Friday, October 10, 2008

I come back unawares

Mrs. Oliphant to Miss Blackwood.

Hotel Quisisana, Capri,
May 15, 1864.

It is not because I am careless or don't appreciate your kindness in writing to me that I have been so slow to answer your letters. There are some exercises of patience and self-denial that are possible, and some that are beyond my powers. I have managed to regain possession of myself in the presence of other people, and no longer obtrude my sorrows on the strangers I meet; but when I am by myself and begin to write I am no longer capable of keeping on the veil. When my mind is full of one subject I cannot keep from expressing it, and I know that the monotonous voice of grief grows soon tiresome even to one's dearest friends. We have been here about six weeks, and I am better than I was; if not more resigned as people say, at least more accustomed to the impossible life to which God has seen fit, He alone knows for what mysterious reason, to ordain me. The very possibility of becoming accustomed to it is one of its bitterest aggravations. One feels as if, having survived such a blow, one could survive anything and everything, and that the worthless life would still hold out although all that made it worth having was withdrawn. I sicken at it every morning when it comes back, but nevertheless I go on with how much more trembling and how much less hope, not to speak of the sharp pangs of present grief, I cannot describe to you. You will understand by this why I hated to write letters, for whatever I start from I come back unawares to the same point.

Though I am reluctant to form any plans, I don't think I will leave the Continent till after next winter. We are going to Switzerland now, and afterwards may perhaps stay in Paris; but that I make no arrangement about as yet. This island is very lovely, very quiet, and has a softening influence which I am very glad to feel. It lies just at the entrance of the bay, looking towards Vesuvius, and the white line of towns which mark the coast, Naples being the centre; on the one side the noble hills above Sorrento, and the point which rounds off into the Bay of Salerno; on the other the line of islands drawn out seaward and terminating in Ischia, which forms the other arm of the Bay of Naples. I don't suppose there is anything more lovely on earth; and we have it in all lights always varying. When we came the mountains were covered with snow; now they have dressed themselves in inexpressible colours, with the soft foreground of olives and young vines that belong to Capri itself, and a sea which is always blue, of a blueness which does not seem to be adequately described by the mere name of the colour. I doubt if you would care for Capri, however, for there is not a carriage of any description on the island, and you must either walk or ride. We go everywhere on ponies, and have got to feel at home in the place.

-from The Autobiography and Letters of Mrs. M. O. W. Oliphant / arranged and edited by Mrs. Harry Coghill (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899) pp. 165-66.

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