Page images

pipes emitting volumes of smoke, accompanied by interminable drinking. Sometimes the artist had drunk more Falernian than was good for him, and his fancies had grown—well, a trifle voluptuous. But these had been treated by some late comer in palimpsest fashion, and had practically been obliterated. All of them had now disappeared under a Parisian wall-paper. When I told Lamia of the change, she exclaimed, as did Uncle Toby when, after speaking respectfully of the Rebel Archangel, he was reminded that the Devil was damned long ago, “I’m sorry for it !” Probably few English people are familiar even with the name of Pietro Cossa. But his I Borgia, Werone, and other tragedies hold the Italian stage, and deserve to do so, both by their dramatic action and their literary merit. I remember giving some account of them in an English magazine, many years ago, probably with little or no effect. But I pointed out to Veronica, who is well instructed in such things, a graceful tablet let into the walls of the Sibyl, recording that Pietro Cossa used to come there frequently and write his plays. What a contrast there is between the reverence felt by all classes in Italy for persons of literary distinction, and the general indifference regarding them entertained in England In the Subalpine Realm men do not receive homage for wealth or titles, but for what they have done in literature, music, or painting. I remember walking up to Bellosguardo to see if a hospitable friend of mine, the widow of an English Ambassador whose father before him had filled a similar post early in the nineteenth century, had returned from Sicily to her beautiful Villa and garden, both so much indebted to her energy and taste. I rang at her door, a domestic peered from the topmost story, and called out, “ Chi è f" (Who is it?) The gardener, who was pruning hard-by, whose beard was of several days' growth, and who, I am sure, could neither read nor write, threw up his arms in indignation, and replied, before I myself could answer, “He l Il Gran Poeta / " His oratorical exaggeration caused me to smile. But his exclamation, as far as he was concerned, was perfectly sincere, and typical of the mental attitude of the race whose gondoliers recite the poetry of Tasso, and who speak of Florence as the City of Dante. One's own countrymen do not thus honour the mind. Were an English Sovereign to visit a King of Italy or a President of the French Republic, it is certain that among the guests invited to meet him would be men distinguished in the Arts and Sciences. Were such visits to be returned, I will be bound to say that in the long catalogue of the invited no such names would be found. Perhaps one who cannot possibly be thought to have any personal grievance to express may be allowed to note the above contrast, and to regret it. One has no wish to see poets, painters, sculptors, architects and musicians confounded with State officials. But if an example of esteem for what is specially estimable were delicately and tactfully set by the Throne, it would be imitated, by degrees, by the nation at large, whose state would thereby become more gracious. The mention of that lovely Villa at Bellosguardo recalls to me the time, twenty years since, when the diplomatist I have referred to presided over the English Embassy in Rome, and extended to me within it, and in its delightful garden, since then much curtailed in size, the most agreeable hospitality. He was an Englishman of Englishmen, of the old school of charming manners, flavoured by occasional downrightness of speech. I inquired of him, one day, if it was true that, as I had been told, Depretis, then Prime Minister of Italy, asked him in the course of an important diplomatic colloquy, what, in certain circumstances, Russia would do, and that he had replied, “Russia be damned l’” A smile broke over his face as he confessed, “I am afraid it is.” There has been worse diplomacy than that on critical occasions. When one lets oneself wander in a labyrinth of reminiscences, one runs the risk of seeming to be devoid of purpose, and perhaps I have been meandering in that futile fashion. But did we not yield to a kindred temptation, when, in our drive from Tivoli to Subiaco, and halting for the sake of our horses at Vicovaro, we went afoot, as I had done in my younger days, in search of Horace's Sabine Farm f Yet how can any one find himself on the banks of the Digentia:

[ocr errors]

and not try to persuade himself that he, he at last, has verily discovered the spot where the best boon companion that ever lived laid down his choicest Massic pressed from the grape in the Consulship of Manlius. At Subiaco one is on firmer ground ; for in the picturesque Convent, approached through ilex woods above the town, is still the Sacro Speco of Saint Benedict, and likewise a small body of Benedictines, whose Priore begged me to stay with them as long as I would, whenever I wanted either to meditate or to write. Whereupon, Lamia, much to his delectation, for he had some acquaintance with English, having sojourned for a time at the affiliated Benedictine Monastery designed by Pugin, at Ramsgate, quoted the following stanzas, to which Veronica listened once more with patient and philosophic smile :

“Father, farewell ! Be not distressed,
And take my vowere I depart,
To found a Convent in my breast,
And keep a cloister in my heart.”

And I have kept my vow. For when
The cuckoo chuckles o'er his theft,

When throstles sing again, again,
And runnels gambol down the cleft,

With these I roam, I sing with those,
And, should the world with smile or jeers

Provoke or lure, my lids I close,
And draw a cowl about my ears.



It is with the very greatest diffidence that I begin some remarks respecting the Americans. This diffidence has been inspired by five unbroken years of sojourn in the United States, and these five years have only confirmed the impressions received on the first day of landing. The Americans are filled with such an implicit and absolute confidence in their Union and in their future success, that any remark other than laudatory is positively unacceptable to the majority of them. We have had innumerable opportunities of hearing public speakers in America cast doubts upon the very existence of God and of Providence ; question the historic nature or veracity of the whole fabric of Christianity; but never has it been our fortune to catch the slightest whisper of doubt, the slightest want of faith in the chief God of America, in the unbounded belief in the future of America. The habit which is common to all Americans of lumping all the countries of modern Europe together into the half-contemptuous name, “the old country,” has at last, by a persistent and constant association of ideas, filled every citizen of the United States with the conviction that America alone is the young, the fresh, and better-equipped country. Europe is considered to be an agglomeration of nations of petty extent, already economically effete, and bound within a very short period of time to collapse before the vigorous onslaught of American energy. One circumstance especially strikes the stranger newly landed on American shores. He may in Europe have travelled through France, Germany, AustriaHungary, England, but nowhere will he be pressed to vouchsafe an opinion as to what he thinks of those countries. Immediately he sets foot in America he will be asked how he likes the country, but he must not be led to regard these questions as anything but rhetorical, for nothing but laudatory superlatives are expected in reply.

To say a few words of America itself, Peschel and many other eminent geographers have long ago proved that the northern American continent as a continent is, physiographically speaking, very much inferior to Europe. A number of the most valuable cereals, as well as other edible plants, the vine, &c., will either not grow there at all, or grow in very restricted quantities. The mountains and rivers cannot compare either in number or size with their respective counterparts in Europe. Geo-politically it is certain that America is placed in both a new and an inferior position. If there is one thing which follows with absolute and indubitable clearness from European history it is the fact, that each nation in modern Europe was made infinitely less by its own spontaneous efforts than by the necessity of averting the hostility and aggression, military and otherwise, of its own immediate neighbours. Every European nation has been built up by struggle and fight, and the great countries of Europe have become great, not owing to some supposed racial excellence, but simply and exclusively as the outcome of the struggles imposed upon them by their geo-political position. We might compose a scale of European grandeur, and it would be clearly seen that those peoples that have had the least fight to maintain themselves stand lowest and have made least progress. Each square foot of European soil has cost thousands, not to say hundreds of thousands of European lives. The sweat and tears of generations have fertilised every square inch of European territory. The Union, on the other hand, has been placed ever since the War of American Independence (the decisive factor in which had been French intervention) in an entirely different position. The geo-political necessity of fighting for every rood of land during centuries has never existed in America. Territories such as in Europe would have taken untold years to conquer and annex, were acquired by the Union in a few months. To sum up, the Union is neighbourless ; no enemy threatens it in the north, no enemy threatens it in the east, none in the west, and there is no menace of importance in the south. This cardinal circumstance differentiates American history completely from European history, and in attempting to draw any analogy from European to American, or from American to European history, the utmost caution must be observed. The reader, remembering the importance necessarily to be attached to fight and struggle against enemies as the formative agent of historical progress, will ask whence then comes the undeniable energy so characteristic of the people of the United States ? In reality the question is answered by a consideration of the Foreigner, as one of the richest types

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »