THE COLOSSEUM AND THE FORUM
With its image there persisted and persists the question constantly recurrent in the presence of all the imperial ruins, whether imperial Rome was not rather ugly than otherwise. The idea of those world-conquerors was first immensity and then beauty, as much as could survive consistently with getting immensity into a given space. The question is most of all poignant in the Forum, which I let wait a full fortnight before moving against it in the warm sun of an amiable February morning. On my first visit to Rome I could hardly wait for day to dawn after my arrival before rushing to the Cow Field, as it was then called, and seeing the wide-horned cattle chewing the cud among the broken monuments now so carefully cherished and, as it were, sedulously cultivated. It is doubtful whether all that has since been done, and which could not but have been done, by the eager science as much involuntarily as voluntarily applied to the task, has resulted in a more potent suggestion of what the Forum was in the republican or imperial day than what that simple, old, unassuming Cow Field afforded. There were then as now the beautiful arches; there were the fragments of the temple porches, with their pillars; there was the "unknown column with the buried base"; there were all the elements of emotion and meditation; and it is possible that sentiment has only been cumbered Avith the riches which archasology has dug up for it by lowering the surface of the Cow Field fifteen or twenty feet; by scraping clean the buried pavements; by identifying the storied points; by multiplying the fragments of basal or columnar marbles and revealing the plans of temples and palaces and courts and tracing the Sacred Way on which the magnificence of the past went to dusty death. After all, the imagination is very childlike, and it prefers the elements of its pleas-ures simple and few; if the materials are very abundant or complex, it can make little out of them; they embarrass it, and it turns critical in self-defence. The grandeur that was Rome as visioned from the Cow Field becomes in the mind's eye the kaleidoscopic clutter which the resurrection of the Forum Romanum must more and more realize.
If the visitor would have some rash notion of what the ugliness of the place was like when it was in its glory, he may go look at the plastic reconstruction of it, indefinitely reduced, in the modest building across the way from the official entrance to the Forum. One cannot say but this is intensely interesting, and it affords the consolation which the humble (but not too humble) spirit may gather from witness of the past, that the fashion of this world and the pride of the eyes and all ruthless vainglory defeated themselves in ancient Rome, as they must everywhere when they can work their will. If one had thought that in magnitude and multitude some entire effect of beauty was latent, one had but to look at that huddle of warring forms, each with beauty in it, but beauty lost in the crazy agglomeration of temples and basilicas and columns and arches and statues and palaces, incredibly painted and gilded, and huddled into spaces too little for the least, and crowding severally upon one another, without relation or proportion. Their mass is supremely tasteless, almost senseless; that mob of architectural incongruities was not only without collective beauty, but it was without that far commoner and cheaper thing which we call picturesqueness. This has come to it through ruin, and we must give a new meaning to the word vandalism if we would appreciate what the barbarians did for Rome in tumbling her tawdry splendor into the heaps which are now at least paint-able. Imperial Rome as it stood was not paintable; I doubt if it would have been even photographable to anything but a picture post-card effect.