But jolliest of all to take an afternoon’s siesta in a gondola (twenty cents the first hour, fifteen after). Regularly we ordered the boatman “Up the Grand Canal” and back on the cushions put up our feet on the stools, whispered good night & passed into a blissful, cozy, half dreamy state to be aroused only by the approach of the dinner hour. Oh! I am getting homesick, not for America yet, but for Venice…
Mons Quirinalis, Dec 12, 1870
It is with the greatest pleasure that I acknowledge the receipt of your letter. All the letters which I have received thus far have been greatly delayed by the war. Some I have not received which I know to have been sent & I am afraid that a few of mine have shared the same fate. Nor is this the worse treatment which I have experienced from that pseudo-republic of France. And the more it is punished the better. I feel & excuse myself because I think, perhaps, it may do them good. Over here one becomes intensely interested in European news & almost neglects American politics. But how I excel in this life of travel. It keeps one busy, gives him no time to read, scarcely to write, much less to eat—you may doubt that last statement in my case—& continually new sights, new aspects & a fellow is always revising & correcting his former opinions. But alas! As I may have written before, one tour only prepares the way for another & unless other duties intervene I shall have to make a business of traveling.
After having guided you around the Druidical remains at Auray, my duty should be to take you down to Pau, there to look off on the beautiful Pyrenees or visit the castle where Hen[ry] IV was born & describe his tortoise shell cradle, from thence to Marseilles where the “Reds” were have quite a carnival, from thence to Genoa as beautiful a place as one could desire, famous for its streets of palaces with the sea continually clashing against its walls & around its mountains capped with fortresses. And I think of all the palaces I have seen thus far those in Genoa are the most pleasing, for about the others there is either a mediaeval fortress like gloomy aspect or else a dilapidated appearance, but these have a princely, luxurious air which is increased on visiting the interiors. And best of all, for even if the front is unpretending, on looking in at the great portal one sees a delightful court sometimes containing shrubbery & flowers & around it a marble colonnade & from this court grand staircases lead to the upper floors where often are the choicest pictures. Sometimes the outside of the buildings is frescoed & all manner of designs & figures historical & symbolical are represented. There along the quay is a fine marble promenade built over the custom house & other buildings & from this one has a noble view of the harbour & the hills around. This then was the great rival of Venice. On the sea & at present [it] is becoming quite eminent as a sea port. Every where are scattered tablets & memorials of the power of the ruling family of the Dorias. And this is one of the singular things in the history of these Halian towns, that their record judging merely from the monuments remaining as buildings, statues & historical palaces is only the history of the ruling family. As in Milan, the viscounts, at Verona, the Scaligers, in Ferrara the house of Este, in Florence the Medici.
But pardon me if I hurry you across Northern Italy. This delightful Milan with its wonderful Cathedral & clean sheets, thro’ Brescia & Verona where I visited Juliet’s house three times, I think, thro old Padua with its ancient University & streets lined with arcades, its tomb of Antenor[e] & great wooden horses to the best of all—most poetic, romantic, historic & beautiful—the strangest of cities—O glorious Venice! The one of all places that I remember with greatest delight & long to revisit, associated with all that is grand & inspiring. Poets time & again have referred to thee, how can I enough extol thee? We crossed the long bridge which leads from the mainland on a most beautiful day when the surface of the water glistened like a mirror in the sun & away in the distance disappeared in the sky. Some one shouted “gondola” & all became as enthusiastic as possible at the sight. And so we entered the station as jolly & gay, rushed for the boat & almost without knowing how began to move so easily & swiftly along the Grand Canal while others flitted past us in the same smooth, light manner. Palace after palace passed us, sometimes a dark massive structure rising from Doric to Tuscan & from Tuscan to Corinthian order, or its front of coloured marbles giving a gay & festive air. Soon rise up in the distance the great arch of the Rialto, but the boatmen turned aside before we reached it into a narrow canal full of angles where one must give a warning cry to others. Then we passed between two dark buildings & above us appeared a bridge & a second fit of enthusiasm seized all at the cry of “Bridge of Sighs.” But as usual, hotels are the first care & romance must have the second place.
The glory of Venice is the Piazza & Piazetto of St. Mark, places beautiful in themselves, famous for the scenes which have there taken place & peculiar & unique & without parallel. All that has occurred here has gained a strange, enchanting character & the usual events of history lose their tiresomeness here & read like romance. Of all the churches that of St. Mark’s is the most curious & perhaps the most interesting. Just in front are three bronze supports in which are thrust poles from which in former times waved the flags of conquered states. Over the central portal stand the famous bronze horses by which alone the Venetians are aware that there is such a species. All over the front are mosaics & the portals are filled with columns of rare marble, then a hall or entry extending the whole width of the church. Above are mosaics representing scenes from Bible history, below in the center the spot where Fred Barbarossa submitted himself to the Pope. At one end the tomb of [Ludovico] Manin, the last Doge. Entering & the same strange, fantastic character prevails as one on the exterior. A continual smell of incense, gold mosaics covering the arches & roof & pillars in which are worked figures of the Apostles, Martyrs & Saints, the pavement of little squares & triangles & round pieces of coloured marbles arranged in various forms, columns of rich marble brought to Venice as spoils from the East. Directly opposite the entrance is the choir with its canopy & altar under which rest the relics of St. Mark? Behind this another altar of whose columns two in alabaster came from Solomon’s temple & almost transparent. As to these relics I can hardly reckon how many pictures I have seen that were painted by St. Luke. How many impressions in stone made by the feel of Christ or the Saints & a miracle must have happened in regard to the true cross. But Venice is hardly the place for such superstition as the Popes never found her given over to superstition & blind obedience but rather a perverse & obstinate republic.
In front of the church of St. Mark is the great Square with colonnades on three sides under which are the great stores which like all European establishments make beautiful displays in the shop windows & my evenings have generally been spent in strolling along stopping every little while to look in all the windows & no one is regarded as a greenhorn for doing it. As to the wonderful appearance of Paris shop windows, especially in the Palais Royal—alas—I refer you to Mons[ieur] Rich who fairly won the hearts of the Parisians during his stay. There are very good assortments of gift books, but jewelry holds the first rank & as I see city after city my perplexity ever increases as to what & where to choose. Then the Cafés (Hal. Caffé) where, rather curiously, one finds the very best society in Venice—gentlemen & ladies all coming to meet one another—and of all Cafe Florian’s is unrivalled (oh that lemonade). It is jolly enough to sit down at one of the little tables with a friend, order that beverage, hear the great bands play in the centre of the Sq[uare] around the immense candelabrum with numberless gas jets [and] watch the people promenading & around in one great circle or walking arm in arm around the colonnades. Such swell couples as they were, for the ladies of Venice are famous for their beauty.
From this great “Piazza” leads off between the Doge’s Palace & the huge Campanile & Library the Piazetta with its two famous columns on one of which is the Lion of St. Mark’s. This Piazetta at the end opp[osite] to the church form the quay where gondolas lie crowded together & gondoliers continually pester one. It is like a dream to stand here at the edge & not only enjoy the glorious view of the Lagune but to bring to mind (by the guide book) all that has taken place here. The sight of the Doge’s Palace is enough of itself to bring up visions & after visiting the Chambers of the “Council of Three,” “Council of Ten,” & Senate & then into the dungeons small & close & utterly black with the places for decapitation & strangling close by an opening into the canal for the bodies one feels that the romance has indeed a dark side. Here were pointed out the cells of Marin[o] Falier[o] & the Foscari & in the Court is the great staircase where it is said that Faliero was beheaded. We also passed into the Bridge of Sighs, but one could believe that conspirators found enough that was terrible in the Palace itself without needing to cross the Bridge. But what perhaps most attracted my attention was a little hole in the wall of the antechamber to the rooms of the Councils, formerly ornamented with a lion’s mouth, into which were once dropped secret accusations.
But jolliest of all to take an afternoon’s siesta in a gondola (twenty cents the first hour, fifteen after). Regularly we ordered the boatman “Up the Grand Canal” and back on the cushions put up our feet on the stools, whispered good night & passed into a blissful, cozy, half dreamy state to be aroused only by the approach of the dinner hour. Oh! I am getting homesick, not for America yet, but for Venice, where walking about & all exertion was tabooed. There I place the Isles of the Blessed. Here [in Rome] it is nothing but trudge thro narrow, dirty streets smelling horribly. How I hate these cities & I feel good only when away from them. Yet says that nuisance, the guidebook, “no visitor should neglect” &c. I am fast coming to a horribly utilitarian & degraded wish. Give me fresh air, the sun & good food & down with pictures, statues & antiquaries. Away with them—Hurrah. Soon a woolen shirt, broad brimmed hat, big shoes & shillalah. A free & easy life on the Nile where clean shirts & neckties are forbidden & jolly camel back donkey-riding trip in Syria. Then won’t I make a holocaust of civilization & kidgloves—whoop—toot—toot—toot—that’s my bugle. There are some jolly people gone East whom if I meet—“Now my boys let’s all go in.”
But Oh dear! Here is this awful task of Rome on my hands. A mass of brick to investigate, excavations to penetrate, from a few scattered labyrinthic, pell-mell ruins to get an idea of what Rome was from eight feet of stone wall to guess what, the wall of Servious was & to make this out thro mud & rain & bad odours. That Cloaca Maxima had so bad an effect on a gentleman whom I accompanied that he ran off to the corner of the next street & waited there for me (literal fact). It was pretty bad. All that could be seen was an arch of coarse stone just peeping out of the stream. It certainly should not be visited in rainy [weather], being almost submerged. Most of my time I have spent merely in walking about, find out where the places are situated & this is more than enough for two weeks & as to visiting the places thoroughly, say from one year up. Moreover, the Pope has lightened my labours by closing the Vatican at which one acts like a child who with his hands full of fruit wants more. But most fortunately, coming here a little before the crowd, I got one of the few tickets given out and had the luxury of seeing the Apollo Belvedere, the Laocoon & the Torso. That was a glorious afternoon to me & perhaps I ought never to visit them again. Such a great impression did they make upon me I can hardly describe them now as I don’t know what words to use.
I am sure, however, if I did not remember Plato & my standing on the scale as respects my understanding him, I should call the Greeks first in everything—art, literature &c. But the summum bonum of Rome is perhaps the Forum. I have tried to descend the Capitoline Hill by the winding way where the ancients walked & stand on the Rostia or sit on the cone which represents the ideal centre of Rome, but “none e permesso.” After all, I shall only appreciate Rome after getting away when forgetting its filth & discomforts. I can think of its power in the post & its grandeur. Yet one does feel the influence of the power perhaps past, when under the shadow of St. Peter’s. The thought of being at the centre not only of a mighty temporal empire, but of an awful spiritual power which has so long & so completely controlled men’s souls, is sometimes terrible. And perhaps nothwithstanding Bunyan’s parable there is mighty life remaining, one is compelled to think a little about Popery here.
But, if I can, I will describe in dull prose that Forum from the Capitol to the Colosseum. I hope to send home some photographs of Rome & I should be very much pleased if you would call & see them. Your letter has set me to dreaming of baseball. I am very fortunate so far in acquaintances, having fallen [in] with good, jolly fellows. Please direct to Munroe & Co. as before & remember me to your family. Hope to leave in a week for Naples & Sicily. I write amid the difficulties of sightseeing &c. My quarters are gay, being just opp[osite] the Palazzo Barberini.
Truly Your Friend,
Dec 14, 1870