If any one were to ask me which was the most beautiful church in Rome I should temporize, and perhaps I should end by saying that there was none. Ecclesiastical Rome seems to have inherited the instinct of imperial Rome for ugliness; only, where imperial Rome used the instinct collectively, ecclesiastical Rome has used it distributively in the innumerable churches, each less lovely than the other. This position will do to hedge from; it is a bold outpost from which I may be driven in, especially by travellers who have seen the churches I did not see. I took my chances, they theirs; for nobody can singly see all the churches in Rome; that would need a syndicate.

If imperial Rome was beautiful in detail because it had the Greeks to imagine the things it so hideously grouped, ecclesiastical Rome may be unbeautiful in detail because it had not the Goths to realize the beauty of its religious aspiration - that is, if it was the Goths who invented Gothic architecture; I do not suppose it was. Anyway, there is said to be but one Gothic church in Rome, and this I did not visit, perhaps because I felt that I must inure myself to the prevalent baroque, or perhaps from mere perversity. I can merely say in self-defence that, on the outside, Santa Maria sopra Minerva no more promised an inner beauty than Il Gesu, which is the most baroque church in Rome, without the power of coming together for a unity of effect which baroque churches sometimes have. It is a tumult of virtuosity in painting, in scuplture, in architecture. Statues sprawl into frescoed figures at points in the roof, and frescoed figures emerge in marble at others. Marvels of riches are lavished upon chapels and altars, which again are so burdened with bronze gilded or silver plated, and precious stones wrought and unwrought, that the soul, or if not the soul the taste, shrinks dismayed from them. Execution in default of inspiration has had its way to the last excess; there is nothing that it has not done to show what it can do; and all that it has done is a triumph of misguided skill and power. But it would be a mistake for the spectator to imagine that anything has been done from the spirit in which he receives it; everything is the expression of devoted faith in the forms that the art of the time offered.

In the monstrous marble tableau, say, of "Religion Triumphing Over Heresy," he may be very sure that the artist was not winking an ironical eye where he made Faith spurning Schism with her foot look very much like a lady of imperfect breeding who has lost her temper; he was most devoutly in earnest, or at least those were so, both cleric and laic, for whom he wrought his prodigy. We others, pagans or Protestants, had better understand that the children of the Church, and especially the poor children, were serious through all the shows that seem to us preposterous; they had not renounced something for nothing; if they bowed that very fallible thing, Reason, to Dogma, they got faith for their reward and could gladly accept whatever symbol of it was offered them.

No matter how baroque any church was, it could express something of this sincerity, and in their way the worshippers seemed always simply at home in it. In San Lorenzo in Lucina, where I went to see the truly sublime "Crucifixion" by Guido (there is also a bar of St. Lawrence's gridiron to be seen, but I did not know it at the time) I liked the unconsciousness of the girl kneeling before the high altar and provisionally gossiping with the young sacristan before she began her devotions. She gave her mind to them when he asked me if I wished to see the Guido, for I could see her lips moving while she shared my veneration of that most affecting masterpiece; the more genuinely affecting because it expresses the rapture and not the anguish of the Passion. I have no doubt she was grateful when the sacristan proposed my having the electric light turned on it, and when, though that I knew it would cost me something more, I assented.

They have the electric light now in all the holy places, and notably in the dungeon where St. Peter was imprisoned, and where the custodian was so proud of it, as the lastest improvement, and as far more satisfactory than candles. The shrine of the miraculous Bambino in the Church of Ara Coeli is also lighted by electricity, which spares no detail of the child's apparel and appearance. To other eyes than those of faith it has the effect of a life-size but not life-like doll, piously bedizened and jewelled over, but rather ill-humored looking, or, if not that, proud looking or severe looking. To the eyes in which its sickbed visits have dried the tears it must wear an aspect of heavenly pity and beauty; and I am very willing to believe that these are the eyes which see it aright. As it was, and taking it literally, it seemed far less mechanical and unfeeling than the monk who pulled it out and pushed it back on its wheeled platform. But he must get tired of showing it to the unbelievers who come out of curiosity, and very likely I should, if I were in his place, as nonchalantly wipe across the glass front of the shrine the card with the Bambino's legend printed in various languages on it, which you may then buy with the blessing from the glass for whatever you choose to give.

Where art and antiquity are so abundant as in Rome, the Bambino incident is probably what the reader, when he has visited the Church of Ara Coeli will chiefly remember, and I will not pretend to be any better than the reader, though I will say that I have a persistent sense of something important about the roof; and there are the Pinturrichio frescos, which an old Sienese like me must have the taste for. The not easily praiseful Hare says it is "one of the most interesting of Christian churches," and without allowing that there are any other sorts of churches I may allow that this is one of the least unlovely in Rome. Trinita de' Monti seemed to be another, but only, I dare say, subjectively, because of the exquisite pleasure we had one afternoon in March when we went into it for the nuns' singing of the Benediction. That, we had been told, was something which no one coming to Rome should miss; and we were so anxious not to miss it that on our way to the Pincian Hill we stopped at the foot of the church-steps, and reassured ourselves of the hour through the kindness of an English-speaking nurse-maid at the bottom and of a gentle nun at the top, who both told us the hour would be exactly five.

When we came back at that time and bought our way into the church by rightful payment to the two blind beggars who guarded its doors, we found it packed with people who bad been more literally punctual. They were of all nations, but a large part were Anglo-Americans, and a young girl of this race rose and gave her seat, with a sweet insistence that would not be denied, to that one of us who deserved it most. He who was left leaning against the soft side of a pillar hesitated whether to make some young priests spreading over undue space on one of the benches push up, and he enjoyed a rich moment of self-satisfaction in his forbearance. He was there, to be sure, an alien and a heretic, out of mere curiosity, and they were there probably so rapt in their devout attention that they did not notice their errant step-brother, and so did not think to offer him the hospitality of their mother church's house. But he would not make any such allowance; he condemned them with the unsparing severity of the strap-hanger in a trolley-car, who blushes with shame for the serried rows of men sitting behind their newspapers. When he was at his wit's end to find excuse for them a priest on another bench made room, and he sank down glad to forgive and forget; but now he would not have yielded his place to any other Protesant in Christendom.

In the collective curiosity he lost the sense of self-reproach for his own, and eagerly bent his gaze on the group of officiating priests at the high altar beyond the grille of the choir. The altar was all a blaze of electric lights, and there was a novel effect in their composition in the crosses resting diagonally on either side of it. Next the grille showed the feathers and fashions of the mothers and sisters of the young girls from the school of the adjoining Convent of the Sacred Heart, and midway between these visitors, like a flock of white birds stooping on some heavenly plain, the white veils of the girls stretched in lovely levels to left and right. Nothing could have attuned the spirit for the surprise awaiting it like this angelic sight; and when the voices of the nuns fell suddenly from the organ gallery, behind all the people, like the singing of the morning stars molten in one adoring music and falling from the zenith down, whatever moments of innocent joy life might have had it could have had none surpassing that.

But when we came out the self-mockery with which life is apt to recover itself from any exaltation began. In returning from the Pincio the only cab we had been able to get was the last left of the very worst cabs in Rome, and we had bidden the driver wait for us at the church-steps, not without some hope that he would play us false. But there he was, true to his word, with such disciplined fidelity as that of the Roman sentinels who used to die at their posts; and we mounted to ours with the muted prayer that we, at least, might reach home alive. This did not seem probable when the driver whipped up his horse. It appeared to have aged and sickened while we were in the church, though we had thought it looked as bad as could be before, and it lurched alarmingly from side to side, recovering itself with a plunge of its heavy head away from the side in which its body was sinking. The driver swayed on his box, having fallen equally decrepit in spite of the restoratives he seemed to have applied for his years and infirmities. His clothes had put on some such effect of extreme decay as those of Rip Van Winkle in the third act; there was danger that he would fall on top of his falling horse, and that their raiment would mingle in one scandalous ruin. Via Sistina had never been so full of people before; never before had it been so long to that point where we were to turn out of it into the friendly obscurity of the little cross street which would bring us to our hotel. We could not consent to arrive in that form; we made the driver stop, and we got out and began overpaying him to release us. But the more generously we overpaid him the more nobly he insisted upon serving us to our door. At last, by such a lavish expenditure as ought richly to provide for the few remaining years of himself and his horse, we prevailed with him to let us go, and reached our hotel glad, almost proud, to arrive on foot.

Hare tells me, now it is too late, that I may reach the Church of Santa Maggiore by keeping straight on through the long, long straightness of the Via Sistina. I reached that church by quite another way after many postponements; for I thought I remembered all about it from my visit in 1864. But really nothing had remained to me save a sense of the exceptional dignity of the church, and the sole fact that the roof of its most noble nave is thickly plated with the first gold mined in South America, which Ferdinand and Isabella gave that least estimable of the popes, Alexander VI. Now I know that it is far richer than any gold could make it in the treasures of history and legend, which fairly encrust it in every part. Doubtless some portion of this wealth my fellow-sightseers were striving to store up out of the guide-books which they bore in their hands and from which they strained their eyes to the memorable points as they slowly paced through the temple. Some were reading one to another in bated voices, and I thought them ridiculous; but perhaps they were wise, and rather he was ridiculous who marched by them and contented himself with a general sense of the grandeur, the splendor. More than any other church except that of San Paolo fuori le Mura, Santa Maria Maggiore imparts this sense, for, as I have already pretended, St. Peter's fails of it. Without as well as within the church is spacious and impressive from its spaciousness; but it seems more densely fringed than most others with peddlers of post-cards and mosaic pins. On going in you can plunge through their ranks, but in coming out you do not so easily escape. One boy pursued me quite to my cab, in spite of my denials of hand and tongue. There he stayed the driver while he made a last, a humorous appeal. "Skiddoo?" he asked in my native speech. "Yes," I sullenly replied, "skiddoo!" But it is now one of the regrets which I shall always feel for my wasted opportunities in Rome that I did not buy all his post-cards. Patient gayety like his merited as much.

As it was, I drove callously away from Santa Maria Maggiore to San Pietro in Vincoli, where I expected to renew my veneration for Michelangelo's Moses. That famous figure is no longer so much in the minds of men as it used to be, I think; and, if one were to be quite honest with one's self as to the why and wherefore of one's earlier veneration, one might not get a very distinct or convincing reply. Do sculptors and painters suffer periods of slight as authors do? Are Raphael and Michelangelo only provisionally eclipsed by Botticelli and by Donatello and Mino da Fiesole, or are they remanded to a lasting limbo? I find I have said in my notes that the Moses is improbable and unimpressive, and I pretended a more genuine joy in the heads of the two Pollajuolo brothers which startle you from their tomb as you enter the church. Is the true, then, better than the ideal, or is it only my grovelling spirit which prefers it? What I scarcely venture to say is that those two men evidently lived and still live, and that Michelangelo's prophet never lived; I scarcely venture, because I remember with tenderness how certain clear and sweet spirits used to bow their reason before the Moses as before a dogma of art which must be implicitly accepted. Do they still do so, those clear and sweet spirits?

The archaeologist who was driving my cab that morning had pointed out to me on the way to this church the tower on which Nero stood fiddling while Rome was burning. It is a strong, square, mediaeval structure which will serve the purpose of legend yet many centuries, if progress does not pull it down; but the fiddle no longer exists, apparently, and Nero himself is dead. When I came out and mounted into my cab, my driver showed me with his whip, beyond a garden wall, a second tower, very beautiful against the blue sky, above the slim cypresses, which he said was the scene of the wicked revels of Lucrezia Borgia. I do not know why it has been chosen for this distinction above other towers; but it was a great satisfaction to have it identified. Very possibly I had seen both of these memorable towers in my former Roman sojourn, but I did not remember them, whereas I renewed my old impressions of San Paolo fuori le Mura in almost every detail.

That is the most majestic church in Rome, I think, and I suppose it is, for a cold splendor, unequalled anywhere. Somehow, from its form and from the great propriety of its decoration, it far surpasses St. Peter's. The antic touch of the baroque is scarcely present in it, for, being newly rebuilt after the fire which destroyed the fourth-century basilica in 1823, its faults are not those of sixteenth-century excess. It would be a very bold or a very young connoisseur who should venture to appraise its merits beyond this negative valuation; and timid age can affirm no more than that it came away with its sensibilities unwounded. Tradition and history combine with the stately architecture, which reverently includes every possible relic of the original fabric, to render the immense temple venerable; and as it is still in process of construction, with a colonnaded porch in scale and keeping with the body of the basilica, it offers to the eye of wonder the actual spectacle of that unstinted outlay of riches which has filled Rome with its multitudes of pious monuments - monuments mainly ugly, but potent with the imagination even in their ugliness through the piety of their origin. Where did all that riches come from?

Out of what unfathomable opulence, out of what pitiable penury, out of what fear, out of what love? One fancies the dying hands of wealth that released their gift to the sacred use, the knotted hands of work that spared it from their need. The giving continues in this latest Christian age as in the earliest, and Rome is increasingly Rome in a world which its thinkers think no longer believes.

From San Paolo we were going to another shrine, more hallowed to our literary sense, and we drove through the sweet morning sunshine and bird-singing, past pale-pink clouds of almond bloom on the garden slopes, with snowy heights far beyond, to the simple graveyard where Keats and Shelley lie. Our way to the Protestant cemetery held by some shabby apartment-houses of that very modern Rome which was largely so jerry-built, and which I would not leave out of the landscape if I could, for I think their shabbi-ness rather heightens your sense of the peaceful loveliness to which you come under the cypresses, among the damp aisles, so thickly studded with the stones recording the death in exile of the English strangers lying there far from home. In a faulty perspective of memory, I had always seen the graves of the two poets side by side; but the heart of Shelley rests in a prouder part of the cemetery, where the paths between the finer tombs are carefully kept; and the dust of Keats lies in an old, plain, almost neglected corner, well off beyond a dividing trench. It seems an ungracious chance which has so parted the two poets so inextricably united in their fame; it is as if here, too, the world would have its way; but, of course, it is only at the worst an ungracious chance. Keats, at least, has the companionship of the painter Severn, the friend on whose "fond breast his parting soul relied," and who has here followed him into the dust.

A few withered daisies had been scattered in the thin grass over the poet, and one hardly dared lift one's eyes from them to the heartbreaking epitaph which one could not spell for tears.