Viator infelix

Rome, 27 May 2012

The self-doubting, personally insecure, English poet Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) was an unhappy tourist in Rome in 1849. Like most educated Victorians, Clough was very much preoccupied by religion, which to him and his contemporaries meant a basic loyalty to the stripped-down Christianity of the Anglican Church and an English distaste for the pomp and ceremony of what they satirised as “the Scarlet Woman” of Papal Rome. Clough wrote a long poem “Amours de Voyage” based on his experiences during his visit to Rome.  The following extracts from the poem show how disoriented he was there. The poem is divided into five cantos and much of it takes the form of letters sent by “Claude” (the fictional character who represents Clough himself) from Rome to a friend called “Eustace” back in England.

Canto I, Section I. CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.

Dear Eustatio, I write that you may write me an answer,

Or at the least to put us again en rapport with each other.

Rome disappoints me much, St. Peter’s, perhaps, in especial;

Only the Arch of Titus and view from the Lateran please me:

This, however, perhaps is the weather, which truly is horrid….

Rome disappoints me much; I hardly as yet understand, but

Rubbishy seems the word that most exactly would suit it.

All the foolish destructions, and all the sillier savings,

All the incongruous things of past incompatible ages,

Seem to be treasured up here to make fools of present and future.

Would to Heaven the old Goths had made a cleaner sweep of it!

Would to Heaven some new ones would come and destroy these churches!

However, one can live in Rome as also in London.

It is a blessing, no doubt, to be rid, at least for a time, of

All one’s friends and relations, yourself (forgive me!) included,

All the assujettissement of having been what one has been,

What one thinks one is, or thinks that others suppose one…


Canto 1, Section II. CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.

Rome disappoints me still; but I shrink and adapt myself to it.

Somehow a tyrannous sense of a superincumbent oppression

Still, wherever I go, accompanies ever, and makes me

Feel like a tree (shall I say?) buried under a ruin of brickwork.

Rome, believe me, my friend, is like its own Monte Testaceo,

Merely a marvellous mass of broken and castaway wine-pots.

Ye gods! what do I want with this rubbish of ages departed,

Things that nature abhors, the experiments that she has failed in?

What do I find in the Forum? An archway and two or three pillars.

Well, but St. Peter’s? Alas, Bernini has filled it with sculpture!

No one can cavil, I grant, at the size of the great Coliseum.

Doubtless the notion of grand and capacious and massive amusement,

This the old Romans had; but tell me, is this an idea?

Yet of solidity much, but of splendour little is extant:

‘Brickwork I found thee, and marble I left thee!’ their Emperor vaunted;

‘Marble I thought thee, and brickwork I find thee!’ the Tourist may answer.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

 1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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