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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XII 1825

Chap. I 1778-1811
Ch. II: 1791-95
Ch. III 1795-98
Ch. IV 1798
Ch. V 1798
Ch. VI 1792-1803
Ch. VII 1803-05
Ch. VIII 1803-05
Ch. IX
Ch. X 1807
Ch. XI 1808
Ch. XII 1808
Ch. XII 1812
Ch. XIV 1814-15
Ch. XV 1814-17
Ch. XVI 1818
Ch. XVII 1820
Ch. XX 1821
Ch. I 1821
Ch. II 1821-22
Ch. III 1821-22
Ch. IV 1822
Ch. V 1822
Ch. VI 1822
Ch. VII 1822-23
Ch. VIII 1822
Ch. IX 1823
Ch. X 1824
Ch. XI 1825
‣ Ch. XII 1825
Ch. XIII 1825
Ch. XIV 1825
Ch. XV 1825
Ch. XVI 1825-27
Ch. XVII 1826-28
Ch. XVIII 1829-30
Ch. XX
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Turin and Florence—Autobiography continued (January, February).

My arrival at Turin was the first and only moment of intoxication I have found in Italy. It is a city of palaces. After a change of dress . . . . . I walked out, and traversing several clean, spacious streets, came to a promenade outside the town, from which I saw the chain of Alps we had left behind us, rising like a range of marble pillars in the evening sky. . . . . I could distinguish the broad and rapid Po winding along at the other extremity of the walk, through vineyards and meadow grounds. The trees had on that deep sad foliage which takes a mellower tinge from being prolonged into the midst of winter, and which I had only seen in pictures. A monk was walking in a solitary grove at a little distance from the common path. The air was soft and balmy, and I felt transported to another climate—another earth—another sky. The winter was suddenly changed to spring. It was as if I had to begin my life anew. . . . .

“I returned to the inn (the Pension Suisse) in high
spirits, and made a most luxuriant dinner. We had a wild duck equal to what we had in Paris, and the grapes were the finest I ever tasted. Afterwards we went to the opera, and saw a ballet of action (out-Heroding Herod), with all the extravagance of incessant dumb-show and noise, the glittering of armour, the burning of castles, the clattering of horses on and off the stage, and heroines like furies in hysterics. Nothing at Bartholomew Fair was ever in worse taste, noisier or finer. . . . .

“We were at the back of the pit, in which there was only standing room, and leaned against the first row of boxes, full of the Piedmontese nobility, who talked fast and loud in their harsh guttural dialect in spite of the repeated admonitions of ‘a gentle usher, Authority by name,’ who every five seconds hissed some lady of quality and high breeding whose voice was heard with an éclat above all the rest. . . . .

“The only annoyance I found at Turin was the number of beggars, who are stuck against the walls like fixtures. . . . .

“We were fortunate enough to find a voiture going from Geneva to Florence with an English lady and her niece. I bargained for the two remaining places for ten guineas, and the journey turned out pleasantly, I believe, to all parties; I am sure it did so to us. We were to be eight days on the road, and to stop two days to rest, once at Parma and once at Bologna, to see the pictures.

“Having made this arrangement, I was proceeding
over the bridge towards the Observatory that commands a view of the town and the whole surrounding country, and had quite forgotten that I had such a thing as a passport to take with me. I found, however, I had no fewer than four signatures to procure, besides the six that were already tacked to my passport, before I could proceed, and which I had some difficulty in obtaining in time to set out on the following morning. The hurry I was thrown into by this circumstance prevented me from seeing some fine
Rembrandts, Spagnolettos, and Caraccis, which I was told are to be found in the palace of Prince Carignani and elsewhere. . . . .

“The next morning was clear and frosty, and the sun shone bright into the windows of the voiture as we left Turin, and proceeded for some miles at a gentle pace along the banks of the Po. . . . . We breakfasted at the first town we came to, in two separate English groups, and I could not help being struck with the manner of our reception at an Italian inn, which had an air of indifference, insolence, and hollow swaggering about it, as much as to say, ‘Well, what do you think of us Italians? Whatever you think we care very little about the matter!’. . . . . The room smoked, and the waiter insisted on having the windows and the door open, in spite of my remonstrances to the contrary. He flung in and out of the room as if he had a great opinion of himself, and wished to express it by a braggadocio air.

“The partridges, coffee, cheese, and grapes, on which we breakfasted à la fourchette, were, however, excellent.
I said so, but the acknowledgment seemed to be considered as superfluous by our attendant, who received five francs for his master, and one for himself, with an air of condescending patronage. . . . . Such was my first impression of Italian inns and waiters; and I have seen nothing since materially to alter it. . . . .

“In Switzerland and Savoy you are waited on by women, in Italy by men. I cannot say I like the exchange. From Turin to Florence only one girl entered the room, and she (not to mend the matter) was a very pretty one. I was told at the office of Messrs. Bonnafoux, at Turin, that travelling to Rome by a vetturino was highly dangerous, and that their diligence was guarded by four carabineers, to defend it from the banditti. I saw none, nor the appearance of anything that looked like a robber, except a bare-foot friar, who suddenly sprang out of a hedge by the roadside, with a somewhat wild and haggard appearance, which a little startled me. . . . .

“We had left the Alps behind us, the white tops of which we still saw scarcely distinguishable from ridges of rolling clouds, and that seemed to follow us like a formidable enemy, and almost enclose us in a semicircle; and we had the Apennines in front, that, gradually emerging from the horizon, opposed their undulating barrier to our future progress, with shadowy shapes of danger, and Covigliaio lurking in the midst of them.

“It was late on the fourth day (Saturday) before we reached Parma. Our two black, glossy, easy-going
horses were tired of the sameness or length of the way; and our guide appeared to have forgotten it, for we entered the capital of the archduchy without his being aware of it. We went to the Peacock Inn, where we were shown into a very fine but faded apartment, and where we stopped the whole of the next day. Here, for the first time on our journey, we found a carpet, which, however, stuck to the tiled floor with dirt and age. There was a lofty bed, with a crimson silk canopy, a marble table, looking-glasses of all sizes and in every direction, and excellent coffee, fruit, game, bread, and wine at a moderate rate; that is to say, our supper the first night, our breakfast, dinner, and coffee the next day, and coffee the following morning, with lodging and fire, came to twenty-three francs. It would have cost more than double in England in the same circumstances.

“We had an exhilarating view from our window of the street and great square. It was full of noise and bustle. . . . . The women that I saw did not answer to my expectations. They had high shoulders, thick waists, and shambling feet of that crapaudeux shape which is odious to see or think of. . . . .

“It was at Parma that I first noticed the women looking out of the windows (not one or two stragglers, but two or three from every house), where they hang like signs or pictures, stretching their necks out, or confined, like children, by iron bars. . . . . I thought, at first, it might be one of the abuses of the Carnival; but the Carnival is over, and the windows are still
lined with eyes and heads that do not lite the trouble of putting on a cap. . . . .

“Here I saw a number of pictures, and among others the Correggios and the celebrated St. Jerome, which I had seen at Paris. I must have been out of tune; for my disappointment and consequent mortification were extreme. I had never thought Correggio a god; but I had attributed this to my own inexperience and want of taste, and I hoped by this time to have ripened into that full idolatry of him expressed by Mengs and others. Instead of which, his pictures (they stood on the ground without frames, and in a bad light) appeared to be comparatively mean, feeble, and affected. . . . . I was ready to exclaim, ‘Oh, painting! I thought thee a substance, and find thee a shadow!’ There was, however, a Crowning of the Virgin, a fresco (by Correggio) from the church of St. Paul, which was full of majesty, sweetness, and grace; and in this, and the heads of boys and fauns in the Chase of Diana, there is a freedom and breadth of execution, owing to the mode in which they were painted, and which makes them seem pure emanations of the mind, without anything overdone, finical, or little.

“I was not a little tired of the painted shrines and paltry images of the Virgin at every hundred yards as we rode along. But if my thoughts were veering to this cheerless, attenuated speculation of nothingness and vanity, they were called back by the sight of the Farnese Theatre—the noblest and most striking monument I have seen of the golden age of Italy. . . . .


“Bologna is even superior to Parma . . . . Going along we met Professor Mezzofanti, who is said to understand thirty-eight languages, English among the rest. He was pointed out to us as a prodigious curiosity by our guide (Signor Gatti), who has this pleasantry at his tongue’s end, that ‘there is one Raphael to paint, one Mezzofanti to understand languages, and one Signor Gatti to explain everything they wish to know to strangers.’ . . . .

“I left the gallery at Bologna once more reconciled to my favourite art. Guido also gains upon me, because I continually see fine pictures of his. . . . . There is a technical description of the chief towns in Italy, which those who learn the Italian grammar are told to get by heart. . . . . Some of these I have seen, and others not; and those that I have not seen seem to me the finest.

“We left Bologna on our way to Florence in the afternoon, that we might cross the Apennines the following day. . . . . At the first village we came to among the hills we saw, talking to her companions by the road-side, the only very handsome Italian we have yet seen. It was not the true Italian face neither, dark and oval, but more like the face of an English peasant, with heightened grace and animation. . . . . Our voiture was ascending a hill; and as she walked by the side of it with elastic step, and a bloom like the suffusion of a rosy cloud, the sight of her was doubly welcome in this land of dingy complexions, squat features, scowling eyebrows, and round shoulders.


“We slept at ——, nine miles from Bologna, and set off early the next morning, that we might have the whole day before us. . . . . One of our pleasantest employments [along the winding road] was to remark the teams of oxen and carts that we had lately passed winding down a declivity in our rear, or suspended on the edge of a precipice that on the spot we had mistaken for level ground. We had some difficulty, too, with our driver, who had talked gallantly over-night of hiring a couple of oxen to draw us up the mountain; but when it came to the push, his heart failed him, and his Swiss economy prevailed. . . . . The country now grew wilder, and the day gloomy. It was three o’clock before we stopped at Pietra Mala, to have our luggage examined on entering the Tuscan States; and here we resolved to breakfast, instead of proceeding four miles farther to Covigliaio.

“Our reception at Pietra Mala was frightful enough; the rooms were cold and empty; and we were met with a vacant stare or with sullen frowns, in lieu of any better welcome. I have since thought that these were probably the consequence of the contempt and ill-humour shown by other English travellers at the desolateness of the place and the apparent want of accommodation; for, as the fire of brushwood was lighted, and the eggs, bread, and coffee were brought in by degrees, and we expressed our satisfaction in them, the cloud on the brow of our reluctant entertainers vanished, and melted into thankful smiles.

“There was still an air of mystery, of bustle, and in
attention about the house; persons of both sexes, and of every age, passed and repassed through our sitting-room to an inner chamber with looks of anxiety and importance, and we learned at length that the mistress of the inn had been, half-an-hour before, brought to bed of a fine boy!

“We had now to mount the longest and steepest ascent of the Apennines; and Jaques, who began to be alarmed at the accounts of the state of the road and at the increasing gloom of the weather, by a great effort of magnanimity had a yoke of oxen put to, and afterwards another horse, to drag us up the worst part; but as soon as he could find an excuse he dismissed both, and we crawled and stumbled on as before. . . . . We felt uncomfortable, for the increased violence of the wind or thickening of the fog would have presented serious obstacles to our farther progress, which became every moment more necessary as the evening closed in—as it was, we only saw a few yards of the road distinctly before us, which cleared as we advanced forward. . . . .

“At length, when we had arrived near the very top of the mountain, we had to cross a few yards of very slippery ice, which became a matter of considerable doubt and difficulty—the horses could hardly keep their feet in straining to move forward; and if one of them had fallen and been hurt, the accident might have detained us on the middle of the mountain, without any aid near, or made it so late that the descent on the other side would have been dangerous. Luckily, a desperate effort succeeded, and we gained the summit of the hill without accident.


“We had still some miles to go, and we descended rapidly down on the other side. . . . . About half-way down we emerged, to our great delight, from the mist . . . . that had hitherto enveloped us; and the valley opened at our feet in dim but welcome perspective. We proceeded more leisurely on to La Meschere. . . . .

“The inn at La Meschere is, like many of the inns in Italy, a set of wide dilapidated halls, without furniture, but with quantities of old and bad pictures, portraits, or histories. The people (the attendants here were women) were obliging and good-humoured, though we could procure neither eggs nor milk with our coffee, but were compelled to have it black.

“We were put into a sitting-room with three beds in it without curtains, as they had no other with a fireplace disengaged, and which, with the coverlids like horse-cloths, and the strong smell of the Indian corn with which they were stuffed, brought to one’s mind the idea of a three-stalled stable. We were refreshed, however, for we slept securely; and we entered upon the last stage the following day, less exhausted than we had been by the first.

“After being gratified for some hours by the cultivated beauty of the scene (rendered more striking by contrast with our late perils) we came to the brow of the hill overlooking Florence, which lay under us, a scene of enchantment, a city planted in a garden, and resembling a rich and varied suburb. . . . . Florence in itself is inferior to Bologna and some other towns; but
the view of it and of the immediate neighbourhood is superior to any I have seen. . . . . From my friend
Leigh Hunt’s house at Moiano, you see at one view the village of Setiniam, belonging to Michael Angelo’s family, the house in which Machiavel lived, and that where Boccaccio wrote . . . . and not far from this the ‘Valley of Ladies’ (the scene of ‘The Decameron’). With a view like this, one may think one’s sight ‘enriched,’ in Burns’s phrase

“It was Carnival time when we came, and the town presented something of the same scene that London does at Bartholomew Fair. . . . . May-day in London is a favourable version of the Carnival here. . . . . I have only heard of two masks that seemed to have any point or humour in them; and one of these was not a mask, but a person who went about with his face uncovered, but keeping it, in spite of everything he saw or heard, in the same unmoved position as if it were a mask. The other was a person so oddly disguised that you did not know what to make of him, whether he were man or woman, beast or bird, and who, pretending to be equally at a loss himself, went about asking every one if they could tell him what he was? . . . .

“We could not tell exactly what to make of the striking of the clocks at first; at eight they struck two, at twelve six. . . . . A day or two cleared up the mystery, and we found that the clocks here . . . . counted the hours by sixes, instead of going on to twelve. . . . .

“I wonder when the change in the forms of image-
worship took place in the old Roman states and what effect it had. I used formerly to wonder how or when the people in the mountains of Cumberland and Westmoreland, and who live in solitudes to which the town of Keswick is the polite world, and its lake ‘the Leman Lake,’ first passed from Popery to Protestantism, what difference it made in them at the time, or has done to the present day? . . . . .

“Customs come round. I was surprised to find, at the Hotel of the Four Nations, where we stopped the two first days, that we could have a pudding for dinner (a thing that is not to be had in all France). . . . . We might have remained at the Four Nations for eighteen francs a day, living in a very sumptuous manner; but we have removed to apartments fitted up in the highest fashion, for ten piastres (two guineas) a month, and where the whole of our expenses for boiled and roast, with English cups and saucers and steamed potatoes, does not come to thirty shillings a week. We have every English comfort, with a clearer air and a finer country. It was exceedingly cold when we first came. . . . . It is now milder (Feb. 23 [1825]), and like April weather in England. There is a balmy lightness and vernal freshness in the air. Might I once more see the coming on of spring as erst, in the springtime of my life, it would be here! . . . .

“Among the pictures at the Palace Pitti is Titian’s Hippolyto de Medici (which the late Mr. Opie pronounced the finest portrait in the world), with the spirit and breadth of history, and with the richness, finish
and glossiness of an enamel picture. I remember the first time I ever saw it, it stood on an easel which I had to pass, with the back to me; and as I turned and saw it with the boar-spear in its hand, and its keen glance bent upon me, it seemed ‘a thing of life,’ with supernatural force and grandeur.”

[At Florence he was introduced to Mr. Walter Savage Landor; and Mr. Patmore seems to have thought that the interview was productive of benefit, in leaving behind in Mr. Hazlitt’s mind a higher opinion of Mr. Landor’s personal and literary qualities. The fact is, that my grandfather had always held the ‘Imaginary Conversations’ in considerable esteem—it was rather a favourite volume with him; and I suppose that the opportunity he now enjoyed of coming into immediate contact with the writer dislodged, at all events temporarily, the prejudices he had formed against him on account of his political tenets. But he could never have entertained the same degree of animosity on political grounds against Landor as he did against Scott, whom he refused to know when Jeffrey offered, in 1822, to bring them together.

It was during his stay here (in May, 1825) that he wrote the Paper ‘On Reading New Books,’ which is printed in ‘Essays and Sketches,’ 1839.]