Page images
PDF
EPUB

The serious and burlesque operas prevail infinitely over the other theatrical entertainments at Rome, in spite of the united efforts of Harlequin, Pantaloon, and Punchinello.

The prohibition of female performers renders the emusement of the Roman theatre very insipid, in the opinion of some unrefined Englishmen of your acquaintance who are here. In my own poor opinion, the natural sweetness of the female voice is ill supplied by the artificial trills of wretched castratos; and the awkward agili ty of robust sinewy fellows dressed in women's clothes, is a most deplorable substitution for the graceful movements of elegant female dancers. Is not the horrid practice which is encouraged by this manner of supplying the place of female singers, a greater outrage on religion and morality, than can be produced by the evils which their prohibition is intended to prevent? Is it possible to believe, that purity of sentiment will be preserved by producing eunuchs on the stage? I should fear it would have a different effect. At the funeral of Junia, the wife of Cassius, and sister of Brutus, the statues of all the great persons connected with her family by blood or alliance, were carried in procession, except those of her brother and husband. This deficiency struck the people more than any part of the procession, and brought the two illustrious Romans into their minds with more force than if their statues had been carried with the others.-Præfulgebant Cassius atque Brutus, says Tacitus, eo ipso, quod effigies en rum non visebantur.*

1

LETTER LIII.

Naples.. I TAKE the first opportunity of informing you of our ar: rival in this city Some of the principal objects which oc

• The memory of Cassius and Brutus made a deeper impression on the minds of the ors, on this very account, that their statues were not seen in the procession.

curred on the road, with the sentiments they suggested to my mind, shall form the subject of this letter.

It is almost impossible to go out of the walls of Rome, without being impressed with melancholic ideas. Having left that city by St. John de Lateran's gate, we soon entered a spacious plain, and drove for several miles in sight of sepulchral monuments and the ruins of ancient aqueducts. Sixtus V. repaired one of them, to bring water into that part of Rome where Dioclesian's baths formerly stood : this water is now called aqua felice, from Felix, the name of that pontiff, while he was only a cordelier. Having changed horses at the Torre de Mezzo Via, so called from an old tower near the post-house, we proceeded through a silent, deserted, unwholesome country. We scarce met a passenger between Rome and Marino, a little town about twelve miles from the former, which has its name from Caius Marius, who had a villa there; it now belongs to the Colonna family. While fresh horses were harnessing, we visited two churches, to see two pictures which we had heard commended; the subject of one is as disagreeable, as that of the other is difficult to execute. The connoisseur who directed us to these pieces, told me, that the first, the flaying of St. Bartholomew, by Guercino, is in a great style, finely coloured, and the muscles convulsed with pain in the sweetest manner imaginable; he could have gazed at it for ever. As for the other,' added he, 6 which represents the Trinity, it is natural, well grouped, and easily understood; and that is all that can be said for it.'

From Marino, the road runs for several miles over craggy mountains. In ascending Mons Albañus, we were charmed with a fine view of the country towards the sea ; Ostia, Antium, the lake Albano, and the fields adjacent. The form and component parts of this mountain plainly shew, that it has formerly been a volcano. The lake of Nemi, which we left to the right, seems like that of Albano, to have been formed in the cavity of a crater.

We came next to Valetri, an inconsiderable town, sitų.

1

ated on a hill. There is one palace here, with spacious gardens, which, when kept in repair, may have been magnificent. The stair-case, they assured us, is still worthy of admiration. The inhabitants of Valetri assert, that Augustus was born there. Suetonius says, he was born at Rome. It is certainly of no importance where he was born. Perhaps it would have been better for Rome, and for the world in general, that he never had been born at all. The Valetrians are so fond of emperors, that they claim a connection even with Tiberius and Caligula, who had villas in their neighbourhood. The ruins of Otho's palace are still to be seen about a mile from this city, at a place called Colle Ottone. Of those four emperors, the last mentioned was by much the best worth the claiming as a countryman. As for 'Caligula, he was a mischievous madman. Tiberius seems to have been born with wicked dispositions, which he improved by art. Augustus was naturally wicked, and artificially virtuous; and Otho seems to have been exactly the reverse. Though educated in the most vicious of courts, and the favourite and companion of Nero, he still preserved, in some degree, the original excellence of his character; and, at his death, displayed a magnanimity of sentiment, and nobleness of conduct, of which the highly-flattered Augustus was never capable. Alii diutius imperium tenuerint,' says Tacitus; nemo tam fortiter reliquerit.'* Convinced that, if he continued the contest with Vitellius, all the horrors of a civil war would be prolonged, he determined to sacrifice his life to the quiet of his country, and to the safety of his friends.t • To involve you in fresh calamities,' said this generous prince to the officers who offered still to support his cause, is purchasing life at a price beyond what, in my opinion, is its value. Shall Roman armies be led against each other, and the Roman youth be excited to mutual slaughter, on my account? No! for your safety, and to prevent such evils, I die contented. Let me be no impediment to your treating with the enemy; nor do you any longer oppose my fixed resolution. I complain not of my fate, nor do I accuse any body. To arraign the conduct of gods or men, is natural to those only who wish to live.

• Many have held the empire longer ; none ever relinquished it from more generous motives.

+ Hunc animum, hanc virtutem vestram, ultra periculis objicere, niwis grande vitæ meæ pretium puto. An ego tantum Romanæ pubis, tot egregios exercitus, sterni rursus et republicâ eripi patiar ? Este super• stites, nec diu moremur; ego incolumitatem vestram, vos constantiam meam. De nemine queror, nam incusare deos rel homines, ejus est, qui

Tacit. Hist. ļibji.

vivere velit.

Though they are not to be compared in other respects, yet the death of Otho may vie with that of Cato ; and is one of the strongest instances to be found in history, that a life of effeminacy and voluptuousness does not always eradicate the seeds of virtue and benevolence.

In the middle of the square of Valetri is a bronze statue of Urban VIII. I think they told us it is the workmanship of Bernini.

Descending from that town by a rough road, bordered by vineyards and fruit trees, we traversed an unsalubrious plain to Sermonetta; between which, and the post-house, called Casa Nuova, a little to the left of the highway, are some vaults and ruins, not greatly worthy of the notice of the mere antiquarian. Yet passengers of a singular cast of mind, who feel themselves as much interested in the transactions recorded in the New Testament, as men of taste are in paintings or heathen antiquities, stop a little here to contemplate the Tres Tabernæ, which are said to be the Three Taverns mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, where the Christian brethren from Rome came to meet St. Paul, when he was on his journey to that city. I have seen, however, some Christian travellers, who, without being connoisseurs, were of opinion, that old ruined houses derived little value from the circumstance above mentioned, and who preferred a good modern inn to all the antiquities, sacred or profane, that they met with on their grand tours. Without presuming to blame any set of men for

[ocr errors]

their particular taste, I may venture to say, that a travel ler, who loves always to see a well-peopled and well-cultivated country, who insists on good eating every day, and a neat comfortable bed every night, would judge very wisely in never travelling out of England. I am certain he ought not to travel between Rome and Naples ; for on this road, especially the part which runs through the ecclesiastical state, the traveller's chief entertainment must arise from a less substantial foundation; from the ideas formed in the mind, at sight of places celebrated by favourite authors; from a recollection of the important scenes which have been acted there ; and even from the thought of treading the same ground, and viewing the same objects, with certain persons who lived there fifteen hundred or two thousand years ago. Strangers, therefore, who come under the first description, whose senses are far more powerful than their fancy, when they are so ill advised as to come so far from home, generally make this journey in very ill-humour, fretting at Italian beds, fuming against Italian cooks, and execrating every poor little Italian flea that they meet with on the road. But he who can put up with indifferent fare cheerfully, whose serenity of temper remains unshaken by the assaults of a flea, and who can draw amusement from the stores of memory and imagination, will find the powers of both wonderfully excited during this journey. Sacred history unites with profane, truth conspires with fable, to afford him entertainment, and render every object interesting.

Proxima Circeæ raduntur littora terræ.
Driving along this road, you have a fine view of Monte
Circello, and

the Ææan bay
Where Circe dwelt, the daughter of the Day;
Goddess and queen, to whom the powers belong

Of dreadful magic and commanding song. This abode of the enchantress Circe has been generally described as an island ; whereas it is, in reality, a pro

Now by rich ce's coast they þend their way,

« PreviousContinue »