A Roman Funeral

— “ Il Giorno 2 Aprile, 1887, 10½ Ant Nella I. R. Chiesa Nationale Teutonica do S. Maria dell’ Anima, Solenne Esequie. A Suffragio dell’ illustre Francesco de Liszt.”

For weeks this requiem mass bad been in practice, under the direction of Liszt’s pupil, Sgambati, and when the above card reached us, and we found it conflicted with an audience of the Pope, we regretted that we could not be present.

S. Maria dell’ Anima, which takes its name from a marble group, found among its foundations, of the Madonna invoked by two souls in purgatory, is the German national church in Rome, built by a German bequest, and is under the special patronage of Cardinal Hohenlohe. Hence it was fitting that honors to the dead maestro should be celebrated within its walls, even though thus were honored one of the arts so censured by the northern Pope lying there in effigy, — he who brought to his exalted station the austere characteristics of the German temperament, in contrast to his predecessor, pleasure-loving, music-lover Leo X.

During the winter, the long illness of Liszt’s friend, the Princess Wittgenstein, had brought the abbé very often to our thoughts. Twenty-five years before, Caroline Wittgenstein (altesse sérénissime) was on the eve of marrying the master, — the church, even, having been prepared for the ceremony, — when Cardinal Hohenlohc prevented it. The brother of the cardinal, Prince Hohenlohe, had married the daughter of the princess, and that the latter should wed a musician, however distinguished, was not to be permitted. It was then that Liszt adopted the dress of an abbé. Each year, of late, he had come to Rome to visit her, and he made her his executrix. Cardinal Hobenlohe, although he prevented Liszt’s entrance into his family, was his attached friend, and Liszt spent many months in the cardinal’s beautiful Villa d’ Este, where he was surrounded by the same care and devoted attention that he received in Thuringia.

Liszt possessed a remarkable personal magnetism, a combination of grand seigneur and childlike naïveté extremely winning. As one recalls him, in the well-known rooms fitted up for him by the good Weimar duchess, the crimson hangings and soft gray walls, and window overlooking the beautiful park, his appearance was unique : the brushed-back straight white hair cut squarely across the neck, the face fairly seamed with expression and alive to every passing emotion, the long, mobile, delicate hands. We should almost have thought him, when he seated himself before his instrument and invoked the spirits of harmony at his command, a little more than mortal, had not the common humanity occasionally cropped out in human weakness, as for instance the blemish on his delightful reminiscences, the fact that he could never refrain from putting Liszt in the prominent foreground. His acquaintance with men and events during half a century embraced all that was most brilliant and interesting of his times.

It was on the occasion of a musicale at her own house that Liszt’s personal charm attracted the Princess Wittgenstein. She herself was an accomplished woman and a passionate lover of music, and she was romantic and democratic ; the rôle of solitary aristocrat was too dull for her ; she liked to mix her company, and secure talent and intellect from whatever social grade it might be fouud ; her salon was open to all that lent beauty or success to the age. I have just been looking over several of her little notes ; she was an inveterate writer of them, as her friends can testify. The small characteristic handwriting is not easy to decipher, especially when she is not writing in English. Her taste in note paper was most original ; the note under my hand is on an écru card, folding in the middle, and representing on the outside a lady’s kid glove, the edge scalloped on a border of darker brown. Her French, German, and Italian are perfect, but her English is not idiomatic. I cannot refrain from quoting an extract or two, trusting to the indulgence of the accomplished friend of the princess to whom the letters were written, and who gave me one as souvenir of the aged lady.

“ I am glad you found out how sincerely I like the last novel of Crawford’s. I am no more young, have read much, and spoken of literature with the first connoisseurs-literati of my time, so I must be pardoned if I always see near the greatest beauties some little faults which generally come at the end of a novel, when the author is fatigued and wants to be rid of his subject. But it was not so with Dr. Claudius, the end being exquisitely fine, especially the scene on horseback between the young widow and the old duke. How often I told it over and over, as one of the most pretty that ever occur in a romance ! . . . I will send you my last pages on Buddhism. You know authors are silly folks ; they always think that their last lines are the best. Well, I belong, as you see, to the set.”

The poor princess suffered greatly during the last months of her life, but she struggled with increasing weakness, sitting up in her chair until nearly the last. The conditions that surrounded her death-bed were, to us, the saddest in the world ; for the love and care that attend a relative in life are utterly cut off by the Roman customs so soon as, and even before, the last breath is drawn. Indifferent hands prepare the final offices, and bear the body to a desolate grave. The princess died a few weeks before the solenne esequie to the memory of her old friend, and it was on a raw, chill Friday in March, late in the afternoon, that the funeral procession crossed the Piazza del Popolo, bearing her bier to rest overnight in the church of S. Maria del Popolo. A pall of gray clouds hung over the now deserted square, as two by two, with muffled tread, the frati moved stealthily along, past the great obelisk, looking like a solitary phantom sentinel rising from the nebulous foam of the fountain at its base.

The monks about the bier, carried upon the shoulders of the becchini, held lighted torches ; following them came the mourning-coaches of the nobility and friends. As the train filed into the church, I put on my jacket and hat, and, taking a maid, crossed the square to see the bier deposited in S. Maria. It was lowered carelessly to the pavement, and the frati knelt around it, chanting a hoarse dirge. The altar was dimly visible, and a sculptured figure loomed spectral against the blackness of a chapel ; for all was ebon night without the circle of the smoking, flaring torches, that threw an unearthly light upon the red, black, purple, and brown cowls, and faces sinister and harpy in the distorting yellow glow. The becchini, in their ghoul-like cappe, on the mysterious outer darkness, made one think with a shudder of the demons said to haunt this spot, once the tomb of Nero. At the conclusion of the chant, the monks seemed to melt into the shadows, the pall was removed, and the leaden casket, a solitary torch at head and feet, was left to the curious gaze of the rabble that followed.

“ Princesse de Hohenlohe-Schillingsfuerst, Dame de Palais de S. M. l’Impératrice d’Autriche-Hongrie,” her husband and children, announced the death by card, and invited their friends to be present at the funeral services ; and at nine o’clock the following morning we assisted at the final ceremony. The day dawned as brilliant and beautiful as though the sun had set in cloudless splendor, — dawned

“ to music and to bloom,
And all the mighty ravishment of spring.”

As we drove across the piazza, animate now with folk, color, and the laughter of children, and warm and mellow in overflowing sunshine, death and sorrow seemed no part of this renovating spirit of life bursting into verdure all about us. Inside the church were glow and color, also, each window a coruscating gem, the glittering altar paled by the effulgent daylight. On the outskirts, groups came and went : there too were life and movement.

It appeared as if all the Roman nobility had assembled to honor what was mortal of the princess, lying in that casket small enough for a child ; covered now with a cloth of gold, consecrated candles at head and feet, and against and surrounding it pure white lilies, flowers of every hue, and wreaths of immortelles and pine. Cardinal Hohenlohe, an impressive figure, sat within the altar rail. The music was fine and solemn.

Poor princess ! Yours has been a long and varied life. You have tasted of life’s splendor, and drunk the cup of its sorrow and its sin, to learn the lesson of human experience, that “ all is vanity.”