Travel Letters: Bologna, Italy, Hotel San Marco (1866)

DEAR MOTHER, — I am spending a rainy Sunday at this old town of sausages. I believe there are other things than sausages here, but I don’t know anything about them yet, for I only got here late last night, and since I woke this morning it has rained so horribly that I haven’t been outside the walls of the hotel. Since I wrote to William last week, I have seen all of Florence, and been to Pisa and Sienna. I am happy to report that the tower at Pisa does really lean, just the way the picture-books have it, and you have the proper pleasant feeling of insecurity as you wind around it up to the top. It has stood crooked for a good many years, and my being safe here today proves that it did not tumble when I was on it last Monday.

The Cathedral and Baptistery at Pisa are both very rich in old art, and the Campo Santo, where the monks, priests, and nobles lie buried in the holy earth that was brought all the way from Jerusalem for them to sleep in, with its frescoed colonnades around it, is one of the nicest, quietest burying grounds in all the world. Sienna is a charming sleepy old Italian town, with a wonderful cathedral, and a gallery of immensely old pictures. Among others, an Ecee Homo by an old man called Sodoma, which I wish you could see. It is almost the most powerful and touching face of Christ which I have seen in any picture. As to Florence itself, it is the brightest, sunniest, bluest, most delightfully pretty place in Italy. The days there were the perfection of Italian weather, when everything, from the hovels to the stars, seems to have ten times as much distinctness of color and outline as it ever gets at home. The pictures in Florence are beyond all description or calculation. You get bewildered with the wealth with which Raphaels, and Titians, and so on, are scattered through the endless galleries. There are hundreds that would be the making, any one of them, of a gallery at home, and which once seen here seem to be before your eyes all the time, and not to be forgotten forever afterwards. The mornings I generally spent in the galleries, and the afternoons walked or rode off into the country somewhere around the town, to some point where its beauty stood out in a splendid view. I shall remember my week in Florence as one of the pleasantest of all my journey. The ride from there here, across the Apennines, was very fine.

Everybody in Europe now is wondering, you know, whether there is going to be war between Austria and Prussia. If there is, as seems likely, it is impossible to say to what extent it will involve all the rest of Europe. Everything seems ready for a general upset, for there is not one nation among them that is not in some way restless and uneasy with the present state of things, and prepared to welcome a general row in hopes of something better. The Old World is very rotten, and if President Johnson would only behave himself and stop vetoing good bills, and let the United States go on and do her work, she might lead the universe. What a great misfortune that man is to the country ! What have we done to deserve him ? Did we not struggle through the war, and put down the Rebellion? and now why should the conquered South be allowed to come up and rule us still in this other form ? It is very hard to understand. The last veto, I take it, is decisive as to his spirit and intentions.

I had no letters from you this last week. They have gone to Venice. By the time you get this, about the first of May, I shall be in Paris, and stay there some three weeks. I hope to meet Strong there, and shall be very glad indeed to see one so fresh from home, who has seen you all so lately. My time is drawing to its close, and, much as I have enjoyed everything, I shall be quite ready to come home. I expect to enjoy Switzerland immensely. Mr. Tilton, the artist, of whom I saw a good deal in Rome, has promised to meet me there, and we shall probably travel some together. The Storys may be there, too. So far, my whole trip has been a success. I could not ask for anything in it to be changed. But here is my paper all gone, only room left to say good-by and lots of love to everybody, and to be, in small letters, Your affectionate and dutiful son,