Part 3 out of 5
was going almost too far, even for the Pope of that period, who seems to
have been an unusually sensitive pontiff--or perhaps the victim was a
particular friend of his. However that may be, he waxed wroth and
banished the conscientious sculptor in disgrace to this lonely mountain
village, there to expiate his sins, for a day or two....
One sleeps badly here. Those nightingales--they are worse than the
tram-cars in town. They begin earlier. They make more noise. Surely
there is a time for everything? Will certain birds never learn to sing
at reasonable hours?
A word as to these nightingales. One of them elects to warble, in
deplorably full-throated ease, immediately below my bedroom window. When
this particular fowl sets up its din at about 3.45 a.m. it is a
veritable explosion; an ear-rending, nerve-shattering explosion of
noise. I use that word "noise" deliberately. For it is not music--not
until your ears are grown accustomed to it.
I know a little something about music, having studied the art with
considerable diligence for a number of years. Impossible to enumerate
all the composers and executants on various instruments, the conductors
and opera-singers and ballet-girls with whom I was on terms of
familiarity during that incarnation. Perhaps I am the only person now
alive who has shaken hands with a man (Lachner) who shook hands with
Beethoven and heard his voice; all of which may appear when I come to
indite my musical memoirs. I have written a sonata in four movements,
opus 643, hitherto unpublished, and played the organ during divine
service to a crowded congregation. Furthermore I performed, not at my
own suggestion, his insipid Valse Caprice to the great Antoine
Rubinstein, who was kind enough to observe: "Yes, yes. Quite good. But I
rather doubt whether you could yet risk playing that in a concert." And
in the matter of sheer noise I am also something of an expert, having
once, as an infant prodigy, broken five notes in a single masterly
rendering of Liszt's polonaise in E Major--I think it is E
Major--whereupon my teacher, himself a pupil of Liszt, genially
remarked: "Now don't cry, and don't apologize. A polonaise like yours is
worth a piano." I set these things down with modest diffidence, solely
in order to establish my locus standi as a person who might be expected
to know the difference between sound and noise. As such, I have no
hesitation in saying that the first three bars of that nightingale
performance are, to sleeping ears, not music. They break upon the
stillness with the crash of Judgment Day.
And every night the same scare. It causes me to start up, bathed in
sudden perspiration, out of my first, and best, and often only sleep,
with the familiar feeling that something awful is happening. Windows
seem to rattle, plaster drops from the ceiling--an earthquake? Lord, no.
Nothing so trivial. Nothing so brief. It is that blasted bird clearing
its throat for a five hours' entertainment. Let it not be supposed that
the song of these southerners bears any resemblance to that of an
English nightingale. I could stand a hatful of English nightingales in
my bedroom; they would lull me to sleep with their anaemic whispers. You
might as well compare the voice of an Italian costermonger, the crowing
of a cock, the braying of a local donkey, with their representatives in
the north--those thin trickles of sound, shadowy as the squeakings of
ghosts. Something will have to be done about those nightingales unless I
am to find my way into a sanatorium. For hardly is this bird started on
its work before five or six others begin to shout in emulation--a little
further off, I am glad to say, but still near enough to be inconvenient;
still near enough to be reached by a brick from this window----A brick.
Methinks I begin to see daylight....
Meanwhile one can snatch a little rest out of doors, in the afternoon. A
delectable path, for example, runs up behind the cemetery, bordered by
butterfly orchids and lithospermum and aristolochia and other plants
worthy of better names; it winds aloft, under shady chestnuts, with
views on either side. Here one can sit and smoke and converse with some
rare countryman passing by; here one can dream, forgetful of
nightingales--soothed, rather, by the mellifluous note of the oriole
among the green branches overhead and the piping, agreeably remote, of
some wryneck in the olives down yonder. The birds are having a quiet
time, for the first time in their lives; sportsmen are all at the front.
I kicked up a partridge along this track two days ago.
Those wrynecks, by the way, are abundant but hard to see. They sit
close, relying on their protective colour. And it is the same with the
tree-creepers. I have heard Englishmen say there are no tree-creepers in
Italy. The olive groves are well stocked with them (there are numbers
even in the Borghese Gardens in Rome), but you must remain immovable as
a rock in order to see them; for they are yet shyer, more silent, more
fond of interposing the tree-trunk between yourself and them, than those
at home. Mouse-like in hue, in movement and voice--a strange case of
As to this Scalambra, this mountain whose bleak grey summit overtops
everything near Olevano, I could soon bear the sight of it no longer. It
seemed to shut out the world; one must up and glance over the edge, to
see what is happening on the other side. I looked for a guide and
porter, for somebody more solid than Giulio, who is almost an infant;
none could be found. Men are growing scarce as the Dodo hereabouts, on
account of the war. So Giulio came, though he had never made the ascent.
Now common sense, to say nothing of a glance at the map, would suggest
the proper method of approach: by the village of Serrano, the Saint
Michael hermitage, and so up. Scouting this plan, I attacked the
mountain about half-way between that village and Rojate. I cannot
recommend my route. It was wearisome to the last degree and absolutely
shadeless save for a small piece of jungle clothing a gulley, hung with
myriads of caterpillars and not worth mentioning as an incident in that
long walk. No excitement--not the faintest chance, so far as I could
see, of breaking one's neck, and uphill all the time over limestone. One
never seems to get any nearer. This Scalambra, I soon discovered, is one
of those artful mountains which defend their summits by thrusting out
escarpments with valleys in between; you are kept at arm's length, as it
were, by this arrangement of the rock, which is invisible at a distance.
And when at last you set foot on the real ridge and climb laboriously to
what seems to be the top--lo! there is another peak a little further
off, obviously a few feet higher. Up you go, only to discover a third,
perhaps a few inches higher still. Alpine climbers know these tricks.
We reached the goal none the less and there lay, panting and gasping;
while an eagle, a solitary eagle with tattered wings, floated overhead
in the cloudless sky.
The descent to Rojate under that blazing sun was bad enough. My flask
had been drained to the dregs long ago, and the Scalambra, true to its
limestone tradition, had not supplied even a drop of water. Arriving at
the village at about two in the afternoon, we found it deserted;
everybody enjoying their Sunday nap. Rojate is a dirty hole. The water
was plainly not to be trusted; it might contain typhoid germs, and I was
responsible for Giulio's health; wine would be safer, we agreed. There,
in a little shop near the church--a dark and cool place, the first shade
we had entered for many hours--we drank without ever growing less
thirsty. We felt like cinders, so hot, so porous, that the liquid seemed
not only to find its way into the legitimate receptacle but to be
obliged to percolate, by some occult process of capillarity, the
remotest regions of the body. As time went on, the inhabitants dropped
in after their slumbers and kept us company. We told our adventures,
drank to the health of the Allies one by one and several times over; and
it was not until we had risen to our feet and passed once more into the
sunshine of the square that we suddenly felt different from what we
thought we felt.
The first indication was conveyed by Giulio, who called upon the
populace of Rojate, there assembled, to bear solemn witness to the fact
that I was his one and only friend, and that he would nevermore abandon
me--a sentiment in which I stoutly concurred. (A fellow-feeling makes us
wondrous blind.) Other symptoms followed. His hat, for example, which
had hitherto behaved in exemplary fashion, now refused to remain
steadily balanced on his head; it took some first-class gymnastics to
prevent it from falling to the ground. In fact, while I confined myself
to the minor part of Silenus--my native role--this youngster gave a
noteworthy representation of the Drunken Faun....
Now I see no harm in appreciating wine up to a certain point, and am
consoled to observe that Craufurd Tait Ramage, LL.D., was of the same
way of thinking. He says so himself, and there is no reason for doubting
his word. He frankly admits, for instance, that he enjoys the stuff
called moscato "with great zest." He samples the Falernian vintage and
pronounces it to be "particularly good, and not degenerated." Arrived at
Cutro, he is not averse to reviving his spirits with "a pretty fair
modicum of wine." He also lets slip--significant detail--the fact that
Dr. Henderson was one of his friends, and that he travelled about with
him. You may judge a man by the company he keeps. Who was this Dr.
Henderson? He was the author of "The History of Ancient Wines." Old
Henderson, I should say, could be trusted to know something of local
And so far good.
At Licenza, however, Ramage tells us that he "got glorious on the wine
of Horace's Sabine farm." I do not know what he means by this
expression, which seems to be purposely ambiguous; in any case, it does
not sound very nice. At another place, again, he and his entertainer
consumed some excellent liquor "in considerable quantity"--so he avows;
adding that "it was long past midnight ere we closed our bacchanalian
orgies, and he (the host) ended by stating that he was happy to have
made my acquaintance." Note the lame and colourless close of that
sentence: he ended by stating. One always ends that way after
bacchanalian orgies, though one does not always gloss over the escapade
with such disingenuous language.
We can guess what really took place. It was something like what happened
at Rojate. Did not the curly-haired Giulio end by "stating" something to
the same effect?
I cannot make up my mind whether to be pleased with this particular
trait in friend Ramage's character. For let it never be forgotten that
our traveller was a young man at the time. He says so himself, and there
is no reason for doubting his word. Was he acting as beseemed his years?
I am not more straight-laced than many people, yet I confess it always
gives me a kind of twinge to see a young man yielding to intemperance of
any kind. There is something incongruous in the spectacle, if not
actually repellent. Rightly or wrongly, one is apt to associate that
time of life with stern resolve. A young man, it appears to me, should
hold himself well in hand. Youth has so much to spare! Youth can afford
to be virtuous. With such stores of joy looming ahead, it should be a
period of ideals, of self-restraint and self-discipline, of earnestness
of purpose. How well the Greek Anthology praises "Temperance, the nurse
of Youth!" The divine Plato lays it down that youngsters should not
touch wine at all, since it is not right to heap fire on fire. He adds
that older men like ourselves may indulge therein as an ally against the
austerity of their years--agreeing, therefore, with Theophrastus who
likewise recommends it for the "natural moroseness" of age.
Observe in this connection what happened to Craufurd Tait Ramage, LL.D.,
at Trebisacce. Here was a poor old coastguard who had been taken
prisoner by the Corsairs thirty years earlier, carried to Algiers, and
afterwards ransomed. Having "nothing better to do" (says our author) "I
confess I furnished him with somewhat more wine than was exactly
consistent with propriety"; with so liberal a quantity, indeed, that the
coastguard became quite "obstreperous in his mirth"; whereupon Ramage
hops on his mule and leaves him to his fate. Here, then, we have a young
fellow deliberately leading an old man astray. And why? Because he has
"nothing better to do."  It is not remarkably edifying. True, he
afterwards makes a kind of apology for "causing my brother to sin by
But if we close our eyes to the fact that Ramage, when he gave way to
these excesses, was a young man and ought to have known better, what an
agreeable companion we find him!
He never rails at anything. Had I been subjected to half the annoyances
he endured, my curses would have been loud and long. Under such
provocation, Ramage contents himself with reproving his tormentors in
rounded phrases of oratio obliqua which savour strongly of those Latin
classics he knew so well. What he says of the countryfolk is not only
polite but true, that their virtues are their own, while their vices
have been fostered by the abuses of tyranny. "Whatever fault one may
find with this people for their superstition and ignorance, there is a
loveableness in their character which I am not utilitarian enough in my
philosophy to resist." This comes of travelling off the beaten track and
with an open mind; it comes of direct contact. When one remembers that
he wrote in 1828 and was derived from a bigoted stock, his religious
tolerance is refreshing--astonishing. He studies the observances of the
poorer classes with sympathetic eye and finds that they are "pious to a
degree to which I am afraid we must grant that we have no pretensions."
That custom of suspending votive offerings in churches he does not think
"worthy of being altogether condemned or ridiculed. The feeling is the
same that induces us, on recovery from severe illness, to give thanks to
Almighty God, either publicly in church or privately in our closets."
How many Calvinists of to-day would write like this?
We could do with more of these sensible and humane reflections, but
unfortunately he is generally too "pressed for time" to indulge in them.
That mania of hustling through the country....
One morning he finds himself at Foggia, with the intention of visiting
Mons Garganus. First of all he must "satisfy his curiosity" about Arpi;
it is ten miles there and back. Leaving Foggia for the second time he
proceeds twenty miles to Manfredonia, and inspects not only this town,
but the site of old Sipontum. Then he sails to the village of Mattinata,
and later to Vieste, the furthermost point of the promontory. About six
miles to the north are the presumable ruins of Merinum; he insists upon
going there, but the boatmen strike work; regretfully he returns to
Manfredonia, arriving at 11 p.m., and having covered on this day some
sixty or seventy miles. What does he do at Manfredonia? He sleeps for
three hours--and then a new hustle begins, in pitch darkness.
Another day he wakes up at Sorrento and thinks he will visit the Siren
Islets. He crosses the ridge and descends to the sea on the other side,
to the so-called Scaricatojo--quite a respectable walk, as any one can
find out for himself. Hence he sails to the larger of the islets, climbs
to the summit and makes some excavations, in the course of which he
observes what I thought I was the first to discover--the substructures
of a noble Roman villa; he also scrambles into King Robert's tower. Then
to the next islet, and up it; then to the third, and up it. After that,
he is tempted to visit the headland of Minerva; he goes there, and
satisfies his curiosity. He must now hence to Capri. He sails across,
and after a little refreshment, walks to the so-called Villa of Jupiter
at the easterly apex of the island. He then rows round the southern
shore and is taken with the idea of a trip to Misenum, twenty miles or
so distant. Arrived there, he climbs to the summit of the cape and
lingers a while--it is pleasant to find him lingering--to examine
something or other. Then he "rushes" down to the boat and bids them row
to Pozzuoli, where he arrives (and no wonder) long after sunset. A good
The ladies made a great impression on his sensitive mind; yet not even
they were allowed to interfere with his plans. At Strongoli the
"sparkling eyes of the younger sister" proved the most attractive object
in the place. He was strongly urged to remain a while and rest from his
fatigues. But no; there were many reasons why he should press forward.
He therefore presses forward. At another place, too, he was waited upon
by his entertainer's three daughters, the youngest of whom was one of
the most entrancing girls he had ever met with--in fact, it was well
that his time was limited, else "I verily believe I should have
committed all kinds of follies." That is Ramage. He parts from his host
with "unfeigned regret"--but--parts. His time is always limited. Bit for
that craze of pressing forward, what fun he could have had!
Stroll to that grove of oaks crowning a hill-top above the Serpentaro
stream. It has often been described, often painted. It is a corner of
Latium in perfect preservation; a glamorous place; in the warm dusk of
southern twilight--when all those tiresome children are at last
asleep--it calls up suggestions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here is a
specimen of the landscape as it used to be. You may encounter during
your wanderings similar fragments of woodland, saved by their
inaccessibility from the invading axe. "Hands off the Oak!" cries an old
The Germans, realizing its picturesque value, bought this parcel of land
and saved the trees from destruction. It was well done. Within, they
have cut certain letterings upon the rock which violate the sylvan
sanctity of the place--Germans will do these things; there is no
stopping them; it is part of their crudely expansive temperament
--certain letterings, among other and major horrors, anent the "Law of
the Ever-beautiful" (how truly Teutonic!)--lines, that is, signed by the
poet Victor von Scheffel, and dated 2 May, 1897. Scheffel was a kindly
and erudite old toper, who toped himself into Elysium via countless
quarts of Affenthaler. I used to read his things; the far-famed
Ekkehardt furnishing an occasion for a visit to the Hohentwiel mountain
in search of that golden-tinted natrolite mineral, which was duly found
(I specialized in zeolites during that period).
Now what was Scheffel doing at this Serpentaro in 1897? For I attended
his funeral, which took place in the 'eighties. Can it be that his son,
a scraggy youth in those days, inherited not only the father's name but
his poetic mantle? Was it he who perpetrated those sententious lines? I
like to think so. That "law of the ever-beautiful" does not smack of the
old man, unless he was more disguised than usual, and having a little
fun with his pedantic countrymen....
Climb hence--it is not far--to the village of Civitella, now called
Bellegra, a prehistoric fastness with some traces of "cyclopean"
defences. Those ancients must have had cisterns; inconceivable that
springs should ever have issued from this limestone crag. You can see
the women of to-day fetching water from below, from a spot which I was
too lazy to investigate, where perhaps the soft tertiary rock leans upon
this impervious stuff and allows the liquid to escape into the open. An
unclean place is Bellegra, and loud, like all these Sabine villages,
with the confused crying of little children. That multiple wail of
misery will ring in your ear for days afterwards. They are more
neglected by their mothers than ever, since women now have all the men's
work in the fields to do. They are hungrier than ever, on account of the
war which has imposed real hardships on these agricultural folk;
hardships that seize them by the throat and make them sit down, with
folded hands, in dumb despair: so I have seen them. How many of these
unhappy babies will grow to maturity?
Death-rate must anyhow be high hereabouts, for nothing is done in the
way of hygiene. In the company of one who knows, I perambulated the
cemetery of Olevano and was astonished at the frequency of tombstones
erected to the young. "Consumption," my friend told me. They scorn
prophylactics. I should not care to send growing children into these
villages, despite their "fine air." Here, at Bellegra, the air must be
fine indeed in winter; too fine for my taste. It lies high, exposed to
every blast of Heaven, and with noble views in all directions.
Rest awhile, on your homeward march, at the small bridge near Olevano
where the road takes a turn. A few hundred yards up the glen on your
left is a fountain whose waters are renowned for their purity; the
bridge itself is not a favourite spot after sunset; it is haunted by a
most malignant spectre. That adds considerably, in my eyes, to the charm
of the place. Besides, here stands an elder tree now in full flower.
What recollections does that scent evoke! What hints of summer, after
A venerable tree, old as the hills; that last syllable tells its
tale--you may read it in the Sanscrit. A man-loving tree; seldom one
sees an elder by itself, away from human habitations, in the jungle. I
have done so; but in that particular jungle, buried beneath the soil,
were the ruins of old houses. When did it begin to attach itself to the
works of man, to walls and buildings? And why? Does it derive peculiar
sustenance from the lime of the masonry? I think not, for it grows in
lands where lime is rare, and in the shadow of log-huts. It seeks
shelter from the wind for its frail stalks and leaves, that shrivel
wondrously when the plant is set in exposed situations.
The Sabine mountains are full of elders. They use the berries to colour
the wine. A German writer, R. Voss, wove their fragrance into a kind of
Leit-motif for one of his local novels. I met him once by accident, and
am not anxious to meet him again. A sacerdotal and flabbily pompous old
man--straightway my opinion of his books, never very high, fell to zero,
and has there remained. He knew these regions well, and doubtless
sojourned at one time or another at yonder caravanserai-hotel, abandoned
of late, but then filled with a crowd of noisy enthusiasts who have
since been sacrificed to the war-god. Doubtless he drank wine with them
on that terrace overlooking the brown houses of Olevano, though I
question whether he then paid as much as they are now charging me;
doubtless he rejoiced to see that stately array of white lilies fronting
the landscape, though I question whether he derived more pleasure from
them than I do....
While at Bellegra, this afternoon, I gazed landwards to where, in the
Abruzzi region, the peaks are still shrouded in snow.
How are they doing our there, at Scanno? Is that driving-road at last
finished? Can the "River Danube" still be heard flowing underground in
the little cave of Saint Martin? Are the thistles of violet and red and
blue and gold and silver as gorgeous as ever?  And those legions of
butterflies--do they still hover among the sunny patches in the narrow
vale leading to Mount Terrata? And Frattura, that strange place--what
has happened to Frattura? Built on a fracture, on the rubble of that
shattered mountain which produced the lake lower down, it has probably
crumbled away in the last earthquake. Well I remember Frattura! It was
where the wolf ate the donkey, and where we, in our turn, often
refreshed ourselves in the dim hovel of Ferdinando--never with greater
zest than on the hot downward march from Mount Genzana. Whether those
small purple gentians are still to be found on its summit? And the
emerald lizard on the lower slopes? Whether the eagles still breed on
the neighbouring Montagna di Preccia? They may well be tired of having
their nest plundered year after year.
What foreigner has older and pleasanter memories of Scanno? I would like
to meet that man, and compare notes.
And so, glancing over the hills from Bellegra, I sent my thoughts into
those Abruzzi mountains, and registered a vow to revisit Scanno--if only
in order to traverse once more by moonlight, for the sake of auld lang
syne, the devious paths to Roccaraso, or linger in that moist nook by
the lake-side where stood the Scanno of olden days (the Betifuli, if
such it was, of the Pelignians), where the apples grow, where the sly
dabchick plays among the reeds, and where, one evening, I listened to
something that might have been said much sooner. Acque Vive....
I kept my vow. Our bill at Scanno for wine alone was 189 francs, and for
beer 92 francs; figures which look more formidable than they are and
which I cite only to prove that we--for of course I was not
alone--enjoyed ourselves fairly well during those eighteen days. By the
way, what does Baedeker mean by speaking of the "excellent wines" of
Scanno, where not a drop is grown? He might have said the same of
The season was too late for the thistles, too late for the little
coppers and fritillaries and queens of Spain and commas and all the rest
of that fluttering tribe in the narrow vale leading to Terrata, though
wood-pigeons were still cooing there. Scanno has been spared by the
earthquake which laid low so many other places; it has prospered;
prospered too much for my taste, since those rich smoky tints,
especially of the vaulted interiors, are now disappearing under an
invasion of iron beams and white plaster. The golden duskiness of
Scanno, heightened as it was by the gleaming copper vessels borne on
every young girl's head, will soon be a thing of the past. Young trees
along the road-side--well-chosen trees: limes, maples, willows, elms,
chestnuts, ashes--are likewise doing well and promise pretty effects of
variegated foliage in a few years' time; so are the plantations of pines
in the higher regions of the Genzana. In this matter of afforestation,
Scanno continues its system of draconic severity. It is worth while, in
a country which used to suffer so much from reckless grazing of goats on
the hill-sides, and the furious floods of water. The Sagittario stream
is hemmed in by a cunning device of stones contained within bags of
strong wire; it was introduced many years ago by an engineer from
Modena. And if you care to ascend the torrents, you will find they have
been scientifically dammed by the administration, whereas the peasant,
when they overflow and ruin his crops, contents himself with damning
them in quite an amateurish fashion. Which reminds me that I picked up
during this visit, and have added to my collection, a new term of abuse
to be addressed to your father-in-law: Porcaccio d'un cagnaccio! Novel
effects, you perceive, obtained by a mere intensification of colour.
As to Frattura--yes, it is shattered. Vainly we tried to identify
Ferdinando's abode among all that debris. The old man himself escaped
the cataclysm, and now sells his wares in one of the miserable wooden
shanties erected lower down. The mellow hermit at St. Egidio, of whom
more on p. 171, has died; his place is taken by a worthless vagabond.
Saint Domenico and his serpents, the lonely mead of Jovana (? Jovis
fanum), that bell in the church-tower of Villalago which bears the
problematical date of 600 A.D.--they are all in their former places.
Mount Velino still glitters over the landscape, for those who climb high
enough to see it. The cliff-swallows are there, and dippers skim the
water as of old. Women, in their unhygienic costume, still carry those
immense loads of wood on their heads, though payment is considerably
higher than the three half-pence a day which it used to be.
Enough of Scanno!
Whoever wishes to leave the place on foot and by an unconventional
route, may go to Sora via Pescasseroli. Adventurous souls will scramble
over the Terrata massif, leaving the summit well on their right, and
descend on its further side; others may wander up the Valle dei Prati
and then, bending to the right along the so-called Via del Campo, mount
upwards past a thronged alp of sheep, over the watershed, and down
through charming valleys of beechen timber. A noble walk, and one that
compares favourably with many Abruzzi excursions. What deserts they
often are, these stretches of arid limestone, voiceless and waterless,
with the raven's croak for your only company!
I am glad to have seen Pescasseroli, where we arrived at about 9 a.m.
For the rest, it is only one of many such places that have been brought
to a state of degradation by the earthquake, the present war, and
governmental neglect. Not an ounce of bread was procurable for money, or
even as a gift. The ordinary needs of life--cigars, matches, maccheroni
and so forth: there were none of them. An epidemic of the gapes,
infecting the entire race of local hens, had caused the disappearance of
every egg from the market. And all those other countless things which a
family requires for its maintenance--soap and cloth and earthenware and
kitchen utensils and oils--they have become rarities; the natives are
learning to subsist without them; relapsing into a kind of barbarism. So
they sit among the cracked tenements; resentful, or dumbly apathetic.
"We have been forgotten," said one of them.
The priests inculcate submission to the will of God. What else should
they teach? But men will outgrow these doctrines of patience when
suffering is too acute or too prolonged. "Anything is better than this,"
they say. Thus it comes about that these ruined regions are a goodly
soil for the sowing of subversive opinions; the land reeks of
We found a "restaurant" where we lunched off a tin of antediluvian
Spanish sardines, some mouldy sweet biscuits, and black wine. (A
distinction is made in these parts between black and red wine; the
former is the Apulian variety, the other from Sulmona.) During this
repast, we were treated to several bear-stories. For there are bears at
Pescasseroli, and nowhere else in Italy; even as there are chamois
nearby, between Opi and Villetta Barrea, among the crags of the
Camosciara, which perpetuates their name. One of those present assured
us that the bear is a good beast; he will eat a man, of course, but if
he meets a little boy, he contents himself with throwing stones at
him--just to teach him good manners. Certain old bears are as big as a
donkey. They have been seen driving into their cave a flock of
twenty-five sheep, like any shepherd. It is no rare thing to encounter
in the woods a bear with a goat slung over his shoulder; he must
breakfast, like anybody else. One of these gentlemen told us that the
bears, not long ago, were a source of considerable profit to the
peasantry round about. It was in this wise. Their numbers had been
reduced, it seems, to a single pair and the species was threatened with
extinction, when, somehow or other, this state of affairs became known
to the King who, alarmed at the disappearance from his realm of a
venerable and autochtonous quadruped, the largest European beast of
prey, conceived the happy idea of converting the whole region into a
Royal Preserve. On pain of death, no bear was to be molested or even
laughed at; any damage they might do would be compensated out of the
For a week or so after this enactment, nothing was heard of the bears.
Then, one morning, the conscientious Minister of the Royal Household
presented himself at the palace, with a large sheaf of documents under
"What have we here?" inquired the King.
"Attestations relating to the bears of Pescasseroli, Your Majesty. They
seem to be thriving."
"Ah! That is nice of them. They are multiplying once more, thanks to Our
Royal protection. We thought they would."
"Multiplying indeed, Sire. Here are testimonials, sworn before the local
syndic, showing that they have devoured 18 head of cattle and 43 sheep."
"In that short time? Is it possible? Well, well! The damage must be
paid. And yet We never knew the bears could propagate so fast. Maybe our
Italian variety is peculiarly vigorous in such matters."
"Seems so, Your Majesty. Very prolific."
A week or so passed and, once more, His Excellency was announced. The
"You are not looking quite yourself this morning, my good Minister.
Would it be indiscreet to inquire the cause? No family or parliamentary
worries, We trust?"
"Your Majesty is very kind! No. It is the bears of Pescasseroli. They
have eaten 75 head of cattle, 93 sheep, and 114 goats. Ah--and 18
horses. Here are the claims for damages, notarially attested."
"We must pay. But if only somebody could teach the dear creatures to
breed a little more reasonably!"
"I cannot but think, Sire, that the peasants are abusing Your
"May We never live to hear anything against Our faithful and
well-beloved Abruzzi folk!"
Nearly a month elapsed before the Minister again presented himself. This
time he looked really haggard and careworn, and was bowed down under an
enormous bundle of papers. The King glanced up from that writing-desk
where, like all other sovereigns, he had been working steadily since
4.30 a.m., and at once remarked, with that sympathetic intuition for
which he is famous among crowned heads:
"We think We know. The bears."
Your Majesty is never wrong. They have devoured 126 cows and calves and
bullocks, 418 sheep and goats, 62 mules, 37 horses, and 96 donkeys. Also
55 shepherd dogs and 827 chickens. Here are the claims."
"Dear, dear, dear. This will never do. If it is a question of going to
ruin, We prefer that it should be the bears rather than Ourselves. We
must withdraw Our Royal protection, after settling up these last items.
What say you, my good Minister?"
"Your Majesty is always right. A private individual may indulge in the
pastime of breeding bears to the verge of personal bankruptcy. Ruling
sovereigns will be guided by juster and more complex considerations."
And from that moment, added our gentlemanly informant, there began a
wonderful shrinkage in the numbers of the bears. Within a day or two,
they were again reduced to a single couple.
Gladly would I have listened to more of these tales but, having by far
the worst of the day's walk still before us, we left the stricken
regions about midday and soon began an interminable ascent, all through
woods, to the shrine of Madonna di Tranquillo. Hereabouts is the
watershed, whence you may see, far below, the tower of Campoli Apennino.
That village was passed in due course, and Sora lay before us, after a
thirteen hours' march....
That same night in Sora--it may have been 2 a.m.--some demon drew nigh
to my bedside and whispered in my ear: "What are you doing here, at
Sora? Why not revisit Alatri? (I had been there already in June.) Just
another little promenade! Up, sluggard, while the night-air is cool!"
I obeyed the summons and turned to rouse my slumbering companion, to
whom I announced my inspiration. His remarks, on that occasion, were
well worth listening to.
Next evening found us at Alatri.
Now whoever, after walking from Scanno over Pescasseroli to Sora in one
day, and on the next, in the blazing heat of early autumn, from Sora
over Isola Liri and Veroli to Alatri--touching in two days the soil of
three Italian provinces: Aquila, Caserta, and Rome--whoever, after doing
this, and inspecting the convent of Casamari en route, feels inclined
for a similar promenade on the third day: let him rest assured of my
Calm, sunny days at Olevano. And tranquil nights, for some time past.
The nightingale has been inspired to move a little up country, into
another bush. Its rivals have likewise retired further off, and their
melodramatic trills sound quite pleasant at this distance.
So tin cans have their uses, even when empty. Certain building
operations may have been interrupted. I apologise, though I will not
promise not to repeat the offence. They can move their nests; I cannot
move this house. Bless their souls! I would not hurt a hair on their
dear little heads, but one must really have a few hours' sleep, somehow
or other. A single night's repose is more precious to me than a myriad
birds or quadrupeds or bipeds; my ideas on the sacred nature of sleep
being perfectly Oriental. That Black Hole of Calcutta was an infamous
business. And yet, while nowise approving the tyrant's action, I can
thoroughly understand his instructions on the subject of slumber.
Not every one at Olevano is so callous. Waiting the other day at the
bifurcation of the roads for the arrival of the station motor-car--the
social event of the place--I noticed two children bringing up to a
bigger one the nest of a chaffinch, artfully frosted over with silver
lichen from some olive, and containing a naked brood which sprawled
pathetically within. Wasn't it pretty, they asked?
"Very pretty," he replied. "Now you will take it straight back where you
found it. Go ahead. I am coming with you." And he marched them off.
I am glad to put this incident on record. It is the second of its kind
which I have observed in this country, the first being when a fisherman
climbed up a bad piece of rock to replace a nest--idle undertaking--
which some boys had dislodged with stones. At a short distance from
the scene sat the mother-bird in pensive mood, her head cocked on one
side. What did she think of the benevolent enthusiast?...
Olevano is said to have been discovered by the Germans. I am sceptical
on this point, having never yet found a place that was discovered by
them. An English eccentric or two is sure to have lived and died here
all by himself; though doubtless, once on the spot, they did their best
to popularise and vulgarise it. In this matter, as in art or science or
every department of life, a German requires forerunners. He must follow
footsteps. He gleans; picks the brains of other people, profits by their
mistakes and improves on their ideas.
I know nothing of the social history of Olevano--of its origin, so far
as foreigners are concerned. It is the easiest and the flimsiest thing
in the world to invent; there are so many analogies!
The first foreign resident of Olevano was a retired Anglo-Indian army
officer with unblemished record, Major Frederick Potter. He came across
the place on a trip from Rome, and took a fancy to it. Decent climate.
Passable food. You could pick up a woodcock or two. He was accustomed to
solitude anyhow, all his old friends being dead or buried, or scattered
about the world. He had tried England for a couple of years and
discovered that people there did not like being ordered about as they
should be; they seemed to mind it less, at Olevano. He had always been
something of a pioneer, and the mere fact of being the first "white man"
in the place gave him a kind of fondness for it.
It was he, then, who discovered Olevano--Freddy Potter. We can see him
living alone, wiry and whiskered and cantankerous, glorying in his
solitude up to the fateful day when, to his infinite annoyance, a
fellow-countryman turns up--Mr. Augustus Browne of London. Mr. Browne is
a blameless personality who, enjoying indifferent health, brings an
equally blameless old housekeeper with him. He is not a sportsman like
Potter, but indulges in a pretty taste for landscape painting, with
elaborate flowers and butterflies worked into the foreground. So they
live, each in jealous seclusion, drinking tea at fixed hours, importing
groceries from England, dressing for dinner, avoiding contact with the
"natives" and, of course, pretending to be unaware of one another's
As time goes on, their mutual distrust grows stronger. The Major has
never forgiven that cockney for invading Olevano, his private domain,
while Browne finds no words to express his disgust at Potter, who
presumably calls himself a Briton and yet smokes those filthy cheroots
in public (this was years and years ago). Why is the fellow skulking
here, all by himself? Some hanky-panky with regimental money; every one
knows how India plays the devil with a man's sense of right and wrong.
And Potter is not long in making up his mind that this civilian has
bolted to Olevano for reasons which will not bear investigation and is
living in retirement, ten to one, under an assumed name. Browne! He
really might have picked out a better one, while he was about it. That
water-colour business--a blind, a red herring; the so-called lady
The natives, meanwhile, observe with amazement the mutual conduct of two
compatriots. They are known, far and wide, as "the madmen" till some
bright spirit makes the discovery that they are not madmen at all, but
only homicides hiding from justice; whereupon contempt is changed to
Browne dies, after many years. His lady packs up and departs. The old
Major's delight at being once more alone is of short duration; he falls
ill and is entombed, his last days being embittered by the arrival of a
party of German tourists who declare they have "discovered" this
wonderful new spot, and threaten to bring more Teutons in their rear to
participate in its joys.
They come, singly and in batches, and soon make Olevano uninhabitable to
men of the Potter and Browne type. They keep the taverns open all night,
sing boisterous choruses, kiss each other in the street "as if they were
in their bedrooms," organise picnics in the woods, sketch old women
sitting in old doorways, start a Verschoenerungsverein and indulge in a
number of other antics which, from the local point of view, are held to
be either coarse or childish. The natives, after watching their doings
with critical interest, presently pronounce a verdict--a verdict to
which the brightest spirits of the place give their assent--a verdict
which, by the way, I have myself heard uttered.
"Those Englishmen"--thus it runs--"were at least assassins. These people
are merely fools."
POSTSCRIPT--One thing has occurred of late which would hardly have
happened were the Germans still in occupation of Olevano. At the central
piazza is a fountain where the cattle drink and where, formerly, you
could rest and glance down upon the country lying below--upon a piece of
green landscape peering in upon the street. This little view was like a
window, it gave an aerial charm to the place. They have now blocked it
up with an ugly house. The beauty of the site is gone. It is surprising
that local municipalities; however stupid, however corrupt, should not
be aware of the damage done to their own interests when they permit such
outrages. The Germans--were any of them still here--would doubtless have
interfered en masse and stopped the building.
Something should be done about these reviewers.
There has followed me hither a bundle of press notices of a recent book
of mine. They are favourable. I ought to be delighted. I happen to be
What takes place in this absurd book? The three unities are preserved. A
respectable but rather drab individual, a bishop, whose tastes and moods
are fashioned to reflect those of the average drab reader, arrives at a
new place and is described as being, among other things, peculiarly
sensitive on the subject of women. He cannot bear flippant allusions to
the sex. He has preserved a childlike faith in their purity, their
sacred mission on earth, their refining influence upon the race. His
friends call him old-fashioned and quixotic on this point. A true woman,
he declares, can do no wrong. And this same man, towards the end of the
book, watches how the truest woman in the place, the one whom he admires
more than all the rest, his own cousin and a mother, calmly throws her
legitimate husband over a cliff. He realises that he is "face to face
with an atrocious and carefully planned murder." Such, however, has been
the transformation of his mind during a twelve days' sojourn that he
understands the crime, he pardons it, he approves it.
Can this wholesale change of attitude be brought about without a plot?
Yet many of these reviewers discover no such thing in the book. "It
possesses not the faintest shadow of a plot," says one of the most
reputable of them. This annoys me.
I see no reason why a book should have a plot. In regard to this one, it
would be nearer the truth to say that it is nothing but plot from
beginning to end. How to make murder palatable to a bishop: that is the
plot. How? You must unconventionalise him, and instil into his mind the
seeds of doubt and revolt. You must shatter his old notions of what is
right. It is the only way to achieve this result, and I would defy the
critic to point to a single incident or character or conversation in the
book which does not further the object in view. The good bishop soon
finds himself among new influences; his sensations, his intellect, are
assailed from within and without. Figures such as those in chapters 11,
19 and 35; the endless dialogue in the boat; the even more tedious
happenings in the local law-court; the very externals--relaxing wind and
fantastic landscape and volcanic phenomena--the jovial immoderation of
everything and everybody: they foster a sense of violence and
insecurity; they all tend to make the soil receptive to new ideas.
If that was your plot, the reviewer might say, you have hidden it rather
successfully. I have certainly done my best to hide it. For although the
personalities of the villain and his legal spouse crop up periodically,
with ominous insistence, from the first chapter onwards, they are always
swallowed up again. The reason is given in the penultimate chapter,
where the critic might have found a resume of my intentions and the key
to this plot--to wit, that a murder under those particular circumstances
is not only justifiable and commendable but--insignificant. Quite
insignificant! Not worth troubling about. Hundreds of decent and honest
folk are being destroyed every day; nobody cares tuppence; "one dirty
blackmailer more or less--what does it matter to anybody"? There are so
many more interesting things on earth. That is why the bishop--i.e. the
reader--here discovers the crime to be a "contemptible little episode,"
and decides to "relegate it into the category of unimportant events." He
was glad that the whole affair had remained in the background, so to
speak, of his local experiences. It seemed appropriate. In the
background: it seemed appropriate. That is the heart, the core, of the
plot. And that is why all those other happenings find themselves pushed
into the foreground.
I know full well that this is not the way to write an orthodox English
novel. For if you hide your plot, how shall the critic be expected to
see it? You must serve it on a tray; you must (to vary the simile) hit
the nail on the head and ask him to be so good as to superintend the
operation. That is the way to rejoice the cockles of his heart. He can
then compare you to someone else who has also hit the nail on the head
and with whose writings he happens to be familiar. You have a flavour of
Dostoievsky minus the Dickens taint; you remind him of Flaubert or
Walter Scott or somebody equally obscure; in short, you are in a
condition to be labelled--a word, and a thing, which comes perilously
near to libelling. If, to this description, he adds a short summary of
your effort, he has done his duty. What more can he do? He must not
praise overmuch, for that might displease some of his own literary
friends. He must not blame overmuch, else how shall his paper survive?
It lives on the advertisements of publishers and--say those persons,
perhaps wisely--"if you ill-treat our authors, there's an end to our
Which applies far less to literary criticism than to other kinds. Of
most of the critics of music and art the best one can say is that there
are hearty fellows among them who, with the requisite training, might
one day become fit for their work. England is the home of the amateur in
matters intellectual, the specialist in things material. No bootmaker
would allow an unpractised beginner to hack his leather about in a
jejune attempt to construct a pair of shoes. The other commodity, being
less valuable than cowhide, may be entrusted to the hands of any
'prentice who cares to enliven our periodicals with his playful
hieroglyphics. Criticism in England--snakes in Iceland. 
All alone, for a wonder, I climbed up to the sanctuary of St. Michael
above Serrone, that solitary white speck visible from afar on the upper
slopes of Mount Scalambra. It is a respectable walk, and would have been
inconveniently warm but for the fact that I rose with the nightingales,
reaching my destination at the very moment when the sun peered over the
ridge of the mountain at its back. A delicious ramble in the dewy shade
of morning, with ten minutes' rest on a wall at Serrone, talking to an
old woman who wore those ponderous red ornaments designed, I suppose, to
I had hoped to meet at this hermitage some amiable and garrulous
anchorite who would share my breakfast. It is the ideal place for such a
life, and many are the mountain solitaries of this species I have known
in Italy (mostly retired shepherds). There was he of Scanno--dead, I
doubt not, by this time--that simple-hearted venerable with whom I
whiled away the long evenings at the shrine of Sant' Egidio, gazing over
the placid lake below, or up stream, at the dusky houses of Scanno
theatrically ranged against their hill-side. I became his friend, once
and for ever, after finding a wooden snuff-box he had lost--his only
snuff-box; it lay at the edge of the path among thick shrubs, and he
could hardly believe his eyes when he saw it again. One of my many
strokes of luck! Once I found a purse--
The little structure here was barred and deserted. I had no company save
a couple of ravens who, after assuring themselves, with that infernal
cunning of theirs, that I carried no gun, became as friendly as could be
expected of such solemn fowls. They are always in pairs--incurably
monogamous; whereas the carrion crow, for reasons of its own, has a
fondness for living in trios. This menage a trois may have subtle
advantages and seems to be a step in the direction of the truly social
habits of the rook; it enables them to fight with more success against
their enemies, the hawks, and fosters, likewise, a certain
lightheartedness which the sententious raven lacks. No one who has
watched the aerial antics of a triplet of carrion crows can deny them a
sense of fun.
After an hour's contemplation of the beauties of nature I descended once
more through that ilex grove to Serrone. And now it began to grow
decidedly warm. The wide depression between this village and Olevano
used to be timbered and is still known as la selva or la foresta. Vines
now occupy the whole ground. If they had only left a few trees by the
wayside! Walking along, I encountered a sportsman who said he was on the
look-out for a hare. Always that hare! They might as well lie in wait
for the Great Auk. Not long ago, an old visionary informed me that he
had killed a hare beside the Ponte Milvio at Rome. Hares at Ponte
Milvio! They reminded me of those partridges in Belgrave Square. In my
younger days there was not a general in the British army who had not (1)
shot partridges in Belgrave Square and (2) been the chosen lover of
Queen Isabella of Spain....
Up to the castle, in the afternoon, for a final chat. We sit under the
vine near the entrance of that decayed stronghold, while babies and hens
scramble about the exposed rock; he talks, as usual, about the war. He
can talk of nothing else. No wonder. One son is maimed for life; the
other has been killed outright, and it looks as if no amount of
ironmongery (medals, etc.) would ever atone for the loss. This happy
land is full of affliction. Mourning everywhere, and hardships and
bitterness and ruined homes. Vineyards are untilled, olives unpruned,
for lack of labourers. It will take years to bring the soil back into
its old state of productivity. One is pained to see decent folk
suffering for a cause they fail to understand, for something that
happens beyond their ken, something dim and distant--unintelligible to
them as that Libyan expedition. None the less, he tells me, there is not
a single deserter in Olevano. An old warrior-brood, these men of
Thence onward and upward, towards evening by that familiar path, for a
second farewell visit to Giulio's farm. It is a happy homestead, an
abode of peace, with ample rooms and a vine-wreathed terrace that
overlooks the smiling valley to the south. A mighty bush of rosemary
stands at the door. The mother is within, cooking the evening meal for
her man and the elder boys who work in the fields so long as a shred of
daylight flits about the sky. The little ones are already half asleep,
tired with a long day's playing in the sunshine.
Here is my favourite, Alberto, an adorable cherub and the pickle of the
family. I can see at a glance that he has been up to mischief. Alberto
is incorrigible. No amount of paternal treatment will do him any good.
He hammers nails into tables and into himself, he tumbles down from
trees, he throws stones at the girls and cuts himself with knives and
saws; he breaks things and loses things, and chases the hens
about--disobeys all the time. Every day there is some fresh disaster and
fresh chastisement. Two weeks ago he was all but run over by the big
station motor--pulled out from the wheels in the nick of time; that scar
across his forehead will remain for life, a memento of childish
naughtiness. Alberto understands me thoroughly. He is glad to see me.
But a certain formality must be gone through; every time we meet there
is a moment of shy distrust, while the ice has to be broken afresh--he
must assure himself that I have not changed since our last encounter.
Everything, apparently, is in order to-night, for he curls up
comfortably on my knee and is soon fast asleep, all his little tragedies
"It appears you like children," says the mother.
"I like this one, because he is never out of trouble. He reminds me of
myself. I shall steal him one of these days, and carry him off to Rome.
From there we will walk on foot to Brindisi, along an old track called
the Via Appia. It will require two of three years, for I mean to stop a
day, or perhaps a week, at every single tavern along the road. Then I
will write a book about it; a book to make myself laugh with, when I am
grown too old for walking."
"Giulio is big enough."
No chance of undertaking such a trip in these times of war, when a
foreigner is liable to be arrested at every moment. Besides, how far
would one get, with Giulio? Nevermore to Brindisi! As far as Terracina;
possibly even to Formia. There, at Formia, we would remain for the rest
of our natural lives, if the wine at the Albergo della Quercia is
anything like what it used to be; there, at Formia, we would pitch our
tent, enacting every day, or perhaps twice a day, our celebrated
Faun-and-Silenus entertainment for the diversion of the populace. I have
not forgotten Giulio's besetting sin. How nearly he made me exceed the
measure of sobriety at Rojate!...
Night descends. I wander homewards. Under the trees of the driving-road
fireflies are dancing; countrymen return in picturesque groups, with
mules and children, from their work far afield; that little owl, the
aluco, sits in the foliage overhead, repeating forever its plaintive
note. The lights of Artena begin to twinkle.
This Artena, they say, had such a sorry reputation for crime and
brigandage that the authorities at one time earnestly considered the
proposition of razing it to the ground. Then they changed their minds.
It seemed more convenient to have evil-doers all collected into one
place than scattered about the country. To judge by the brightness of
the lamps at this distance of twelve miles, the brigands have evidently
spared no expense in the matter of street-illumination.
And now the lights of Segni station are visible, down in the malarious
valley, where the train passes from Rome to Naples. Every night I have
beheld them from my window; every night they tinged my thoughts with a
soft sadness, driving them backwards, northwards--creating a link
between present and past. Now, for the last time, I see them and recall
those four journeys along that road; four, out of at least a hundred;
only four, but in what rare company!
Back to Valmontone.
At Zagarolo, where you touch the Rome-Naples line, I found there was no
train to this place for several hours. A merchant of straw hats from
Tuscany, a pert little fellow, was in the same predicament; he also had
some business to transact at Valmontone. How get there? No conveyance
being procurable on account of some local fair or festival, we decided
to walk. A tiresome march, in the glow of morning. The hatter, after
complaining more or less articulately for an hour, was reduced to groans
and almost tears; his waxed moustache began to droop; he vowed he was
not accustomed to this kind of exercise. Would I object to carrying his
bundle of hats for him? I objected so vigorously that he forthwith gave
up all hope. But I allowed him to rest now and then by the wayside. I
also offered him, gratis, the use of a handful of my choicest Tuscan
blasphemies,  for which he was much obliged. Most of them were
unfamiliar to him. He had been brought up by his mother, he explained.
They seemed to make his burden lighter.
Despite wondrous stretches of golden broom, this is rather a cheerless
country, poorly cultivated, and still bearing the traces of mediaeval
savagery and insecurity. It looks unsettled. One would like to sit down
here and let the centuries roll by, watching the tramp of Roman legions
and Papal mercenaries and all that succession of proud banners which
have floated down this ancient Via Labiena.
That rock-like structure, visible in the morning hours from Olevano, is
a monstrous palace containing, among other things, a training school for
carbineers. Attached thereto is a church whose interior has an unusual
shape, the usual smell, and a tablet commemorating a visit from Pius IX.
There is a beautiful open space up here, with wide views over the
surrounding country. It gives food for thought. What an ideal spot, one
says, for the populace to frequent on the evenings of these sultry days!
It is empty at that hour, utterly deserted. Now why do they prefer to
jostle each other in the narrow, squalid and stuffy lane lower down? One
would like to know the reason for this preference. I enquired, and was
told that the upper place was not sufficiently well-lighted. The
explanation is not wholly convincing, for they have the lighting
arrangements in their own hands, and could easily afford the outlay. It
may be that they like to remain close to the shops and to each other's
doors for conversational purposes, since it is a fact that, socially
speaking, the more restricted the area, the more expansive one grows. We
broaden out, in proportion as the environment contracts. A psychological
I leaned in the bright sunshine over the parapet of this terrace,
looking at Artena near-by. It resembled, now, a cluster of brown grapes
clinging to the hillside. An elderly man, clean-shaven, with scarred and
sallow face, drew nigh and, perceiving the direction of my glance,
"Artena," I repeated.
He extracted half a toscano cigar from his waistcoat pocket, and began
to smoke with great gusto. A man of means, I concluded, to be able to
smoke at this hour of an ordinary week-day. He was warmly dressed, with
flowing brown tie and opulent vest and corduroy trousers. His feet were
encased in rough riding-boots. Some peasant proprietor, very likely, who
rode his own horses. Was he going to tell me anything of interest about
Artena? Presumably not. He said never another word, but continued to
smile at me rather wearily. I tried to enliven the conversation by
pointing to a different spot on the hills and observing:
"Segni," he agreed.
His cigar had gone out, as toscanos are apt to do. He applied a match,
and suddenly remarked:
We were not making much progress. A good many sites were visible from
here, and at this rate of enumeration the sun might well set on our
"How about all those deserters?" I inquired.
There was a fair number of them, he said. Young fellows from other
provinces who find their way hither across country, God knows how. It
was a good soil for deserters--brushwood, deep gullies, lonely stretches
of land, and, above all, la tradizione. The tradition, he explained, of
that ill-famed forest of Velletri, now extirpated. The deserters were
nearly all children--the latest conscripts; a grown man seldom deserts,
not because he would not like to do so, but because he has more
"judgment" and can weigh the risks. The roads were patrolled by police.
A few murders had taken place; yes, just a few murders; one or two
stupid people who resented their demands for money or food--
He broke off with another weary smile.
"You have had malaria," I suggested.
The fact was patent, not only from his sallow face, but from the
They brought in a deserter that very afternoon. He lay groaning at the
bottom of a cab, having broken his leg in jumping down from somewhere.
The rest of the conveyance was filled to overflowing with carbineers. A
Sicilian, they said. The whole populace followed the vehicle uphill,
reverently, as though attending a funeral. "He is little," said a woman,
referring either to his size or his age.
An hour later there was a discussion anent the episode in the
fashionable cafe of Valmontone. A citizen, a well-dressed man, possibly
a notary, put the case for United Italy, for intervention against
Germany, for military discipline and the shooting of cowardly deserters,
into a few phrases so clear, so convincing, that there was a general
burst of approval. Then another man said:
"I hate those Sicilians; I have good personal reasons for hating them.
But no Sicilian fears death. If they are not brilliant soldiers, they
certainly make first-class assassins, which is only another branch of
the same business. This boy deserts not because he is afraid of death,
but because he still owes a debt. He feels he ought to do something to
repay his parents who nursed him when he was a child, and not be
sacrificed to that kidnapping camorra of blackguards out yonder"--and he
pointed with his thumb, spitting contemptuously the while, in the
direction of Rome.
Nobody had any comment to make on this speech. Not a word of protest was
raised. The man was entitled to an opinion like everybody else, and
might even have obtained his share of approval had the victim been a
native. He was only a Sicilian--an outsider. What is one to say of this
patriarchal, or parochial, attitude? The enlargement of Italy's
boundaries--Albania, Cyrenaica, Asia Minor and so forth--is an ideal
that few Italians bother their heads about. They are not sufficiently
dense--not yet.  To found a world-empire like the British or Roman
calls for a certain bullet-headed crassness. One has only to look at the
Germans, who have been trying to do so for some time past. That
collecting mania.... One single boy who collects postage stamps can
infect his whole school with the complaint, and make them all jealous of
his fine specimens. England has been collecting, for many centuries,
islands and suchlike; she is paying the penalty of her acquisitive
mania. She has infected others with the craze and cannot help incurring
their envy, seeing that they are now equally acquisitive, but less
fortunate. All the good specimens are gone!
That Pergola tavern deserves its name, the courtyard being overhung with
green vines and swelling clusters of grapes. The host is a canny old
boy, up to any joke and any devilry, I should say. He had already taken
a fancy to me on my first visit, for I cured his daughter Vanda of a
raging toothache by the application of glycerine and carbolic acid. We
went into his cellar, a dim tunnel excavated out of the soft tufa, from
whose darkest and chilliest recesses he drew forth a bottle of excellent
wine--it might have lain on a glacier, so cold it was. How thoughtful of
Providence to deposit this volcanic stuff within a stone's-throw of your
dining-table! Nobody need ice his wine at the Pergola.
After a capital repast I sallied forth late at night and walked,
striving to resemble a rich English tourist who has lost his way, along
the lonely road to Artena, in order to be assassinated by the deserters
or, failing that, to hear at least what these fellows have got to say
for themselves. My usual luck! Not a deserter was in sight.
Of my sleeping accommodation with certain old ladies, of what happened
to their little dog and of other matters trivial to the verge of
inanity, I may discourse upon the occasion of some later visit to
Valmontone. For this, the second, was by no means the last. Meanwhile,
we proceed southwards.
Sant' Agata, Sorrento
A delightful stroll, yesterday, with a wild youngster from the village
of Torco--what joy to listen to analphabetics for a change: they are
indubitably the salt of the earth--down that well-worn track to
Crapolla, only to learn that my friend Garibaldi, the ancient fisherman,
the genius loci, has died in the interval; thence by boat to the lonely
beach of Recomone (sadly noting, as we passed, that the rock-doves at
the Grotto delle Palumbe are now all extirpated), where, for the sake of
old memories, I indulged in a bathe and then came across an object rare
in these regions, a fragment of grey Egyptian granite, relic of some
pagan temple and doubtless washed up here in a wintry gale; thence, for
a little light refreshment, to Nerano; thence to that ill-famed "House
of the Spirits" where my Siren-Land was begun in the company of one who
feared no spirits--victim, already, of this cursed war, but then a
laughter-loving child--and down to the bay and promontory of Ierate,
there to make the unwelcome discovery that certain hideous quarrying
operations on the neighbouring hill have utterly ruined the charm of
this once secluded site; thence laboriously upwards, past that line of
venerable goat-caves, to the summit of Mount San Costanzo.
Nothing has changed. The bay of Naples lay at my feet as of old, flooded
There is a small outdoor cistern here. Peering into its darkness through
an aperture in the roof, I noticed that there was water at the bottom;
out of the water projected a stone; on the stone, a prisoner for life,
sat the most disconsolate lizard imaginable. It must have tumbled
through the chink, during some scuffle with a companion, into this humid
cell, swum for refuge to that islet and there remained, feeding on the
gnats which live in such places. I observed that its tail had grown to
an inordinate length--from disuse, very likely; from lack of the usual
abrasion against shrubs and stones. An unenviable fate for one of these
restless and light-loving creatures, never again to see the sun; to live
and die down here, all alone in the dank gloom, chained, as it were, to
a few inches of land amid a desolation of black water.
It took my thoughts back to what I saw two days ago while climbing in
the torrid hour of noon up that shadeless path where the vanilla-scented
orchids grow--the path which runs from Sant' Elia past the shattered
Natural Arch to Fontanella. Here, at the hottest turning of the road,
sat a woman in great distress. Beside her was a pink pig she had been
commissioned to escort down to the farm of Sant' Elia. This beast was
suffering hellish torments from the heat and vainly endeavouring, with
frenzied grunts of despair, to excavate for itself a hollow in the earth
under a thinly clothed myrtle bush. I told the woman of shade lower
down. She said she knew about it, but the pig--the pig refused to move!
It had been engaged upon this hopeless occupation, without a moment's
respite, for an hour or more; nothing would induce it to proceed a step
further; it had plainly made up its mind to find shelter here from the
burning rays, or die. And of shelter there was none.
What would not this pig (I now thought) have given to be transported
into the lizard's cool aquatic paradise; and the lizard, into that
It was not to muse upon the miseries of the animal creation that I have
revisited these shores. I came to puzzle once more over the site of that
far-famed Athene temple which gave its name to the whole promontory.
Now, after again traversing the ground with infinite pleasure, I fail to
find any reason for changing what I wrote years ago in a certain
pamphlet which some scholar, glancing through these pages and anxious to
explore for himself a spot of such celebrity in ancient days, is so
little likely to see that he may not be sorry if I here recapitulate its
arguments. Others will be well advised to pass over what follows.
Let me begin by saying that the temple, in every probability, stood at
the Punta Campanella facing Capri, the actual headland of the Sorrentine
peninsula, where--apart from every other kind of evidence--you may pick
up to this day small terra-cotta figures of Athene, made presumably to
be carried away as keepsakes by visitors to the shrine.
Now for alternative suggestions.
Strabo tells us that the temple was placed on the akron of the
promontory; that is, the summit of Mount San Costanzo where we are now
standing. (He elsewhere describes it as being "on the straits.") This
summit is nearly 500 metres above the sea-level, and here no antique
building seems ever to have been erected. No traces of old life are
visible save some fragments of Roman pottery which may have found their
way up in early Byzantine days, even as modern worshippers carry up the
ephemeral vessels popularly called "caccavelle"  and scatter them
about. With the exception of one fragment of white Pentelic marble, no
materials of an early period have been incorporated into the masonry of
the little chapel or the walls of the fields below. It is incredible
that no vestige of a structure like the Athene temple should remain on a
spot of this kind, so favourably situated as regards immunity from
depredations, owing to its isolated and exalted position. The
rock-surface around the summit has not undergone that artificial
levelling which an edifice of this importance would necessitate; the
terrace is of mediaeval construction, as can be seen by its supporting
walls. No doubt the venerable Christian sanctuary there has been
frequently repaired and modified; on the terrace-level to the south can
be seen the foundations of an earlier chapel, and the slopes are
littered with broken bricks, Sorrentine tufa, and old battuto floors.
But there is no trace of antique workmanship or material, nor has the
rocky path leading up to the shrine been demarcated with chisel-cuts in
the ancient fashion. The sister-summit of La Croce is equally
unproductive of classical relics.
We must therefore conclude that Strabo was mistaken. And why not? His
accounts of many parts of the Roman world are surprisingly accurate,
but, according to Professor Pais, "of Italy Strabo seems to have known
merely the road which leads from Brindisi to Rome, the road between Rome
and Naples and Pozzuoli, and the coast of Etruria between Rome and
Populonia." If so, he probably saw no more of the district than can be
seen from Naples. He attributes the foundation of this Athene temple to
Odysseus: statements of such a kind make one wonder whether the earlier
portions of his lost history were more critical than other old treatises
which have survived.
So much for Strabo.
Seduced by a modern name, which means nothing more or less than "a
temple"--strong evidence, surely--I was inclined to locate the Athene
shrine at a spot called Ierate (marked also as Ieranto on some maps, and
popularly pronounced Ghierate the Greek aspirate still surviving) which
lies a mile or more eastwards of the Punta Campanella and faces south.
"Hieron," I thought: that settles it. You may guess I was not a little
proud of this discovery, particularly when it turned out that an ancient
building actually did stand there--on the southern slope, namely, of the
miniature peninsula which juts into Ierate bay. Here I found fragments
of antique bricks, tegulae bipedales, amphoras, pottery of the lustrous
Sorrentine ware--Surrentina bibis?--pavements of opus signinum, as well
as one large Roman paving flag of the type that is found on the road
between Termini and Punta Campanella. (How came this stone here? Did the
old road from Stabiae Athene temple go round the promontory and continue
as far as Ierate along the southern slope of San Costanzo hill? No road
could pass there now; deforestation has denuded the mountain-side of its
soil, laying bare the grey rock--a condition at which its mediaeval name
of Mons Canutarius already hints.) Well, a more careful examination of
the site has convinced me that I was wrong. No temple of this
magnificence can have stood here, but only a Roman villa--one of the
many pleasure-houses which dotted these shores under the Empire.
So much for myself.
Showing ancient road rounding the headland
and terminating at "Templum Minervae."
None the less--and this is a really curious point--an inspection of
Peutinger's Tables seems to bear out my original theory of a temple at
Ierate. For the structure is therein marked not at the Punta Campanella
but, approximately, at Ierate itself, facing south, with the road from
Stabiae over Surrentum rounding the promontory and terminating at the
temple's threshold. Capri and the Punta Campanella are plainly drawn,
though not designated by name. Much as I should like my first
speculation to be proved correct on the evidence of this old chart of
A.D. 226, I fear both of us are mistaken.
So much for Peutinger's Tables.
Beloch makes a further confusion in regard to the local topography. He
says that the "three-peaked rock" which Eratosthenes describes as
separating the gulfs of Cumae and Paestum (that is, of Naples and
Salerno) is Mount San Costanzo. I do not understand Beloch falling into
this error, for the old geographer uses the term skopelos, which is
never applied to a mountain of this size, but to cliffs projecting upon
the sea. Moreover, the landmark is there to this day. I have not the
slightest doubt that Eratosthenes meant the pinnacle of Ierate, which is
three-peaked in a remarkably, and even absurdly, conspicuous manner,
both when viewed from the sea and from the land (from the chapel of S.
M. della Neve, for instance).
Now this projecting cliff of three peaks--they are called, respectively,
Montalto, Ierate, and Mortella; Ierate for short--is not the actual
boundary between the two gulfs; not by a mile or more. No; but from
certain points it might well be mistaken for it. The ancients had no
charts like ours, and the world in consequence presented itself
differently to their senses; even Strabo, says Bunbury, "was so ignorant
of the general form and configuration of the North African coast as to
have no clear conception of the great projection formed by the
Carthaginian territory and the deep bay to the east of it"; and,
coasting along the shore line, this triple-headed skopelos, behind which
lies the inlet of Ierate, might possibly be mistaken for the
turning-point into the gulf of Naples. So it looks when viewed from the
S.E. of Capri; so also from the Siren islets--a veritable headland.
So much for Beloch and Eratosthenes.
To sum up: Strabo is wrong in saying that the temple of Athene stood on
the summit of Mount San Costanzo; I was wrong in thinking that this
temple lay at Ierate; Peutinger's Chart is wrong in figuring the
structure on the south side of the Sorrentine peninsula; Beloch is wrong
in identifying the skopelos trikoruphos of Eratosthenes with Mount San
Costanzo; Eratosthenes is wrong in locating his rock at the boundary
between the two gulfs.
The shrine of Athene lay doubtless at Campanella, whose crag is of
sufficient altitude to justify Roman poets like Statius in their
descriptions of its lofty site. So great a number of old writers concur
in this opinion--Donnorso, Persico, Giannettasio, Mazzella, Anastasio,
Capaccio--that their testimony would alone be overwhelming, had these
men been a little more careful as to what they called a "temple."
Capasso, the acutest modern scholar of these regions, places it "in the
neighbourhood of the Punta Campanella." Professor Pais, in 1900, wrote a
paper on this "Atene Siciliana" which I have not seen. The whole
question is discussed in Filangieri's recent history of Massa
(1908-1910). It also occurs to me that Strabo's term akron may mean an
extremity or point projecting into the sea (a sense in which Homer used
it), and be applicable, therefore, to the Punta Campanella.
Here we are.
That mysterious nocturnal incident peculiar to Rome has already
occurred--sure sign that the nights are growing sultry. It happens about
six times in the course of every year, during the hot season. You may
read about it in the next morning's paper which records how some young
man, often of good family and apparently in good health, was seen
behaving in the most inexplicable fashion at the hour of about 2 a.m.;
jumping, that is, in a state of Adamitic nudity, into some public
fountain. It goes on to say that the culprit was pursued by the police,
run to earth, and carried to such-and-such a hospital, where his state
of mind is to be investigated. Will our rising generation, it gravely
adds, never learn the most elementary rules of decency?
If I have not had the curiosity to inquire at one of these
establishments what has been the result of the medical examination, it
is because I will wager my last shirt that the invalid's health leaves
nothing to be desired. The genesis of the affair, I take it, is this. He
is in bed, suffering from the heat. Sleep refuses to come. He has
already passed half the night in agony, tossing on his couch during
those leaden hours when not a breath of air is astir. In any other town
he would submit to the torture, knowing it to be irremediable. But Rome
is the city of fountains. It is they who are responsible for this sad
lapse. Their sound is clear by day; after midnight, when the traffic has
died down, it waxes thunderous. He hears it through the window--hears it
perforce, since the streets are ringing with that music, and you cannot
close your ears. He listens, growing hotter and more restless every
moment. He thinks.... That splash of waters! Those frigid wavelets and
cascades! How delicious to bathe his limbs, if only for a moment, in
their bubbling wetness; he is parched with heat, and at this hour of the
night, he reflects, there will not be a soul abroad in the square. So he
hearkens to the seductive melody, conjuring up the picture of that
familiar fountain; he remembers its moistened rim and basin all alive
with jolly turmoil; he sees the miniature cataracts tumbling down in
streaks of glad confusion, till the longing grows too strong to be
The thing must be done.
Next day he finds a handful of old donkeys solemnly inquiring into his
state of mind....
I can sympathise with that state of mind, having often undergone the
same purgatory. My room at present happens to be fairly cool; it looks
north, and the fountain down below, audible at this moment, has not yet
tempted me to any breach of decorum. Night is quiet here, save for the
squeakings of some strange animals in the upper regions of the
neighbouring Pantheon; they squeak night and day, and one would take
them to be bats, were it not that bats are supposed to be on the wing
after sunset. There are no mosquitoes in Rome--none worth talking about.
It is well. For mosquitoes have a deplorable habit of indulging in a
second meal, an early breakfast, at about four a.m.--a habit more
destructive to slumber than that regular and legitimate banquet of
theirs. No mosquitoes, and few flies. It is well.
It is more than merely well. For the mosquito, after all, when properly
fed, goes to bed like a gentleman and leaves you alone, whereas that
insatiable and petty curiousness of the fly condemns you to a
never-ending succession of anguished reflex movements. What a
malediction are those flies; how repulsive in life and in death: not to
be touched by human hands! Their every gesture is an obscenity, a
calamity. Fascinated by the ultra-horrible, I have watched them for
hours on end, and one of the most cherished projects of my life is to
assemble, in a kind of anthology, all the invectives that have been
hurled since the beginning of literature against this loathly dirt-born
insect, this living carrion, this blot on the Creator's reputation--and
thereto add a few of my own. Lucian, the pleasant joker, takes the fly
under his protection. He says, among other things, that "like an honest
man, it is not ashamed to do in public what others only do in private."
I must say, if we all followed the fly's example in this aspect, life
would at last be worth living....
Morning sleep is out of the question, owing to the tram-cars whose
clangour, both here and in Florence, must be heard to be believed. They
are fast rendering these towns uninhabitable. Can folks who cherish a
nuisance of this magnitude compare themselves, in point of refinement,
with those old Hellenic colonists who banished all noises from their
city? Nevermore! Why this din, this blocking of the roadways and general
unseemliness? In order that a few bourgeois may be saved the trouble of
using their legs. And yet we actually pride ourselves on these
detestable things, as if they were inventions to our credit. "We made
them," we say. Did we? It is not we who make them. It is they who make
us, who give us our habits of mind and body, our very thoughts; it is
these mechanical monsters who control our fates and drive us along
whither they mean us to go. We are caught in their cog-wheels--in a
process as inevitable as the revolution of the planets. No use lamenting
a cosmic phenomenon! Were it otherwise, I should certainly mope myself
into a green melancholy over the fact, the most dismal fact on earth,
that brachycephalism is a Mendelian dominant.  No use lamenting.
But the sage will reserve to himself the right of cursing. Those morning
hours, therefore, when I would gladly sleep but for the tram-car
shrieking below, are devoted to the malediction of all modern progress,
wherein I include, with fine impartiality, every single advancement in
culture which happens to lie between my present state and that
comfortable cavern in whose shelter I soon see myself ensconced as of
yore, peacefully sucking somebody's marrow while my women, round the
corner, are collecting a handful of acorns for my dessert.... The
telephone, that diabolic invention! It might vex a man if his neighbour
possessed a telephone and he none; how would it be, if neither of them
had it? We can hardly realise, now, the blissful quietude of the
pre-telephone epoch. And the telegraph and the press! They have huddled
mankind together into undignified and unhygienic proximity; we seem to
be breathing each other's air. We know what everybody is doing, in every
corner of the earth; we are told what to think, and to say, and to do.
Your paterfamilias, in pre-telegraph days, used to hammer out a few
solid opinions of his own on matters political and otherwise. He no
longer employs his brain for that purpose. He need only open his morning
paper and in it pours--the oracle of the press, that manufactory of
synthetic fustian, whose main object consists in accustoming humanity to
attach importance to the wrong things. It furnishes him with opinions
ready made, overnight, by some Fleet Street hack at so much a column,
after a little talk with his fellows over a pint of bad beer at the
Press Club. He has been told what to say--yesterday, for instance, it
was some lurid balderdash about a steam-roller and how the Kaiser is to
be fed on dog biscuits at Saint Helena--he has been "doped" by the
editor, who gets the tip--and out he goes! unless he take it--from the
owner, who is waiting for a certain emolument from this or that caucus,
and trims his convictions to their taste. That is what the Press can do.
It vitiates our mundane values. It enables a gang to fool the country.
It cretinises the public mind. The time may come when no respectable
person will be seen touching a daily, save on the sly. Newspaper reading
will become a secret vice. As such, I fear, its popularity is not likely
to wane. Having generated, by means of sundry trite reflections of this
nature, an enviable appetite for breakfast, I dress and step out of
doors to where, at a pleasant table, I can imbibe some coffee and make
my plans for loafing through the day.
Hot, these morning hours. Shadeless the streets. The Greeks, the Romans,
the Orientals knew better than to build wide roadways in a land of
There exists an old book or pamphlet entitled "Napoli senza
sole"--Naples without sun. It gives instructions, they say (for I have
never seen it) how foot passengers may keep for ever in the shade at all
hours of the day; how they may reach any point of the town from another
without being forced to cross the squares, those dazzling patches of
sunlight. The feat could have been accomplished formerly even in Rome,
which was always less umbrageous than Naples. It is out of the question
nowadays. You must do as the Romans do--walk slowly and use the tram
That is what I purpose to do. There is a line which will take me direct
to the Milvian bridge, where I mean to have a bathe, and then a lunch at
the restaurant across the water. Its proprietor is something of a
brigand; so am I, at a pinch. It is "honour among thieves," or "diamond
Already a few enthusiasts are gathered here, on the glowing sands. But
the water is still cold; indeed, the Tiber is never too warm for me. If
you like it yet more chill, you must walk up to where the Aniene
discharges its waves whose temperature, at this season, is of a kind to
tickle up a walrus.
Whether it be due to the medley of races or to some other cause, there
is a singular variety of flesh-tints among the bathers here. I wish my
old friend Dr. Bowles could have seen it; we used to be deeply immersed,
both of us, in the question of the chromatophores, I observing their
freakish behaviour in the epidermis of certain frogs, while he studied
their action on the human skin and wrote an excellent little paper on
sunburn--a darker problem than it seems to be. 
These men and boys do not grow uniformly sunburnt. They display so many
different colour-shades on their bodies that an artist would be
delighted with the effect. From that peculiar milky hue which, by reason
of some pigment, contrives to resist the rays, the tints diverge; the
reds, the scarcer group, traversing every gradation from pale rose to
the ruddiest of copper--not excluding that strange marbled complexion
concerning which I cannot make up my mind whether it be a beauty or a
defect; while the xanthous tones, the yellows, pass through silvery gold
and apricot and cafe au lait to a duskiness approaching that of the
negro. At this season the skins are still white. Your artist must come
later--not later, however, than the end of August, for on the first of
September the bathing, be the weather never so warm, is officially, and
quite suddenly, at an end. Tiber water is declared to be "unhealthy"
after that date, and liable to give you fever; a relic of the days when
the true origin of malaria was unknown.
A glance at the papers is sufficient to prove that bathing has not yet
begun in earnest. No drowning accidents, up to the present. Later on
they come thick and fast. For this river, with its rapid current and
vindictive swirling eddies, is dangerous to young swimmers; it grips
them in its tawny coils and holds them fast, often within a few yards of
friend or parent who listens, powerless to help, to the victim's cries
of anguish and sees his arm raised imploringly out of that serpent-like
embrace. So it hurries him to destruction, only to be fished up later in
a state, as the newspapers will be careful to inform us, of "incipient
A murderous flood....
That hoary, trickling structure--that fountain which has forgotten to be
a fountain, so dreamily does the water ooze through obstructive mosses
and emerald growths that dangle in drowsy pendants, like wet beards,
from its venerable lips--that fountain un-trimmed, harmonious, overhung
by ancient ilexes: where shall a more reposeful spot be found? Doubly
delicious, after the turmoil and glistening sheen by the river-bank. For
the foliage of the oaks and sycamores is such that it creates a kind of
twilight, and all around lies the tranquillity of noon. Here, on the
encircling stone bench, you may idle through the sultry hours conversing
with some favourite disciple while the cows trample up to drink amid
moist gurglings and tail-swishings. They gaze at you with gentle eyes,
they blow their sweet breath upon your cheek, and move sedately onward.
The Villa Borghese can be hushed, at such times, in a kind of
"You never told me why you come to Italy."
"In order," I reply, "to enjoy places like this."
"But listen. Surely you have fountains in your own country?"
"None quite so golden-green."
"Ah, it wants cleaning, doesn't it?"
"Lord, no!" I say; but only to myself. One should never pass for an
imbecile, if one can help it.
Aloud I remark:--
"Let me try to set forth, however droll it may sound, the point of view
of a certain class of people, supposing they exist, who might think that
this particular fountain ought never to be cleaned"--and there ensued a
discussion, lasting about half an hour, in the course of which I
elaborated, artfully and progressively, my own thesis, and forged, in
the teeth of some lively opposition, what struck me as a convincing
argument in favour of leaving the fountain alone.
"Then that is why you come to Italy. On account of a certain fountain,
which ought never to be cleaned."
"I said on account of places like this. And I ought to have added, on
account of moments such as these."
"Are those your two reasons?"
"Those are my two reasons."
"Then you have thought about it before?"
One should never pass for an imbecile, if one can help it.
"But listen. Surely it is sometimes two o'clock in the afternoon, in
"I used that word moment in a pregnant sense," I reply. "Pregnant: when
something is concealed or enclosed within. What is enclosed within this
moment? Our friendly conversation."
"But listen. Surely folks can converse in your country?"
"They can talk."
"I begin to understand why you come here. It is that difference, which
is new to me, between conversing and talking. Is the difference worth
the long journey?"
"Not to everybody, I daresay."
"Why to you?"
"Why to me? I must think about it."
One should never pass for an imbecile, if one can help it.
"What is there to think about? You said you had thought about it
already.... Perhaps there are other reasons?"
"There may be."
"There may be?"
"There must be. Are you satisfied?"
"Ought I to be satisfied before I have learnt them?"
"I find you rather fatiguing this afternoon. Did you hear about that
murder in Trastevere last night and how the police----"
"But listen. Surely you can answer a simple question. Why do you come to
Why does one come here?
A periodical visit to this country seems an ordinary and almost
automatic proceeding--a part of one's regular routine, as natural as
going to the barber or to church. Why seek for reasons? They are so hard
to find. One tracks them to their lair and lo! there is another one
lurking in the background, a reason for a reason.
The craving to be in contact with beauty and antiquity, the desire for
self-expression, for physical well-being under that drenching sunshine,
which while it lasts, one curses lustily; above all, the pleasure of
memory and reconstruction at a distance. Yes; herein lies, methinks, the
secret; the reason for the reason. Reconstruction at a distance.... For
a haze of oblivion is formed by lapse of time and space; a kindly haze
which obliterates the thousand fretting annoyances wherewith the
traveller's path in every country is bestrewn. He forgets them; forgets
that weltering ocean of unpleasantness and remembers only its sporadic
islets--those moments of calm delight or fiercer joy which he would fain
hold fast for ever. He does not come here on account of a certain
fountain which ought never to be cleaned.  He comes for the sake of
its mirage, that sunny phantom which will rise up later, out of some
November fog in another land. Italy is a delightful place to remember,
to think and talk about. And is it not the same with England? Let us go
there as a tourist--only as a tourist. How attractive one finds its
conveniences, and even its conventionalities, provided one knows, for an
absolute certainty, that one will never be constrained to dwell among
What lovely things one could say about England, in Timbuktu!
Rome is not only the most engaging capital in Europe, it is unusually
heterogeneous in regard to population. The average Parisian will assure
you that his family has lived in that town from time immemorial. It is
different here. There are few Romans discoverable in Rome, save across
the Tiber. Talk to whom you please, you will soon find that either he or
his parents are immigrants. The place is filled with hordes of
employees--many thousands of them, high and low, from every corner of
the provinces; the commoner sort, too, the waiters, carpenters,
plasterers, masons, painters, coachmen, all the railway folk--they are
hardly ever natives. Your Roman of the lower classes does not relish
labour. He can do a little amateurish shop-keeping, he is fairly good as
a cook, but his true strength, as he frankly admits, consists in eating
and drinking. That is as it should be. It befits the tone of a
metropolis that outsiders shall do its work. That undercurrent of
asperity is less noticeable here than in many towns of the peninsula.
There is something of the grande dame in Rome, a flavour of old-world
courtesy. The inhabitants are better-mannered than the Parisians; a
workday crowd in Rome is as well-dressed as a Sunday crowd in Paris. And
over all hovers a gentle weariness.
The city has undergone orgies of bloodshed and terror. Think only,
without going further back, of that pillage by the Spanish and German
soldiery under Bourbon; half a year's pandemonium. And all those other
mediaeval scourges, epidemics and floods and famines. That sirocco, the
worst of many Italian varieties: who shall calculate its debilitating
effect upon the stamina of the race? Up to quite a short time ago,
moreover, the population was malarious; older records reek of malaria;
that, assuredly, will leave its mark upon the inhabitants for years to
come. And the scorching Campagna beyond the walls, that forbidden land
in whose embrace the city lies gasping, flame-encircled, like the
scorpion in the tale....
A well-known scholar, surveying Rome with the mind's eye, is so
impressed with its "eternal" character that he cannot imagine this site
having ever been occupied otherwise than by a city. To him it seems
inevitable that these walls must always have stood where now they
stand--must have risen, he suggests, out of the earth, unaided by human
hands. Yet somebody laid the foundation-stones, once upon a time;
somebody who lived under conditions quite different from those that
supervened. For who--not five thousand, but, say, five hundred years
ago--who would have thought of building a town on a spot like this? None
but a crazy despot, some moonstruck Oriental such as the world has
known, striving to impress his dreams upon a recalcitrant nature. No
facilities for trade or commerce, no scenic beauty of landscape, no
harbour, no defence against enemies, no drinking water, no mineral
wealth, no food-supplying hinterland, no navigable river--a dangerous
river, indeed, a perpetual menace to the place--every drawback, or
nearly so, which a town may conceivably possess, and all of them huddled
into a fatally unhealthy environment, compressed in a girdle of fire and
poison. Human ingenuity has obviated them so effectually, so
triumphantly that, were green pastures not needful to me as light and
air, I, for one, would nevermore stray beyond those ancient portals....
The country visits you here. It comes in the wake of that evening breeze
which creeps about with stealthy feet, winding its way into the most
secluded courtyards and sending a sudden shiver through the frail
bamboos that stand beside your dinner-table in some heated square. Then
the zephyr departs mysteriously as it came, and leaves behind a great
void--a torrid vacuum which is soon filled up by the honey-sweet
fragrance of hay and aromatic plants. Every night this balsamic breath
invades the town, filling its streets with ambrosial suggestions. It is
one of the charms of Rome at this particular season; quite a local
speciality, for the phenomenon could never occur if the surrounding
regions were covered with suburbs or tilth or woodland--were aught save
what they are: a desert whose vegetation of coarse herbage is in the act
of withering. The Campagna once definitely dried, this immaterial feast
is at an end.
I am glad never to have discovered anyone, native or foreign, who has
been aware of the existence of this nocturnal emanation; glad because it
corroborates a theory of mine, to wit, that mankind is forgetting the
use of its nose; and not only of nose, but of eyes and ears and all
other natural appliances which help to capture and intensify the simple
joys of life. We all know the civilised, the industrial eye--how
atrophied, how small and formless and expressionless it has become. The
civilised nose, it would seem, degenerates in the other direction. Like
the cultured potato or pumpkin, it swells in size. The French are
civilised and, if we may judge by old engravings (what else are we to
take as guide, seeing that the skull affords some criterion as to shape
but not size of nose?) they certainly seem to accentuate this organ in
proportion as they neglect its use. Parisians, it strikes me, are
running to nose; they wax more rat-like every day. Here is a little
problem for anthropologists. There may be something, after all, in the
condition of Paris life which fosters the development of this peeky,
rodential countenance. Perfumery, and what it implies? There are
scent-shops galore in the fashionable boulevards, whereas I defy you to
show me a single stationer. Maupassant knew them fairly well, and one
thinks of that story of his:--
"Le parfum de Monsieur?"
"La verveine...." 
Speaking of the French, I climbed those ninety odd stairs the other day
to announce my arrival in Italy to my friend Mrs. N., who, being vastly
busy at that moment and on no account to be disturbed, least of all by a
male, sent word to say that I might wait on the terrace or in that
microscopic but well-equipped library of hers. I chose the latter, and
there browsed upon "Emaux et Camees" and the "Fleurs du Mal" which
happened, as was meet and proper, to lie beside each other.
Strange reading, at this distance of time. These, I thought--these are
the things which used to give us something of a thrill.
If they no longer provide that sensation, it may well be that we have
absorbed their spirit so thoroughly into our system that we forget
whence we drew it. They have become part of ourselves. Even now, one
cannot help admiring Gautier's precision of imagery, his gift of being
quaint and yet lucid as a diamond; one pictures those crocodiles
fainting in the heat, and notes, too, whence the author of the "Sphinx"
drew his hard, glittering, mineralogical flavour. The verse is not so
much easy as facile. And not all the grace of internals can atone for
external monotony. That trick--that full stop at the end of nearly every
fourth line--it impairs the charm of the music and renders its flow
jerky; coming, as it does, like an ever-repeated blow, it grows
wearisome to the ear, and finally abhorrent.
Baudelaire, in form, is more cunning and variegated. He can also delve
down to deeps which the other never essayed to fathom. "Fuyez l'infini
que vous portez en vous"--a line which, in my friend's copy of the book,
had been marked on the margin with a derisive exclamation-point. (It
gave me food for thought, that exclamation-point.) But, as to substance,
he contains too many nebulosities and abstractions for my taste; a
veritable mist of them, out of which emerges--what? The figure of one
woman. Reading these "Fleurs du Mal" we realise, not for the first time,
that there is something to be said in favour of libertinage for a poet.
We do not need Petrarca, much less the Love-Letters of a Violinist--no,
we do not need those Love-Letters at all--to prove that a master can
draw sweet strains from communion with one mistress, from a lute with
one string; a formidable array of songsters, on the other hand, will
demonstrate how much fuller and richer the melody grows when the
instrument is provided with the requisite five, the desirable fifty.
Monogamous habits have been many a bard's undoing.
Twenty years' devotion to that stupid and spiteful old cat of a
semi-negress! They make one conscious of the gulf between the logic of
the emotions and that other one--that logic of the intellect which ought
to shape our actions. Here was Baudelaire, a man of ruthless
self-analysis. Did he never see himself as others saw him? Did he never
say: "You are making a fool of yourself"?
Be sure he did.
You are making a fool of yourself: are not those the words I ought to
have uttered when, standing in the centre of the Piazza del Popolo--the
sunny centre: so it had been inexorably arranged--I used to wait and
wait, with eyes glued to the clock hard by, in the slender shadow of
that obelisque which crawled reluctantly, like the finger of fate, over
the burning stones?
And I crawled with it, more than content.
Days of infatuation!
I never pass that way now without thanking God for a misspent youth. Why
not make a fool of yourself? It is good fun while it lasts; it yields
mellow mirth for later years, and are not our fellow-creatures, those
solemn buffoons, ten times more ridiculous? Where is the use of
experience, if it does not make you laugh? The Logic of the
Intellect--what next! If any one had treated me to such tomfoolery while
standing there, petrified into a pillar of fidelity in that creeping
shadow, I should have replied gravely:
"The Logic of the Intellect, my dear Sir, is incompatible with
situations like mine. It was not invented for so stupendous a crisis. I
am waiting for my negress--can't you understand?--and she is already
seven minutes late...."
A flaming morning, forestaste of things to come.
I find myself, after an early visit to the hospital where things are
doing well, glancing down, towards midday, into Trajan's Forum, as one
looks into some torrid bear-pit.
Broken columns glitter in the sunshine; the grass is already withered to
hay. Drenched in light and heat, this Sahara-like enclosure is
altogether devoid of life save for the cats. The majority are dozing in
a kind of torpor, or moribund, or dead. My experiences in the hospital
half an hour ago dispose me, perhaps, to regard this menagerie in a more
morbid fashion than usual. To-day, in particular, it seems as if all the
mangy and decrepit cats of Rome had given themselves a rendezvous on
this classic soil; cats of every colour and every age--quite young ones
among them; all, one would say, at the last gasp of life. This pit, this
crater of flame, is their "Home for the Dying." Once down here, nothing
matters any more. They are safe at last from their old enemies, from
dogs and carriages and boys. Waiting for death, they move about in a
stupid and dazed manner. Sunlight streams down upon their bodies. One
would think they preferred to expire in the shade of some pillar or
slab. Apparently not. Apparently it is all the same. It matters nothing
where one dies.
There is one immediately below me, a moth-eaten desiccated
tortoiseshell; its eyes are closed and a red tongue hangs out of the
mouth. I drop a small pebble. It wakes up and regards me stoically for a
moment. Nothing more.
These cats have lost their all--their self-respect. Grace and ardour,
sleekness of coat and buoyancy of limbs are gone out of them. Tails are
knotted with hunger and neglect; bones protrude through the skin. So
they strew the ground in discomposed, un-catlike attitudes, while the
sun burns through their parched anatomy. Do they remember their
kittenish pranks, those moonlight ecstasies on housetops, that morsel
snatched from a fishmonger's barrow and borne through the crowded
traffic in a series of delirious leaps? Who can tell! They are not even
bored with themselves. Their fur is in patches. They are alive when they
ought to be dead. Nobody knows it better than they do. They are too ill,
too far gone, to feel any sense of shame at their present degradation.
Nothing matters! What would Baudelaire, that friend of cats, have said
to this macabre exhibition?
Yonder is an old one, giving milk to the phantom of a kitten. The parent
takes no interest in the proceedings; she lies prone, her head on the
ground. Her eyes have a stony look. Is she dead? Possibly. Her own
kitten? Who cares! Her neighbour, once white but now earth-coloured,
rises stiffly as though dubious whether the joints are still in working
order. What does she think of doing? It would seem she has formed no
plan. She walks up to the mother, peers intently into her face, then
sits apart on her haunches and begins gazing at the sun. Presently she
rises anew and proceeds five or six paces for no imaginable
reason--collapses; falls, quite abruptly, on her side. There she lies,
flat, like a playing-card.
A sinister aimlessness pervades the actions of those that move at all.
The shadow of death is upon these creatures in the scorching sunshine.
They stare at columns of polished granite, at a piece of weed, at one
another, as though they had never seen such things before. They totter
about on tip-toe; they yawn and forget to shut their mouths. Here is
one, stretching out a hind leg in a sustained cramp; another is
convulsed with nervous twitchings; another scratches the earth in a kind
of mechanical trance. One would say she was preparing a grave for
herself. The saddest of all is an old warrior with mighty jowl and a
face that bears the scars of a hundred fights. One eye has been lost in
some long-forgotten encounter. Now they walk over him, kittens and all,
and tread about his head, as if he were a hillock of earth, while his
claws twitch resentfully with rage or pain. Too ill to rise!
Most of them are thus stretched out blankly, in a faint. Are they
suffering? Hungry or thirsty?  I believe they are past troubling
about such things. It is time to die. They know it....
"L'albergo dei gatti," says a cheery voice at my side--some countryman,
who has also discovered Trajan's Forum to be one of the sights of Rome.
"The cats' hotel. But," he adds, "I see no restaurant attached to it."
That reminds me: luncheon-time.
Via Flaminia--what a place for luncheon! True; but this is one of the
few restaurants in Rome where, nowadays, a man is not in danger of being
simultaneously robbed, starved, and poisoned. Things have come to a
pretty pass. This starvation-fare may suit a saint and turn his thoughts
heavenwards. Mine it turns in the other direction. Here, at all events,
the food is straightforward. Our hostess, a slow elderly woman, is
omnipresent; one realises that every dish has been submitted to her
personal inspection. A primeval creature; heaviness personified. She
moves in fateful fashion, like the hand of a clock. The crack of doom
will not avail to accelerate that relentless deliberation. She reminds
me of a cousin of mine famous for his imperturbable calm who, when his
long curls once caught fire from being too near a candle, sleepily
remarked to a terrified wife: "I think you might try to blow it out."
But where shall a man still find those edible maccheroni--those that
were made in the Golden Age out of pre-war-time flour?
Such things are called trifles.... Give me the trifles of life, and keep
the rest. A man's health depends on trifles; and happiness on health.
Moreover, I have been yearning for them for the last five months. Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick.... There are none in Rome. Can they be
found anywhere else?
Mrs. Nichol: she might know. She has the gift of knowing about things
one would never expect her to know. If only one could meet her by
accident in the street! For at such times she is gay and altogether at
your disposal. She is up to any sport, out of doors. To break upon her
seclusion at home is an undertaking reserved for great occasions. The
fact is, we are rather afraid of Mrs. Nichol. The incidents of what she
describes as a tiresome life have taught her the value of masculine
frankness--ultra-masculine, I call it. She is too frank for subterfuge
of any kind. When at home, for instance, she is never "not at home." She
will always see you. She will not detain you long, if you happen to be
This, I persuade myself, is a great occasion--my health and
happiness.... Besides, I am her oldest friend in this part of the world;
was I not on the spot when she elected, for reasons which nobody has yet
fathomed, to make Rome her domicile? Have I not more than once been
useful to her, nay, indispensable? I therefore climb, not without
trepidation, those ninety-three stairs to the very summit of the old
palace, and presently find myself ushered into the familiar twilight.
Nothing has changed since I was here some little time ago to announce my
arrival in Italy (solemn occasion), when I had to amuse myself for an
hour or so with Baudelaire in the library, Mrs. Nichol being engaged
upon "house-accounts." This time, as I enter the studio, she is playing
cards with a pretty handmaiden, amid peals of laughter. She often plays
cards. She is puffing at a cigarette in a long mouthpiece which keeps
the smoke out of her olive-complexioned face and which she holds
firm-fixed between her teeth, in a corner of the mouth, after the perky
fashion of a schoolboy. I have interrupted a game, and at once begin to
feel de trop under a glance from those smouldering grey eyes.
"It is not a trifle. It is a matter of life and death. Will you please
listen for half a minute? Then I will evaporate, and you can go on with
your ridiculous cards. The fact is, I am being assassinated by inches.
Do you know of a place where a man can get eatable macaroni nowadays?
The old kind, I mean, made out of pre-war-time flour...."
She lays her hand on the cards as though to suspend the game, and asks
the girl in Italian:
"What was the name of that place?"
"Oh, stupid! Where I stayed with Miranda last September. Where I tore my
skirt on the rock. Where I said something nice about the white
"Soriano in Cimino."
"Soriano," echoes the mistress in a cloud of smoke. "There is a tram
from here every morning. They can put you up."
A pause follows. I would like to linger and talk to this sultry and
self-centred being; I would like to wander with her through these rooms,
imbibing their strange Oriental spirit--not your vulgar Orient, but
something classic and remote; something that savours, for aught I know,
of Indo-China, where Mrs. Nichol, in one of her immature efforts at
self-realisation, spent a few years as the wife of a high French
official, ere marrying, that is, the late lamented Nichol--another