Rome Venice London Paris
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LIFE OF JAMES McNEILL WHISTLER
BY ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL AND JOSEPH PENNELL
THOROUGHLY REVISED, FIFTH EDITION
The Authorized Life, with much new matter added which was not available at the time of issue of the elaborate two-volume edition, now out of print. Fully illustrated with 97 plates reproduced from Whistler's works. Crown octavo. XX-450 pages, Whistler binding, deckle edge. $8.50 net. Three-quarter grain levant, $7.50 net.
BY ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL ILLUSTRATED BY JOSEPH PENNELL
An intimate personal record in text and in picture of the lives of the famous author and artist in the city whose recent story will be to many an absolute surprise—a city with a brilliant history, great beauty, immense wealth. Mr. Pennell's one hundred and five illustrations, made especially for this volume, will be a revelation in their interest and as art inspired by the love of his native town. Quarto, 7-1/2 by 10 inches, XIV-552 pages. Handsomely bound in red buckram, boxed. $7.50 net.
JOSEPH PENNELL'S PICTURES OF THE PANAMA CANAL
Twenty-eight reproductions of lithographs made on the Isthmus of Panama, January-March, 1912, with Mr. Pennell's introduction, giving his experiences and impressions, and a full description of each picture. Volume 7-1/4 by 10 inches. Beautifully printed on dull-finished paper. Lithograph by Mr. Pennell on cover. $1.25 net.
JOSEPH PENNELL'S PICTURES IN THE LAND OF TEMPLES
Forty reproductions of lithographs made in the Land of Temples, March-June, 1913, together with impressions and notes by the artist. Introduction by W.H.D. Rouse, Litt. D. Crown quarto, printed on dull-finished paper, lithograph by Mr. Pennell on cover. $1.25 net.
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Rome Venice in the AEsthetic Eighties
London Paris in the Fighting Nineties
ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL
With Sixteen Illustrations
Philadelphia and London J. B. Lippincott Company MCMXVI
Copyright, 1916, by J. B. Lippincott Company
Published March, 1916
Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company at the Washington Square Press Philadelphia, U.S.A.
There are times when we recall old memories much as we take down old favourites from our bookshelves, just to see how they have worn, how they have stood the test of years. Sometimes the books have worn so well that we cannot put them away until we have read every word to the very last again, we have not done with the memories until we have lived again through every moment of the past to which they belong. It is in this spirit that I brought my Nights of long ago to the test, and, finding that for me they stand it triumphantly and are still as vivid and vociferous and full of life as they were of old, I have not had the courage to loose my hold upon them and let them drift back once more into unfriendly silence.
It contributes to my pleasure in this revival of my Nights, that I have been helped in many ways to give more substantial form to the familiar ghosts who wander through them. My debt of gratitude is great. Mr. William Nicholson has been willing for me to use his portrait of Henley and from Mrs. Henley I have the bust by Rodin. Mr. Frederick H. Evans has lent me the very interesting photograph he made of Beardsley, to whom he was so good a friend, and to Mr. John Lane, the publisher of the Yellow Book, I owe Beardsley's sketch of Harland. To Mr. John Ross I am indebted for the drawing of Phil May by himself never before published, to the Houghton Mifflin Company for the portrait of Vedder, to Mr. Duveneck for the painting of himself by Mr. Joseph de Camp. The photograph of Iwan-Mueller and George W. Steevens reminds me of the day so long since when I went with them and Mrs. Steevens to Mr. Frederick Hollyer's and we were all photographed in turn, so that this record of the visit seems surely mine by right. It was Mr. Hollyer, too, who photographed the fine portrait "Bob" Stevenson painted of himself, and it was Mrs. Stevenson who gave me my copy of it. I have Mr. J. McLure Hamilton's permission to publish his portrait of J—, while J—has been so generous with his prints, portraits of old backgrounds of the Nights, that I can add this book to the many in which I have profited by his collaboration. I have also to thank the Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, in which my Nights in Rome and in Venice first appeared, for his consent to their re-publication now in book form.
ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL
3. Adelphi Terrace House, London December 25, 1915
I. DAYS: A WORD TO EXPLAIN 11
II. NIGHTS: IN ROME 27
III. NIGHTS: IN VENICE 71
IV. NIGHTS: IN LONDON 115
V. NIGHTS: IN PARIS 225
"J—" Frontispiece From the Painting by J. McLure Hamilton
OLD AND NEW ROME 35 From the Etching by Joseph Pennell
ELIHU VEDDER 56
FRANK DUVENECK 76 From the Painting by Joseph R. DeCamp
THE CAFE ORIENTALE, VENICE 82 From the Etching by Joseph Pennell
OUT OF OUR LONDON WINDOWS 122 From the Mezzotint by Joseph Pennell
W.E. HENLEY 125 From the Bust by Auguste Rodin
W.E. HENLEY 127 From the Painting by William Nicholson
IWAN-MUeLLER AND GEORGE W. STEEVENS 154 From a Photograph by Frederick Hollyer
"BOB" STEVENSON 160 From the Painting by Himself
HENRY HARLAND 172 From the Drawing by Aubrey Beardsley
AUBREY BEARDSLEY 178 From the Photograph by Frederick H. Evans
PHIL MAY IN CAP AND BELLS 193 From a previously unpublished Drawing by Himself
IN THE CHAMPS-ELYSEES, PARIS 235 From the Etching by Joseph Pennell
THE HALF HOUR BEFORE DINNER, PARIS 244 From the Etching by Joseph Pennell
ARISTIDE BRUANT OF THE CABARET DU MIRLITON, PARIS 290 From the Poster by Toulouse-Lautrec
A WORD TO EXPLAIN
A WORD TO EXPLAIN
If I wrote the story of my days during these last thirty years, it would be the story of hard work. No doubt the work often looked to others uncommonly like play, but it was work all the same.
From the start it must have struck those who did not understand and who were interested, or curious enough to spare a thought, that my principal occupation was to amuse myself. When I was young, in America the "trip to Europe" was considered the crowning pleasure, or symbol of pleasure, within the possibility of hope for even those who were most given to pleasure. In Philadelphia it also stood for money—not necessarily wealth, but the comfortably assured income that made existence behind Philadelphia's spacious red brick fronts the average Philadelphian's right. And it was with this trip that J. and I began our life together. But misleading as was the impression made to all whom it did not concern, great satisfaction as it was to my family, who saw in it the ease and comfort it represented to the Philadelphian, we ourselves, with the best will in the world, could imagine it no holiday for us, nor accept it as the symbol of the correct Philadelphia income. Our pleasure was in the fact of the many and definite commissions which obliged us to go to Europe to earn any sort of an income, correct or otherwise—commissions without which we could have faced neither the trip nor marriage. I can remember that during the two or three weeks between our wedding and our sailing we were both kept busy, J. with drawings he had to finish for the Century, and I with the last touches to an article for the Atlantic. And if the days on the boat gave us breathing space, if not much work, except in preparation, was done, the reason was that the new commissions commenced only with our landing at Liverpool.
From the moment of our arrival in England I see in memory my life by day as one long vista of work. It is mostly a beautiful vista, the more beautiful, I am ready to admit, because the work I owed the beauty to forced me to keep my eyes open and my wits about me. Under the circumstances, I simply could not afford to let what small powers of observation I possess grow rusty, for, no matter what else might happen, I had to turn my journey into some sort of readable "copy" afterwards. If I know parts of Europe fairly well, I am indebted not to the fashionable need of taking waters, not to following the approved routes of travel, not to meeting my fellow countrymen in hotels as alike as two peas no matter how different the capitals to which they belong, not to any fatuous preference of another country to my own, but to the work that brought us to England and the Continent and has kept us there, with fresh commissions, ever since.
It was work that sent us from end to end of Great Britain and gave me my knowledge of the land. As I look back to those remote days after our arrival in Liverpool, I see J. and myself on an absurd, old-fashioned, long-superannuated Rotary tandem tricycle riding along winding roads and lanes, between the hedgerows and under the elms English prose and verse had long since made familiar, in and out of little grey or red villages clustered round the old church tower, passing through great towns of many factories and high smoke-belching chimneys, halting for months under the shadow of some old castle or cathedral that had been appointed one of our stations by the way. Or I see us both trudging on foot, knapsacks on our backs, climbing up and down the brown and purple hills of the Highlands, circling the peaceful lochs, skirting the swift mountain streams, tramping along the lonely roads of the far Hebrides: summer after summer journeying to the beautiful places the usual tourist in Britain journeys to for pleasure, but where we went because papers and magazines at home, with a wisdom we applauded, had asked us to go and make the drawings and write the articles by which we paid our way in the world.
And it was work that sent us from end to end of France, and now in looking back I see J. and myself on the neat, compact Humber tandem,—then so new-fashioned, to-day as out-moded as the Rotary,—riding along straight poplared roads, through well-ordered forests and over wild hills, between vineyards, one year under the grey skies of Flanders or among the lagoons of Picardy and another under the brilliant sunshine of Provence or through the rich pastures of the sweet Bourbonnais, in and out of ancient villages and towns as full of romance as their names, with halts as long under the shadow of still nobler churches and fairer castles, getting to know the people and their ways and how pleasant life is in the land where beauty and thrift, gaiety and toil, courtesy and wit, go ever hand in hand.
And again it was work that sent us still further south, to Italy which in my younger years I had longed for the more because I fancied it as inaccessible to me as Lhassa or the Grande Chartreuse. And again down the beautiful vista of work I see J. and myself still on the neat compact Humber, but now pushing up long white zigzags to grim hill-towns, rushing down the same zigzags into radiant valleys of fruit and flowers, winding between vineyards where the vines were festooned from tree to tree, and fields where huge, white, wide-horned oxen pulled the plough, bumping over the stones of old Roman roads, parting with the wonderful tandem only for the long stay in wonderful Rome and wonderful Venice.
And again it was work that sent us, now each on a safety bicycle—a change that explains how time was flying—by the canals and on the flat roads of Belgium and Holland; into Germany, through the Harz with Heine for guide, by the castled Rhine and Moselle that may have lost their reputation for a while but that can never lose their loveliness; into Austria, on to Hungary, up in the Carpathians and to those heights from which the Russian Army but the other day looked down upon the Hungarian plain; into Spain, to sun-burnt Andalusia, for weeks in the Alhambra, to windy Madrid, for days in the Prado; into Switzerland, the "Playground of Europe," where our work must have seemed more than ever like play as we climbed, on our cycles and on foot, over the highest of the high Alpine passes, one after the other; again into Italy; again into France; again through England; again—but they were too numerous to count, all those journeys that claimed so many of my days and taught me, while I worked, all I have learned of Europe.
Of such well-travelled roads anyway, it may be said people have heard as much as people can stand, and therefore I am wise to hold my peace about days spent upon them. But on the best-travelled road adventure lies in wait for the traveller who seeks it, chance awaits the discoverer who knows his business. Why, to this day J. and I are appealed to for facts about Le Puy because a quarter of a century ago we made our discovery of the town as the Most Picturesque Place in the World and sought our adventure by proclaiming the fact in print. But our discoveries might have been greater, our adventures more daring, and I should be silent about them now for quite another and far more sensible reason, and this is that I was not silent at the time. The tale of those old days is told.
Other journeys I made had no less an air of holiday-taking and meant no less hard labour. For most men work is bounded by the four walls of the office or the factory, or the shop, or the school, and rigidly regulated by hours, and they consequently suspect the amateur or the dawdler in the artist or writer who works where and when and as he pleases. Journalism has led me into pleasant places but never by the path of idleness. Rare has been the month of May that has not found me in Paris, not for the sunshine and gaiety that draw the tourist to it in that gay sunlit season, but for industrious days, with my eyes and catalogue and note-book, in the Salons. Few have been the International Exhibitions, from Glasgow to Ghent, from Antwerp to Venice, that I have missed, and if in my devoted attendance I might easily have been mistaken for the tireless pleasure-seeker, if I got what fun I could at odd moments out of my opportunities, never was I without my inseparable note-book and pencil in my hand or in my pocket, never without good, long, serious articles to be written in my hotel bedroom. Even in London when I might have passed for the idlest stroller along Bond Street or Piccadilly on an idle afternoon, oftener than not I have been bound for a gallery somewhere with the prospect of long hours' writing as the result of it. But though the task varied, the tale of these days as well has been told, and has duly appeared in the long columns of many a paper, in the long articles of many a magazine.
As time went on, my journeys were fewer and J. took his oftener by himself. A new variety of task was set me that left so little leisure for the galleries that I gave up "doing" them for my London papers. My days went to the making of books which, whether I wrote them alone or in collaboration with J., required my undivided attention. When these were such books as the Life of My Uncle, Charles Godfrey Leland, or the Life of Whistler, they called for research, days of reading in the Art Library at South Kensington, the British Museum, the London Library, days of seeing people and places, days of travelling, days of correspondence, days upon days at my desk writing—these days crowded with interesting incident, curious surprises, amusing talk, hours of hope, hours of black despair—in their own way days of discovery and adventure. But in this case again the tale has been told and I am not so foolish as to sit down and tell it anew, sorely as I may be tempted. Anybody who reads further will find that the principal truth my nights have revealed to me is that the man who is interested—really interested—in something, does not want to talk, and often cannot think, about anything else. But it does not follow that he can make sure of listeners as keen to hear about it. The writer may, in his enthusiasm, write the same book twice, but even if it prove a "best-seller" the first time, he runs a risk the second of seeing it disposed of as a remainder.
So it has been throughout my working life: my day's task has had no other object than to get itself chronicled in print. If what the work was that filled my day is not known, it could not interest anybody were I to write about it now. If how I worked during all those long hours is to me an all-absorbing subject and edifying spectacle, I am not so vain as not to realize that I must be the only person to find it so. Most men—and women too—were brought into the world to work, but most of them would be so willing to shirk the obligation that the best they ask is to be allowed to forget their own labours while they can, and not to be bothered with a report of other people's. By nature I am inclined to Charles Lamb's belief that a man—or a woman—cannot have too little to do and too much time to do it in. But necessity having forced me to give over my days to work, it happens that I, personally, would from sheer force of habit find days without it a bore. However, I would not, for that reason, argue that work is its own reward to any save the genius, or that methods of work are of importance to any save the workman who employs them.
Whatever man's endurance may be, I know one weak woman whose powers of work are limited. There was never anybody to regulate my day of work save myself, since I am glad to say it has not been my lot to waste the golden years of my life in an office, and I am not the stern task-master or tiresome trade-unionist who insists upon so many hours and so much work in them, and will make not an inch of allowance either more or less. Sometimes my hours were more, sometimes they were less, but always my energy was apt to slacken with the slackening of the day. I never found inspiration in the midnight oil and oceans of coffee. I have always wanted my solid eight hours of sleep, and would not shrink from nine or ten if they fitted in with a worker's life. Youth often gave me the courage I have not now to take up work again—a promised article, necessary reading, making notes, copying—at night. But youth never induced me to rely upon this night work if I could help it. My nearest approach to a rule was that at the end of the day I was at liberty to play, that my nights at least could be free of work.
The play to many might pass for a mild form of mild amusement, for it usually consisted in nothing more riotous than meeting my friends and talking with them. But I confess that the talk and the quality of it, the meeting and its informality did strike me as so singularly stimulating as to verge upon the riotous. The manner of playing was entirely new to me in the beginning. All conventions bind with a heavy chain, but none with a heavier than the Philadelphia variety. Spruce Street nights had never been so free and so vociferous and so late, and, being a good Philadelphian, I am not sure if the nights that succeeded have yet lost for me their novelty. As a consequence, if, in looking back, my days appear to be wholly monopolized by work, my nights seem consecrated as wholly to amusement. The poet's "hideous" is the last adjective I could apply to the night my busy day sank into.
How I worked may concern nobody save myself, but how I played I cannot help hoping has a wider interest. Those old nights were typical of a period, and they threw me with many people, contemporaries of J.'s and mine, who did much to make that period what it was. The nights as gay, as stimulating, that I have spent in other people's houses I have not the courage to recall except in the utmost privacy. Pepys and N.P. Willis in their time, no less than a whole army of Pamelas and Priscillas in ours, have shown the lengths and indiscretions to which so intimate a breach of hospitality may lead. I have had my experience. For some years a house with closely curtained windows has reproached me daily for not understanding that the man who invites the world to stare at him and is not happy if it won't, objects when his neighbours say lightly what they see. I am every bit as afraid to speak openly of those people who shared our nights and who, with us, have outlived them. Cowardice long since convinced me that it is not of the dead, but of the living, only good should be spoken—and if good cannot be spoken, what then? However, it is not in pursuit of problems that I have busied myself in reviving those old nights, but rather for the pleasure we all of us have, as the years go on, in feeling our way back along the Corridors of Time and living our past over again in memory. If I go further and live mine over again in print, it is because I like to think the fault will not lie with me if it altogether dies—I have given it, anyway, the chance of a longer lease of life.
It will give an idea of what ages ago those nights were, and of the youth I brought to them, if I say that I arrived in Rome on the first tandem tricycle ever seen in Italy.
I can look back to it now with pride, for I was, in my way, a pioneer, but there was not much to be proud about at the time. Rome was so little impressed that J., my fellow pioneer, and I,—J. and I who in every town on the way from Florence had been the delight of the gaping crowd, J. and I who in all those beautiful October days on the white roads of Italy had suffered from nothing save the excess of the people's amiable attentions,—scarcely showed ourselves beyond the Porta del Popolo and the Piazza of the same name, before we were arrested for driving the tandem furiously through the Corso—as if anybody could drive anything furiously through the Corso at the hour before sunset, when all the world comes home from the Borghese. But two policemen, drawing their swords as if they meant business, commanded us to dismount and, between them, we walked ignominiously to the hotel, pushing the tricycle; and an astonished and not in the least admiring crowd followed; and the policeman asked us for a lira, which we refused, taking it for a proof of the corruption of modern Rome—and they were so within their legal rights that I do not care to say for how many more than one we were asked a few weeks later by the Syndic, whom we could not refuse; and altogether I do not think we were to blame if, after the policemen and the swords and the crowd had gone and the tricycle was locked up, and we wandered from the hotel in the gathering dusk, we were the two most ill-tempered young people who ever set out to enjoy their first night in Rome.
Nor was our temper improved when J.'s instinct, which in a strange place takes him straight where he wants to go, having got us into the Ghetto, failed to get us out again. The Ghetto itself was all right, so what a Ghetto ought to be that had I been the Romans, I would not have pulled it down, I would have preserved it as a historical monument,—dirty, dark and mysterious, a labyrinth of narrow crooked streets, lined with tall grim houses, filled with melodramatic shadows and dim figures skulking in them, but a nightmare of a labyrinth which kept bringing us forever back to the same spot. And we could not dine on picturesqueness, and we would not have dined in any of the murderous-looking houses at any price, and at last J. admitted that there were times when a native might be a better guide than instinct, and in his best Italian he asked the way of two men who were passing. One, who wore the tweeds and flannel shirt by which in calmer moments we must have recognized him, pulled the other by the sleeve and growled in English: "Come on, don't bother about the beastly foreigners!" I can afford to forgive him to-day when I remember what his incivility cost him not only that night, when we would not let him off until he had shown us out of the Ghetto, but on a succession of our nights in Rome, Fate having neatly arranged that at the one house whose doors were opened to us he should be a constant visitor.
Other doors might have opened had we had the clothes in which to knock at them. But we had come to Rome for four days with no more baggage than the tandem could carry, and we stayed four months without adding to it. We could have sent for our trunks, of course, or we could have bought new things in the Roman shops, but we did neither, I can hardly say why except that the story of our journey had to be finished, and other delightful articles we had crossed the Atlantic to do were waiting, and these were commissions that could not be neglected, since they were the capital upon which we had started out on our married life five months before. And our Letter of Credit was small, and Youth is stern with itself;—or, more likely, we did not trouble simply because it saved so much more trouble not to. No woman would have to be taught by Ibsen or anybody else how to live her own life, were she willing to live it in shabby clothes. It is not an easy thing to do, I know. I share the weakness of most women in feeling it a disgrace, or a misfortune, to be caught in the wrong clothes in the right place. But that year in Rome I had not outgrown the first ardours of work and, besides, in the old days, a cycle seemed an excuse for any and all degrees of shabbiness. In my short skirts, at a time when short skirts were not the mode, covered with mud, and carrying a tiny bag, I have walked into the biggest hotels of Europe without a tremor, conscious that the cycle at the door was my triumphant apology. The cyclist's dress, like the nun's uniform, was a universal passport, and I have never had the cleverness to invent another to replace it since I gave up cycling.
If we could not spend our nights in other people's houses, neither could we spend them in the rooms we had taken for ourselves at the top of one of the highest houses on the top of one of the highest hills in Rome. There was no objection to the rooms: they were charming, but we had found them on a warm November day when the sun was streaming in through the windows that looked far and wide over the town, and beyond to the Campagna, and still beyond to a shining line on the horizon we knew was the Mediterranean, and we did not ask about anything save the price, which to our surprise we could pay, and so we moved in at once. Nor for days, as we sat at our work in the sunlight, the windows open and Rome at our feet, did we imagine there could be anything to ask about, except if, by asking, we could prevail upon the Padrona's son-in-law to go and blow his melancholy cornet anywhere rather than on the roof directly over our heads. Living in rooms was the nearest approach I had made in all my life to housekeeping, I was still in a state of wonderment at everything in Rome, from Romulus and Remus on the morning pat of butter to the November roses in full bloom on the Pincian, I was quite content to let practical affairs and domestic details look out for themselves—or, perhaps it would be more true to say that I never gave them a thought.
But even in Rome the sun must set and November nights grow chill, and a night came when, after a day of rain, a fire would have been pleasant, and suddenly we discovered there was no place to make it in. It had never occurred to us that there could not be, fresh as we were from the land where heat in the house is as much a matter of course as a sun in the sky. At first we wrapped ourselves in shawls and blankets, hired the padrona's biggest scaldino, and called it an experience. After a few evenings we decided it was an experience we could do without and, like all miserable Romans who have no fireplace, we settled down to spending our nights in the restaurants and cafes of Rome.
I doubt if I should care to spend my nights that way now; a quarter of a century has added unexpected charm to a dinner-table and fireside of my own; but no Arabian Nights could then have been fuller of entertainment than the Roman Nights that drove us from home in search of warmth and food. In Philadelphia there never had been a suspicion of chance, a shadow of adventure about my dinner. It was as inevitable as six o'clock and as inevitably eaten in the seclusion of the Philadelphia second-story back-building dining-room, if not of my family, then of one or another of my friends. In Rome it became a delightful uncertainty that transformed the six flights of stairs leading to it from our rooms into the "Road to Anywhere". That road was by no means an easy one to climb up again and if we could help it, we never climbed down more than once a day, usually a little before dusk, a few hours earlier when we were in a rare holiday mood, and always in time for a long or short tramp before dinner. If we came to a church we dropped into it, or a gallery, or a palace, or a garden, when we were in time. We followed the streets wherever they might lead,—along the brand-new Via Nazionale to the Forum or the narrow alleys to St. Peter's, beyond the gates to the Campagna—seeing a good deal of Rome without setting out deliberately to see anything. When we were hungry, we stopped at the first Trattoria we passed, provided it looked as if we could afford it, and the chance dinner in a chance place at a chance hour was the biggest adventure of all that had crowded the way to it.
One night the Trattoria happened to be the Posta in a narrow street back of the Piazza Colonna. It was small: not more than twenty could have dined there together in any comfort. It was beautifully clean. And the padrone, his son, and the one waiter—all the establishment—greeted us with that enchanting smile to which, during my first year in Italy, I fell only too ready a victim. Once we had dined at the Posta, we found it so pleasant that we fell into the habit of getting hungry in its neighbourhood.
I have since got to know many more famous or pretentious restaurants, but never have dinners tasted so good as at this little Roman trattoria where we had to consider the centesimi in the price of every dish, and the quarter of a flask of cheap Chianti shared between us was an extravagance, and we ate with the appetite that came of having eaten nothing all day save rolls and coffee for breakfast, and fruit and rolls for lunch, that we might afford a dinner at night. And I have dined in many restaurants of gilded and mirrored magnificence, but in none I thought so well decorated as the Posta with its bare walls and coarse clean linen and no ornament at all, except the stand in the centre where we could pick out our fruit or our vegetable. Nor has any restaurant, crowded with the creations of Paquin and Worth, seemed more brilliant than the Posta filled with officers. In Philadelphia I had never seen an army officer in uniform in my life; at the Posta I saw hardly anything else. We were surrounded by lieutenants and captains and colonels, and as I watched them come and go with clank and clatter of spurs and swords, and military salutes at the door, and military cloaks thrown dramatically off and on, and gold braid shining, I began to think a big standing army worth the money to any country, on condition that it always went in uniform—on condition, I might now add, that this uniform is not khaki, then not yet heard of. When the old spare, grizzled General, always the last, appeared and all the other officers rose upon his entrance, our dinner was dignified into a ceremony. Sometimes, I fancied he felt his importance more than anybody, for he is the only man I have ever known courageous enough in public to begin his dinner with cake and finish it with soup.
Now and then, on very special occasions, when we had sent off an article or received a cheque, we went to the Falcone and celebrated the event by feasting on Maccheroni alla Napolitana, Cinghale all'Agra Dolce and wine of Orvieto. The Falcone was another accident of our tramps, though we afterwards found it starred in Baedeker. It looked the centuries old it was said to be, such a shabby, sombre crypt of a restaurant that I accepted without question the tradition it cherished of itself as a haunt of the Caesars, and was prepared to believe the waiters when they pointed out the mark of the Imperial head on the greasy walls, just as the waiters of the Cheshire Cheese in London point to the mark of Dr. Johnson's, while the flamboyancy of the cooking revealed to me the real reason of the decline and fall of Rome. I am afraid I should be telling the story of our own decline and fall had we sent off articles and received cheques every day. Fortunately, the intervals were long between the feasts, but unfortunately our digestion can never again be imperilled at the Falcone, for they tell me it has gone with the Ghetto and so many other things in the Rome I knew and loved.
By the middle of the winter we gave up the Posta and went to the Cavour instead. I don't know how we had the heart to, for the Cavour never had the same charm for us, we never got to like it so well. It was too large and popular for friendliness, the officers carried their ceremony and gorgeousness to a room apart, and the padrone and his waiters were too busy for more than one fixed smile of general welcome. But then there, if we paid for our dinner by the month, it cost us next to nothing by the day, and our Letter of Credit allowed as narrow a margin for sentiment as for clothes. Moreover, the dinner was good as well as cheap. And when the streets of Rome were rivers of rain, as they often were that winter, it was brought to our rooms in a dinner pail by a waiter, after he had first come half a mile to submit the menu to us, and in that cold, bleak interior, wrapped in blankets, a scaldino at our feet, a newspaper for tablecloth, we made a picnic of it, freezing, but thankful not to be drowned. And on great holidays, the padrone spared us a smile all to ourselves as he offered us, with the compliments of the season, a plate of torrone and a bottle of old wine from his vineyard.
With dinner the night was but beginning and smiles must have faded had we lingered over it indefinitely. I learned to my astonishment, however, that hours could be, or rather were expected to be, devoted to the drinking of one small cup of coffee, and that always near the trattoria was a cafe[A] which provided the coffee and, at the cost of a few cents, could become our home for as long and as late as might suit us. In Philadelphia after dinner coffee had been swallowed promptly, in the back parlour if we were dining alone, in the front if people were dining with us, and I was startled to find it in Rome an excuse to loaf at a convenient distance from the domestic hearth for Romans with apparently nothing to do and all their time to do it in.
[Footnote A: Note.—Let me anticipate the amiable critic—and say that I know this is not the Italian spelling of cafe. I use the French spelling here, as in later chapters where it belongs, for the sake of uniformity throughout.]
It is an arrangement I take now as a matter of course. But then, it must be borne in mind, for me only five months separated Rome from Philadelphia, and Philadelphia bonds are not easily broken. I suspected something wrong in so agreeable a custom, as youth usually does in the pleasant things of life, and as a Philadelphian always does in the unaccustomed, and at first, when we went to the ancient Greco, I tried to believe it was entirely the result of J.'s interest in a place where artists had drunk coffee for generations. When we deserted it because, despite its traditions, nobody went there any longer save a few grey-bearded old men and a few gold-laced hall porters, and the dulness fell like a pall upon us, and the atmosphere was rank, and when we patronized instead a brand-new cafe in the Corso that called itself in French the Cafe de Venise and in English the Meet of Best Society, I put down the attraction to the Daily News, to which the cafe subscribed, and for which in those days Andrew Lang was writing the leaders everybody was reading. But Lang could not reconcile us to the nightly Gran Concerto of a piano, a flute and a violin of indifferent merit concealed in a thicket of artificial trees, and the Best Society meant tourists, and after we had shocked a family of New England friends by inviting them to share its tawdry pleasures with us, and after a few evenings had given us, unaccompanied, all and more than we could stand of it, we exchanged it for a cafe without a past and with no aspirations as the Meet of any save the usual cafe society of a big Italian town. By this time I had ceased to worry about excuses and had settled down to idleness and coffee with as little scruple as the natives.
The cafe we chose was the Nazionale Aragno in the Corso, the largest and most gorgeous in Rome. The three or four rooms that opened one out of the other had a magnificence that we could never have achieved in furnished rooms and would not have wanted to if we could, and a succession of mirrors multiplied them indefinitely. We leaned luxuriously against blue plush, gilding glittered wherever gilding could on white walls, waiters rushed about with little shining nickel-plated trays held high above their heads, spurs and swords clanked and clattered, by the middle of the evening not a table was vacant.
It was simply the usual big Continental cafe, but to me as new and strange as everything else in the wonderful life in the wonderful world into which I had strayed from the old familiar ways of Philadelphia, with a long halt between only in England where the cafe does not exist. To the marble-topped tables, the gilding, mirrors and plush, novelty lent a charm they have never had since and probably would soon have lost had we been left to contemplate them in solitary state, as it seemed probable we should. For we knew nobody in Rome except Sandro, the youthful enthusiastic Roman cyclist we had picked up in Montepulciano, cycled with through the Val di Chiana on a sunny October Sunday, and run across again in Rome where he amiably showed us the hospitality of the capital by occasionally drinking coffee with us at our expense, and by once introducing a friend, a tall, slim, good-looking young man of such elegance of manner and such a princely air of condescension, that Sandro himself was impressed and joined us again, later on the same evening, to explain our privilege in having entertained the Queen's hair-dresser unawares. Foreigners did not often find their way into the Nazionale. They were almost as few in number as women, who were very few, for as women in Rome never dined,—or so I gathered from my observations at the Posta, the Falcone and the Cavour,—they never drank coffee. Only on Sundays would they descend upon the cafe with their husbands and children, and then it was to devour ices and cakes at a rate that convinced me they devoured little else from one Sunday to the next. When I asked for the Times—they took the Times at the Nazionale—the waiter almost invariably answered: "It reads itself, the Signore Tedesco has it," and the Signore Tedesco, a mild German student who for his daily lesson in English read the advertisement columns from beginning to end, was the only foreigner who appeared regularly at any table save our own.
And yet at ours, before I could say how it came about, a little group collected, and every evening in the furthest room J. and I began to hold an informal reception which gave us all the advantages of social life and none of its responsibilities. We could preside in the travel-worn tweeds of cycling and not bother because we were not dressed; we could welcome our friends the more cordially because, as we did not provide the entertainment, it was no offence to us if they did not like it, nor to them if we failed to sit it out. In the cafe we found the "oblivion of care," the same "freedom from solitude," though not the big words to express it, which Dr. Johnson "experienced" in a tavern. Were all social functions run on the same broad principles, society would not be half the strain it is upon everybody's patience and good-nature and purse.
Almost all the group were artists. In those days artists and students were no longer rushing to Rome as the one place to study art in, nor had the effort begun to revive its old reputation among them. Still a good many were always about. Some lived there, others, like ourselves, were spending the winter, or else were just passing through, and, once we had collected the group round our table, I do not believe we were ever left to pass an evening alone.
Artists were as great a novelty to me as the cafe—I had been married so short a time that J. had not ceased to be a problem, if he ever has—and nothing was more amazing to me than the talk. Its volubility took my breath away. I thought of the back parlour at home after dinner, my Father playing interminable games of Patience, the rest of us deep in our books until bed-time. And these men talked as if talk was the only business, the only occupation of life.
Still more surprising was the subject of their talk. If they had so much to say that it made me grateful I was born a listener, they had only one thing to say it about. It was art from the moment we met until we parted, though we might sit over our coffee for hours. Often it was next morning when J. and I reached the house at the top of the hill, and he dragged the huge key from his pocket, undid the ponderous lock and struck the overgrown match, or undersized candle, by which the Roman lit himself to his rooms, and we panted up our six flights afraid ours would not last, for we had but the one supplied by the restaurant.
The quality of the talk was as amazing: bewildering, revolutionary, to anybody who had never heard art talked about by artists, as I never had before I met J. All I had thought right turned out to be wrong, all I had never thought of was right, all that was essential to the critic of art, to the Ruskin-bred, had nothing to do with it whatever. History, dates, periods, schools, sentiment, meaning, attributions, Morelli only as yet threatening to succeed Ruskin as prophet of art, were not worth discussion or thought. The concern was for art as a trade—the trade which creates beauty; the vital questions were treatment, colour, values, tone, mediums. The price of pictures and the gains of artists, those absorbing topics of the great little men in England to-day, were never mentioned: the man who sold was looked down on, rather. There were nights when I went away believing that nothing mattered in the world except the ground on a copper plate, or the grain of a canvas, or the paint in a tube, so long and heated and bitter had been the controversy over it. They might all be artists, but they were of a hundred opinions as to the exact meaning of right and wrong, and they could wrangle over mediums until the German student looked up in reproof from his columns of advertisements and the Romans shrugged their shoulders at the curious manners and short tempers of the forestiere. But there was one point upon which I never knew them not to be of one mind, and this was the supreme importance of art. If I ventured to disagree—which I was far too timid to do often—they were down upon me like a flash, abusing me for being so blind as not to see the truth in Rome, of all places, where of a tremendous past nothing was left but the work of the masters who built and adorned the city, or who sang and chronicled its splendours.
The noise of their talk is still loud in my ears, but many of the talkers have grown dim in my memory. Of some of the older men I cannot recall the faces, not even the names; some of the younger I remember better, partly I suppose because they were young and starting out in life with us, partly because one or two later on made their names heard of by many people outside of the Nazionale and far beyond Rome.
I could not easily forget the young Architect who was then getting ready to conquer Philadelphia—to borrow a phrase from Zola, as seems but appropriate in writing of the Eighties—for which great end all the knowledge of the Beaux-Arts could not have served him as well as his conviction that the architecture of Europe had waited for him to discover it. He had never been abroad before and he could not believe that anybody else had. He would come to our little corner from his prowls in Rome and tell men, who had lived there for more years than he had hours, all about the churches and palaces and galleries, like a new Columbus revealing to his astonished audience the wonders of a New World. And it amused me to see how patiently the older men listened, sparing his illusions, no doubt because they heard in his ardent, confident, decidedly dictatorial voice the voice of their own youth calling. He carried his convictions home with him unspoiled, and his first building—a hospital or something of the kind—was a monument to his discoveries, a record of his adventures among the masterpieces of Europe, beginning on the ground floor as the Strozzi Palace, developing into various French castles, and finishing on the top as a Swiss chalet, atrocious as architecture, but amusing as autobiography. All his buildings were more or less reminiscent, and told again in stone the story so often told in words at the Nazionale, for Death was kind and claimed him before he had ceased to be the discoverer to become himself.
Donoghue too has gone, Donoghue the sculptor who as I knew him in Rome was so overflowing with life, so young that I felt inclined to credit him with the gift of immortal youth, so big and handsome and gay that wherever he went laughter went with him. He too was a discoverer, but his discovery was of Paris and the Latin Quarter. It had filled a year between Chicago, where he had been Oscar Wilde's discovery, and Rome, and he had had time to work off his first fantastic exuberance as discoverer before I met him. "Donoghue is all right," they would say of him at the Nazionale; "he has got past the brass buttons and pink swallow tail stage, even if he does cling to low collars and tight pants and spats."
Certainly, he had got so far as to think he ought to be beginning to work, and he was in despair because he could not find in Rome a youth as beautiful as himself to pose for his Young Sophocles. To listen to him was to believe that Narcissus had come to life again. We would meet him during our afternoon rambles in all sorts of out-of-the-way places, when he would stop and take half an hour to assure us he hadn't time to stop, he was hunting for a model he had just heard of, and then he would drop into the Nazionale at night to report his want of progress, for no model ever came up to his standard. He referred to his own beauty with the frank simplicity and vanity of a child—a real Post-Impressionist; not one by pose, for there was not a trace of pose in him. I wish I could say how astonishing he was to me. Life has since thrown many young artists and writers my way and I am used to their conceits and affectations and splendid belief in themselves. But my experience then was of the most limited and bound by Philadelphia convention, and I cannot imagine a greater contrast than between the Philadelphia youth to whom I was accustomed, talking of the last reception and the next party over his chicken salad at the Dancing Class, and Donoghue talking dispassionately of his own surpassing beauty over a small cup of coffee at the Nazionale.
Donoghue was a child, not merely in his vanity, but in everything, with the schoolboy's sense of fun. I never knew him happier than the evening he hurried to the cafe from his visit to the Coliseum by moonlight to tell us of his joke on the Americans he found waiting there in silence for the guide's announcement that the moon was in the proper place for their proper emotion. A friend was with him.
"And I said: 'Sprichst du Deutsch?' very loud as we passed," was Donoghue's story. "And he answered as loud as he could: 'Nichts! Nichts!' And I said: 'Zwei Bier,' and of course the Americans took us for Germans. Then we hid in the shadows a little further on and we both yelled together at the top of our voices, 'Three cheers for Cleveland!' and the Americans jumped, and they forgot the moon, and they wouldn't listen to the guide, and I tell you it was just great."
I was not overcome myself with the wit or humour of the jest, but Donoghue was, and he roared with laughter until none of us could help roaring with him in sheer sympathy. He was as enchanted with his method of learning Italian. He was reading Wilkie Collins and Bret Harte in an Italian translation, and when he yawned in our faces and left the cafe early, it was because the night before the Dago's Woman in White or Luck of Roaring Camp had kept him up until long after dawn, though really he knew it was a waste of time since anybody had only to get himself half seas over and he'd talk any darned lingo in the world.
He joined us less often after he gave up the hopeless hunt for the model who never was found and whom it would have been useless anyway to find, for Donoghue always spent his quarter's allowance the day he got it, and most models could not wait three months to be paid. To this conclusion he came soon after the first of the year and settled down seriously to posing for himself and, as the world knows, the Young Sophocles was finished in the course of time and a very fine statue it is said to be. But even if he did desert our table he would still seem to me in memory the centre of the little group gathered about it, had it not been for Forepaugh.
Of course his name was not Forepaugh—though something very like it—but Forepaugh answers my every purpose. For though I did know his name I did not know then, and I do not know now, who he was and why he was. I do not think anybody ever knew anything about him except that he was Forepaugh, which meant, according to his own reckoning, the most wonderful person on earth. He was one of the sort of men whose habit is to turn up wherever you may happen to be, in whatever part of the world, with no apparent reason for being there except to talk to you,—the last time we met was in a remote corner of Kensington Gardens in London, where he took up the talk just where we had left off at the Nazionale in Rome—and as it is years since he has turned up anywhere to talk to us, I fear he has joined the Philadelphia Architect and Donoghue where he will talk no more.
In sheer physical power of speech he was without a rival and none surpassed him in appreciation of his eloquence. His interest never flagged so long as he held the floor, though when we wanted him to listen to us, he did not attempt to conceal his indifference. We could not tell him anything, for there was nothing about which he did not know more than we could hope to. He, at any rate, had no doubt of his own omniscience. Judging from the intimate details with which he regaled us, he was equally in the confidence of the Vatican and the Quirinal, equally at home with the Blacks and the Whites. The secrets of the Roman aristocracy were his, he was the first to hear the scandals of the foreign colony. The opera depended upon his patronage and balls languished without him, though I could never understand how or why, so rarely did he leave us to enjoy them. Every archaeologist, every scholar, every historian in Rome appealed to him for help, and as for art, it was folly for others to pretend to speak of it in his presence. He called himself an artist and for a time he used to go with J. to Gigi's, the life school where artists then in Rome often went of an afternoon to draw from the model. But J. never saw him there with as much as a scrap of paper or a pencil in his hands, and nobody ever saw him at work anywhere. For what he did not do he made up by telling us of what he might do. His were the pictures unpainted which, like the songs unsung, are always the best. He condescended to approve of the Old Masters, assured that the masterpieces he might choose to produce must rank with theirs, but he never forgot the great gulf fixed between himself and the Modern Masters, whose pictures were worthy of his approval only when he had been their inspiration. It was fortunate for American Art that scarcely an American artist could be named whom Forepaugh had not inspired. And if he praised Abbey and Millet more than most, it was because he had posed for both and could answer for it that Millet's porch, or studio, or dining-room, which had had the honour of serving as his background, was as true as the figure of himself set against it.
Like all talkers who know too much, Forepaugh had, what Carlyle called, a terrible faculty for developing into a bore. Some of our little group would run when they saw him at the door, others took malicious pleasure in interrupting him and suddenly changing the conversation in the hope to catch him tripping. But out of all such tests he came triumphantly. I never thought him more wonderful than the evening when somebody abruptly began to talk about Theosophy in the middle of one of his confidences about the Italian Court. It was no use. Without stopping to take breath, at once Forepaugh began to tell us the most marvellous theosophical adventures, which he knew not by hearsay, but because he had passed through them himself. We might express an opinion: he stated facts. And it seemed that he had no more intimate friend than Sinnett, and that to Sinnett he had confessed his scepticism, asking for a sign, a manifestation, and that one afternoon when they were smoking over their coffee and cognac after lunch in Sinnett's chambers, then on the third floor of a house near the Oxford Street end of Bond Street—Forepaugh was carefully exact in his details—Sinnett smiled mysteriously but said nothing except to warn him to hold on tight to the table. And up rose the table, with the litter of coffee cups, cigars, and cognac, up rose the two chairs, one at either end with Sinnett and Forepaugh sitting on them, and away they floated out of the open window—it was a June afternoon—and along Bond Street, above the carriages and the hansoms and omnibuses and the people as far as Piccadilly, and round the lamp post by Egyptian Hall, up Bond Street again, and in at the window. "Hold on," said Sinnett, and "I never held on to anything as tight in my life as I did to that table," said Forepaugh in conclusion.
He always reminded me of the man who so annoyed my Uncle, Charles Godfrey Leland, by always knowing, doing, or having everything better or bigger than anybody else. "Why, if I were to tell him I had an elephant in my back yard," my Uncle used to say, "he would at once invite me to see the mastodon in his." Forepaugh had a mastodon up his sleeve for everybody else's elephant.
If Forepaugh gave us a great deal of information we had no possible use for and talked us to despair, he was really a good fellow whom we should have missed from our table. And it was through him J. and I were first made welcome in that one house open to us, to which I have been all this time in coming. For it was Forepaugh who told Vedder we were in Rome, and Vedder, once he knew it, would not hear of our shutting his door in our own faces, nor would Mrs. Vedder, whatever the condition of our wardrobe.
Vedder may have revealed many things in his recent Digressions, but not the extent of the hospitality he and his wife showed to the American who was a stranger in Rome, where, even then, they had been long at home. Mrs. Vedder carried her amiability to the point of climbing our six flights of stairs and calling on me in the rooms that suited us admirably for our work but were less adapted to afternoon receptions, and she would have gone further and shown me how to adapt them by moving every bit of furniture from where it was and arranging it all over again. Not the least part of her friendliness was not to mind when I did not fall in with her plans, as I couldn't, since so long as the sun shone in at the windows all was right with the rooms as far as I could see. I was in the absurd stage of industry when I did not care where my Roman furniture stood so long as my Roman tasks got done. Even our padrona told me her surprise that, foreigner as I was, I seemed to do as much work as she did, which I accepted as a compliment. After that first attempt Mrs. Vedder did not return to climb our six flights, but she would not let us off from climbing her four or five.
Often as we took advantage of their hospitality, we never found the Vedders alone and, chiefly American as was the group at their fireside, it was never without a foreigner or two. The first person we were introduced to on the first visit was the Englishman who would have deserted us in the Ghetto had we let him have his way, and who, when he saw us, looked as if he wished the Vedders had learned to be less indiscriminate in their hospitality. We had the satisfaction of knowing that we made him supremely uncomfortable. He frowned upon us then as he continued to all through the winter. He could not forgive us for having found him out and was evidently afraid we were going to tell everybody about it. He was something very learned and was occupied in writing a book on Ancient Rome; later he became something more important at South Kensington. But no degree of learning and importance helped him to forget, or anyway to forgive. At chance meetings years afterwards in London he frowned, as no doubt he would still had he not long since gone to the land where I hope all frowns are smoothed from his frowning brow.
If he frowned, there was another Englishman who smiled: an elderly man with the imperturbable serenity of a Buddha. He also had written books, I believe. I remember articles by him, with art for subject, in the Portfolio at a time when everybody had taken to writing about art, and I think his name was Davies. But it would be more in character to forget that he ever worked or had a name. When I was in Rome he had risen above activity and toil to the contemplative life and, I suppose, to the income that made it possible. One night he explained his philosophy to me. Men could not be happy without sunshine, he thought. The sun was house, food, clothes, furniture, identity, everything, and as most of the year in England sunshine was not to be had at any price, he had come to live in Rome where almost all the year it was his for nothing. He sat on the Pincian or in other gardens during the day, doing nothing in the sunshine—that was living. And he urged me to follow his example and not to wait until half my life had been wasted in the pursuit of happiness where it was not to be found. He may have been right, but I never needed to become a philosopher to value the virtue of indolence,—my trouble is that I have never had the money to pay for it. Any man has the ability to do nothing, a great authority has said, and I can answer for one woman who has more than her fair share of it. I have always envied the North American Indians for their enjoyment of what it seems Burke attributed to them: "the highest boon of Heaven, supreme and perpetual indolence."
As regular a visitor was a huge long-bearded Norwegian who looked a prophet and was an artist, and who spent most of the winter in the study of Marion Crawford's novels, I cannot imagine why, as they roused him to fury.
"Marion Crawford," he would thunder at us as if somehow we were responsible, "Bah! He is a weak imitator of Bulwer, that is all, and he has not Bulwer's power of construction. He is not Bulwer. No. He is a weakling. Bah!"
My only quarrel with Marion Crawford's books was that they never excited strong emotion in me, one way or the other, and I was so puzzled by his excitement that I remember I went to the trouble of getting out Mr. Isaacs and A Roman Singer from Piali's Library in the Piazza di Spagna, that centre of learning and literature for the English in Rome where, one day when I asked for Pepys's Diary, they offered me Marcus Ward's. A new course of Marion Crawford left me as puzzled as ever for the reason of the Norwegian's rage, and I was the more impressed with the possibilities of a temperament that could heat itself to such a degree at so lukewarm a fire.
We were as certain to find this fiery Norseman and the two Englishmen any night we called as Vedder himself. Other men came and went, amongst them a few Italians and Frenchmen and more Americans, Coleman for one among them, but none could have appeared as regularly, so much fainter is the impression they have left with me. Naturally, they were mostly artists and at Vedder's, as at the cafe, the talk was chiefly of art. There was little of his work to see, for his studio was some distance from his apartment. But it was enough to see Vedder himself or, for that matter, enough to hear him. In his own house he led the talk, even Forepaugh having small chance against him. He was as prolific, a splendidly determined and animated talker. It was stimulating just to watch him talk. He was never still, he rarely sat down, he was always moving about, walking up and down, at times breaking into song and even dance. He was then in his prime, large, with a fine expressive face, and as American in his voice, in his manner, in his humour as if he had never crossed the Atlantic. The true American never gets Europeanized, nor does he want to, however long he may stay on the wrong side of the Atlantic. When I was with Vedder, Broadway always seemed nearer than the Corso.
He had recently finished the illustrations for the Rubaiyat and the book was published while we were in Rome. It was never long out of his talk. He would tell us the history of every design and of every model or pot in it. He exulted in the stroke of genius by which he had invented a composition or a pose. I have heard him describe again and again how he drew the flight of a spirit from a model, outstretched and flopping up and down on a feather bed laid upon the studio floor, until she almost fainted from fatigue, while he worked from a hammock slung just above. I recall his delight when a friend of Fitzgerald's sent him Fitzgerald's photograph with many compliments, asking for his in return. And he rejoiced in the story of Dr. Chamberlain filling a difficult tooth for the Queen and all the while singing the praises of the Rubaiyat until she ordered a copy of the edition de luxe. In looking back, I always seem to see Mrs. Vedder pasting notices into a scrap book, and to hear Vedder declaiming Omar's quatrains and describing his own drawings. There was one evening when he came to a dead stop in his walk and his talk, and shaking a dramatic finger at us all, said:
"I tell you what it is. I am not Vedder. I am Omar Khayyam!"
"No," drawled the voice of a disgusted artist who had not got a word in for more than an hour, "No, you're not. You're the Great I Am!"
Vedder laughed with the rest of us, but I am not sure he liked it. He could and did enjoy a joke, even if at his expense. I remember his delight one night in telling the story of an old lady who had visited his studio during the day and who sat so long in front of one of his pictures he thought it was having its effect, but whose only comment at the end of several minutes was: "That's a pretty frame you have there!" He was sensitive to criticism, however, though he carried it off with a laugh. Clarence Cook was one of the critics of his Omar who offended him.
"It's funny," Vedder said, "all my life I've hurt Clarence's feelings. He always has been sure I have done my work for no other reason than to irritate him, and now that's the way he feels about the Omar."
The laugh was not so ready when Andrew Lang—I think it was Lang—wrote that Vedder's Omar Khayyam was not of Persia, but of Skaneateles. And after I suggested that it was really of Rome, and some mistaken friend at home sent my article to Vedder, I never thought him quite so cordial.
And so the winter passed. For us there was always a refuge from our cold rooms at the cafe or at Vedder's, and it was seldom we did not profit by it.
Occasionally during our rambles we stumbled unexpectedly upon old friends "doing Italy" and genuinely glad to see us, as we were to see them, inviting us to their hotels at every risk of the disapproval of manager and porters and waiters; and so powerful was the influence of Rome and the cafe that now the marvel was to sit and listen to talk about Philadelphia, and where everybody was going for the summer, and who was getting married, and who had died, and what Philadelphia was thinking and doing, as if, after all, there were still benighted people in the world who believed not in art, but in Philadelphia as of supreme importance.
Occasionally we made new friends outside of our pleasant cafe life. I have forgotten how, though I have not forgotten it was in Rome, thanks to a letter of introduction from Dr. Garnett of the British Museum, that we first met Miss Harriet Waters Preston, who, for her part, had already introduced me to Mistral—how many Americans had heard of Mistral before she translated Mireio?—and who now accepted us, cycling tweeds and all, notwithstanding the shock they must have been to the admirably appointed pension where she stayed. She also climbed our six flights, her niece and collaborator, Miss Louise Dodge, with her, probably both busy that winter collecting facts for their Private Life of the Romans, and where could they have found a more perfect background for the past they were studying than when they looked down from our windows over Rome, to the Campagna beyond, and upon the horizon the shining line that we knew was the Mediterranean,—over all the beauty that has not changed in the meanwhile, though old streets and old villas and old slums have vanished. And at these times, in the talk, not Philadelphia, but literature was for a while art's rival.
And there were days when we played truant and climbed down in the morning's first freshness from the high room overlooking Rome and the work that had to be done in it, and loafed all day in Roman galleries and at Roman ceremonies, or strayed to places further afield—Tivoli, Albano, Ostia, Marino, Rocca di Papa,—getting back to Rome with feet too tired to take us anywhere except up our six flights again. And there were nights when the affairs of Rome drew us from the cafe. I remember once our little group interrupted their interminable arguments long enough to see the Tiber in flood, down by the Ripetta, where people were going about in boats, and Rome looked like the Venice to which I had then never been, and we met King Humbert and Queen Margherita in his American trotting wagon driving down alone so as to show their sympathy, for, whatever they may not have done, they always appeared in person when their people were in trouble: not so many weeks before we had watched the enthusiasm with which the Romans greeted King Humbert on his return from visiting the cholera-stricken town of Naples. And I remember on Befana Night we adjourned to the Piazza Navona to blow horns and reed whistles into other people's ears and to have them blown into ours. For the humours of the Carnival there was no need to leave the cafe, where one Pulcinello after another broke into our talk with witticisms that kept the cafe in an uproar, and for me destroyed whatever sentiment there might have been in the thought that this was my last night in Rome—the last of the friendly nights of talk in the Nazionale to which we always returned no matter how far we might occasionally stray from it—the friendly nights of talk when I learned my folly in ever having believed that anything in the world mattered, that anything in the world existed, save art.
Pulcinello, the newest of our Roman friends, went with us from Rome, following us to Naples, a familiar face to lighten our homesickness for the rooms full of sunshine at the top of the high house on the top of the high hill, and for the blue plush and the gilding and the mirrors and the talk of the Nazionale.
And Pulcinello went with us to Pompeii, reappearing during our nights at the Albergo del Sole, that most delightful and impossible of all the inns that ever were. It may have vanished in the quarter of a century that has passed since the February day I came to it, when the sky was as blue as the sea, and a soft cloud hung over Vesuvius, and flowers were sweet in the land—can anyone who ever smelt it forget the sweetness of the flowering bean in the wide fields near the Bay of Naples? But Pompeii could never be the same without the Sole. And it was made for our shabbiness, its three tumbled-down little houses ranged round the three sides of an unkempt, mud-floored court; our bedroom without lock or latch and with a mirror cracked from side to side like the Lady of Shalott's, though for other reasons; the dining-room with earthen floor, walls decorated by a modern-primitive fresco of the padrone holding a plate of maccheroni in one hand and a flask of Lachrima Christi in the other, a central column spreading out branches like a tree and bearing for fruit row upon row of still unopened bottles, a door free to all the stray monks and beggars of Pompeii—to all the fowls too, including the gorgeous peacock that strolled in after its evening walk with the young Swiss artist on the flat roof of the inn where, together, they went before dinner to watch the sunset.
Throughout dinner, at the head of the long table where we sat with the Swiss artist and an old German professor of art and an older Italian archaeologist, the talk, as at the Nazionale, was of art, so that it also, like Pulcinello, crying his jests through the window or at our elbow, made me feel at home. While we helped ourselves from that amazing dish into which you stuck a fork and pulled out a bit of chicken or duck or beef or mutton or sausage; while the old professor and archaeologist absent-mindedly stretched a hand to the column behind them, and plucked from it bottle after bottle of wine; while the beggars whined at the open door, and the monks begged at our side, and Pulcinello capered and jested and sang; while the American tourists at the other end of the table deplored the disorder and noise until we sent them the longest and most expensive way up Vesuvius to get rid of them; while the fowls fought for the crumbs;—the talk was still of art and again of art, in the end as in the beginning. I might not understand half of it, coming as it did in a confused torrent of German, Italian, French, and English, but the nights at the Sole, like the nights at the Nazionale, made this one truth clear: that nothing matters in the world, that nothing exists in the world, save art.
We reached Venice at an unearthly hour of a March morning and the first thing I knew of it somebody was shouting, "Venezia!" and I was startled from a sound sleep, and porters were scrambling for our bags, and we were stumbling after them, up a long platform, between a crowd of men in hotel caps yelling: "Danieli!" "Britannia!" and I hardly heard what, out into a fog as impenetrable as night or London. The muffled, ghostly cries of "gundola! gundola!" from invisible gondoliers on invisible waters would have sent me back into the station even had there been a chance to find so modest a hotel as the Casa Kirsch open so preposterously early, and my first impressions of Venice were gathered in the freezing, foggy station restaurant where J. and I drank our coffee and yawned, and I would have thought Ruskin a fraud with his purple passage describing the traveller's arrival in Venice upon which I had based my expectations, had I been wide enough awake to think of anything at all, and the hours stretched themselves into centuries before a touch of yellow in the fog suggested a sun shining in some remote world, and we crawled under the cover of one of the dim black boats that emerged vaguely, a shadow from the shadows.
I had looked forward to my first gondola ride for that "little first Venetian thrill" that Venice owes to the stranger. But I did not thrill, I shivered with cold and damp and fog as the gondola pushed through the yellow gloom in the sort of silence you can feel, and tall houses towered suddenly and horribly above us, and strange yells broke the stillness before and behind, when another black boat with a black figure at the stern, came out of the gloom, scraped and bumped our side, and was swallowed up again.
And after we were on the landing of the Casa Kirsch, and up in our rooms, and the fog lifted, and the sun shone, and we looked out of our windows with all Venice in our faces, and J. took me to see the town, my impressions were still foggy with sleep. For, from Pompeii, where there had been work, to Venice where there was to be more, we had hurried by one of those day-and-night flights to which J. has never accustomed me, the hurried, crowded pauses at Naples and Orvieto and Florence and Pisa and Lucca and Pistoia turning the journey into a beautiful nightmare of which all I was now seeing became but a part: the Riva, canals, sails, Bersaglieri, the Ducal Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark's, the Piazza, gondolas, women in black, white sunlight, pigeons, tourists, the Campanile, following one upon another with the inconsequence of troubled dreams. And then we were on the Rialto and J. was saying "Of course you know that?" and I was answering "Of course, the Bridge of Sighs!" and the many years between have not blunted the edge of his disgust or my remorse. But my disgrace drove me back to the Casa Kirsch, to sleep for fifteen blessed hours before looking at one other beautiful thing or troubling my head about what we were to do with our days and our nights in Venice.
What we were to do with our days settled itself the next morning as soon as I woke. For Venice, out of my window, was rising from the sea with the dawn, everything it ought to have been the morning before, and I had no desire to move from a room that looked down upon the Riva, and across to San Giorgio, and beyond the island—and sail-strewn lagoon to the low line of the Lido, and above to the vastness of the Venetian sky.
Nor was there trouble in providing for our nights. Before I left home a romantic friend had pictured me in Venice, wrapped in black lace, forever floating in a gondola under the moon. But my Roman winter had taught me how much more likely the gas-light of some little trattoria and cafe was to shine upon me in my well-worn tweeds, my education having got so far advanced that any other end to my day of work could not seem possible. The only question was upon which of the many little trattorie and cafes in Venice our choice should fall, and this was decided for us by Duveneck, whom we ran across that same morning in the Piazza, and who told us that he slept in the Casa Kirsch, dined at the Antica Panada, and drank coffee at the Orientale, which was as much as to say that we might too if we liked. And of course we liked, for it is a great compliment when a man in Venice, or any Italian town,—especially if he is of the importance and distinction to which Duveneck had already attained,—makes you free to join him at dinner and over after-dinner coffee. It is more than a compliment. It launches you in Venice as to be presented at court launches you in London.
We began that night to dine at the Panada and drink coffee at the Orientale, and we kept on dining at the Panada and drinking coffee at the Orientale every night we were in Venice; except when it was a festa and we followed Duveneck to the Calcino, where various Royal Academicians sustained the respectability Ruskin gave it by his patronage and Symonds tried to live up to; or when there was music in the Piazza and, happy to do whatever Duveneck did, we went with him to the Quadri or Florian's; or when it stormed, as it can in March, and all day from my window I had looked down upon the dripping Riva and the wind-waved Lagoon and lines of fishing boats moored to the banks, and no living creatures except the gulls, and the little white woolly dogs on the fishing boats covered with sails, and the sailors miserably huddled together, and gondoliers in yellow oilskins, and the Bersaglieri in hoods—what the Bersaglieri were doing there even in sunshine was one of the mysteries of Venice;—then we went with Duveneck no further than the kitchen of the Casa Kirsch, for he hated, as we hated, the table d'hote from which, there as everywhere, German tourists were talking away every other nationality.
The kitchen was a huge room, with high ceiling, and brass and copper pots and pans on the whitewashed walls, and a dim light about the cooking stove, and dark shadowy corners. The padrona laid the cloth for us in an alcove opposite the great fireplace, while she and her family sat at a table against the wall to the right, and the old cook ate at a bare table in the middle, and the maid-servant sat on a stool by the fire with her plate in her lap, and the man-servant stood in the corner with his plate on the dresser. Having thus expressed their respect for class distinctions, they felt no further obligation, but they all helped equally in cooking and serving, talked together the whole time, quarrelled, called each other names, and laughed at the old man's stories told in the Venetian which I only wish I had understood then as well as I did a few weeks later, when it was too late, for, with the coming of spring, there were no storms to keep us from the Panada.
Just where the Panada was I would not attempt to say; not from any desire to keep it secret, which would be foolish, for Baedeker long since found it out; but simply because I could not very well show the way to a place I never could find for myself. I knew it was somewhere round the corner from the Piazza, but I never rounded that corner alone without becoming involved in a labyrinth of little calli. Nor would I attempt to say why the artists chose it and why, because they did, we should, for it was then the dirtiest, noisiest, and most crowded trattoria in Venice, though the last time I was there, years afterwards, it was so spick and span, with another room and more waiters to relieve the congestion, that I could not believe it really was the Panada and, with the inconsistency natural under the circumstances, did not like it half so well.
No matter whether we got there early or late, the Panada was always full. As soon as we sat down we began our dinner by wiping our glasses, plates, forks, spoons, and knives on our napkins, making such a habit of it that I remember afterwards at a dinner-party in London catching myself with my glass in my hand and stopping only just in time, while Duveneck, on another occasion, got as far as the silver before he was held up by the severe eye of his hostess. Probably it was because nobody could hear what anybody said that everybody talked together. I cannot recall a moment when stray musicians were not strumming on guitars and mandolins, and the oyster man was not shrieking: "Ostreche! Fresche! Ostreche!" though nobody paid the least attention to him or ever bought one of his oysters. And above the uproar was the continuous cry: "Ecco me! Vengo subito! Mezzo Verona! Due Calomai! Vengo subito! Ecco me!" of the waiters, who, though they never ceased to announce their coming, were so slow to come that many diners brought a course or two in their pockets to occupy them during the intervals.
The little Venetian at the next table was sure to produce a bunch of radishes while he waited for his soup; on market days, when there was more of a crowd than ever, few of the many baked potatoes eaten at almost every table had seen the inside of the Panada's oven; often the shops that fill the Venetian calli with the perpetual smell of frying and where the brasses and the blue-and-white used to shine, were patronized on the way—if dinner has to be collected in the streets, no town, even in Italy, offers such facilities as Venice. From Minestra to fruit and cheese, the Venetian in a few minutes' walk may pick up a substantial dinner and carry it to the rooms or the street corner where it is his habit to dine. Vance, the painter, who sometimes favoured us at our table with his company, went further and, after he had taken off his coat and put on his hat and emptied his pockets, seldom troubled the establishment to provide him with more than a glass, a plate, a knife, and a fork, for the price of a quinto of Verona. His first, and as it turned out his last, more extravagant order, was the event of the season. The padrone discussed it with him and a message was sent to the cook that the dish was di bistecca. When it came it was not cooked enough to suit Vance. A second was cooked too much. The third was done to a turn. In the bill, however, were the three, and voices were lowered, mandolins and guitars were stilled, the oyster man forgot his shriek, during the five awful minutes when Vance and the padrone had it out. After that Vance made another trattoria the richer by his daily quinto.
J. and I had our five minutes with the padrone later on once when Rossi, our waiter, was so slow that our patience gave out and we shook the dust of the Panada from our feet. But we could not shake off Rossi. He had arrived with our dinner just as we were vanishing from the door and was made to pay for it. After that his leisure was spent in trying to make us pay him back and he would appear at our bedroom door, or waylay us on the Riva, or follow us into the Orientale, or run us down in the Piazza, demanding the money as a right, begging for it as a charity, reducing it by a centesimo every time until we had only to wait long enough for the debt to be wiped out. But this was at the end of our stay in Venice, and months of dining at the Panada had passed before then.
I would be as puzzled to explain the attraction of the Orientale on the Riva, unless it was the opportunity it offered for economy. In the Piazza, at the Quadri and Florian's, which are to the other cafes of Venice what St. Mark's is to the other churches, coffee was twenty centesimi and the waiter expected five more, but at the Orientale it was eighteen and the waiter was satisfied with the change from twenty, which meant for us the saving every night of almost half a cent. The Orientale was by comparison as quiet and deserted as the Panada was crowded and noisy. Outside, tables looked upon the Lagoon and the facade of San Giorgio, white in the night. In a big, new, gilded room sailors and sergeants played checkers and more serious Venetians worked out dismal problems in chess. But Duveneck's corner was in the older, shabby, stuffy, low-ceilinged room, and having once settled there we never wanted to move. As a rule we shared it with only an elderly Englishman and his son who read the Standard in the opposite corner—after our race with them to the cafe, the winners getting the one English paper first—and we were seldom intruded upon or interrupted except by the occasional visit of the caramei man with his brass tray of candied fruit, impaled on thin sticks, like little birds on a skewer, which led us into our one extravagance.