The Marble Faun Volume 1 (Chapter 5)

 
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Chapter 5 : Page 1 of 14

The courtyard and staircase of a palace built three hundred years ago
are a peculiar feature of modern Rome, and interest the stranger more
than many things of which he has heard loftier descriptions. You pass
through the grand breadth and height of a squalid entrance-way, and
perhaps see a range of dusky pillars, forming a sort of cloister round
the court, and in the intervals, from pillar to pillar, are strewn
fragments of antique statues, headless and legless torsos, and busts
that have invariably lost what it might be well if living men could lay
aside in that unfragrant atmosphere--the nose. Bas-reliefs, the spoil of
some far older palace, are set in the surrounding walls, every stone of
which has been ravished from the Coliseum, or any other imperial ruin
which earlier barbarism had not already levelled with the earth. Between
two of the pillars, moreover, stands an old sarcophagus without its
lid, and with all its more prominently projecting sculptures broken
off; perhaps it once held famous dust, and the bony framework of some
historic man, although now only a receptacle for the rubbish of the
courtyard, and a half-worn broom.

In the centre of the court, under the blue Italian sky, and with the
hundred windows of the vast palace gazing down upon it from four sides,
appears a fountain. It brims over from one stone basin to another,
or gushes from a Naiad's urn, or spurts its many little jets from the
mouths of nameless monsters, which were merely grotesque and artificial
when Bernini, or whoever was their unnatural father, first produced
them; but now the patches of moss, the tufts of grass, the trailing
maiden-hair, and all sorts of verdant weeds that thrive in the cracks
and crevices of moist marble, tell us that Nature takes the fountain
back into her great heart, and cherishes it as kindly as if it were a
woodland spring. And hark, the pleasant murmur, the gurgle, the plash!
You might hear just those tinkling sounds from any tiny waterfall in the
forest, though here they gain a delicious pathos from the stately
echoes that reverberate their natural language. So the fountain is not
altogether glad, after all its three centuries at play!

 
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