Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Shelley and Florence

Percy Bysshe Shelley to his wife Mary Shelley.

Bagni di Lucca, Florence.
Thursday, 2 o'clock [20 August, 1818].

Dearest Mary,
We have been delayed in this city four hours for the Austrian minister's passport, but are now on the point of setting out with a vetturino, who engages to take us on the third day to Padua, that is, we shall only sleep three nights on the road. Yesterday's journey, performed in a one-horse cabriolet, almost without springs, over a rough road, was excessively fatiguing. Claire suffered most from it, for, as to myself, there are occasions in which fatigue seems a useful medicine, as I have felt no pain in my side-- a most delightful respite--since I left you.

The country was various and exceedingly beautiful. Sometimes there were those low cultivated lands, with their vine festoons, and large bunches of grapes just becoming purple, at others we passed between high mountains, crowned with some of the most majestic Gothic ruins I ever saw, which frowned from the bare precipices, or were half seen among the olive copses. As we approached Florence, the country became cultivated to a very high degree; the plain was filled with the most beautiful villas, and as far as the eye could reach the mountains were covered with them, for the plains are bounded on all sides by blue and misty mountains. The vines are here trailed on low trellises of reeds interwoven into crosses to support them, and the grapes, now almost ripe, are exceedingly abundant. You everywhere meet those teams of beautiful white oxen, which are now labouring the little vine-divided fields with their Virgilian ploughs and carts.

Florence itself, that is the Lung' Arno, for I have seen no more, I think is the most beautiful city I have yet seen. It is surrounded with cultivated hills, and from the bridge which crosses the broad channel of the Arno the view is the most animated and elegant I ever saw. You see three or four bridges apparently supported by Corinthian pillars, and the white sails of the boats, relieved by the deep green of the forest, which comes to the water's edge, and the sloping hills covered with bright villas on every side. Domes and steeples rise on all sides, and fhe cleanliness is remarkably great. On the other side there are the foldings of the vale of Arno above, first the hills of olive and vine, then the chestnut woods, and then the blue and misty pine forests, which invest the aerial Apennines, that fade in the distance. I have seldom seen a city so lovely at first sight as Florence.

We shall travel hence within a few hours, with the speed of the post, since the distance is 190 miles, and we are to do it in three days, besides the half day, which is somewhat more than sixty miles a day. We have now got a comfortable carriage and two mules, and, thanks to Paolo, have made a very decent bargain, comprising everything, to Padua. I should say we had delightful fruit for breakfast--figs, very fine, and peaches, unfortunately gathered before they were ripe, whose smell was like what one fancies of the wakening of paradise flowers.

Well, my dearest Mary, are you very lonely? Tell me truth, my sweetest, do you ever cry ? I shall hear from you once at Venice, and once on my return here. If you love me, you will keep up your spirits, and, at all events, tell me truth about it, for, I assure jou, I am not of a disposition to be flattered by your sorrow, though I should be by your cheerfulness, and, above all, by seeing such fruits of my absence as were produced when we were at Geneva. What acquaintances have you made ? I might have travelled to Padua with a German, who had just come from Rome, and had scarce recovered from a malaria fever, caught in the Pontine Marshes a week or two since; and I conceded to Claire's entreaties, and to your absent suggestions, and omitted the opportunit, although I have no great faith in such species of contagion. It is not very hot, not at all too much so for my sensations, and the only thing that incommodes me are the gnats at night, who roar like so many humming tops in one's ear, and I do not always find zanzariere. How is William and little Clara? They must be kissed for me, and you must particularly remember to speak my name to William, and see that he does not quite forget me before I return. Adieu, my dearest girl, I think that we shall soon meet. I shall write again from Venice. Adieu, dear Mary !

I have been reading the Noble Kinsmen, in which, with the exception of that lovely scene to which you added so much grace in reading to me, I have been disappointed. The jailor's daughter is a poor imitation, and deformed. The whole story wants moral discrimination and modesty. I do not believe Shakespeare wrote a word of it.
-from Selected Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited with an introduction by Richard Garnett (London: Kegan and Paul, Trench, & Co., 1882)

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