ROME in 1864. Ageless and dirty, and yet sometimes unbelievably beautiful. So Coventry Patmore probably thought as he walked in the Pincian Gardens and leaned over the balustrade, looking at that dream-like vista of the whole city from across the Piazza del Popolo.
Already he had come to love this city, despite 'its scrubby outside'. Whilst, like all his generation, he did not appreciate the loveliness of the baroque, yet he could not fail to be ravished by the splendour of the setting: the clear brilliant light of Rome which tips the buildings and columns with colour; the hills crowned with cypress; the splendid decay of the Foro Romano; the ever fresh fountains which fill the city with the sound of cascades and cleanse the dusty air. He could hardly avoid being moved by his environment. Even the lady of his choice was transfigured against such a background. In his excited imagination, the charming, gracious Miss Marianne Byles became endowed with a rare beauty. 'I had never beheld so beautiful a personality, and this beauty seemed to be the pure effulgence of Catholic Sanctity,' he wrote in his autobiography. Miraculously enough he found echoes of his beloved Emily in this charming stranger. Writing in the ode Tired Memory he said:
My heart was dead
Dead of devotion and tired memory,
When a strange grace of thee
In a fair stranger . . .
And so the fear, which is love's chilly dawn,
Flushed faintly upon lids that dropp'd like thine,
And made me weak,
By thy delusive likeness drawn.