THE ANGLO-AMERICAN NEIGHBORHOOD OF THE SPANISH STEPS
It is not every undeserving American who can have the erudition and divination of the Genius Loci in answer to his unuttered prayer during a visit to even a small part of the Roman Forum. But failing the company of the Commendatore Boni, which is without price, there are to be had for a very little money the guidance and philosophy, and, for all I know, the friendship of several peripatetic historians who lead people about the ruins in Rome, and instruct them in the fable, and doubtless in the moral, of the things they see. If I had profited by their learning, so much greater, or at least securer, than any the average American has about him, I should now be tiring the reader with knowledge which I am so willingly leaving him to imagine in me. If he is like the average American, he has really once had some nodding acquaintance with the facts, but history is apt to forsake you on the scene of it, and to come lagging back when it is too late. In this psychological experience you feel the need of help which the peripatetic historian supplies to the groups of perhaps rather oblivious than ignorant tourists of all nations in all languages, but preferably English. We Anglo-Saxons seem to be the most oblivious or most ignorant; but I would not slight our occasionally available culture any more than I would imply that those peripatetic historians are at all like the cicerones whom they have so largely replaced. I believe they are instructed and scholarly men; I offer them my respect; and I wish now that I had been one of their daily disciples, for it is full sixty years since I read Goldsmith's History of Rome. As I saw them, somewhat beyond earshot, they and their disciples formed a spectacle which was always interesting, and, so far as the human desire for information is affecting, was also affecting. The listeners to the lecturers would carry back to their respective villages and towns, or the yet simpler circles of our ordinary city lift, vastly more association with the storied scene than I had brought to it or should bring away. In fact, there is nothing more impressive in the floating foreign society of Rome than its zeal for self-improvement. No one classes himself with his fellow-tourists, though if he happens to be a traveller he is really one of them; and it is with difficulty I keep myself from the appearance of patronizing them in these praises, which are for the most part reverently meant. Their zeal never seemed to be without knowledge, whatever their age or sex; the intensity of their application reached to all the historical and actual interests, to the religious as well as the social, the political as well as the financial; but, fitly in Rome, it seemed specially turned to the study of antiquity, in the remoter or the nearer past. There was given last winter a series of lectures at the American School of Archaeology by the head of it, which were followed with eager attention by hearers who packed the room. But these lectures, which were so admirably first in. the means of intelligent study, seemed only one of the means by which my fellow-tourists were climbing the different branches of knowledge. All round my apathy I felt, where I did not see, the energy of the others; with my mind's ear I heard a rustle as of the turning leaves of Baedekers, of Murrays, of Hares, and of the many general histories and monographs of which these intelligent authorities advised the supplementary reading.
If I am not so mistaken as I might very well be, however, the local language is less studied than it was in former times, when far fewer Italians spoke English. My own Italian was of that date; but, though I began by using it, I found myself so often helped for a forgotten meaning that I became subtly demoralized and fell luxuriously into the habit of speaking English like a native of Rome. Yet tacitly, secretly perhaps, there may have been many people who were taking up Italian as zealously as many more were taking up antiquity. One day in the Piazza di Spagna, in a modest little violet of a tea-room, which was venturing to open in the face of the old-established and densely thronged parterre opposite, I noted from my Roman version of a buttered muffin a tall, young Scandinavian girl, clad in complete corduroy, gray in color to the very cap surmounting her bandeaux of dark-red hair. She looked like some of those athletic-minded young women of Ibsen's plays, and the pile of books on the table beside her tea suggested a student character. When she had finished her tea she put these books back into a leather bag, which they filled to a rigid repletion, and, after a few laconic phrases with the tea-girl, she went out like going off the stage. Her powerful demeanor somehow implied severe studies; but the tea-girl - a massive, confident, confiding Roman - said, No, she was studying Italian, and all those books related to the language, for which she had a passion. She was a Swede; and here the student being exhausted as a topic, and my own nationality being ascertained, What steps, the tea-girl asked, should one take if one wished to go to New York in order to secure a place as cashier in a restaurant?