Rome As You Find It

American and British Writers in the Eternal City

For Englishmen, the Roman Forum was nearly as much a part of their political heritage as the Tower of London or Westminster Abbey. Since Colonial America was a part of British culture, educated American colonists shared in the British reverence for antiquity. Eighteenth-century Englishmen (and those Americans who could manage it) traveled to Italy—Rome in particular—in search of roots of the kind that have nothing to do with ethnicity, and everything to do with culture and the burden of a glorious shared past.

Philip Stanhope, earl of Chesterfield, whose letters to his son express the ideal of the civilized life conceived of as a Mozart concerto, visited Rome only once, as a young man. In 1750, he offered this advice: "You will probably never see Rome again; and therefore you ought to see it well now: by seeing it well, I do not mean only the buildings, statues, and paintings; though they undoubtedly deserve your attention; but I mean seeing into the constitution and government of it." Earlier, Chesterfield suggested his private view of the English community at Rome when he wrote of the "sauntering, illiterate English . . . living entirely with one another, supping, drinking, and sitting up late at each others' lodgings; commonly in riots and scrapes when drunk; and never in good company when sober." Elsewhere, he remarks, "You seem to like Rome. . . . Have you made an acquaintance with some...

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