Item No: cdc197701
Title: Als to Count D'Orsay
Albaro, Near Genoa. Wednesday August Seventh 1844
My Dear Count D'Orsay.
I hope you will not think me tardy in commencing that correspondence - with yourself and Lady Blessington alternately - from which I to derive so much interest and happiness during my stay in these latitudes. I should have flung my loving glove into Gore House before now; but that the restlessness of a perfectly new life, and the illness of my pet little daughter (the smaller of the two Kensington lunchers) have sadly interfered with my good resolutions. Once off, however, I think I can back myself to keep going. I am a bad starter - nothing more.
We had a charming journey here. I cannot tell you what an immense impression Paris made upon me. It it the most extraordinary place in the World. I was not prepared for, and really could not have believed in, its perfectly distinct and seperate character. My eyes ached and my head grew giddy, as novelty, novelty, novelty, nothing but strange and striking things; came swarming before me. I cannot conceive any place so perfectly and wonderfully expressive of its own character; its secret character no less than that which is on its surface; as Paris is. I walked the streets - in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards - during the two days we were there; and almost every house, and every person I passed, seemed to be another leaf in the enormous book that stands wide open there. I was perpetually turning over, and never coming any nearer the end. There never was such a place for a description. If I had only a larger sheet of paper (I have ordered some for next time) I am afraid I should plunge, wildly, into such a lengthened account of those two days as would startle you. This is the sole and solitary sheet in the house this morning (except those on the beds) - which looks providential, and seems to be an interposition in your favor.
Let me explain to you where I am. Do you recollect Byron's old house? Yes? Well. It isn't that - as they always say on the stage, when the two comic men are sitting in chairs before the lamps - but keeping on, up the hill past Byron's house, you come to another large house at the corner of a lane, with a little tumble-down blackguard old green-grocer's shop at the other corner, on which is painted, if I recollect right, Croce di San Lorenzo. The Governor lives in the large house opposite the Green Grocer's now; and turning down between the Governor's and the Green Grocer's, you go down a long straggling, very narrow lane until you come to mine: which is on the left hand, with sea before it - a fort close by, on the left - a vineyard sloping down towards the shore - and an old ruined church dedicated to St. John the Baptist (which I dare say Lady Blessington will remember) blotting out just so much of the sea as its walls and tower can hide. It is properly called The Villa di Bella Vista; but I call it the Villa di Bagnerello - that being the name of an amiable but drunken butcher into whose hands it has fallen, and who, being universally known (in consequence of being carried home from some wine shop or other every night), is a famous address: which the dullest errandboy recognizes immediately.
There is a deliciousair here - almost a sea breeze - and very good bathing. The house is bare of furniture, but especially clean. The Sala is very large, and the bedrooms excellent. As it would never do for a winter residence, however, I have been looking about me, and have concluded an arrangement, I hope, for the Peschiere: entering on the possession of that Palzzo, on the first of October. I have the whole Palace except the Ground Piano. I don't know whether you ever saw the rooms. They are very splended indeed; and every inch of the walls is painted in fresco. The Gardens also, are beautiful. The last English resident paid Eight hundred francs a month; but I take the unexpired term of the present occupier (an English Colonel) who has had it for a year and half, and got it much cheaper in consequence. My rent will be five hundred, which, as rent goes in Genoa, will be very cheap. I had thought of a Piano in the Solicetti on the Acqua Sola; but I am doubtful whether it might not be a thought too breezy in the windy weather; to say nothing of an intolerable bell which always clashing and clanging hard by; or of the hospital, which is close t the windows.
I have been turning my plans over in my mind; and I think I shall remain quiet until I have done my little Christmas Book - that will be, perhap, about the middle of October. In November, I think I shall start, with my servant (I have a most admirable and useful fellow - a frenchman) for Verona, Mantua, Milan, Turin, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Leghorn &c. I shall come back here for Christmas, and remain here through January. In February, I think I shall start off again (attended as before) and taking the Steamboat to Civita Vecchia, go to Rome - from Rome to Naples - and from Naples to Mount AEtn, which I very much desire to see. Then I propose returning to Naples, and coming back here, direct by Steamer. For Easter Week, I design returning to Rome again; taking Mrs. Dickens and her sister with me, that time; then coming back here, picking up my caravan, starting off to Paris, and remaining there for a month or so, before I return to England. What do you think of that?
Now is it not a pity that Maclise don't come here straightway, and see all this along with me? I feel that it would be of immense service to him; and the delight to me would be, of course, unspeakable. I believe that in his heart he thinks so too; but there never lived a man who had such an extraordinary difficulty in making up his mine to anything, as he has. I have observed indecision in many and divers men; but never in any one to one hundreth part of the extent to which it exists in him Do pour a broadside into him, dear Count D'Orsay. You have great influence with him. Stir him up with a pole as long as that dress cane you once gave me; and let us see if one of the eighteen spare beds in the Peschiere cannot be tenanted by an R.A.
I am disgusted with the Fine Arts Commission - by the way, the frescoes in the Peschiere were reported to them as among the finest in Italy. I think their putting Maclise anywhere but at the very head and front of the Competitors, abominable. And I think the terms on which their designs are to be sent in, are disgraceful to the Commissioners as gentlemen - disgraceful to the selected artists, as men of talent - and disgraceful to the country in which the paltry, huckstering piece of power is exercised. If I were one of the exhibitors, I would see the New Houses of Parliament blown up higher than ever the old ones were like to have been, before I would coin the smallest corner of my brain for their service. A word in your ear, my dear Count D'Orsay. Do you think that when they were placing the artists, Rogers had any recollection of - the faintest and dimmest pleasure of memory in - a certain little pen and ink likeness of himself, once published in Frazer's Magazine? God forgive me. But I shrewdly suspect that too smooth head of his, I swear!
What a sad place Italy is! a country gone to sleep, and without a prospect of waking again! I shall never forget, as long as I live, my first impressions of it, as I drove through the streets of Genoa, after contemplating the splendid View of the town, for a full hour, through a telescope, from the deck of the steamboat. I thought that of all the mouldy, dreary, sleepy, dirty, lagging, halting, God-forgotten towns in the wide world, it surely must be the very uttermost superlative. It seemed as if one had reached the end of all things - as if there were no more progress, motion, advancement, or improvement of any kind beyond; but here the whole scheme had stopped centurieds ago, never to move on any more, but just lying down in the sun to bask there, 'till the Day of Judgment.
I have [a gre]at interest in it now; and walk about, or ride about, the [town] when I go there, in a dreamy sort of way, which is very comfortable. I seem [to be] thinking, but I don't know what about - I haven't the least idea. I can sit down in a church, or stand at the end of a narrow Vico, zig-zagging uphill like a dirty snake: and not feel the least desire for any further entertainment. Just in the same way, I lie down on the rocks in the evening, staring the blue water out of countenance; or stroll up the narrow lanes, and watch the lizards running up and down the walls (so slight and fast, that they always look like the shadows of something else, passing over the stones) and diving into their holes so suddenly that they leave bits of their tails hanging out, and don't know it. I never knew what it was to be lazy, before. - I should think a dormouse was in very much the same condition before he goes under the wool in his cage - or a tortoise before he buries himself. I feel that I am getting rusty - I should creak when I tried to think, if it were not for some feeble efforts I am making to acquire the language: each one a tiny drop of oil upon my hinges: and the only oil they ever get.
Were you at Lyons? That's the place. It's a great Nightmare - a bad conscience - a fit of indigestion - the recollection of having done a murder. An awful place! I made a good mistake there, at which I used to laugh afterwards; before I lost the strength of mind which laughing requires. There is a curious clock in the cathedral - I dare say you have seen it. At all events, it is covered with little doors, and when the Sacristan gets inside and sets the gongs a going, the doors fly open, one after another, and little scriptural images bolt out suddenly, and retire agian; while some shrill little bells exert themselves to the utmost. One of these doors flying open, disclosed the Virgin Mary - with a very blunt nose, like the hangman in Punch's Show. She hadn't sat there long when another little door, after trying to open itself a great many times (you know the queer, jerking manner of clockwork) flew wide open all suddenness, and at sight of the Virgin instantly dived in again, while its little street-door shup up of itself, with a bang. "Aha!" said I. "Yes, Yes - The Devil, of course. We have very soon settled his business". - "The Devil!" said the Sacristan, looking out of the clock, pale with horror. "The Angel Gabriel Monsieur! The Annunciation Monsieur!" Which it seemed (to my great confusion) had actually been represented.
My dear Count D'Orsay, I am afraid this is the rustiest of letters, but blame Italy for it. Not me. I shall look to hear from you, or Lady Blessington, most eagerly. My most cordial and sincere regards to her. She cannot think how sorry she made me, by her heartiness and interest at parting - and yet how very glad, at the same time. Remember me, very cordially, to Miss Power and her sister. And believe me with the sincerest regard
Always Faithfully Your friend
Le Comte D'Orsay.
What Portraits are you painting? What figures are you modelling? Has that libellous artist - I am still strong on that point: feeble as I have become - finished his slander on Miss Power?
P.S. Address to the Poste Restante. The Albaro postman gets drunk - loses letters - and goes down on his knees in sober repentance. Post Restante, Genoa.
Wednesday August Seventh 1844
Rare Book Department
Small hole with loss of text. Formerly DL D738 1844-08-07
Orsay, Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, comte d’, 1801-1852
Sotheby Sale 14/12/76 lot 195 thru Maggs
Creation Place Note:Albaro
DL Or8 1844-08-07
Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870 - Author
- Paris, France
- Milan, Italy
- Naples, Italy
- Florence, Italy
- Maclise, Daniel, 1806-1870
- Christmas Books
- Gore House
- Blessington, Marguerite, Countess of, 1789-1849
- Orsay, Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, comte d’, 1801-1852
- Genova, Italy
- Palazzo Peschiere
- Verona, Italy
- Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron, 1788-1824
- Mantova, Italy
- Venezia, Italy
- Frescoes (paintings)
- Lyon, France