Related Sites & images
Villa Medici, Rome

Related Texts
James, “Roman Rides”
James, “Roman Neighborhoods”
James, “The After-Season in Rome”
James, “Other Roman Neighborhoods”

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Henry James, "From a Roman Note-Book " (1873)

January 26th. — With S. to the Villa Medici—perhaps on the whole for most enchanting place in Rome. The part of the garden called the Boschetto has an incredible, impossible charm; an upper terrace, behind locked gates, covered with a little dusky forest of evergreen oaks. Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted little miniature trunks—dwarfs playing with each other at being giants—and such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid west! At the end of the wood is a steep circular mound, up which the short trees scramble amain, with a long mossy staircase climbing up to a belvedere. This staircase, rising suddenly out of the leafy dusk to you don’t see where, is delightfully fantastic. You expect to see an old woman in a crimson petticoat and with a distaff come hobbling down and turn into a fairy and offer you three wishes. I should name for my own first wish that one didn’t have to be a Frenchman to come and live and dream and work at the Académie de France. Can there be for a while a happier destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred shades? One has fancied Plato’s Academy –his gleaming colonnades, his blooming gardens and Athenian sky; but was it as good as this one, where Monsieur Hébert does the Platonic? The blessing in Rome is not that this or that or the other isolated object is so very unsurpassable; but that the general air so contributes to interest, to impressions that are not as any other impressions anywhere in the world. And from this general air the Villa Medici has distilled an essence of its own—walled it in and made it delightfully private. The great façade on the gardens is like an enormous rococo clock-face all incrusted with images and arabesques and tablets. What mornings and afternoons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned, satisfied—either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.

James, Henry. Italian Hours, ed. John Auchard. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992, pp. 185–186.

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