« PreviousContinue »
It has been often said that the English traveller usually enters Rome the wrong way. It has never been better said than in an old book, by one who, as many men living may recollect, was held in the highest esteem and affection in the University of Oxford, Professor Edward Burton, whose early death cut him off prematurely from those highest ecclesiastical honours, which might have been commanded by his profound but modest learning, his singularly calm, yet, at the same time, singularly liberal, mind. We quote the passage in respect for his memory, and as expressing our own sentiments with peculiar force and distinctness.
Most people picture to themselves a certain spot, from whence the towers and domes of the Eternal City burst upon their view. St. Peter's with its cupola, the immense ruins of the Colosseum, the Pillar of Trajan, and such well-known objects, are all crowded into the ideal scene; and the imagination is raised to the utmost pitch in expectation of every moment unfolding this glorious prospect. The traveller, after feasting upon this hope, and using it to console himself for the barrenness of the Campagna and the uninteresting uniformity of the view, approaches nearer and nearer without reaching the expected spot. His tour-book tells him that near the post of Baccano, fourteen miles from Rome, the dome of St. Peter's is first visible. This will be the commencement of his delight. But he still disregards the speck in
i Via Appia dalla Porta Capena a Boville. Descritta dal Commendatore L. Canina, 2 vols. Roma. 1853. La Roma Sotterranea Christiana. Descritta ed. illustrata dal Cav. G. B. de Rossi. Roma. 1864. Immagine Scelte della B. Vergine Maria, tratte dalle Catacombe Romane. Roma. 1863.
the horizon, anxiously looking for the happier moment when the whole city is discovered. This moment unfortunately never arrives. Where that place is to be found in the approach from Florence, which affords such a feast to the eye and to the imagination, I never could discover. The view of Rome from the Monte Mario, a hill near this road, is perhaps one of the noblest and the most affecting which the world could produce; and it may be suspected that some writers, full of the gratification which this prospect afforded, have transferred it in description to their first entrance. But the road itself discloses the city by degrees. Scarcely any of it is seen till within a small distance, and then, with the exception of St. Peter's, there are few buildings of interest. The antiquities lie mostly on the other side, and are not seen at all. The suburbs themselves are not picturesque [they are mean, commonplace, like the entrance to an English watering-place], and the traveller finds himself actually in Rome before he has given up the hopes of enjoying the distant prospect of it.
Had he entered the city from Naples, his feelings might have been very different. This is the direction from which Rome ought to be entered, if we wish our classical enthusiasm to be raised by the first view. The Campagna is here even more desolate, and to a greater extent, than it is on the side of Florence. For several miles the ground is strewed with ruins; some presenting considerable fragments, others only discernible by the inequality of the surface. It seems as if the cultivators of the soil had not dared to profane the relics of their ancestors; and from the sea on the left to the Apennines on the right, the eye meets with nothing but desolation and decay of grandeur. The Aqueducts rise above the other fragments, and seem purposely placed there to carry us back to the time of the Republic. The long lines of these structures stretch out in various directions. The arches are sometimes broken down; but the effect is heightened by these interruptions. In short, in travelling the last twelve miles on this road, the mind may indulge in every reflection upon Roman greatness, and find the surrounding scenery perfectly in unison. From this road, too, the whole city is actually surveyed. The domes and cupolas are more numerous than from any other quarter; beside which, some of the ancient edifices themselves are added to the picture. After entering the walls, we pass the Colosseum, catch a view of the Forum, the Capitol, and other antiquities, which were familiar to us from ancient authors.
Dr. Burton might have added, if he had not confined himself to heathen antiquities, that on his approach the traveller is
? A Description of Rome, by the Rev. Edward Burton. London, 1828.
almost confronted by the vast portico of St. John Lateran, the most venerable, if not the most imposing, edifice of Christian Rome.
It must sadly be confessed that too many travellers, we fear English travellers, do not or cannot at present allow themselves the choice between these two alternatives. How many of our fellow-creatures are now shot into Rome from dreary Civita Vecchia, along the dreary morass, over which the railroad passes, to be deposited in a dreary station, as utterly unconscious as to any of the noble and stirring emotions, which used to attend the entrance into the Eternal City, as their portmanteau in the van. Verily there is truth in Mr. Ruskin's saying, that railroads have reduced man to a parcel,—all that he can desire, all that he can demand, is speedy and safe delivery.
But back to other and better thoughts—to worthier reminiscences. If such was the approach to Rome, fallen and in ruins, what was it to Rome in her glory and in her majesty! This line of approach—or rather for the last twelve miles parallel to this—was the famous Appian Way, the Queen, as it is called by Statius, of the Roman roads; and this Appian Way, mile after mile, thronged with the sepulchres and the monuments of the illustrious dead. Conceive a Westminster Abbey of twelve or sixteen miles! on either side crowded with lofty tombs or votive edifices to the dead, and a quarter of a mile or half a mile deep; interrupted only here and there by some stately temple to the gods, or by some luxurious villa, around which perhaps the ashes of its former masters reposed in state; or by the gardens of some o'er-wealthy Seneca — Seneca prædivitis hortis.' Think of Milton's glorious lines :
There be the gates; cast round thine eye, and see
In various habits, on the Appian road,
We break off our quotation with these tributary visitors some from Brundusium, the port at which the Eastern, at least the Asiatic, embassies usually landed. From the other coast might be seen (remember Horace's minus est gravis Appia tardis ') the high-born, wealthy, or famous Romans, travelling in their state from their luxurious Campanian villas, and, with those who landed at Naples or Puteoli, offering a perpetual gorgeous spectacle along the road. It would be perhaps pressing too hard another passage in Horace, in which he describes the splendid noble, well known under the portico of Agrippa, and along the Appian road, yet doomed to the same common fate with the old kings of Rome, as if it contained an allusion to the wayside sepulchres through which the great man passed :
.... Cùm bene notum Porticus Agrippæ, et via te conspexerit Appi, Ire tamen restat Numa quò devenit et Ancus.
Epist. i. 6, 25.
This was perhaps too deep a moral for the graceful satirist.
Not indeed that the Appian was peculiarly, perhaps not preeminently, distinguished for these solemn and stately memorials of the illustrious dead. Juvenal speaks of those
.... whose ashes lay By the Flaminian or the Latin way.
Quorum Flaminiâ tegitur cinis, atque Latina.
Now, however, the greater length of this “Street of Tombs,' and the fortunate diversion of the Brundusian and Neapolitan
road from near the site of the ancient Bovillæ, had left the course of the old Appian road more entirely, till the present day, in its state of wildness and desolation. To Pope Pius IX. is due the gratitude of all students of Roman antiquities, of all who visit Rome with the feelings of solemn veneration which her ancient glory ought to inspire. We write deliberately when we declare our judgement, that there is nothing so impressive, so sublimely melancholy, so appalling, we had almost said, as the slow journey of several miles, now open, along this ancient Appian way. Even to small and graceful Pompeii, there was something grave and serious in the approach through the • Street of Tombs. But few as are the actual remains of this wilderness of sepulchres on the Appian
Quandoquidem data sunt ipsis quoque fata sepulchris
shapeless as most of these are, except the huge Cecilia Metella, and that half transformed into a mediæval fortress—comparatively few as are the glorious names decipherable, except on the tomb of the Scipios; and where the names are recognizable even fewer belonging to the noblest that bore those names— still the imagination seems to people again the whole region with the great Romans of the Republic and of the Empire, to create to itself a more solemn and a more enthralling sense of the grandeur, of the power, of the vastness, and, if it were not mockery to say so, the eternity—the eternity, at least of the fame, of Rome-than on the slope of the Capitol, or within the gigantic walls of the Colosseum. Here, mile after mile, spread one, and but one, of the cemeteries of Rome; and these cemeteries were of course the exclusive privilege and possession of the great, the noble, and the wealthy. It is well known, and it is a redeeming point in a society based on slavery, that the great admitted the urns of their faithful and favoured freedmen into the columbaria of the family monument. But the mass of the vulgar dead, the poor, the slaves, the refuse of those thousands, according to some the more than millions, of human, beings, whò swarmed in the streets, lurked in the cellars, nestled in