The Marvels of Rome

Henry James, From a Roman Notebook:

“Could Rome after all really be a world-city? That queer old rococo garden gateway at the top of the Gregoriana stirred a dormant memory; it awoke into a consciousness of the delicious mildness of the air, and very soon, in a little crimson drawing-room, I was reconciled and re-initiated…. Everything is dear (in the way of lodgings), but it hardly matters, as everything is taken and some one else paying for it. I must make up my mind to a bare perch. But it seems poorly perverse here to aspire to an “interior” or to be conscious of the economic side of life. The æesthetic is so intense that you feel you should live on the taste of it, should extract the nutritive essence of the atmosphere. For positively it’s such an atmosphere! The weather is perfect, the sky as blue as the most exploded tradition fames it, the whole air glowing and throbbing with lovely colour…. The glitter of Paris is now all gaslight. And oh the monotonous miles of rain-washed asphalte!”


“I went yesterday with L. to the Colonna gardens—an adventure that would have reconverted me to Rome if the thing weren’t already done. It’s a rare old place—rising in mouldy bosky terraces and mossy stairways and winding walks from the back of the palace to the top of the Quirinal. It’s the grand style of gardening, and resembles the present natural manner as a chapter of Johnsonian rhetoric resembles a piece of clever contemporary journalism. But it’s a better style in horticulture than in literature; I prefer one of the long-drawn blue-green Colonna vistas, with a maimed and mossy-coated garden goddess at the end, to the finest possible quotation from a last-century classic.”


“Can there be for a while a happier destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred shades? One has fancied Plato’s Academy—his gleaming colonnades, his blooming gardens and Athenian sky; but was it as good as this one, where Monsieur Hebert does the Platonic? The blessing in Rome is not that this or that or the other isolated object is so very unsurpassable; but that the general air so contributes to interest, to impressions that are not as any other impressions anywhere in the world. And from this general air the Villa Medici has distilled an essence of its own—walled it in and made it delightfully private. The great façade on the gardens is like an enormous rococo clock-face all incrusted with images and arabesques and tablets. What mornings and afternoons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned, satisfied—either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.”

Image result for roman ruins painting
Giovanni Paolo Panini – A Capriccio View of Roman Ruins (1737)

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