THAT a rich Englishman should fall in love with a beautiful but poor Roman girl, and marry her, is no impossible incident, and may have happened more than once; but it is very curious to watch how it has passed into the mythology of the people.
The idea of a 'Gran Signore' coming on a visit from a land where all are rich is the first fantastic element of the tradition. The idea that all English people are rich is very common among the Roman lower classes, and is not an unnatural fancy for people to take up who have seen no specimens of the creature but such as are rich. There is one old woman whom I have never been able to disabuse of the idea. I shall never forget the blank astonishment with which she repeated my words the first time I broke it to her that there were poor people in England, and she has never thoroughly grasped it.
'Io pensava che in Inghilterra tutti erano ricchi--tutti ricchi--' (I thought everyone--everyone in England was rich) she always says, as if in spite of me she thought so still.
That such an one should be won by the charms of a beautiful Roman girl, and should carry her off to that unknown land bright with gold but devoid of sun, and that in the end the fogs and the Protestantism should prove unendurable to the child of the South, are not bad materials for a fairy story.
I have met with such stories several times.
One old woman assured me, that when she was a child her father had let an apartment to the very man, and that he took the room for a month, and though he spontaneously offered ten times as high a price as the owner could ever have asked, he never slept there. He had secretly married a Roman girl who was imprisoned for breaking the law by marrying a Protestant, and he opened her prison doors with his 'wand,' that is, he bribed the jailer to admit him to pass all his time in prison with her; ultimately he carried her off to England, but she soon died there.
Another pointed out to me a shop where in former days had been a butcher, whose daughter had charmed a rich Englishman, who carried her off to his own country, and married her there. But this was a very tetra (sad, gloomy) story, for after many years she came back looking like the ghost of herself. She had gone away a blooming girl, the pride and the admiration of the whole neighbourhood; she came back prematurely grey, hollow-eyed, and thin as a skeleton.
She said it was the climate had disagreed with her, and further than that she would say nothing. But who knows what she may not have had to go through!
Bresciani has made the same tradition the groundwork of one of his most interesting romances.