In those days people did not go to Rome to spend a week there and away again; for it was a month or two’s journey from France. The crack of the postilions’ whips used to announce to the Eternal City in general the arrival of a distinguished guest. Domestiques de place flocked to the call. The luckiest of them took possession of the new comer by entering his service. In a few days he provided his master with a palace, furniture, footmen, carriages, and horses. The foreigner settled himself comfortably, and then presented his letters of introduction. His credentials being examined, the best society at once opened its arms to him, and cried, “You are one of us!” From that moment he was at home wherever he went. He was a guest at every house. He danced, supped, played, and made love to the ladies. And of course, in his turn, he opened his own palace to his liberal entertainers, adding a new feature to the brilliancy of a Roman winter.
No foreigner failed to carry away with him some recollection of a city so fertile in marvels. One bought pictures, another ancient marbles, this one medals, that one books. The trade of Rome prospered by this circulation of foreign money.
The heats of summer drove away foreigners as well as natives; but they never went far. Naples, Florence, or Venice offered them agreeable quarters till the return of the winter season. And they had excellent reasons for returning to Rome, which is the only city in the world in which one has never seen everything. Some of them so entirely forgot their own countries, that death overtook them between the Piazza del Popolo and the Piazza de Venizia. If any exiled themselves to their native land, they did it in sheer self-defence, when their pockets were empty. Rome bade them a tender adieu, piously keeping their likeness in its memory and their money in its coffers.
The Revolution of 1793 somewhat disturbed this agreeable order of things; but it was a mere storm between two fine summer days. Neither the Roman aristocracy, nor its constant troop of guests, took this brutal overthrow of their elegant pleasures in earnest. The exile of the Pope, the French occupation, and many similar accidents, were supported with a noble resignation, and forgotten with the readiness of good taste. 1815 passed a sponge over some years of very foul history. All the inscriptions which recalled the glory or the beneficence of France were conscientiously erased. It was even proposed to do away with the lighting of the streets, not only because they threw too strong a light upon certain nocturnal matters, but because they dated from the time of Miollis and De Tournon. Even now, in 1859, the fleur-de-lis points out what is French property. A marble table in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi promises indulgence to those who will pray for the king of France. The French convent of the Trinita dei Monti—that worthy claustral establishment which sold us the picture of Daniel di Volterra and then took it back—possesses the portraits of all the kings of France, from Pharamond to Charles X. There you see Louis XVII. between Louis XVI. and Louis XVIII.; but in this historical gallery there is no more mention of Napoleon or of Louis-Philippe, than of Nana-Sahib or Marat.