. Nevertheless, while thus
discoursing, a man came up to us, a well-dressed man, who politely
"Could you tell me the name of this castello?"
I am glad to think that some account of the rich and singular flora of
the Coliseum has been preserved by Deakin and Sebastiani, and possibly
by others. I could round their efforts by describing the fauna of the
Coliseum. The fauna of the Coliseum--especially after 11 p.m.--would
make a readable book; readable but hardly printable.
These little local studies are not without charm. Somebody, one day, may
be induced to tell us about the fauna of Trafalgar Square. He should
begin with a description of the horse standing on three legs and gazing
inanely out of those human eyes after the fashion of its classic
prototype; then pass on to the lions beloved of our good Richard
Jefferies which look like puppy-dogs modelled in cotton-wool (why did
the sculptor not take a few lessons in lions from the sand-artist on
Yarmouth beach?), and conclude by dwelling as charitably as possible on
the human fauna--that droll little man, barely discernible, perched on
the summit of his lead pencil....
There was a slight earthquake at sunrise. I felt nothing....
And, appropriately enough, I encountered this afternoon M. M., that most
charming of persons, who, like Shelley and others, has discovered Italy
to be a "paradise of exiles." His friends may guess whom I mean when I
say that M. M. is connoisseur of earthquakes social and financial; his
existence has been punctuated by them to such an extent that he no
longer counts events from dates in the ordinary calendar, from birthdays
or Christmas or Easter, but from such and such a disaster affecting
himself. Each has left him seemingly more mellow than the last. Just
then, however, he was in pensive mood, his face all puckered into
wrinkles as he glanced upon the tawny flood rolling beneath that old
bridge. There he stood, leaning over the parapet, all by himself. He
turned his countenance aside on seeing me, to escape detection, but I
drew nigh none the less.
"Go away," he said. "Don't disturb me just now. I am watching the little
fishes. Life is so complicated! Let us pray. I have begun a new novel
and a new love-affair."
"God prosper both!" I replied, and began to move off.
"Thanks. But supposing the publisher always objects to your choicest
"I am not altogether surprised, if they are anything like what you once
read to me out of your unexpurgated 'House of the Seven Harlots.' Why
not try another firm? They might be more accommodating. Try mine."
He shook his head dubiously.
"They are all alike. It is with publishers as with wives: one always
wants somebody else's. And when you have them, where's the difference?
Ah, let us pray. These little fishes have none of our troubles."
I inquired about the new romance. At first he refused to disclose
anything. Then he told me it was to be entitled "With Christ at
Harvard," and that it promised some rather novel situations. I shall
look forward to its appearance.
What good things one could relate of M. M., but for the risk of
incurring his wrath! It is a thousand pities, I often tell him, that he
is still alive; I am yearning to write his biography, and cannot afford
to wait for his dissolution.
"When I am dead," he always says.
"By that time, my dear M., I shall be in the same fix myself."
"Try to survive. You may find it worth your while, when you come to look
into my papers. You don't know half. And I may be taking that little
sleeping-draught of mine any one of these days...." 
Mused long that night, and not without a certain envy, on the lot of M.
M. and other earthquake-connoisseurs--or rather on the lot of that true
philosopher, if he exists, who, far from being damaged by such
convulsions, distils therefrom subtle matter of mirth, I have only known
one single man--it happened to be a woman, an Austrian--who approached
this ideal of splendid isolation. She lived her own life, serenely
happy, refusing to acquiesce in the delusions and conventionalities of
the crowd; she had ceased to trouble herself about neighbours, save as a
source of quiet amusement; a state of affairs which had been brought
about by a succession of benevolent earthquakes that refined and
clarified her outlook.
Such disasters, obviously, have their uses. They knock down obsolete
rubbish and enable a man to start building anew. The most sensitive
recluse cannot help being a member of society. As such, he unavoidably
gathers about him a host of mere acquaintances, good folks who waste his
time dulling the edge of his wit and infecting him with their orthodoxy.
Then comes the cataclysm. He loses, let us say, all his money, or makes
a third appearance in the divorce courts. He can then at last (so one of
them expressed it to me) "revise his visiting-list," an operation which
more than counterbalances any damage from earthquakes. For these same
good folks are vanished, the scandal having scattered them to the winds.
He begins to breathe again, and employ his hours to better purpose. If
he loses both money and reputation he must feel, I should think, as
though treading on air. The last fools gone! And no sage lacks friends.
Consider well your neighbour, what an imbecile he is. Then ask yourself
whether it be worth while paying any attention to what he thinks of you.
Life is too short, and death the end of all things. Life must be lived,
not endured. Were the day twice as long as it is, a man might find it
diverting to probe down into that unsatisfactory fellow-creature and try
to reach some common root of feeling other than those physiological
needs which we share with every beast of earth. Diverting; hardly
profitable. It would be like looking for a flea in a haystack, or a joke
in the Bible. They can perhaps be found; at the expense of how much
Therefore the sage will go his way, prepared to find himself growing
ever more out of sympathy with vulgar trends of opinion, for such is the
inevitable development of thoughtful and self-respecting minds. He
scorns to make proselytes among his fellows: they are not worth it. He
has better things to do. While others nurse their griefs, he nurses his
joy. He endeavours to find himself at no matter what cost, and to be
true to that self when found--a worthy and ample occupation for a
life-time. The happiness-of-the-greatest-number, of those who pasture on
delusions: what dreamer is responsible for this eunuchry? Mill, was it?
Bentham, more likely. As if the greatest number were not necessarily the
least-intelligent! As if their happiness were not necessarily
incompatible with that of the sage! Why foster it? He is a poor
philosopher, who cuts his own throat. Away with their ghosts;
de-spiritualize yourself; what you cannot find on earth is not worth
That charming M. M., I fear, will never compass this clarity of vision,
this perfect de-spiritualization and contempt of illusions. He will
never remain curious, to his dying day, in things terrestrial and in
nothing else. From a Jewish-American father he has inherited that all
too common taint of psychasthenia (miscalled neurasthenia); he
confesses, moreover,--like other men of strong carnal proclivities--to
certain immaterial needs and aspirations after "the beyond." Not one of
these earthquake-specialists, in fact, but has his Achilles heel: a
mental crotchet or physical imperfection to mar the worldly perspective.
Not one of them, at close of life, will sit beside some open window in
view of a fair landscape and call up memories of certain moments which
no cataclysms have taken from him; not one will lay them in the balance
and note how they outweigh, in their tiny grains of gold, the dross of
an age of other men's lives. Not one of them! They will be preoccupied,
for the most part, with unseasonable little concerns. Pleasant folk,
none the less. And sufficiently abundant in Italy. Altogether, the
Englishman here is as often an intenser being than the home product.
Alien surroundings awaken fresh and unexpected notes in his nature. His
fibres seem to lie more exposed; you have glimpses into the man's
anatomy. There is something hostile in this sunlight to the hazy or
spongy quality which saturates the domestic Anglo-Saxon, blurring the
sharpness of his moral outline. No doubt you will also meet with dull
persons; Rome is full of them, but, the type being easier to detect
among a foreign environment, there is still less difficulty in evading
Thus I should have had no compunction, some nights ago, in making myself
highly objectionable to Mr. P. G. who has turned up here on some mission
connected with the war--so he says, and it may well be true; no
compunction whatever, had that gentleman been in his ordinary social
state. Mr. P. G., the acme of British propriety, inhabiting a house, a
mansion, on the breezy heights of north London, was on that occasion
decidedly drunk. "Indulging in a jag," he would probably have called it.
He tottered into a place where I happened to be sitting, having lost his
friends, he declared; and soon began pouring into my ear, after the
confidential manner of a drunkard, a flood of low talk, which if I
attempted to set it down here, would only result in my being treated to
the same humiliating process as the excellent M. M. with his "choicest
paragraphs." It was highly instructive--the contrast between that
impeccable personality which he displays at home and his present state.
I wish his wife and two little girls could have caught a few shreds of
what he said--just a few shreds; they would have seen a new light on
In vino veritas. Ever avid of experimentum in some corpore vili and
determined to reach the bed-rock of his gross mentality, I plied him
vigorously with drink, and was rewarded. It was rich sport, unmasking
this Philistine and thanking God, meanwhile, that I was not like unto
him. We are all lost sheep; and none the worse for that. Yet whoso is
liable, however drunk, to make an exhibition of himself after the
peculiar fashion of Mr. P. G., should realize that there is something
fundamentally wrong with his character and take drastic measures of
reform--measures which would include, among others, a total abstention
from alcohol. Old Aristotle, long ago, laboured to define wherein
consisted the trait known as gentlemanliness; others will have puzzled
since his day, for we have bedaubed ourselves with so thick a coating of
manner and phrase that many a cad will pass for something better. Well,
here is the test. Unvarnish your man; make him drink, and listen. That
was my procedure with P. G. Esquire. I listened to his outpouring of
inanity and obscenity and, listening sympathetically, like some
compassionate family doctor, could not help asking myself: Is such a man
to be respected, even when sober? Be that as it may, he gave me to
understand why some folk are rightly afraid of exposing, under the
influence of drink, the bete humaine which lurks below their skin of
decency. His language would have terrified many people. Me it rejoiced.
I would not have missed that entertainment for worlds. He finally wanted
to have a fight, because I refused to accompany him to a certain place
of delights, the address of which--I might have given him a far better
one--had been scrawled on the back of a crumpled envelope by some
cabman. Unable to stand on his legs, what could he hope to do there?
I have loafed into Olevano.
A thousand feet below my window, and far away, lies the gap between the
Alban and Volscian hills; veiled in mists, the Pontine marches extend
beyond, and further still--discernible only to the eye of faith--the
The profile of these Alban craters is of inimitable grace. It recalls
Etna, as viewed from Taormina. How the mountain cleaves to earth, how
reluctantly it quits the plain before swerving aloft in that noble line!
Velletri's ramparts, twenty miles distant, are firmly planted on its
lower slope. Standing out against the sky, they can be seen at all hours
of the day, whereas the dusky palace of Valmontone, midmost on the green
plain and rock-like in its proportions, fades out of sight after midday.
Hard by, on your right, are the craggy heights of Capranica. Tradition
has it that Michael Angelo was in exile up there, after doing something
rather risky. What had he done? He crucified his model, desirous, like a
true artist, to observe and reproduce faithfully in marble the muscular
contractions and facial agony of such a sufferer. To crucify a man: this