BOOK THE FIRST
2. Chapter II
THE BLIND FLOWER-GIRL, AND THE BEAUTY OF FASHION. THE ATHENIAN'S
CONFESSION. THE READER'S INTRODUCTION TO ARBACES OF EGYPT.
TALKING lightly on a thousand matters, the two young men sauntered through
the streets; they were now in that quarter which was filled with the gayest
shops, their open interiors all and each radiant with the gaudy yet
harmonious colors of frescoes, inconceivably varied in fancy and design.
The sparkling fountains, that at every vista threw upwards their grateful
spray in the summer air; the crowd of passengers, or rather loiterers,
mostly clad in robes of the Tyrian dye; the gay groups collected round each
more attractive shop; the slaves passing to and fro with buckets of bronze,
cast in the most graceful shapes, and borne upon their heads; the country
girls stationed at frequent intervals with baskets of blushing fruit, and
flowers more alluring to the ancient Italians than to their descendants
(with whom, indeed, "latet anguis in herba," a disease seems lurking in
every violet and rose); the numerous haunts which fulfilled with that idle
people the office of cafes and clubs at this day; the shops, where on
shelves of marble were ranged the vases of wine and oil, and before whose
thresholds, seats, protected from the sun by a purple awning, invited the
weary to rest and the indolent to lounge--made a scene of such glowing and
vivacious excitement, as might well give the Athenian spirit of Glaucus an
excuse for its susceptibility to joy.
'Talk to me no more of Rome,' said he to Clodius. 'Pleasure is too stately
and ponderous in those mighty walls: even in the precincts of the
court--even in the Golden House of Nero, and the incipient glories of the
palace of Titus, there is a certain dulness of magnificence--the eye
aches--the spirit is wearied; besides, my Clodius, we are discontented when
we compare the enormous luxury and wealth of others with the mediocrity of
our own state. But here we surrender ourselves easily to pleasure, and we
have the brilliancy of luxury without the lassitude of its pomp.'
'It was from that feeling that you chose your summer retreat at Pompeii?'
'It was. I prefer it to Baiae: I grant the charms of the latter, but I love
not the pedants who resort there, and who seem to weigh out their pleasures
by the drachm.'