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The innocents abroad, or, The new Pilgrim's progress

being some account of the steamship Quaker City's pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy land ; with descriptions of countries, nations, incidents and adventures, as they appeared to the author






FROM the sanguinary sports of the Holy Inquisition; the
slaughter of the Coliseum; and the dismal tombs of the
Catacombs, I naturally pass to the picturesque horrors of the
Capuchin Convent. We stopped a moment in a small chapel
in the church to admire a picture of St. Michael vanquishing
Satan—a picture which is so beautiful that I can not but think
it belongs to the reviled “Renaissance,” notwithstanding I believe
they told us one of the ancient old masters painted it—
and then we descended into the vast vault underneath.

Here was a spectacle for sensitive nerves! Evidently the
old masters had been at work in this place. There were six
divisions in the apartment, and each division was ornamented
with a style of decoration peculiar to itself—and these decorations
were in every instance formed of human bones! There
were shapely arches, built wholly of thigh bones; there were
startling pyramids, built wholly of grinning skulls; there
were quaint architectural structures of various kinds, built of
shin bones and the bones of the arm; on the wall were elaborate
frescoes, whose curving vines were made of knotted human
vertebræ; whose delicate tendrils were made of sinews and
tendons; whose flowers were formed of knee-caps and toe-nails.
Every lasting portion of the human frame was represented in
these intricate designs (they were by Michael Angelo, I think,)
and there was a careful finish about the work, and an attention
to details that betrayed the artist's love of his labors as well as
his schooled ability. I asked the good-natured monk who accompanied
us, who did this? And he said, “We did it”—
meaning himself and his breathren up stairs. I could see that


Page 299
[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 500EAF. Page 299. In-line Illustration. Image of three men and a monk. The monk is showing the men a skull he is holding. On the walls behind them are stacks and stacks of skulls. They must be in a catacomb. The caption reads, "VAULTS OF THE CONVENT."] the old friar took a high pride in his curious show. We made
him talkative by exhibiting an interest we never betrayed to

“Who were these people?”

“We—up stairs—Monks of the Capuchin order—my brethren.”

“How many departed monks were required to upholster
these six parlors?”

“These are the bones of four thousand.”

“It took a long time to get enough?”

“Many, many centuries.”


Page 300

“Their different parts are well separated—skulls in one
room, legs in another, ribs in another—there would be stirring
times here for a while if the last trump should blow. Some
of the brethren might get hold of the wrong leg, in the confusion,
and the wrong skull, and find themselves limping, and
looking through eyes that were wider apart or closer together
than they were used to. You can not tell any of these parties
apart, I suppose?”

“Oh, yes, I know many of them.”

He put his finger on a skull. “This was Brother Anselmo—
dead three hundred years—a good man.”

He touched another. “This was Brother Alexander—dead
two hundred and eighty years. This was Brother Carlo—dead
about as long.”

Then he took a skull and held it in his hand, and looked reflectively
upon it, after the manner of the grave-digger when
he discourses of Yorick.

“This,” he said, “was Brother Thomas. He was a young
prince, the scion of a proud house that traced its lineage back
to the grand old days of Rome well nigh two thousand years
ago. He loved beneath his estate. His family persecuted him;
persecuted the girl, as well. They drove her from Rome; he
followed; he sought her far and wide; he found no trace of
her. He came back and offered his broken heart at our altar
and his weary life to the service of God. But look you.
Shortly his father died, and likewise his mother. The girl returned,
rejoicing. She sought every where for him whose eyes
had used to look tenderly into hers out of this poor skull, but
she could not find him. At last, in this coarse garb we wear,
she recognized him in the street. He knew her. It was too
late. He fell where he stood. They took him up and brought
him here. He never spoke afterward. Within the week he
died. You can see the color of his hair—faded, somewhat—
by this thin shred that clings still to the temple. “This,”
[taking up a thigh bone,] “was his. The veins of this leaf in
the decorations over your head, were his finger-joints, a hundred
and fifty years ago.”


Page 301

This business-like way of illustrating a touching story of the
heart by laying the several fragments of the lover before us
and naming them, was as grotesque a performance, and as
ghastly, as any I ever witnessed. I hardly knew whether to
smile or shudder. There are nerves and muscles in our frames
whose functions and whose methods of working it seems a sort
of sacrilege to describe by cold physiological names and surgical
technicalities, and the monk's talk suggested to me something
of this kind. Fancy a surgeon, with his nippers lifting
tendons, muscles and such things into view, out of the complex
machinery of a corpse, and observing, “Now this little nerve
quivers—the vibration is imparted to this muscle—from here it
is passed to this fibrous substance; here its ingredients are separated
by the chemical action of the blood—one part goes to
the heart and thrills it with what is popularly termed emotion,
another part follows this nerve to the brain and communicates
intelligence of a startling character—the third part glides along
this passage and touches the spring connected with the fluid
receptacles that lie in the rear of the eye. Thus, by this simple
and beautiful process, the party is informed that his mother
is dead, and he weeps.” Horrible!

I asked the monk if all the brethren up stairs expected to be
put in this place when they died. He answered quietly:

“We must all lie here at last.”

See what one can accustom himself to.—The reflection that
he must some day be taken apart like an engine or a clock, or
like a house whose owner is gone, and worked up into arches
and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did not distress this monk
in the least. I thought he even looked as if he were thinking,
with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well on
top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes
which possibly they lacked at present.

Here and there, in ornamental alcoves, stretched upon beds
of bones, lay dead and dried-up monks, with lank frames
dressed in the black robes one sees ordinarily upon priests.
We examined one closely. The skinny hands were clasped
upon the breast; two lustreless tufts of hair stuck to the skull;


Page 302
[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 500EAF. Page 302. In-line Illustration. Image of three men and a monk looking at a transparent casket with a skeleton inside of it. The caption reads, "DRIED CONVENT FRUIT."] the skin was brown and sunken; it stretched tightly over the
cheek bones and made them stand out sharply; the crisp
dead eyes were deep in the sockets; the nostrils were painfully
prominent, the
end of the nose
being gone;
the lips had
shriveled away
from the yellow
teeth: and
brought down
to us through
the circling
years, and petrified
was a weird
laugh a full
century old!

It was the
jolliest laugh,
but yet the
most dreadful, that one can imagine. Surely, I thought, it
must have been a most extraordinary joke this veteran produced
with his latest breath, that he has not got done laughing
at it yet. At this moment I saw that the old instinct was
strong upon the boys, and I said we had better hurry to St.
Peter's. They were trying to keep from asking, “Is—is he

It makes me dizzy, to think of the Vatican—of its wilderness
of statues, paintings, and curiosities of every description
and every age. The “old masters” (especially in sculpture,)
fairly swarm, there. I can not write about the Vatican. I
think I shall never remember any thing I saw there distinctly
but the mummies, and the Transfiguration, by Raphael, and
some other things it is not necessary to mention now. I shall
remember the Transfiguration partly because it was placed in
a room almost by itself; partly because it is acknowledged by


Page 303
[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 500EAF. Page 303. In-line Illustration. Image of a man looking at an item in a shop. He is frowning. The caption reads, "AT THE STORE."] all to be the first oil painting in the world; and partly because
it was wonderfully beautiful. The colors are fresh and rich,
the “expression,” I am told, is fine, the “feeling” is lively, the
“tone” is good, the “depth” is profound, and the width is
about four and a half feet, I should judge. It is a picture that
really holds one's attention; its beauty is fascinating. It is
fine enough to be a Renaissance. A remark I made a while
ago suggests a thought—and a hope. Is it not possible that
the reason I find such charms in this picture is because it is out
of the crazy chaos of the galleries? If some of the others
were set apart, might not they be beautiful? If this were set
in the midst of the tempest of pictures one finds in the vast
galleries of the Roman palaces, would I think it so handsome?
If, up to this time, I had seen only one “old master” in each
palace, instead of acres and acres of walls and ceilings fairly
papered with them, might I not have a more civilized opinion
of the old masters than I have now? I think so. When I
was a school-boy and was to have a new knife, I could not make
up my mind as to which was the
prettiest in the show-case, and I
did not think any of them were
particularly pretty; and so I
chose with a heavy heart. But
when I looked at my purchase,
at home, where no glittering
blades came into competition
with it, I was astonished to see
how handsome it was. To this
day my new hats look better out
of the shop than they did in it
with other new hats. It begins
to dawn upon me, now, that possibly,
what I have been taking
for uniform ugliness in the galleries
may be uniform beauty after
all. I honestly hope it is, to others, but certainly it is not
to me. Perhaps the reason I used to enjoy going to the Academy


Page 304
[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 500EAF. Page 304. In-line Illustration of a man looking at a knife with multiple blades and smiling. The caption reads, "AT HOME."] of Fine Arts in New York was because there were but a few
hundred paintings in it, and it did not surfeit me to go through
the list. I suppose the Academy
was bacon and beans in the
Forty-Mile Desert, and a European
gallery is a state dinner of
thirteen courses. One leaves no
sign after him of the one dish,
but the thirteen frighten away
his appetite and give him no

There is one thing I am certain
of, though. With all the
Michael Angelos, the Raphaels,
the Guidos and the other old
masters, the sublime history of
Rome remains unpainted! They
painted Virgins enough, and
popes enough and saintly scarecrows
enough, to people Paradise, almost, and these things are
all they did paint. “Nero fiddling o'er burning Rome,” the
assassination of Cæsar, the stirring spectacle of a hundred
thousand people bending forward with rapt interest, in the
Coliseum, to see two skillful gladiators hacking away each others'
lives, a tiger springing upon a kneeling martyr—these and
a thousand other matters which we read of with a living interest,
must be sought for only in books—not among the rubbish
left by the old masters—who are no more, I have the satisfaction
of informing the public.

They did paint, and they did carve in marble, one historical
scene, and one only, (of any great historical consequence.)
And what was it and why did they choose it, particularly? It
was the Rape of the Sabines, and they chose it for the legs and

I like to look at statues, however, and I like to look at pictures,
also—even of monks looking up in sacred ecstacy, and
monks looking down in meditation, and monks skirmishing for


Page 305
something to eat—and therefore I drop ill nature to thank the
papal government for so jealously guarding and so industriously
gathering up these things; and for permitting me, a
stranger and not an entirely friendly one, to roam at will and
unmolested among them, charging me nothing, and only requiring
that I shall behave myself simply as well as I ought to
behave in any other man's house. I thank the Holy Father
right heartily, and I wish him long life and plenty of happiness.

The Popes have long been the patrons and preservers of
art, just as our new, practical Republic is the encourager and
upholder of mechanics. In their Vatican is stored up all that
is curious and beautiful in art; in our Patent Office is hoarded
all that is curious or useful in mechanics. When a man invents
a new style of horse-collar or discovers a new and superior
method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent
to him that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient
statue in the Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold
coin. We can make something of a guess at a man's character
by the style of nose he carries on his face. The Vatican and
the Patent Office are governmental noses, and they bear a deal
of character about them.

The guide showed us a colossal statue of Jupiter, in the
Vatican, which he said looked so damaged and rusty—so like
the God of the Vagabonds—because it had but recently been
dug up in the Campagna. He asked how much we supposed
this Jupiter was worth? I replied, with intelligent promptness,
that he was probably worth about four dollars—may be four
and a half. “A hundred thousand dollars!” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said, further, that the Pope permits no ancient work
of this kind to leave his dominions. He appoints a commission
to examine discoveries like this and report upon the value;
then the Pope pays the discoverer one-half of that assessed
value and takes the statue. He said this Jupiter was dug from
a field which had just been bought for thirty-six thousand dollars,
so the first crop was a good one for the new farmer. I do
not know whether Ferguson always tells the truth or not, but
I suppose he does. I know that an exorbitant export duty is


Page 306
exacted upon all pictures painted by the old masters, in order
to discourage the sale of those in the private collections. I am
satisfied, also, that genuine old masters hardly exist at all, in
America, because the cheapest and most insignificant of them
are valued at the price of a fine farm. I proposed to buy a
small trifle of a Raphael, myself, but the price of it was eighty
thousand dollars, the export duty would have made it considerably
over a hundred, and so I studied on it awhile and concluded
not to take it.

I wish here to mention an inscription I have seen, before I
forget it:

“Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to men of
good will!
” It is not good scripture, but it is sound Catholic
and human nature.

This is in letters of gold around the apsis of a mosaic group
at the side of the scala santa, church of St. John Lateran, the
Mother and Mistress of all the Catholic churches of the world.
The group represents the Saviour, St. Peter, Pope Leo, St. Silvester,
Constantine and Charlemagne. Peter is giving the
pallium to the Pope, and a standard to Charlemagne. The
Saviour is giving the keys to St. Silvester, and a standard to
Constantine. No prayer is offered to the Saviour, who seems
to be of little importance any where in Rome; but an inscription
below says, “Blessed Peter, give life to Pope Leo and victory
to King Charles.
” It does not say, “Intercede for us, through
the Saviour, with the Father, for this boon,” but “Blessed Peter,
give it us.”

In all seriousness—without meaning to be frivolous—without
meaning to be irreverent, and more than all, without meaning
to be blasphemous,—I state as my simple deduction from the
things I have seen and the things I have heard, that the Holy
Personages rank thus in Rome:

First—“The Mother of God”—otherwise the Virgin Mary.

Second—The Deity.


Fourth—Some twelve or fifteen canonized Popes and martyrs.

Fifty—Jesus Christ the Saviour—(but always as an infant in


Page 307

I may be wrong in this—my judgment errs often, just as is
the case with other men's—but it is my judgment, be it good
or bad.

Just here I will mention something that seems curious to
me. There are no “Christ's Churches” in Rome, and no
“Churches of the Holy Ghost,” that I can discover. There
are some four hundred churches, but about a fourth of them
seem to be named for the Madonna and St. Peter. There are
so many named for Mary that they have to be distinguished by
all sorts of affixes, if I understand the matter rightly. Then
we have churches of St. Louis; St. Augustine; St. Agnes; St.
Calixtus; St. Lorenzo in Lucina; St. Lorenzo in Damaso; St.
Cecilia; St. Athanasius; St. Philip Neri; St. Catherine, St.
Dominico, and a multitude of lesser saints whose names are
not familiar in the world—and away down, clear out of the
list of the churches, comes a couple of hospitals: one of them is
named for the Saviour and the other for the Holy Ghost!

Day after day and night after night we have wandered
among the crumbling wonders of Rome; day after day and
night after night we have fed upon the dust and decay of five-and-twenty
centuries—have brooded over them by day and
dreampt of them by night till sometimes we seemed moldering
away ourselves, and growing defaced and cornerless, and
liable at any moment to fall a prey to some antiquary and be
patched in the legs, and “restored” with an unseemly nose,
and labeled wrong and dated wrong, and set up in the Vatican
for poets to drivel about and vandals to scribble their names
on forever and forevermore.

But the surest way to stop writing about Rome is to stop.
I wished to write a real “guide-book” chapter on this fascinating
city, but I could not do it, because I have felt all the time
like a boy in a candy-shop—there was every thing to choose
from, and yet no choice. I have drifted along hopelessly for a
hundred pages of manuscript without knowing where to commence.
I will not commence at all. Our passports have been
examined. We will go to Naples.