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You should see the excitement with which the intended recipient stretches her arms from a balcony, as it is about to be thrown from a carriage-the exultation with which it is caught—the felicitations on that happy event which are exchanged in dumb show between giver and receiver !
Thus prosily catalogued, you have some of the elements of the general frolic. But how to give any idea of the life and mirth, and good humour, and brightness and picturesqueness of the whole scene? To you, far away from the scene and the time, and their exhilarating and infecting influences, it will doubtless seem childish and absurd enough—but you must take it upon faith that there is something of irresistible fascination in it all, not to be conceived of, much less appreciated, except by those who have seen and experienced it. True, to sober lookers-on it might seem as if all the world had gone mad for the time being : but then the madness is universal, every one is bitten by the mania, and there are no sober lookers-on!
It does not seem strange at the time, but there may be something curious in remembering, afterwards, how unanimous and overwhelming is this same Carnival spirit. It will, perhaps, be curious to recal how pensive Italian, grave English, shrewd American, stolid Russian, and mobile French faces are all alike and at once relaxed to the same expression of eager fun and thorough enjoyment. On every hand are to be seen astonishing examples of the effect of this powerful influence, and never so frequently as among our own compatriots. Ordinarily demure-looking English fathers of families, staid men, who, in their every-day existences, and in their own country, are to be recognised as responsible dignitaries, sober lawyers, thoughtful men of letters; individuals supposed to be so completely engrossed by professional or business pursuits as to be altogether without the pale of susceptibility to frolic and fun,—are here in the very midst of it, pelting away with their confetti, or making desperate efforts to return a fire of bouquets to a retreating carriage, with an eager energy that must surely remind them of nothing later in life than their first school-days.
And if Saxon phlegm is to be decoyed into such antics, we may well accept, without much marvelling, the story told of a Carnival many years before, at the most excited and crowded epoch of which a carriage containing two gentlemen, habited and masked, broke down, and the unfortunate occupants had to be lifted out and receive refuge and assistance, and lo! beneath the dominoes and masks were found, first, an illustrious Cardinal; and secondly, a puissant Monsignore !
Doubtless “Il Carnavale” has a very engrossing hold upon the hearts of the Romans, albeit, they are a far graver and less mercurial race than the Italians generally. Indeed, it is reported, and currently believed, that if the authorities had, as was at one time threatened, prohibited “masks" this year, and in other ways hindered the full flow of the many days' revel, a revolution might have been expected !
However, revolutions are not easy of accomplishment in a city stifled with spies and swarming with French soldiers, and among a people whose government has latterly more than ever been directed towards the crushing of free thought, the hindrance of knowledge, and the discouragement of social intercourse. And the Romans, with the French bayonets at their throats, and the priestly gag upon their lips, have had, within the last ten years, to endure so much that is outrageous to manhood, as may well have taught them patience to bear small privations. Still, it is a fact that this year of all years, which has dawned with such strange promise of light as we are almost afraid to trust this year, solemn with awful uncertainty, trembling with infinite possibilities for what we fondly call “our Italy,”-this year is singled out and chosen to afford the Roman people a Carnival with more brilliance, and more license than has been known within the memory of this generation.
In fact, it is quite possible, even probable, that the government may have thought it politic to grant this outlet for the rampant energy anél spirit of its people, which might otherwise have been directed in a manner more inconvenient to itself. And it is not difficult thus to understand a certain connection between the approaching war (rumours of which hang about us like an atmosphere) and this actually existent Carnival. A strange, mocking juxta-position of ideas this- which, never theless, one can but indulge in every now and then, as some little incident occurs, apparently trivial, yet significant in the present anomalous state of affairs. Not the least curious of these, are the indications of that growing rapport between the French soldiers and the Roman people, which is a new and most startling sign of the times the would have supposed that the feeling could be no other than bittet hatred and fury--nore the less fierce, because impotent — of the subdued citizens for these, their subjugators, who ever since enterin the eternal city in 1849, have played the invidious part of police there But, whatever may have been felt at one time, things are evidents changed now. The dark faces light up with a certain complacenes * the troops file by ; they beat time to the music of the band, they sin the tunes they play, and if you hear voices speaking of “ I Frances it is in kindly and cheerful tones. Moreover, the license of the Carnival permits such little demonstrations of friendliness as a involved in small offerings to the soldiery who, ranged in lines, gan the Piazza del Popolo, and direct the right progression of the carriage More than one elaborately-attired cavalier did we see walking alone the aforesaid line of guards, and with a profound bow, and laying hand upon his heart with a gesticulation no less Italian than the courteous and musical syllables which flowed from his lips at the same time, presenting to each in turn one of those minute bunches of violets or other flowers which form the lighter and pleasanter ammunition the mimic warfare of the day. The swarthy-faced warriors receive these little tributes with an air partly grim, partly amused, slightly astonished besides. It was easy to see they were pot accu tomed to such pleasing attentions at Roman hands
Straws show which way the wind blows. If these “straws" sei,
at first sight, puerile and unworthy indications of deep, national feeling, have patience for a while. It is difficult for us, with our staid, controlled northern natures, to understand these-our brethren none the less, though in some respects the humanity is unlike—with their impulses, at once warmer and less educated ; their feelings, whether of joy or sorrow, love or hate, so much less complex and less restrained than ours. “They are like children," more than one self-satisfied Saxon has half-disdainfully said of them ; forgetting, perhaps, that the child is in some things as much above a man as in others he is below him. The Italian has the spontaneity of emotion and of expressionthe abandon of enjoyment of simple things—the easily amused, easily pleased, easily pained temperament of a child. And are not these those very traits of childhood which wise men look back upon, and sigh with infinite regretfulness to know they never can regain ?
In '49--that terrible “quaranta-nove," which few of the Romans can mention without an ominous straightening of the lips, and a falling of the voice half sad and half fierce-after the siege was over, and the French had possession of the city, a number of those belonging to the National party exiled themselves to Frascati, Rocca di Papa, and Albano--gathering there, their families around them, and bearing the utter destruction of all their hopes—the failure of all their efforts-as best they might. One of those who fought in that struggle, a boy then-a man now, was heard to relate how, on the soft summer evenings of that dreadful time the different families would gather together in the lovely woods of Albano, glorious with foliage and light and colour, and beguile the hours with singing. “If it had not been for the music and the beauty of the place, our hearts must have broken," he said, simply. Let who will scorn the consolation that despairing men thus found in the “mere harmony of sweet sounds," and the divineness and peacefulness of nature. Where the house is not open to the light, it will enter through chinks and crevices. And in a land where religion seems to be only the symbol of authority for the people's miseries, their oppression, and their decadence in the scale of nations,—who shall say by what means our Father, who never leaves Himself without a witness, will draw the souls of His children towards Him?
This seems wandering from the subject in hand ; the glittering Carnival that is now triumphantly regnant in the long Corso, and one or two of the streets branching therefrom. For it is such a crowded Carnival this year, that the course of procession for the carriages has to be increased, and dragoons are stationed at the corner of the Via Condotti to send the vehicles up there, and along the Via Babuino on their return from the Piazza di Venezia. The houses of those favoured streets are not slow to take advantage of this turn of events. The lower balconies are crowded, and an energetic exchange of confetti and bouquets takes place between them and the carriages.
If you are not afraid of being foolish, of being drawn into this whirl of absurdity to the peril of dignity, and the destruction of sobriety of demeanour, will you come with us, as we make "a course” in our white-lined carriage up and down the scene of festivity!
It is one of the last days of the Carnival, up to which the general spirit and brilliancy of affairs have gradually increased. To-day, many new carriages, and more romantic “cars” have appeared, with new devices, and new costumes. Here comes one, containing a party all attired to represent different flowers. The general effect of daffodil, rose, daisy, and poppy, is managed most ingeniously. In another, each occupant bears a large heartsease as a badge, and pelts with nothing but bouquets composed of those flowers. Again, here is the most picturesque of all, a long, open car, containing a group of Bedouin Arabs, standing or reclining majestically under the shelter of a tall palm tree.
We drive along, now quickly, now slowly, pelting and being pelted from carriages, balconies, and pedestrians, recognizing our friends every now and then, and thereupon giving and receiving charges of bon-bons and pretty bouquets. Does not the line of the Corso look well 1-the tall white houses, deep in shade, except their tops, which are shining in “radiance most absolute; ” occasional spears of light from that same radiance breaking in at openings in the street, and falling upon the decorated balconies with their picturesque occupants, on the motley crowd below, or glancing on the helmets and swords of the dragoone as at regular intervals they patrol the course : This open space at the end, where all the carriages career round and turn-the Piazza del Popolo-is now a perfect sea of sunshine, into which we plunge as into a bath. Here there is glittering of bayonets and shining of swords and helmets; and white dominoes and coloured trimmings bright flowers, beaming faces, and everything most gay and brilhans looks its gayest and brightest. In truth, our eyes are almost blinded by excess of radiance. There is the fountain under the Pincian Hill sparkling in the sunlight, and the terrace-road winding up to the gardens gleams whitely bare, and the grave Michael Angelo gate with groups about it, of soldiers and country people, and the obelisk in tbe centre of the Piazza, rising straightly into the air, and the dark gren of the trees in the Pincian Garden high up above the terraced-wil, and the blue sky beyond and above all; and everything quivering mo this intense light, and blending into one lustrous picture from which it is quite a strange sensation to turn into the deep shadow of the Corso, with its glancing lights, and glowing colours, and life, and more ment, and sound. There are waves of music ever and anon rushina up and breaking in on the perpetual noise of voices, laughter, queet Carnival cries, and the loud importunities of the innumerable floweto merchants who, fearless in the pursuit of business, dart about pirry where, under the horses' feet, between the carriage wheels, with their urgent “Ecco fiori-erco fuori! M'sieur, rolet - Signori, 'ruol" fiori? 1 paoli--due e merz- dur- uno!" se, Sr.
Now recommences the exchange of bouquets between inmates in carriages and balconius, and occasional sharp engagements with confetti
besides, every now and then, the double line of carriages will be stationary for awhile, in consequence of some stoppage farther down, and then encounters, varying in friendliness according to the disposition of the several parties, will take place with great spirit between the two carriages which happen to be abreast. Sometimes, a perfect hail of confetti is mischievously exchanged. Oftener, the war begins with flowers, then sugar-plums, then bunches of violets, then decorated bon-bons; and the battle ends with a final salute of a charming bouquet of camellias, elaborately arranged in embossed paper, which same bouquets are almost invariably stolen from us immediately afterwards by those adroit little banditti, who, as we have seen before, keep a preternaturally sharp look-out for such things, and will leap on to the carriage-step, snatch the coveted flowers, or a handful of bon-bons from under our eyes, and in a moment, spring back again into the crowd, with the most consummate audacity.
Again, when the carriages are stopped for a time, interesting scenes take place between their occupants and the pedestrians. A mask approaches, and in the most reverential manner offers a flower, or a bouquet, which is immediately accepted and returned in kind. Profound bows expressive of gratitude, follow, and the silent masquer passes on. Sometimes the scene is not all in dumb show, and a little dialogue takes place. A Polichinelle claims our sympathy on the score of his broken nose, for example, and relates how handsome it was before misfortune came to it. Then our nation is inquired, and a little speech in English follows, as an appropriate compliment. Occasionally, we are addressed in verse, and with elaborate action and gesture, which it is unfortunate we cannot understand or respond to. Hopes are expressed that we like the Carnival —have we anything like it in England ? and so on. The Romans are delighted and flattered beyond measure when they see the forestieri entering into the spirit of the diversion and enjoying it as much, or nearly as much, as themselves.
And in this way the Carnival goes on, in a succession of moving pictures, and varied sonatas; all life, brilliance, and colour, confusion without turbulence, and frolic without offensiveness, of which it may be said at least, that if it be not very sensible, it is, so far as one can see, very harmless—and in this respect may well afford comparison with many fashions of festivity conventionally current in our own land. At least here, in the Carnival, we have the free air and light of day to purify our merry-making. We do not stretch our hours of diversion into the late night and early morning. Every day's proceedings are concluded at a certain hour. At half-past five o'clock the Corso is cleared of carriages, and immediately becomes to all appearance, quite as crowded as ever, by swarms of pedestrians who choke up the roadway, with no perceptible diminution of the crush upon the trottoir. It is curious then to see the sudden rush with which the crowd divides, as the troop of dragoons comes down the street at a hand gallop, cleaving the stream of people as if it were