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Rome, February 5, 1824.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Have late tourists given descriptions of the Carnival at Rome? I am, from the reasons I have already mentioned, unable to answer to myself this question; and shall, therefore, send you a short account of this
gay season. not, however, the first of the sort I had witnessed: walking, two years before, on the terrace of Nice, to view the ugly, ill-sustained masks below, I heard an Irish lady ask the person she was walking with, “Don't think " they are the greatest fools on earth ?” “Why, “Madam,” replied the gentleman she addressed, "I was going to make a very unpolite speech,
“ but what do you think of us who are looking “ at them?” Though perfectly agreeing with the opinion of this cavalier, I have again been a spectator of some of these rejoicings, and wish to make you participate in the ennui they cause; though it is not necessary to descend to the festivities of masquerading to be convinced that man is more to be pitied in his pleasures than in his misfortunes, according to the sentiment of Pascal.
The space of time known by the appellation of Carnival is included between the 6th of January—the feast of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night—and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. But the masquerading, and other public amusements of the people, do not commence till a few days before Shrove Tuesday. At Rome the scene of these follies is the Corso,– the rendezvous of all the world, masked or unmasked, in carriages or on foot. On one of the days of last week I proceeded to the Piazza del Popolo, and took my place in the file of carriages. Two hours after I had nearly reached the Piazza di Venezia at the other end of the ugly, ill--built street of the Corso, a distance of three quarters of a mile. The pleasures of this
drive were derived from the crowds of people who, disguised in various nianners, paraded up and down the street; for the most part in perfect silence, and none of them in the least endeavouring to support the character proper to their garb. Boys ran through the crowd and offered for sale large papers of bonbons—sugar-plums— made of sweetened lime : all actors in the scene bought of these bonbons, and threw them, with greater or less force, at their passing friendsand acquaintance. As these sugar-plums are not small, and as furious battles—in which they replace other shot-are often carried on, particularly by the English, eyes are sometimes knocked out, and less material damage is often given and received. In the mean time children run between the wheels of the carriages, and the feet of the horses, and collect into other papers the bonbons that whiten and conceal the pavement. But it is a positive fact, that, without the English-—who are, by most foreigners, thought to be so grave, so serious, and so thoughtful—this bonbon pelting would, long since, have been discontinued: the Romans patronize it but little, while the English carry it on, with all the fury and boisterousness of
school-boys, to the very great annoyance of most of the Italians.
Meanwhile I had, as I have said, almost attained the Piazza di Venezia: the cannon of S. Angelo resounded; all understood the signal; and when, a few moments afterwards, a second gun was fired, the crowds settled themselves on chairs or benches raised along the sides of the Corso; and the carriages turned down the nearest by-lanes, and reached, by different paths, the houses, from the windows of which theythat is, those they contained-intended to view the remaining sport. Amongst the carriages I had observed the state coach of the senator, Principe A., and that of Cardinal V., the only Cardinal present, one of the two Cardinaldeacons who, despised and laughed at by the Romans, are seen in every society by the English, and are, by them, readily but unjustly received as samples of all the sacred college.
After a large body of troops, preceded by a good band, had past down the Corso, had cleared away the remaining masks, and had placed sentinels on each side of it, twelve or fourteen small, ugly horses gallopped past the window at which I was placed: as they proceeded along,
the crowd shouted, and, together with the spurs, petards, and other ingenious and barbarous contrivances,—described, I believe, by Brydone, in his relation of the Sicilian horse-race-urged them on to the goal, and deterred them from attempting to bolt down the side streets. Imo mediately after they had passed, the ranks of people closed over the paved race-ground; but a few seconds after, they again opened, on perceiving the gradual approach of another racehorse, which was proceeding more leisurely and quietly down the Corso.
Amongst all these details I have forgotten to mention that none of the horses carried riders; a particular which, from custom, and from having never witnessed any races à l'Anglaise, I beheld as a matter of course.
A few days after, having previously taken my share of the amusements of the Corso, I hired a seat in the Piazza del Popolo, from which I might see the horses - start.
Board partitions were placed to keep apart the more furious; and a cord, behind which they were to stand, was drawn, at breast height, across the street. Thirteen were brought forth ready garnished-with spurs, &c.—and an indescribable scene of con