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corner of damp clay, only big enough for one foot to touch
it, as a half way point in a jump over a fall of twenty or
thirty feet, and then stood quietly wondering at my hesitation
in resolving on the possibly fatal step. I was obliged to take
it, not to seem ridiculous. Here, as in Paris, I find great
difficulty in getting anything to eat, except at the Tables
d'Hote, which are long after my usual feeding time. At
the hour I require a pound of steak and a pint of ale I go
into the most likely-looking shop, and, after walking three
times round a table on which are thirty or forty different
plates, I select what looks the most substantial, and bite a
brown bladder of air ; and end by making my luncheon off
three ounces of perfumed sugar and one of chocolate. Unless
they manage these things better in Rome, I shall die, or
come back before my time. In my visit to Villafranca, I
found a town in which eating seemed quite uncontemplated,
and had to take my refreshment at a roadside house, where
there were three or four Savoyard conscripts drinking,
brawling, and singing in parts snatches of tender airs from
modern Italian Operas. The landlady gave me a bottle of
very queer but quite drinkable wine, three eggs with the
chill off (but without a spoon), and a bottle of oil. I drank
the eggs and the wine, and might have drunk the oil, and
had to pay only a franc.

The people here seem very harmless and good natured,
but stunted and ugly. They have good voices and a won-
derful feeling for music. Such is the power of this lovely
climate on the voice, that the cocks, instead of crowing as
they do in England, bray long and loud like donkeys, and
just finish off with a loose and rollicking imitation of a crow,
by which alone I knew that they were cocks. One " beast
of a bird," ^ kept me awake all night, by singing in this
way below my window.

I will write again from Genoa.

Ever, my dear Mrs. Jackson, most sincerely yours,

Coventry Patmore.

Genoa, February 28.
Dear Mrs. Jackson,

I am so uneasy at not knowing, or being able to
know, for several days, whether you are better or worse, or



Dryden must have been at Nice. (Note by C. P.)



198 COVENTRY PATMORE

in the same weakness in which you were when I parted
from you, that I do not feel the pleasure I should in writing
to you. You may not be able to read my letters at all, or
perhaps they fatigue you and do you harm. If so, pray do
not read them — at least until you are better. I also am far
from well, but the continual freshness and beauty of all I
see prevent me from feeling that I am much out of order,
except at night. Last night I fancied I was going to be
seriously ill ; and the idea of being imprisoned in this
gloomy palace, week after week, with my bill becoming of
such dimensions as to quench all hope of ever being able
to leave Genoa, weighed on my spirits and haunted my
dreams. I caught cold in the course of the twenty-eight
hours it took to traverse the Corniche road — during part of
that time the rain poured in through the roof of the coupe
and made all my things damp. This would not perhaps
have hurt me by itself; but I arrived at Genoa literally in
an advanced stage of starvation. The journey was six
hours longer than the proper time, owing to the ruinous
state of the road caused by the making of the railway,
which is being carried out almost the whole length of the
road at the same time, not mile by mile as is usually done
with us. For twenty-one hours the diligence made no
stoppage whatever except to change horses, and this was
never done at an inn ; so that nothing passed my lips during
that time but one glass of eau sucr6, which I obtained at a
stopping-place by representing, through the driver, that I
was dying of thirst ; for I was past eating. When I got to
Genoa, the idea of food sickened me, and I could bring
myself to eat only by very slow degrees. Mrs. James
Marshall and Sir Vere de Vere had warned me that land-
travelling to Rome was not to be lightly undertaken, but I
was not prepared for anything like this.

Genoa is not likely to remove my sore throat and in-
creased cough. The finest streets are like cracks and
crevices in a marble earth. You see, at a vast distance
above you, a thin line of bright sky, bounded by rocky
cornices, which sometimes almost touch each other ; and
there is everywhere the feeling that you are on ground
which for hundreds of years has never felt the sun. A
long, hot day does not dry the pavement, if a shower has
fallen in the night. The rooms are cold and cavernous.
Mine, a fine, frescoed chamber, up thirteen or fourteen



LETTERS TO MRS. JACKSON 199

flights of stairs, looks and feels like a state dungeon, the
light having still to come from so great a height down the
narrow chasm which severs my side of the street from
the other. I have scarcely light enough at noon to write
by, though the day, outside the town, is a fierce glare of
sunshine, I am anxious, therefore, to get away ; but I find
I shall not be able to do so till Monday night. The place
however is magnificent beyond anything I had expected.
I had no notion before of the power of the Cinque Cento
architecture on its own soil ; nor of the beauty of the effects
got by the use of precious materials, as in the Church of
the Annunciation, which looks as if it had cost the wealth
of a kingdom. I was wrong in making up my mind on
this and other architectural points on theory and without
seeing the buildings. The Lombard " Duomo," for another
instance, has more than reconciled me to the Italian mode
of building in alternate courses of differently coloured
marbles. There is, in all the architecture of Genoa, a look
of having come " out of the abundance of the heart," which,
at first at least, indisposes me to judge it by any formal
principles ; and upon nearly all the buildings the hand of
decay is gently but manifestly laid, and forbids one to say
anything of the dead, unless it be good.

As Genoa's name is " La Superba," I suppose I can speak
thus freely of its grandeur, without risk of using up all my
strong words in a premature enthusiasm for the first Italian
city I have seen. But I am forgetting the Corniche Pass, which
is worthy not to be forgotten, and ought to have come first.

I left Nice at eight o'clock in the morning. The rain had
been pouring down all night, and was still doing so ; and
every hill was in dense cloud. So I gave up all thought of
seeing anything of what it seems to be agreed is the most
beautiful road in Italy. On the other hand, I had the
coupe all to myself, so counted on being comfortable. It
turned out just the other way. I was exceedingly uncom-
fortable, as I have shown ; but just as we got to the greatest
height of the Pass (more than 2,000 feet above the sea, into
which I could have rolled a stone), the rain left off, the
clouds were broken up and partly dispersed by a splendid
sun, and there appeared below me a series of scenes which,
with all my uncommon sloth and indifference in the matter
of sight-seeing, I could not but own to be, by themselves,
well worth a thousand mile journey. P"or below, wherever



200 COVENTRY PATMORE

there happened to rise a particularly insurmountable crag,
there a little, lovely, faint-peach-coloured town crowded
itself together, like a flock of sheep when the dog barks
round it ; and amidst it rose a light campanile, and the
enormous ruin of some historic fortress, round which
the town had originally gathered itself; the background,
the brilliant Mediterranean, on which long lines of shining
mist were still sleeping ; the bounds, the sides of mountains
so beautifully chasmed, chiselled, and dotted lower down
with olives and oranges, that every square yard of surface
had its interest ; and the whole bathed in a spacious gulf
of delicate air, burthened at intervals with drifting coils
of golden and swiftly dissolving cloud. The magical
beauty of these views seemed very much to depend on the
great height from which they were seen. The road wound
round each of them, as if on purpose to let the eye have its
fill of delight, and then turned a corner, and the incompar-
able glory was gone for ever. I did not wish to look longer
or again, lest the impression should grow less. The Pass
descends rapidly towards Mentone, and never again rises to
anything like its former height, nor are the towns so lovely,
or the hills so lofty. The whole road is of great beauty;
but the extreme loveliness of the first twenty or thirty
miles makes one indifferent to all the rest, until indeed
Genoa is approached ; and then the hills are higher and
more noble in their outlines than ever. It gets colder too
at this point, and the olive almost disappears, to the great
relief of the eye. For nearly four hundred miles the olive
had greatly preponderated over every other tree or shrub ;
and, though its ashy colour seems to me to be in peculiar
harmony with the grey, rocky hills and the blue sea, and
as if made to show forth the glowing orange, its frequent
companion, it is in itself the ugliest tree I know. Its great,
twisted trunk and branches seem fit to bear a hundred
times the weight of the scanty foliage they carry, and the
poor sprinkling of grey leaves looks like nothing so much
as a sparsely clad bush of white-thorn on the Epsom road
at the close of a very dry Derby Day,

The changes of climate that occur with every turn in the
shore of the Mediterranean are surprising. Nice is too
warm to stay in, when Genoa has snow-drifts at its gates ;
and between the two points, which are, I suppose, as the
crow flies, not more than seventy miles apart, there is



LETTERS TO MRS. JACKSON 201

Mentone, several degrees warmer than Nice, and Bor-
dighera, where the Palm, which is a sort of curiosity at
Nice, is the most common of all the trees. The Romans,
I am told, send all the way north to this place to get Palms
for their Palm Sunday ceremonials. By the way, what
grand weeds the Palm and the Aloe are ! One can no more
judge of them in Kew conservatories than of lions and
tigers in cages. I observed too that the Aloe's living to
flower once at a vast age and then dying, is not a fable,
as I fancied it might be. On the road to Genoa I passed
thousands of aloes, all flourishing, except three, which were
quite dead and still bore the mast-like stalks of their flowers.
Another thing I remark in the vegetation here is the fidelity
of the oak and the blackberry to their northern habits.
They do not care about the thermometer being 70 in the
shade ; they consider only the time of year. The oak has
not a bud, and the blackberry has just the scattering of
winter leaves which it retains through the snow and frost
at Hendon. The conventional creatures ! Have you never
wondered how the snowdrop knows the time to get up ? I
daresay the botanists have been too much engaged in
discovering seven-syllable names for daffodils and daisies
to think of trying to find out such things as that.

Well, now I am come to Genoa, an English Milord in
the coupe all by myself, and my six horses jingling their
hundred little bells, and trotting before me as freely and
as loosely-harnessed as a company of Zouaves ; but I am
inwardly feeling " what wretches feel," and have no heart
to appreciate the courtesy of the officer of the octroi^ who
looks into other people's things, but takes the word of a
Milord that there is nothing taxable in his baggage.
Starvation itself, however, suspends its pang before de-
cidedly the grandest sight I have yet seen. A city guarded
by mountains which are crowned on all sides with fortresses,
some above the clouds, and some below, and bearing
comparison with the mountains themselves for size ; the
city itself also shewing that man is here for once, even in
physical might, the rival of nature ; a town of Titans as
well as Kings, with miles of palaces which have learned
their height and substance from the hills, and all their
hugeness gem-like in the beaut}' of detail, costly to absolute
wantonness, most of the marble columns being, for example,
monoliths ; a circumstance which, though trebling their



202 COVENTRY PATMORE

preciousness ten times over, is likely to be noticed only by
one eye in a thousand. I dare say the guide-books never
allude to it.

There is a business-life about the town which prevents this
grand architectural anachronism from being oppressively
melancholy. The port is like the Thames between London
Bridge and Deptford, and the roar upon the quays is louder
than that of any English port, for everybody here vociferates
and bawls. There is a quiet English earnestness about the
crowd of men of business gathered together in the Piazza
Banchi ; and there are butchers' shops with blocks of beef
and legs of mutton hanging up, a grateful sight for a hater
of French cookery. With the exception of the Via Orefici,
full of filigree workers, there is nothing vain or light-minded
about the place, which abounds with coppersmiths, workers
in marble and iron, and the like substantial and honest
trades. The people are good to look at ; the men manly,
not conceited, and often noble ; and the women dressed
with so much care, taste and quiet endeavour to look hand-
some, that no one with a spark of generosity could dream
they fail. They wear beautiful veils of plain white lawn,
fixed in the well-brushed hair with a comb, and falling over
the back and arms and bosom ; the rest of the dress owes
all its merit to sobriety and being well-fitted — except the
edge of the petticoat which, like the veil, is scrupulously
white, and is often double or triple, and much more elabo-
rately worked in "scollops" and " Vandykes" (I think they
are called) than anything you see in London or Paris.
This greater elaboration of that part of the dress which is
not supposed to be seen, unless by accident, is, I think, in
high taste. At least, it is justified by the example of moths
and butterflies, who commonly wear their finest patterns
and colours on the under wings.

I am sorry that my remarks should mostly be on such very
little matters, but triviality is the condition of truth in
observations made in passing, as I am doing, from one new
place to another. Besides, as I said before, my hope is
not to describe effectually to you anything you have not
seen, but rather to remind you pleasantly of your own
Italian journey.

Believe me, my clear Mrs. Jackson,
Ever sincerely yours,

Coventry Patmore.



LETTERS TO MRS. JACKSON 203

I think I shall go to Rome from here by sea, after all.
If so, I shall start to-morrow night and arrive on Tuesday.

Leghorn, March 2, 1864.

My Dear Mrs. Jackson,

To-morrow morning I shall be in Rome, where the
pleasure to which I look forward most is that of going to
the post for your letter ; for I will not fear that you are still
too unwell to write. Since I wrote last from Genoa I have
had another succession of surprises of beauty; and no small
part of my pleasure has been in feeling that I could hence-
forward sympathise more completely in the pleasure with
which you always mention Italy. I thought more par-
ticularly of you at Spezzia, Lerici and Serchio, and of the
associations which those places would call up in your mind,
and I remembered the art you have of making it almost
as delightful to differ from as to agree with you. If you
have been at Pisa, where I have spent a morning, I need
not wait to hear from you that we agree in thinking the
Campo Santo simply the loveliest spot on earth. The
frescoes and the surrounding arcades, with their canopy of
open cloudless sky, seemed a fit environment for the clay
that came from Calvary.

I came here by land after all ; for the wind was high and
the boat went by night. I was very glad I did so, for the
scenery was even finer than that between Nice and Genoa.
This drive of four hundred or more miles, from Marseilles
to Pisa, the whole way on the very brink of the Mediter-
ranean, is an impressive thing. How fortunate Julia is in
having been to Italy before twenty! What a gain it would
have been to me at her age! But at forty little is added to
one's life. I shall always however be a little the gainer
for that sight. The principal, and least expected element
of its beauty was, to me, the presence everywhere of the
hand and habitation of man ; every little bay containing its
well-built town ; and every mountain terraced almost to the
top, and bearing on its side a thousand villas, each in its
garden of olives. From a slight glance at Genoa and the
Mediterranean shore, one would take Italy for a country
where merchants were kings and its very peasants princes ;
for of all these thousands upon thousands of villas, the
smallest seemed a much finer house than I can afford to
have in England.



204 COVENTRY PATMORE

My first glimpse of a group of Alps, shining serene
above the clouds like a Kingdom of the Blest, took away
my breath, but in half an hour the wonder was gone and I
looked on them almost with indifference ; but I never grew
weary with that endless panorama in which humanity
seemed to be taking full advantage of an earthly paradise ;
and the greatest hardship I suffered was being obliged to
pass so much of the road in the dark. Not that the hard-
ships of travelling here are to be thought little of The
diligence never stopped for more than five minutes between
Genoa and Sarzana, a journey of nearly twenty hours. I
was told there would be a stoppage of two hours, so went
again unprepared, and only escaped being again starved by
urgent appeals to the conductor, who when we arrived
about midnight at a wonderfully gloomy town (without
light more than to shew the extreme heaviness of its archi-
tecture, the whole being built on low arcades of the eleventh
century) committed me to the care of a man who looked
like a demon out of a German fairy tale : this person trotted
me — with all my money, and no pistols in my pocket —
through two or three alleys, more, for a grand yet squalid
gloom, like an unmentionable place, than any I have seen ;
and when I was beginning to think what I should do, if my
guide should not choose to show me the way back to the
Diligence — which was leaving in three minutes — in a town
where every one looked like a spirit of night — I could not
make a word that I said understood — he showed me into a
sort of cavern, and bade me select from its delicacies. I
bought a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese something like
Gruyere, and got back in safety. Nothing hitherto has
struck me as so strange as the appearance of these third-
rate Italian towns by night — their palatial size, and the
dungeon-like gloom of their arcaded streets, and the equal
massiveness and gloom in the faces of the groups that are
revealed in the darkness by the lamps of the diligence as
it goes along. To heighten the effect, I met in such a
street a procession, consisting first of eight torch- bearers,
clad in white, with horrible white linen masks ; after
these came a bier with a corpse upon it, and, after this, a
long series of ghosts in couples like the first eight, but
without lights. I was glad I had not brought Emily with
me.

The Gruyere cheese enabled me to reach Pisa in com-



LETTERS TO MRS. JACKSON 205

paratively good condition and with only a slight increase
of my cold and cough, to which I have received a daily
addition ever since I left England : as I cannot find out
how to manage the climate, I am always in a heat or in a
shiver. I was quite glad, as I left the shores of the Medi-
terranean in approaching Pisa, to see a comparatively
English vegetation. Not many olives, of which I am
entirely weary ; no aloes and palms, whose beauty is, after
all, of a somewhat vulgar and " sensational " kind ; no vast
fields of vines pruned to within eighteen inches of the ground,
and looking like endless rows of heavy pairs of black cow-
horns ; but woods of leafless oak, with brushwood also leaf-
less, and a few common primroses and daisies underneath,
and rows of " poplars pale " and vines attached to sensible
trellises, and best of all — for the idea of a diet consisting
wholly of wine and oil revolts me — young wheat, which I
have not seen, except in a patch about as large as a table
here and there, since I was somewhere eight or nine hundred
miles north.

Not having slept all night, I got to Pisa very sleepy, but
at once woke up on seeing what a pleasant place it was.
Out of England I never saw any place in which I should
so much like to live. The whole town seems to repeat, in
a secular way, the charm of that most sacred looking of all
sacred spots of ground which contains the Baptistery, the
Cathedral, the Leaning Tower and the Campo Santo. A
wonderfully clean, quiet and unpretentious place, with that
mighty torrent of fertilizing mud, the Arno, darting noise-
lessly through the midst of it always. I saw some pleasant
looking English people here, and the first really beautiful
Italian woman I have seen. A girl of eighteen, about, with
a perfectly oval face, noble, severe and yet very sweet fea-
tures, and a look as if she had never cast eyes on anything
commoner than the Campo Santo.

My pleasure, as I get deeper into Italy, is diminished con-
tinually by indignation at the shameless effrontery with
which all classes equally persecute the English, and only
the English, for money. I cannot set one foot before the
other for less than fifty centimes — and then it is a
bargain ; and the begging ! — the boys beg as if I had done
them some grievous personal wrong; their fine wicked eyes
seeming to say that the next argument, if I refuse, will be a
stab. The keepers, even of the greatest hotels, like the



2o6 COVENTRY PATMORE

" Vittoria " at Leghorn, where I am staying, are in a con-
spiracy with the cabs and porters, and instead of protecting
me against them by telling me what I ought to pay, inter-
cede to obtain for them their ridiculous demands. I was
asked three francs for a drive of half-a-mile or less from
the station to the hotel, and for the carriage of my port-
manteau from the hall of the hotel to my room on the first
floor, a franc and a half And I heard the scowling fellows
swearing among themselves that I was not conducting
myself like an Englishman, because I refused to pay more
than half " More shame to Englishmen " was my thought.

Most truly yours,

Coventry Patmore.



Hotel della Minerva, Roma,

March 8, 1864.
My Dear Mrs. Jackson,

I hope the great change for the better in the weather
here has also taken place in Freshwater Bay, and that you
are by this time quite strong and able to enjoy the sharp
sweet air of the downs every day. Many thanks for your
kind offer of an introduction to Mr. Ricketts and his family.
I will not ask you to send it to me however ; for there
seems every chance of my being already in the way of
seeing fully as many people as I find desirable. As yet the
effect of my new Italian life upon my health is not promis-
ing. The climate itself seems to fatigue me, and the pur-
pose of my journey is not likely to be answered. I am glad
to have come to a pause in my wanderings. A few more
days such as I spent in the diligence between Nice and
Genoa, and Genoa and Leghorn, and on the sea between
Leghorn and Civita Vecchia must have done more harm
than all the rest of the time I have got left could have
amended. The charges for travelling would be absurdly
high, if the traveller's comfort were ever so much considered.
As it is, the traveller who pays the first prices is treated
exactly as if he were a trunk or a carpet-bag. The steamer
from Leghorn was far worse than the diligence. There were
only twelve sleeping places and about thirty passengers.
So that most of us, including myself and several ladies, had
to sleep on the floor, with the ship rolling in a heavy swell,
and the cabin doors opening on the deck, which was



LETTERS TO MRS. JACKSON 207

crowded with a cargo of tar barrels. I have severe rheu-
matism in my legs, and a further increase of cough ; though
I hoped that the deadly sickness under which I suffered
the whole time would have saved me from from taking any
other ill.

As I have now been in Rome several days, it is time to
tell you my " first impressions " and I will do so the more
fully, as I do not think they are of the sort people usually
get from the place. The reason is that the " associations '
go for fless with me than with most travellers. I should
like to see the wood of the true cross, but I should think no
worse or no better of the architecture of the church that



Online LibraryBasil ChampneysMemoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 36)