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   Chapter 15 ITALY REVISITED.

Mrs. Shelley By Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti Characters: 27893

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


In Mary Shelley's Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840-42-43, published in 1844, we have not only a pleasing account of herself with her son and friends during a pleasure trip, but some very interesting and charming descriptions of continental life at that time.

Mary, with her son and two college friends, decided in June 1840 to spend their vacation on the banks of the Lake of Como. The idea of again visiting a country where she had so truly lived, and where she had passed through the depths of sorrow, filled her with much emotion. Her failing health made her feel the advantage that travelling and change of country would be to her. After spending an enjoyable two months of the spring at Richmond, visiting Raphael's cartoons at Hampton Court, she went by way of Brighton and Hastings. On her way to Dover she noticed how Hastings, a few years ago a mere fishing village, had then become a new town. They were delayed at Dover by a tempest, but left the next morning, the wind still blowing a gale; reaching Calais they were further delayed by the tide. At length Paris was arrived at, and we find Mary making her first experience at a table d'hote. Mary was now travelling with a maid, which no doubt her somewhat weakened health made a necessity to her. They went to the Hotel Chatham at Paris. She felt all the renovating feeling of being in a fresh country out of the little island; the weight of cares seemed to fall from her; the life in Paris cheered her, though the streets were dirty enough then-dirtier than those of London; whereas the contrast is now in the opposite direction.

After a week here they went on towards Como by way of Frankfort. They were to pass Metz, Treves, the Moselle, Coblentz, and the Rhine to Mayence. The freedom from care and, worries in a foreign land, with sufficient means, and only in the company of young people open to enjoyment, gave new life to Mary. After staying a night at Metz, the clean little town on the Moselle, they passed on to Treves. At Thionville, the German frontier, they were struck by the wretched appearance of the cottages in contrast to the French. From Treves they proceeded by boat up the Moselle. The winding banks of the Moselle, with the vineyards sheltered by mountains, are well described. The peasants are content and prosperous, as, after the French Revolution, they bought up the confiscated estates of the nobles, and so were able to cultivate the land. The travellers rowed into the Rhine on reaching Coblentz, and rested at the Bellevue; and now they passed by the grander beauties of the Rhine. These made Mary wish to spend a summer there, exploring its recesses. They reached Mayence at midnight, and the next morning left by rail for Frankfort, the first train they had entered on the Continent. Mary much preferred the comfort of railway travelling. From Frankfort they engaged a voiturier to Schaffhausen, staying at Baden-Baden. The ruined castles recall memories of changed times, and Mary remarks how, except in England and Italy, country houses of the rich seem unknown. At Darmstadt, where they stopped to lunch, they were annoyed and amused too by the inconvenience and inattention they were subjected to from the expected arrival of the Grand Duke. On reaching Heidelberg, she remarks how, in travelling, one is struck by the way that the pride of princes for further dominion causes the devastation of the fairest countries. From the ruined castle they looked over the Palatinate which had been laid waste owing to the ambition of the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of our James I. Mary could have lingered long among the picturesque weed-grown walls, but had to continue the route to their destination. At Baden they visited the gambling saloon, and saw Rouge et Noir played. They were much struck by the Falls of the Rhine at Schaffhausen; and, on reaching Chiavenna, Mary had again the delight of hearing and speaking Italian. After crossing the blank mountains, who has not experienced the delight of this sensation has not yet known one of the joys of existence. On arriving at their destination at Lake Como, their temporary resting-place, a passing depression seized the party, the feeling that often comes when shut in by mountains away from home. No doubt Mary having reached Italy, the land she loved, with Shelley, the feeling of being without him assailed her.

At Cadenabia, on Lake Como, they had to consider ways and means. It turned out that apartments, with all their difficulties, would equal hotel expenses without the same amount of comfort. So they decided on accepting the moderate terms offered by the landlord, and were comfortably or even luxuriously installed, with five little bedrooms and large private salon. In one nook of this Mrs. Shelley established her embroidery frame, desk, books, and such things, showing her taste for order and elegance. So for some weeks she and her son and two companions were able to pass their time free from all household worries. The lake and neighbourhood are picturesquely described. One drawback to Mary's peace of mind was the arrival of her son's boat. He seemed to have inherited his father's love of boating, and this naturally filled her with apprehension. They made many pleasant excursions, of which she always gives good descriptions, and also enters clearly into any historical details connected with the country. At times she was carried by the beauty and repose of the scene into rapt moods which she thus describes:-

It has seemed to me, and on such an evening I have felt it, that the world, endowed as it is outwardly with endless shapes and influences of beauty and enjoyment, is peopled also in its spiritual life by myriads of loving spirits, from whom, unaware, we catch impressions which mould our thoughts to good, and thus they guide beneficially the course of events and minister to the destiny of man. Whether the beloved dead make a portion of this holy company, I dare not guess; but that such exist, I feel. They keep far off while we are worldly, evil, selfish; but draw near, imparting the reward of heaven-born joy, when we are animated by noble thoughts and capable of disinterested actions. Surely such gather round me to-night, part of that atmosphere of peace and love which it is paradise to breathe.

I had thought such ecstasy dead in me for ever, but the sun of Italy has thawed the frozen stream.

Such poetic feelings were the natural outcome of the quiet and repose after the life of care and anxiety poor Mary had long been subjected to. She always seems more in her element when describing mountain cataracts, Alpine storms, water lashed into waves and foam by the wind, all the changes of mountain and lake scenery; but this quiet holiday with her son came to an end, and they had to think of turning homewards. Before doing so, they passed by Milan, enjoyed the opera there, and went to see Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper," which Mary naturally much admires; she mentions the Luinis without enthusiasm. While here, the non-arrival of a letter caused great anxiety to Mary, as they were now obliged to return on account of Percy's term commencing, and there was barely enough money for him to travel without her; however, that was the only thing possible, and so it had to be done. Percy returned to England with his two friends, and his mother had to remain at Milan awaiting the letter. Days pass without any letter coming to hand, lost days, for Mary was too anxious and worried to be able to take any pleasure in her stay. Nor had she any acquaintances in the place; she could scarcely endure to go down alone to table d'h?te dinner, although she overcame this feeling as it was her only time of seeing anyone. Ten days thus passed by, days of storm and tempest, during which her son and his companions recrossed the Alps. They had left her on the 20th September, and it was not till she reached Paris on the 12th October that she became aware of the disastrous journey they had gone through, and how impossible it would have been for them to manage even as they did, had she been with them; indeed, she hardly could have lived through it. The description of this journey was written to Mrs. Shelley in a most graphic and picturesque letter by one of her son's companions. They were nearly drowned while crossing the lake in the diligence on a raft, during a violent storm. Next they were informed that the road of the Dazio Grande to Airolo was washed away sixty feet under the present torrent. They, with a guide, had to find their way over an unused mountain track, rendered most dangerous by the storm. They all lost shoes and stockings, and had to run on as best they could. Percy, with some others, had lost the track; but they, providentially, met the rest of the party at an inn at Piota, and from there managed to reach Airolo; and so they crossed the stupendous St. Gothard Pass, one of the wonders of the world.

Mrs. Shelley having at last recovered the letter from the Post Office, returned with her maid and a vetturino who had three Irish ladies with him, by way of Geneva, staying at Isola Bella. After passing the Lago Maggiore, a turn in the road shut the lake and Italy from her sight, and she proceeded on her journey with a heavy heart, as many a traveller has done and many more will do, the fascination of Italy under most circumstances being intense. Mary then describes one of the evils of Italy in its then divided state. The southern side of the Simplon belonged to the King of Sardinia, but its road led at once into Austrian boundary. The Sardinian sovereign, therefore, devoted this splendid pass to ruin to force people to go by Mont Cenis, and thus rendered the road most dangerous for those who were forced to traverse it. The journey over the Simplon proved most charming, and Mrs. Shelley was very much pleased with the civility of her vetturino, who managed everything admirably. Now, on her way to Geneva, she passed the same scenes she had lived first in with Shelley. She thus describes them:-

The far Alps were hid, the wide lake looked drear. At length I caught a glimpse of the scenes among which I had lived, when first I stepped out from childhood into life. There on the shores of Bellerive stood Diodati; and our humble dwelling, Maison Ohapuis, nestled close to the lake below. There were the terraces, the vineyards, the upward path threading them, the little port where our boat lay moored. I could mark and recognise a thousand peculiarities, familiar objects then, forgotten since-now replete with recollections and associations. Was I the same person who had lived there, the companion of the dead-for all were gone? Even my young child, whom I had looked upon as the joy of future years, had died in infancy. Not one hope, then in fair bud, had opened into maturity; storm and blight and death had passed over, and destroyed all. While yet very young, I had reached the position of an aged person, driven back on memory for companionship with the beloved, and now I looked on the inanimate objects that had surrounded me, which survived the same in aspect as then, to feel that all my life since is an unreal phantasmagoria-the shades that gathered round that scene were the realities, the substances and truth of the soul's life which I shall, I trust, hereafter rejoin.

Mary digresses at some length on the change of manners in the French since the revolution of 1830, saying that they had lost so much of their pleasant agreeable manner, their Monsieur and Madame, which sounded so pretty. From Geneva by Lyons, through Chalons, the diligence slowly carries her to Paris, and thence she shortly returned to England in October.

Mary's next tour with her son was in 1842, by way of Amsterdam, through Germany and Italy. From Frankfort she describes to a friend her journey with its various mishaps. After spending a charming week with friends in Hampshire, and then passing a day or two in London to bid farewell to old friends, Mrs. Shelley, her son, and Mr. Knox embarked for Antwerp on June 12, 1842. After the sea passage, which Mary dreaded, the pleasure of entering the quiet Scheldt is always great; but she does not seem to have recognised the charm of the Belgian or Dutch quiet scenery. With her love of mountains, these picturesque aspects seem lost on her; at least, she remarks that, "It is strange that a scene, in itself uninteresting, becomes agreeable to look at in a picture, from the truth with which it is depicted, and a perfection of colouring which at once contrasts and harmonizes the hues of sky and water." Mary does not seem to understand that the artist who does this selects the beauties of nature to represent. A truthful representation of a vulgarised piece of nature would be very painful for an artist to look on or to paint. The English or Italian villas of Lake Como, or the Riviera, would require a great deal of neglect by the artist not to vulgarize the glorious scenes round them; but this lesson has yet to be widely learnt in modern times, that beauty can never spoil nature, however humble; but no amount of wealth expended on a palace or mansion can make it fit for a picture, without the artist's feeling, any more than the beauties of Italy on canvas can be other than an eyesore without the same subtle power.

At Liège, fresh worries assailed the party. The difficulty of getting all their luggage, as well as a theft of sixteen pounds from her son's bedroom in the night, did not add to the pleasures of the commencement of their tour; but, as Mary said, the discomfort was nothing to what it would have been in 1840, when their means were far narrower, and she feels, "Welcome this evil so that it be the only one," for, as she says, one whose life had been so stained by tragedy could never regain a healthy tone, if that is needed not to fear for those we love. On reaching Cologne, the party went up t

he Rhine to Coblentz. As neither Mary nor her companions had previously done this, they were again much imposed upon by the steward. She recalls her former voyage with Shelley and Claire, when in an open boat they passed the night on the rapid river, "tethered" to a willow on the bank. When Frankfort is at length reached, they have to decide where to pass the summer. Kissingen is decided on, for Mrs. Shelley to try the baths. Here they take lodgings, and all the discomforts of trying to get the necessaries of life and some order, when quite ignorant of the language of the place, are amusingly described by Mrs. Shelley. The treatment and diet at the baths seem to have been very severe, nearly every usual necessary of life being forbidden by the Government in order to do justice to the efficacy of the baths.

Passing through various German towns their way to Leipsic, they stay at Weimar, where Mary rather startles the reader by remarking that she is not sure she would give the superiority to Goethe; that Schiller had always appeared to her the greater man, so complete. It is true she only knew the poets by translations, but the wonderful passages translated from Goethe by Shelley might have impressed her more. Mary is much struck on seeing the tombs of the poets by their being placed in the same narrow chamber as the Princes, showing the genuine admiration of the latter for those who had cast a lustre on their kingdom, and their desire to share even in the grave the poet's renown. Mary, when in the country of Frederic the Great, shows little enthusiasm for that great monarch, so simple in his own life, so just, so beloved, and so surrounded by dangers which he overcame for the welfare of the country. What Frederic might have been in Napoleon's place after the Revolution it is difficult to conceive, or how he might have acted. Certainly not for mere self aggrandizement. But the tyrannies of the petty German Princes Mary justly does not pass over, such as the terrible story told in Schiller's Cabal and Love. She recalls how the Duke of Hesse-Cassel sold his peasants for the American war, to give with their pay jewels to his mistress, and how, on her astonishment being expressed, the servant replied they only cost seven thousand children of the soil just sent to America. On this Mary remarks:-"History fails fearfully in its duty when it makes over to the poet the record and memory of such an event; one, it is to be hoped, that can never be renewed. And yet what acts of cruelty and tyranny may not be reacted on the stage of the world which we boast of as civilised, if one man has uncontrolled power over the lives of many, the unwritten story of Russia may hereafter tell."

This seems to point to reminiscences of Claire's life in Russia. Mrs. Shelley also remarks great superiority in the comfort, order, and cleanliness in the Protestant over the Catholic parts of Germany, where liberty of conscience has been gained, and is profoundly touched on visiting Luther's chamber in the castle of Wartburg overlooking the Thuringian Forest.

Her visits to Berlin and Dresden, during the heat of summer, do not much strike the reader by her feeling for pictorial art. She is impressed by world-renowned pictures; but her remarks, though those of a clever woman, show that the love of nature, especially in its most majestic forms, does not give or imply love of art. The feeling for plastic art requires the emotion which runs through all art, and without which it is nothing, to be distinctly innate as in the artist, or to have been cultivated by surroundings and influence. True, it is apparently difficult always to trace the influence. There is no one step from the contemplation of the Alps to the knowledge of plastic art. Literary art does not necessarily understand pictorial art: it may profess to expound the latter, and the reader, equally or still more ignorant, fancies that he appreciates the pictorial art because he relishes its literary exposition. Surely a piece of true plastic art, constantly before a child for it to learn to love, would do more than much after study. The best of all ought to be given to children-music, poetry, art-for it is easier then to instil than later to eradicate. It is true these remarks may seem unnecessary with regard to Mary Shelley, as, with all her real gifts and insight into poetry, she is most modest about her deficiencies in art knowledge, and is even apologetic concerning the remarks made in her letters, and for this her truth of nature is to be commended. In music, also, she seems more really moved by her own emotional nature than purely by the music; how, otherwise, should she have been disappointed at hearing Masaniello, while admiring German music, when Auber's grand opera has had the highest admiration from the chief German musicians? But she had not been previously moved towards it; that is the great difference between perception and acquired knowledge, and why so frequently the art of literature is mistaken for perception. But Mary used her powers justly, and drew the line where she was conscious of knowledge; she had real imagination of her own, and used the precious gift justifiably, and thus kept honour and independence, a difficult task for a woman in her position. She expresses pity for the travellers she meets, who simply are anxious to have "done" everything. She truly remarks:-"We must become a part of the scenes around us, and they must mingle and become a portion of us, or we see without seeing, and study without learning. There is no good, no knowledge, unless we can go out from and take some of the external into ourselves. This is the secret of mathematics as well as of poetry."

Their trip to Prague, and its picturesque position, afforded great pleasure to her. The stirring and romantic history is well described-history, as Shelley truly says, is a record of crime and misery. The first reformers sprang up in Bohemia. The martyrdom of John Huss did not extinguish his enlightening influence; and while all the rest of Europe was enslaved in darkness, Bohemia was free with a pure religion. But such a bright example might not last, and Bohemia became a province of the Empire, and not a hundred Protestants remain in the country now. The interesting story of St. John Nepomuk, the history of Wallenstein, with Schiller's finest tragedy, all lend their interest to Prague. In the journey through Bohemia and southern Germany, dirty and uncomfortable inns were conspicuous. The Lake of Gemünden much struck Mary with its poetic beauty, and she felt it was the place she should like to retreat to for a summer. From Ischl they went over the Brenner Pass of the Lago di Garda on to Italy. Mary was particularly struck by the beauties of Salzburg, with the immense plain half encircled by mountains crowned by castles, with the high Alps towering above all. She considered all this country superior to the Swiss Alps, and longed to pass months there some time. By this beautiful route they reached Verona, and then Venice. On the road to Venice Mary became aware (as we have already noted) of an intimate remembrance of each object, and each turn in the road. It was by this very road she entered Venice twenty-five years before with her dying child. She remarks that Shakspeare knew the feeling and endued the grief of Queen Constance with terrible reality; and, later, the poem of "The Wood Spurge" enforces the same sentiment. It was remarked by Holcroft that the notice the soul takes of objects presented to the eye in its hour of agony is a relief afforded by nature to permit the nerves to endure pain. On reaching Venice a search for lodgings was not successful; but two gentlemen, to whom they had introductions, found for the party an hotel within their still limited means; their bargain came to £9 a month each for everything included. They visited again the Rialto, and Mrs. Shelley observes:-"Often when here before, I visited this scene at this hour, or later, for often I expected Shelley's return from Palazzo Mocenigo till two or three in the morning. I watched the glancing of the oars, and heard the far song, and saw the palaces sleeping in the light of the moon, which veils by its deep shadows all that grieved the eye and hurt the heart in the decaying palaces of Venice; then I saw, as now I see, the bridge of the Rialto spanning the canal. All, all is the same; but, as the poet says,-'The difference to me.'"

She notices many of the most celebrated of the pictures in the Academia; and she had the good fortune of seeing St. Peter Martyr, which she misnames St. Peter the Hermit, out of its dark niche in the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. She gives a very good description of Venetian life at the time, and much commends its family affection and family life as being of a much less selfish nature than in England; as she remarks truly, if a traveller gets into a vicious or unpleasant set in any country, it would not do to judge all the rest of the nation, by that standard-as she considered Shelley did when staying in Venice with Byron. The want of good education in Italy at that time she considers the cause of the ruling indolence, love-making with the young and money-keeping with the elder being the chief occupation. She gives a very good description of the noble families and their descent. Many of the Italian palaces preserved their pictures, and in the Palazzo Pisani Mary saw the Paul Veronese, now in the National Gallery, of "The family of Darius at the feet of Alexander." Mary's love of Venice grew, and she seems to have entertained serious ideas of taking a palace and settling there; but all the fancies of travellers are not realised. One moonlit evening she heard an old gondoliere challenge a younger one to alternate with him the stanzas of the Gerusalemme. The men stood on the Piazzetta beside the Laguna, surrounded by other gondolieri in the moonlight. They chanted "The death of Clorinda" and other favourite passages; and though, owing to Venetian dialect Mary could not follow every word, she was much impressed by the dignity and beauty of the scene. The Pigeons of St. Mark's existed then as now. Mary ended her stay in Venice by a visit to the Opera, and joined a party, by invitation, to accompany the Austrian Archduke to the Lido on his departure.

Mrs. Shelley much admired the expression in the early masters at Padua, though she does not mention Giotto. In Florence, the expense of the hotels again obliged her to go through the tiresome work of seeking apartments. They fortunately found sunny rooms, as the cold was intense. To cold followed rain, and she remarks:-"Walking is out of the question; and driving-how I at once envy and despise the happy rich who have carriages, and who use them only to drive every afternoon in the Cascine. If I could, I would visit every spot mentioned in Florentine history-visit its towns of old renown, and ramble amid scenes familiar to Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Machiavelli."

The descriptions of Ghirlandajo's pictures in Florence are very good. Mary now evidently studies art with great care and intelligence, and makes some very clever remarks appertaining to it. She is also able to call attention to the fact that Mr. Kirkup had recently made the discovery of the head of Dante Alighieri, painted by Giotto, on the wall of the Chapel of the Palace of the Podestà at Florence. The fact was mentioned by Vasari, and Kirkup was enabled to remove the whitewash and uncover this inestimable treasure. Giotto, in the act of painting this portrait, is the subject of one of the finest designs of the English school-alas! not painted in any form of fresco on an English wall.

From the art of Florence Mrs. Shelley turns to its history with her accustomed clear-headed method. Space will not admit all the interesting details, but her account of the factions and of the good work and terrible tragedies of the Carbonari is most interesting. The great equality in Florence is well noticed, accounting for the little real distress among the poor, and the simplicity of life of the nobles. She next enters into an account of modern Italian literature, which she ranks high, and hopes much from. The same struggle between romanticists and classicists existed as in other countries; and she classes Manzoni with Walter Scott, though admitting that he has not the same range of character. Mary and her party next proceeded by sea to Rome. Here, again, the glories of Italy and its art failed not to call forth eloquent remarks from Mary's pen; and her views, though at times somewhat contradictory, are always well expressed. She, at least, had a mind to appreciate the wonders of the Stanze, and to feel that genius and intellect are not out of their province in art. She only regrets that the great Italian art which can express so perfectly the religious sentiment and divine ecstasy did not attempt the grand feelings of humanity, the love which is faithful to death, the emotions such as Shakespeare describes. While this wish exists, and there are artists who can carry it out, art is not dead. After a very instructive chapter on the modern history of the Papal States, we again find Mary among the scenes dearest to her heart and her nature: her next letter is dated from Sorrento. She feels herself to be in Paradise; and who that has been in that wonderful country would not sympathise with her enthusiasm! To be carried up the heights to Ravello, and to see the glorious panorama around, she considered, surpassed all her previous most noble experiences. Ravello, with its magnificent cathedral covered with mosaics, is indeed a sight to have seen; the road to Amalfi, the ruinous paper mills in the ravine, the glorious picturesqueness, are all "well expressed and understood." Mrs. Shelley seems to have considered June (1844) the perfection of weather for Naples.

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