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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Rome Ancient and Modern
By Madame de Staël (1766–1817)
 
From ‘Corinne’: Translation of Isabel Hill

ONE of the most singular churches in Rome is St. Paul’s: its exterior is that of an ill-built barn; yet it is bedecked within by eighty pillars of such exquisite material and proportion that they are believed to have been transported from an Athenian temple described by Pausanias. If Cicero said in his day, “We are surrounded by vestiges of history,” what would he say now? Columns, statues, and pictures are so prodigally crowded in the churches of modern Rome, that in St. Agnes’s, bas-reliefs turned face downward serve to pave a staircase; no one troubling himself to ascertain what they might represent. How astonishing a spectacle was ancient Rome, had its treasures been left where they were found! The immortal city would be still before us nearly as it was of yore; but could the men of our day dare to enter it? The palaces of the Roman lords are vast in the extreme, and often display much architectural grace; but their interiors are rarely arranged in good taste. They have none of those elegant apartments invented elsewhere for the perfect enjoyment of social life. Superb galleries, hung with the chefs-d’œuvre of the tenth Leo’s age, are abandoned to the gaze of strangers by their lazy proprietors, who retire to their own obscure little chambers, dead to the pomp of their ancestors, as were they to the austere virtues of the Roman republic. The country-houses give one a still greater idea of solitude, and of their owners’ carelessness amid the loveliest scenes of nature. One walks immense gardens, doubting if they have a master; the grass grows in every path, yet in these very alleys are the trees cut into shapes, after the fantastic mode that once reigned in France. Strange inconsistency—this neglect of essentials and affectation in what is useless! Most Italian towns, indeed, surprise us with this mania, in a people who have constantly beneath their eyes such models of noble simplicity. They prefer glitter to convenience; and in every way betray the advantages and disadvantages of not habitually mixing with society. Their luxury is rather that of fancy than of comfort. Isolated among themselves, they dread not that spirit of ridicule, which in truth seldom penetrates the interior of Roman abodes. Contrasting this with what they appear from without, one might say that they were rather built to dazzle the peasantry than for the reception of friends.  1
 
 
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