Page images
PDF
EPUB

As soon

In general, they seem to delight in characters the most remote from their own. Young people assume the long beard, tottering step, and other concomitants of old age; the aged choose the bib and rattle of childhood ; and the women of quality, and women of the town, appear in the characters of country maidens, nuns, and vestal virgins. All endeavour to support the assumed characters to the best of their ability ; but none, in my opinion, succeed so well as those who represent children.

Towards the dusk of the evening, the horse-race takes place. As soon as this is announced, the coaches, cabriolets, triumphal cars, and carriages of every kind, are drawn up, and line the street ; leaving a space in the middle for the racers to pass. These are five or six horses, trained on purpose for this diversion ; they are drawn up abreast in the Piazza del Popolo, exactly where the Corso begins. Certain balls, with little sharp spikes, are hung along their sides, which serve to spur them on. as they begin to run, those animals, by their impatience to be gone, shew that they understand what is required of them, and that they take as much pleasure as the spectators in the sport. A broad piece of canvass, spread across the entrance of the street, prevents them from starting too soon ; the dropping that canvass is the signal for the race to begin. The horses fly off together, and, without riders, exert themselves to the utmost ; impelled by emulation, the shouts of the populace, and the spurs above mentioned. They run the whole length of the Corso; and the proprietor of the victor is rewarded by a certain quantity of fine scarlet or purple cloth, which is always furnished by the Jews.

This diversion, such as it is, seems highly entertaining to the Roman populace ; though it appears a mighty foolish business in the eyes of Englishmen. An acquaintance of mine, who had entirely ruined a fine fortune at Newmarket, told me, that Italian horse-races were the most absurd things in the world ; that there were not a hundred guineas lost or won during a whole carnival ; and

[blocks in formation]

nothing could be a greater proof of the folly of the people, than their spending their time in such a silly manner.

Masking and horse-races are confined to the last eight days; but there are theatrical entertainments, of various kinds, during the whole six weeks of the carnival. The serious opera is most frequented by people of fashion, who generally take boxes for the whole season. The opera, with which this theatre opened, was received with the highest applause, though the music only was new. The Italians do not think it always necessary to compose new words for what is called a new opera ; they often satisfy themselves with new music to the affecting dramas of Metastasio. The audience here seem to lend a more profound and continued attention to the music, than at Venice. This is probably owing to the entertainment being a greater rarity in the one city than in the other; for I could perceive that the people of fashion, who came every night, began, after the opera had been repeated several nights, to abate in their attention, to receive visitors in their boxes, and to listen only when some favourite airs were singing: whereas the audience in the pit uniformly preserve the most perfect silence, which is only interrupted by gentle murmurs of pleasure from a few individuals, or an universal burst of applause from the whole assembly. I never saw such genuine marks of satisfaction displayed by any assembly, on any occasion whatever. The sensibility of some of the audience gave me an idea of the power

of sounds, which the dulness of my own auditory nerves could never have conveyed to my mind. At certain airs, silent enjoyment was expressed in every countenance ; at others, the hands were clasped together, the eyes half shut,

, and the breath drawn in, with a prolonged sigh, as if the soul was expiring in a torrent of delight. One young woman, in the pit, called out,-- 0 Dio, dove sono! che piacer via caccia l'alma ?**

On the first night of the opera, after one of thees favourite airs, an universal shout of applause took place, inter

* O God, where am I! what pleasure ravishes my soul !

a

6

a

mingled with demands that the composer of the music should appear. Il Maestro ! il Maestro ! resounded from every corner of the house. He was present, and led the band of music; he was obliged to stand upon the bench, where he continued, bowing to the spectators, till they were tired of applauding him. One person, in the middle of the pit, whom I had remarked displaying great signs of satisfaction from the beginning of the performance, cried out,- He deserves to be made chief musician to the Vira gin, and to lead a choir of angels! This expression would be thought strong, in any country; but it has peculiar energy here, where it is a popular opinion, that the Virá gin Mary is very fond, and an excellent judge, of music. I received this information on Christmas morning, when I was looking at two poor Calabrian pipers doing their utmost to please her, and the infant in her arms. They played for a full hour to one of her images which stands at the corner of a street. All the other statues of the Vir. gin, which are placed in the streets, are serenaded in the same manner every Christmas morning. On my inquiring into the meaning of that ceremony, I was told the a. bove-mentioned circumstance of her character, which, though you may have always thought highly probable, perhaps you never before knew for certain. My informer was a pilgrim, who stood listening with great devotion to the pipers. He told me, at the same time, that the Virgin's taste was too refined to have much satisfaction in the performance of those poor Calabrians, which was chiefly intended for the infant; and he desired me to remark, that the tunes were plain, simple, and such as might naturally be supposed agreeable to the ear of a child of his time of life.

Though the serious opera is in highest estimation, and more regularly attended by people of the first fashion ; yet

opera buffas, or burlettas, are not entirely neglected, even by them, and are crowded, every night, by the middle and lower classes. Some admired singers have performed there during the carnival, and the musical composers have reodered them highly pleasing to the general taste.

a

the

The serious and burlesque operas prevail infinitely over the other theatrical entertainments at Rome, in spite of the united efforts of Harlequin, Pantaloon, and Punchinello.

The prohibition of female performers renders the amusement of the Roman theatre very insipid, in the opinion of some unrefined Englishmen of your acquaintance who are here. In my own poor opinion, the natural sweetness of the female voice is ill supplied by the artificial trills of wretched castratos; and the awkward agili ty of robust sinewy fellows dressed in women's clothes, is a most deplorable substitution for the graceful movements of elegant female dancers. Is not the horrid practice which is encouraged by this manner of supplying the place of female singers, a greater outrage.on religion and morality, than can be produced by the evils which their prohibition is intended to prevent? Is it possible to believe, that purity of sentiment will be preserved by producing eunuchs on the stage? I should fear it would have a different effect. At the funeral of Junia, the wife of Cassius, and sister of Brutus, the statues of all the great persons connected with her family by blood or alliance, were carried in procession, except those of her brother and husband. This deficiency struck the people more than any part of the procession, and brought the two illustrious Romans into their minds with more force than if their statues had been carried with the others.--Præfulgebant Cassius atque Brutus, says Tacitus, eo ipso, quod effigies ea rum non visebantur.*

a

LETTER LIII.

Naples. I TAKE the first opportunity of informing you of our arrival in this city Some of the principal objects which oc

• The memory of Cassius and Brutus made a deeper impression on the minds of the spectators, on this very account, that their statues were not seen in the procession.

[ocr errors]

curred on the road, with the sentiments they suggested to my mind, shall form the subject of this letter.

It is almost impossible to go out of the walls of Rome, without being impressed with melancholic ideas. Having left that city by St. John de Lateran's gate, we soon entered a spacious plain, and drove for several miles in sight of sepulchral monuments and the ruins of ancient aqueducts. Sixtus V repaired one of them, to bring water into that part of Rome where Dioclesian's baths formerly stood : this water is now called aqua

felice, from Felix, the name of that pontiff, while he was only a cordelier. Having changed horses at the Torre de Mezzo Via, so called from an old tower near the post-house, we proceeded through a silent, deserted, unwholesome country. We scarce met a passenger between Rome and Marino, a little town about twelve miles from the former, which has its name from Caius Marius, who had a villa there; it now belongs toʻ the Colonna family. While fresh horses were harnessing, we visited two churches, to see two pictures which we had heard commended; the subject of one is as disagreeable, as that of the other is difficult to execute. The connoisseur who directed us to these pieces, told me, that the first, the flaying of St. Bartholomew, by Guercino, is in a great style, finely coloured, and the muscles convulsed with pain in the sweetest manner imaginable; he could have gazed at it for ever. As for the other,' added he, • which represents the Trinity, it is natural, well grouped, and easily understood; and that is all that can be said for it.'

From Marinó, the road runs for several miles over craggy mountains. In ascending Mons Albanus, we were charmed with a fine view of the country towards the sea ; Ostia, Antium, the lake Albano, and the fields adjacent. The form and component parts of this mountain plainly shew, that it has formerly been a volcano. The lake of Nemi, which we left to the right, seems, like that of Albano, to liave been formed in the cavity of a crater.

We came next to Valetri, an inconsiderable town, situ

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »