October 22.
THEY say the air is worse this year at Rome than ever, and that it would be madness to go thither during its malign influence. This was very bad news indeed to one heartily tired of Florence, at least of its society. Merciful powers! what a set harbour within its walls! * * * You may imagine I do not take vast or vehement delight in this company, though very ingenious, praiseworthy, &c. The woods of the Cascini shelter me every morning; and there grows an old crooked ilex at their entrance, twisting round a pine, upon whose branches I sit for hours, hear, without feeling, the showers trickling above my head, and see the cattle browse peacefully in their pastures, which hazle copses, Italian pines and groves of cypress inclose. In the afternoon, I never fail hiding myself in the thickets of Boboli, and marking the golden glimmer of sunset between their leaves. The other evening, however, I varied my walks, and ascended one of those pleasant* hills which rise in the vicinity of the city, and command a variegated scene of spires, towns, villas, cots, and gardens. On the right, as you stand upon the brow, appears Fesule with its turrets and white houses, covering a rocky mount; to the left, the vast Val d'Arno lost in immensity. A Franciscan convent stands on the summit of the eminence, wrapped up in antient cypresses, which hinder its holy inhabitants from seeing too much of so gay a view. The paved ascent leading up to their abode receives also a shade from the cypresses which border it. Beneath this venerable avenue, crosses with inscriptions are placed at certain distances, to mark the various moments of Christ's passion; as when fainting under his burden he halted to repose himself, or when he met his afflicted mother. (Giesu incontra la sua afflita Madre.) Above, at the end of the perspective, rises a chapel designed by M. A. Buonarotti; further on, an ancient church, encrusted with white marble, porphyry, and verd antique. The interior presents a crowded assemblage of ornaments, elaborate mosaic pavements and inlaid work without end. The high altar, placed in a semicircular recess, which reminded me of the church at Torcello, glitters with barbaric paintings on a gold ground, and receives the strongest glow of light imaginable from five windows, filled up with transparent marble clouded like tortoiseshell. A smooth polished staircase leads to this mysterious place: another brought me to a subterraneous chapel, supported by confused groups of variegated pillars, just visible by the glimmer of lamps. I thought of the Zancaroon at Cordova, and began reciting the first verses of the Koran. Passing on, not unawed, I followed some flights of steps, which terminate in the neat cloisters of the convent, in perfect preservation, but totally deserted. Ranges of citron and aloes fill up the quadrangle, whose walls are hung with superstitious pictures most singularly fancied. The Jesuits were the last tenants of this retirement, and seem to have had great reason for their choice. Its peace and stillness delighted me. I stayed till sunset, and then, stretching myself out at length upon the level green which forms the summit of the hill, looked down upon the plains below, between the cypresses, and marked the awful waving of their boughs. Next day a very opposite scene engaged me, though much against my will. Her R.H. the G. Duchess having produced a princess in the night, everybody put on grand gala in the morning, and I was carried, along with the glittering tide of courtiers, ministers, and ladies, to see the christening. After hearing the Grand Duke talk politics for some time, the doors of a temporary chapel were thrown open. Trumpets flourished, processions marched, and the archbishop began his business at an altar of massive gold, placed under a yellow silk pavilion, with pyramids of lights before it. Wax tapers, though it was noon-day, shone in every corner of the apartments. Two rows of pages, gorgeously accoutred, and holding enormous torches, stood on each side his Royal Highness, and made him the prettiest courtesies imaginable, to the sound of an execrable band of music, though led by Nardini. The poor old archbishop, who looked very piteous and saint-like, struck up the Te Deum with a quavering voice, and the rest followed him full gallop. That ceremony dispatched, (for his R.H. was in a mighty fidget to shrink back into his beloved obscurity,) the crowd dispersed, and I went, with a few others, to dine at my Lord Tilney's. Evening drawing on, I ran to throw myself once more into the woods of Boboli, and remained till it was night in their profound recesses. Really this garden is enough to bewilder an enthusiastic spirit; there is something so solemn in its shades, its avenues, and spires of cypresses. When I had mused for many a melancholy hour amongst them, I emerged into the orangery before the palace, which overlooks the largest district of the town, and beheld, as I slowly descended the road which leads up to it, certain bright lights glancing about the cupola of the Duomo and the points of the highest towers. At first I thought them meteors, or those illusive fires which often dance before the eye of my imagination; but soon I was convinced of their reality; for in a few minutes the battlements of the old castle, which I remember mentioning in a former letter, shone with lamps; the lantern of the cathedral was lighted up on a sudden; whilst a stream of torches ran along its fantastic turrets.
I enjoyed this prospect at a distance: when near, my pleasure was greatly diminished, for half the fish in the town were frying to rejoice the hearts of H.R. Highness's loyal subjects, and bonfires blazing in every street and alley. Hubbubs and stinks of every denomination drove me quickly to the theatre; but that was all glitter and glare. No taste, no arrangement, paltry looking-glasses, and rat's tail candles. I had half a mind to return to Boboli.

* Mentioned by Dante in his Purgatorio.

Letter I ::: Letter II ::: Letter III ::: Letter IV ::: Letter V ::: Letter VI ::: Letter VII ::: Letter VIII ::: Letter IX ::: Letter X ::: Letter XI ::: Letter XII ::: Letter XIII ::: Letter XIV ::: Letter XV ::: Letter XVI ::: Letter XVII ::: Letter XVIII ::: Letter XIX ::: Letter XX ::: Letter XXI ::: Letter XXII ::: Letter XXIII ::: Letter XXIV ::: Letter XXV ::: Letter XXVI ::: Letter XXVII
Additional letters, I-VII
An Excursion to the Grande Chartreuse in the year 1778