I will no longer conceal from you that this magnificent territory appeared to me in the first place most unworthily cultivated. From Civita Vecchia to Rome, a distance of some sixteen leagues, cultivation struck me in the light of a very rare accident, to which the soil was but little accustomed. Some pasture fields, some land in fallow, plenty of brambles, and, at long intervals, a field with oxen at plough, this is what the traveller will see in April. He will not even meet with the occasional forest which he finds in the most desert regions of Turkey. It seems as if man had swept across the land to destroy everything, and the soil had been then taken possession of by flocks and herds.
The country round Rome resembles the road from Civita Vecchia. The capital is girt by a belt of uncultivated, but not unfertile land. I used to walk in every direction, and sometimes for a long distance; the belt seemed very wide. However, in proportion as I receded from the city, I found the fields better cultivated. One would suppose that at a certain distance from St. Peter’s the peasants worked with greater relish. The roads, which near Rome are detestable, became gradually better; they were more frequented, and the people I met seemed more cheerful. The inns became habitable, by comparison, in an astonishing degree. Still, so long as I remained in that part of the country towards the Mediterranean, of which Rome is the centre, and which is more directly subject to its influence, I found that the appearance of the land always left something to be desired. I sometimes fancied that these honest labourers worked as if they were afraid to make a noise, lest, by smiting the soil too deeply and too boldly, they should wake up the dead of past ages.
But when once I had crossed the Apennines, when I was beyond the reach of the breeze which blew over the capital, I began to inhale an atmosphere of labour and goodwill that cheered my heart. The fields were not only dug, but manured, and, still better, planted and sown. The smell of manure was quite new to me. I had never met with it on the other side of the Apennines. I was delighted at the sight of trees. There were rows of vines twining around elms planted in fields of hemp, wheat, or clover. In some places the vines and elms were replaced by mulberry-trees. What mingled riches were here lavished by nature! How bounteous is the earth! Here were mingled together, in rich profusion, bread, wine, shirts, silk gowns, and forage for the cattle. St. Peter’s is a noble church, but, in its way, a well-cultivated field is a beautiful sight!
I travelled slowly to Bologna; the sight of the country I passed through, and the fruitfulness of honest human labour, made me happy. I retraced my steps towards St. Peter’s; my melancholy returned when I found myself again amidst the desolation of the Roman Campagna.
As I reflected on what I had seen, a disquieting idea forced itself upon me in a geometrical form. It seemed to me that the activity and prosperity of the subjects of the Pope were in exact proportion to the square of the distance which separated them from Rome: in other words, that the shade of the monuments of the eternal city was noxious to the cultivation of the country. Rabelais says the shade of monasteries is fruitful; but he speaks in another sense.