LETTERS FROM ITALY: Percy B. Shelley
[from VOL. II. of the 1840 edition of ESSAYS, LETTERS FROM ABROAD, TRANSLATIONS AND FRAGMENTS, BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, edited by Mary Shelley]
TO LEIGH HUNT, ESQ.
Lyons, March 22, 1818.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Why did you not wake me that night before we left England, you and Marianne? I take this as rather an unkind piece of kindness in you; but which, in consideration of the six hundred miles between us, I forgive.
We have journeyed towards the spring that has been hastening to meet us from the south; and though our weather was at first abominable, we have now warm sunny days, and soft winds, and a sky of deep azure, the most serene I ever saw. The heat in this city to-day, is like that of London in the midst of summer. My spirits and health sympathize in the change. Indeed, before I left London, my spirits were as feeble as my health, and I bad demands on them which I found it difficult to supply. I have read Foliage, with most of the poems I am already familiar. What a delightful poem the “Nymphs” is! It is truly poetical, in the intense and emphatic sense of the word. If six hundred miles were not between us, I should say what pity that glib was not emitted, and that the poem is not as faultless as it is beautiful. But, for fear I should spoil your next poem, I will not let slip a word upon the subject.
Give my love to Marianne and her sister, and tell Marianne she defrauded me of a kiss by not waking me when she went away, and that, as I have no better mode of conveying it, I must take the best, and ask you to pay the debt. When shall I see you again? Oh, that it might be in Italy! I confess that the thought of how long we may be divided makes me very melancholy. Adieu, my dear friends. Write soon.
Ever most affectionately yours,
P. B. S.*
*In a brief journal I kept at that time, I find a few pages in Shelley’s handwriting, descriptive of the passage over the mountains of Les Eschelles. [M.W.S.]
—”March 26, Thursday. We travel towards the mountains, and begin to enter the valleys of the Alps. The country becomes covered again with verdure and cultivation, and white chateaux and scattered cottages among woods of old oak and walnut trees. The vines are here peculiarly picturesque; they are trellised upon immense stakes, and the trunks of them are moss-covered and hoary with age. Unlike the French vines, which creep lowly on the ground, they form rows of interlaced bowers, which, when the leaves are green and the red grapes are hanging among those hoary branches, will afford a delightful shadow to those who sit upon the moss underneath. The vines are sometimes planted in the open fields, and sometimes among lofty orchards of apple and pear-trees, the twigs of which were just becoming purple with the bursting blossoms.
We dined at Les Eschelles, a village at the foot of the mountain of the same name, the boundaries of France and Savoy. Before this we had been stopped at Pont Bonvoisin, where the legal limits of the French and Sardinian territories are placed. We here heard that a Milanese had been sent back all the way to Lyons, because his passport was unauthorised by the Sardinian Consul, a few days before, and that we should be subjected to the same treatment. We, in respect to the character of our nation I suppose, were suffered to pass. Our books, however, were, after a long discussion, sent to Chambery, to be submitted to the censor; a priest, who admits nothing of Rousseau, Voltaire, &c., into the dominions of the King of Sardinia. All such books are burned.
After dinner we ascended Les Eschelles, winding along a road, cut through perpendicular rocks, of immense elevation, by Charles Emanuel, Duke of Savoy, in 1582. The rocks, which cannot be less than a thousand feet in perpendicular height, sometimes overhang the road on each side, and almost shut out the sky. The scene is like that described in the Prometheus of Æschylus. Vast rifts and caverns in the granite precipices, wintry mountains with ice and snow above; the loud sounds of unseen waters within the caverns, and walls of toppling rocks, only to be scaled as be describes, by the winged chariot of the ocean nymphs.
Under the dominion of this tyranny, the inhabitants of the fertile valleys, bounded by these mountains, are in a state of most frightful poverty and disease. At the foot of this ascent, were cut into the locks at several places, stories of the misery of the inhabitants, to move the compassion of the traveller. One old man, lame and blind, crawled out of a hole in the rock, wet with the perpetual melting of the snows of above, and dripping like a shower-bath.
The country, as we descended to Chambery, continued as beautiful; though marked with somewhat of a softer character than before; we arrived a little after night-fall.
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