Mr. Crawford's Ave Roma
THE nature of Mr. F. Marion Crawford’s elaborate and beautifully illustrated book about Rome is fairly well indicated by the sonorous title, with its remote echo of the blood-stained arena, — Ave Roma Immortalis. The work is neither archæological, historical, ecclesiastical, nor political, though partaking in a degree of all these characters. It is quite frankly sentimental and picturesque. It is a Carmen Sœculare in two bulky volumes, — a sustained hymn of praise to the goddess of a lifelong worship. It has the proportions of an epic, and in some sense the character of one, with its catalogues and episodes, its artfully arranged historical vistas and passages of brilliant description; and Mr. Crawford is to be congratulated on having done, with much enthusiasm, large general knowledge, and almost unerring taste, what no one of the innumerable writers on Rome had exactly done before him.
Every reasonably well-informed guest of the Eternal City, who stays long enough to take breath and look tranquilly about him there, finds his imagination bewildered at first, and his thought confused by the diversity and the frequent incongruity among themselves of the stately and impressive things he sees. The one everlasting Rome of his historic or religious worship has disappeared for the time, and he finds himself confronted by the visible fragments of a dozen different Romes. Here are the broken marbles and stark brickwork of classic Rome; underfoot are the crowded graves of early Christian Rome ; yonder the surly towers of mediæval Rome ; here, there, and everywhere the faded though still flaunting splendors of renascent papal Rome ; and mingling with, and temporarily, at least, vulgarizing and disfiguring all, are the crude and tasteless architectural experiments of that sorry Rome of to-day, which yet ought to appeal more strongly to our human sympathies than any and all the rest; for it is a city of living men fighting a desperate battle ; a link, however hastily and coarsely forged, in the agelong chain,—the one link capable of binding the Rome of the dreamlike past to the Rome of the yet more dreamlike and uncertain future. The stranger soon perceives the impossibility of comprehending in less than a lifetime any one of these hopelessly mixed and recklessly superimposed cities. He has but a small fraction to bestow of a life which has never appeared to him so pitifully short as now ; and he cannot decide, upon the instant, which of all the Romes he would prefer if possible approximately to comprehend.
It is here that Mr. Crawford steps in with the consolatory assurance that no such choice is needful. “It is better,” he says in so many words, “ to feel much at Rome than to try and know a little.舡 He would assist his reader to recover something of the sympathetic intuition and large uncritical outlook of the last - century traveler and man of letters ; of that spirit which makes Eustace and Bonstetten better company and more satisfying reading upon Italian soil than any gymnasium-crammed and diploma - crowned investigator of today. In short, it is Mr. Crawford’s express aim to restore, as in a vision, the broken unity of this protean metropolis, resetting successive dynasties in what seems to him their true perspective, until the earliest of them all fades away in the lumen purpureum which clothes the Alban hills.
It is evident that minute archæological and chronological criticism would be entirely out of place in the review of such a book; and, indeed, the author himself has almost precluded its possibility, for he rarely gives an exact date, and never cites an authority save in the most casual and informal manner, — “the ever delightful Baracconi,” or “ Lanciani, probably the greatest authority on Roman antiquities, living or dead.” A few points may be noted, nevertheless, at which the perspective of Mi-. Crawford’s large composition seems to us faulty and his color not altogether true.
His résumé of the legendary history of Rome is admirable; for here, of necessity, he follows Livy, and, consciously or unconsciously, he has caught something of the grand style of that superb piece of writing, the matchless first book of the annals. When, however, he comes down into full historic times, he goes astray after German gods, and fairly outMommsens Mommsen in his extravagant laudation of both Julius and Augustus Cæsar. Assuredly these were great men, among the greatest the world has seen : the one by vast native genius, the other by rare and rarely utilized opportunity. But they were great at a great period, from a high vantage-ground, and among a crowd of other memorable Romans, many of whom nearly approached them in distinction ; and it is ridiculous to try to revive at the end of the nineteenth century an apotheosis which was calculated and fictitious at the beginning of the first. When Mr. Crawford says that “ the world might have been what it is without Alexander, without Charlemagne, without Napoleon, but not without Julius Cæsar,” and that “ Alexander left chaos behind him, while Cæsar left Europe,” it is difficult to understand what he means. Cæsar left. Europe as a “ geographical expression,” and so did Alexander leave Asia ; but the actual return to “chaos and old night,” the long syncope of civilization during which mankind lost, for a time, even the memory of what had been, occurred, not between Alexander’s conquests and Cæsar’s, but between the era of imperial Rome and that of Christianized and Catholic Europe. Later on, when, after touching in a strangely light and inadequate manner upon the martyrology of Rome, he comes to the internecine feuds of the mediæval barons, Mr. Crawford finds it a woeful thing that the population of the world’s capital should have fallen from the million, more or less, which the best authorities now give as its maximum, to about seventeen thousand souls. But he takes no note whatever of that time after the capture of Rome by Totila in 547, when for a period of full forty days — the dreariest Lent on record — not one living human creature was left inside the walls. The same sort of caprice and partiality appears in his estimate of the great Roman writers. He gives the better part of a chapter to Horace, for whom he has a special devotion, presenting a lifelike and in the main very truthful picture of the man, his works, and the society in which he moved. But he hardly recognizes the existence of writers of the second rank, like Juvenal and Statius, who nevertheless tell us so much more than their superiors condescend to do concerning the every - day life of ancient Rome; while Virgil—best beloved always, if not most keenly relished, of all the ancients, “ landscape lover, lord of language,” he of whom the 舠 sense of tears in human things ” is really the chief psychological tie between the pagan and Christian dispensations — is dismissed with the solitary and amazing remark that " appealing to the tradition of a living race of nobles, . . . he does not appeal to the modern man ” ! Nor can we forbear the inquiry, of what can Mr. Crawford have been dreaming, when he says of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, the master of a unique Latin style, — post-classical, of course, and provincial, but of rare distinction, —that he “knew very little Greek” (which may well be true, though he tells us much in the Confessions about his struggles with the elder tongue at school), “and was probably no great Latin scholar ” ?
The fourteen regiones into which Augustus divided his reconstructed and beautified Rome correspond roughly, though under altered names, with the rioni, or wards, of the mediæval and modern city ; and it was a novel and rather happy thought of Mr. Crawford’s to arrange his reminiscences of later times topographically, giving a chapter to each rione or region, and grouping together all the important and specially scenic events which have taken place within its limits. The casual visitor at Rome thinks very little about the rioni, each one of which guarded jealously for ages its local peculiarities and prejudices, and had its own badge or symbol, like the contrade of Siena, — a column, a pine cone, a group of three hills, — which badges Pope Benedict XIV., in the middle of the last century, caused to be engraved on marble shields and set up at the principal street corners of the different districts. They are all clearly defined and numbered upon tile map prefixed to Mr. Crawford’s first volume, — the only map, by the way, which finds a place among the profuse and for the most part admirable illustrations to Ave Roma.
But the map itself is too small ; the great main landmarks are not plainly enough indicated, and it has the disadvantage of appearing, at the first glance, to have been inserted upside down. There is, perhaps, no intrinsic reason why a survey of the modern city should not begin at the point where everybody now enters it, the great railway station near the Bath of Diocletian , that is to say, why this point should not be at the bottom of the map. Yet it still seems more natural and regular to approach Rome in spirit by the Flaminian Way, and for the eye to travel from the Porto del Popolo, leaving St. Peter’s on the right and the Pincian Hill upon the left, up the length of the Corso toward the Capitol, the Forum, the Coliseum, and the Lateran, and so on across the Campagna to those beauteous mountains of the south which form a perpetual background to the ever widening view.
A corresponding sense of chronological dislocation and inversion seems, at times, to result from studying the annals of mediæval Rome by regions ; and it is undoubtedly a little confusing to find chapter vii. devoted chiefly to Cola di Rienzi’s revolt, which took place in the fourteenth century, and chapter x. to that of Arnold of Brescia, which belongs to the twelfth. Both characters are vividly and sympathetically portrayed, though a thought less than justice is perhaps done to the sincere mysticism of Cola; while a good deal of light is shed on the obscurer movements associated with the names of Crescentius and Porcari, and even upon the weird figure of Theodora Senatrix, reputed ancestress both of the Crescenzi and of the Colonnas, who terrorized Rome from the mole of Hadrian in the early part of the tenth century. The truth is that Ave Roma ought not to be read consecutively, but topically, and if it may be, of course, upon the spot.
Mr. Crawford’s review of that gloomiest period of the middle age, when Rome was a cluster of fortified camps, and her squalid populace the alternate prey of Colonnas, Orsini, Gaetani, and the lesser baronial families, is both very graphic and remarkably lucid. Here too, as always, he is the man of feeling and the pronounced partisan, siding with the Colonnas against all comers. He cherishes one of his romantic passions for that ancient race in all its branches and at every stage of its history. He has idealized some of the hereditary traits of the Colonnas in the Saracinescas of his Italian novels ; and finds himself rather embarrassed sometimes, as a good Catholic, by their disrespectful attitude toward the Popes of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. For the Colonnas were stanch Ghibellines, and cared little for pontiffs who were not of their own making. He even feels bound to defend the peerless Vittoria from the charge of unbecoming levity in her intercourse with Michelangelo. For our own part, we never dreamed of questioning the discretion of either of those exalted beings ; and the earnestness of their latest apologist reminds one a little of the reply of the aged poet Rogers to the Frenchwoman who was his own contemporary, and who hinted that they might be compromised by remaining too long en tête-à-tête: “Ah, madame, we might have excited remark at sweet seventy-eight, mais nos beaux jours sont passés.” Among Mr. Crawford’s many good and brilliant gifts a sense of humor is not conspicuous. It is the chief defect in the best of his romances.
The fullest and most valuable part of the present work is that which treats of later mediæval and ecclesiastical Rome ; and this is well, for it is the visible Rome of the Popes — baroque, and yet how lovely ! — which has suffered most from recent vandalism, and is likely to suffer yet more. The present Italian government respects, and will rescue and defend according to its own lights, the avanzi of Republican and Imperial Rome ; but it hates, and cares not how soon it consigns to oblivion, the obvious reminders of papal domination. It is in this part of his book, also, that Mr. Crawford fulfills the promise made upon his title-page, and draws his material largely from original chronicles and the private annals of the great Roman houses. One can tell in a moment when he begins borrowing from Latin and early Italian records, by the peculiar style — simple and sometimes noble, but so unlike his own —into which he regularly falls ; a style which partakes about equally of the Old Testament and of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. We are glad, however, when Mr. Crawford goes back to his own equally picturesque but more virile and forcible manner. His whole discussion of the origins of the Renaissance in Art is fresh and striking, though the theme is so well worn, and shows the easy grasp of one who has lived all his life in an artistic atmosphere. Mr. Crawford says Renascence, as Matthew Arnold conscientiously tried to do, and there is every reason in favor of this form. But the world is inert, and clings to the more familiar French word.
Again, when he comes to dealing with the Renaissance Popes, we find our author somewhat hampered by his allegiance to the titular head of the Church. He accepts without comment the decorous convention of the Pope’s nephews, and passes lightly over such pontificates as those of Alexander VI. (Borgia) and Leo X. (Medici). But he takes it out — if one may be permitted to say so — upon Cæsar Borgia, to whom he does not hesitate to attribute the murder of his brother, the Duke of Gandia, though the most respectable authorities now incline to relieve Cæsar’s burdened conscience of that one enormity, and to charge it upon Cardinal Ascanio Sforza ; and he has painted one of his most gorgeous and highly wrought pictures of the last banquet together of Vanozza and her unnatural sons. Mr. Crawford is also sufficiently severe upon Clement VII. (Medici), who had so nearly betrayed the Eternal City to irreparable ruin ; and he credits Paid IV. (Caraffa), who established the Inquisition in Rome, with having confirmed the apostasy of England by the roughness with which he repelled the pious advances of the youthful Queen Elizabeth.
As between the Dominicans who administered the Inquisition and the Jesuits, he adheres warmly to the latter; analyzing ably and persuasively, in the chapter concerning the ninth Region, (pigna), which contains their evicted college and their finest church, the character, aims, and achievements of that curiously misconceived and dreaded order. “ Neither their faults,” as he truly says, 舠 nor their mistakes seem adequate to explain the deadly hatred which they have so often roused against them among Christians of all denominations.”
Mr. Crawford is naturally no admirer of the house of Savoy, nor has he much faith in the future of United Italy ; and it must be confessed that the faith of those who hoped most from the new order has been sorely tried, and that there is no clear outlook ahead. But the author of Ave Roma is a Cæarist by temperament as well as by conviction ; and we think he repeats once or twice too often his favorite bonmot to the effect that the difference between the United Italy of Julius Cæsar and the United Italy of to-day is this : that in the former case the Romans took Italy, while in the latter the Italians have taken Rome. To him, born in Rome under Pope Pius IX., and steeped from boyhood in the sentiment of the stately days gone by, the Pope is still, by rights, a temporal sovereign ; and we really wonder at his forbearance concerning the immense blunder — to call it by no graver name — which was committed when the seat of the new government was removed hither from Florence. No one having even a superficial knowledge of the facts will be inclined to think that in his concluding chapter, entitled Leo the Thirteenth, Mr. Crawford has exaggerated the great qualities of the present Pope either as a statesman or as a saint. All that he says in that most interesting chapter is true ; and it seems disproportionate only when we remark that the name of King Umberto does not occur at all in these volumes, and that of Queen Margherita once only, in connection with a peculiarly trivial anecdote ; while the far greater name of Camillo Cavour is, we believe, never mentioned save in the following extraordinary collocation: “ On a smaller scale, — perhaps because he represented a much smaller power, — Cardinal Antonelli is to be classed with Disraeli, Metternich, Cavour, and Bismarck.”
But it may be that we too have lost our sense of proportion, and have dwelt too long upon the trifling flaws in what is, after all, a delightful and a timely book. For the ambitious and unterrified student, who wants something more than this elegant and beguiling guide, something drier, and perhaps deeper, there are volumes innumerable within the reach of all, — Muratori, Nibby, Gregorovius, Ampère, Lanciani, Gaston Boissier, to name only a few of the most obvious. There is also the indefatigable Murray, ready always to contradict his former statements in his latest edition, and the amiable Hare, to suggest a trite poetical quotation at every turn. Even Zola’s pitilessly photographed backgrounds have a certain value in their bare veracity. But the young enthusiast, predestined to a grand passion for the mistress, Rome, will prefer Ave Roma to them all ; and so will the jaded Worldling, who has begun to suspect that study also is vanity ; while the moriturus — the aging and unwilling exile, who yet doubts in his darkest moments only that he may never see the fairest spot on earth again — will bless the book for the strong illusion of vanished days and scenes, both in his own life and in that of the imperishable city, which it has power to conjure up.