A PRAISE OF NEW ROME
Rome and I had both grown older since I had seen her last, but she seemed not to show so much as I the forty-three years that had passed. Naturally a city that was already twenty-seven centuries of age (and no one knows how much more) would not betray the lapse of time since 1864 as a man must who was then only twenty-seven years of age. In fact, I should say that Rome looked, if anything, younger at our second meeting, in 1908, or, at any rate, newer; and I am so warm a friend of youth (in others) that I was not sorry to find Rome young, or merely new, in so many good things. At the same time I must own that I heard no other foreigner praising her for her newness except a fellow-septuagenarian, who had seen Rome earlier even than I, and who thought it well that the Ghetto should have been cleared away, though some visitors, who had perhaps never lived in a Ghetto, thought it a pity if not a shame, and an incalculable loss to the picturesque. These also thought the Tiber Embankments a wicked sacrifice to the commonplace, though the mud-banks of other days invited the torrent to an easy overflow of whole quarters of the town, which were left reeking with the filth of the flood that overlay the filth of the streets, and combined with it to an effect of disease and of discomfort not always personally unknown to the lover of the picturesque. There used to be a particular type of typhoid known as Roman fever, but now quite unknown, thanks to the Tiber Embankments and to the light and air let into the purlieus of that mediaeval Rome for which the injudicious grieve so loudly. The perfect municipal housekeeping of our time leaves no darkest and narrowest lane or alley unswept; every morning the shovel and broom go over the surfaces formerly almost impassable to the foot and quite impossible to the nose.
I am speaking literally as well as frankly, and though I can understand why some envious New-Yorker, remembering our blackguard streets and avenues, should look askance at the decency of the newer Rome and feign it an offence against beauty and poetry, I do not see why a Londoner, who himself lives in a well-kept town, should join with any of my fellow-barbarians in hypocritically deploring the modern spirit which has so happily invaded the Eternal City. The Londoner should rather entreat us not to be humbugs and should invite us to join him in rejoicing that the death-rate of Rome, once the highest in the civilized world, is now almost the lowest. But the language of Shakespeare and Milton is too often internationally employed in deploring the modernity which has housed us aliens there in such perfect comfort and safety. One must confine one's self to instances, and one may take that of the Ludovisi Quarter, as it is called, where I dwelt in so much peace and pleasure except when I was reminded that it was formed by plotting the lovely Villa Ludovisi in house lots and building it up in attractive hotels and apartment-houses. Even then I did not suffer so keenly as some younger people, who had never seen the villa, seemed to do, though there are still villas to burn in and about Rome, and they could not really miss the Ludovisi. It was a pretty place, but not beyond praise, and the quarter also is pretty, though also not beyond praise. The villa was for the pleasure and pride of one family, but it signified, even in its beauty, nothing but patrician splendor, which is a poor thing at best; and the quarter is now for the pleasure and pride of great numbers of tourists, mostly of that plutocracy from which a final democracy is inevitably to evolve itself. I could see no cause to beat the breast in this; and in humbler instances, even to very humble, I could not find that things were nearly as bad in Rome as they have been painted.
There is no doubt but at one time, directly after the coming of the capital, Rome was badly overbuilt. There is no doubt, also, that Rome has grown up to these rash provisions for her growth, and that she now "stuffs out her vacant garments with her form" pretty fully. One must not say that all the flats in all the houses are occupied, but most of them are; and if now the property of the speculators is the property of the banks, the banks are no bad landlords, and the law does not spare them the least of their duties to their tenants; or so, at least, it is said.
Another typical wrong to the old Rome, or rather to the not-yet Rome, was the building-up, beyond the Tiber, of the Quarter of the Fields, so called, where Zola in his novel of Rome has placed most of the squalor which he so lavishly employs in its contrasts. In these he shows himself the romanticist that he always frankly owned he was in spite of himself; but after I had read his book I made it my affair to visit the scenes of poverty and misery in the Quartiere dei Prati. When I did so I found that I had already passed through the quarter without noting anything especially poor or specifically miserable, and I went a third time to make sure that I had not overlooked something impressively lamentable. But I did not see above three tenement-houses with the wash hung from the windows, and with the broken shutters of poverty and misery, in a space where on the East Side or the North Side in New York I could have counted such houses by the score, almost the hundred. In this quarter the streets were swept every morning as they are everywhere in Rome, and though toward noon they were beginning to look as slovenly as our streets look when they have just been "cleaned," I knew that the next morning these worst avenues of Rome would be swept as our best never have been since the days of Waring.