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Four Deaths 07/08/2011

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1888: memories of Thomas Trollope

The house in the Piazza dell’ Independenza which was known in the city as ‘Villino Trollope’ [today an office of the Ferrovie dello Stato!], and of which I have spoken at the close of the last chapter, was my property and I had lived in it nearly the whole of my married life. During that time four deaths had occurred among its inmates. The first to happen was that of the old and highly valued servant of whom I had occasion to speak when upon the subject of Mr Hume’s spiritualistic experiences at my house. She had been for many years a much trusted and beloved servant in the family of Mr Garrow at Torquay, and had accompanied them abroad. Her name was Elizabeth Shinner. Her death was felt by all of us as that of a member of our family, and she lies in the Protestant cemetery atFlorenceby the side of her former master, and of the young mistress whom she had loved as a child of her own.

The next to go was Mr Garrow. His death was a very sudden and unexpected one. He was a robust and apparently perfectly healthy man. I was absent from home when he died. I had gone with a Cornishman, a Mr Trewhella, who was desirous of visiting Mr Sloane’s copper mine, in the neighbourhood of Volterra, of which I have before spoken. We had accomplished our visit, and were returning over the Apenninesabout six o’clockin the morning in a little bagherino, as the country cart-gigs are called, when we were hailed by a man in a similar carriage meeting us, whom I recognised as the foreman of a carpenter we employed. He had been sent to find me, and bring me home with all speed, in consequence of the sudden illness of Mr Garrow. As far as I could learn from him there was little probability of finding my father-in-law alive. I made the best of my way toFlorence. But he had been dead several hours when I arrived. He had waked with a paralytic attack on him, which deprived him of the power of moving on the left side, and, drawing his face awry, made speech almost impossible to him. He assured his servant – who was almost immediately with him – speaking with much difficulty, that it was nothing of any importance, and that he should soon get over it. But these were the last words he ever spoke, and in two or three hours afterwards he breathed his last.

Then, in a few years more, the crescendo wave of trouble took my mother from me at the age of eighty-three. For the last two or three years she had entirely lost her memory, and for the last few months the use of her mental faculties. And she did not suffer much. The last words she uttered were ‘Poor Cecilia!’ – her mind reverting in her latest moments to the child whose loss had been the most recent. She had for years entertained a secret horror and dread of the possibility of being buried alive, in consequence of the very short time allowed by the law for a body to remain unburied after death; and she had exacted from me a promise that I would in any case cause a vein to be opened in her arm after death. In her case there could be no possible room for the shadow of doubt as to the certainty of death; but I was bound by my promise, and found some difficulty in the performance of it. The medical man in attendance, declaring the absolute absurdity of any doubt on the subject, refused to perform an operation which, he said, was wholly uncalled for, and argued that my promise could only be understood to apply to a case of possible doubt. I had none; but was none the less determined to be faithful to my promise. But it was not till I declared that I would myself sever a vein, in however butcher-like a manner, that I induced him to accompany me to the death-chamber and perform under my eyes the necessary operation. My mother, the inseparable companion of so many wanderings in so many lands, the indefatigable laborer of so many years, found her rest near to the two who had gone from my house before, in the beautiful little cemetery on which the Apennino looks down.

But it was not long before this sorrow was followed by a very much sorer one – by the worst of all that could have happened to me. After what I have written in the last chapter it is needless to say anything of the blank despair that fell upon me when my wife died, onthe 13th of April, 1805. She also lies near the others.

My house was indeed left unto me desolate, and I thought that life and all its sweetness was over for me. I immediately took measures for disposing of the house in the Piazza dell’Independenza, and before long found a purchaser for it. I had bought it when the speculator, who had become the owner of the ground at the corner of the space which was beginning to assume the semblance of a ‘square’ or ‘piazza’ had put in the foundations, but had not proceeded much further with his work. I completed it, improving largely, as I thought, on his plan; adapted it for a single residence, instead of its division into sundry dwellings; obtained possession of additional ground between the house and the city wall, sufficient for a large garden; built around it, looking to the south, the largest and handsomest ‘stanzone’ for orange and lemon plants in Florence, and gathered together a collection of very fine trees, the profits from which (much smaller in my hands than would have been the case in those of a Florentine to the manner born) nevertheless abundantly sufficed to defray the expenses of the garden and gardeners. In a word, I made the place a very complete and comfortable residence. Nearly the whole of my first married life was spent in it. And much of the literary work of my life has been done in it. I had specially contrived a little window immediately above the desk at which I stood, fixed to the wall. The room looking on the ‘loggia’, which was the scene of the little poem transcribed in the preceding chapter, was abundantly lighted, but I liked some extra light close to my desk. In that room my Bice was born. For it was subsequently to her birth that the destination of it was changed from a bedroom to a study. Few men have passed years of more uncheckered happiness than I did in that house. And I was very fond of it. But. as may readily be imagined, it became all the more odious and intolerable to me when the ‘angel in the house’ had been taken from me.

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