Roba Di Roma


IT was on the 6th of December, 1856, that I landed with my family at Civita Vecchia, on my return for the third time to Rome. Before we could make all our arrangements, it was too late to think of journeying that day towards the dear old city; but the following morning we set forth in a rumbling, yellow post-coach, with three horses, and a shabby, gaudy postilion,—the wheels clattering, the bells on the horses’ necks jingling, the cock’splumes on their heads nodding, and a half-dozen sturdy beggar-brats running at our side and singing a dismal chorus of “Dateci qualche cosa.” Two or three half-baiocchi, however, bought them off, and we had the road to ourselves. The day was charming, the sky cloudless, the air tender and with that delicious odor of the South which so soothingly intoxicates the senses. The sea, accompanying us for half our way, gleamed and shook out its breaking surf along the shore; and the rolling slopes of the Campagna, flattered by sunlight, stretched all around us,—here desert and sparkling with tall skeleton grasses and the dry canes’ tufted feathers, and here covered with low, shrubby trees, that, crowding darkly together, climbed the higher hills. On tongues of land, jutting out into the sea, stood at intervals lonely watch-towers, gray with age, and at their feet shallow and impotent waves gnashed into foam around the black, jagged teeth of halfsunken rocks along the shore. Here and there the broken arches of a Roman bridge, nearly buried in the lush growth of weeds, shrubs, and flowers, or the ruins of some old villa, the home of the owl, snake, and lizard, showed where Ancient Rome journeyed and lived. At intervals, heavy carts, drawn by the superb gray oxen of the Campagna, creaked slowly by, the contadino sitting athwart the tongue; or some light wine carrettino came ringing along, the driver fast asleep under its tall, triangular cover, with his fierce little dog beside him, and his horse adorned with bright rosettes and feathers. Sometimes long lines of mules or horses, tied one to another’s tail, plodded on in dusty procession, laden with sacks;— sometimes droves of oxen, or poledri, conducted by a sturdy driver in heavy leathern leggings, and armed with a long, pointed pole, stopped our way for a moment. In the fields, the pecoraro, in shaggy sheep-skin breeches, the very type of the mythic Pan, leaned against his staff, half-asleep, and tended his woolly flock,— or the contadino drove through dark furrows the old plough of Virgil’s time, that figures in the vignettes to the “Georgies,” dragged tediously along by four white oxen, yoked abreast. There, too, were herds of long-haired goats, rearing mid the bushes and showing their beards over them, or following the shepherd to their fold, as the shadows began to lengthen.—or rude and screaming wains, tugged by uncouth buffaloes, with low heads and knotted knees, bred among the malaria-stricken marshes.

Half-way to Rome we changed horses at Palo,—a little grim settlement, composed of a post-house, inn, stables, a line of straggling fishermen’s-huts, and a desolate old fortress, flanked by four towers. This fortress, which once belonged to the Odescalchi family, but is now the property of the Roman government, looks like the very spot for a tragedy, as it stands there rotting in the pestilential air, and garrisoned by a few stray old soldiers, whose dreary, broken-down appearance is quite in keeping with the place. Palo itself is the site of the city of Alsium, founded by the Pelasgi, in the dim gloom of antiquity, long before the Etruscans landed on this shore. It was subsequently occupied by the Etruscans, and afterwards became a favorite resort of the Roman nobility, who built there the splendid villas of Antoninus, Porcina, Pompeius, and others. Of the Pelasgic and Etruscan town not a vestige remains; but the ruined foundations of Roman villas are still to be seen along the shore. No longer are to be found there the feasts described by Fronto,1 of "fatted oysters, savory apples, pastry, confectionery, and generous wines in faultless transparent goblets,”—nor would it now be called “a voluptuous seaside retreat”; but good lobsters are still abundant there, and one can get a greasy beefsteak, black bread, an ill-cooked chicken, and sour wine, at only about twice their market value. The situation is lovely, with the sea washing in along the rounded rim of the coast, close up to the door of the inn; and on a sunny day, when the white wings of feluccas may be seen gleaming far off on the blue Mediterranean, and the fishermen are drawing their nets close into shore, it seems as if it might really be made “a voluptuous seaside retreat,” but for the desolating malaria which renders it dangerous to rest there for a single night.

Here, of course, we stopped as short a time as possible; and then, bidding adieu to the sea, struck inland over the Campagna to Rome. The country now grows wild, desolate, and lonely; but it has a special charm of its own, which they who are only hurrying on to Rome, and to whom it is an obstruction and a tediousness, cannot, of course, perceive. It is dreary, weird, ghostly,—the home of the winds; but its silence, sadness, and solitude are both soothing and impressive. After miles and miles up and down, at last, from the crest of a hill up which we slowly toiled with our lumbering carriage and reeking horses, we saw the dome of St. Peter’s towering above the city, which as yet was buried out of sight. It was but a glimpse, and was soon lost. The postilion covered the worn-out lace of his shabby livery with a heavy cloak, which he flung over his shoulder to keep out the dampening air, gave a series of wild flourishes with his whip, broke into guttural explosions of voice to urge along his horses, and on we went fullgallop. The road grew more and more populated as we approached the city. Carriages were out for a drive, or to meet friends on their way from Civita Vecchia; and on foot was many a little company of Romans, laughing and talking. At the osterías were groups seated under frasche, or before the door, drinking fogliette of wine and watching the passers-by. At last, toward sundown, we stopped at the Porta Cavalleggieri, where, thanks to our lascia passare, we were detained but a minute,—and then we were in Rome. Over us hung the great bulging dome of St. Peter’s, golden with the last rays of sunset. The pillars of the gigantic colonnade of Bernini, as we jolted along, “seemed to be marching by,” in broad platoons. The fountains piled their flexile columns of spray and waved them to and fro. The great bell clanged from the belfry. Groups wandered forth in the great Piazza. The old Egyptian obelisk in the centre pointed its lean finger to the sky. We were in Rome! This one moment of surprised sensation is worth the journey from Civita Vecchia. Entered by no other gate, is Rome so suddenly and completely possessed. Nowhere is the contrast so instantaneous and vivid as here, between the silent, desolate Campagna and the splendor of St. Peter’s, between the burrows of primitive Christianity and the gorgeousness of ecclesiastical Rome.

After leaving the Piazza, we get a glimpse of Hadrian’s Mole, and of the rusty Tiber, as it hurries, “retortis littore Etrusco violenter undis,” as of old, under the statued bridge of St. Angelo,—and then we plunge into long, damp, narrow, dirty streets. Yet—shall I confess it?— they had a charm for me. Twilight was deepening into dark as we passed through them. Confused cries and loud Italian voices sounded about me. Children were screaming,—men howling their wares for sale. Bells were ringing everywhere. Priests, soldiers, contadini, and beggars thronged along. The Trasteverini were going home, with their jackets hanging over one shoulder. Women, in their rough woollen gowns, stood in the doorways bare-headed, or looked out from windows and balconies, their black hair shining under the lanterns. Lights were twinkling in the little cavernous shops, and under the Madonna-shrines far within them. A funeral procession, with its black banners, gilt with a death’s-head and cross-bones, was passing by, its wavering candles borne by the confraternità, who marched carelessly along, shrouded from head to foot in white, with only two holes for the eyes to glare through.

It was dirty, but it was Rome; and to any one who has long lived in Rome even its very dirt has a charm which the neatness of no other place ever had. All depends, of course, on what we call dirt. No one would defend the condition of some of the streets or some of the habits of the people. But the soil and stain which many call dirt I call color, and the cleanliness of Amsterdam would ruin Rome for the artist. Thrift and exceeding cleanness are sadly at war with the picturesque. To whatever the hand of man builds the hand of Time adds a grace, and nothing is so prosaic as the rawly new. Fancy for a moment the difference for the worse, if all the grim, browned, rotted walls of Rome, with their peeling mortar, their thousand daubs of varying grays and yellows, their jutting brickwork and patched stonework, from whose intervals the cement has crumbled off, their waving weeds and grasses and flowers, now sparsely fringing their top, now thickly protruding from their sides, or clinging and making a home in the clefts and crevices of decay, were to be smoothed to a complete level, and whitewashed over into one uniform and monotonous tint. What a gain in cleanliness! what a loss in beauty! One old wall like this I remember on the road from Grotta Ferrata to Frascati, which was to my eyes a constant delight. One day the owner took it into his head to whitewash it all over,—to clean it, as some would say. I look upon that man as little better than a Vandal in taste,—one from whom “knowledge at one entrance was quite shut out.” Take another modern instance: substitute for the tiled roofs of Rome, now so gray, tumbled, and picturesque with their myriad lichens, the cold, clean slate of New York, or the glittering zinc of Paris,—should we gain or lose? The Rue de Rivoli is long, white, and uniform,—all new and all clean; but there is no more harmony and melody in it than in the “damnable iteration” of a single note; and even Time will be puzzled to make it picturesque, or half as interesting as those old houses displaced in the back streets for its building, which had sprouted up hero and there, according to the various whims of the various builders. Those were taken down because they were dirty, narrow, unsightly. These are thought elegant and clean. Clean they certainly are; and they have one other merit,—that of being as monotonously regular as the military despotism they represent. But I prefer individuality, freedom, and variety, for my own part. The narrow, uneven, huddled Corso, with here a noble palace, and there a quaint passage, or archway, or shop,— the buildings now high, now low, but all barnacled over with balconies,—is far more interesting than the unmeaning uniformity of the Rue de Rivoli. So, too, there are those among us who have the bad taste to think it a desecration in Louis Napoleon to have scraped the stained and venerable old Nôtre Dame into cleanliness. The Romantic will not consort with the Monotonous,—Nature is not neat,—Poetry is not formal,—and Rome is not clean.

These thoughts, or ghosts of thoughts, flitted through my mind, as the carriage was passing along the narrow, dirty streets, and brought with them after-trains of reflection. There may be, I thought, among the thousands of travellers that annually winter at Rome, some to whom the common out-door pictures of modern Roman life would have a charm as special as the galleries and antiquities, and to whom a sketch of many things, which wise and serious travellers have passed by as unworthy their notice, might be interesting. Every ruin has had its score of immortelles hung upon it. The soil has been almost overworked by antiquarians and scholars, to whom the modern flower was nothing, but the antique brick a prize. Poets and sentimentalists have described to death what the antiquaries have left;— some have done their work so well that nothing remains to be done after them. Everybody has an herbarium of dried flowers from all the celebrated sites, and a table made from bits of marble collected in the ruined villas. Every Englishman carries a Murray for information and a Byron for sentiment, and finds out by them what he is to know and feel at every step. Pictures and statues have been staled by copy and description, until everything is stereotyped, from the Dying Gladiator, with his “young barbarians all at play,” and all that, down to the Beatrice Cenei, the Madame Tonson of the shops, that haunts one everywhere with her white turban and red eyes. All the public and private life and history of the ancient Romans, from Romulus to Constantine and Julian the Apostle, (as he is sometimes called,) is properly well known. But the common life of the modern Romans, the games, customs, habits of the people, the every-day of To-day, has been only touched upon here and there,—sometimes with spirit and accuracy, as by Charles McFarlane, sometimes with great grace, as by Hans Christian Andersen, and sometimes with great ignorance, as by Miss Waldie. This is the subject, however, which has specially interested me, and a life of several years in Rome has enabled me to observe many things which do not strike the hurried traveller, and to correct many false notions in regard to the people and place. To a stranger, a first impression is apt to be a false impression; and it constantly happens to me to hear my own countrymen work out the falsest conclusions from the slightest premises, and settle the character and deserts of the Italians, all of whom they mass together in a lump, after they have been just long enough on the soil to travel from Civita Vecchia to Rome under the charge of a courier, when they know just enough of the language to ask for a coachman when they want a spoon, and when they have made the respectable acquaintance, beside their courier, of a few porters, a few beggars, a few shopkeepers, and the padrone of the apartment they hire.

No one lives long in Rome without loving it; and I must, in the beginning, confess myself to be in the same category. Those who shall read those slender papers, without agreeing to the kindly opinions often expressed, must account for it by remembering that “Love lends a precious seeing to the eye.” My aim is far from ambitious. I shall not be erudite, but I hope I shall not be dull. These little sketches may remind some of happy days spent under the Roman sky, and, by directing the attention of others to what they have overlooked, may open a door to a new pleasure. Chi sa? The plainest Ranz des Vaches may sometimes please when the fifth symphony of Beethoven would be a bore.



WHOEVER has passed the month of December in Rome will remember to have been awakened from his morning-dreams by the gay notes of the pifferari playing in the streets below, before the shrines of the Madonna and Bambino, —and the strains of one set of performers will scarcely have ceased, before the distant notes of another set of pilgrims will be heard to continue the wellknown novena. The pifferari are generally contadini of the Abruzzi Mountains, who, at the season of Advent, leave their home to make a pilgrimage to Rome,— stopping before all the way-side shrines, as they journey along, to pay their glad music of welcome to the Virgin and the coming Messiah. Their song is called a novena, from its being sung for nine consecutive days,—first, for nine days previous to the Festa of the Madonna, which occurs on the 8th of December, and afterwards for the nine days preceding Christmas. The same words and music serve, however, for both celebrations. The pifferari always go in couples, one playing on the zampogna, or bagpipe, the bass and treble accompaniment, and the other on the piffero, or pastoral pipe, which carries the air; and for the month before Christmas the sound of their instruments resounds through the streets of Rome, wherever there is a shrine,—whether at the corners of the streets, in the depths of the shops, down little lanes, in the centre of the Corso, in the interior courts of the palaces, or on the stairways of private houses.

Their costume is extremely picturesque. On their heads they wear conical felt hats adorned with a frayed peacock’s feather, or a faded band of red cords and tassels,—their bodies are clad in red waistcoats, blue jackets, and smallclothes of skin or yellowish homespun cloth,—skin sandals are bound to their feet with cords that interlace each other up the leg as far as the knee,—and over all is worn a long brown or blue cloak with a short cape, buckled closely round the neck. Sometimes, but rarely, this cloak is of a deep red with a scalloped cape. As they stand before the pictures of the Madonna, their hats placed on the ground before them, and their thick, black, dishevelled hair covering their sunburnt brows, blowing away on their instruments or pausing to sing their novena, they form a picture which every artist desires to paint. Their dress is common to nearly all the peasantry of the Abruzzi, and, worn and tattered as it often is, it has a richness and harmony of tint which no new clothes could ever have, and for which the costumes of the shops and regular models offer a poor substitute. It is the old story again. The new and clean is not so paintable, not so picturesque, as the tarnished and soiled. The worn blue of the cloak is softened by the dull gray of the threads beneath,—patches of various colors are often let into the jacket or breeches,— the hat is lustreless from age, and rusty as an old wall,—and the first vivid red of the waistcoat is toned by constant use to a purely pictorial hue. Besides, the true pifferaro wears his costume as if it belonged to him and had always been worn by him,—so that it has none of that got-up look which spoils everything. From the sandals and corded leggings, which, in the Neapolitan dialect, are termed cioce, the pifferari are often called ciociari.

Their Christmas pilgrimages are by no means prompted by purely religious motives, though, undoubtedly, such considerations have some weight with them, the common peasantry being a religiously inclined people, and often making pilgrimages simply from a sense of duty and propriety. But in these wanderings to Rome, their principal object is to earn a little money to support them during the winter months, when their “occupation is gone.” As they are hired in Rome by the owners of the various houses adorned with a Madonna-shrine (of which there are over fifteen hundred in the city) to play before them at the rate of a paul or so for each full novena, and as they can easily play before thirty or forty a day, they often return, if their luck is good, with a tolerable little sum in their pockets. Besides this, they often stand as models, if they are good-looking fellows, and thus add to their store; and then again, the forestieri (for, as the ancient Romans called strangers barbari, so their descendants call them foresters, wood-men, wild-men) occasionally dropbaiocchi and pauls into their hats, still further to increase it.

Sometimes it is a father and son who play together, but oftener two old friends who make the pilgrimage in pairs. This morning, as I was going out for a walk round the walls, two admirable specimens of the pifferari were performing the novena before a shrine at the corner of the street. The player of the zampogna was an old man, with a sad, but very amiable face, who droned out the bass and treble in a most earnest and deprecatory manner. He looked as if he had stood still, tending his sheep, nearly all his life, until the peace and quiet of Nature had sunk into his being, or, if you will, until he had become assimilated to the animals he tended. The other, who played the piffero, was a man of middle age, stout, vigorous, with a forest of tangled black hair, and dark quick eyes that were fixed steadily on the Virgin, while he blew and vexed the little brown pipe with rapid runs and nervous fioriture, until great drops of sweat dripped from its round open mouth. Sometimes, when he could not play fast enough to satisfy his eagerness, he ran his finger up and down the vents. Then, suddenly lowering his instrument, he would scream, in a strong peasant-voice, verse after verse of the novena, to the accompaniment of the zampogna. One was like a slow old Italian vettura all lumbered with luggage and held back by its drag; the other panting and nervous at his work as an American locomotive, and as constantly running off the rails. Both, however, were very earnest at their occupation. As they stood there playing, a little group gathered round. A scamp of a boy left his sport to come and beat time with a stick on the stone step before them; several children clustered near; and two or three women, with rosy infants in their arms, also paused to listen and sympathize. At last the playing ceased. The pifferari took up their hats and looked smilingly round at us.

“Where do you come from?” I asked.

Eh!” said the piffero, showing all his teeth, and shrugging his shoulders good-naturedly, while the other echoed the pantomime.

Dal Regno,"—for so the Abruzzi peasants call the kingdom of Naples.

“And do you come every year?

Sì, Signore, Lui (indicating his friend) “ed io" (pointing to himself) “siam' compagni per trenta tre anni. E siam' venut' a Roma per far la noven' ogn' anno."2 To this the old zampogna bent his head on one side, and said, assentingly",—"Eh! per trenta tre anni"——

And, “Ecco,” continued the piffero, bursting in before the zampogna could go on, and pointing to two stalwart youths of about twenty-two or -three years of age, who at this moment came up the street with their instruments,—“These are our two sons. He is mine.”—indicating one with his reversed thumb; “and that other is his,”—jerking his head towards his companion. “And they, too, are going to play in company, as we do.”

"For thirty-three years more, let us hope,” said I.

Eh! speriamo,” (Let us hope so,) was the answer of the piffero, as he showed all his teeth in the broadest of smiles. Then, with a motion of his hand, he set both the young men going, he himself joining in, straining out his cheeks, blowing all the breath of his body into the little pipe, and running up and down the vents with a sliding finger, until finally he brought up against a high, shrill note, to which he gave the full force of his lungs, and, after holding it in loud blast for a moment, startled us by breaking off, without gradation, into a silence as sudden as if the music had snapped short off, like a pipe-stem.

On further conversation with my ciociari, I found that they came yearly from Sora, a town in the Abruzzi, about one hundred miles from Rome, making the journey on foot, and picking up by the way whatever trifle of copper they could. In this manner they travelled the whole distance in five days, living upon onions, lettuce, oil, and black bread. They were now singing the second novena for Natale, and, if one could judge from their manner and conversation, were quite content with what they had earned. I invited them up into my room, and there in the pleasantest way they stunned us with the noise of both their instruments, to the great delight of the children and the astonishment of the servants, for whom these common things had worn out their charm by constant repetition. At my request, they repeated the words of the novena they had been singing, and I took them down from their lips. After eliminating the wonderful m-ms of the Neapolitan dialect, in which all the words lay imbedded like shells in the sand, and supplying some of the curious elisions with which those Abruzzi Procrusteans recklessly cut away the polysyllables, so as to bring them within the rythmic compass, they ran thus:—

“Verginella figlia di Sant' Anna,
Nella ventre portasti il buon Gesù.
Si parturisti sotto la capanna,
E dov' mangiav’no lo bue e l’ asinello.

“Quel Angelo gridava: 'Venite, Santi!
'Chè andato Gesù dentro la capanna,
Ma guardate Vergine beata,
Che in ciel in terra sia nostr' avvocata!'

“San Giuseppe andava in compagnia,
Si trovò al partorir di Maria.
La notte di natale iè notte santa—
Lo Padre e l’ Figliolo e lo Spirito Santo.
’Sta la ragione che abbiamo cantato;
Sia a Gesù bambino rappresentata."

The sudden introduction of “Quel Angelo" in this song reminds us of a similar felicity in the romantic ballad of “Lord Bateman,” where we are surprised to learn that “this Turk,” to whom no allusion had been previously made, “has one lovely daughter.”

The air to which this is sung is very simple and sweet, though monotonous. Between the verses and at the close, a curious little ritornello is played.

The wanderings of the pifferari are by no means confined to the Roman States. Sometimes they stray "as far away as Paris is,” and, wandering about in that gay capital, like children at a fair, play in the streets for chance sous, or stand as models to artists, who, having once been to Rome, hear with a longing Rome-sickness the old characteristic sounds of the piffero and zampogna. Two of them I remember to have heard thus, as I was at work in my studio in Paris; and so vividly did they recall the old Roman time, that I called them in for a chat. Wonderful was their speech. In the few months of their wandering, they had put into their Neapolitan dough various plums of French words, which, pronounced in their odd way, “suffered a change into something peculiarly rich and strange.” One of them told me that his wife had just written to him by the hand of a scrivano, lamenting his absence, and praying him to send her his portrait. He had accordingly sent her a photograph in half-length. Some time afterwards she acknowledged the receipt of it, but indignantly remonstrated with him for sending her a picture “che pareva guardando per la fenestra,” (which seemed to be looking out of the window,) as she oddly characterized a hall-length, and praying to have his legs also in the next portrait. This same fellow, with his dull, amiable face, played the róle of a ferocious wounded brigand dragged into concealment by his wife, in the studio of a friend next door; but, despite the savagery and danger of his counterfeited position, he was sure to be overpowered by sleep before he had been in it more than five minutes,—and if the artist's eye left him for a moment, he never failed to change his attitude for one more fitted to his own somnolent propensities than for the picture.

The pifferari are by no means the only street-musicians in Rome, though they take the city by storm at Christmas. Every day under my window comes a band of four or five, who play airs and concerted pieces from the operas,—and a precious work they make of it sometimes! Not only do the instruments go very badly together, but the parts they play are not arranged for them. A violone grunts out a low accompaniment to a vinegar-sharp violin which saws out the air, while a trumpet blares in at intervals to endeavor to unite the two, and a flute does what it can, but not what it would. Sometimes, instead of a violone, a hoarse trombone, with a violent cold in the head, snorts out the bass impatiently, gets ludicrously uncontrollable and boastful at times, and is always so choleric, that, instead of waiting for the cadenzas to finish, it bursts in, knocks them over as by a blow on the head, roars away on false intervals, and overwhelms every other voice with its own noisy vociferation. The harmonic arrangements are very odd. Each instrument seems to consider itself ill-treated when reduced to an accompaniment or bass, and is constantly endeavoring, however unfitted for it, to get possession of the air,—the melody being, for all Italians, the principal object. The violin, however, weak of voice as it is, always carries the day, and the other instruments steal discontentedly back to their secondary places, the snuffy old violone keeping up a constant growl at its ill luck, and the trombone now and then leaping out like a tiger on its prey.

Far better and more characteristic are the ballad-singers, who generally go in couples,—an old man, dim of sight, perhaps blind, who plays the violin, and his wife or daughter, who has a guitar, tamborello, or at times a mandolin. Sometimes a little girl accompanies them, sings with them, and carries round a tin box, or the tamborello, to collect baiocchi. They sing long ballads to popular melodies, some of which are very pretty and gay, and for a baiocco they sell a sheet containing the printed words of the song. Sometimes it is in the form of a dialogue, —either a love-making, a quarrel, a reconciliation, or a leave-taking,—each singer taking an alternate verse. Sometimes it is a story with a chorus, or a religious conversation-ballad, or a story of a saint, or from the Bible. Those drawn from the Bible are generally very curious paraphrases of the original simple text, turned into the simplest and commonest idioms of the people;—one of them may be found in the Appendix to Goethe’s “Italienische Reise." These Roman ballads and popular songs, so far as I am able to learn, have never been collected. Many of them do not exist in print, and are only traditional and caught from mouth to mouth. This is particularly the case with those in the Romanesque dialect, which are replete with the peculiar wit and spirit of the country. But the memory of man is too perilous a repository for such interesting material; and it is greatly to be wished that some clever Italian, who is fitted for the task, would interest himself to collect them and give them a permanent place in the literature of his language.

But to return to our ballad-singers, whom we have left in the middle of their song, and who are now finishing. A crowd has gathered round them, as usual; out of the windows and from the balconies lean the occupants of the houses near by, and the baiocchi thrown by them ring on the pavement below. With rather Stentorian voices they have been singing a dialogue which is most elaborately entitled a “Canzonetta Nuova, sopra un marinaro che da 1’ addio alla sua promessa sposa mentre egli deve partire per la via di Levante. Sdegno, pace, e matrimonio dilli medesimi con interealare sull’ aria moderna. Rime di Francesco Calzaroni.” I give my baiocco and receive in return a smiling “Grazie” and a copy of the song, which is adorned by a wood-cut of a ship in full sail.

Here is another, of a moral character, containing the sad history of Frederic the Gambler, who, to judge from the wood-cut accompanying the Canzonetta, must have been a ferocious fellow. He stands with his legs wide apart, in halfarmor, a great sash tied over his shoulder and swinging round his legs, an immense sword at his side, and a great hat with two ostrich-feathers on his head, looking the very type of a “swashing blade.”

The singers of longer ballads carry about with them sometimes a series of rudely-executed illustrations of different incidents in the story, painted in distemper and pasted on a large pasteboard frame, which is hung against a wall or on a stand planted behind the singer in the ground. These he pauses now and then in his song to explain to the audience, and they are sure to draw a crowd.

As summer comes on and the evenings grow warm, begin the street serenades, —sometimes like that of Lindoro in the opening of the "Barbiere di Sevilla,” but generally with only one voice, accompanied by a guitar and a mandolin. These serenades are, for the most part, given by a lover or friend to his innamorata, and the words are expressive of the tender passion; but there are also serenate di gelosia, or satirical serenades, when the most impertinent and stinging verses are sung. Long before arriving, the serenaders may be heard marching up the street to the thrum of their instruments. They then place themselves before the windows of the fair one, and, surrounded by a group of men and boys, make proclamation of their love in loud and often violent tones. It seems sometimes as if they considered the best method of expressing the intensity of their passion was by the volume of their voice. Certainly, in these cases, the light of love is not hidden under a bushel. Among the Trasteverini, particularly, these serenades are common. Some of them are very clever in their improvisations and imitations of different dialects, particularly of the Neapolitan, in which there are so many charming songs. Their skill in improvisation, however, is not generally displayed in their serenades, but in the osterias, during the evenings of the festas in summer. There it is that their quickness and epigrammatic turn of expression are best seen. Two disputants will, when in goodhumor and warmed with wine, string off verse after verse at each other’s expense, full of point and fun,—the guitar burring along in the intervals, and a chorus of laughter saluting every good hit.

In many of the back streets and squares of the city, fountains jet out of lions’ heads into great oblong stone cisterns, often sufficiently large to accommodate some thirty washerwomen at once. Here the common people resort to wash their clothes, and with great laughter and merriment amuse themselves while at their work by improvising verses, sometimes with rhyme, sometimes without, at the expense of each other, or perhaps of the passerby,—particularly if he happen to be a gaping forestiere, to whom their language is unintelligible. They stand on an elevated stone step, so as to bring the cistern about mid-height of their body, and on the rough inclined level of its rim they slash and roll the clothes, or, opening them, flaunt them into the water, or gather them together, lifting their arms high above their heads, and always treating them with a violence which nothing but the coarsest material can resist. The air to which they chant their couplets is almost always a Campagna melody. Sharp attacks are given and as sharp répliques received, in exceeding good-humor; and when there is little wit, there is sure to be much laughter. The salt is oftentimes pretty coarse, but it serves its purpose.

A remarkable trait among the Italians is the good-nature with which they take personal jokes, and their callousness to ridicule of personal defects. Jests which would provoke a blow from an AngloSaxon, or wound and rankle in the memory for life, are here taken in good part. A cripple often joins in the laugh at his own deformity; and the rough carelessness with which such personal misfortunes are alluded to is amazing to us of a more sensitive organization. I well remember the extreme difficulty I once had in breaking an Italian servant of the habit of announcing an acquaintance, whose foreign name he could not pronounce, and who had the misfortune to be humpbacked, as “quel gobbo” (that hunchback). He could not understand why he should not call him a gobbo, if he was a gobbo; and in spite of all I could do, he would often open the door and say, “Signore, quel gobbo desidera farle una visita," (that hunchback wishes to make you a visit,) when “quel gobbo" was right on his heels. The Italians are also singularly free from that intense self-consciousness which runs in our English blood, and is the root of shyness, awkwardness, and affectation. Unconsciousness is the secret of grace, freedom, and simplicity. We never forget ourselves. The Italians always forget themselves. They are sometimes proud, very seldom vain, and never affected. The converse peculiarity follows, of course. Having no self-consciousness, they are as little sensitive to their defects as vain of their charms. The models who come to the studios, and who have been selected for their beauty, despite the silent flattery incident to their very profession, and the lavish praise they constantly hear expressed, are always simple, natural, and unaffected. If you tell them they are very beautiful, they say, “Ma che?” deprecatorily, or perhaps admit the fact. But they are better pleased to have their dress admired than their faces. Of the former they are vain, of the latter they are not. For the most part, I think they rather wonder what it is we admire in them and think worthy of perpetuating in stone or color. The other day I was so much struck with the ear of a model, from whom I was working, that I said to her,—“You have, without exception, the most beautiful ear I ever saw.” She laughed somewhat derisively, and said, “Ma che?”—“It does not seem to give you any pleasure,” I continued, “to know that you have a very handsome ear.”—“Che mi importa” answered she, “se sia bello o brutto? È sempre lo stesso, brutto o bello, bello o brutto. Ecco!”3—“You don’t care, then, whether you are handsome or ugly?”—“Eh! cosa a me m' importa,—se sono brutto o bello non so,—a me è lo stesso.” This was all I could get from her.

But to return to our washerwomen. In every country-town a large washingcistern is always provided by the authorities for public use, and, at all hours of the day, the picturesque figures of the peasants of every age, from the old hag, whose skin is like a brown and crumpled palimpsest, (where Anacreontic verses are overwritten by a dull, monkish sermon.) to the round, dark-eyed girl, with broad, straight back and shining hair, may be seen gathered around it,—their heads protected from the sun by their folded tocaglia, their skirts knotted up behind, and their waists embraced by stiff, red busti. Their work is always enlivened by song,—and when their clothes are all washed, the basket is lifted to the head, and home they march, stalwart and majestic, like Roman caryatides. The sharp Italian sun shining on their dark faces and vivid costumes, or flashing into the fountain, and basking on the gray, weedcovered walls, makes a picture which is often enchanting in its color. At the Emissary by Albano, where the waters from the lake are emptied into a huge cistern through the old conduit built by the ancient Romans to sink the level of the lake, I have watched by the hour together these strange pictorial groups, as they sang and thrashed the clothes they were engaged in washing; while over them, in the foreground, the great gray tower and granary, once a castle, lifted itself in strong light and shade against the peerless blue sky, while rolling hills beyond, covered with the pale green foliage of rounded olives, formed the characteristic background. Sometimes a contadino, mounted on the crupper of his donkey, would pause in the sun to chat awhile with the women. The children, meanwhile, sprawled and played upon the grass, and the song and chat at the fountain would not unfrequently be interrupted by a shrill scream from one of the mothers, to stop a quarrel, or to silence a cry which showed the stoutness of their little lungs.

The cobblers of Rome are also a gay and singing set. They do not imprison themselves in a dark cage of a shop, but sit “sub Jove,” where they may enjoy the life of the street and all the “skyey influences.” Their benches are generally placed near the portone of some palace, so that they may draw them under shelter when it rains. Here all day they sit and draw their waxed-ends and sing,—a row of battered-looking boots and shoes ranged along on the ground beside them, and waiting for their turn, being their only stock in trade.

They commonly have enough to do, and, as they pay nothing for shop-rent, every baiocco they get is nearly clear profit. They are generally as poor as Job’s cat; but they are far happier than the proprietor of that interesting animal. Figaro is a high ideal of this class, and about as much like them as Raffaello’s angels are like Jeames Yellowplush. What the cobblers and Figaro have in common is song and a love of scandal. One admirable specimen of this class sits at the corner of the Via Felice and Capo le Case, with his bench backed against the gray wall. He is an oldish man, with a long, gray beard and a quizzical face,—a sort of Hans Sachs, who turns all his life into verse and song. When he comes out in the morning, he chants a domestic idyl, in which he narrates in verse the events of his household, and the differences and agreements of himself and his wife, whom I take to be a pure invention. This over, he changes into song everything and every person that passes before him. Nothing that is odd, fantastic, or absurd escapes him, or fails to be chronicled and sarcastically commented on in his verse. So he sits all day long, his mind like a kaleidoscope, changing all the odd bits of character which chance may show him into rhythmic forms, and chirps and sings as perpetually as the cricket. Friends he has without number, who stop before his bench, from which he administers poetical justice to all persons, to have a long chat, or sometimes to bring him a friendly token; and from the dark interior of his drawer he often brings forth an orange, or a bunch of grapes, or handful of chestnuts, supplied by them, as a dessert for the thick cabbage-soup which he eats at mezzo giorno.

In the busiest street of Rome, the pure Campagna song may often be heard from the throat of some contadino, as he slowly rumbles along in his loaded wine-cart.—the little dog at his side barking a sympathetic chorus. This song is rude enough, and seems in measure founded upon the Church chant. It is in the minor key, and consists ordinarily of two phrases, ending in a screaming monotone, prolonged until the breath of the singer fails, and often running down at the close into a blurred chromatic. No sooner is one strain ended than it is suddenly taken up again in the prestissimo time and “slowed" down to the same dismal conclusion. Heard near, it is deafening and disagreeable. But when refined by distance, it has a sad and pleasant effect, and seems to belong to the place,—the long wail at the close being the very type of the melancholy stretches of the Campagna. In the same way I have frequently thought that the Jodeln of the Swiss was an imitation of the echo of the mountains, each note repeated first in octave, or fifth, and then in its third below. The Campagna song is to be heard not only in the Campagna, but everywhere in the country,—in the vineyards, in the grainfields, in mountain and valley, from companies working together, and from solitary contadini,—wherever the influence and sentiment of the Roman Campagna is felt. The moment we get into Tuscany, on the one side, or over into Naples, on the other, it begins to be lost. It was only the other day, at nightfall, that I was sauntering out on the desolate Campagna towards Civita Vecchia. The shadows were deepening and the mists beginning to creep whitely along the deep hollows. Everything was dreary and melancholy enough. As I paused to listen to the solitude, I heard the grind of a distant invisible cart, and the sound of a distant voice singing. Slowly the cart came up over the crest of the hill, a dark spot against the twilight sky, and mounted on the top of a load of brushwood sat a contadino, who was singing to himself these words,—not very consolatory, perhaps, but so completely in harmony with the scene and the time that they struck me forcibly:—

“E, bella, tu non piangera-a-a-i, Sul giorno ch' io sarò mor-or-or-to-o-o-o-o-o."4

"Whether this constant habit of song among the Southern people, while at their work, indicates happiness and content, I will not undertake to say; but it is pleasanter in effect than the sad silence in which we Anglo-Saxons perform our tasks,—and it seems to show a less harassed and anxious spirit. But I feel quite sure that these people are more easily pleased, contented with less, less morose, and less envious of the ranks above them, than we are. They give little thought to the differences of caste, have little ambition to make fortunes or rise out of their condition, and are satisfied with the commonest fare, if they can get enough of it. The demon of dissatisfaction never harries them. When you speak to them, they answer with a smile which is nowhere else to be found. The nation is old, but the people are children in disposition. Their character is like their climate, generally sunny,—subject to violent occasional storms, but never growling life away in an uncomfortable drizzle of discontent. They live upon Nature,—sympathize with it and love it,— are susceptible to the least touch of beauty,—are ardent, if not enduring, in their affections,—and, unless provoked and irritated, are very peaceful and amiable. The flaw in their nature is jealousy, and it is a great flaw. Their want of truth is the result of their education. We who are of the more active and busy nations despise them for not having that irritated discontent which urges us forward to change our condition; and we think our ambition better than their supineness. But there is good in both. "We do more,—they enjoy more; we make violent efforts to be happy,—invent, create, labor, to arrive at that quiet enjoyment which they own without struggle, and which our anxious strife unfits us to enjoy when the means for it are obtained. The general, popular idea, that an Italian is quarrelsome and ill-tempered, and that the best are only bandits in disguise, is quite a mistake; and when studied as they exist out of the track of travel, where they are often debased and denaturalized, they will be found to be simple, kind-hearted, and generous.

  1. De Feriis Alsensibus, Epist. III. See Dennis’s Etruscan Antiquities, Vol. I.
  2. “He and I have been companions for thirty-three years, and every year we have come to Rome to play the novena."
  3. “What do I care whether it is handsome or ugly? It’s all the same to me,—ugly or handsome,—handsome or ugly. There!”
  4. *“And, dearest, you will never weep for mee-e-e, The day when I shall be no mo-o-o-ore.”