ST. ONOFRIO AND TASSO

The spot on which I sat commands one of the finest views of Rome and the surrounding country. Down below to the left is the enormous group of buildings connected with St Peter's and the Vatican, whose yellow travertine glows in the afternoon sun like dead gold. Beyond rise the steep green slopes of Monte Mario, with vineyards and olive-groves nestling in its warm folds, crowned with the Villa Mellini beside the "Turner pine," a familiar object in many of the great artist's pictures. Stretching away in the direction of the old diligence road from Florence is a succession of gentle ridges and bluffs of volcanic rock covered with brushwood, among which you can trace the bold headland of the citadel of Fidenæ, and the green lonely site of Antemnæ, and the plateau on which are the scanty remains of the almost mythical Etruscan city of Veii, the Troy of Italy. The view in this direction is bounded by the advanced guard of the Sabine range, the blue peak of Soracte looking, as Lord Byron graphically says, like the crest of a billow about to break. In front, at your feet, is the city, broken up into the most picturesque masses by the irregularity of the ground; here and there a brighter light glistening on some stately campanile or cupola, and flashing back from the graceful columns of Trajan and Antonine. The Tiber flows between you and that wilderness of reddish-brown roofs cleaving the city in twain. For a brief space you see it on both sides of the Bridge of Hadrian, overlooked by the gloomy mass of the Castle of St. Angelo, and then it hides itself under the shadow of the Aventine Hill, and at last emerges beyond the walls, to pursue its desolate way to the sea through one of the saddest tracts of country in all the world. Away to the right, where the mass of modern buildings ceases, the great shattered circle of the Colosseum stands up against the sky, indicating by its presence where lie, unseen from this point of view, the ruins of the palaces of the Cæsars and the Forum. Beyond the city stretches away the undulating bosom of the Campagna, bathed in a misty azure light; bridged over by the weird, endless arches of the Claudian aqueduct, throwing long shadows before them in the westering sun. Worthy framework for such a picture, the noble semicircle of the Sabine Hills rises on the horizon to the left, terminating in the grand rugged peak of Monte Gennaro, whose every cliff and scar are distinctly visible, and concealing in its bosom the romantic waterfalls of Tivoli and the lone ancestral farm of Horace. On the right the crested Alban heights form the boundary, crowned on the summit with the white convent of Monte Cavo—the ancient temple of Jupiter Latialis, up to which the Roman consuls came to triumph when the Latin States were merged in the Roman Commonwealth—and bearing on their shoulders the sparkling, gem-like towns of Frascati and Albano, with their thrilling memories of Cicero and Pompey; the whole range melting away into the blue vault of heaven in delicate gradations of pale pink and purple. In the wide gap between these ranges of hills—beyond the stone pines and ilex groves of Præneste—the far perspective is closed by a glorious vision of the snow-crowned mountains of the Abruzzi, giving an air of alpine grandeur to the view. And all this vast and varied landscape, comprehending all glories of nature and art, all zones and climates, from the tropical aloes and palms of the Pincian Hill to the arctic snows of the Apennines, is seen through air that acts upon the spirits like wine, and gives the ideal beauty of a picture to the meanest things.

Italian poets share in the wonderful charm that belongs to everything connected with their lovely land. They are seen, like the early Tuscan paintings, against a golden background of romance. Petrarch, Dante, Ariosto, invested with this magic light, are themselves more attractive even than their poetic creations. But Torquato Tasso, perhaps, more than them all, appeals to our deepest feelings. No sadder or more romantic life than his can be found in the annals of literature. He was one of those "infanti perduti" to whom life was one long avenue of darkened days. In his temperament, in the character of his genius, and in the story of his life, we can discern striking features of resemblance between him and the wayward, sorrowful Rousseau. Hercules, according to the old fable, "was afflicted with madness as a punishment for his being so near the gods;" and the imaginativeness of a brain which had in it a fibre of insanity, near which genius often perilously lies, may be supposed to account for much that is strange and sad in his career. The place of his birth was a fit cradle for a poet. On the edge of a bold cliff, overlooking the sea at Sorrento, is the Hotel Tasso, known to every traveller in that region. Here, according to the voice of tradition, the immortal poet was born on the 11th of March 1544, eleven years after the death of Ariosto. It is said that the identical chamber in which the event took place has since disappeared, owing to the portion of rock on which it stood having been undermined by the sea; and, as if to give countenance to this, some of the existing apartments are perilously propped up on the very edge of the cliff by buttresses, which, giving way, would hurl the superstructure into the abyss. The original building stood on the site of an ancient temple; and it is probable that, with the exception of one of the bedrooms, which is said to have been Tasso's cabinet, the edifice retains none of the features which it possessed in the days of the poet.