Travel Letters: Rome, Italy (1866)

DEAR FATHER, — Since I came back to Rome, I have been so continually busy that it has been not an easy thing to get time to write. I beg your pardon very humbly. Now I will tell you a little of the much that I have done and seen since I wrote an enormous letter to Arthur from Athens, which was mailed at Naples. One of the best things was to get an immense pile of letters when I arrived here. All the accumulation of two months reached me at once, and I have had a great treat in reading them. I heard of your reception of all my letters from Damascus to Naples, and you and mother, William, Fred, Arthur, and John, with others outside the family circle, contributed to my delight.

We had a rather rough passage from Athens to Messina, and then from Messina over to Naples. I am a very good sailor by this time, but still I am not sorry to think that I have no more to do with the sea, except in crossing the Channel, until I sail for home. I did not stay in Naples, but came right on here.

Since my return, the climate of Rome has been bad, sort of New England April weather, some rain almost every day. But the country is looking beautiful, and when we have fine weather it is splendid to go about; for rainy days, we have the Vatican, the Capitol, and a dozen other galleries. One day this week I have spent at Tivoli, another in the Alban Hills, Frascati, Tusculum, and Albano. The country and people are very interesting indeed.

Rome has got to be just like home to me now. I know it through and through, and after so much wandering, my stay here has been a very pleasant change. I have made a good many acquaintances among our resident artists and the travelers. The Storys, Crawfords, Tiltons, Miss Cushman, Miss Stebbins, and Miss Foley, all of them I have seen a good deal of, and like. Today, I am to dine with Mr. Mozier, one of our best sculptors here. I have been quite interested in visiting the studio of a colored artist, Miss Lewis, of Boston, who has recently come here, and promises very well indeed in sculpture.

Of travelers there are many ; Rome is crowded, so that it is impossible to get a room. Many Philadelphians are here. Also the Morrills, Mr. Gardner Brewer, and Mr. Wales, of Boston ; this is all very nice.

Next week is Holy Week, with all its great church pageants, closing with the splendid fireworks on Easter-Monday night. On Tuesday, I shall leave, and go by way of Foligno and Perugia to Florence ; then to Bologna, Parma, Modena, Ferrara, Padua, and Venice. Then to Verona, Milan, the Italian lakes, Turin, Genoa, Nice, Marseilles, Lyons, and Paris. Doesn’t that sound good? I am depending much on Florence and Venice, and indeed all the route is very rich.

I am sick at heart about Johnson’s performance ; it was my first greeting when I got back to Rome, and was very depressing. It seems as if we had a narrow, vulgar-minded man upon our hands, and must take all the delay and suffering that he chooses to put upon the country. Of course, we shall come out all right at last, but it is very disheartening to come up short against such an obstacle.

I hear talk about quarantine in America this summer. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend thirty days at Deer Island on my way home? They seem to be expecting the cholera everywhere, both here and at home.

Tell Arthur and John I was set up to get their letters. I had already written to Arthur. My next will be to Mr. John. Forgive this poor letter.

PHILLIPS.

ROME, March 30, 1866.

DEAR JACK, — I will tell you where I am and what I am doing. I am up in the fifth story of the Washington Hotel, that ‘s the where ; and I am seeing the sights of Holy Week at Rome, that ‘s the what. They began last Sunday with the great blessing of the palms at St. Peter’s. It was a gorgeous service, with very splendid music. You have to dress for it, as if you were going to a party. Nobody without a dress coat is admitted into any place where you can see anything. Then yesterday (Thursday) was one of their great days. In the morning, his Holiness washed the feet of twelve priests, who stood for the Apostles, in St. Peter’s, and waited on them at table. It was a very odd and ugly sight. A tremendous crowd was there, and it was as perfectly devoid of anything religious or impressive as it was possible to conceive. Then the Pope came out on the great balcony in front of the church and pronounced his benediction. That was one of the grandest sights I ever saw, — the whole vast piazza crowded, and the clear voice of the old man ringing out his blessing so that every one could hear. In the afternoon, I heard the famous Miserere in the Sistine Chapel, and whatever else may be humbug about this strange week here, that was certainly the most wonderful music I ever listened to. Now, everybody is looking forward to Easter Sunday, when the whole will crown itself with a splendid service in the morning, and the great illumination of St. Peter’s dome at night. There is much that is very interesting about it, but still it is good every day to get away for a while, and wander off into the ruins ; to go down the Corso, and climb up among the nests of crooked streets at its foot, till you come out on the Capitol ; then go down through the Forum, and under the Arch of Titus to the Coliseum ; by the Arch of Constantine to the Baths of Caracalla, the finest old bit in Rome, and out the Appian Way till you get beyond the gates on the Campagna, among the aqueducts and tombs. Last night, I was going with some folks to see the Coliseum by moonlight, but it was cloudy and we gave it up ; about eleven o’clock I happened to look out, and found it was clearing and the clouds breaking away, so I started off alone, and went down and had it all to myself. Not even a guide was there. I climbed over a gate to get in, and wandered all over it, with the most splendid moon pouring down and lighting up the city on one side, and the Campagna and the Alban Hills upon the other. It was a great treat to sit there and watch it. I wish you hadn’t been asleep, and could have gone with me.

I am just getting ready to leave Rome, and am dreadfully sorry to go away. I have seen everything, but want to keep seeing it over again. When you paint your future, don’t forget to put your brightest colors on the days that you are to spend in Rome. Perhaps I may be ready to come again by the time you set out.

We find time, even here in Rome, to talk about home, and especially about the President and his veto. I am glad to say people generally agree with you and me, and agree with us vigorously, too. The patriotism and home interest of the best sort of Americans seem to be stronger here than ever. It certainly is a great shame that such a man should block our wheels and keep peace waiting, under the pretense of hastening it ; but he can only delay things, not spoil them. Today is Good Friday, just a year ecclesiastically from the death of Lincoln, and the real beginning of things going wrong. By the way, why is there no commission yet for a great statue of Lincoln for Boston ? Mr. Story showed me his Everett yesterday. It is very fine, a colossal figure in plain citizen’s dress, in the act of speaking, the right arm raised in Mr. Everett’s favorite gesture, the whole very bold and simple, and successful, I think.

I send some more rare post-office stamps, all I can get now. Are there any you want especially ? Let me know, and I will try. Good-by, and be a good boy, and write to me.

Your loving brother,

PHILLIPS.