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near this place, on their return from Rome, where they had been on account of the jubilee.
The only place of note between Otricoli and Rome, is Civita Castellana. Terni is the last town of the province of Umbria, and Castellana the first of ancient Latium, coming to Rome by the Flaminian way. Castellana is considered, by many antiquarians, as the Fescennium of the ancients; a schoolmaster of which, as we are informed by Livy, by an unexampled instance of wickedness, betrayed a number of the sons of the principal citizens into the power of the dictator Camillus, at that time besieging the place. The generous Roman, equally abhorring the treachery and the traitor, ordered this base man to be stripped, to have his hands tied behind, and to be delivered over to the boys, who, armed with rods, beat him back to Fescennium, and delivered him up to their parents, to be used as they should think he deserved.
Civita Castellana stands upon a high rock, and must formerly have been a place of great strength, but is now in no very flourishing condition. Many of the towns I have mentioned, lying on the road to Rome, by the Flaminian way, have suffered, at different periods, more than those of any other part of Italy, by the inroads of Visigoths and Huns, as well as by some incursions of a latter date.
This, I am convinced, is the only country in the world, where the fields become more desolate as you approach the capital. After having traversed the cultivated and fertile valleys of Umbria, one is affected with double emotion at beholding the deplorable state of poor neglected Latium. For several posts before you arrive at Rome, few villages, little cultivation, and scarcely any inhabitants, are to be seen. In the Campania of Rome, formerly the best-cultivated and best-peopled spot in the world, no houses, no trees, no inclosures; nothing but the scattered ruins of temples and tombs, presenting the idea of a country depopulated by a pestilence. All is motionless, silent, and forlorn.
In the midst of these deserted fields the ancient Mistress of the World rears her head, in melancholy majesty.
You will not be surprised at my silence for some weeks past. On arriving at a place where there are so many interesting objects as at Rome, we are generally selfish ́ enough to indulge our own curiosity very amply, before we gratify that of our friends in any degree. My first care was to wait on the prince Guistiniani, for whom we had letters from Count Mahoni, the Spanish ambassador at Vienna, to whose niece that prince is married. Nothing can exceed the politeness and attention the prince and princess have shewn. He waited immediately on the duke of Hamilton, and insisted on taking us, in his own carriage, to every house of distinction. Two or three hours a day were spent in this ceremony. After being once presented, no farther introduction or invitation is necessary.
Our mornings are generally spent in visiting the antiquities, and the paintings in the palaces. On those occasions we are accompanied by Mr. Byres, a gentleman of probity, knowledge, and real taste. We generally pass two or three hours every evening at the conversazionis; I speak in the plural number, for we are sometimes at several in the same evening. It frequently happens, that three or four, or more, of the nobility, have these assemblies at the same time; and almost all the company of a certain rank in Rome make it a point, if they go to any, to go to all; so that, although there is a great deal of bustle, and a continual change of place, there is scarcely any change of company, or any variation in the amusement, except what the change of place occasions; but this circumstance alone is often found an useful accomplice in the murder of a tedious evening; for when the company find no great amusement in one place, they fly to another, in hopes
they may be better entertained. These hopes are generally disappointed; but that does not prevent them from trying a third, and a fourth; and although to whatever length the experiment is pushed, it always terminates in new disappointments, yet, at last, the evening is dispatched; and, without this locomotive resource, I have seen people in danger of dispatching themselves. This bustle, and running about after objects which give no permanent satisfaction, and without fully knowing whence we came, or whither we are going, you'll say, is a mighty silly business. It is so;-and, after all the swelling importance that some people assume, pray what is human life?
Having told what five or six conversazionis are, I shall endeavour to give you some idea what one is. These assemblies are always in the principal apartment of the palace, which is generally on the second, but sometimes on the third floor. It is not always perfectly easy to find this apartment, because it sometimes happens that the staircase is very ill lighted. On entering the hall, where the footmen of the company are assembled, your name is pronounced aloud, by some servants of the family, and repeated by others, as you walk through several rooms. Those whose names are not known, are announced by the general denomination of i Cavalieri Forestieri, or Inglesi, as you pass through the different rooms, till you come to that in which the company are assembled, where you are received by the master or mistress of the house, who sits exactly within the door for that purpose. Having made a short compliment there, you mix with the company, which is sometimes so large, that none but the ladies can have the conveniency of sitting. Notwithstanding the great size and number of the rooms in the Italian palaces, it frequently happens that the company are so pressed together, that you can with difficulty move from one room to another. There always is a greater number of men than women; no lady comes without a gentleman to hand her. This gentleman, who acts the part of cavaliero
servente, may be her relation in any degree, or her lover, or both. It is allowed him to be connected with her in any way but one-he must not be her husband. Familiarities between man and wife are still connived at in this country however, provided they are carried on in private ; but for a man to be seen hand in hand with his wife, in public, would not be tolerated.
At Cardinal Bernis's assembly, which is usually more crowded than any in Rome, the company are served with coffee, lemonade, and iced confections of various kinds; but this custom is not universal. In short, at a converșazione, you have an opportunity of seeing a number of well-dressed people, you speak a few words to those you are acquainted with, you bow to the rest, and enjoy the happiness of being squeezed and pressed among the best company in Rome. I do not know what more can be said of these assemblies; only it may be necessary, to prevent mistakes, to add, that a conversazione is a place where there is no conversation. They break up about nine o'clock, all but a small select company, who are invited to supper. But the present race of Romans are by no means so fond of convivial entertainments, as their predecessors. The magnificence of the Roman nobility displays itself now in other articles than the luxuries of the table: they generally dine at home, in a very private manner. Strangers are seldom invited to dinner, except by the foreign ambassadors. The hospitality of Cardinal Bernis alone makes up for every deficiency of that nature. There is no ambassador from the court of Great Britain at Rome, but the English feel no want of one. If the French cardinal had been instructed by his court to be peculiarly attentive to them, he could not be more so than he is. Nothing can exceed the elegant magnificence of his table, nor the splendid hospitality in which he lives. Years have not impaired the wit and vivacity for which he, was distinguished in his youth; and no man could support the pretensions of the French nation to superior politeness, better than their ambassador at Rome.
There are no lamps lighted in the streets at night; and all Rome would be in utter darkness, were it not for the candles, which the devotion of individuals sometimes place before certain statues of the Virgin. Those appear faintly glimmering at vast intervals, like stars in a cloudy night. The lackeys carry dark lanterns behind the carriages of people of the first distinction. The cardinals, and other ecclesiastics, do not choose to have their coaches seen before the door of every house they visit. In the midst of this darkness, you will naturally conclude, that amorous assignations in the streets are not unfrequent among the inferior people. When a carriage, with a lantern behind it, accidentally comes near a couple who do not wish to be known, one of them calls out, "Volti la lanterna," and is obeyed; the carriage passing without farther notice being taken. Venus, as you know, has always been particularly respected at Rome, on account of her amour with Anchises.
Genus unde Latinum
Albanique patres, atque alta mœnia Romæ.
The Italians, in general, have a remarkable air of gravity, which they preserve even when the subject of their conversation is gay. I observed something of this at Venice, but I think it is much stronger at Rome. The Roman ladies have a languor in their countenances, which promises as much sensibility as the brisk look of the French; and, without the volubility of the latter, or the frankness of the Venetian women, they seem no way averse to form connections with strangers. The duke of Hamilton was presented to a beautiful young lady at one of the assemblies. In the course of conversation he happened to say, that he had heard she had been married very lately. She answered, with precipitation, Signor si ma mio marito è uno Vecchio.' She then added, shaking her head, and in a most affecting tone of voice,— 'O santissima Virgine quanto è Vecchio !'