Ceres' Runaway and Other Essays by Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell

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Page 1

Yet, except that it is overtaken and put to death in these accessible
places, the wild summer growth of Rome has a prevailing success and
victory. It breaks all bounds, flies to the summits, lodges in the sun,
swings in the wind, takes wing to find the remotest ledges, and blooms
aloft. It makes light of the sixteenth century, of the seventeenth, and
of the eighteenth. As the historic ages grow cold it banters them alike.
The flagrant flourishing statue, the haughty facade, the broken pediment
(and Rome is chiefly the city of the broken pediment) are the
opportunities of this vagrant garden in the air. One certain church,
that is full of attitude, can hardly be aware that a crimson snapdragon
of great stature and many stalks and blossoms is standing on its furthest
summit tiptoe against its sky. The cornice of another church in the fair
middle of Rome lifts out of the shadows of the streets a row of
accidental marigolds. Impartial to the antique, the mediaeval, the
Renaissance early and late, the newer modern, this wild summer finds its
account in travertine and tufa, reticulated work, brick, stucco and
stone. "A bird of the air carries the matter," or the last sea-wind,
sombre and soft, or the latest tramontana, gold and blue, has lodged in a
little fertile dust the wild grass, wild wheat, wild oats!

If Venus had her runaway, after whom the Elizabethans raised hue and cry,
this is Ceres'. The municipal authorities, hot-foot, cannot catch it.
And, worse than all, if they pause, dismayed, to mark the flight of the
agile fugitive safe on the arc of a flying buttress, or taking the place
of the fallen mosaics and coloured tiles of a twelfth-century tower, and
in any case inaccessible, the grass grows under their discomfited feet.
It actually casts a flush of green over their city _piazza_--the wide
light-grey pavements so vast that to keep them weeded would need an army
of workers. That army has not been employed; and grass grows in a small
way, but still beautifully, in the wide space around which the tramway
circles. Perhaps a hatred of its delightful presence is what chiefly
prompts the civic government in Rome to the effort to turn the _piazza_
into a square. The shrub is to take the place not so much of the
pavement as of the importunate grass. For it is hard to be beaten--and
the weed does so prevail, is so small, and so dominant! The sun takes
its part, and one might almost imagine a sensitive Municipality in tears,
to see grass running, overhead and underfoot, through the "third" (which
is in truth the fourth) Rome.

When I say grass I use the word widely. Italian grass is not turf; it is
full of things, and they are chiefly aromatic. No richer scents throng
each other, close and warm, than these from a little hand-space of the
grass one rests on, within the walls or on the plain, or in the Sabine or
the Alban hills. Moreover, under the name I will take leave to include
lettuce as it grows with a most welcome surprise on certain ledges of the
Vatican. That great and beautiful palace is piled, at various angles, as
it were house upon house, here magnificent, here careless, but with
nothing pretentious and nothing furtive. And outside one lateral window
on a ledge to the sun, prospers this little garden of random salad.
Buckingham Palace has nothing whatever of the Vatican dignity, but one
cannot well think of little cheerful cabbages sunning themselves on any
parapet it may have round a corner.

Moreover, in Italy the vegetables--the table ones--have a wildness, a
suggestion of the grass, from lands at liberty for all the tilling.
Wildish peas, wilder asparagus--the field asparagus which seems to have
disappeared from England, but of which Herrick boasts in his
manifestations of frugality--and strawberries much less than half-way
from the small and darkling ones of the woods to the pale and corpulent
of the gardens, and with nothing of the wild fragrance lost--these are
all Italian things of savage savour and simplicity. The most cultivated
of all countries, the Italy of tillage, is yet not a garden, but
something better, as her city is yet not a town but something better, and
her wilderness something better than a desert. In all the three there is
a trace of the little flying heels of the runaway.


Haydon died by his own act in 1846, and it was not, in the event, until
1853 that his journal was edited, not by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as
he wished, but by Tom Taylor. Turning over these familiar and famous
volumes, often read, I wonder once more how any editor was bold to "take
upon himself the mystery of things" in the case of Haydon, and to assign
to that venial moral fault or this the ill-fortune and defeat that beset
him, with hardly a pause for the renewal of the resistance of his
admirable courage.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 15th Oct 2019, 9:02