Leaving Rome by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's Pictures from Italy, Sketches, and American Notes, eleventh chapter, "Rome," 69. Wood-engraving, 4 ⅛ high by 5 ½ inches wide (10.4 cm high by 13.5 cm wide), vignetted. Descriptive headline for page 69: "The Benediction at St. Peter's."

Passage Realized: A Study in Contrasts — the Carriage and the Beggars

What a bright noon it was, as we rode away! The Tiber was no longer yellow, but blue. There was a blush on the old bridges, that made them fresh and hale again. The Pantheon, with its majestic front, all seamed and furrowed like an old face, had summer light upon its battered walls. Every squalid and desolate hut in the Eternal City (bear witness every grim old palace, to the filth and misery of the plebeian neighbour that elbows it, as certain as Time has laid its grip on its patrician head!) was fresh and new with some ray of the sun. The very prison in the crowded street, a whirl of carriages and people, had some stray sense of the day, dropping through its chinks and crevices: and dismal prisoners who could not wind their faces round the barricading of the blocked-up windows, stretched out their hands, and clinging to the rusty bars, turned them towards the overflowing street: as if it were a cheerful fire, and could be shared in, that way. [Chapter Eleven, "Rome," 69]

Commentary: A Study in Contrasts — the Carriage and the Beggars

Nast's realistic sketch of the Dickenses in their modern carriage, suggestive of foreign affluence, contrasts the noble ruins of the classical city, the Renaissance Dome of St. Peter's (the "living past," so to speak). The modern-day presence of so many beggars, languishing for want of forward-thinking economic and social policies, underscores the backwardness of nineteenth-century Italy. Another sign of technological stagnation for Nast's and Dickens's nineteenth-century readers would have been the absence of modern transportation: the railway.

The sarcastic Dickens, who reveals again and again his frustration at the country's absence of modernity, remarks that "The genius of the country, and the spirit of its institutions, pave the road: repair it, watch it, keep it going!" (PI 105). "The absence of the railway here where it is most needed signals Italy's culpable inability to move with the times, since the railroad is a prime example for Dickens of the kind of progress than can bring new life and energy to the country" (Kennedy, "Past and Present: 'Iron makes Roads instead of Prison Bars'," 101-2). The indolence and ruin that characterize the foreground of Nast's illustration, with loitering beggars, a ruined archway, and the base of a classical column from some long-defunct temple or civic building, contrast the iconic, soaring dome of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on the horizon and the smart equipage making a swift exit from the peninsula's largest city through an aqueduct, thetriumph of ancient Roman engineering.

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Dickens, Charles. Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by Samuel Palmer. London: Chapman and Hall, 1846; rpt., 1850.

__________. American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy in Works. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall: 1862, rpt. 1874.

__________. Chapter XI, "Rome." Pictures from Italy, Sketches by Boz, and American Notes. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877. 53-70.

__________. Pictures from Italy and American Notes. Illustrated by A. B. Frost and Gordon Thomson. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880. 1-381.

Kennedy, Valerie. Chapter Eight, "'Dream or Reality? Past Savagery versus Present Civilisation in Pictures From Italy and Little Dorrit." Dickens and Italy: Pictures From Italy and Little Dorrit, ed. Michael Hollington and Francesca Orestano. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2009. 93-113.

Created 11 May 2019

Last modified 8 June 2020