The state in which that once-superb edifice, the Temple of Diana, now appears; with concern, I perceived that there remains only enough to give the spectator an idea of its former beauty; for though the roof has been broken down, and every part of it so wantonly abused yet enough remains, within, and without, to bear testimony that it was built, not only by the greatest architect, but enriched also by the hands of other great artists: indeed, the mason’s work alone is, at this day, wonderful; for the stones with which it is built, and which are very large, are so truly worked, and artfully laid, without either cement or mortar, that many of the joints are scarce visible; nor is it possible to put the point of a penknife between those which are most open. This Temple too is, like the Maison Carree, shut up by an old barn-door: a man, however, attends to open it; where, upon entering, you will find a striking picture of the folly of all human grandeur; for the area is covered with broken statues, busts, urns, vases, cornices, frizes, inscriptions, and various fragments of exquisite workmanship, lying in the utmost disorder, one upon another, like the stript dead in a field of battle. Here, the ghost of Shakespeare appeared before my eyes, holding in his hand a label, on which was engraven those words you have so often read in his works, and now see upon his monument.
I have often wondered, that some man of taste and fortune in England, where so much attention is paid to gardening, never converted one spot to an Il Penseroso, and another to L’Allegro. If a thing of that kind was to be done, what would not a man of such a turn give for an Il Penseroso, as this Temple now is?—where sweet melancholy sits, with a look
to the ground,
A tongue chain’d up, without a sound.”
The modern fountain of Nismes or rather the Roman fountain recovered, and re-built, falls just before this Temple; and the noble and extensive walks, which surround this pure and plentiful stream, are indeed very magnificent: what then must it have been in the days of the Romans, when the Temple, the fountain, the statues, vases, &c. stood perfect, and in their proper order? Though this building has been called the Temple of Diana, by a tradition immemorial, yet it may be much doubted, whether it was so. The Temples erected, you know, to the daughter of Jupiter, were all of the Ionic order, and this is a mixture of the Corinthian, and Composit. Is it not, therefore, more probable, from the number of niches in it to contain statues, that it was, in fact, a Pantheon? Directly opposite to the entrance door, are three great tabernacles; on that of the middle stood the principal altar; and on the side walls were twelve niches, six on the right-hand are still perfect. The building is eleven toises five feet long, and six toises wide, and was thrown into its present ruinous state during the civil wars of Henry the Third; and yet, in spite of the modern statues, and gaudy ornaments, which the inhabitants have bestrewed to decorate their matchless fountain, the Temple of Diana is still the greatest ornament it has to boast of.