Posts Tagged charlotte eaton

Women Writers and Italy: Charlotte Eaton: St Peter’s Through Protestant Eyes

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.

Charlotte’s view of  St Peter’s, recorded in these extracts, was reflected through a prism of Protestantism.

Colonnade of St PEter's from 'Rome in the Nineteenth Century'

Colonnade of St PEter’s from ‘Rome in the Nineteenth Century’

It is impossible to express my disappointment I felt on seeing what seemed to me to be – not a church, but a large house or palace, three stories high, with little attic windows at the top. The dome is placed so far back, in consequence of the length of the Latin cross, that in the front view its grandeur is lost. Its design is irredeemably faulty, in giving to the front of the greatest temple in the world the frittering littleness of the exterior of a dwelling-house, and the effect, in producing apparent mediocrity of size, is as striking to the eye, that I could scarcely recognise in it any character of a church, much less of St Peter’s, that boast of modern architecture, and latest wonder of the world.

The crowded courts and irregular angles of that huge, unwieldy pile of building, the Vatican Palace, which adhere to it on one side like a monstrous excresence, are a great deformity. They overlook the top of the colonnade, depress the elevation, destroy its uniformity, and injure its general effect.

Having ventured inside, Charlotte found ‘The interior, on the whole, as far surpassed my highly-raised expectations, as the exterior fell short of them. Yet notwithstanding its beauty, I was conscious of a species of disappointment too commonly felt, when what we have long dwelt on in fancy is seen in reality. I had pictured it to myself less beautiful, and far less magnificent but more sublime. With an imagination deeply impressed with the imposing effects of the Gothic cathedrals of our own country, I expected, from the immensity of St Peter’s, even more of that religious awe and deep solemn melancholy, which they never fail to inspire: and I was unprepared for its lightness, decoration, and brilliance; – and, above all, for that impression of gaiety, which the first sight of its interior produces.

Charlotte condemns the use of Corinthian pilaster and, particularly, the Grecian arch which ‘has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the apparent length, which the the perspective of a Grecian colonnade, or a Gothic aisle, uniformly appears to increase….The windows, too, are mean and poor-looking, and offensive to the eye. It is easier, however, to point out the fault than the remedy; for windows do not enter gracefully into the beautiful combinations of Grecian architecture. In Gothic churches, on the contrary, how grand and majestic an object is the arched and shafted window! Indeed, if I may venture to own to you the truth, it is my humble opinion, that though Grecian architecture is admirably adapted to palaces and theatres, and places of public assembly, and public buildings of almost every other kind, it is not suited to churches….it does not accord with the solemn purposes of Christian worship, to which the simplicity and grandeur of the Gothic, and its impressive effect upon the mind, are so peculiarly fitted.

Certainly some apology may be found for its defects in the frequent changes of plans, and architects, and Popes during the building of [St Peter’s]; and in the real and imaginary necessity of having an upper balcony for the purpose of giving the benediction; a circumstance which has been so ruinous to its beauty, that we might say with truth, that the blessings of the Popes have been the perdition of the Church. But whatever the cause, the faults of the front of St Peter’s are unredeemable and unpardonable.

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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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