The melancholy appearance of the Campagna has been remarked and described by every traveller with displeasure, by all with truth. The ill look of the very few and very unhealthy inhabitants confirms their descriptions; and beside the pale and swelled faces which shock one’s sight, here is a brassy scent in the air as of verdigris, which offends one’s smell; the running water is of an odd colour too, like that in which copper has been steeped. These are sad desolated scenes indeed, though this is not the season for mal’ aria neither, which, it is said, begins in May, and ends with September. The present sovereign is mending matters as fast as he can, we hear; and the road now cutting, will greatly facilitate access to his capital, but cannot be done without a prodigious expence. The first view of Rome is wonderfully striking.
Ye awful wrecks of ancient
Proud monuments of ages past
Now mould’ring in decay.
But mingled with every crowding, every classical idea, comes to one’s recollection an old picture painted by R. Wilson about thirty years ago, which I am now sure must have been a very excellent representation.
Well, then! here we are, admirably lodged at Strofani’s in the Piazza di Spagna, and have only to chuse what we will see and talk on first among this galaxy of rarities which dazzles, diverts, confounds, and nearly fatigues one. I will speak of the oldest things first, as I was earnest to see something of Rome in its very early days, if possible; for example the Sublician Bridge, defended by Cocles when the infant republic, like their favourite Hercules in his cradle, strangled the serpent despotism: and of this bridge some portion may yet be seen when the water is very low.
The prison is more ancient still however; it was built by the kings; and by the solidity of its walls, and depth of its dungeon, seems built for eternity. Was it not this place to which Juvenal alludes, when he says,
Tempora quae quondam sub regibus atque tribunis
Viderunt uno contentam carcere Romam.
And it is in this horrible spot they shew you the miraculous mark of St. Peter’s head struck against the wall in going down, with the fountain which burst out of the ground for his refreshment. Antiquaries, however, assure us, that he could not have ever been confined there, as it was a place for state prisoners only, and those of the highest rank: they likewise tell us that Jugurtha passed seven months there, which is as difficult to believe as any miracle ever wrought; for the world was at least somewhat civilized in those days, and how it should be contented with looking quietly on whilst a Prince of Jugurtha’s consequence should be so kept, appears incredible at the distance of 1900 years. That Christians should be treated still worse, if worse could be found for them, is less strange, when every step one treads is upon the bones of martyrs; and who dares say that the surrounding campagna, so often drenched in innocent blood, may not have been cursed with pestilence and sterility to all succeeding ages? I have examined the place where Sylla massacred 8000 fellow-citizens at once, and find that it produces no herb but thistles, a weed almost unknown in any other part of Italy; and one of the first punishments bestowed on sinful man.