Travel Letters: Steamer Godavery, Between Messina And Athens (1866)

DEAR WILLIAM,—Here I am on the Mediterranean again. Coming down from Rome to Athens, I crossed by steamer to Messina, and last night our old friend the Godavery, in which three months ago we sailed from Smyrna to Beyrout, took us up and is carrying us fast towards Athens. Appleton came from Paris, and joined me at Naples. We shall be there probably early on Thursday morning. It seems like getting back to last winter’s experiences. The boat is full of Greeks, French, Germans, and what not. The familiar cabins recall the days when we were getting ready to plunge into Syria, wondering what kind of a time we should have there. The Mediterranean is as beautiful as ever. To-day is a soft, clear, warm, blue day, when one just likes to sit on deck and think what a lovely thing the sea is. Indeed, I have found this treacherous sea all winter one of the gentlest, most gracious, and best behaved of creatures.

This sea life of a day or two is quite a rest after Rome with its intense and constant interest. I cannot tell you how I enjoyed that city. I had hoped much from it, but my enjoyment far surpassed all my anticipations. It has more than any other city of those things which, once seen, become pictures to you forever. St. Peter’s so vast and so beautiful, the Vatican with its labyrinth of art, the Coliseum and the Forum with the beauty of their ruin, — one doesn’t know where to begin to think about what there is in Rome. I paid your old High School eloquence the tribute of a thought, as I looked at the ruins of Horatius Cocles’ bridge, and at the place in the Forum where Some day, if you care about it, I will get out the map of Rome, and we will go over it and spell out the histories that are written there, one over the other. The mere art of Rome is infinite. Think of a city that has the Dying Gladiator, and the Apollo Belvedere, and what is called the greatest picture of the world, Raphael’s Transfiguration. Do you remember seeing it for years in the copy in St. Paul’s chancel? I thought it a wonderful picture when I saw the original in the Vatican ; I cannot think it so great a picture as the Dresden Madonna, but the comparison of great pictures is very unsatisfactory and odious. A mere list of the other pictures of Rome that fill you with their power or beauty would crowd my paper. Of the people in Rome I saw many, some very pleasant. At the Storys’ house, I met several of the best artists, and other interesting folks. I saw Miss Hosmer, Miss Stebbins, and Miss Cushman, three ladies of genius, you know, and very pleasant personally. Our 22d of February went off well. President King, of New York, presided, and his son, our minister in Rome, General King, Mr. Story, General Bartlett, and I spoke, and Rev. C. T. Brooks, of Newport, read a poem. We were very patriotic, and an Italian band played our national airs well.

I am very much disappointed about my letters ; there is a mistake about them somewhere. I received none before leaving Rome, except those that had been all the way round by Alexandria. The latest was yours of January 8. Now I shall get no more till I reach Rome again, which will not be till about the 14th of March. Then I shall expect a big bundle. I don’t know what the hitch is, but take it for granted that it will regulate itself by that time.