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Tolerating Florence c. 1830 09/04/2011

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A letter written from the Hotel des Quatre Nations c. 1830

Neither of us are in love with Italy, and therefore I devoutly hope that we may be back in dear England by the end of December. The travelling here may be divided into three classes plague, pestilence and famine. Plague the mosquitoes. Pestilence the smells, and Famine the dinners. Nevertheless Pups, who is never satisfied with anything at home, seems to thrive upon the abominations here, as he grows quite fat, or as Byrne says: ‘Mr. Bulwer out of contradiction seems to enjoy the bad beds and bad dinners,’ while I am getting quite thin upon lemonade and lamentations. Poets ought to be strangled for all the lies they have told of this country. ‘Mother of Paintings and Sweet Sounds’ it certainly is, but not sweet smells… The entrance into Florence is certainly beautiful, being completely crowned with vineyards, plantations of silver olives and orange, lemon and pomegranate trees; and with the Grand Duke’s Gallery, no one can be disappointed; but excepting these, Cheltenham or any other little watering place in England is twenty times a prettier town. Oh, and the flowers I forgot those. They are splendid. How I wish I could send you some of the beautiful violets, myrtle, carnations and magnolias that are now before me. Our windows look upon the Arno. How fine that sounds, and yet it is a dirty little, narrow, ugly, muddy river, covered with little ugly Feluccas in which are coarse, ugly men in more than a state of deminudity, shovelling up the mud all day long. In short, even the Westminster Bridge part of the Thames is a hundred times handsomer.

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The ‘Village’ of Fiesole 01/04/2011

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c. 1825

Fiesole (a name with which a single line in a great poet has made me so well acquainted) is one of the five old cities of Etruria, and of immense antiquity. It still ranks as a city, and has a cathedral church and a bishop, though reduced to the size of an English village. It is a small hill two miles to the north-east of Florence, and presents an agreeable picture of trees and country-houses intermixed. The remains of the city are out of sight on the top, and contain some antiquities; but the whole place is not bigger than a very small English town, which it somewhat resembles by a quiet green in the middle. The small old cathedral on one side of this green and a college or castle, with a few priests and students flirting [sic] about, add to the look of solitude and antiquity. Fiesole was the headquarters of Etrurian superstition, and the great school of augurs for Rome. (171)

Intimations of Evander Near Fiesole 23/03/2011

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c. 1825

One of the pleasantest occupations of a traveller in Italy, is to feel himself in the country of Virgil and Horace, and to recognize the objects in which they delighted. In going through the green lanes and vineyards you go through the Georgics. You lounge with Horace under his vine, and see him helping his labourers. Here comes a passage in the shape of a yoke of oxen; there runs a verse tip the wall, a lizard; the cicada ring lyrics at you from the trees. The other evening, walking towards Fiesole over the hills, I heard a shepherd-boy piping a wild air, as old perhaps as Evander.

Aristocrats Selling Wine 19/03/2011

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c. 1825

It is held no disgrace however in Tuscany for gentlemen to make a merchandize of their wines. Travellers always mention their surprize. at seeing flasks hung up for signs at some of the greatest palaces. The signs are not always a proof that a gentleman has any thing to do with them; for many of these palaces are let out in lodgings to very humble persons. But the flask is undoubtedly to be found at little side-windows in very great houses; and the steward of the house looks after the business. It is a remnant of the old mercantile spirit which rendered Florence what it is, and sent forth thousands of coronets and princely families from behind the counter.

A Tipple at Lunch 17/03/2011

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c. 1825

The vines of the south [i.e. Italy] seem as if they were meant to supply the waste of animal spirits occasioned by the vivacity of the natives. Tuscany is one huge vineyard and olive ground. What would be fields and common hedges in England, are here a mass of orchards producing wine and oily so that the sight becomes tiresome in its very beauty. You want meadows, and a more pastoral rusticity. About noon, all the labourers, peasantry, and small shopkeepers in Tuscany, may be imagined taking their flask of wine. You see them all about Florence, fetching it under their arms. The effect is perceptible ‘after dinner’; though no disorder ensues; the wine being only just strong enough to move the brain pleasantly without intoxication; a man can get drunk with it, if he pleases; but drunkenness is thought as great a vice here, as gallantry is with us. It is a pity that these wines are not brought into England, for they certainly could be. Some of them can be made as strong as port, for those who want a ‘hot intoxicating liquor’; and the rest might serve to give this universal fillip to northern topers, which the Abbe du Bos says is already perceptible in a partial degree since the introduction of burgundy and champagne.

Coleridge, ‘Florence’ 08/03/2011

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge: from The Garden of Boccaccio (1828)

The brightness of the world, thou once free,

And always fair, rare land of courtesy!

O Florence! with thy Tuscan fields and hills,

And famous Arno, fed with all the rills,

Thou brightest star of star-bright Italy!

Each, ornate, populous, all treasures thine.

The golden corn, the olive, and the vine.

Fair cities, gallant mansions, castles old.

And forests, where beside his leafy hold

The sullen boar hath heard the distant horn,

And whets his tusks against the gnarled thorn;

Palladian palace with its storied halls;

Fountains, where Love lies listening to their falls;

Gardens, where flings the bridge its airy span.

And Nature makes her happy home with man;

Where many a gorgeous flower is duly fed

With its own rill, on its own spangled bed,

And wreathes the marble urn, or leans its head,

A mimic mourner, that with veil withdrawn

Weeps liquid gems, the presents of the dawn;

Thine all delights, and every muse is thine;

And more than all, the embrace and intertwine

Of all with all in gay and twinkling dance!

Wordsworth, At Vallombrosa 01/02/2011

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From Memorials of a Tour in Italy, 1837

‘Vallombrosa –I longed in thy shadiest wood

To slumber, reclined on the moss-covered floor!’

Fond wish that was granted at last, and the Flood,

That lulled me asleep bids me listen once more.

Its murmur how soft! as it falls down the steep,

Near that Cell – yon sequestered Retreat high in air –

Where our Milton was wont lonely vigils to keep

For converse with God, sought through study and prayer.

The Monks still repeat the tradition with pride,

And its truth who shall doubt? for his Spirit is here;     

In the cloud-piercing rocks doth her grandeur abide,

In the pines pointing heavenward her beauty austere;

In the flower-besprent meadows his genius we trace

Turned to humbler delights, in which youth might confide,

That would yield him fit help while prefiguring that Place

Where, if Sin had not entered, Love never had died.

When with life lengthened out came a desolate time,

And darkness and danger had compassed him round,

With a thought he would flee to these haunts of his prime

And here once again a kind shelter be found.               

And let me believe that when nightly the Muse

Did waft him to Sion, the glorified hill,

Here also, on some favoured height, he would choose

To wander, and drink inspiration at will.

Vallombrosa! of thee I first heard in the page

Of that holiest of Bards, and the name for my mind

Had a musical charm, which the winter of age

And the changes it brings had no power to unbind.

And now, ye Miltonian shades! under you

I repose, nor am forced from sweet fancy to part,          

While your leaves I behold and the brooks they will strew,

And the realised vision is clasped to my heart.

Even so, and unblamed, we rejoice as we may

In Forms that must perish, frail objects of sense;

Unblamed–if the Soul be intent on the day

When the Being of Beings shall summon her hence.

For he and he only with wisdom is blest

Who, gathering true pleasures wherever they grow,

Looks up in all places, for joy or for rest,

To the Fountain whence Time and Eternity flow.