Our beautiful Embassy in Rome, in the Via Venti Settembre, is regarded with especial favour by the Roman Court and by Roman society, for England was among the first to stand by Italy, and recognise her emancipation from two thousand years of misgovernment and from three centuries of foreign occupation.
After her victorious struggle for freedom in 1848 and 1860, England refused to adopt Metternich's dictum: "There is no such country as Italy, it is a geographical expression." It may, perhaps, be difficult to regard "Unity" as more than a mere statistical fact in a land where scores of races have hated each other for so long, living as neighbours, yet alien in speech, and struggling as rivals. These are not the elements required to make a nation homogeneous, yet with every year that passes the unity of Italy is becoming more and more certain, and her conditions more prosperous. Rome, which was once the capital of the world, retains the dignity of its glorious past, and rises victorious over the influence of modernism. It is, perhaps, the most interesting post for a diplomat. Its dual Court, the mundane and the clerical elements, call for all a diplomat's astuteness.
The post of Ambassador to Rome carries with it a salary of L2,500 a year, with an extra L200 for Chancery expenses.
Embassy in Rome. Charming garden parties are given here in the spring, to which all diplomacy and society flock, and nature vies with art in offering her most beautiful treasures with which to delight the senses.
On the ground floor of the Embassy is a spacious entrance hall, upon which abut the Ambassador's study and the billiard-room. The grand staircase leads to a spacious ballroom on the first floor, with a gallery in front, and the prince's supper-room and retiring-room adjoining it. Here, also, are the drawing and dining rooms, the Chancery and secretary's office, the waiting-room and messengers' room, all of which are furnished and kept up at the expense of the British Government.
When the Ambassador arrives in Rome, he is met at the station by the Embassy staff, and escorted to his residence. His arrival is duly notified to the King, who appoints a day and hour for a private audience, and the presentation of credentials. The autograph letter of our monarch, which gives full representative rank to his envoy, is handed by him to the King, and from henceforth he is regarded as his monarch's after ego in speech and action.
The Ambassadress is received in private audience by the Queen and all ladies of the Royal family, and a reception is given at the Embassy, at which all Roman society appears to welcome the newcomers. At Court functions they take their place at the end of the row of ambassadors and their wives, until a newcomer advances them in place. Seniority is purely a question of length of stay in office, and implies no preference.
Our present (1912) representative, Sir James Rennell Rodd, is a man of great versatility. Besides being a most able diplomatist, he is a man of literary and artistic capacity. He has published various works among others, "Customs and Lore of Modern Greece," "The Princess of Achaia," and the "Chronicles of Morea," "Poems in Many Lands," "The Unknown Madonna," and "The Violet Crown" (the last three in verse). In former years he was secretary of Embassy in Rome, and has filled the post of Ambassador there for the past three years. He was appointed a Roval Commissioner for the International Exhibition in Brussels in 1910, and the British section of the Roman Exhibition in the grounds of the Villa Borghese was under his immediate protection. He caused a staff of trained firemen to be stationed on the English site, to prevent the recurrence of the Brussels disaster.
Lady Rennell Rodd, nee Miss Lilias Guthrie, does the honours of the Embassy with consummate tact, and is a great favourite with Queen Elena, and with the great ladies of Roman society.
The season in Rome, like that of most European capitals, is in the winter, between Christmas and Lent.
Society in Rome is mainly divided into two great sets, the "Blacks" and the "Whites," which cluster respectively round the Vatican and the Quirinal. The "Blacks" include all members of embassies and legations which were separately accredited to his Holiness the Pope, members of the old Roman nobility who are still faithful to the Papal Court, and the large clerical element, which, of course, surrounds the "Vicar of God."
The "Whites" include the Court set, which is in the entourage of the Royal family, and which is composed of the higher government officials, sections of the Italian nobility, diplomatists, and wealthy foreigners, with whom Rome is inundated during the season.
Each party adheres strictly to its especial privileges and traditions. The clerical party is particularly gracious to the British representatives, as it remembers with gratitude that Queen Victoria extended her sympathy to Pio Nono in his hour of trouble, in 1870. She then offered him her island of Malta as a permanent home, and, although he did not avail himself of her kindness, he never forgot it, and instituted an especial prayer to be offered up daily in the Vatican for the welfare of England.