The following letters, written in a second excursion, which was interrupted
by a dangerous illness, are added, on account of their affinity to some
of the preceding.
Cologne, May 28th, 1782.
THIS is the first day of summer; the oakleaves expand, the roses blow,
butterflies are about, and I have spirits enough to write to you. We
have had clouded skies this fortnight past, and roads like the slough
of Despond. Last Wednesday we were benighted on a dismal plain, apparently
boundless. The moon cast a sickly gleam, and now and then a blue meteor
glided along the morass which lay before us. After much difficulty we
gained an avenue, and in an hour's time discovered something like a
gateway, shaded by crooked elms and crowned by a cluster of turrets.
Here we paused and knocked; no one answered. We repeated our knocks;
the stout oaken gate returned a hollow sound; the horses coughed; their
riders blew their horns. At length the bars fell, and we entered –
by what means I am ignorant, for no human being appeared. A labyrinth
of narrow winding streets, dark as the vaults of a cathedral, opened
to our view. We kept wandering along, at least twenty minutes, between
lofty mansions with grated windows and strange galleries projecting
one over another, from which depended innumerable uncouth figures and
crosses, in ironwork, swinging to and fro with the wind. At the end
of this gloomy maze we found a long street, not fifteen feet wide, I
am certain; the houses still loftier than those just mentioned, the
windows thicker barred, and the gibbets (for I know not what else to
call them) more frequent. Here and there we saw lights glimmering in
the highest stories, and arches on the right and left, which seemed
to lead into retired courts and deeper darkness. Along one of these
recesses we were jumbled, over such pavement as I hope you may never
tread upon; and, after parading round it, went out at the same arch
where we came in. This procession seemed at first very mystical, but
it was too soon accounted for by our postilions, who confessed they
had lost their way. A council was held amongst them in form, and then
we struck into another labyrinth of hideous edifices, habitations I
will not venture to call them, as not a creature stirred; though the
rumbling of our carriages was echoed by all the vaults and arches. Towards
midnight we rested a few minutes, and a head poking out of a casement
directed us to the hotel of Der Heilige Geist, where an apartment, thirty
feet square, was prepared for our reception.
Inspruck, June 4th.
NO sooner had we passed Feuzen than we entered the Tirol, and the country
of wonders. Those lofty peaks, those steeps of wood I delight in, lay
before us. Innumerable clear springs gushed out on every side, overhung
by luxuriant shrubs in blossom. The day was mild, though overcast, and
a soft blue vapour rested upon the hills, above which rise mountains
that bear plains of snow into the clouds. At night we lay at Nasariet,
a village buried amongst savage promontories. The next morning we advanced,
in bright sunshine, into smooth lawns on the slopes of mountains, scattered
over with larches, whose delicate foliage formed a light green veil
to the azure sky. Flights of birds were merrily travelling from spray
to spray. I ran delighted into this world of boughs, whilst C. sat down
to draw the huts which are scattered about for the shelter of herds,
and discover themselves amongst the groves in the most picturesque manner.
These little edifices are uncommonly neat, and excite those ideas of
pastoral life to which I am so fondly attached. The turf from whence
they rise is enamelled, in the strict sense of the word, with flowers.
A sort of blue-bell predominated, brighter than ultramarine; here and
there auriculas looked out of the moss, and I often reposed upon tufts
of ranunculus. Bushes of phillerea were very frequent, the sun shining
full on their glossy leaves. An hour passed away swiftly in these pleasant
groves, where I lay supine under a lofty fir, a tower of leaves and
Padua, June 14th.
ONCE more, said I to myself, I shall have the delight of beholding Venice;
so got into an open chaise, the strangest curricle that ever man was
jolted in, and drove furiously along the causeways by the Brenta, into
whose deep waters it is a mercy, methinks, I was not precipitated. Fiesso,
the Dolo, the Mira, with all their gardens, statues, and palaces, seemed
flying after each other, so rapid was our motion. After a few hours'
confinement between close steeps, the scene opened to the wide shore
of Fusina. I looked up (for I had scarcely time to look before) and
beheld a troubled sky, shot with vivid red, the Lagunes tinted like
the opal, and the islands of a glowing flame-colour. The mountains of
the distant continent appeared of a deep melancholy grey, and innumerable
gondolas were passing to and fro in all their blackness. The sun, after
a long struggle, was swallowed up in the tempestuous clouds. In an hour
we drew near to Venice, and saw its world of domes rising out of the
waters. A fresh breeze bore the toll of innumerable bells by my ear.
Sadness came over me as I entered the great canal, and recognised (the
scene of many a strange adventure) those solemn palaces, with their
lofty arcades and gloomy arches, beneath which I had so often sat. The
Venetians being mostly at their villas on the Brenta, the town appeared
deserted. I visited, however, all my old haunts in the Place of St.
Mark, ran up the Campanile, and rowed, backwards and forwards, opposite
the Ducal Palace, by moon-light. They are building a spacious quay,
near the street of the Sclavonians, fronting the island of San Giorgio
Maggiore; where I remained alone at least an hour, following the wanderings
of the moon amongst mountainous clouds, and listening to the waters
dashing against marble steps. I closed my evening at my friend M. de
R.'s, and sung over the airs I composed in the dawn of our acquaintance.
Next morning the wind was uncommonly violent for the mild season of
June, and the canals much ruffled; but I was determined to visit the
Lido once more, and bathe on my accustomed beach. The pines in the garden
of the Carthusians were nodding as I passed by in my gondola, which
was very poetically buffeted by the waves. Traversing the desert of
locusts, I hailed the Adriatic, and plunged into its bosom. The sea,
delightfully cool, refreshed me to such a degree, that, upon my return
to Venice, I found myself able to thread its labyrinths of streets,
canals, and alleys, in search of amber and oriental curiosities. The
variety of exotic merchandise, the perfumes of coffee, the shade of
awnings, and the sight of Greeks and Asiatics sitting cross-legged under
them, made me think myself in the bazaars of Constantinople. 'Tis certain
my beloved town of Venice ever recalls a series of eastern ideas and
adventures. I cannot help thinking St. Mark's a mosque, and the neighbouring
palace some vast seraglio, full of arabesque saloons, embroidered sofas,
and voluptuous Circassians.
Padua, June 19th.
THE morning was delightful, and St. Anthony's bells in full chime. A
shower which had fallen in the night rendered the air so cool and grateful,
that Mad. de R. and myself determined to seize the opportunity and go
to Mirabello, a country house, which Algarotti had inhabited, situate
amongst the Euganean hills, eight or nine miles from Padua.
Our road lay between poplar alleys and fields of yellow corn, overhung
by garlands of vine, most beautifully green. I soon found myself in
the midst of my favourite hills, upon slopes covered with clover, and
shaded by cherry-trees. Bending down their boughs I gathered the fruit,
and grew cooler and happier every instant. We dined very comfortably
in a strange hall, where I pitched my pianoforte, and sung the voluptuous
airs of Bertoni's Armida. That enchantress might have raised her palace
in this situation; and, had I been Rinaldo, I certainly should not very
soon have abandoned it. After dinner we drank coffee under some branching
lemons, which sprang from a terrace, commanding a boundless scene of
towers and villas; tall cypresses and shrubby hillocks rising, like
islands, out of a sea of corn and vine. Evening drawing on, and the
breeze blowing fresh from the distant Adriatic, I reclined on a slope,
and turned my eyes anxiously towards Venice; then upon some little fields
hemmed in by chesnuts in blossom, where the peasants were making their
hay, and, from thence, to a mountain, crowned by a circular grove of
fir and cypress. In the centre of these shades some monks have a comfortable
nest; perennial springs, a garden of delicious vegetables, and, I dare
say, a thousand luxuries besides, which the poor mortals below never
dream of. Had it not been late, I should certainly have climbed up to
the grove, and asked admittance into its recesses; but having no mind
to pass the night in this eyrie, I contented myself with the distant
Rome, June 29th.
IT is needless for me to say I wish you with me: you know I do; you
know how delightfully we should ramble about Rome together. This evening,
instead of jiggeting along the Corso with the puppets in blue and silver
coats, and green and gold coaches, instead of bowing to Cardinal this,
and dotting my head to Abbé t'other, I strolled to the Coliseo,
found out my old haunts amongst its arches, and enjoyed the pure transparent
sky, between groves of slender cypress. Then bending my course to the
Palatine Mount, I passed under the Arch of Titus, and gained the Capitol,
which was quite deserted; the world, thank Heaven, being all slip-slopping
in coffee-houses, or staring at a few painted boards, patched up before
the Colonna palace, where, by the by, to-night is a grand rinfresco
for all the dolls and doll-fanciers of Rome. I heard their buzz at a
distance; that was enough for me! Soothed by the rippling waters, I
descended the capitoline stairs, and leaned several minutes against
one of the Egyptian lionesses. This animal has no knack at oracles,
or else it would have murmured out to me the situation of that secret
cave, where the wolf suckled Romulus and his brother. About nine, I
returned home, and am now writing to you like a prophet on the housetop.
Behind me rustle the thickets of Villa Medici; before, lies roof beyond
roof, and dome beyond dome: these are dimly discovered; but don't you
see the great cupola of cupolas, twinkling with illuminations? The town
is real, I am certain; but, surely that structure of fire must be visionary.
Rome, June 30th.
AS soon as the sun declined I strolled into the Villa Medici; but finding
it haunted by fine pink and yellow people, nay, even by the Spanish
Ambassador, and several more dignified carcases, I moved off to the
Negroni garden. There I found what my soul desired, thickets of jasmine,
and wild spots overgrown with bay; long alleys of cypress totally neglected,
and almost impassable through the luxuriance of the vegetation; on every
side, antique fragments, vases, sarcophagi, and altars sacred to the
Manes, in deep, shady recesses; which I am certain the Manes must love.
The air was filled with the murmurs of water, trickling down basins
of porphyry, and losing itself amongst overgrown weeds and grasses.
Above the wood, and between its boughs, appeared several domes, and
a strange lofty tower. I will not say they belong to St. Maria Maggiore;
no, they are fanes and porticos dedicated to Cybele, who delights in
sylvan situations. The forlorn air of this garden, with its high and
reverend shades, make me imagine it as old as the baths of Dioclesian
which peep over one of its walls: yes, I am persuaded some consul, or
prætor, dwelt here, only fifty years ago. Would to God our souls
might be transported to such solitary spots! where we might glide along
the dark alleys together, when bodies were gone to bed. I discovered
a little cave that would just suit us; celandine, Venus' hair, and a
thousand delicate plants growing downwards from the cove; beneath, lies
a clear spring. At the close of day, I repaired to the platform before
the stately porticos of the Lateran. There I sat, folded up in myself
Some priests jarred the iron gates behind me. I looked over my shoulder
through the portals, into the portico. Night began to fill it with darkness.
Shall I confess that I shuddered; and that I thought an avenging angel
might, on some future day, bar me up in a similar edifice, far from
you? Upon turning round, the sad waste of the Campagna met my eyes,
and I wished to go home, but had not the power. A pressure, like that
I have felt in horrid dreams, seemed to fix me to the pavement. I was
thus in a manner forced to view the melancholy scene, the long line
of aquæducts and lonesome towers. Perhaps the unwholesome vapours,
rising like blue mists from the plains, affected me. I know not how
it was; but I never experienced such strange, such chilling terrors.
About ten o'clock, thank God, the spell dissolved. I found my limbs
at liberty, and returned home.
Naples, July 8th.
THE sea-breezes restore me to life. I set the heat of mid-day at defiance,
and do not believe in the horrors of the Sirocco. I passed yesterday
at Portici, with Lady H. The morning, refreshing and pleasant, invited
us at an early hour into the open air. We drove, in an uncovered chaise,
to the royal Bosquetto: no other carriage than Sir W.'s is allowed to
enter its alleys. We breathed a fresh air, untainted by dust or garlick.
Every now and then, amidst wild bushes of ilex and myrtle, one finds
a graceful antique statue, sometimes a fountain, and often a rude knoll,
where the rabbits sit undisturbed, contemplating the blue glittering
bay: at least, I should do so, if I were a rabbit. The walls of this
shady inclosure are lined with Peruvian aloes, whose white blossoms,
scented like those of the magnolia, form the most magnificent clusters.
They are plants to salute respectfully as one passes by; such is their
size and dignity. In the midst of the thickets stands the King's Pagliaro,
in a small garden, with hedges of luxuriant jasmine, whose branches
are suffered to flaunt as much as nature pleases. The morning sun darted
his first rays on their flowers just as I entered this pleasant spot.
The hut looks as if erected in the days of fairy pastoral life; its
neatness is quite delightful. Bright tiles compose the floor; straw,
nicely platted, covers the walls. In the middle of the room you see
a table spread with a beautiful Persian carpet; at one end, four niches
with mattresses of silk, where the King and his favourites repose after
dinner; at the other, a white marble basin. Mount a little staircase,
and you find yourself in another apartment, formed by the roof, which
being entirely composed of glistening straw, casts that comfortable
yellow glow I admire. From the windows you look over the garden, not
flourished with parterres, but divided into plats of fragrant herbs
and flowers, with here and there a little marble table, or basin of
the purest water. These sequestered inclosures are cultivated with the
greatest care, and so frequently watered, that I observed lettuces,
and a variety of other vegetables, as fresh as in our green England.