The day that we arrived in Rome the unclouded sun was yellow on the white dust of the streets, which is never laid by a municipal watering-cart, though sometimes it is sprinkled into mire from the garden-hose of the abutting hotels; and in my rashness I said that for Rome you want sun and you want youth. Yet there followed many gray days when my age found Rome very well indeed, and I would not have the septuagenarian keep away because he is no longer in the sunny sixties. He may see through his glasses some things hidden even from the eyes of the early forties. If he drives out beyond the Porta Pia, say, some bright afternoon, and notes how the avenue between the beautiful old villas is also bordered by many vacant lots advertised for sale as well as built up with pleasant new houses, he will be able to carry away with him the significant fact that a convenient and public-spirited trolley-line has the same suburban effect in Rome, Italy, as in Rome, New York. If he meets some squadrons of cavalry or some regiments of foot, in that military necessity of constant movement which the civilian can never understand, he may make the useful reflection that it is much better to have the troops out of the city than in it, and he can praise the wisdom of the Italian government accordingly. On the neighboring mountains the presence or absence of snow forms the difference between summer and winter in Rome, and will suggest the question whether, after all, our one continental weather is better than the many local weathers of Europe; and perhaps he will acquire national modesty in owning that there is something more picturesque in the indications of those azure or silvery tops than in his morning paper's announcement that there is or is not a lower pressure in the region of the lakes.
At any rate, I would not have him note the intimations of such a drive at less worth than those of any more conventional fact of his Roman sojourn. If one is quite honest, or merely as honest as one may be with safety, one will often own to one's self that something merely incidental to one's purpose, in visiting this memorable place or that, was of greater charm and greater value than the fulfilment of a direct purpose. One happy morning I went, being in the vicinity, to renew the acquaintance with the Tarpeian Rock, which I had hastened to make on my first visit to Rome. I had then found it so far from such a frightfully precipitous height as I had led myself to expect that I came away and rather mocked it in print. But now, possibly because the years had moderated all my expectations in life, I thought the Tarpeian Rock very respectably steep and quite impressively lofty; either the houses at its foot had sunk with their chimneys and balconies, or the rock had risen, so that one could no longer be hurled from it with impunity. We looked at it from an arbor of the lovely little garden which we were let into beyond the top of the rock, and which was the pleasance of some sort of hospital. I think there were probably flowers there, since it was a garden, but what was best was the almond-tree covering the whole space with a roof of bloom, and in this roof a score of birds that sang divinely.
I am aware of bringing a great many birds into these papers; but really Rome would not be Rome without them; and I could not exaggerate their number or the sweetness of their song. They particularly abounded in the cloistered and gardened close of the Cistercian Convent, which three hundred years ago ensconsed itself within the ruinous Baths of Diocletian. I have no fable at hand to explain what seems the special preference of the birds for this garden; it is possibly an idiosyncrasy, something like that of the cats which make Trajan's Forum their favorite resort. All that I can positively say is that if I were a bird I would ask nothing better than to frequent the cypresses of that garden and tune my numbers for the entertainment of the audience of extraordinary monsters in the aisles below, which bea'in plinths of clipped privet and end marble heads of horses, bulls, elephants, rhinoceroses, and their like. I do not pretend to be exact in their nomination; they may be other animals; but I am sure of their attention to the birds. I am not quite so sure of the attention of the antique shapes in the rooms of the Ludovisi collection looking into the close. I fancy them preoccupied with the in-doors cold, so great in all Italian galleries, and scarcely tempered for them by the remote and solitary brazier over which the custodians take turns in stifling themselves. They cannot come down into the sun and song of the garden, to which the American tourist may return from visiting them, to thaw out his love of the beautiful.