Archive for category Women Writers and Italy

Women Writers And Italy: The Albergo Di Parigi In Via Della Croce

Waldie: Sketches Descriptive of Italy, 1820

Waldie: Sketches Descriptive of Italy, 1820

Charlotte and Jane Waldie arrived in Rome in the winter of 1816. We have read Charlotte’s report of her first sight of Rome, but Jane, too, was busy with her notebook. Her  Sketches Descriptive of Italy in the years 1816 and 1817 were published by John  Murray in 1820, the same year as Charlotte’s Rome in the Nineteenth Century. 

Jane  corroborated her sister’s description of that magical first sight of Rome. ‘ When the dome of St Peter’s first burst on our view in the midst of the Campagna. Unable any longer to restrain ourselves, we leaped out of the carriage and ran up a bank by the road-side. Never, oh, never shall I forget the motions with which I gazed on this prospect! That Rome itself should be before me seemed incredible, that my mind could scarcely take in the fact.’

We can then take up their story again with Charlotte who describes how, having arrived in the Piazza del Popolo, ”Rome was overflowing. We drove about for more than two hours, and found every hotel full of Inglesi. The lucky departure of one family of them, however, at length enabled us to take possession of their newly-vacated apartments, which are indeed most comfortable. You cannot conceive, without having travelled Vetturino  from Florence to Rome, and lodged in the holes we have done, how delightful is the sensation of being in a habitable hotel, how acceptable the idea of a good dinner, and how transporting the prospect of sleeping in a clean bed.

Charlotte was, however, immediately ill with a pleuritic fever  ‘Cicero himself was dangerously ill of it; so that, if I had died, I should have died a very classical death, which would undoubtedly have been a great consolation.’

‘By way of an agreeable adventure, about midnight, on the second night of my illness, loud cries through the hotel and in the street spread the alarm of fire. The master of the house (a Frenchman) burst into my room in his shirt, followed by a whole train of distracted damsels wringing their hands, while he continued to vociferate ‘Au feu! Grand Dieu!’ in a key which drowned even the shrill lamentations of the women. Volleys of smoke rolled down our chimney, where the fire had originated, and, rapidly spreading to the rafters of the room above, gained ground so fast, that in spite of the promptitude with which all the firemen of the city and their engines set to work, two hours elapsed before it was extinguished. In the interim, the inmates of the hotel fled in consternation from their apartments, all but ourselves; for, conceiving that there was much more danger, in my situation, of getting my death by cold than by fire, and expecting the flames to be got under every moment, I laid quietly in bed and S-, who would not leave me, sate beside me until we were both nearly stifled; thus acting as if it was no concern of ours the house being on fire, since we were only lodgers.’

Piazza di Spagna as Anna Miller would have known it

Piazza di Spagna. The hotel di Parigi and the via della Croce are off to the left of this scene

It is from Jane that we learn that this hotel, its management conducted by, as Charlotte relates, a Frenchman, was in fact the Albergo di Parigi in the Via della Croce, just off the Piazza di Spagna. This hotel – sometimes variously termed the Hotel de Paris or Villa di Parigi – was to  provide shelter to many English women writers over the next 20 years. It is slightly surreal to see their shades slipping into bed, one after the other, under this one Roman roof. Amusingly all commented on the indifference of its facilities; as soon as Charlotte had recovered the Waldies moved to lodgings in the Corso.

It was at the Villa di Parigi in March 1819, two years or so after Charlotte and Jane’s sojourn,  that Mary Shelley, with husband, step-sister – Claire Clairmont – and her sole surviving child, William – stayed very briefly before also making the move to lodgings in the Corso. As summer approached they then moved again to take advantage to what they hoped was less feverish air at the top of the Spanish Steps. They may as well not have bothered, as far as the fate of poor little William was concerned.

A few years later Anna Jameson – then still Anna Murphy – related in Diary of an Ennuyee that her party was ‘rather indifferently lodged at the Albergo di Parigi’.  ‘So here we are in Rome where we have been for the last five hours, and have not seen an inch of the city beyond the dirty pavement of the Via Santa Croce; where an excellent dinner cooked a la Anglaise, a blazing fire, a drawing-room snugly carpeted and curtained, and the rain beating against our windows, would almost persuade us that we are in London; and every now and then, it is with a kind of surprise that I remind myself that I am really in Rome .’  But to be fair to the Parigi it was December and the scene as she describes it appears rather cosy. At least the fire blazed without setting the chimney alight.

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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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Women Writers and Italy: Two Englishwomen in Rome, Garibaldi And Rheumatism

Anne ( 1841-1928) and Matilda Lucas (1849-1943) were the daughters of  Samuel Lucas, a brewer with land and influence in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Lucas family were Quakers. Their mother had died when they were young and after their father’s death in 1870 the sisters continued to live for a short time with their step-mother. But then, in mid-1871, they left England for Rome, where,  for the next 29 years, they were to spend much of the year. Ten years after her sister’s death, Matilda Lucas published excerpts from the letters sent over the years by the sisters to friends and relations back in England. Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871-1900 (Methuen, 1938)  makes very entertaining reading.

Garibaldi and family c 1875

Garibaldi and family c 1875

Rome. Hotel Milano. February 27, 1875.

We have not seen Garibaldi yet. He is quite a cripple and goes about on crutches. He seems quite taken up with his scheme of draining the Campagna and turning the Tiber. I think it very well that he should be harmlessly busy; it keeps him quiet. I have not heard of his baptizing any one here. It seems to be one of his ideas to think he can do those sort of things instead of a priest.

Rome. March 14, 1875.

This morning I paid a call of sympathy on Miss Pagan. She spent yesterday in bed with rheumatism and was rather feverish. Tomorrow she is going with some others to call on Garibaldi. The poor General’s hands are quite drawn with rheumatism and he often cannot sleep at night; so I tell her she had better take some of her pills with her. I am thinking of calling on him with a small bottle of colchicum and a little laudanum for outward application.

Rome. March 21, 1875.

As it was Garibaldi’s Saint’s day, Villa Casalini was crowded with people. Just as the Irvings came by the General threw up a window and appeared in his red shirt, waving his rheumatic hand.

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Women Writers and Italy: Two Englishwomen in Rome: The Tiber Flooded, 1875

Anne and Matilda LucasAnne ( 1841-1928) and Matilda Lucas (1849-1943) were the daughters of  Samuel Lucas, a brewer with land and influence in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Lucas family were Quakers. Their mother had died when they were young and after their father’s death in 1870 the sisters continued to live for a short time with their step-mother. But then, in mid-1871, they left England for Rome, where,  for the next 29 years, they were to spend much of the year. Ten years after her sister’s death, Matilda Lucas published excerpts from the letters sent over the years by the sisters to friends and relations back in England. Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871-1900 (Methuen, 1938)  makes very entertaining reading.

Rome. November 23, 1878.

There is no reason now to complain that events do not happen, for with thunderstorms, floods, popular demonstrations, and Orsini bombs, we are living in a perpetual whirl of excitement; so that a woman going mad last Sunday on the Spanish Steps, and a man killed yesterday in sight of our windows, seem quite in the natural order of things.

First the thunder-storm last Wednesday week. It was terrific and raged all night. The rain came down like a water-spout, as it only can rain in Rome. It came through our roof, and basins and pans were put all about to catch it; the staircase was a cascade. Our ruffian Augusto was had in to help and was quite in his element.

In spite of the rain, as soon as lunch was over we put on our ulsters and rushed out to see the river. It was coming down tremendously. The people were crowding the bridges. The water had got into some of the streets, but the flood had not reached its height. On friday the floods were much higher and on Saturday still higer. The Bowen’s palazzo was invaded by the water. Shops were shut on the Corso, and people saved their goods. All night the latest telegrams from Orte were being shouted in the streets. The Tiber works were so much money thrown away. The people were hard at work down by the Farnesina strengthening part of the works, but the water burst in on them and they had to run for their lives. One if not more bodies were carried into Rome from the Campagna. I suppose peasants who had been surprised by the water. It was not so bad as in 1870, when bodies of men and animals came down the Corso, and people could not get out of their houses to buy provisions.

Roesler: Tiber Flooded, c 1880

Roesler: Tiber Flooded, c 1880

We called together our walking academy on Saturday and made the round of the different bridges, the Ghetto, and the ruins. Carts were acting as ferry-boats and taking people through the flood for a soldo a crossing. The Pantheon looked very grand reflected in the water. Victor Emmanuel’s grave was under water, but Pio Nono was quite safe over his doorway. We had no difficulty in getting about, having to make only a few detours to avoid the inundations. The Temple of Vesta and the Arch of Janus had water round them, and there was a good deal in the Forum.

See here for more about the flooding Tiber

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Women Writers and Italy: Two Englishwomen in Rome

Anne ( 1841-1928) and Matilda Lucas (1849-1943) were the daughters of  Samuel Lucas, a brewer with land and influence in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Lucas family were Quakers. Their mother had died when they were young and after their father’s death in 1870 the sisters continued to live for a short time with their step-mother. But then, in mid-1871, they left England for Rome, where,  for the next 29 years, they were to spend much of the year. Ten years after her sister’s death, Matilda Lucas published excerpts from the letters sent over the years by the sisters to friends and relations back in England. Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871-1900 (Methuen, 1938)  makes very entertaining reading.

Artistic talent clearly ran in the family. Here is a study of Matilda Lucas by her niece, Rose Lucas. Samuel Lucas had been a renowned amateur artist and his daughters, too, had evidently inherited a measure of his talent. They spent much of their time in Rome engaged with their sketchbooks and easels, working both in the studio and plein air.

”Rome. February 14, 1875. On Saturday morning I went off my myself round by the Capitol, Forum, and Arch of Janus and out to the place where the Campagna oxen stand not far from the Temple of Vesta. I had taken my sketch-book, and, as I was walking down the road looking out for some cattle to draw, a splendid pair drew up with a very picturesque cart loaded with fodder and logs. So I set to work on that and stood there, surrounded by some villainous-looking roughs and a beggar. I gave out that I had no money and had left my watch at home, so I did not think they could do me much harm. They were much interested in my performance, and I talked to them. But when I shut up my book to go, the owner of the cattle demanded brandy and began to get excited, at which the others said, ‘Quella non ha denaro’. He seemed much disgusted,  but I got away all right, and walked on to the Temple of Vesta and Santa Maria in Cosmedin.’

‘Rome. 1879. Augusto sat very well. The first day he arrived long before time, so that Anne and I might have a private view and see whether he had shaved properly and arranged his curls. When we arranged the red doublet and short mantle on him it was most amusing to see the satisfaction with which he looked at himself in the glass.’

Corrodi: Tasso’s Oak and view of Rome from the Janiculum (mid-19th century)

‘Rome. May 20, 1878. By Tasso’s Oak are the remains of an amphitheatre with cypresses at the top and a small grass plot at the bottom. The singers were on the steps above us. By day the view of the distant city is grand; by night we could see where the city was by the lights, and could make out the line of Monte Cavo. Carlandi [the art master] was very indignant with the moon for being so late, but I told him I thought the stars and fireflies did very well. It was most beautiful to see the moon rise behind the Alban hills; it came up quite golden and made the mists look red. The singers were Carlandi’s sisters, the Professor, and Monsieur Thouron. They have good voices and sang with good taste; the mandolines were very sweet in the open air.

It was charming. Carlandi could not have given us a more artistic entertainment. The frogs, which Anne said had been awoken out of their beauty sleep, encored loudly from the Corsini gardens. The last son was Mendelssohn’s Adieu, which we generally call ‘Mourn Not’after which we made the best of our way home, delighted with our entertainment and the Carlandis.’

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La Bella Libertà: Anna Miller crosses Mont Cenis

In 1770 Anna Miller and her husband crossed into Italy via Mont Cenis., the route used for centuries by tourists – and armies – to travel from France into Italy  It being another 30 years or so before Napoleon carved out a road through the pass and so allowed for coach travel, the Millers and their contemporaries enjoyed a very much more energetic adventure.

[The drawing is a reimagining, by Sandy Nightingale, of a crossing of Mont Cenis ]

The Millers spent the night before the ascent at Lanebourg where, Anna reported, ‘There are about an hundred porters, whose names are upon a list; the Syndics take care that they carry travellers in their turn, and are referred to, in case of any dispute that may arise amongst them. ‘While we were eating a very bad supper, composed of liver and brains, (to what animal they belonged, I do not pretend to decide) the Syndic of the Porters came in, to judge how many of the latter we should have occasion for. Four were assigned for me, and six for M  —‘

Having passed a sleepless night, partly owing to a mountain torrent that descends close to the window, we set out at five o’clock the next morning in our chairs, the ascent not being ten paces from the door. These chairs are constructed in the most simple and portable manner. There are two small bars of wood for arms, and another bar behind which rises but little higher than the arms, and which serves as a support to the back of the person in the chair; the seat is matted with bark of trees and ropes twisted together, which yields to the weight of those thus carried. You are so near the ground, that there is not the least difficulty in stepping out of the chair at pleasure; there are no legs to these chairs, but in their room a board is tied on by ropes to the seat, which the feet being placed upon, and the cords as much shortened as can conveniently be, the legs and feet are well supported, being sufficiently raised to clear them entirely of any shock from uneven or rocky ground. The chairs are fixt on poles.. The chairmen are aided by straps over their shoulders, in the same manner as they carry in England.

I liked this manner of travelling very much. You are conveyed along surprisingly fast on the plain; the porters run rather than walk’

‘Our chaise being taken to pieces, it was carried on the mules’ backs. These animals make a droll appearance, with a wheel on each side, and the body of a chaise on their back.

Just before we gain the plain, the ascent augments in rapidity. The air was very keen on the plain; and I was obliged to wrap myself up in a pelice, lined through with fur, although the day was remarkably fine for that country.

The descent is extremely rapid for about 300 yards. I don’t know any thing this road resembles more than a broken stone staircase, which occasions the porteurs to turn so suddenly by its windings, that the person in the chair passes clear over the sharp angles, cutting them, as it were, across. Notwithstanding the novelty of this manner of travelling, the steepness of the road, and the velocity with which I descended, my porteurs running almost the whole way, I never once felt myself sufficiently frightened to lay hold of the arms of the chair, my attention was so much engaged with the singularity and variety of the prospect below. At some moments during the the descent, I could not help fancying myself a witch upon a broomstick.

18th-century Turin, comfortable civilisation after the rigours of Cenis

Having crossed over into Italy  ‘on the finest day imaginable’ Anna Miller assures the recipient of her letter that ‘we are safely arrived without having met with the least accident, and are well lodged in the house of Countess d’Or-b-ns at Turin.’

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La Bella Libertà: Anna Miller

‘I love the sun and the hotter he shines, the more health and spirits are dealt me. However, this luminary is no friend to the complexion, and I have contrived to make a hat of pasteboard, and trimmed it with blond and pink ribbon. I believe I shall find it extremely convenient in the mornings when we are walking among the Ruins, for constantly going out in the Roman Fashion, with nothing to shade my face, has tanned me to such a degree, that I know not whether all the strawberry-water in Rome will be able to whiten me again.’ How different from the preoccupations of those – men – undertaking the Grand Tour was this observation, made by the first Englishwoman to publish an account of her travels in Italy, – in Letters from Italy Describing the Customs, Antiquities, Paintings etc of that Country, in the years MDCCLXX and MDCCLXXI to a Friend Residing in France (E & C Dilly, 1776). How such comments irritated the literati of her day; how they appeal to me.

 The woman who had the temerity so publicly to set herself – and her complexion – amidst the glories of Italy was Anna Miller, wife of a somewhat impoverished Irishman.  Her portrait, above, was painted by another Italophile Englishwoman, Ellis Cornelia Knight. Having exhausted her small fortune in building a villa near Bath, the Millers had, for reasons of economy, retired to the Continent. Leaving their infant children in France in the care of her mother, to whom the original letters were written, they then repaired to Italy. The Letters were published five years after their return to England. In the interim Mrs Miller’s reign over her literary salon at Batheaston had resulted in several volume of Poetical Amusements, published by the Dilly brothers.

It is likely that Anna Miller, as well as prizing her inclusion in the Dilly list alongside such bluestockings as Elizabeth Montagu and Catherine Macaulay, saw the publication of her Letters  as an opportunity to aid the family finances. The book clearly enjoyed some success, being bought in numbers sufficient for Dilly to issue a slightly revised two-volume edition in 1777. Mrs Miller was soon identified as the author and her work received some attention, not least from that waspish derider, Horace Walpole, to whom, of the book, Mrs Delaney commented, ‘very conceited, they say, and not worth buying.’ It was doubtless considered ‘conceited’ for a woman such as Mrs Miller to propound her views on taste, interposing herself between the reader and the art canon. In addition one can imagine Walpole’s reaction to the description of the pasteboard hat or to Anna Miller’s comment of the passage into Italy over Mon Cenis: ‘At some moments during the descent, I could not help fancying myself a witch upon a broomstick.’

Today, looking at Italy through Mrs Miller’s keen and sympathetic eyes, we bridge the centuries, experiencing everyday details of the traveller’s life and relishing the people and sights she encountered. She is a diligent reporter, telling us that ‘for fear of error, I take my notes upon the spot, which I assure you is often very troublesome, as I am frequently obliged to write in my pocket-books standing, and at times placing it on the pedestal of a statue, or the moulding of a surbase’. She displays all the inquisitiveness of a tabloid hack. In the Queen’s apartments in the Royal Palace in Turin, noticing shelves of books, ‘My curiosity urged me to open two or three, amongst which I found the Female Spectator  translated from English; a book enitled A Monitor for Sovereigns, doubled down and marked in several places.’ She brings immediacy to every experience, detailing the food, furnishings and service at inns the length of Italy. Dining at ‘a village called Maschieri in the dirtiest of all possible inns [we] supped upon, what think you? A pork soup with the Bouilliée in it, namely a hog’s head, with the eye-lashes, eyes, and nose on ; the very food the wretched animal and last eat of before he made his exit remained sticking about its teeth.’

A theatrical costumier could treat as patterns Anna Miller’s descriptions of dress. At a wedding in Venice, ‘The ladies walked two and two; they were all dressed in thin black silk gowns (excepting the bride), with large hoops; the gowns were strait-bodies, with very long trains…tucked up on one side of the hoop, with a prodigious large tassel of diamonds. Their sleeves were covered up to the shoulders with falls of the finest Brussels lace, a drawn tucker of the same round the bosom, adorned with rows of the finest pearl, such as large as a moderate gooseberry, till the rows descended below the top of the stomacher; then two ropes of pearl, which came from the back of the neck, were caught up at the left side of the stomacher, and finished in two fine tassels.’

Piazza di Spagna as Anna Miller would have known it

Of Rome Mrs Miller wrote: ‘’The part of the town we are in is by much the best for strangers, and the accommodation any where else extremely bad; for you know one cannot occupy the palaces nor the churches, which latter abound’. They were staying ‘at Pio’s Hotel, strada della Croce, Piazza di Spagna. Our table is served rather in the English style, at least there abounds three or four homely English dishes (thanks to some kind English predecesssors who have taught them), such as bacon and cabbage, boiled mutton..’ To Mrs Miller’s pleasure, they mingled with Roman nobility. On one occasion when the Pope was due to appear her hostess asked her not to speak to him as the Pope did not wish any stranger, particularly an English stranger to speak to him. ’I assured her my principles were diametrically opposite to those of the Stuart family and their party.. but concluded with saying, that if he spoke to me, I could not, as a gentlewoman, refrain from answering him.. and should treat him as I would do any other foreigner or native, with that general civility requisite on such occasions.’ And that put the Pope in his place. For Mrs Miller took a light-hearted approach to religion – writing at the end of Holy Week, on 4 April 1771: ’ At length the functions are finished; and now I may avail myself of the indulgence of sinning for three hundred years to come, having been in St Peter’s church every day during the Santa Settimana.’ 

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