Part 4 out of 5
Now why did she marry all these people (for I fancy there was yet an
earlier alliance of some kind)? A whim, a freak? Or did they plague her
into it? If so, I suspect they lived and died to repent their manly
persistence. She could grind any ordinary male to powder. And why has
she now flitted here, building herself this aerial bower above the old
roofs of Rome? Is she in search of happiness? I doubt whether she will
find it. She possesses that fatal craving--the craving for disinterested
affection, a source of heartache to the perfect egoist for whom
affection of this particular kind is not a necessity but a luxury, and
therefore desirable above all else--desirable, and how seldom attained!
The pause continues. I make a little movement, to attract notice. She
looks up, but only her eyes reply.
"Now, my good fellow," they seem to say, "are you blind?"
That is the drawback of Mrs. Nichol. Phenomenally absent-minded, she
always knows at a given moment exactly what she wants to do. And she
never wants to do more than one thing at a time. It is most unwomanly of
her. Any other person of her sex would have left a game of cards for the
sake of an attractive visitor like myself. Or, for that matter, an
ordinary lady would have played cards, given complicated orders to
dressmakers and servants, and entertained half a dozen men at the same
time. Mrs. Nichol cannot do these things. That hand, that rather
sunburnt little hand without a single ring on it, has not moved from the
table. No, I am not blind. It is quite evident that she wants to play
cards; only that, and nothing more.
I withdraw, stealthily.
Not downstairs. I go to linger awhile on the broad terrace where
jessamine grows in Gargantuan tubs; there I pace up and down, admiring
the cupolas and towers of Rome that gleam orange-tawny against the blue
background of distant hills. How much of its peculiar flavour a town
will draw--not from artistic monuments but from the mere character of
building materials! How many variations on one theme! This mellow Roman
travertine, for instance.... I call to mind those disconsolate places in
Cornwall with their chill slate and primary rock, the robust and
dignified bunter-sandstone of the Vosges, the satanic cheerfulness of
lava, those marble-towns that blind you with their glare, Eastern cities
of brightly tinted stucco or mere clay, the brick-towns, granite-towns,
wood-towns--how they differ in mood from one another!... Here I pace up
and down, rejoicing in the spacious sunlit prospect, and endeavouring to
disentangle from one another the multitudinous street-cries that climb
to this hanging garden in confused waves of sound. Harsh at close
quarters, they weave themselves into a mirthful symphony up here.
From that studio, too, comes a lively din--the laughter has begun again.
Mrs. Nichol is having a good time. It will be followed, I daresay, by a
period of acute depression. I shall probably be consulted with masonic
frankness about some little tragedy of the emotions which is no concern
of mine. She can be wondrously engaging at such times--like a child that
has got into trouble and takes you into its confidence.
One of these days I must write a character-sketch of Mrs. Nichol. She
foreshadows a type--represents it, very possibly--a type which will grow
commoner from day to day. She dreams of a Republic of women, vestals or
otherwise, wherefrom all men are to be excluded unless they possess
qualifications of a rather unusual nature. I think she would like to
draft a set of rules and regulations for that community. She could be
trusted, I fancy, to make them sufficiently stringent.
I think I understand, now, why a certain line in her copy of Baudelaire
was marked with that derisive exclamation-point on the margin: "Fuyez
l'infini que vous portez en vous."
"Fuyez?" it seemed to say. "Why 'fuyez'?"
Amid clouds of dust you are whirled to Soriano, through the desert
Campagna and past Mount Soracte, in a business-like tramway--different
from that miserable Olevano affair which, being narrow gauge, can go but
slowly and even then has a frolicsome habit of jumping off the rails
every few days. From afar you look back upon the city; it lies so low as
to be invisible; over its site hovers the dome of Saint Peter, like an
iridescent bubble suspended in the sky.
This region is unfamiliar to me. Soriano lies on the slope of an immense
old volcano and conveys at first glance a somewhat ragged and sombre
impression. It was an unpleasantly warm day, but those macaroni--they
atoned for everything. So exquisite were they that I forthwith vowed to
return to Soriano, for their sake alone, ere the year should end. (I
kept my vow.) The right kind at last, of lily-like candour and
unmistakably authentic, having been purchased in large quantities at the
outbreak of hostilities by the provident hostess, who must have
anticipated a rise in price, a deterioration in quality, or both, as the
result of war.
How came Mrs. Nichol to discover their whereabouts? That is her affair.
I know not how she has managed, in so brief a space of time, to collect
such a variety of useful local information. I can only testify that on
her arrival in Rome she knew no more about the language and place than
the proverbial babe unborn, and that nowadays, when anybody is faced
with a conundrum like mine, one always hears the words: "Try Mrs.
Nichol." And how many women, by the way, would have made a note of the
particular quality of those macaroni? One in a hundred? These are
We also--for of course I took a friend with me, a well-preserved old
gentleman of thirty-two, whose downward career from a brilliant youth
into hopeless mediocrity has been watched, by both of us, with
philosophic unconcern--we also consumed a tender chicken, a salad
containing olive oil and not the usual motor-car lubricant, an omelette
made with genuine butter, and various other items which we enjoyed
prodigiously, eating, one would think, not only for the seven lean years
just past but for seven--yea, seventy times seven--lean years to come.
So great a success was this open-air meal that my companion, a
case-hardened Roman, was obliged to confess:
"It seems one fares better in the province than at home. You could not
get such bread in Rome, not if you offered fifty francs a pound."
As for myself, I had lost all interest in the bread by this time, but
grown fairly intimate with the wine, a rosy muscatel, faintly
sparkling--very young, but not altogether innocent.
There were flies, however, and dogs, and children. We ought to have
remained indoors. Thither we retired for coffee and cigars and a
liqueur, of the last of which my friend refused to partake. He fears and
distrusts all liqueurs; it is one of his many senile traits. The stuff
proved, to my surprise, to be orthodox Strega, likewise a rarity
It is a real shame--what is happening to Strega at this moment. It has
grown so popular that the country is flooded with imitations. There must
be fifty firms manufacturing shams of various degrees of goodness and
badness; I have met their travellers in the most unexpected places. They
reproduce the colour of Strega, its minty flavour --everything, in
short, except the essential: its peculiar strength of aroma and of
alcohol. They can afford to sell this poison at half the price of the
original, and your artful restaurateur keeps an old bottle or two of the
real product which he fills up, when empty, out of some hidden but
never-failing barrel of the fraudulent mixture round the corner,
charging you, of course, the full price of true Strega. If you complain,
he proudly points to the bottle, the cork, the label: all authentic! No
wonder foreigners, on tasting these concoctions, vow they will never
touch Strega again....
We had a prolonged argument, over the coffee, about this Strega
adulteration, during which I tried to make my friend comprehend how I
thought the grievance ought to be remedied. How? By an injunction. That
was the way to redress these wrongs. You obtain an injunction, I said,
such as the French Chartreuse people obtained against the manufacturers
of the Italian "Certosa," which was thereafter obliged to change its
name to "Val D'Emma." More than once I endeavoured to set forth, in
language intelligible to his understanding, what an injunction
signified; more than once I explained how well-advised the Strega
Company would be to take this course.
He always missed my point. He always brought in some personal element,
whereas I, as usual, confined myself to general lines, to the principle
of the thing. Italians are sometimes unfathomably obtuse.
"But what is an injunction?" he repeated.
"If you were a little younger, there might be some hope for you. I would
then try to explain it again, for the fiftieth time. Instead of that,
what do you say to taking a nap?"
"Ah! You have eaten too much."
"Not at all. But please to note that I am tired of explaining things to
people who refuse to understand."
"No doubt, no doubt. Yes. A little sleep might freshen you up."
"And perhaps inspire you with another subject of conversation."
In the little hotel there were no rooms available just then wherein we
might have slumbered, and another apartment higher up the street
promising lively sport for which we were disinclined at that hour, we
moved laboriously into the chestnut woods overhead. Fine old timber,
part of that mysterious Ciminian forest which still covers a large
tract, from within whose ample shade one looks downhill towards the
distant Orte across a broiling stretch of country. There were golden
orioles here, calling to each other from the tree-tops. My friend,
having excavated himself a couch among the troublesome prickly seeds of
this plant, was soon snoring--another senile trait--snoring in a
rhythmical bass accompaniment to their song. I envied him. How some
people can sleep! It is a thing worth watching. They shut their eyes,
and forget to be awake. With a view to imitating his example, I wearied
myself trying to count up the number of orioles I had shot in my
bird-slaying days, and where it happened. Not more than half a dozen,
all told. They are hard to stalk, and hard to see. But of other
birds--how many! Forthwith an endless procession of massacred fowls
began to pass before my mind. One would fain live those ornithological
days over again, and taste the rapturous joy with which one killed that
first nutcracker in the mountain gulley; the first wall-creeper which
fluttered down from the precipice hung with icicles; the Temminck's
stint--victim of a lucky shot, late in the evening, on the banks of the
reservoir; the ruff, the grey-headed green woodpecker, the yellow-billed
Alpine jackdaw, that lanius meridionalis----
And all those slaughtered beasts--those chamois, first and foremost,
sedulously circumvented amid snowy crags. Where are now their horns, the
trophies? The passion for such sport died out slowly and for no clearly
ascertainable reason, as did, in its turn, the taste for art and
theatres and other things. Sheer satiety, a grain of pity, new
environments--they may all help to explain what was, in its essence, a
molecular change in the brain, driving one to explore new departments of
And now latterly, for some reason equally obscure, the natural history
fancy has revived after lying dormant so long. It may be those three
months spent on the pavements of Florence which incline one's thoughts
to the country and wild things. Social reasons too--a certain weariness
of humanity, and more than weariness; a desire to avoid contact with
creatures Who kill each other so gracelessly and in so doing--for the
killing alone would pass--invoke specially manufactured systems of
ethics and a benevolent God overhead. What has one in common with such
That may be why I feel disposed to forget mankind and take rambles as of
yore; minded to shoulder a gun and climb trees and collect birds, and
begin, of course, a new series of "field notes." Those old jottings were
conscientiously done and registered sundry things of import to the
naturalist; were they accessible, I should be tempted to extract
therefrom a volume of solid zoological memories in preference to these
travel-pages that register nothing but the crosscurrents of a mind which
tries to see things as they are. For the pursuit brought one into
relations not only with interesting birds and beasts, but with men.
There was Mr. H. of the Linnean Society, whose waxed moustache curled
round upon itself like an ammonite. A great writer of books was Mr. H.,
and a great collector of them. He collected, among other things, a rare
monograph belonging to me and dealing with the former distribution of
the beaver in Bavaria (we were both absorbed in beavers). Nothing I
could do or say would induce him to disgorge it again; he had always
lent it to a friend, who was just on the point of returning it, etc.
etc. Bitterly grieved, I not only forgave him, but put him into
communication with my friend Dr. Girtanner of St. Gallen, another
beaver--and marmot--specialist. It stimulated his love of Swiss zoology
to such an extent that he straightway borrowed a still rarer pamphlet of
mine, J. J. Tschudi's "Schweizer Echsen," which I likewise never saw
again. What an innocent one was! Where is now the man who will induce me
to lend him such books?
In those days I held a student's ticket at the South Kensington Museum,
an institution I enriched with specimens of rana graeca from near Lake
Stymphalus, and lizards from the Filfla rock, and toads from a volcanic
islet (toads, says Darwin, are not found on volcanic islets), and slugs
from places as far apart as Santorin and the Shetlands and Orkneys,
whither I went in search of Asterolepis and the Great Skua. The last
gift was a seal from the fresh-water lake of Saima in Finland. Who ever
heard of seals living in sweet land-locked waters? This was one of my
happiest discoveries, though the delight of my friend the Curator was
tempered by the fact that this particular specimen happened to be an
immature one, and did not display any pronounced race-characters. I have
early recollections of the rugged face and lovely Scotch accent of Tam
Edwards, the Banffshire naturalist; and much later ones of J. Young,
 who gave me a circumstantial account of how he found the first snow
bunting's nest in Sutherlandshire; I recall the Rev. Mathew (? Mathews)
of Gumley, an ardent Leicestershire ornithologist, whose friendship I
gained at a tender age on discovering the nest of a red-legged
partridge, from which I took every one of the thirteen eggs. "Surely six
would have been enough," he said--a remark which struck me as rather
unreasonable, seeing that French partridges were not exactly as common
as linnets. He afterwards showed me his collection of birdskins,
dwelling lovingly, for reasons which I cannot remember, upon that of a
He it was who told me that no collector was worth his salt until he had
learnt to skin his own birds. Fired with enthusiasm, I took lessons in
taxidermy at the earliest possible opportunity--from a grimy old
naturalist in one of the grimiest streets of Manchester, a man who
relieved birds of their jackets in dainty fashion with one hand, the
other having been amputated and replaced by an iron hook. During that
period of initiation into the gentle art, the billiard-room at "The
Weaste," Manchester, was converted every morning, for purposes of study,
into a dissecting-room, a chamber of horrors, a shambles, where headless
trunks and brains and gouged-out eyes of lapwings and other "easy" birds
(I had not yet reached the arduous owl-or-titmouse stage of the
profession) lay about in sanguinary morsels, while the floor was
ankle-deep in feathers, and tables strewn with tweezers, lancets,
arsenical paste, corrosive sublimate and other paraphernalia of the
trade. The butler had to be furiously tipped.
There were large grounds belonging to this estate, fields and woodlands
once green, then blackened with soot, and now cut up into allotments and
built over. Here, ever since men could remember--certainly since the
place had come into the possession of the never-to-be-forgotten Mr.
Edward T.--a kingfisher had dwelt by a little streamlet of artificial
origin which supported a few withered minnows and sticklebacks and dace.
This kingfisher was one of the sights of the domain. Visitors were taken
to see it. The bird, though sometimes coy, was generally on view.
Nevertheless it was an extremely prudent old kingfisher; to my infinite
annoyance, I never succeeded in destroying it. Nor did I even find its
nest, an additional source of grief. Lancashire naturalists may be
interested to know that this bird was still on the spot in the 'eighties
(I have the exact date somewhere )--surely a noteworthy state of
affairs, so near the heart of a smoky town like Manchester.
Later on I learnt to slay kingfishers--the first victim falling to my
gun on a day of rain, as it darted across a field to avoid the windings
of a brook. I also became a specialist at finding their nests. Birds are
so conservative! They are at your mercy, if you care to study their
habits. The golden-crested wren builds a nest which is almost invisible;
once you have mastered the trick, no gold-crest is safe. I am sorry,
now, for all those plundered gold-crests' eggs. And the rarer ones--the
grey shrike, that buzzard of the cliff (the most perilous scramble of
all my life), the crested titmouse, the serin finch on the apple tree,
that first icterine warbler whose five eggs, blotched with purple and
quite unfamiliar at the time, gave me such a thrill of joy that I nearly
lost my foothold on the swerving alder branch----
At this point, my meditations were suddenly interrupted by a vigorous
grunt or snort; a snort that would have done credit to an enraged tapir.
My friend awoke, refreshed. He rubbed his eyes, and looked round.
"I remember!" he began, sitting up. "I remember everything. Are you
feeling better? I hope so. Yes. Exactly. Where were we? An
injunction--what did you say?"
At it again!
"I said it was the drawback of old people that they never know when they
have had enough of an argument."
"But what is an injunction?"
"How many more times do you wish me to make that clear? Shall I begin
all over again? Have it your way! When you go into Court and ask the
judge to do something to prevent a man from doing something he wants to
do when you do not want him to do it. Like that, more or less."
"So I gather. But I confess I do not see why a man should not do
something he wants to do just because you want him not to do it. You
might as well go into Court and ask the judge to do something to make a
man do something he does not want to do just because you want him to do
"Ah, but he must not, in this case. Good Lord, have I not explained that
a thousand times already? You always miss my point. It is illegal, don't
you understand? Illegal, illegal."
"Anybody can say that. It would be a very natural thing to say, under
the circumstances. I should say it myself! Now just take my advice. You
go and tell your brother----"
"My brother? It is not my brother. You are quite beside the point. Why
introduce this personal element? It is the Strega Company. Strega, a
liqueur. I am talking about a commercial concern obtaining an
injunction. Burroughs and Wellcome--they got injunctions on the same
grounds. I know a great deal of such things, though I don't talk about
them all day long as other people would, if they possessed half my
knowledge. A company, don't you see? An injunction. A liqueur. Please to
note that I am talking about a company, a company. Have I now made
myself clear, or how many more times----"
"One would think he was at least your brother, from the way you take his
part. Let us say he is a friend, then; some never-to-be-mentioned friend
who is interested in a shady liqueur business and now wants to make a
judge do something to make a man do something----"
"Wrong again! To prevent a man doing something----"
"--Wants to do something to make a judge do something to prevent a man
doing something he wants to do because he does not want him to do it. Is
that right? Very well. You tell your friend that no Italian judge is
going to do dirty work of that kind for nothing."
"Dirty work. God Almighty! I don't want any judge to do dirty work----"
"No doubt, no doubt. I am quite convinced you don't. But your priceless
friend does. Come now! Why not be open about it?"
"Open about what?"
"It is positively humiliating for me to be treated like this, after all
the years we have known each other. I wish you would try to cultivate
the virtue of frankness. You are far too secretive. Something will
really have to be done about it."
"A company, a company."
"A company consists of a certain number of human beings. Why make
mysteries about one of them? It may happen to the best of mankind to be
"You are going to be disagreeable about my choice of words. Have it your
way! We all know you think you can talk better Italian than the Pope. My
own father, I was going to say, has been involved in some pretty dirty
work in the course of his professional career----"
"No doubt, no doubt."
"And please to note that he is as good a man as any brother of yours."
"You always miss my point."
"Now try to be truthful, for once in your life. Out with it!"
"Is that all? Sleep does not seem to have sharpened your wits to any
"I was not asleep. I was thinking about eggs. A company."
"A company? You are waking up. Anything else?"
A distinguished writer some years ago started a crusade in favour of
pure English. He wished to counteract those influences which are forever
at work debasing the standard of language; whether, as he seemed to
think, that standard should be inalterably fixed, is yet another
question. For in literature as in conversation there is a "pure English"
for every moment of history; that of our childhood is different from
to-day's; and to adopt the tongue of the Bible or Shakespeare, because
it happens to be pure, looks like setting back the hands of the clock.
Men would surely be dull dogs if their phraseology, whether written or
spoken, were to remain stagnant and unchangeable. We think well of
Johnson's prose. Yet the respectable English of our own time will bear
comparison with his; it is more agile and less infected with Latinisms;
why go back to Johnson? Let us admire him as a landmark, and pass on!
Some literary periods may deserve to be called good, others bad; so be
it. Were there no bad ones, there would be no good ones, and I see no
reason why men should desire to live in a Golden Age of literature, save
in so far as that millennium might coincide with a Golden Age of living.
I doubt, in the first place, whether they would be even aware of their
privilege; secondly, every Golden Age grows fairer when viewed from a
distance. Besides, and as a general consideration, it strikes me that a
vast deal of mischief is involved in these arbitrary divisions of
literature into golden or other epochs; they incite men to admire some
mediocre writers and to disparage others, they pervert our natural
taste, and their origin is academic laziness.
Certain it is that every language worthy of the name should be in a
state of perennial flux, ready and avid to assimilate new elements and
be battered about as we ourselves are--is there anything more charming
than a thoroughly defective verb?--fresh particles creeping into its
vocabulary from all quarters, while others are silently discarded. There
is a bar-sinister on the escutcheon of many a noble term, and if, in an
access of formalism, we refuse hospitality to some item of questionable
repute, our descendants may be deprived of a linguistic jewel. Is the
calamity worth risking when time, and time alone, can decide its worth?
Why not capture novelties while we may, since others are dying all the
year round; why not throw them into the crucible to take their chance
with the rest of us? An English word is no fossil to be locked up in a
cabinet, but a living thing, liable to the fate of all such things.
Glance back into Chaucer and note how they have thriven on their own
merits and not on professorial recommendations; thriven, or perished, or
put on new faces!
I would make an exception to this rule. Foreign importations which do
not belong to us by right, idioms we have enticed from over the sea for
one reason or another, ought to remain, as it were, stereotyped. They
are respected guests and cannot decently be jostled in our crowd; let
them be jostled in their own; here, on British soil, they should be
allowed to retain that primal signification which, in default of a
corresponding English term, they were originally taken over to express.
What prompts me to this exordium is the discovery that a few pages back,
with a blameworthy hankering after the picturesque, I have grossly
misused a foreign word. Those cats in Trajan's Forum at Rome are nowise
a "macabre exhibition"; they are not macabre in the least; they are sad,
or saddening. The charnel-house flavour is absent.
My apologies to the French language, to the cats, and to the reader....
Now whoever wishes to see a truly macabre exhibition at Rome may visit
the Peruvian mummies in the Kircher Museum. It is characteristic of the
spirit in which guide-books are written that, while devoting long
paragraphs to some worthless picture of a hallucinated venerable, they
hardly utter a word about these most remarkable and gruesome objects.
Those old Peruvians, like the Egyptians, had necrophilous leanings. They
cultivated an unwholesome passion for corpses, and called it religion.
Many museums contain such relics from the New World in various attitudes
of discomfort; frequently seated, as though trying to be at rest after
life's long journey. No two are alike; and all are horrible of aspect.
Some have been treated with balsam to preserve the softer parts; others
are shrivelled. Some are filled with chopped straw, like any stuffed
crocodile in a show; others contain precious coca-leaves and powdered
fragments of shell, which were doubtless placed there so that the
defunct might receive nourishment up to the time when his soul should
once more have rejoined the body. Every one knows, furthermore, that
these American ancients were fond of playing tricks with the shape of
the skull--a custom which was forbidden by the Synod of Lima in 1585 and
which Hippocrates describes as being practised among the inhabitants of
the Crimea.  It adds considerably to their ghastly appearance.
One looks at them and asks oneself: what are they now, these gentle
Incas who loved the arts and music, these children of the Sun, whose
civic acquirements amazed their conquerors? They have contrived to
transform themselves into something quite unusual. Staring orbits and
mouths agape, colour-patches here and there, morsels of muscle and hair
attached to contorted limbs--they suggest a half-way house, a loathsome
link, between a living man and his skeleton; and not only a link between
them, but a grim caricature of both. Some have been coated with varnish.
They glisten infamously. Picture a decrepit and rather gaunt relative of
your own, writhing in a fit, stark naked, and varnished all over----
Different are these mummies from those of the tenaciously unimaginative
and routine-bound Egyptians. Theirs are dead as a door-nail; torpid
lumps, undistinguishable one from the other. Here we have a rare
phenomenon--life, and individuality, after death. They are more
noteworthy than the cowled and desiccated monks of Italy or Sicily, or
at least differently so; undraped, for the most part, though some of
them may be seen, mere skin-covered heads, peering with dismal coyness
out of a brown sack. And the jabbering teeth.... We dream as children of
night-terrors, of goblins and phantoms that start out of the gloom and
flit about with hideous grimaces. They are gone, while yet we shudder at
that momentary flash of grizzliness; intangibilities, whose image is not
easily detained. To see spectral visions embodied, and ghosts made
flesh, one should come here. Had the excruciating operation of embalming
been performed upon live men and women, their poses could hardly have
been more multifariously agonised; and an aesthete may speculate as to
how far such objects offend, in expression of blank misery and horror,
against the canons of what is held to be artistically desirable. The
nearest approach to them in human craftsmanship, and as regards
Auffassung, are perhaps some little Japanese wood-carvings whose
creators, labouring consciously, likewise overstepped the boundaries of
the grotesque and indulged in nightmarish effects of line similar to
those which the old Peruvians, all unconsciously, have achieved upon the
bodies of their dear friends and relatives....
Drive swiftly thence, if you are in the mood, as you should be, for
something at the other pole of feeling, to view that wonder, the
kneeling boy at the Museo delle Terme. Headless and armless though he
be, he displays as much vitality as the Peruvians; every inch of the
body is alive, and one may well marvel at the skill of the artist who,
during his interminable task of sculpture, held fast the model's
fleeting outline--so fleeting, at that particular age of life, that
every month, and every week, brings about new conditions of surface and
texture. A child of Niobe? Very likely. There is suffering also here, a
suffering different from theirs; struck by the Sun-God's arrow, he is in
the act of sinking to earth. Over this tension broods a divine calm.
Here is the antidote to mummified Incas.
What brought me to Alatri?
Memories of a conversation, by Tiber banks, with Fausto, who was born
here and vaunted it to be the fairest city on earth. Rome was quite a
passable place, but as to Alatri----
"You never saw such walls in all your life. They are not walls. They are
precipices. And our water is colder than the Acqua Marcia."
"Walls and water say little to me. But if the town produces other
citizens like yourself----"
"It does indeed! I am the least of the sons of Alatri."
"Then it must be worthy of a visit...."
In the hottest hour of the afternoon they deposited me outside the city
gate at some new hotel--I forget its name--to which I promptly took an
unreasoning dislike. There was a fine view upon the mountains from the
window of the room assigned to me, but nothing could atone for that lack
of individuality which seemed to exhale from the establishment and its
proprietors. It looked as though I were to be a cypher here. Half an
hour was as much as I could endure. Issuing forth despite the heat, I
captured a young fellow and bade him carry my bags whithersoever he
pleased. He took me to the Albergo della----
The Albergo della----is a shy and retiring hostelry, invisible as such
to the naked eye, since it bears no sign of being a place of public
entertainment at all. Here was individuality, and to spare. Mine host is
an improvement even upon him of the Pergola at Valmontone; a man after
my own heart, with merry eyes, drooping white moustache and a lordly
nose--a nose of the right kind, a flame-tinted structure which must have
cost years of patient labour to bring to its present state of
blossoming. That nose! I felt as though I could dwell for ever beneath
its shadow. The fare, however, is not up to the standard of the
"Garibaldi" inn at Frosinone which I have just left.
Now Frosinone is no tourist resort. It is rather a dull little place; I
am never likely to go there again, and have therefore no reason for
keeping to myself its "Garibaldi" hotel which leaves little to be
desired, even under these distressful war-conditions. It set me
thinking--thinking that there are not many townlets of this size in
rural England which can boast of inns comparable to the "Garibaldi" in
point of cleanliness, polite attention, varied and good food, reasonable
prices. Not many; perhaps very few. One remembers a fair number of the
other kind, however; that kind where the fare is monotonous and badly
cooked, the attendance supercilious or inefficient, and where you have
to walk across a cold room at night--refinement of torture--in order to
turn out the electric light ere going to bed. That infamy is alone
enough to condemn these establishments, one and all.
Yes! And the beds; those frowsy, creaky, prehistoric wooden concerns,
always six or eight inches too short, whose mattresses have not been
turned round since they were made. What happens? You clamber into such a
receptacle and straightway roll downhill, down into its centre, into a
kind of river-bed where you remain fixed fast, while that monstrous
feather-abomination called a pillow, yielding to pressure, rises up on
either side of your head and engulfs eyes and nose and everything else
into its folds. No escape! You are strangled, smothered; you might as
well have gone to bed with an octopus. In this horrid contrivance you
lie for eight long hours, clapped down like a corpse in its coffin.
Every single bed in rural England ought to be burnt. Not one of them is
fit for a Christian to sleep in....
The days are growing hot.
A little tract of woodland surrounded by white walls and attached to the
convent on the neighbouring hill is a pleasant spot to while away the
afternoon hours. You can have it to yourself. I have all Alatri to
myself; a state of affairs which is not without its disadvantages, for,
being the only foreigner here, one is naturally watched and regarded
with suspicion. And it would be even worse in less civilised places,
where one could count for certain on trouble with some conscientious
official. So one remains on the beaten track, although my reputation
here as non-Austrian (nobody bothers about the Germans) is fairly well
established since that memorable debate, in the local cafe, with a
bootmaker who, having spent three years in America, testified publicly
that I spoke English almost as well as he did. The little newsboy of the
place, who is a universal favourite, seeing that his father, a
lithographer, is serving a stiff sentence for forgery--he brings me
every day with the morning's paper the latest gossip concerning myself.
"Mr. So-and-so still says you are a spy. It is sheer malice."
"I know. Did you tell him he might----?"
"I did. He was very angry. I also told him the remark you made about his
"Tell him again, to-morrow."
It seldom pays to be rude. It never pays to be only half rude.
In October--and we are now at midsummer--there occurred a little
adventure which shows the risks one may run at a time like this.
I was in Rome, walking homewards at about eleven at night along the
still crowded Corso and thinking, as I went along, of my impending
journey northwards for which the passport was already vised, when there
met me a florid individual accompanied by two military officers. We
stared at one another. His face was familiar to me, though I knew not
where I had seen it. Then he introduced himself. He was a director of
the Banca d'ltalia. And was I not the gentleman who had recently been to
Orvinio? I remembered.
"The last time I was there," I said, "was about a month ago. I fancy we
had some conversation in the motor up from Mandela."
"That is so. And now, however disagreeable it may be, I feel myself
obliged to perform a patriotic duty. This is war-time. I would ask you
to be so good as to accompany us to the nearest police-station."
"Which is not far off," I replied. "There is one up the next street on
We walked there, all four of us, without saying another word. "What have
I been doing?" I wondered. Then we climbed upstairs.
Here, at a well-lighted table in a rather stuffy room, sat a delegato or
commissario--I forget which--surrounded, despite the lateness of the
hour, by one or two subordinates. He was of middle age, and not
prepossessing. He looked as if he could make himself unpleasant, though
his face was not of that actively vicious--or actively stupid: the terms
are interconvertible--kind. While scanning his countenance, during those
few moments, sundry thoughts flitted through my mind.
These then, I said to myself--these are the functionaries, whether
executive or administrative, whether Italian or English or Chinese, whom
a man is supposed to respect. Who are they? God knows. Nine-tenths of
them are in a place where they have no business to be: so much is
certain. And what are they doing, these swarms of parasites? Justifying
their salaries by inventing fresh regulations and meddlesome bye-laws,
and making themselves objectionable all round. Distrust of authority
should be the first civic duty, even as the first military duty is said
to be the reverse of it. We catch ourselves talking of the "lesson of
history." Why not take that lesson to heart? Reverence of the mandarin
destroyed the fair life of old China, which was overturned by the
Tartars not because Chinamen were too weak or depraved, but because they
were the opposite: too moral, too law-abiding, too strong in their sense
of right. They paid for their virtue with the extinction of their
wonderful culture. They ought to have known better; they ought to have
rated morality at its true worth, since it was the profoundest Chinaman
himself who said that virtue is merely etiquette--or something to that
I found myself studying the delegato's physiognomy. What could one do
with such a composite face? It is a question which often confronts me
when I see such types. It confronted me then, in a flash. How make it
more presentable, more imposing? By what alterations? Shaving that
moustache? No; his countenance could not carry the loss; it would
forfeit what little air of dignity it possessed. A small pointed beard,
an eye-glass? Possibly. Another trimming of the hair might have improved
him, but, on the whole, it was a face difficult to manipulate, on
account of its inherent insipidity and self-contradictory features; one
of those faces which give so much trouble to the barbers and valets of
He took down the names and addresses of all four of us, and it was then
that I missed my chance. I ought to have spoken first instead of
allowing this luscious director to begin as follows:--
"The foreign gentleman here was at Orvinio about a month ago. He admits
it himself and I can corroborate the fact, as I was there at the same
time. Orvinio is a small country place in the corner of Umbria. There is
a mountain in the neighbourhood, remote and very high--altissima! It is
called Mount Muretta and occupies a commanding situation. For reasons
which I will leave you, Signer Commissario, to investigate, this
gentleman climbed up that mountain and was observed, on the very summit,
making calculations and taking measurements with instruments."
Now why did I climb up that wretched Muretta? For an all-sufficient
reason: it was a mountain. There is no eminence in the land, from Etna
and the Gran Sasso downwards, whose appeal I can resist. A bare
wall-like patch on the summit (whence presumably the name) visible from
below and promising a lively scramble up the rock, was an additional
inducement. Precipices are not so frequent at Orvinio that one can
afford to pass them by, although this one, as a matter of fact, proved
to be a mighty tame affair. There was yet another object to my trip. I
desired to verify a legend connected with this mountain, the tradition
of a vanished castle or hamlet in its upper regions to whose former
existence the name of a certain old family, still surviving at Orvinio,
bears witness. "We are not really from Orvinio," these people will tell
you. "We are from the lost castle of the Muretta." (There is not a
vestige of a castle left. But I found one brick in the jungle which
covers, on the further side of the summit, a vast rock-slide dating, I
should say, from early mediaeval days, under whose ruins the fastness
may lie buried.) Reasons enough for visiting Muretta.
As to taking measurements--well, a man is naturally accused of a good
many things in the course of half a century. Nobody has yet gone so far
as to call me a mathematician. These "calculations and instruments" were
a local mirage; as pretty an instance of the mythopoeic faculty as one
could hope to find in our degenerate days, when gods no longer walk the
The official seemed to be impressed with the fact that my accuser was
director of a bank. He inquired what I had to say.
This was a puzzle. They had sprung the thing on me rather suddenly. One
likes to have notice of such questions. Tell the truth? I am often
tempted to do so; it saves so much trouble! But truth-telling is a
matter of longitude, and the further east one goes, the more one learns
to hold in check that unnatural propensity. (Mankind has a natural love
of the lie itself. Bacon.) Which means nothing more than that one will
do well to take account of national psychology. An English functionary,
athlete or mountaineer, might have glimpsed the state of affairs. But to
climb in war-time, without any object save that of exercising one's
limbs and verifying a questionable legend, a high and remote
mountain--Muretta happens to be neither the one nor the other--would
have seemed to an Italian an incredible proceeding. I thought it better
to assume the role of accuser in my turn: an Oriental trick.
"This director," I said, "calls himself a patriot. What has he told us?
That while at Orvinio he knew a foreigner who climbed a high mountain to
make calculations with instruments. What does this admirable citizen do
with regard to such a suspicious character? He does nothing. Is there
not a barrack-full of carbineers at the entrance of the place ready to
arrest such people? But our patriotic gentleman allows the spy to walk
away, to climb fifty other mountains and take five thousand other
measurements, all of which have by this time safely reached Berlin and
Vienna. That, Signor Commissario, is not our English notion of
patriotism. I shall certainly make it my business to write and
congratulate the Banca d'Italia on possessing such a good Italian as
director. I shall also suggest that his talents would be more worthily
employed at the Banca--"(naming a notoriously pro-German establishment).
A poor speech; but it gave me the satisfaction of seeing the fellow grow
purple with fury and so picturesquely indignant that he soon reached the
spluttering stage. In fact, there was nothing to be done with him. The
delegato suggested that inasmuch as he had said his say and deposited
his address, he was at liberty to depart, whenever so disposed.
They went--he and his friends.
The other was looking serious--as serious as such a face could be made
to look. He must not be allowed to think, I decided, for once an
official begins to think he is liable to grow conscientious and
then--why, any disaster might happen, the least of them being that I
should remain in custody pending investigations. In how many more
countries was I going to be arrested for one crime or another? This joke
had lost its novelty a good many years ago.
"A pernicious person," I began, "--you have but to look at him. And now
he has invited me here in order to make a patriotic impression on his
friends, those poor little devils in uniform (a safe remark, since no
love is lost hereabouts between police and military). Such silly talk
about measurements! It should be nipped in the bud. Here you have an
intelligent young subordinate, if I mistake not. Let him drive home with
me at my expense; we will go through all papers and search for
instruments and bring everything that savours of suspicion back to this
office, together with my passport which I never carry on my person.
This, meanwhile, is my carta di soggiorno."
The document was in order. Still he hesitated. I thought of those
miserable three days' grace which were all that the French consulate had
accorded me. If the man grew conscientious, I might remain stranded in
Rome, and all that passport trouble must begin again. And to tell him of
this dilemma would make him more distrustful than ever.
I went on hastily to admit that my request might not be regular, but how
natural! Were we not allies? Was it not my duty to clear myself of such
an imputation at the earliest moment and to spare no efforts to that
end? I felt sure he could sympathise with the state of my mind, etc.
Thus I spoke while perfect innocence, mother of invention, lent wings to
my words, and while thinking all the time: You little vermin, what are
you doing here, in that chair, when you should be delving the earth or
breaking stones, as befits your kind? I tried to picture myself climbing
up Muretta with a theodolite bulging out of my pocket. A flagon of port
would have been more in my line. Calculations! It is all I can do to
control my weekly washing bill, and even for that simple operation I
like to have a quiet half hour in a room by myself. Instruments! If this
young fellow, I thought, discovers so much as an astrolabe among my
belongings, let them hang me from the ramparts at daybreak! And the
delegato, listening, was finally moved by my rhetoric, as they often
are, if you can throw not only your whole soul, but a good part of your
body, into the performance. He found the idea sufficiently reasonable.
The subordinate, as might have been expected, had nothing whatever to
do; like all of his kind, he was only in that office to evade military
We drove away and, on reaching our destination, I insisted, despite his
polite remonstrances, on turning everything upside down. We made hay of
the apartment, but discovered nothing more treasonable than some rather
dry biscuits and a bottle of indifferent Marsala.
"And now I must really be going," he said. "Half-past one! He will be
surprised at my long absence."
"I am coming with you. I promised him the passport."
"Don't dream of it. To-morrow, to-morrow. You will have no trouble with
him. You can bring the passport, but he will not look at it. Yes; ten
o'clock, or eleven, or midday."
So it happened. The passport was waived aside by the official, a little
detail which, I must say, struck me as more remarkable than anything
else. He did not even unfold it.
"E stato un' equivoco," was all he condescended to say, still without a
smile. There had been a misunderstanding.
The incident was closed.
Things might have gone differently in the country. I would either have
been marched to the capital under the escort of a regiment of
carbineers, or kept confined in some rural barracks for half a century
while the authorities were making the necessary researches into the
civil status of my grandmother's favourite poet--an inquiry without
which no Latin dossier is complete.
POSTSCRIPT.--Why are there so many carbineers at Orvinio? And how many
of these myriad public guardians scattered all over the country ever
come into contact with a criminal, or even have the luck to witness a
street accident? And would the taxpayer not profit by a reduction in
their numbers? And whether legal proceedings of every kind would not
tend to diminish?
There is a village of about three hundred inhabitants not far from Rome;
fifteen carbineers are quartered there. Before they came, those
inevitable little troubles were settled by the local mayor; things
remained in the family, so to speak. Now the place has been set by the
ears, and a tone of exacerbation prevails. The natives spend their days
in rushing to Rome and back on business connected with law-suits, not a
quarter of which would have arisen but for the existence of the
carbineers. Let me not be misunderstood. Individually, these men are
nowise at fault. They desire nothing better than to be left in peace.
Seldom do they meddle with local concerns--far from it! They live in
sacerdotal isolation, austerely aloof from the populace, like a colony
of monks. The institution is to blame. It is their duty, among other
things, to take down any charge which anybody may care to prefer against
his neighbour. That done, the machinery of the law is automatically set
in motion. Five minutes' talk among the village elders would have
settled many affairs which now degenerate into legal squabbles of twice
as many years; chronic family feuds are fostered; a man who, on
reflection, would find it more profitable to come to terms with his
opponent over a glass of wine, or even to square the old syndic with a
couple of hundred francs, sees himself obliged to try the same tactics
on a judge of the high court--which calls for a different technique.
Altogether, the country is flagrantly over-policed.  It gives one a
queer sense of public security to see, at Rome for instance, every third
man you meet--an official, of course, of some kind--with a revolver
strapped to his belt, as if we were still trembling on the verge of
savagery in some cowboy settlement out West. Greek towns of about ten
thousand inhabitants, like Argos or Megara, have about ten municipal
guardians each, and peace reigns within their walls. How can ten men
perform duties which, in Italy, would require ten times as many? Is it a
question of climate, or national character? A question, perhaps, of
common sense--of realising that local institutions often work with less
friction and less outlay than that system of governmental centralisation
of which the carbineers are an example.
Meanwhile we are still at Alatri which, I am glad to discover, possesses
five gateways--five or even more. It is something of a relief to be away
from that Roman tradition of four. Military reasons originally, fixing
themselves at last into a kind of sacred tradition.... So it is, with
unimaginative races. Their pious sentimentalism crystallises into
inanimate objects. The English dump down Gothic piles on India's coral
strand, and the chimes of Big Ben, floating above that crowd of
many-hued Orientals, give to the white man a sense of homeliness and
racial solidarity. The French, more fluid and sensitive to the
incongruous, have introduced local colour into some of their Colonial
buildings, not without success. As to this particular Roman tradition,
it pursues one with meaningless iteration from the burning sands of
Africa to Ultima Thule. Always those four gateways!
For a short after-breakfast ramble nothing is comparable to that green
space on the summit of the citadel. Hither I wend my way every morning,
to take my fill of the panorama and meditate upon the vanity of human
wishes. The less you have seen of localities like Tiryns the more you
will be amazed at this impressive and mysterious fastness. That portal,
those blocks--what Titans fitted them into their places? Well, we have
now learnt a little something about those Titans and their methods. From
this point you can see the old Roman road that led into Alatri; it
climbs up the hill in straightforward fashion, intersecting the broad
modern "Via Romana"--a goat-track, nowadays....
These Alatri remains are wonderful--more so than many of the sites which
old Ramage so diligently explored. Why did he fail to "satisfy his
curiosity" in regard to them? He utters not a word about Alatri. Yet he
stayed at the neighbouring Frosinone and makes some good observations
about the place; he stayed at the neighbouring Ferentino and does the
same. Was he more "pressed for time" than usual? We certainly find him
"hurrying down" past Anagni near-by, of whose imposing citadel he again
says nothing whatever....
I am now, at the end of several months, beginning to know Ramage fairly
well. I hope to know him still better ere we part company, if ever we
do. It takes time, this interpretation, this process of grafting one
mind upon another. For he does not supply mere information. A fig for
information. That would be easy to digest. He supplies character, which
is tougher fare. His book, unassuming as it is, comes up to my test of
what such literature should be. It reveals a personality. It contains a
philosophy of life.
And what is the dominating trait of this old Scotsman? The historical
sense. Ancient inscriptions interested him more than anything else. He
copied many of them during his trip; fifty, I should think; and it is no
small labour, as any one who has tried it can testify, to decipher these
half-obliterated records often placed in the most inconvenient
situations (he seems to have taken no squeezes). To have busied himself
thus was to his credit in an age whose chief concern, as regards
antiquity, consisted in plundering works of art for ornamental purposes.
Ramage did not collect bric-a-brac like other travellers; he collected
knowledge of humanity and its institutions, such knowledge as
inscriptions reveal. It is good to hear him discoursing upon these
documents in stone, these genealogies of the past, with a pleasingly
sentimental erudition. He likes them not in any dry-as-dust fashion, but
for the light they throw upon the living world of his day. Speaking of
one of them he says: "It is when we come across names connected with men
who have acted an illustrious part in the world's history, that the
fatigues of such a journey as I have undertaken are felt to be
completely repaid." That is the humanist's spirit.
His equipment in the interpretation of these stones and of all else he
picked up in the way of lore and legend was of the proper kind.
Boundless curiosity, first of all. And then, an adequate apparatus of
learning. He knew his classics--knew them so well that he could always
put his finger on those particular passages of theirs which bore upon a
point of interest. We may doubtless be able to supply some apt quotation
from Virgil or Martial. It is quite a different thing remembering, and
collating, references in. Aelian or Pliny or Aristotle or Ptolemy. And
wide awake, withal; not easily imposed upon. He is not of the kind to
swallow the tales of the then fashionable cicerone's. He has critical
dissertations on sites like Cannae and the Bandusian Fountain and
Caudine Forks; and when, at Nola, they opened in his presence a
sepulchre containing some of those painted Greek vases for which the
place is famous, he promptly suspects it to be a "sepulchre prepared for
strangers," and instead of buying the vases allows them to remain where
they are "for more simple or less suspicious travellers." On the way to
Cape Leuca he passes certain mounds whose origin he believes to be
artificial and the work of a prehistoric race. I fancy his conjecture
has proved correct. On page 258, speaking of an Oscan inscription, he
mentions Mommsen, which shows that he kept himself up to date in such
Of course it would be impossible to feel any real fondness for Ramage
before one has discovered his failings and his limitations. Well, he
seems to have taken Pratilli seriously. I like this. A young fellow who,
in 1828, could have guessed Pratilli to have been the arch-forger he
was--such a young fellow would be a freak of learning. He says little of
the great writers of his age; that, too, is a weakness of youth whose
imagination lingers willingly in the past or future, but not in the
present. The Hohenstauffen period does not attract him. He rides close
to the magnificent Castel del Monte but fails to visit the site; he
inspects the castle of Lucera and says never a word about Frederick II
or his Saracens. At Lecce, renowned for its baroque buildings, he finds
"nothing to interest a stranger, except, perhaps, the church of Santa
Croce, which is not a bad specimen of architectural design." True, the
beauty of baroque had not been discovered in his day.
What pleases me less is that there occurs hardly any mention of wild
animals in these pages, and that he seems to enjoy natural scenery in
proportion as it reminds him of some passage in one of those poets whom
he is so fond of quoting. This love of poetic extracts and citations is
a mark of his period. It must have got the upper hand of him in course
of time, for we find, from the title-page of these "Nooks and Byways,"
that he was the author of "Beautiful Thoughts from Greek authors;
Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian authors, etc.";  indeed,
the publication of this particular book, as late as 1868, seems to have
been an afterthought. How greatly one would prefer a few more "Nooks and
By-ways" to all these Beautiful Thoughts! He must have been at home
again, in some bleak Caledonian retreat, when the poetic flowers were
gathered. If only he had lingered longer among the classic remains of
the south, instead of rushing through them like an express train. That
mania of "pressing forward"; that fatal gift of hustle....
His body flits hither and thither, but his mind remains observant,
assimilative. It is only on reading this book carefully that one
realises how full of information it is. Ay, he notices things, does
Ramage--non-antiquarian things as well. He always has time to look
around him. It is his charm. An intelligent interest in the facts of
daily life should be one of the equipments of the touring scholar,
seeing that the present affords a key to the past. Ramage has that gift,
and his zest never degenerates into the fussiness of many modern
travellers. He can talk of sausages and silkworms, and forestry and
agriculture and sheep-grazing, and how they catch porcupines and cure
warts and manufacture manna; he knows about the evil eye and witches and
the fata morgana and the tarantula spider, about figs in ancient and
modern times and the fig-pecker bird--that bird you eat bones and all,
the focetola or beccafico (garden warbler). In fact, he has multifarious
interests and seems to have known several languages besides the
classics. He can hit off a thing neatly, as, when contrasting our
sepulchral epitaphs with those of olden days, he says that the key-note
of ours is Hope, and of theirs, Peace; or "wherever we find a river in
this country (Calabria) we are sure to discover that it is a source of
danger and not of profit." He knew these southern torrents and
river-beds! He garners information about the Jewish and Albanian
colonies of South Italy; he studies Romaic "under one of the few Greeks
who survived the fatal siege of Missolonghi" and collects words of Greek
speech still surviving at Bova and Maratea (Maratea, by the way, has a
Phoenician smack; the Greeks must have arrived later on the scene, as
they did at Marathon itself).
A shrewd book, indeed. Like many of his countrymen, he was specially
bent on economic and social questions; he is driven to the prophetic
conclusion, in 1828, that "the government rests on a very insecure
basis, and the great mass of the intelligence of the country would
gladly welcome a change." Religion and schooling are subjects near his
heart and, in order to obtain a first-hand knowledge of these things in
Italy, he enters upon a friendship, a kind of intellectual flirtation,
with the Jesuits. That is as it should be. Extremes can always respect
one another. The Jesuits, I doubt not, learnt as much from Ramage as he
I wish I had encountered this book earlier. It would have been useful to
me when writing my own pages on the country it describes. I am always
finding myself in accord with the author's opinions, even in trivial
matters such as the hopeless inadequacy of an Italian breakfast. He was
personally acquainted with several men whose names I have
mentioned--Capialbi, Zicari, Masci; he saw the Purple Codex at Rossano;
in fact, there are numberless points on which I could have quoted him
with profit. And even at an earlier time; for I once claimed to have
discovered the ruins of a Roman palace on the larger of the Siren islets
(the Galli, opposite Positano)--now I find him forestalling me by nearly
a century. It is often thus, with archaeological discoveries.
He saw, near Cotrone, that island of the enchantress Calypso which has
disappeared since his day, and would have sailed there but for the fact
that no boat was procurable. I forget whether Swinburne, who landed
here, found any prehistoric remains on the spot; I should doubt it. On
another Mediterranean island, that of Ponza, I myself detected the
relics of what would formerly have been described as the residence of
that second Homeric witch, Circe. 
The mention of discoveries reminds me that I have already, of course,
discovered my ideal family at Alatri. Two ideal families....
One of them dwells in what ought to be called the "Conca d'Oro," that
luxuriant tract of land beyond the monastery where the waters flow--that
verdant dale which supplies Alatri, perched on its stony hill, with
fruit and vegetables of every kind. The man is a market-gardener with
wife and children, a humble serf, Eumaeus-like, steeped in the rich
philosophy of earth and cloud and sunshine. I bring him a cigar in the
cool of the evening and we smoke on the threshold of his two-roomed
abode, or wander about those tiny patches of culture, geometrically
disposed, where he guides the water with cunning hand athwart the roots
of cabbages and salads. He is not prone to talk of his misfortunes;
intuitive civility has taught him to avoid troubling a stranger with
The mother is more communicative; she suffers more acutely. They are
hopelessly poor, she tells me, and in debt; unlucky, moreover, in their
offspring. Two boys had already died. There are only two left.
"And this one here is in a bad way. He has grown too ill to work. He can
only mope about the place. Nothing stays in his stomach--nothing; not
milk, not an egg. Everything is rejected. The Alatri doctor treated him
for stomach trouble; so did he of Frosinone. It has done no good. Now
there is no more money for doctors. It is hard to see your children
dying before your eyes. Look at him! Just like those two others."
I looked at him.
"You sent him into the plains last summer?" I ventured.
"To Cisterna. One must make a little money, or starve."
"And you expect to keep your children alive if you send them to
I was astonished that the local medicine man had not diagnosed malaria.
I undertook that if she would put him into the train when next I went to
Rome, I would have him overhauled by a competent physician and packed
home again with written instructions. (I kept my word, and the good
doctor Salatino of the Via Torino--a Calabrian who knows something about
malaria--wrote out a treatment for this neglected case, no part of
which, I fear, has been observed. Such is the fatalism of the
country-folk that if drugs and injections do not work like magic they
are quietly discarded. This youth may well have gone the way of "those
other two"--who, by the by, were also sent into the Pontine
Marshes--since you cannot reject your food for ever, and grow more
anaemic every day, without producing some such result.)
Meanwhile my friendly offer caused so great a joy in the mother's heart
that I became quite embarrassed. She likened me, among other things, to
her favourite Saint.
All comparisons being odious, I turned the conversation by asking:
"And that last one?"
"Here," she said, pushing open the door of the inner room.
He lay on the couch fast asleep, in a glorious tangle of limbs, the
picture of radiant boyhood.
"This one, I think, has never been to Cisterna."
"No. He goes into the mountains with the woodcutters every morning an
hour before sunrise. It is up beyond Collepardo--seven hours' labour,
and seven hours' march there and back. The rest of the time he sleeps
like a log...."
Children from these hill-places often accompany their parents into the
plains to work; more commonly they go in droves of any number under the
charge of some local man. They are part of that immense army of
hirelings which descends annually, from the uplands of Tuscany to the
very toe of Italy, into these low-lying regions, hardly an inch of which
is fever-free. I do not know even approximately the numbers of these
migratory swarms of all ages and both sexes; let us say, to be on the
safe side, a quarter of a million. They herd down there, in the broiling
heat of summer and autumn, under conditions which are not all that could
be desired.  Were they housed in marble palaces and served on
platters of gold, the risk would not be diminished by a hair. How many
return infected? I have no idea. It cannot be less than sixty per cent.
How many of these perish? Perhaps five per cent. A few thousand annual
deaths are not worth talking about. What concerns the country--and what
the country, indeed, has taken seriously in hand--is this impoverishment
of its best blood; this devitalising action of malaria upon unnumbered
multitudes of healthy men, women, and children who do not altogether
succumb to its attacks.
I sometimes recognise them on the platform of Rome station--family
parties whom I have met in their country villages, now bound for
Maccarese or one of those infernal holes in the Campagna, there to earn
a little extra money with hay, or maize, or wheat, or tomatoes, or
whatever the particular crop may be. You chat with the parents; the
youngsters run up to you, all gleeful with the change of scene and the
joy of travelling by railway. I know what they will look like, when they
return to their mountains later on....
And so, discoursing of this and that, one rambles oneself into a
Into half a book; for here--at Alatri, and now--midsummer, I mean to
terminate these non-serious memories and leave unrecorded the no less
insignificant events which followed up to the mornings in October, those
mornings when jackdaws came cawing past my window from the thickly
couched mists of the Borghese Gardens, and the matutinal tub began to
feel more chilly than was altogether pleasant.
Half a book: I perceive it clearly. These pages might be rounded by
another hundred or two. The design is too large for one volume; it
reminds me of those tweed suits we used to buy long ago whose pattern
was so "loud" that it "took two men to show it off." Which proves how a
few months' self-beguilement by the wayside of a beaten track can become
the subject of disquisitions without end. Maybe the very aimlessness of
such loiterings conduces to a like method of narrative. Maybe the tone
of the time fosters a reminiscential and intimately personal mood, by
driving a man for refuge into the only place where peace can still be
found--into himself. What is the use of appealing in objective fashion
to the intelligence of a world gone crazy? Say your say. Go your way.
Let them rave! We shall all be pro-German again to-morrow. 
Half a book: it strikes me, on reflection, as curiously appropriate. To
produce something incomplete and imperfect, a torso of a kind--is it not
symbolical of the moment? Is not this an age of torso's? We are
manufacturing them every hour by the score. How many good fellows are
now crawling about mutilated, converted into torso's? There is room for
a book on the same lines....
I glance through what has been written and detect therein an occasional
note of exacerbation and disharmony which amuses me, knowing, as I do,
its transitory nature. Dirty work, touching dirt. One cannot read for
three consecutive years of nothing but poison-gas and blood and
explosives without engendering a corresponding mood--a mood which
expresses itself in every one according to whether he thinks
individually or nationally; whether he cultivates an impartial
conscience or surrenders to that of the crowd. For the man and his race
are everlastingly tugging in different directions, and unreasoning
subservience to race-ideals has clouded many a bright intellect. How
many things a race can do which its component members, taken separately,
would blush to imitate! Our masses are now fighting for commercial
supremacy. The ideal may well be creditable to a nation. It is hardly
good enough for a gentleman. He reacts; he meditates a Gospel of Revolt
against these vulgarities; he catches himself saying, as he reads the
morning paper full of national-flag fetishism and sanguinary nonsense:
"One Beethoven symphony is a greater victory than the greatest of these,
and reasonable folks may live under any rule save that of a wind-fed
It avails nothing. The day has dawned, the day of those who pull
downwards--stranglers of individualism. Can a man subscribe to the
aspirations of a mob and yet think well of himself? Can he be black and
white? He can be what he is, what most of us are: neutral tint. Look
around you: a haze of cant and catchwords. Such things are employed on
political platforms and by the Press as a kind of pepsine, to aid our
race-stomach in digesting certain heavy doses of irrationalism. The
individual stomach soon discovers their weakening effect....
Looking back upon these months of uneventful wanderings, I became aware
of a singular phenomenon. I find myself, for some obscure reason, always
returning to the same spot. I was nine times in Rome, twice in Florence
and Viareggio and Olevano and Anticoli and Alatri and Licenza and
Soriano, five times at Valmontone, thrice at Orvinio; and if I did not
go a second time to Scanno and other places, there may be a reason for
it. Why this perpetual revisiting? How many new and interesting sites
might have been explored during that period! Adventures and discoveries
might have fallen to my lot, and been duly noted down. As it is, nothing
happened, and nothing was noted down. I have only a diary of dates to go
upon, out of which, with the help of memory and imagination, have been
extracted these pages. For generally, delving down into memory, a man
can bring up at least one clear-cut fragment, something still fervid and
flashing, a remembered voice or glimpse of landscape which helps to
unveil the main features of a scenario already relegated to the
lumber-room. And this detail will unravel the next; the scattered
elements jostle each other into place, as in the final disentangling of
some complicated fugue.
Such things will do for a skeleton. Imagination will kindly provide
flesh and blood, life, movement. Imagination--why not? One suppresses
much; why not add a little? Truth blends well with untruth, and phantasy
has been so sternly banned of late from travellers' tales that I am
growing tender-hearted towards the poor old dame; quite chivalrous, in
fact--especially on those rather frequent occasions when I find myself
unable to dispense with her services.
Yes; truth blends well with untruth. It is one of the maladies of our
age, a sign of sheer nervousness, to profess a frenzied allegiance to
truth in unimportant matters, to refuse consistently to face her where
graver issues are at stake. We cannot lay claim to a truthful state of
mind. In this respect the eighteenth century, for all its foppery, was
ahead of ours. What is the basic note of Horace Walpole's iridescent
worldliness--what about veracity? How one yearns, nowadays, for that
spacious and playful outlook of his; or, better still, for some
altogether Golden Age where everybody is corrupt and delightful and has
nothing whatever to do, and does it well....
My second ideal family at Alatri lives along a side path which diverges
off the main road to Ferentino. They are peasant proprietors, more
wealthy and civilised than those others, but lacking their terrestrial
pathos. They live among their own vines and fruit-trees on the hillside.
The female parent, a massive matron, would certainly never send those
winsome children into the Pontine Marshes, not for a single day, not for
their weight in gold. The father is quite an uncommon creature. I look
at him and ask myself; where have I seen that face before, so classic
and sinewy and versatile? I have seen it on Greek vases, and among the
sailors of the Cyclades and on the Bosphorus. It is a non-Latin face,
with sparkling eyes, brown hair, rounded forehead and crisply curling
beard; a legendary face. How came Odysseus to Alatri?
Not far from this homestead where I have spent sundry pleasant hours
there is a fountain gushing out of a hollow. In olden days it would have
been hung with votive offerings to the nymphs, and rightly. One
appreciates this nature-cult in a dry land. I have worshipped at many
such shrines where the water bounds forth, a living joy, out of the
rocky cleft--unlike those sluggish springs of the North that ooze
regretfully upwards, as though ready to slink home again unless they
were kicked from behind, and then trickle along, with barely perceptible
movement, amid weeds and slime.
Now this particular fountain (I think it is called acqua santa), while
nowise remarkable as regards natural beauty, is renowned for curing
every disease. It is not an ordinary rill; it has medicinal properties.
Hither those two little demons, the younger children, conducted me all
unsuspecting two days ago, desirous that I should taste the far-famed
"Try it," they said.
I refused at first, since water of every kind has a knack of disagreeing
with my weak digestion. As for them, they gulped down tumblers of it,
being manifestly inured to what I afterwards discovered to be its
"Look at us drinking it," they went on. "Ah, how good! Delicious! It is
like Fiuggi, only better."
"Am I an invalid, to drink Fiuggi water?"
"It is not quite the same as Fiuggi. (True. I was soon wishing it had
been.) How many men would pay dearly for your privilege! Never let it be
said that you went away thirsting from this blessed spot."
"I am not thirsty just now. Not at all thirsty, thank you."
"We have seen you drink without being thirsty. Just one glass," they
pleaded. "It will make you live a hundred years."
"No. Let us talk about something else."
"No? Then what shall we tell our mother? That we brought you here, and
that you were afraid of a little mouthful of acqua santa? We thought you
had more courage. We thought you could strangle a lion."
"Something will happen," I said, as I drained that glass.
Nothing happened for a few hours.
Two days' rest is working wonders....
I profit by the occasion of this slight indisposition to glance
I am here, at Alatri, on the 22 June: so much is beyond contestation.
A later page of that old diary of dates. August 31: Palombara. Well I
remember the hot walk to Palombara!
August 3: Mons Lucretilis, that classical mountain from whose summit I
gazed at the distant Velino which overtops like a crystal of amethyst
all the other peaks. This was during one of my two visits to Licenza.
Pleasant days at Licenza, duly noting in the house of Horace what I have
noted with Shelley and other bards, namely, that these fellows who sing
so blithely of the simple life yet contrive to possess extremely
commodious residences; pleasant days among those wooded glens, walking
almost every morning in the footsteps of old Ramage up the valley in
whose streamlet the willow-roots sway like branches of coral--aloft
under the wild walnuts to that bubbling fountain where I used to meet my
two friends, Arcadian goat-herds, aboriginal fauns of the thickets, who
told me, amid ribald laughter, a few personal experiences which nothing
would induce me to set down here.
July 26: La Rocca. What happened at La Rocca?
October 2: Florence. What happened at Florence? A good deal, during
those noteworthy twelve hours!
Some memories have grown strangely nebulous; impossible to reconstruct,
for example, what went on during the days of drowsy discomfort at
Montecelio. A lethargy seems to have fallen on me; I lived in a dream
out of which there emerges nothing save the figure of the local
tobacconist, a ruddy type with the face of a Roman farmer, who took me
to booze with him, in broad patriarchal style, every night at a
different friend's house. Those nights at Montecelio! The mosquitoes!
The heat! Could this be the place which was famous in Pliny's day for
its grove of beeches? How I used to envy the old Montecelians their
July 23: Saracinesca. What happened? I recollect the view over the
sweltering Campagna from the dizzy castle-ruin, in whose garden I see
myself nibbling a black cherry, the very last of the season, plucked
from a tree which grows beside the wall whereon I sat. That suffices: it
gives a key to the situation. I can now conjure up the gaunt and sombre
houses of this thick-clustering stronghold; the Rembrandtesque shadows,
the streets devoid of men, the picture of some martial hero in a
cavern-like recess where I sought shelter from the heat, a black
crucifix planted in the soil below the entrance of the village--my
picture of Saracinesca is complete, in outline.
July 31: Subiaco. Precisely! A week later, then, I walk thirty-two
chilometres along the shadeless high road, an insane thing to do, to
Subiaco and back. There, in the restaurant Aniene, when all the
luncheon-guests have departed for their noonday nap, the cook of the
establishment, one of those glorious old Roman he-cooks, comes up to my
table. Did I like the boiled trout?
Rather flabby, I reply. A little tasteless. Let him try, next time, some
white vinegar in the water and a bay-leaf or two.
He pricks up his ears: we are gens du metier. I invite him to sit down
and inquire: how about a bottle of Cesanese, now that we are alone? An
excellent idea! And he, in his turn, will permit himself to offer me
certain strawberries from his own private store.
"Strawberries?" I ask. "Who ever heard of strawberries in Central Italy
on the 31 July? Why, I devoured the last cherry a week ago, and it was
only alive because it grew above the clouds."
These, he explains mysteriously, are special strawberries, brought down
from near the snow-line by a special goat-boy. They are not for the
guests, but "only for myself." Strawberries are always worth paying for;
they are mildly purging, they go well with the wine. And what a
wonderful scent they have! "You remind me of a certain Lucullo," I said,
"who was also nice about strawberries. In fact, he made a fine art of
eating and drinking."
"Your Lucullo, we may take it, was a Roman?"
"Romano di Roma."
Thus conversing with this rare old ruffian, I forget my intention of
leaving a card on Saint Scolastica. She has waited for me so long. She
can wait a little longer....
August 9: Villa Lante.
August 12: Ferento. What happened at Ferento?
Now what happened at Ferento? Let me try to reconstruct that morning's
I have clear memories of the walk from Viterbo--it would be eighteen
chilometres there and back, they told me. I had slept well in my quaint
little room with the water rushing under the window, and breakfasted in
receptive and responsive mood. I recall that trudge along the highway
and how I stepped across patches of sunlight from the shade of one
regularly planted tree into that of another. The twelfth of August....
It set me thinking of heathery moorlands and grouse, and of those
legions of flies that settle on one's nose just as one pulls the
trigger. It all seemed dim and distant here, on this parching road,
among southern fields. I was beginning to be lost in a muse as to what
these boreal flies might do with themselves during the long winter
months while all the old women of the place are knitting Shetland
underwear when, suddenly, a little tune came into my ears--a wistful
intermezzo of Brahms. It seemed to spring out of the hot earth. Such a
natural song, elvishly coaxing! Would I ever play it again? Neither
that, nor any other.
It turned my thoughts, as I went along, to Brahms and led me to
understand why no man, who cares only for his fellow-creatures, will
ever relish that music. It is an alien tongue, full of deeps and
rippling shallows uncomprehended of those who know nothing of lonely
places; full of thrills and silences such as are not encountered among
the habitations of men. It echoes the multitudinous voice of nature, and
distils the smiles and tears of things non-human. This man listened, all
alone; he overheard things to which other ears are deaf--things terrible
and sweet; the sigh of some wet Naiad by a reedy lake, the pleadings and
furies of the genii--of those that whisper in woodlands and caverns by
the sea, and ride wailing on thunder-laden clouds, and rock with ripe
laughter in sunny wildernesses. Brahms is the test. Whoso dreads
solitude will likewise dread his elemental humour.
It kept me company, this melodious and endearing fairy, till where a
path, diverging to the right, led up to the ruins already visible. There
the ethereal comrade took flight, scared, maybe, because my senses took
on a grossly mundane complexion--it is a way they have, thank
God--became absorbed, that is, in the contemplation of certain
blackberries wherewith the hedge was loaded. I thought: the tons of
blackberries that fall to earth in Italy, unheeded! And not even a
Scotsman knows what blackberries are, until he has tasted these. I am no
gourmet of such wild things; I rather agree with Goethe when he says:
"How berries taste, you must ask children." But I can sympathise with
the predilections of others, having certain predilections of my own.
Once, at a miserable place in North Ireland, region of bad whisky and
porter, they brought me at dinner some wine of which they knew
nothing--they had got it from a shipwreck or some local sale. I am
rather fond of hock. And this particular bottle bore on its label the
magic imprint of a falcon sitting on a hilltop. Connoisseurs will know
that falcon. They will understand how it came about that I remained in
the inn till the last bottle of nectar was cracked. What a shame to
leave a drop for anybody else! Once again, on a bicycle trip from Paris
to the Mediterranean, I came upon a broad, smiling meadow somewhere in
the Auvergne, thickly besprinkled with mushrooms. There was a village
hard by. In that village I remained till the meadow was close cropped.
Half a ton of mushrooms--gone. Some people are rather fond of mushrooms.
And that is the right spirit: to leave nothing but a tabula rasa for
those that come after. It hurt me to think that anybody else should have
a single one of those particular mushrooms. Let them find new ones, in
another field; not in mine.
Now what would your amateur of blackberries do in Italy? From the fate
which nearly overtook me he might save himself by specialising; by
dividing the many local varieties into two main classes and devoting his
whole attention to one or the other; to the kind such as I found on
Elba--small and round and fragrant, of ruddy hue, and palpitating with
warm sunbeams; or to that other kind, those that grow in clearings of
the Apennines where the boughs droop to earth with the weight of their
portentous clusters--swarthy as night, huge in size, oval, and fraught
with chilly mountain dews.
No true enthusiast, I feel sure, would ever be satisfied with such an
unfair division of labour--so one-sided an arrangement. He would curse
his folly for having specialised. While engaged upon one variety, he
would always be hankering after that other kind and thinking how much
better they were. What shall he do, then? Well, he might devote one year
to one species, the next to another, and so on. Or else--seeing that
every zone of altitude bears brambles at its season and that the
interval between the maturing of the extreme varieties is at least four
months--he might pilgrimage athwart the country in a vertical sense,
devouring blackberries of different flavour as he went along; he might
work his way upwards, boring a tunnel through the landscape as a beetle
drills an oak, and leaving a track of devastation in his rear--browsing
aloft from the sea-board, where brambles are black in June, through
tangled macchia and vine-clad slopes into the cooler acclivities of rock
and jungle--grazing ever upward to where, at close of September and in
the shadow of some lonely peak on which the white mantle of winter has
already fallen, he finds a few more berries struggling for warmth and
sunshine, and then, still higher up, just a few more--the last, the very
last, of their race--dwarfs of the mountains, earthward-creeping, and
frozen pink ere yet they have had time to ripen. Here, crammed to the
brim, he may retire to hibernate, curled up like a full-gorged bear and
ready to roll downhill with the melting snows and arrive at the
sea-coast in time to begin again. What a jolly life! How much better
than being Postmaster-General or Inspector of Nuisances! But such
enthusiasts are nowhere to be found. I wish they were; the world would
be a merrier place....
Here is the ruined town of Ferento, all alone on the arid brow of the
hill. Nothing human in sight. A charming spot it must have been in olden
times, when the country was more timbered; now all is bare--brown earth,
brown stones. Dutifully I inspect the ruins and, applying the method of
Zadig or something of that kind, conclude that Ferento, this particular
Ferento, was relatively unimportant and relatively modern, although so
fine a site may well have commended itself from early days as a
settlement. I pick up, namely, a piece of verde antico, a green marble
which came into vogue at a later period than many other coloured ones.
Ergo, Ferento was relatively modern as antiquities go; else this marble
would not occur there. I seek for coloured ones and find not the
smallest fragment; nothing but white. Ergo, the place was relatively
insignificant; else the reds and yellows would also be discoverable. I
observe incidentally--quite incidentally!--that the architecture
corroborates my theory; so do the guide-books, no doubt, if there are
any. Now I know, furthermore, the origin of that small slab of verde
antico which had puzzled me, mixed up, as it was, among the mosaics of
quite modern marbles in that church whither I had been conducted by a
local antiquarian to admire a certain fresco recently laid bare, and
some rather crude daubs by Romanelli.
Out again, into the path that overlooks the steep ravine. Here I find,
resting in the shadow of the wall, an aged shepherd and his flock and a
shaggy, murderous-looking dog of the Campagna breed that shows his teeth
and growls incessantly, glaring at me as if I were a wolf. "Barone" is
the brute's name. I had intended to clamber down and see whether the
rock-surface bears any traces of human workmanship; the rock-surface, I
now decide, may take care of itself. It has waited for me so long. It
can wait a little longer.
"Does that beast of yours eat Christians?"
"He? He is a perfect capo di c----. That is his trick, to prevent people
from kicking him. They think he can bite."
I produce half a cigar which he crushes up into his black clay pipe.
"Yours is not a bad life."
"One lives. But I had better times in Zurich."
He had stayed there awhile, working in some factory. He praised its
food, its beer, its conveniences.
Zurich: incongruous image! Straightway I was transported from this
harmonious desolation of Ferento; I lost sight of yonder clump of
withering thistles--thistles of recent growth; you could sit, you could
stand, in their shade--and found myself glancing over a leaden lake and
wandering about streets full of ill-dressed and ungracious folk;
escaping thence further afield, into featureless hills encrusted with
smug, tawdry villas and drinking-booths smothered under noisome
horse-chestnuts and Virginia creepers. How came they to hit upon the
ugliest tree, and the ugliest creeper, on earth? Infallible instinct!
Zurich: who shall sum up thy merciless vulgarity?
So this old man had been there.
And I remembered an expression in a book recently written by a friend of
mine who, oddly enough, had encountered some of these very Italians in
Zurich. He talks of its "horrible dead ordinariness"--some such phrase.
 It is apt. Zurich: fearsome town! Its ugliness is of the active
kind; it grips you by the throat and sits on your chest like a
I looked at the old fellow. He was sound; he had escaped the contagion.
Those others, those many hundred thousand others in Switzerland and
America--they can nevermore shake off the horrible dead ordinariness of
that life among machines. Future generations will hardly recognise the
Italian race from our descriptions. A new type is being formed, cold and
loveless, with all the divinity drained out of them.
Having a long walk before me and being due home for luncheon, I rose to
depart, and in so doing bestowed a vigorous kick upon Barone, in order
to test the truth of his master's theory. It worked. The glowering and
snarling ceased. He was a good dog--almost human. I think, with a few
more kicks, he might have grown quite friendly.
Along that hot road the spectre of Zurich pursued me, in all its
starkness. A land without atmosphere, and deficient in every element of
the picturesque, whether of man or nature. Four harsh, dominant tones,
which never overlap or intermingle: blue sky, white snow, black
fir-woods, green fields, and, if you insist upon having a fifth, then
take--yes, take and keep--that theatrical pink Alpengluehen which is
turned on at fixed hours for the delectation of gaping tourists, like a
tap of strontium light or the display of electric fluid at Schaffhausen
"Did you observe the illumination of the Falls, sir, last night?"
"How can one avoid seeing the beastly thing?"
"Ah! Then we must add two francs to the bill."
Many are the schools of art that have grown up in England and elsewhere
and flourished side by side, vying with one another to express the
protean graces of man, of architecture and domestic interior, of earth
and sky and sea. Where is the Swiss school? Where, in any public
gallery, will you find a masterpiece which triumphantly vindicates the
charm of Swiss scenery? You will, find it vindicated only on condensed
milk tins. These folks can write. My taste in lyrics may be peculiar,
but I used to love my Leuthold--I wish I had him here at this moment;
the bold strokes of Keller, the miniature work, the cameo-like touches,
of C. F. Meyer--they can write! They would doubtless paint, were there
anything to paint. Holbein: did the landscape of Switzerland seduce him?
And Boecklin? He fled out of its welter of raw materialism. Even his
Swiss landscapes are mediterraneanized. Boecklin----
And here, as the name formulated itself, that little sprite of Brahms,
that intermezzo, once more leapt to my side out of the parched fields. I
imagine it came less for my sake than for the companionship of Boecklin.
They were comrades in the spirit; they understood. What one had heard,
the other beheld--shapes of mystery, that peer out of forest gloom and
the blue hush of midday and out of glassy waters--shapes that shudder
and laugh. No doubt you may detect a difference between Boecklin's
creations and those of classic days; it is as if the light of his
dreamings had filtered through some medium, some stained-glass window in
a Gothic church which distorted their outlines and rendered them
somewhat more grotesque. It is the hand of time. The world has aged. Yet
the shapes are young; they do but change their clothes and follow the
fashion in externals. They laugh as of old. How they laugh! No mortal
can laugh so heartily. No mortal has such good cause. Theirs is not the
serene mirth of Olympian spheres; it sounds demoniac, from the midway
region. What are they laughing at, these cheerful monsters? At the
greatest jest in the universe. At us....
That lake of Conterano--the accent is on the ante-penultima--it looked
appetising on the map, all alone out there. It attracted me strongly. I
pictured a placid expanse, an eye of blue, sleepily embowered among
wooded glens and throwing upward the gleam of its calm waters. Lakes are
so rare in Italy. During the whole of this summer I saw only one other,
fringed with the common English reed--two, rather, lying side by side,
one turbid and the other clear, and filling up two of those curious
circular depressions in the limestone. I rode past them on the watershed
behind Cineto Romano. These were sweet water. Of sulphur lakelets I also
Sitting on a stone into which the coldness of midnight had entered
(Alatri lies at a good elevation) I awaited my companion in the dusk of
dawn. Soon enough, I knew, we should both be roasted. This half-hour's
shivering before sunrise in the square of Alatri, and listening to the
plash of the fountain, is one of those memories of the town which are
graven most clearly in my mind. I could point out, to-day, the very spot
whereon I sat.
We wandered along the Ferentino road to begin with, profiting by some
short cuts through chestnut woods; turned to the right, ever ascending,
behind that strange village of Fumone, aloft on its symmetrical hill;
thence by a mule-track onward. Many were the halts by the way. A decayed
roadside chapel with faded frescoes--a shepherd who played us some
melodies on his pipe--those wondrous red lilies, now in their prime,
glowing like lamps among the dark green undergrowth--the gateway of a
farmhouse being repaired--a reservoir of water full of newts--a
fascinating old woman who told us something about something--the distant
view upon the singular peak of Mount Cacume, they all gave us occasion
for lingering. Why not loaf and loiter in June? The days are so endless!
At last, through a gap in the landscape, we saw the lake at our feet,
simmering in the noonday beams--an everyday sheet of water, brown in
colour, with muddy banks and seemingly not a scrap of shade within
miles; one of those lakes which, by their periodical rising and sinking,
give so much trouble that there is talk, equally periodical, of draining
them off altogether. This one, they say, shifts continually and
sometimes reaches so low a level that rich crops are planted in its oozy
Here are countless frogs, and fish--tench; also a boat that belongs to
the man who rents the fishing. A sad accident happened lately with his
boat. A party of youngsters came for an outing and two boys jumped into
the tub, rowed out, and capsized it with their pranks. They were both
drowned--a painful and piteous death--a death which I have tried, by
accident, and can nowise recommend. They fished them out later from
their slimy couch, and found that they had clasped one another so
tightly in their mortal agony that it was deemed impious ever to
unloosen that embrace. So they were laid to rest, locked in each other's
While my companion told me these things we had plodded further and
further along this flat and inhospitable shore, and grown more and more
taciturn. We were hungry and thirsty and hot, for one feels the
onslaught of these first heats more acutely than the parching drought of
August. Things looked bad. The luncheon hour was long past, and our
spirits began to droop. All my mellowness took flight; I grew snappy and
monosyllabic. Was there no shade?
Yonder ... that dusky patch against the mountain? Brushwood of some
kind, without a doubt. The place seemed to be unattainable, and yet,
after an inordinate outlay of energy, we had climbed across those torrid
meadows. It proved to be a hazel copse mysteriously dark within,
voiceless, and cool as a cavern.
Be sure that he who planted these hazels on the bleak hillside was no
common son of earth, but some wise and inspired mortal. My blessings on
his head! May his shadow never grow less! Or, if that wish be already
past fulfilment, may he dwell in Elysium attended by a thousand
ministering angels, every one of them selected by himself; may he
rejoice in their caresses for evermore. Naught was amiss. All conspired
to make the occasion memorable. I look back upon our sojourn among those
verdant hazels and see that it was good--one of those moments which are
never granted knowingly by jealous fate. So dense was the leafage in the
greenest heart of the grove that not a shred of sunlight, not a particle
as large as a sixpence, could penetrate to earth. We were drowned in
shade; screened from the flaming world outside; secure--without a care.
We envied neither God nor man.
I thought of certain of my fellow-creatures. I often think of them. What
were they now doing? Taking themselves seriously and rushing about, as
usual, haggard and careworn--like those sagacious ants that scurry
hither and thither, and stare into each other's faces with a kind of
desperate imbecility, when some sportive schoolboy has kicked their
ridiculous nest into the air and upset all their solemn little
As for ourselves, we took our ease. We ate and drank, we slumbered
awhile, then joked and frolicked for five hours on end, or possibly six.
 I kept no count of what was said nor how the time flew by. I only
know that when at last we emerged from our ambrosial shelter the muscles
of my stomach had grown sore from the strain of laughter, and Arcturus
was twinkling overhead.
Abbadia San Salvatore
Abruzzi, limestone deserts
Acqua Acetosa, Rome
Acqua santa, mineral fountain, its appalling effects
Acque Vive, old Scanno
Afforestation at Scanno
Agave, plant; dislikes change of scene
Alatri; its nameless tavern; citadel; ideal families at
Alpengluehen, an abomination
Analphabetics, their charm
Apennines, their general coloration
Arno river, its colour-moods
Athene (Minerva), promontory and temple
Attilio, a sagacious youngster
Baedeker, on wine of Scanno
Banca d'ltalia, its soi-disant director makes a fool of himself
"Barone," an almost human dog
Bathing in Tiber
Bears of Pescasseroli, rapid breeders
Beds in England, neolithic features of
Belgrave Square, its legendary partridges
Bennet, Dr. J. H.
Bessel, F. W.
Betifuli, ancient Scanno
Birds, their conservative habits
Blackberries in Italy
Blasphemies, as a pick-me-up
Blue, basic note of Italian landscape
Board of Trade Labour Emergency Bureau, its lightning methods
Bowles, Dr. R.
Brachycephalism, menace to humanity
Brahms, J., his inspiration
Brewster, H. B.
Buckle, H. T.
Building materials, of Florence, impart peculiar character to towns
Bunbury, E. H., quoted
Butter, French method of weighing, Italian regulations regarding
Calypso, her island
Campagna of Rome
Capaccio, G. C.
Cap Martin (Mentone), a vulgarized spot
Carbineers, good men and questionable institution
Carrion crows, relatively gay fowls
Cats in Rome, their distressful condition
Cement floors, a detestable invention
Cemetery of Mentone of Rome; Scanno; Olevano
Censorship Department, gratifying interview at
Children, good company neglected in war-time
China, fatal morality of pre-Tartar period
Cisterna, a death-trap
Civilization, its characteristic
Coal-supply, a sore subject in Italy
Coliseum, flora and fauna of
Conscience, national versus individual
Consumption on Riviera; at Olevano
Critics, spleenfully criticized
Cro-Magnon racev Cross, futility of bearing a
Deserters at Valmontone
Dewlessness, a peculiarity of Italian townsmen
Dialects of Italy
Dictionary of National Biography
Dohrn, Dr. A.
Dreams, recurrent; of flying
Drunkenness, not everybody's affair
Education Office, a "Sleepy Hollow"
Edwards, Tam, naturalist
Elder tree, a venerable growth
England, to be visited as a tourist
English language, should remain in flux
Englishmen, change in race-characters; contrasted with Italians;
influence of new surroundings on
Experience, its uses
Faces, possibilities of improving
Ferento, ruined city
Filangieri, di Candida, R.
Flies, a curse
Florence, its river; Cascine Gardens; pavements; local blasphemies;
Food in war-time
Football worth watching
Fountains in Rome; responsible for shocking behaviour; in Villa Borghese
France, its one irremediable drawback
Frosinone, "Garibaldi" hotel; visited by Ramage
Functionaries, social parasites
Gambling instinct, correlated with religion
Gardeners, professional, imbeciles
Germans, at Mentone; at Levanto; save oaks of Olevano; must follow
Ghosts, mankind surrounded by, in; away with them
Giannettasio, N. P.v Girtanner, Dr. A., beaver-specialist
Giulio, a young reprobate
Golden Ages of literature
Grant Duff, M. E.
Greek words, surviving
Grimaldi caves, incident at
Grocery business, appeals to Frenchmen
Gross feeders, beware of
Grotta delle Palumbe
Guardie regie, official loafers
Gunther, Dr. A.
H., Mr., an ardent book-lover
Hares in Italy
Hebrews of military age, their enviable immunity from conscription
Henderson, Dr., an old tippler
Heredity, speculations on
Hermits in Italy
Housemaid, a noteworthy
Imagination, needful to travel-literature,
Imperialism in Italy
Individual, contrasted with race
Intelligence, its two ingredients
Italians, evolution of new type
Italy, reasons for visiting; over-policed
J. O. M., a memorable type
Johnston-Lavis, H. J.
King of Italy, protects bears
Kingfisher, a wary old one
Kneeling boy, statue
Ladbroke Grove, its enlightened children
Landlady, of Mentone; the
London variety; she of Viareggio; of Florence
La Croce, mountain
La Rocca, village
Lawrence, D. H.
Laws, raison d'etre of Italian
Levanto, arrival at; situation; company at hotel; the local magistrate;
stroll to Monterosso
Ligurians, their bad character
Lizard, making a friend of; a disconsolate one
Love affairs, Italian, how to conduct
Macaroni, war-time substitutes; the right kind
Machinery, cult of; depraves Italian character
Madonna della Neve, chapel
Madonna di Tranquillo, wayside shrine
Mentone, recent transformation of; landscape; vegetation; produces dull
schoolboys; prehistoric man of
Merle blanc, a meritorious establishment
Metaphysicians, atrophied poets
Meyer, C. F.
Meysenbug, Malwida von
Michael Angelo; gets into trouble
Migration of labourers, annual