OF all the months in an Italian year, May, June, and October are certainly the most delightful and in May and June, Rome and the districts surrounding it are seen at their very best. The heat is never excessive, so long as the scirocco does not blow ; but when that accursed wind does blow, it brings with it a feeling of limpness and lassitude, and its effect on the nerves and temper are apt to be disturbing. Fortunately, there is far less scirocco in the spring and summer months than in autumn and winter. The Italian sun hurts nobodyeven in the dog-days ; it is when the sun does not shine and the sky is leaden-coloured, when the hot wind from the African deserts sweeps over the country and fills the eyes and the nose and every little pore of the skin with dust, that one longs for the fresh breezes of the north. I have often noticed that foreigners are not particularly affected by the scirocco until they have been several years in Italy, and they can scarcely understand the influence it has upon Italians and upon those who have lived long in the country. The Italian, indeed, suffers greatly from the heat, whereas he can, as a rule, stand any amount of cold, and hardly appears to feel it. The heat of English houses, for instance, makes many of my Italian friends positively illand I must confess that I have learned to share their dislike of artificially heated rooms and stuffy houses. Not a little of my time in English houses is spent in surreptitiously opening windows, when I think I shall not be found out, and in letting a little pure air penetrate into places where it seems to me to be badly needed.
English and Americans find Italian houses bitterly cold until they have become used to them ; and, indeed, the comparative rarity of open fire-places in the more modern dwellings cannot be said to be compensated by the warmth of the winter sun. The sun, moreover, does not always shine in Italy ; and this is a point which the modern Italian house-builder does not seem able to grasp. In old days the Italians would seem to have appreciated the comfort of fires, if one may judge by the huge open fireplaces to be found in the palaces and villas built in the Middle Ages. But it is certainly a remarkable thing that even houses built at the present time are, as a rule, unprovided with flues and hearths in the living-rooms. Objections to this want are usually met by the excuse” Ma-non c’è mai bisogno di caminetti ! C’è il sole,”and it is in vain to attempt to argue that in winter there ,are many grey and bitter days on which the sun is invisible, and that even on fine days it has a habit of setting. The Italian proverb” Dove non entra it sole, entra it medico “is a very true one ; but it is equally true that the doctor would enter less frequently were Italian dwellings constructed more in conformity with the exigencies of a climate which is a “good winter climate” only in the imagination of foreign physicians anxious to get rid of troublesome patients.
I am afraid that the real reason for the absence, or rarity, of any means of supplementing the capricious action of the sun is to be looked for in the costliness of fuel in Italy. It is only the rich who can afford to keep other fires going in their establishments save that which cooks the family meals. The miserable apology for coal which is sold in Italy costs exactly four times as much per ton as the very best and most expensive English or Belgian coal ; while wood, owing to the wholesale destruction of trees in the past, and the complete ignorance which, until recent times, reigned through-out Italy regarding forestry, is rapidly becoming almost as costly an article. The humble family which makes a sitting-room of its kitchen on winter days and evenings indisputably enjoys more comfort than many of the signoria who sit in their apartments round a brazier, in which are glowing some lumps of charcoal or some wood ashes. I suppose, however, that it is all a matter of habit. tut I must admit that, personally, I far prefer the cold. Italian room to the overheated atmosphere of the average English houseand that the modern hotels, with their calorifères and other pestilential appliances for the promotion of stuffiness, are purgatory to me. There is, however, a middle course in house-warming, as in everything else, and I confess that what I will call the sun argument of the Italians in this matter is a singularly illogical argument, framed, as I have suggested, to conceal another far more practical one.
Another reason, no doubt, which makes the majority of Italian dwellings fall considerably short of the standard of English home comfort is due to the fact that Italian housewives do not receive much encouragement from their husbands and sons in making their homes attractive. In towns and villages alike it is the custom to repair to the caffè immediately after the evening meal, and in little country villages which cannot boast of a caffè the appalto, or tobacconist’s shop, usually supplies the meeting-place whither the male members of the community betake themselves to smoke and gossip over a glass of wine. Nevertheless, it is a great mistake to assume that the idea of home is altogether absent from Italian life, an assertion which I have frequently met with in books concerning Italy. I believe that there is more genuine attachment to family life among Italians of all classes than is to be found among the English, though there may be less attachment or sentiment concerning the home itself. That family affection is far deeper among Italians than it is with us is indisputable. Family interests, too; are, as a rule, united, and not, as is so often the case in England, divided, or, perhaps, actually antagonistic.
I feel confident that readers of this book will say that it is full of digressionsand they will be perfectly right in their criticism. But the country, and the people about whom I am writing, are also full of digressions. Italian life is not ordered like that in Germany or England, and in Italy the expected rarely comes to pass. The great thing is not to expect too muchand then one will often be most agreeably surprised.
In these days of motor-cars countless districts, until recently only accessible at the cost of much time, inconvenience, and discomfort, are now easily visited by those who can afford this mode of travelling. It is certainly pleasant to be independent of railways, especially of Italian railways, and to be able so to plan one’s expeditions as to arrive by nightfall at one of the larger towns which offer decent accommodation in the way of inns. But there is much to be said, too, in favour of the out-of-date horse, more particularly if the object of such expeditions is to explore not only the highways, but also the byways of Italy. Especially is this the case in the country around and south of Rome. Nowadays people think nothing of motoring from Rome to Naples, and no doubt it is satisfactory to know that, barring accidents, one will pass the night in comfort in a Naples hotel instead of in supreme discomfort in the ” hotel” of such a place, for in-stance, as Terracina.
If time is no object, I would choose a couple of strong Maremma ponies and a light “machine,” as the Scots would call it, with a hood to it in preference to any motor-car. As to the discomforts attendant on passing the nights at the inns of small country towns, these, mercifully, are of a transitory nature. I admit that they are sometimes disagreeable enough while they last ; but when morning comes they are speedily forgotten, and, as a rule, the goodwill of one’s hostseven if it be limited by force of circumstances to words rather than deedsmakes one ready to put up with the roughest of fare and the most primitive of sleeping and other accommodation. It is the fashion to say that one is so independent when touring in a motor-car ; but it always seems to me that in reality one is nothing of the kind. At any moment one is liable to have one’s utter dependency insisted upon in the most humiliating way, even to following the car on foot while it is being dragged ignominiously along a dusty road to the nearest paese by a couple of oxen provided from some neighbouring fattoria. With ordinary forethought and humanity, nothing is likely to go wrong with a couple of sturdy Maremma horses. They will do their fifty and sixty miles in a dayand more than thiswith the greatest ease if properly driven and cared for. And how pleasant it is to be able to turn down any attractive-looking lane, or to stop to explore some ancient villa, or visit some farm, without any anxious feelings as to the effect of rough tracks and bypaths on tyres or machinery !
To any one interested in the animal and plant life of the country, there can be no doubt as to the advantages of sitting behind horses rather than in a motor. Countless objects of interest must necessarily escape one’s attention when speeding through the country at a rate of thirty or forty miles an hour. Moreover, wild creatures of all kinds are far more shy of motor-cars in Italy than they are in England or Scotland. I have often motored through deer forests in Scotland and have been astonished at the unconcern of the deer, who will sometimes remain quietly feeding within fifty yards of the road on which one is travelling. In the wilder parts of Italy, however, such as the Maremma or the Pontine Marshes, a motor has the effect of rendering both animals and birds invisible, except the cattle and buffalo, who doubtless are quite aware that if they chose they could bring disaster on any car. I have repeatedly motored through both of these enchanting districts with companions who have looked incredulous when I have assured them that the woods, plains, and lagoons they were passing teemed with animal life ; and I have driven through these same districts, or ridden through them, and my eyes have ached at the end of the day from watching the wild life that the more familiar sound of horses’ hoofs has not scared into temporary hiding.
As I have said before, the uninitiated and the fashionable are content to spend a spring or early summer day on an excursion into the Alban Hills and on doing the round of the Castelli Romani. It is all charming, certainly ; but those who are sensible enough to go farther afield and to penetrate into the inner mysteries of the Pontine Marshes and the beautiful passes and hill towns among the Volscian Mountains in the months of May and June will enjoy experiences which, I think, they will never forget, especially if they be lovers of Nature, and have some understanding of the creatures, animal and vegetable, that frequent her more remote haunts. The general idea concerning the Pontine Marshes is that they are dreary expanses of swamps and waste lands ravaged by malaria, and few people have any conception of their extraordinary fascination during certain seasons of the year. Swamps and waste land there certainly are in abundance ; and the problem of draining this vast district, which baffled Roman emperors, is still far from being entirely solved, though large tracts have been reclaimed and now yield valuable crops of grass and corn. The lover of Nature in her wilder moods will secretly rejoice that in the Pontine Marshes she has been only partially vanquished by the utilitarian spirit of mankind.
To make a three or four days’ driving-tour in a light baroccino through the Pontine Marshes any time from the beginning of May till the end of June is one of the most delightful experiences that can fall to any one’s lot in Italy. The old Volscian city of Velletri, situated on the last spur of the Alban Hills, forms a picturesque gateway to the Paludi Pontini, and from hence one descends by a good road to the plain. The town well repays a few hours spent in wandering about it, though for discomfort and dirt it would be hard to beat its principal hotel. It is full of interesting buildings, such as the old papal palace built by Giacomo della Porta, which occupies the site of the ancient Volscian citadel, and is now the Municipio, and the magnificent but gloomy and ill-cared-for Palazzo Lancellotti, now called Palazzo Gianetti and belonging to the prince of that name. Passing through its grim portals one finds oneself in an open gallery resembling the interior of some vast cathedral, from which a marble staircase winds up to the top of the building. On each landing of this staircase is a loggia, from which are to be seen most lovely views in all directions. The Velletrani are an extremely handsome racebut the beauty in both sexes is usually of a sullen and repellent type ; and, indeed, they have always born an evil reputation, formerly for acts of brigandage and now for crimes of violence for which the potent Velletri wines are no doubt largely responsible.
” Velletrani sette volte villani ” is an old Latian proverb which, unfortunately, appears to be still applicable to the population of Velletri if one may judge from the opinion of the Carabinieri quartered in the city, though personally I have never met with anything but courtesy and kindness during my visits to the place. After leaving Velletri one soon finds oneself in the immense domain of the Caetani family, which stretches for well-nigh a hundred miles of country. To enumerate the immense number of fiefs possessed in the past and present by this splendid House would be hopeless. Its principalities, duchies, and lordships were in remote ages united into an absolute sovereignty, and the Caetani owe their family name to Caieta. While much of this ancient domain has passed into other hands in the course of the centuries, much remains ; and the dukedom of Sermoneta, borne by the present well-known head of the Caetani, represents a domain unequalled in extent, variety, and historical association and tradition by anything in the British Isles. It is pleasant to think, as one drives through this territory, that its owners are fully worthy of the great position they hold. Unlike many Italian magnates, the Caetani do not abandon their proper-ties and regard them merely as sources from which to draw funds to be spent in Rome or in foreign capitals.
The Duke and Duchess of Sermoneta reside constantly at one or another of the palaces and castles on their estates, and the magnificent old feudal castle of Sermoneta, from which they take their principal title, has been of recent years restored, and it is here and at their shooting-place at Fogliano on the seacoast where they spend most of their time when they are not in the Caetani palace in Rome. The duchess, of course, was an Englishwoman by birth, as were the mothers or wives of Prince Borghese, Prince Doria, and several other heads of great Roman houses. Her name is one to conjure by among the population of the Pontine Marshes and the hill villages and towns in the neighbourhood of Sermoneta. To her and to the duke’s initiative and interest in the people and their needs are due countless useful works, the effects of which one may see as one traverses their domains. The sick and the fever-stricken are cared for and supplied with remedies and drugs which they would have to travel miles to obtain were it not for the thoughtfulness of the owners of the soil. Among her other country pursuits, the Duchess di Sermoneta maintains a large horse – breeding establishment, and great numbers of her horses are bought by the Government for the cavalry regiments.
At Cisterna, a little paese some miles below Velletri, on the borders of the Marshes, is another of the Caetani palacesa vast, picturesque building which is no longer used as a residence, since Sermoneta itself is only a few miles distant.
Cisterna itself is famous as being the site of the Three Taverns mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, As to Sermoneta, its history goes back to early in the twelfth century, and in 1297 it was already Caetani property. The Borgia confiscated the Caetani possessions in 1500, and Sermoneta was created a dukedom by Alexander VI. and bestowed on his own family. His successor, however, Julius Ir., restored the Caetani to all their honours, and until well into the nineteenth century they exercised entire feudal authority, including the power of life and death over their people.
One of the most fascinating spots in the whole of the Pontine district is the deserted little town of Ninfa, some eight miles or so from Cisterna. What were once dwellings are now ruins completely buried not by mounds of earth, but under masses of roses and flowering creepershoneysuckle, jasmine, vines run riot, and every variety of wild flowers. A placid pool reflects on its surface the ruins of a medieval tower, the remains of a Caetani fortress of the thirteenth century, under which nestles an ancient water-mill still in use. The little river Nymfeo, from which the village took its name, crystal-clear, wanders through the tangled greenery, and in the spring a chorus of nightingales and other singing-birds resounds in every direction. One may hear it in the distance long before one reaches the place. Gorgeous butterflies hover over the abandoned houses, from the casements of which hang festoons of wild roses and ” traveller’s joy.” In the centre of the paese rises a deserted church, originally built, I believe, by Pope Gregory IX. about the year 1200. Clematis and wall-flowers, myrtle and the sweet-scented bay cover its walls and roof, with here and there great clumps of red and white lilies and yellow broom. There are other churches too, their aisles ivy-hunga safe retreat for the owls and bats, and a nesting-place for the in-numerable birds. It is as well to walk cautiously ; otherwise in the dim green light cast by the sun-shine struggling through the masses of foliage and flowers obstructing the doors and windows one may rouse the’ ire of some hidden swarm of bees, and be obliged to beat a hasty and undignified retreat. Oberon and Titania, or their equivalent Italian fairy majesties, should surely hold their court in Ninfaby day. But by night Ninfa is no place for revels, fairy or otherwise. When the sun goes down the fever-spirits steal from their haunts among the flowers, and none who value their health would risk the consequences of wandering about its deserted streets when the evening mists begin to rise. Indeed, all the beauty which we see is due to the victory of malaria over man. Its ravages were so inexorable that the little town was long ago deserted by the inhabitants, and the loveliness of Ninfa is the fortunate result of this desertion.
On the last occasion that I visited the place it was on a glorious day towards the end of May. A Tuscan friend of mine was my companion, and we had resolved to drive ourselves about the Pontine Marshes and the Voiscian hill-towns for an entire weekmaking no plans, and leaving the problem of where and how we were to pass the nights to chance. Our ponies we had put up in an outhouse at the water-mill, and we spent the whole of the summer day in wandering about the fairy village ; though I admit that several of the hottest hours, after we had eaten the food we had brought with us, were passed in sleeping to the soothing accompaniment of the murmur of the stream and the hum of the insects among the flowers. As evening approached we felt more than ever disinclined to leave the place. The colours cast by the setting sun on the silent pool and the ruins grew ever more superb, and the song of the birds ever more joyous. Prudence counselled immediate departure, and we accepted her counsels so far as to pay a visit to the ponies with the intention of harnessing them for the return journey to Norma, where we contemplated passing the night. At the mill the miller and his men were already preparing to leave, and they, too, advised our speedy departure. But the ever-increasing beauty and fascination of Ninfa at the close of a summer day, and the longing to remain to see the effects of a nearly full moon which was already showing itself above the mountains, proved too great a temptation. The miller shrugged his shoulders, and I think I caught the word pazzi muttered under his breath. Then he and his companions departed, pacified by our assurance that we would only remain half an hour longer, and would then put the ponies to and depart ourselves. That half-hour prolonged itself into nearly two hours before we could tear ourselves away. I do not think that either of us would have been the least surprised to find ourselves surrounded by nymphs and fauns, by elves and fairies. There was something altogether unearthly in the loveliness all around us. The warm, still air was heavy with the scent of flowers, and ringing with the notes of the nightingales, the plaintive cry of owls, and the bell-like sounds made by the green frogs ; while the light of the moon enveloped the whole scene in a silver, shimmering haze even more beautiful, because more mysterious, than the pageantry by which we had been surrounded throughout the day.
Whether it was really a touch of the fever for which Ninfa has earned so unenviable a notoriety, I cannot say ; but I believe that the violent headache and shivering fit which quite suddenly seized me on the drive to Norma was due rather to a slight coup de soleil contracted earlier in the day than to malaria. That I had a considerable ” temperature” was evident, and by the time we arrived at the little inn where we had determined to sleep I felt as though the mill-wheel at Ninfa were revolving in my head, and my hands shook so much that I had quite a difficulty in undressing and tumbling into a perfectly clean though very hard bed. I am certain that I owed it to the wife of our host that I was perfectly able to continue our expedition the next day. No sooner had she realised the fact that I had la febbre than she placed a ” priest ” in my bed and proceeded to pile wadded coverlets on the top of me. I hasten to explain that the ” priest ” was not of flesh and blood, but a kind of wicker cage, in the centre of which hung an earthenware jar full of hot ashes. Then she disappeared for a space, presently to return with a jorum of a peculiarly nauseous concoction infused from herbs, and she stood over me until I had drunk every drop of the almost scalding liquid. This dose was repeated at intervals, until I felt as though I were undergoing the water torture inflicted in the days of the Roi Soleil. Expostulation was useless, and I do not know how many quarts of the abominable liquid, which seemed to me to resemble very strong camomile tea which had been kept until it had gone sour, the good lady insisted upon my swallowing. The ultimate result, however, was supremely satisfactory ; for the next morning I awoke with the headache and shivering completely vanished, and only a general feeling of lassitude and shakiness, which wore off in the course of the day.
Very beautiful are the views over the Pontine Marshes and the Mediterranean from Norma, Cori, and the neighbouring mountain towns and villages. Terracina and Monte Circello, or Circeo, were our destinations after leaving these Volscian towns ; but on the way, and far from any human habitation, one of the ponies cast a shoe, and immediately after-wards lamed itself by a large thorn running into its foot. For several miles we had to proceed very slowly, and it soon became clear that it would be impossible to reach Terracina in time for a midday meal, as we had hoped to do. At length we espied a fattoria lying among woods at some distance from the cross-country road on which we were travelling. It was one of the numerous fattoria on the Duca di Sermoneta’s estates, and we made for it, confident that we should find somebody competent to doctor and reshoe the lame pony. On our way we met the fattore himself, mounted on a fine, powerful black stallionand very picturesque and handsome he looked. He was one of the numerous subagents in the employ of the Caetani family, and on hearing of our mishap immediately offered us shelter and assistance, and accompanied us to his house.
As soon as he learned that I was acquainted with his padroni he was unremitting in his care and attention, and we were compelled to trespass on his hospitality for some hours, as it was found not to be advisable to reshoe the pony until the slight inflammation caused by the thorn had subsided. He and his wife insisted on providing us with food, but nothing would induce them to allow us to eat it in their kitchen, which we proposed doing. Mysterious confabulations passed between them, and eventually we were escorted upstairs and into our hosts’ bedroom, where we found luncheon spread for uson the matrimonial bed. A large dish of ham and salame occupied the centre of the quilted counterpane, flanked by cheese, hard-boiled eggs, a flask of excellent wine, and wild strawberries piled on cool vine leaves. My friend sat on the single chair the room contained, while I sat on the bed, our hospitable entertainers coming in every now and then to assure themselves that we lacked for nothing. As my friend knew no English, and we therefore always conversed in Italian, they were greatly astonished when they heard that I was an Englishman, and were full of curiosity to know what could have brought me into the wilds of the Pontine Marshes, and still more so when I told them that the whole district was one which had great fascination for me, and that it was by no means the first time I had driven or ridden through its more unfrequented parts.
Late that afternoon we got to Terracina, putting up ourselves and our ponies at that most undesirable hostelry, which, perhaps ironically, calls itself the Grand Hôtel di Terracina. I do not know why I should describe places like Terracina. They are now visited by motorists hurrying from Rome to Naples. But it is one thing, as I have already pointed out, to dash through them in a motor-car, and quite another to linger among them and devote the long summer days and glorious summer nights to absorbing their endless charm and beauties. After all, if people want to read about the delights of Terracina, they can, if they are classical scholars, turn to their Horace, Ovid, and other Latin poets, not forgetting that these always referred to the city under its ancient name of Anxur, though in their day it already possessed the Latin name of Terracina. The modern Terracina is remarkable only for its beautiful situation, and for the lovely views to be obtained from the ruins of King Theodoric’s citadel, which towers above the town. From here the eye can sweep the whole of the Latian coast, and the greater portion of that of Campania, down to the faint, blue outline of Vesuvius with its wisp of smoke trailing on the horizon. It is a panorama of bays and of islands set in a sapphire sea ; while the foreground is rich with the semi-tropical vegetation that has succeeded the lush, green fertility of the Paludi Pontini. Red cliffs, cactus-covered, overhang the town, and seem as if about to fall upon it ; and everywhere are pomegranate trees with their scarlet blossom or golden fruit, huge silvery olives, stone pines, gigantic aloes, and the Indian fig.
In the early spring, too, the whole country is rose-white and fragrant with the blossom in the orchards. Then there is the perpetual harvest of the sea, as well as that of the land. Tunny-fishing is one of the great industries of the coast in these districts. I have never myself witnessed a capture of these great fish, nor have I any desire to do so, keen fisherman as I have always been. From all accounts it is a spectacle savouring too much of the shambles ; and to see the blue waters round the nets changed into a seething sea of blood I should imagine to be an altogether disgusting exhibition. A quantity of the tunny had been signalled as having arrived in the bay when I was last at Terracina, and my Tuscan companion and I were invited to assist at the netting. However, neither of us felt anything but repulsion at the idea of witnessing a scene which was described as being molto emozionante, and we gave the shore a wide berth that day.
No one should be in these parts and fail to make at least one excursion to Monte Circeo, or Circello, as it is often called. From every point among the Pontine Marshes or the Volscian mountains one may see the blue mass of the promontory where Circe dwelt rising above the flat coast-line. The hill is almost an island, and, indeed, it must have been an island in prehistoric times. The little town of San Felice is the medieval successor to the ancient Circeii, and in the twelfth century the place passed into the hands of the Caetani, who eventually sold it to its actual possessors, the Ruspoli family. It needs but little imagination to feel as though the witchery of Circe still enthralled the lovely cape. The village of San Felice is uninteresting enough, but the hill above it abounds in beauty and in legendary associations and traditions. Some vast ruins are naturally declared to be the remains of Circe’s palace, in which Ulysses fell under the magic spells of the lovely enchantress, and his comrades were changed from two-legged into four-legged animals through drinking her potions. I am quite aware that the classical scholar sniffs at the whole business, and that he quite logically finds no very reasonable grounds for the assumption that Homer ever intended to fix the witch’s abode on this Latian promontory. Personally, however, I prefer to remain in my unscholarly ignorance, and to accept all the legends of the Monte Circeo as genuine. Somebody has bewitched the spot, and whether this somebody were Circe or another does not matter very much when one finds oneself under the spell of its extraordinary and almost uncanny beauty. Weird legends and stories are, very naturally, to be found among the folklore of the Circean mount and its neighbourhood. The whole promontory is singularly rich in wild flowers and herbs, while the almost perpendicular cliffs on the seaward side of it, from the summit of which a magnificent view extends to the Tuscan Maremma far to the north-ward, and to Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples to the south.
The peasants on Monte Circeo speak of a mysterious herb, a decoction from which causes the drinker to become insane and to change into a wild beast in all but his bodily form. Whether such a herb exists, I know not ; but it is extremely probable that among the strange and rare plants growing on the mountain that may be one which would have the effect of producing some frenzied form of madness. Perhaps the legendary cup of Circe may have its origin in some such plant. My own experience convinces me that in all countries, and especially, perhaps, in Italy, ancient legends and traditions, however strange and improbable, have invariably some foundation in fact ; though often enough the distorted legend alone survives, while the fact to which it owes its rise may only be discoverable by the merest chance.
Among their other attractions, the cliffs of Monte Circeo are more frequented by sea-birds of infinite variety than any spot on the European coasts of the Mediterranean with which I am acquainted. The sea-fowl, however, are more plentiful in winter than in the spring or summer months, and do not, I think, nest here, but are chiefly migratory, and make the Circean rocks their haunts until the time comes for them to resort to their breeding-places in more northern climes. Throughout the Pontine Marshes the shooting in winter is excellent. Most species of wild duck are to be found, often in great quantities ; while the little bustard, bittern, ruffs and reeves, and many other marsh-haunting birds, practically extinct, alas, in England, are common enough.
A curious mode of shooting wild-fowl, and particularly coots, of which there are vast numbers, obtains in this district, and notably at Fogliano, the shooting-box of the Duca di Sermoneta. The guns are placed in tubs submerged nearly up to their rims in open spaces in the lagoons. The immense forests of reeds and canes surrounding these tracts of water are then beaten through, and the duck and coot come in swarms over the heads of the guns. Not only do they afford very sporting shots, but there is an added excitement and difficulty in the fact that any incautious movement on the part of the shooter in his tub is apt to end in his over-balancing himself and falling ignominiously into the water.
Besides the wild-fowl, there are deer, boar, and other animals frequenting the vast tracts of macchia ; while the herds of buffalo and horses give an altogether un-European aspect to the scene. As to the buffalo, it is as well to give them a wide berth, unless one happens to be accompanied by one or two butteri accustomed to deal with them. These butteri are splendid horsemen, and can sit the wildest and most vicious horse with apparently the greatest of ease. With their long lances and swift, wiry horses they will ” round up ” the most savage buffalo or cattle. The beasts instinctively know them, and will suffer themselves to be managed by them ; whereas a stranger approaching the herd, or, still worse, approaching some solitary cow with her calf, would run the risk of being charged, and very likely run down and trampled to death.
I recollect some years ago when ” Buffalo Bill ” brought his ” show ” to Rome, that the feats of his cow-boys failed to make the slightest impression on the butteri of the Roman Campagna and the Pontine Marshes. Indeed, the butteri were quite the reverse of impressed, and one of them in my hearing scorn-fully dismissed the whole performance as savouring of ” un circo equestre di terz’ ordine.” I confess I thoroughly agreed with him, for a more miserable exhibition than that which ” Buffalo Bill ” thought sufficient for the Romans I have seldom witnessed, and the stock-in-trade tricks and antics of his cowboys and their steeds were laughable when compared with the feats of genuine horsemanship, ability, and cool courage which any buttero performs in the. course of his day’s work without for a moment supposing himself to be doing anything worthy of particular notice.
Willingly would one linger in this district of marsh and mountain ; but it would be useless to conceal the fact that the accommodation afforded by the inns does not lend itself to any prolonged stay. I am tempted to take my readers to such places as Sora, and to explore with them the course of the lovely little river Liris to its source in the recesses of the Volscian mountains ; or to Sonnino, and to the historic and secluded monastery of Fossanova. But I must not trespass upon the domain of the guide-books ; though, to say the truth, they are sadly deficient in any accurate information regarding these remote spots seldom visited by tourists. I have often wondered why some enterprising traveller does not devote his mind and his body (I say “his body ” advisedly, for it would assuredly suffer in the process) to producing a book dealing with the Pontine Marshes and the Volscian towns and monasteries. The thing has been done in the past, by such writers as Goethe, About, Hans Andersen, Gregorovius, and others. But the modern pen would have to be wielded by a writer who was not exclusively a poet, an historian, or a word-painter, but who was possessed of some of the gifts belonging to each of these. Especially, too, in the case of the Pontine Marshes, should he be a naturalist ; for to the lover of birds, beasts, flowers, and insects, and to the student of their habits and haunts, this district, which is popularly supposed to be nothing but a fever-ridden and dreary swamp, is full of never-ending beauties and delight.
No one, I imagine, who sees for the first time the great Benedictine Abbey of Cassino perched on its mountain-top will fail to experience an irresistible desire to find himself within its walls. A beacon of learning, of goodness, and of charity shining in the darkness of the Middle Ages, this famous monastery must command the admiration and respect of every educated individual, whatever his personal opinions as to the utility of monks and nuns in general may happen to be. Indeed, Monte Cassino commands not only these tributes from the educated of all Western nations and races, but also that of gratitude ; for how much does not every one among us owe to the enlightening and humanising influence of the Benedictines in the past, and therefore, indirectly, to this great fountain-head of learning and civilisation seated peacefully and majestically on its mass of rock, and visible for many miles distanta landmark standing over the seas of doubt and ignorance ? I am not going to enter upon the history either of Monte Cassino or of its founder, St. Benedict. As to their last, he was so great and good a man that one can only regret his official enrolment among the canonisedthat is to say, when one reflects upon the number of ruffians and impostors upon whom the Roman Church, for political or pecuniary considerations, has conferred the ” honours of the altar.”
I have only one grudge against St. Benedict ; and that is, that he destroyed a great and famous temple of Apollo in order to build his more modern sanctuary, and that at the same time he cut down a grove dedicated to Venus. The temple, I feel convinced, was a far finer thing than the monastic buildings ; and though, no doubt, the grove sacred to Venus left much to be desired as regards the morality of its frequenters, I have no sympathy whatever with any one, saint or otherwise, who ruthlessly destroys trees. At any rate, in the case of Monte Cassino, I shall always regard it as a deplorable error on the part of St. Benedict that he did not do any replanting on his mountain ; for a more barren spot it would be difficult to conceive, and its barrenness is made the more aggressive by the luxuriant vegetation of the country in its immediate vicinity. In ancient days the Abbot of Monte Cassino was lord of countless castles, fiefs, and townships, as well as of more than one principality. At the present time a certain number of monks are permitted to remain, and they are ever ready to give kindly welcome and hospitality to strangers. A considerable portion of the world-renowned library of the monastery still exists, and among the priceless MSS. are many documents bearing the signatures of the most famous Popes, Emperors, and Kings, representing a period of more than a thousand years. The existing fabric at Monte Cassino is, of course, comparatively modern. In many waysperhaps in most waysSubiaco, that lovely Sabine district in which St. Benedict first established his Order, is more impressive than Monte Cassino. It is certainly more poetic. But at Monte Cassino one feels, as I have already said, a deep gratitude for that light of learning and that stream of civilising elements which throughout the darkness of the Middle Ages emanated from its walls.
But whenever I have got as far as Monte Cassino, I have begun to feel Naples and Magna Grecia calling me. I am often afraid that when I am in Italy I am half a pagan at heart ; and that when I approach the south of the Italian peninsula the half extends itself to two-thirds. Perhaps, after all, in this respect I do not differ so much from the meridionali as my Anglo-Saxon blood ought to ensure of my doing !