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A Leisured Life 17/09/2011

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c. 1910 recalling the 1860s

Thanks to the Maquays, with whom I ‘banked’, in my small way, I was at once cheaply provided with a couple of rooms, at number 14 Lung’ Arno Accaiuoli, on the right bank of the river, well in view of the picturesque Ponte Vecchio, and whence I could also look up at San Miniato and Michelangelo’s Bella Villanella. Breakfasting in my little sitting-room, facing the morning sun, I lunched anywhere or nowhere, and dined at the Casino (or Club) dei Nobili in the Via Tornabuoni, to which I was admitted as a member. Some twelve or fourteen of us used to dine there every day, at a table d’hôte provided at five lire a head. One of the fourteen was Mr. Henry Labouchere, who, with myself, was the only other Englishman. The regular diners were Florentines. I soon discovered there was a good deal of gambling in the club; but in this I never shared, my taste for card-playing being slight, and my dislike of playing for money insurmountable.

To the professed idler – perhaps the French word flaneur is more expressive of the thing, since commoner inFrance than it was among Englishmen, in those days at least – such conditions as I have here described were singularly favourable. But life has always seemed to me far too serious for mere pleasurable diversion. For balls I cared but little, andFlorence was a very dancing place. But I went to a certain number of these entertainments, mainly because of those I met there, and whose youth and comeliness always delight the eye and feed the imagination.

I hired a riding-horse, but gave it up at the end of a month, finding the Cascine monotonous, and the suburbs ofFlorencesingularly unfavourable to horse exercise. The galleries and churches of the Fair City are in winter chilly and damp; but youth is heedless of discomfort it scarcely feels, and I spent much time within them.Vieusseux’s Library had, and still has, a European reputation, and in it I found an ample supply of books and English papers.

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Sixth Centenary of Dante 18/08/2011

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c. 1910 remembering the 1860s

After all but six months spent in Florence, it was time for me to turn my thoughts homeward. But it was impossible to bid it farewell before witnessing the celebration of the Sixth Centenary of the Birth of Dante that was to be held on the 16th of May. By six o’clock on the morning of that day, Trollope and I were in our places in the Piazza Santa Croce, where a statue of the Poet by Fedi was to be unveiled, and eight thousand Italian municipalities were to be represented in the Square by deputations carrying the gonfalons of their respective cities and communes. As the sculptor, whom I had met more than once, has for many years been dead, I may say that the Statue disappointed our expectations, as it has that of many a one since. But the ceremony was most impressive.

After sundown, in the company of Charles Lever’s daughters and two American young ladies, I traversed all the principal thoroughfares, nowhere being crushed or jostled, though the streets were crowded, for gentle Tuscan manners, now, I fear, deteriorated there as elsewhere, made movement easy and agreeable. Not the palaces and bridges of the city alone, but the outlying Villas on the hill-slopes for miles around, were illuminated with oil-fed lamps. The Piazza of the Uffizi was covered in and its pavement boarded over for a Peasants’ Ball; and at the Pagliano Theatre were represented the most picturesque scenes from the Divina Commedia, Ristori, Salvini, and Rossi reciting the corresponding passages in the poem.

Then many friendly and some tender farewells had to be taken; and on the following morning I started for Paris, having as travelling companions, and very agreeable ones, Ristori, her husband, and their two young children. As the domes and towers of the Fair City faded from view, I recited to myself the lines I often had cause, again and again, to repeat: Benedetta sia la Madre, Che ti fece cosi bella. Che tu sei tanto graziosa, Che tu sei tanto vezzosa; Benedetta sia Tu!