Women Writers and Italy: Charlotte Eaton’s First Sight of Rome

Scottish- born Charlotte Waldie (1788-1859), with her sister, Jane, and brother, John, travelled to Europe – as did so many others – in 1816/17, after the final defeat of Napoleon. For at least some of the time the two sisters travelled alone, when John was otherwise occupied. They each kept detailed notes of their journeys and sojourns: Charlotte turned her experience into Rome in the Nineteenth Century, first published privately and then, in 1820, by Archibald Constable.

Here follows her report of arriving – at last – in sight of Rome. The night before their arrival was spent at Monterosi. I particularly relish descriptions of gothic-horror inns.

Jervis McEntee, Journey's Pause in the Roman Campagna

Jervis McEntee, Journey’s Pause in the Roman Campagna

‘After considerable delay we did get into a bed-room, more wretched than language can describe: open in many a cranny to the weather, unswept, unplastered, and unfurnished except by two such beds as it is impossible for you to form any idea of; but as the surly people of the house could or would shew us no other, we had no remedy. A fire, that grand consoler of discomforts, was not to be had. The wood was so wet, the wind so high, and the chimney so wide, that while we were blinded and suffocated with wreaths of pungent smoke, and while the wind whistled at its pleasure through the hundred chinks of the unglazed windows, our most persevering efforts failed to make a blaze. Though something swimming in oil, and smelling of garlic, was set before us its appearance was so disgusting, that, after a fast of more than twelve hours, not even hunger could persuade us to touch it. If we did not eat, however, we were eaten; whole hosts made us their prey during the night, while we lay shivering and defenceless.

First view of Rome from Eaton, Rome in the 19th century

First view of Rome from Eaton, Rome in the 19th century

We got up – I believe in the middle of the night..and we were dragged along at a foot-pace.. for about three hours in darkness, til we approached Baccano, when the sun rose in splendour and we found ourselves on the deserted Campagna of Rome. In answer to our eager inquiries of when we should see Rome, our phlegmatic Vetturino  only replied, ‘Adesso! adesso!!’ unable to conceive any other cause for our anxiety than the very natural impatience to get to the end of our tedious journey. Our longing eyes were intently fixed on the spot where we were told that it would first appear; when, at length, the carriage having toiled up to the top of a long hill, the Vetturino  exclaimed, ‘Eccola!’ The dome of St Peter’s appeared in view; and, springing out of the carriage, and up a bank by the road side, we beheld from its summit, Rome!’

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