Title: Notes from Rome

Periodical: Truth

Date: March 27, 1890

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I HAVE had no reason to repent taking up the study of the Roman newspapers. An evening political journal of high standing lately announced the arrival of the Princess Louise of England, "accompanied by the Marquis and Marchioness of Lorne."

I would not myself have disturbed the peace and quiet of Lord and Lady Sundridge—as they choose to be called just now—having too sincere a pity for Royal personages, or those connected with them, to prevent their having a little enjoyment of private life when they get the chance; but the above authoritative announcement left me no option. It is no longer possible to deny that the Princess Louise is here, "accompanied by the Marquis and Marchioness of Lorne;" that seems to me to describe the position exactly.

In spite, however, of all the publicity that the "serious" Roman press can shed upon her, the Princess is just now having a "high old time" in the perfect liberty of doing what she likes, and running about just as she pleases; while her noble consort, "The General Marquis of Lorne," as some of the papers here have it, indulges in the sweets of freedom to the extent of being seen with dirty boots and a coat decidedly unbrushed—in the streets of a metropolis, too! Happy "General Marquis"! The Princess and her husband are living in a more than modest suite of rooms in a decidedly third-rate hotel, and "Lady Sundridge" seems to enjoy nothing so much as going out on to the little piazza near, and hailing her own "botte"—a little open street cab, plying at two francs per hour; not even so far considering the feelings of the outraged innkeeper as to allow it to be called by the porter and duly brought up to the door.

After the fashion of all the Royalties who come to Rome nowadays, the wife of the "General Marquis" paid calls both at the Quirinal and the Vatican. The King and Queen, by the way, returned the visit, not at the third-rate hotel, but at the British Embassy. This was probably at the Princess Louise's own request, and with the idea of keeping up the fiction of the profound incognito which was desired at the hotel. King Humbert is about the most democratic Sovereign extant, and would go up the dirtiest staircase in the slummiest street in "Old Rome" with the most perfect simplicity and insouciance, if anybody whom he wanted to see happened to live at the top of it.

But the Vatican visit was an affair of far greater State and ceremony, and here the "Sundridges" could not help themselves. It pleased Leo XIII. to receive the Princess Louise as a daughter of the Queen of England, or not at all. So the guests were met at the head of the grand staircase by Monsignor Ruffo-Scilla, Majordomo of the Vatican Palace, attended by a group of English Monsignori selected for the occasion, together with the Chamberlains on duty(camerieri segreti as they are called), who always take one straight back into the sixteenth century, with their dress of doublet and trunk hose, short velvet cloak on one shoulder, high starched ruff, gold chain, and slender rapier. These gentlemen were also all English on the occasion. The party had a pretty long march through all the State apartments, and, accustomed as one of them at least is to Royal suites, she probably wondered when they were coming to the Pope's private apartments. The British Envoy to the Vatican was, of course, in attendance, and it made him late for a banquet given at the Irish College to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The Pope made himself very agreeable to his British visitors, and chatted away with them for three-quarters of an hour. The visit was quite confidential, no Cardinal or Attendant Secretary being present, and the Pope talked, the Princess said afterwards, "about all kinds of things."

Lady Dufferin's Thursday evening receptions are the pleasantest things of the season. People invariably seem to meet there the people they want to see and talk to, and it is always such a bright-looking crowd and such a splendid background, that even the non-talkers find amusement. The old ball-room is turned into a drawing-room—an immense improvement—and makes a fine climax to the handsome suite of rooms, which are full of lovely Oriental things; not crowded, or set up on stands as if in a bazaar, as one sees in some drawing-rooms, but carelessly laid about on tables, or placed in some corner which seems made on purpose. Wherever the name of Dufferin is pronounced it is superfluous to say that everything is properly done, but some people tell me that they had to get used to such very different doings during the preceding Ambassador's time that they felt quite a shock of agreeable surprise at finding themselves properly announced and politely received.

The Tiber is making an unwelcome appearance in the streets here and there. At present it is only in the lowlying quarters and in the cellars of some houses in the Corso; but if the wind does not change and the rain cease before this is printed, we are in for a big flood. The big, flat meadow where Buffalo Bill's cowboys were backing their demoniacal little mustangs a few days ago seems likely to be only fit for sculling matches with a few more hours' rain.

Apropos of matches and sports generally, it would appear that your modern Roman aristocrat, although duly initiated into the mysteries of "jokays" and "bookmarkers," and deeply desirous of doing all things pertaining to the field in thoroughly English fashion, finds a difficulty in mastering the apparently simple rules of fair play. We had a most unedifying example of this while Cody and his troupe were here. The Duke of Sarmoneta defied Buffalo Bill and his cowboys to ride some of his horses which were left to run wild on his estate at Cisterna, as they had been found quite untameable. Cody replied that if driven into his arena the horses should be caught, saddled, and ridden with a given number of minutes. And they were. But this was only the beginning of a series of challenges, which led to a good deal of ill-feeling and not pretty behaviour on the side of the Italians. The Roman herdsmen and their masters and patrons were very angry at the cowboys having been able to ride horses which they had been obliged to give up as a bad job, the more so as Colonel Cody had said he would give one of his "buckers," with its saddle and bridle, to any one who could sit it for five minutes and ride it away from the ground. At the same time an American gentleman named Creelman offered to bet any one a hundred dollars that no one could fulfil the above conditions, and placed his stakes in the hands of Cody's manager. But there was no betting on the part of "Bill" himself, nor in the American camp: Colonel Cody would not allow it. Then came a challenge from the Buttari (herdsmen) by the mouths of their masters. I am not now alluding to the Duke of Sarmoneta, who, as a gentleman, doubtless kept the conditions of the first challenge, whatever they were, and made an end of it.

The Buttari, selected on several estates from amongst the strongest and most daring horsemen of the Campagna, offered, if they were allowed to bring their own saddles and lassoes, to catch and ride Bill's horses under the same conditions as those given to the cowboys, and within a given number of minutes. Now, as the herdsmen understood no English, and Bill and his "boys" no Italian, it is clear that the "gentlemen" who knew both languages must have settled the terms of the challenge with each. But the upshot was that when the Buttari had failed to do what they had undertaken (only one of them, after more than half an hour's trial, having managed to sit a bucker for about two minutes), and when Cody rode forward and took away a horse that they had been boggling with for three-quarters of an hour, he was hissed and hooted, and the Romans declared that they had not had a fair chance, and that no limit had been stated as to time. Cody again rode forward, and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, I allowed ten minutes for this trial, is this ten minutes?" "Fifty," was called out by some Americans, who had their watches in their hands. But the hissing and hooting went on, and not one of the Italian "gentlemen" interfered to explain anything or to say a word on behalf of the Americans. Now, if we acquit either side of deliberate deception, it is clear that there was a misunderstanding. Why did no one come forward to clear it up? Then the press, which, for reasons best not inquired into, had been from the first inimical to Cody and his show, took up the ball, and disingenuously mixing up Mr. Creelman's wager with Bill's challenge, declared that Colonel Cody was a buffoon, a cheat, and a swindler, and ran away without paying his debts of honour. I can't help having a certain feeling of indulgence towards a set of men who have afforded me so much genuine amusement as the Roman newspaper writers, but truth compels me to admit that many of their statements concerning Colonel Cody were both libellous and scurrilous. However, that does not really matter much to anybody.