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Calcagni’s Memoirs. Home Tutor at Prince Boncompagni Ludovisi’s (17)

Palazzo Margherita ambasciata americana

The austere Villa Margherita in Rome, now seat of the US Embassy. It was built, together with Via Veneto and the Ludovisi district, on the Boncompagni-Ludovisi property. An area of 200,000 sq meters out of 247,000 was sold by the Boncompagni-Ludovisi Princes. On it lied one of the most beautiful Roman villas, Villa Ludovisi, now disappeared. Wikimedia

17th excerpt (read the Italian original) from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Here Carlo narrates his experience as precettore (home tutor) at Prince Ugo Boncompagni-Ludovisi’s.


In a period of my life I worked as precettore during the first two years of university.

Yessir, precettore. In order to keep up my studies I was already giving private lessons but […] I was offered by the Apollinare deputy prefect and by Don Francesco Faberi a proper tutoring position at Prince Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi’s for his son Francesco, the one later to become governor of Rome.

What was my job about?

I had to pick Francesco up in the morning at the Apollinare Catholic school and, after a long walk, take him home in via Porta Pinciana. I then had to take him from home back to school after which I picked him up again and brought him back home after another walk.

There I made him do his homework for next-day classes until 9 pm.  […] Basically I was a precettore but no in home tutor. I didn’t eat or sleep in their house […].

I accepted the job since the allowance was remarkable for that time, 100 lire a month.

Hotel Excelsior in Via Veneto

Hotel Excelsior in Via Veneto, Rome, built on the Boncompagni-Ludovisi property as described in the previous caption. Click for credit and to enlarge

Don Ugo Boncompagni

For those who don’t know, Don Ugo Boncompagni was a man endowed of wit & humour, a certain degree of originality and great experience having had two wives and numerous children, having become a priest and almost been sovereign of the Piombino Principality and having squandered almost twenty millions for the construction of the Ludovisi district [where via Veneto and Palazzo Margherita are located, see pictures above and below, MoR.]

In essence he was a great gentleman – nice, friendly though also a bit, how can I say, haughty and almost jealous of his personality.

While talking with me about the education he wished for his only son he showed the best ideas and highly proclaimed them: I should not care that D. Francesco was a noble and I should see to him becoming a good, hard-working, modest and well-mannered young man, almost like the son of any other good person.

Now I wholeheartedly endorsed these principles of healthy democracy but was naive enough to believe them truly and deeply felt by D. Ugo while he deep down did not believe in them and did not wish them to be actually realized in his son.

Hence slight misunderstandings between him and I, a few discussions about the attitude young D. Francesco showed in some occasions: obstinate and haughty at the same time, not with me since it was not really the case but with others, especially his mates and peers from the great aristocratic families.

Via Veneto by night

Via Veneto by night, Rome. Wikimedia. Click to zoom in

Don Francesco’s Studies

As for his studies – even though I had found him rather weak in Italian (at home he spoke French with his father and German with his sisters’ governess) –  he was doing very well. Perspicacious though not very hard-working he liked to make a good impression so by exploiting this weakness I could get what I wanted from him.

At the end of the school year he managed to be the top student of his school also in Italian and get the transition to a higher class without examination. A real triumph for him and for me with endless congratulations from his father.

This result achieved I would have preferred, as far as I saw it, the boy to rest during his holidays, to run free at his pleasure also because he was a bit emaciated, not fully developed and needing a more intense and healthy physical life. His father instead absolutely wanted the boy to study each day a couple of hours in the morning and two hours or something in the afternoon. Hence I spent the summer holiday with the Boncompagni family in a small village in Casentino, Consuma, near Vallombrosa.

Summer Holidays at Consuma, Tuscany

Lovely site since located almost at the summit of the road that from Pontassieve crosses the mountains up to Poppi-Bibbiena. The village then consisted of two rows of houses on either side of the road, a church, four grocery shops, 300 souls. There were only women and children in the village during the day since the men were all coal miners and were away at work.

Salotto rosso Palazzo Patrizi

‘Red drawing room’ or ‘salotto rosso’ in the Patrizi palace, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Click for credits and for a virtual visit to the palace. The Patrizi family were originally from Siena

Also the Marquis Patrizi’s family spent their summer holidays at Consuma, with the same big number of children, including one, Patrizio, who was the same age as my Francesco and who was being tutored by my friend Pericle Cardinali. Cardinali was also in home tutor in Rome in every sense of the word since he ate slept and lived in the Patrizi’s Rome’s palace [see picture above] in S. Luigi dei Francesi.

I being in Rome so to say part-time spent now more time with the Boncompagni’s in Consuma though I did not sleep there since they had not enough room. Therefore I slept in the parish house at the parish priest’s, a great Tuscan fellow who kept me late conversing, playing cards, drinking glasses of excellent vin santo and smoking Tuscan cigars […]. I did not smoke yet at that time […]

The good curate offered me a sound half cigar and after the first puffs waited for the symptoms of discomfort he foresaw as certain. He waited in vain since I smoked the half cigar undaunted, much enjoying my host’s disappointment. I had become a smoker and had a pipe sent me from Rome which I started with pieces of chopped cigars in order to save up. This is the reason why I cannot conceive smoking up to this day but in the form of a pipe full of good Tuscan cigars.

Pass of Consuma. Click for credits and to enlarge

Except for the hours of forced study Francesco and I went through, that we tried to shorten or even eliminate by common consent via a series of makeshift, quick-and-dirty expedients, life flowed quietly and rather pleasantly.

We walked, we conversed at the Patrizi’s where we often gathered, we made music too since Marquise Maddalena played, the German M. Richter also – the daughters’ governess – and so did a bit don Ugo’s eldest daughters, Lady Guendalina and Lady Guglielmina, who were never left alone by an ugly old German.


The peculiarity of my attitude was this: I was Don Francesco’s tutor but of a peculiar kind since in my behaviour and during conversations I acted free-and-easy, self-confidently, at times amusing, at times a man of the world; and the others understood very well, partly amused and partly like annoyed by this kind of deviation from the line of the perfect tutor. I didn’t care much and went on my way.

The one very proud of my attitude was Don Francesco who hanged on my words and without a doubt assimilated much of my bent and way of responding. We were both considerate and correct though with a greater ease than that of Cardinali’s and Patrizio’s. For example, Patrizio, thin and little as well, was a bit like a helpless babe in the wood if one had to leap over a ditch or climb a steep path. Our couple was instead much more energetic.

I can well believe it. The first thing I had asked Francesco was:

“Can you run? Can you jump? Can you do somersaults?”
“I can’t”
“Really? What do you do?”
“I bowl a hoop”
“Yes, like a girl!”

He then had learned to do somersaults and got used to run together with me. All of this had created a sort of moral and physical superiority over his pal Patrizio.

A quip by Marquise Patrizi, a woman of top quality and superior intelligence, became famous:

“Calcagni, I never know when you speak seriously or when you joke.”
And I, promptly: “Consider that I am speaking seriously also when I laugh.”
“Perhaps, but I doubt it.”

Italian original

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog,, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

6 responses »

  1. Fascinating! Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that the custom of the tutor walking the student to and from school actually dates back to the times of the Roman Empire.

    • Hi Thomas. Thank you. At the time of the ancient Romans, as far as I can tell, there was something like a public school though prominent families maintained an in home tutor, often a Greek slave. There was also, I suppose, someone who accompanied the children where they received instruction.
      In-home tutoring exists in the West today as well, it seems, with pros and cons no need to say, generally being considered snobbish.

  2. An absorbing read! Especially interesting to know he was your mother’s uncle. It is also amazing that you have something so tangible as accounts written with his own hand, and not just verbal stories that have permeated through the generations.

    • I am relieved to hear from you again Nomad! Was worried since I thought you might be upset for my delayed replies or something.

      En effet it is a book of memoirs written by Carlo himself (only for relatives and friends), not just family tales. There’s the risk here of appearing self-indulgent about my so-to-say ancestors (an interesting *discussion* on this was kicked off by readers) but in truth I consider Carlo’s texts very consistent with my blog theme and a precious depiction of a disappeared Rome, with its train of vividly portrayed characters.

      Say hello to everybody from Flavia and myself!


      • Oh how could you think something so trivial as late replies can upset me, especially when I am the queen of late replies :)

        Once again, extremely interesting and precious account of a time gone by.

        La petite chérie walks now. Hellos and hugs back from here too, and I will reply to your mail soon.

        • La chérie doit être de plus en plus une joie pour vous tous! I have a vivid memory of my daughters toddling.

          Ah, then we’ve got our little royaume à nous of late repliers :-)


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