First Days In The Eternal City

At last I am arrived in this great capital of the world. If fifteen years ago I could have seen it in good company, with a well-informed guide, I should have thought myself very fortunate. But as it was to be that I should thus see it alone, and with my own eyes, it is well that this joy has fallen to my lot so late in life.

Over the mountains of the Tyrol I have as good as flown. Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Venice I have carefully looked at; hastily glanced at Ferrara, Cento, Bologna, and scarcely seen Florence at all. My anxiety to reach Rome was so great, and it so grew with me every moment, that to think of stopping anywhere was quite out of the question; even in Florence, I only stayed three hours. Now I am here at my ease, and as it would seem, shall be tranquilized for my whole life; for we may almost say that a new life begins when a man once sees with his own eyes all that before he has but partially heard or read of.

All the dreams of my youth I now behold realized before me; the subjects of the first engravings I ever remembered seeing (several views of Rome were hung up in an anteroom of my father’s house) stand bodily before my sight, and all that I had long been acquainted with, through paintings or drawings, engravings, or wood-cuts, plaster-casts, and cork models are here collectively presented to my eye. Wherever I go I find some old acquaintance in this new world; it is all just as I had thought it, and yet all is new; and just the same might I remark of my own observations and my own ideas. I have not gained any new thoughts, but the older ones have become so defined, so vivid, and so coherent, that they may almost pass for new ones….

I have now been here seven days, and by degrees have formed in my mind a general idea of the city. We go diligently backward and forward. While I am thus making myself acquainted with the plan of old and new Rome, viewing the ruins and the buildings, visiting this and that villa, the grandest and most remarkable objects are slowly and leisurely contemplated. I do but keep my eyes open and see, and then go and come again, for it is only in Rome one can duly prepare oneself for Rome. It must, in truth, be confessed, that it is a sad and melancholy business to prick and track out ancient Rome in new Rome; however, it must be done, and we may hope at least for an incalculable gratification. We meet with traces both of majesty and of ruin, which alike surpass all conception; what the barbarians spared, the builders of new Rome made havoc of….

When one thus beholds an object two thousand years old and more, but so manifoldly and thoroughly altered by the changes of time, but, sees nevertheless, the same soil, the same mountains, and often indeed the same walls and columns, one becomes, as it were, a contemporary of the great counsels of Fortune, and thus it becomes difficult for the observer to trace from the beginning Rome following Rome, and not only new Rome succeeding to the old, but also the several epochs of both old and new in succession. I endeavor, first of all, to grope my way alone through the obscurer parts, for this is the only plan by which one can hope fully and completely to perfect by the excellent introductory works which have been written from the fifteenth century to the present day. The first artists and scholars have occupied their whole lives with these objects.

And this vastness has a strangely tranquilizing effect upon you in Rome, while you pass from place to place, in order to visit the most remarkable objects.

In other places one has to search for what is important; here one is opprest, and borne down with numberless phenomena. Wherever one goes and casts a look around, the eye is at once struck with some landscape—forms of every kind and style; palaces and ruins, gardens and statuary, distant views of villas, cottages and stables, triumphal arches and columns, often crowding so close together, that they might all be sketched on a single sheet of paper. He ought to have a hundred hands to write, for what can a single pen do here; and, besides, by the evening one is quite weary and exhausted with the day’s seeing and admiring.

My strange, and perhaps whimsical, incognito proves useful to me in many ways that I never should have thought of. As every one thinks himself in duty bound to ignore who I am, and consequently never ventures to speak to me of myself and my works, they have no alternative left them but to speak of themselves, or of the matters in which they are most interested, and in this way I become circumstantially informed of the occupations of each, and of everything remarkable that is either taken in hand or produced. Hofrath Reiffenstein good-naturedly humors this whim of mine; as, however, for special reasons, he could not bear the name which I had assumed, he immediately made a Baron of me, and I am now called the “Baron gegen Rondanini über” (the Baron who lives opposite to the Palace Rondanini). This designation is sufficiently precise, especially as the Italians are accustomed to speak of people either by their Christian names, or else by some nickname. Enough; I have gained my object; and I escape the dreadful annoyance of having to give to everybody an account of myself and my works….

In Rome, the Rotunda, both by its exterior and interior, has moved me to offer a willing homage to its magnificence. In St. Peter’s I learned to understand how art, no less than nature, annihilates the artificial measures and dimensions of man. And in the same way the Apollo Belvidere also has again drawn me out of reality. For as even the most correct engravings furnish no adequate idea of these buildings, so the case is the same with respect to the marble original of this statue, as compared with the plaster models of it, which, however, I formerly used to look upon as beautiful.

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