A PRAISE OF NEW ROME
So it is said by those who profess a more intimate acquaintance with the Roman meteorology than I can boast, but from the little I know I can believe anything of it that is of good report. Everywhere the prevalence of the ilex, the orange, the laurel, the pine, flatters January with an illusion of June, and under our hotel windows I was witness of the success of the sycamore leaves in keeping a grip of their native twigs even after the new buds came to push them away. In the last days of March a plum-tree hung its robe of white blossoms over the wall of the Capuchin convent from the garden within; but the almond-trees had been in bloom for six weeks before, and the deeper pink of the peach had more warmly flushed the suburbs for fully a fortnight.
Still, a mild winter and an endurable summer will not of themselves make a great capital, and it was probably the Romans themselves who in the past made Rome the capital of the world, first politically and then religiously. Whether they will make it so hereafter remains to be seen. In the sense of all the Italians being Romans, I believe, with my profound faith in the race, that they are very capable of doing it; and they will have the help of the whole world in the work, or what is most liberal and enlightened in the whole world. As it is, Rome has a pull with Occidental civilization which forever constitutes her its head city. The only European capitals comparable with her are London, Paris, and Berlin; one cannot take account of New York, which is merely the commercial metropolis of America, with a possibility of becoming the business centre of both hemispheres. Washington is still in its nonage and of a numerical unimportance in which it must long remain almost ludicrously inferior to other capitals, not to dwell upon its want of anything like artistic, literary, scientific, and historical primacy. It is the voluntary political centre of the greatest republic of any time and of a nation which is already unrivalled in its claim upon the future. But it is not of the involuntary and unconscious growth of a capital like London, which is the centre of a mighty state, deep-rooted in the past, and the capital of that Anglo-Saxon race of which we are ourselves a condition, and of a colonial empire without a present equal. Paris is France in the sense of representing the intense life of a nation unsurpassed in the things which enlighten and ennoble the human intellect and advance mankind. Berlin is the concentration of the strong will of a state which has made itself great out of the weak will of sundry inferior states, homogeneous in their disunity more than in any positive quality, and which stands for a political ideal more nearly reactionary, more nearly mediaeval, than any other modern state. Berlin is not German as Paris is French, and Rome is not so exclusively Italian. In fact, her greatness, accomplished and destined, lies in just the fact that she is not and never can be exclusively Italian. Human interests too universal and imperative for the control of a single race, even so brilliant and so gifted as the Italian race, which is naturally and necessarily in possession, centre about her through history, religion, art, and make every one at home in the city which is the capital of Christendom. Now and then I saw some shining and twinkling Japs going about with Baedekers, and I imagined them giving a modest and unprejudiced mind to Rome without claiming, tacitly or explicitly, the right to dispute the Italian theory and practice in its control. But every Occidental stranger (if any one of European blood is a stranger in the home of Christianity) I knew to be there in a mood more or less critical, and in a disposition to find fault with the Rome which is now making, or making over.
We journeyers or sojourners can do this without expense or inconvenience to ourselves, and we can easily blame the Italian conception of the future city which, to name but one fact, has made it possible for us to visit her in comfort at every season and to come away without having come down with the Roman fever. In spite of the sort of motherly, or at the worst step-motherly, welcome which she gives to all us closely or distantly related children of hers; in spite of her immemorial fame and her immortal beauty; in spite of her admirable housekeeping, in which she rises every morning at daybreak and sweeps clean every hole and corner of her dwelling; in spite of her wonderful sky, her life-giving air; in spite of the level head she keeps in her political affairs, and the miraculous poise she maintains between the antagonism of State and Church; in spite of her wise eclecticism in modern improvements; in spite of her admirable hygiene, which has constituted her one of the healthiest, if not the healthiest city in Europe; in spite of the solvency which she preserves amid expenses to which the vast scale of antiquity obliges her in all her public enterprises (a thing to be hereafter studied), we, the ungracious offspring of her youth, come from our North and West and censure and criticise and carp. I have seldom conversed with any fellow-visitor in Rome who could not improve her in some phase or other, who could not usefully advise her, who, at the best, did not patronize her. I offer myself as almost the sole example of a stranger who was contented with her as she is, or as she is going to be without his help; and I am the more confident, therefore, in suggesting to Rome an expedient by which she can repair the finances which her visitors say are so foolishly and wastefully mismanaged in her civic schemes. A good round tax, such as Carlsbad levies upon all sojourners, if laid upon the multitudinous tourists joining in such a chorus of criticism of Rome would give them the indefeasible right to their opinions and would help to replete a treasury which they believe is always in danger of being exhausted.