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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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City and Country 21/07/2011

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c. 1905

One of the delights of the hills round Florence is their entire rusticity. The easy access from the city, the constant coming and going, the numerous foreign settlers, the eager seekers of villeggiature, have not destroyed the country life of these radiant rustic regions. For this reason it may be truly said that Florence has no suburbs. A few minutes in the tram and the traveller might be in the olive orchards of the Versilia, or taking agricultural notes from the simple courteous peasants in the heart of the fertile Casentino. The dwellers about Fiesole, at San Domenico, at Settignano, at Maiano, at Careggi, are so many country gentlemen, and are as busied about pressing oil, or making wine, or drying orris-root, as are the dwellers in the town about study, painting, banking, or the delightful Florentine pleasures of this world. These inhabitants of the alluring hills have a character so much their own, that I seem to recognise a country mouse in the Via Tornabuoni, though it has only taken him a few minutes to get there. 

English settlers abound on the hills, another proof of what I have said, that the Englishman, rather than any other foreigner, has the keenest eye for the recondite beauties, and I will now add for the solid comforts, of Italy. Life up here is entirely charming: completely rustic, as I said, but wholly free from the bumpkin element. Our town-mouse friends are frequent visitors, keep our interest fresh and keen in the city’s doings, and prevent us ever sinking into mere Boeotian country mice. It is the country, agricultural, horticultural, floricultural, but the country under ideal conditions.

One of its chief joys is the constant beauty of the outlook. Whether it be winter with the distant hills covered with snow, or summer with its green floor below and blue vault above, the scene is everlastingly beautiful. Then Florence is for ever under our eyes, the text of morning and evening meditations, daily increasing in beauty, as it seems, because of our daily increasing love and understanding of it. So great is its individuality, so far-reaching its part in universal history, so potent its possession of our better self, that we think of it as a system apart: there is that resplendent sun, Brunelleschi’s cupola, with, for moon, the lesser cupola of the Medicean Chapel; there are those seven planets in the Florentine heaven, the Torre del Leone, the Campanile, the tower of the Bargello, the cupola of Santo Spirito, the spires of the Badia, of Santa Croce, of Santa Maria Novella, with constellations too many to enumerate; and there, over towards San Donnino, is the milky way of the winding Arno.

Every glance at the city recalls the noblest memories: the Gonfalonier! and great Princes who have governed the State, the holy Archbishops who have ruled the Church, the Saints who here chose the better part, the glories of the Franciscan, the greater glories of the Dominican, the civilising mission of the Benedictine Order, the builders, the painters, the sculptors, the poets, the scholars, the soldiers, the merchants memories of all are recalled by a glance at one or other of these constellations in the Florentine firmament. Truly our morning and evening meditations never lack for a subject, and are rich in food for the mind and fraught with good for the soul.