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Changing Villas and Tom Trollope 10/07/2011

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c. 1910 remembering the 1860s

Shortly before making this expedition to the three Convents, I had shifted my quarters from the Lung Arno, in Florence, to an all but unfurnished little villa outside the Porta Romana, commanding a view of the City, Fiesole, and all the hills on the other side of the valley. It belonged to a furrier who had a shop in Florence, but had been suggested to me by Miss Isa Blagden, who was herself in a villa not far from it. A more comfortable one had been rejected by her because, as she playfully said, the contadini occupying it had three handsome daughters, and my reputation must be carefully guarded. I was well content with the smaller one, rudimentarily convenient though it was, as all I wanted was to sleep and breakfast in it, and loiter away the morning among the sprouting vines, burgeoning fig-trees, purple anemones, blood-red tulips, and white jonquils. Between one and two I went down to the city, and there remained till nine or ten of an evening, using the Club and Vieusseux’s as what the Florentines call my recapito or place where you leave and call for your parcels.

Spring is capricious in every European country; and I walked home in May three nights running in a slight snow-storm that had by morning left no trace. Then real, sunny, debonair Spring spread itself over Tuscany, and life was worth living indeed. But a shadow was cast over one’s enjoyment by the death, not unexpected, of Theodosia Trollope, the charming wife of my friend; and, as he and I walked away together from her grave in the English cemetery, where also lies Elizabeth Barrett Browning, he said he felt very lonely, and would I not come and stay with him in his Villa in the Piazza dell’ Independenza? Thither I betook myself with my sparse baggage that afternoon; and the change was from Spartan austerity to a happy combination of English comfort, Italian art, and a garden blooming with roses. I did all I could to distract him, and to concentrate his attention on the final chapters of his History of the Commonwealth of Florence.

He was still, in the matter of style, somewhat under the scarcely beneficial influence of Carlyle, whose simpler manner in the Life of Stirling I have always admired more than in his later and more popular ejaculatory writings. In opinion and tone of thought, Trollope was a traditional Liberal of the more sanguine kind; generous, but hardly practical, it has always seemed to me, because allowing too little for certain permanent forces alike in individual and collective human nature. I mention this, because, many years later, his brother Anthony said to me one day, when staying at Swinford, ‘You know how attached I am to you. But there is one thing for which I cannot forgive you. You have made my brother Tom a Conservative’. Nothing could have been less true. Life had done for his brother what he attributed to me. But the end of this little story has yet to be told. Not many years later, Anthony himself became a ‘Unionist’, and denouncedGladstoneand all his works in the energetic language that was habitual in his fervid conversation.

A drive in the country 09/02/2011

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c. 1910

We did not at once desert the precincts of Santa Maria Novella, as we joined a party of friends at the delightful Hotel Minerva, and had our colazione at a table whence we got an enchanting glimpse of Giotto’s tower, and could watch the coming and going in the Piazza below us. With the help of these same kind friends we had concocted a very pleasant plan for the afternoon and evening, as they had ordered their car to take us to the Certosa di Val d’Ema and on to the Impruneta, whence we were to return to their delightful villino not far from Poggio Imperiale.

Motor cars in old Italian towns are atrociously out of place, that is obvious to any one with an aesthetic conscience; but they are also extremely useful, and a great luxury to tired folk who ramble much on foot amid the stony streets of those same cities. We started on our expedition, only regretting the thoughtless speed of the car, which whirled us through so much we ought to have looked at and identified, even on the short way to Porta Romana.

As I remarked this, L. rejoined that for his part he did not think it mattered, as our heads were reeling with all we had seen, tried to see, or had left unseen during our morning at Santa Maria Novella. We had clearly earned the right to look at nothing, and to waste our time, if we chose. The car rushed disrespectfully round by the Porta Romana and stopped first by the Cantagalli pottery works, which we had determined to visit while we had the chance. The Conscientious Objector said we had seen most of the pottery already in England, and that any we bought would assuredly arrive home in fragments, all of which was uncomfortably true. Still, certain packages did accompany us on our journey, as we fled into a charming country road, among the budding vineyards and the springing corn, and came before long to the village of Galluzzo, and thence to the bridge over the brook Ema, where Cacciaguida would fain have had Buondelmorite die ere Florence was cleft in twain by internecine strife.

The Porta Romana and Hogarth! 18/12/2010

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c. 1910

The Roman gate out of Florence has a considerable interest in my eyes, owing to the fact that, in spite of trams and motors, its neighbourhood still retains some mediaeval characteristics. Now, as in past times, crowd in the wagons of the farmers and form themselves into a market or fair outside the walls. Here, too, also can be seen the lineal descendants and exact reproductions of the mediaeval jugglers, buffoons, and improvisers, and here, too, is the confused crowd of aimless loafers mingled with exasperated persons in a hurry, which Hogarth has so well handed down to us in his pictures. Indeed, many of the scenes in Florence (I took a house there once, partly because it was in a Hogarthian street) vividly recall the work of this master.