I SUPPOSE that I shall scarcely be forgiven by many of my English readers for declining to join the ranks of those among my compatriots who are evidently under the impression that it is they, and not the Italians, who ought to manage the internal affairs of the Italian capital. I know quite well that I ought to sigh over the Rome of our fathers’ days, and pretend to regret its dirt, squalor, and unhealthiness, its misgovernment and medieval characteristics, because all these things were more or less picturesque and some of them historical. I ought, I am aware, to utter indignant wails over vandalisms daily perpetrated by the modern Romans, like those individuals who, when some ancient piece of building is removed in order to meet the ever-increasing exigencies of a great city such as Rome is rapidly becoming for the second time in her history, write to the Times and make allusion to the well-worn epigram concerning Barbari and Barberini in tones of superiority which, were Italians in general and Romans in particular not endowed with a certain sense of satirical humour, might be annoying.
Far be it from me to say that, in the process of seeking to adapt Rome to the requirements of a great modern capital, much has been hastily swept away which ought, at the cost of any inconvenience, to have been retained ; nor that huge sums of money have not been expended on the erection of unsightly buildings and monuments which cause the passer-by to reflect sadly on the inferior taste in architecture and decoration prevailing in this age of progress.
But when all is said and done, what right have foreigners to attempt any active interference with matters in which they can only possess an indirect concern. No doubt it may be argued that the Mother of Cities is, in a sense, the property of the civilised world. But the Mother of Cities is also the capital of the Italian kingdom, and, as such, it is surely the privilege of the Italians to deal with it in such a way as may seem to them to meet their own tastes and requirements. Moreover, there are certainly not lacking prominent Italian criticsmen faithful to the highest traditions of art, and full of reverence for the mighty past of Romewho are ever ready to raise their voice against what may appear to them to be unnecessary destruction of ancient things, and their protests not unnaturally carry far greater weight with the Italian public than the hasty judgments passed by foreign busybodies in English newspapers.
I remember on one occasion, when winged words were flying in the columns of certain of our newspapers regarding some very necessary improvements then being carried out in Rome, suggesting to the editor of one of the leading Roman journals that he should allow me to write for him a series of letters purporting to be from an Italian commenting upon the spirit in which works of a similar kind were being carried out in London ; which letters, of course, were to be couched in the same language of complacent superiority and contempt which characterised the criticisms then appearing in the English Press on Roman improvements. The editor was highly amused by the idea ; but, on reflection, he declared that no Italian would be at all likely to place himself in such an obviously false position as that of publicly criticising schemes which the authorities in London might consider necessary to the public convenience in their city.
I suppose that no European capital, except it be Berlin, has changed so much in the last quarter of a century as Rome. London, of course, has also changed enormously during this perioda fact for which there is every reason to be profoundly thankful. But the external changes in London are, after all, confined to certain areas, whereas those in Rome have, spread themselves more or less over the whole city. But we may well leave the external changes to be discussed by those who have the right to discuss themand of these, as I have said, there are not wanting many Italians who vigorously denounce what they consider to be unnecessary destruction of time-honoured relics, and are not sparing in their criticisms of modern edifices and adornments which ill harmonise with the atmosphere of the Eternal City.
If the outward appearance of Rome has under-gone a change in the last five-and-twenty years, this change is as nothing compared with the change in her internal life. One still comes across certain individuals” old Romans” I believe they call themselves, being English people who have happened to reside in the place for some number of yearswho speak regretfully of the good old times before the Piedmontese occupied the city ; and among a certain type of English converts to Roman Catholicism it is the fashion to re-echo the lamentations of their elders. I must confess that, personally, I never knew Rome in those good old times. When I first lived in it, Victor Emanuel II. and Pius ix. had both departed from the scene several years previously, and things were beginning to settle down into their inevitable course. All the same, feeling still ran high between Quirinal and Vatican, and between their respective supporters. In those days, too, I admit, my own sympathies were entirely with the Vatican party. Myself a recent convert, I had come to Rome confident that all things were as I had so often heard them represented to be by the ” Black ” party. It took me some years to find out that they were not so.
What good old times of tyranny those must have been when the civil government of Rome and the Roman States were directed by ecclesiastics ! It is curious to think in these days, of travellers having to give up, at the frontier, all books of suspected orthodoxy which might be among their effects ; of eating-house keepers forbidden to serve customers with meat on Fridays or other days of fasting or abstinence, unless their clients could pro-duce the necessary ecclesiastical dispensation; of strict surveillance over everything excepting such details as public health and safety, and the amelioration of the squalor and ignorance in which was sunk the basso popolo of the capital and of the entire papal dominions.
The former things have passed away ; and, notwithstanding the lamentations over them proceeding from lovers of the picturesque, they are scarcely to be regretted. It is all very well for foreigners with æsthetic tastes to pour out the vials of their wrath on the heads of the Roman authorities because these have the effrontery to regulate their city in accordance with its modern requirements ; but artistic and archaeological considerations cannot invariably hold the first place at any municipal council-board. I hasten, however, to drop this thorny subject, lest I should be accused of being a greater Philistine than I really am. I would merely point out that none of us like to be told by an outsider how we should manage our own house, and that Italians do not differ from the rest of humanity in this particular.
I suppose I must devote some portion of these Roman chapters to a description of Roman society as it exists at the present timeand here I find myself at once confronted by a considerable difficulty. How, I wonder, should Roman society be defined’? There are, to be absolutely ungrammatical, so many of it. There is the alta società, which might be supposed to centre round the Court, but which, for reasons presently to be explained, in reality does nothing of the sort. There is the society of the world of politics, of art, of science, and of the alta borghesia. Every foreign colony, too, forms a little society of its own, enlarged by passing visitors in the hotels and pensions, who may happen to have some link with it. Then there is the clerical society which centres, to a certain degree, round the Vatican, and round those few great Roman houses which have remained faithful to the former order of things. In addition to all these, there is the diplomatic society which, in direct distinction to its counterpart in London, is all-important in the social life of Rome.
In London the Corps Diplomatique seems to be a body lost in the wilderness. Its members, with the exception of the ambassadors and ambassadresses of the chief powers, and a few secretaries and their wives whose knowledge of the English tongue has enabled them to break down that species of terror which the average Britisher displays when called upon to converse with a foreigner, are little known to the social world, and their invitations are, for the most part, limited to court and official functions, or, at the best, to large entertainments in some of the big houses at which they are lost in a struggling crowd on the staircase. Nobody pays any particular heed to them, and they as likely as not find them-selves compelled to fall back on the society of their own colleagues. In Rome, on the other hand, diplomatists and their wives have a great time of it. They are treated as important people ; while the ambassadors and heads of missions are veritable personages, accorded an attention only second to that paid to royalty. Moreover, Rome is the only capital in the world in which a double set of embassies exists ; namely, those to the sovereign holding his court in the Quirinal, and those to the sovereign who sits secluded in the Vatican. It may be said that the diplomatic society in Rome in a sense dominates all other sections of the social world, inasmuch as the principal embassies are the common ground on which nearly all the social sets come into contact with one another. Only on purely official occasions is the party spirit between Quirinal and Vaticanbetween the White and the Black parties now brought into any evidence, and, in all private entertaining, invitations to diplomatic houses are given and taken without reference to political opinions. It is true that the Vatican authorities do not smile on diplomatists accredited to the Holy See frequenting prominent ” White” houses or embassies, or asking official members of the ” White ” world to their own. An exclusive position in these matters, however, is no longer tenable for the Vatican. A second generation is in its prime since the temporal power and civil sovereignty of the Popes fell before the march of progress and the emancipation of the human mind from traditions based upon claims long proved to be imaginary. Many young people belonging to the ” Blackest” Roman families have married other young people of the opposite camp, and the pretensions of the Popes to a civil sovereignty are now regarded with almost as little attention by the Romans and Italians generally, as are the vapourings of a certain English society devoted to a culte for the descendants of the House of Stuart by the average Englishman.
Officially, however, the comedy is still kept up for political, and also, on the part of one of the parties concerned, for pecuniary, motives. These pages, however, have little to do with politics, nor should I have introduced into them any topics even remotely connected with religious controversy, were it not that in Italy, as, for that matter, in all countries, from its introduction into the world to the present day, Christianity has ever sought to use politics as an extra weapon in its armoury.
Naturally, none of the Corps Diplomatique in Rome accredited to the Holy See can present them-selves at the Quirinal, and vice versa. When I first was in Rome it was not etiquette for a cardinal to enter a house in which an ambassador to the king, and still less any member of the royal family, might be present. Nowadays, however, many of these rules are relaxedthough, as I have said, in all entertainments of an official nature the line is still rigidly drawn.
Very stately are these official receptions in the great palaces occupied by such embassies to the Holy See as those of Spain and Austria.
The beautiful rooms in the Palazzo di Spagna and in the Palazzo di Venezia, which for long has been the quarters of the Austrian Embassy to the Vatican, are worthy settings for such gatherings. Indeed, even the greatest of our London houses seem mean and cramped when compared with the spacious Roman palaces, with their magnificent staircases and beautifully decorated apartments. When, a few years ago, a well-known Roman prince and princess gave a great ball in honour of the German Emperor and Empress in their famous palace, the Emperor, on taking leave of his hosts and expressing the hope that he should see them in Berlin, added plaintively,
” But I shall not be able to show you anything like this ! One of the picturesque sights at official entertainments at the Black ” embassies is that of the cardinals being escorted up and down the staircase by gorgeously, attired lackeys bearing torches. The scarlet robes of the princes of the Church, the variety of uniforms and orders, and the magnificent jewels which so many of the Roman ladies possess, form a scene in which the medieval and the modern are curiously intermingled. Cardinals are by courtesy treated as royal princes when they go into the world ; but the deference paid them by English Catholics, and especially by converts, is the cause of not a little amusement to the Italians, and, occasionally, not a little embarrassment to their eminences themselves. A Roman lady, on greeting a cardinal, makes a very slight curtsey as she takes his hand, and a man makes a somewhat lower bow than he would do under ordinary circumstances. English people, on the contrary, usually make a deep genuflexion and kiss the ring which the cardinal wears outside his red glove. They generally go through the same process with any ecclesiastic who happens to be of episcopal rank. This excess of religious fervour, however, is in reality quite contrary to the correct rule, by which a bishop’s ring is only kissed when its wearer is in his own diocese. In Rome the bishop of the diocese is, of course, the Pope who does not go to parties. His Holiness, however, delegates his episcopal functions in the Roman diocese to one of the cardinals, who is known as the Cardinal Vicar, and the episcopal ring worn by this dignitary is the only one which it is correct to kiss in Rome, except, of course, that of the Holy Father himself.
The rules regulating precedence in Roman society are many and complicated, and numerous are the blunders into which a host or hostess may fall for want of knowledge of them. Such blunders are, as a rule, good-naturedly overlooked when perpetrated by an unofficial foreigner ; but should some official personage, or even some unofficial host or hostess who has been long enough in the Roman world to know better, send his or her guests into dinner out of their due place, the error is apt to be resented.
The etiquette obtaining at the Papal Court is of an extremely stately and impressive kind, and unique in its character and medieval colouring. Most people are acquainted, either by experience or by reading of them, with the pomp and circumstance surrounding the functions in St. Peter’s or in the Vatican to which the public are admitted, so it is needless to describe them here. A private audience of the Holy Father is, however, another matter, and perhaps some account of its accompanying feature may be permitted. The individual who is admitted to this honour receives an intimation from the Pope’s Maestro di Camera that the Holy Father will receive him on such a day, at such an hour. Formerly, the bearer of this intimation expected, and received, a considerable gratuity ; but this abuse has, in common with many others of a similar nature, I believe, been suppressed.
In the case of a man, evening clothes or uniform is de règle, and if he is wise he will choose the latter, should a choice be open to him. One’s evening clothes are not always in a condition to bear the morning light of Rome, and, at the best, they are apt to suggest a late return from some haunts of dissipation rather than a morning visit to the Head of Christendom. Ladies’ attire is limited to high-cut black gowns, with a black lace veil worn, mantilla-wise, on the head ; while a scanty amount of jewellery is considered to be correct, and this to be confined to diamonds and colourless stones.
Leo XIII. was more ready to grant private audiences than the present Pontiffand, indeed, my personal experiences of such matters are limited to his reign. I have confessed that my ideas were “Black ” in those days, and this and other circumstances enabled me to have the privilege of being received on many occasions, both alone and in the company of some members of my family. I usually found the interval, passed in the antechamber opening into the Pope’s private study, not the least interesting part of the affair ; for here one could watch the coming and going of dignitaries of the Church of all nationalities and colours ; of the officials of the Papal Court and the officers-in-waiting of the Noble Guard ; while, if occasion permitted, one might enjoy a few minutes’ conversation with some friend or acquaintance who happened to be in attendance that day. Sometimes an ambassador or minister would pass in or out from the presence, or some Cardinal of the Curia, and then there would be a subdued bustle among the courtiers, and a rattle of steel as the guards saluted. Occasionally, too, Leo XIII. would unexpectedly emerge from his study, and then all present would drop on their knees as he passed. What the twelve Apostles would have thought of it all, I often wondered ; but it is of no use to embark upon unprofitable speculations in such matters. Presently one of the monsignori-in-waiting would approach with the intimation that the moment of audience had arrived. I never could help associating, in my mind, that particular instant with the opening of the door of the dentist’s waiting-room and the urbane announcement of his servant : “Doctor So-and-so will see you, sir.”
It is etiquette, on being ushered into the Pope’s presence, to make a genuflexion at the door of his apartment ; a second, in the centre of the room ; and a third, after which one remains kneeling, at his feet. Leo XIII. was a far greater exactor of the formalities than, I believe, is the case with his successor. His slipper, with the embroidered cross upon it, was always displayed in such a manner as to suggest the act of homage of kissing itthough this act; except in the case of ecclesiastics, or under special circumstances, has never, I think, been regarded as in any way obligatory.
No one, whatever his religious or political opinions, could enter the presence of Leo XIII. without recognising that he was in the presence of a great man possessed of a strong will and a keen intellect. I do not remember that he ever alluded to religious matters in any audience he deigned to grant me, and as a rule he did not touch upon political questions. On one occasion, however, he did so. I was quite alone with him, and I never recollect to have passed a more interesting half-hour. On another occasion he described to me his life in London, when he visited England for a short space during his career as a diplomatist. He declared to me that he had lodgings in Regent Streetand I fear the vision conjured up by this announcement caused me to smile. It seemed a somewhat incongruous thoroughfare for a Pope to have lived in, and I have always thought that he must have been mistaken in the locality. He had the greatest admiration for Queen Victoria, and, knowing that my father had been about her Court, he rarely failed to speak of her. One audience remains indelibly impressed upon my mind, for during it occurred a comic incident which caused both me and the two monsignori-in-waiting to shake with suppressed laughter, while the Pope himself was evidently not unmoved, though he pretended not to be aware that anything was wrong.
At the request of a relative of mine who had been granted a private audience, and who was nervous about going through it alone, I succeeded in obtaining permission for my name to be added to the audience-paper, in order that I might ac-company her. Being a very devout Catholic, and also very thoughtful of the tenants on her husband’s estates in Ireland, she had brought with her a large black bag stuffed full of rosaries, medals, crucifixes, and other objects of devotion which she was anxious that the Holy Father should bless, with a view to distributing them when she returned home. All went smoothly until, at the conclusion of the audience, she asked me to inform the Pope of her anxiety to obtain his blessing on the contents of her bag, and to explain to him that she was taking them to Ireland to give to her Catholic tenants and cottagers. The Pope graciously consented, and nothing remained but to open the bag so that he might bless the numerous articles it contained. Nothing, however, would induce that bag to open. The spring of the lock had stuck fast, and it resisted not only all my efforts, but also those of the monsignori who came to the rescue. Now, to struggle on one’s knees with a refractory bag with the Pope looking on is to find oneself in an unusually embarrassing position, as all will admit. A minute or two seemed an hour ; but happily the lock at last gave way to our united efforts, during which Leo XIII. appeared to be immersed in thought, and kept his gaze carefully directed into the opposite corner of the room. I am afraid I laughed all the way as we left the papal apartments, much to my relative’s annoyance, and so, I strongly suspect, did the Holy Father and his attendants, as soon as the last genuflexion had been made and the door of the presence chamber closed upon us.
I think Leo XIII. owed his singular impressiveness almost entirely to his dominant will and intellectual powers. He had certainly none of the charm of manner which must have been so peculiarly attractive in Pius ix., and which, I believe, is a gift possessed also by Pius x. He was always rather the Sovereign Pontiff than the benevolent and fatherly priest. Apparently, it is true, his features wore a kindly smile ; but the keen and hard glance of his remarkably penetrating eyes would have belied that smile even had it really existed as an habitual expression. As a matter of fact, it was no smile at all, but the natural elongation of an unusually wide mouth. His voice, too, was singularly harsh and unmusical. Apart from audiences, I sometimes had the honour of being admitted to his private Mass in the little chapel in his apartments. His intonation when officiating was unlike any sound I have ever heard. I have no wish to be irreverent, but I can only compare it with the sounds one may sometimes hear when a water-pipe is stopped up. When receiving the Sacrament at the Pope’s hands, it is obligatory to kiss his ring before he places the Host between the lips of the communicant. Many are unaware of this, and I have known embarrassing pauses ensue in consequence. The monsignore in attendance, however, immediately grasps the situation, and whispers the necessary reminder in the ear of the recipient. After his Mass another is immediately said in his presence ; and then the Pope seats himself near one side of the altar, while one by one those who have assisted at the ceremony are presented to him, and he says a few words to each before retiring from the chapel. Leo XIII. kept a large staff of secretaries constantly at work, and he would often rise in the night in order to make some alteration in the draft of a document.
One might imagine that the Papal Court would be more or less free from that spirit of intrigue and the petty jealousies which are supposed to exist in all courts, but this is by no means the case. Indeed, the Vatican has ever been a receptacle into which most of the gossip of Rome quickly finds its way while internal disagreements and petty envies and jealousies are as common in the apostolic palaces as they are elsewhere. Upon the vexed question of the entirely voluntary seclusion of the Popes within the precincts of the Vaticanthough, on the part of the present Pontiff, it may well be doubted if this seclusion is not rather a matter of conformity to policy than a matter of conscienceI will not touch. It is sufficient to say that all parties have an interest in the maintenance of the status quo, and no other solution of the many and grave problems which would immediately arise should the Popes emerge from their nominally enforced seclusion could well be found under present circumstances. In all respects the Supreme Pontiff is regarded by the Italian Government as a free and independent sovereign, and all the privileges and honours due to this position are scrupulously accorded to him. His vast correspondence, as well as that of all the different departments connected with the Vatican, and his telegraphic communications, are all free from any charges by the State, and no articles entering his palaces are liable to customs duty.
By the Law of Guarantees a large yearly sum was voted by the Italian Government as an indemnity to the Vatican for its temporal revenues, but this sum has never been touched by the papal government. I often notice a remark in clerical papers, and have heard the same made by persons who disapprove of the presence in Rome of the Italian Government and the Italian Sovereign, to the effect that were the Pope to claim this indemnity, together with its arrears accumulated during forty odd years, the Italian Government would be practically unable to meet the demand. This, however, is an error. By a clause in the said Law of Guarantees arrears of this proffered indemnity which are unclaimed revert to the Italian State at the death of each Pope. The entire Law of Guarantees was rejected by the Vatican at the time of its promulgation, and the Holy See has never officially recognised its existence. It is there-fore a futile argument on the part of the enemies of the Italian Government to fix upon the Indemnity Clause in that law, and attempt to disguise or conceal its actual conditions.
Notwithstanding the fact of the virtual rejection by the Vatican of the law in question, the clerical party never ceases to complain that its provisions have not been observed in the past, and that there is no security that the Italian Government would observe them in the future. The charge is utterly untrue. The truth is that the Italian Government has systematically acted up to its self-imposed obligations towards the Vatican, and this not unfrequently in the face of great provocation. There is no occasion, when anti-clerical demonstrations are to be apprehended, that the Italian Government does not act with prompt severity in suppressing any acts hostile to the Vatican ; and even when the Pope receives large bodies of pilgrims, or descends into St. Peter’s to say Mass, detachments of Italian troops maintain order in the streets leading to the basilica, while the civil authorities are responsible that the fullest liberty should be accorded to the spiritual sovereign in his own domain. The insults offered to the corpse of Pius IX. by a section of the Roman populace, when, in 1881, it was transported from St. Peter’s to the basilica of San Lorenzo for interment, are invariably cited as an instance of what the Pope might at any moment have to endure at the hands of the Italians. This incident was certainly a most regrettable and a most scandalous one ; but the responsibility for it by no means rested only with the Government. Thousands of priests and clericals were permitted by their leaders to shout ” Viva il Papa Re ! ” as the cortège passed through the streets, thereby provoking recriminations and exciting their opponents to anger. The Government was merely guilty of having believed the representations of the Vatican that the body should be transported quietly, and the precautions taken by it to ensure due respect being paid to the funeral procession were, in consequence, inadequate. Documents relating to this incident have recently been published ; and it would be well for those who quote it as a sign of the ill-faith of the Italian Government to peruse them.
As a matter of fact, however, it is only when one compares the perfect liberty and reverence enjoyed by the Popes since the fall of their ill-acquired temporal sovereignty with their position previous to that date, that the falseness of arguments still advanced by ultamontane clericals (of whom the greater number are now probably to be found in the British Empire) is laid bare. How many times in history has Rome not driven Popes out from her gates with insult and ignominy ? And what has been the record of the temporal sovereignty of the Vicars of Christ save that of tyranny, persecution, endless wars provoked for the sake of ambition, and the most cynical frauds ? Fortunately, however, as I have already said, time, il galantuomo, has vindicated the right of the Italians to suppress a purely worldly institution, which for centuries had become not only useless but dangerous to humanity in general, and has shown how the Vatican, stripped of its civil authority, is freer and more independent to work out its spiritual mission than at any period in its long history. If the claims to temporal sovereignty over Rome are still kept up officially, this is due to political and other reasons which my readers must study elsewhere. Having taken them into the palace of the Popes, I will now take them into that other palace, across the Tiber, in which the sovereigns of Italy watch over and work for the destinies of a people who have good reason to love and respect them.
Unlike that other Court at the Vatican, there is little that is stately in the daily life of the King and Queen of Italy, and the rigid etiquette which surrounds crowned heads is only brought into evidence on official and public occasions, and even then it is toned down to suit the democratic instincts of the modern Italians. The sovereigns reside in a remote corner of the vast Quirinal Palace, and it is in the simplest of rooms that the king receives those to whom he accords the honour of an audience. One is introduced into his presence by an aide-decamp-in-waiting, and the young monarch’s kindly manner is not concealed by a certain abruptness with which it is accompanied. Indeed, this abruptness, if anything, rather puts one, not only at one’s ease, but also, so to speak, on one’s mettle. One instinctively feels that one is meant to talk, and not merely to sit still and listen to the king talking. His questions, and they are apt to be many, are always direct and always practical, and they are questions which require the replies to be not less so. The king speaks English perfectly, and never hesitates to find a word. I recollect, however, his doing so on one occasion. He was speaking of some mechanical appliance and was suddenly brought to a pause by some technical word in English which had escaped his memory. He asked me what the word was in our language, and I was unable to supply him with it. It would, I think, be hard to find any one who could talk so well and so incisively on a large variety of subjects as King Victor Emanuel.
He once told me of some experiences he had had when on board a little sailing yacht he had taken into the Thames and anchored somewhere in the river among the London docks. At that time, of course, he was Prince of Naples, and was on board his little vessel in strict incognito. I am afraid he had not received the best impression of the impeccability of some of the river police, for he told me that perpetual requests were made to those on board for small payments to avoid difficulties with the port authorities over some neglect of purely imaginary rules for vessels lying in the river. I regretted afterwards that I had not told him the experience of an Italian friend of mine who, on coming to London for the first time, got out of the train at Cannon Street under the impression that he had arrived at Charing Cross. His hand-bags were put on a cab, which he directed to drive to the hotel he had selected, and all went well until, after driving for about half an hour, the cabman pulled up and informed him that he was not allowed to proceed farther, but that another cab would take him on to his destination. The cabman likewise demanded ten shillings as his fare. My friend, who had some hazy ideas in his mind concerning the peculiar privileges of the city of London, fell into the trap, and after paying the fare asked was driven off in another cab to his hotel, where a second fare of ten shillings was demanded, and he was left under the impression that London must be the most expensive city in the world in which to hire public conveyances. Indeed, the taking-in of innocent foreigners was what caused the king to relate his experiences of our river police, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that it is not in Italy alone that the foreigner is apt to be exploited.
Shortly after the discovery of radium I happened to take to Rome with me one of Sir William Crookes’ little tubes with a magnifying glass, in which was an infinitesimal amount of salts of radium. It was the first that had ever been seen in Italy, and I showed it to various people in Rome. Soon afterwards I received an intimation to the effect that the king and queen would like to see it, and that they would receive me one evening after dinner. I went to the Quirinal, and found them quite alone, with only one of the queen’s ladies and an aide-de-camp in attendance. The king asked me so many searching questions as to the properties of radium that I was obliged to tell His Majesty that I knew nothing whatever about it beyond having read what every one had read concerning it in the newspapers. I must confess that the handing of the tube to him and the queen in complete darkness, and fear lest I might miscalculate distances and bring it into violent contact with the royal noses was a little embarrassing, but the absence of all formality and the keen interest displayed by both the king and queen made everything easy.
All the world knows how both King Victor and Queen Elena work for the good of their people ; how they are the first to be on the spot when danger or disease threatens, and are ever ready to share any peril which may menace the country. Their example in the terrible time of the earthquakes in Sicily and Calabria is fresh in the memory of all, and there is no Italian worthy of the name, be he republican, socialist, or even anarchist, who, however much he may be opposed to royalty as a system, does not recognise their devotion and their personal courage in the face of national danger and distress. Nor is this devotion limited to the mitigation of national disasters. Private suffering equally experiences their sympathy and practical aid ; and Queen Elena’s works of mercy and charity, and the king’s generosity and quick initiative, are matters to which thousands in all parts of their dominions can testify.
The popularity of the queen-mother, too, is immense. Queen Margherita occupies the palace which was built by Prince Piombino to replace the ancient Palazzo Piombino in Piazza Colonna. Here she maintains her own Court, which in some respects is more typically Royal than that of the Quirinal. Intellectual, and highly appreciative of all that is artistic, Queen Margherita, too, is perfectly at home in the English tongue, and a great reader of English literature. There is more formality connected with an audience with her than in the case of one with the king. As on entering the presence of the Pope, so, when introduced to the presence of the queen-mother, three low bows (not, of course, genuflexions as at the Vatican) are de rigueur, and at the conclusion of the audience the visitor is expected to back out of the room, only turning as he or she reaches the door. Her Majesty’s drawing-room is of considerable length, and the process of making a good shot for the exit behind one is attended with many risks of disaster. It is as well carefully to locate the furniture before embarking on the return journey.
The etiquette of the House of Savoy makes it impossible for the Italian sovereigns to mix in the society of the capital as is the case with our own royalties. Except on special occasions, usually in the case of an embassy of some great power, or an entertainment given in honour of a foreign sovereign, the king and queen cannot be in the position of guests. Perhaps this restriction is not altogether an advantage to Roman society, since it unquestionably limits the influence of the Court in social matters, and deprives it of that figure-head which a Court should supply. I am, of course, only giving vent to the opinion of a foreigner who has little or no business to have an opinion on such a matter ; but I have always thought that Roman society suffers not a little from the fact that the Court is so much a thing apart from it, the Court entourage forming rather a clique than an active partner in the haute société of the capital. But, I repeat, this is a mere conjecture, and doubtless reasons far more important than social considerations exist to render necessary such comparative aloofness.
In many ways the society of Rome has changed greatly in the last few years. Formerly the Romans were apt to be content with receiving the hospitality of the strangers within their gates who had the means to offer it, without greatly concerning themselves as to who or what these strangers might be in their own country. The great families of the north, and those of Naples and the south, largely kept to their own local capital cities, in which they had their own society and often entertained on a princely scale. The result on Roman society undoubtedly was that it became a happy hunting-ground for foreign adventurers, among whom Americans and English were prominent. At one time the American invasion threatened to sweep all before it. American marriages were the fashion, and Americans located themselves in historic palaces and played at being Roman princes. During the last few years, however, a change has spread over the scene, and an inner section of Roman society has arisen which is strong enough and rich enough to keep foreign social adventurers outside it. This section is reinforced by the yearly advent to Rome for the “season” of the representatives of the aristocrazia in the other great cities, and in con-sequence there is now a nucleus which is the genuine Roman society as distinct from the heterogeneous and cosmopolitan society which has its centre in the embassies and the houses belonging to wealthy foreigners. Indeed, as has been the case in London for very many years, what is called Society has in self-defence had to break itself up into cliques, and though the number and dimensions of these cliques in Rome is necessarily very limited, their appearance has made a considerable change in the traditions of Roman social life.
There yet remain some relics of the exclusively Black ” society, which in days gone by prided itself on admitting to its salons only those who shared the political ideas of the Vatican. It must be confessed, however, that they are very mouldy relics, and the few ” Black ” salons which survive have to hunt up their recruits among foreign Catholics, whose somewhat aggressive piety would not unfrequently appear to be their sole passport into the company in which they find themselves. Naturally enough, Rome is the earthly paradise of professional saints ; and any observant person possessed of a sense of humour may enjoy himself mightily in watching the climb up the social ladder of individuals of both sexes belonging to this category who have come to Rome in the hopes of being admitted into the society of those who can boast of the possession of coronets in this world, while improving their own chances of wearing a crown in the next.
It is not difficult to acquire a papal title. Indeed, it is only necessary to be in a position to devote a certain amount of money to the enterprise, expending it in aid of ” religious ” institutions, and in judicious advertisement of the sums thus given, and not to hide the light of your Catholic fervour under a bushel. Of course, the business must be tactfully worked, and the sympathies of the right dignitaries of the Vatican duly secured. Perfect gravity is occasionally hard to maintain when some individual, often of Irish extraction, is pompously announced as ” the Marquis “or ” the Duke M`Grady of Ballyblarney,” or some such name. How often have I not regretted that Thackeray did not keep Becky and Major Loder longer in Rome, and that Monsieur Fiche, who, by the way, himself blossomed out into a baron shortly afterwards, frightened the little woman away !
As in Florence, the various foreign colonies in Rome find their society among each other ; and this is especially the case with the British colony, which and here I will return to Thackeray againcarries with it its pride, pills, prejudices, Harvey sauces, cayenne peppers, and other Lares, making a little Britain wherever it settles down. I have not much acquaintance with it, and so no doubt am mistaken ; but its principal occupation would appear to be to rhapsodise about Rome and revile the Romans.
As might be expected, there is a large artistic and scientific section in Roman society, and in this the feuds perpetually raging between eminent archologians, native and foreign, are a never-failing source of interest and amusement. There is one particular salon in which the leading lights of this society congregate, the hostess of which is herself one of the most talented and learned ladies in Europe, and a member, to boot, of one of Rome’s most illustrious and historical families, whose pedigree goes back for more than a thousand years, and whose honours are in no way due to papal ancestors, though it has given Popes to the papal throne. Here one may meet the learned of all nations, and the political, artistic, and literary world is always well represented. I suppose the Countess ‘s salon has a world-wide reputation, and it certainly must be satisfactory to its amiable and intellectual hostess to feel that almost every eminent individual, in whatever line and of whatever nationality, who happens to come to Rome, is sooner or later the recipient of her kindly hospitality. Her dinners, perhaps, are even more appreciated than her parties, which, as a matter of fact, are not parties, but impromptu gatherings, at which one may find ten people, or one may find a hundred. At her dinners, her wit, which is sometimes satirical, sometimes even caustic, but never ill-natured, is apt to burst out at unexpected moments ; and she possesses, to a greater degree, I think, than any one I know, that gift belonging to really clever people of leading others on to talk their best while she herself, knowing more of the subject probably than the talkers, plays the part of a sympathetic listener.
There are other salons in Rome in which intellectual achievements count for more than birth or wealth ; but I have mentioned this particular one not only because it is in some ways unique, but also because it has been for very many years regarded as a sort of institution in Roman society, and because not only Rome, but all Italy, admires and respects its talented mistress.
Undoubtedly the pleasantest feature of society in Rome are the informal visits after dinner which may be paid to any hostess who has invited one to pay them, and this invitation once given is intended to apply to any night on which the giver may happen to be at home. One may go to find oneself practically alone with one’s hostess and her family, or find a gathering which differs in no way from a party. There is no stiffness, and no uncomfortable standing about, for, as a rule, the Roman drawing-rooms are spacious enough to seat any reasonable number of people. People come in and go away without vain excuses or apologiesand, indeed, it is only in England that visitors, after remaining perhaps an unconscionable time, think it necessary to give vent to some obviously untruthful excuse for getting up and going away. A cup of tea, or some lemonade and a sandwich or two are considered ample provision for guests on such occasions, for it is not yet supposed that people cannot meet in society without being provided with an elaborate supper. Probably in one of the rooms bridge will be in process, but this does not put a stop to conversation, and those who do not wish. to play are never made to feel that their presence is undesirable. Unless one is an intimate, one is not supposed to prolong one’s visit unduly, and as the majority of people have several calls of a similar kind to pay in the course of the evening, twenty minutes or half an hour is the most they can devote to one of them.
The Romans have of late years become much more addicted to sports and out-of-door life than was formerly the case. Fox-hunting, of course, has for nearly a century been an institution ; and whereas it used to be confined to a limited number of supporters, augmented by English visitors, there are now large ” fields” in which not only Romans, but sportsmen from all parts of Italy are represented, while many Italian ladies are keen and bold riders. And, indeed, good horsemanship and good nerve are very necessary when hunting in the Roman Campagna. The stiff timber fences require much negotiating on the part of both the horses and their riders. Of late years stag-hunting, also, has been instituted, and the magnificent old feudal castle of Bracciano, belonging to Prince Odescalchi, about fifty miles from Rome, is the headquarters of the staghounds. Thither those who care for this kind of “sport ” are conveyed with their horses by train. The deer, however, are ” carted,” and, in the opinion of the present writer at all events, it would be well in the interests of humanity were all such methods of hunting to be everywhere abolished.
Motor-cars, of course, have revolutionised the social life of Rome as they have that of London. Picturesque and historic places without number, which were formerly as good as inaccessible, are now favourite excursions. The only drawback is the vileness of the roads. All roads, as we know, lead to Rome; but the nearer they approach the walls of the Eternal City, the more abominable do they become !