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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Travels through France and Italy

by Tobias Smollett

published by J. Mundell & Co.
Edinburgh, 1796.

The text is in the public domain.


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Letter XXXV

Nice, March 20, 1765.

Dear Sir,

The season being far advanced, and the weather growing boisterous, I made but a short stay at Florence, and set out for Pisa, with full resolution to take the nearest road to Lerici, where we proposed to hire a felucca for Genoa. I had a great desire to see Leghorn and Lucca; but the dread of a winter's voyage by sea in an open boat effectually restrained my curiosity. To avoid the trouble of having our baggage shifted every port, I hired two chaises to Pisa for a couple of zequines, and there we arrived about seven in the evening, though not without fear of the consequence, as the calesses were quite open, and it rained all the way. I must own I was so sick of the wretched accommodation one meets with in every part of Italy, except the great cities, so averse to the sea at this season, and so fond of the city of Pisa, that I should certainly have staid here the winter, had I not been separated from my books and papers, as well as from other conveniences and connections which I had at Nice; and foreseen that the thoughts of performing the same disagreeable voyage in the spring would embitter my whole winter's enjoyment. I again hired two calesses for Lerici, proposing to lie at Sarzana, three miles short of that place, where we were told we should find comfortable lodging, and to embark next day without halting. When we departed in the morning, it rained very hard, and the Cerchio, which the chaises had formerly passed, almost without wetting the wheels, was now swelled to a mighty river, broad, and deep, and  p528 rapid. It was with great difficulty I could persuade my wife to enter the boat; for it blew a storm, and she had seen it in coming over from the other side hurried down a considerable way by the rapidity of the current, notwithstanding all the efforts of the watermen. Near two hours were spent in transporting us with our chaises. The road between this and Spirito Santo was rendered almost impassable. When we arrived at Massa, it began to grow dark, and the post-maker assured us that the road to Sarzana was overflowed in such a manner as not to be passed in the day-time, without imminent danger. We therefore took up our lodging for the night at this house, which was in all respects one of the worst we had yet entered. Next day, we found the Magra as large and violent as the Cerchio; however, we passed it without any accident, and in the afternoon arrived at Lerici.

There we were immediately besieged by a number of patrons of feluccas, from among whom I chose a Spaniard, partly because he looked like an honest man, and produced an ample certificate, signed by an English gentleman; and partly because he was not an Italian; for by this time I had imbibed a strong prejudice against the common people of that country. We embarked in the morning before day, with a gale that made us run the lee-gunwale in the water; but when we pretended to turn the point of Porto Venere, we found the wind full in our teeth, and were obliged to return to our quarters, where we had been shamefully fleeced by the landlord, who nevertheless was not such an exorbitant knave as the post-master, whose house I would advise all travellers to avoid. Here, indeed, I had occasion to see an instance of prudence and economy, which I should certainly imitate if ever I had occasion to travel this way by myself. An Englishman, who had hired a felucca from Antibes to Leghorn, was put in here by stress of weather; but being aware of the extortion of innkeepers, and the bad accommodation in their houses, he slept on board on his own mattresses; and there likewise he had all his conveniences for eating. He sent his servant on shore occasionally to buy provision, and see it cooked according to his direction in some public  p529 house; and had his meals regularly in the felucca. This evening he came ashore to stretch his legs, and took a solitary walk on the beach, avoiding us with great care, although he knew we were English: His valet, who was abundantly communicative, told my servant, that in coming through France, his master had travelled three days in company with two other English gentlemen, whom he met upon the road, and in all that time he never spoke a word to either: Yet in other respects he was a good man, mild, charitable, and humane. This is a character truly British.

At five o'clock in the morning we put to sea again, and though the wind was contrary, made shift to reach the town of Sestri di Levante, where we were most graciously received by the publican butcher and his family. The house was in much better order than before: the people were much more obliging; we passed a very tolerable night, and had a very reasonable bill to pay in the morning. I cannot account for this favourable change any other way, than by ascribing it to the effects of a terrible storm, which had two days before torn up a great number of their olive-trees by the roots, and done such damage as terrified them into humility and submission. Next day, the water being delightful, we arrived by one o'clock in the afternoon at Genoa. Here I made another bargain with our patron Antonio to carry us to Nice. He had been hitherto remarkably obliging, and was tinctured with the sciences. I began to imagine he was a person of a good family, who had met with misfortunes in life, and respected him accordingly; but I found him mercenary, mean, and rapacious.

The wind being still contrary, when we departed from Genoa, we could get no further than Finale, where we lodged in a very dismal habitation, which was recommended to us as the best auberge in the place. What rendered it the more uncomfortable, the night was cold, and there was not a fire-place in the house, except in the kitchen. The beds (if they deserved that name) were so shockingly nasty, that we could not have used them, had not a friend of Mr. R— supplied us with mattresses, sheets, and coverlets; for our own sheets  p530 were on board the felucca, which was anchored at a distance from the shore. Our fare was equally wretched: The master of the house was a surly assassin, and his cameriere, or waiter, stark-staring mad. Our situation was at the same time shocking and ridiculous. Mr. R— quarrelled over-night with the master, who swore in broken French to my man, that he had a good mind to poignard that impertinent Piedmontese. In the morning before day, Mr. R—, coming into my chamber, gave me to understand, that he had been insulted by the landlord, who demanded six and thirty livres for our supper and lodging. Incensed at the rascal's presumption, I assured him I would make him take half the money, and a good beating into the bargain. He replied, that he would have saved me the trouble of beating him, had not the cameriere, who was a very sensible fellow, assured him the patron was out of his senses, and, if roughly handled, might commit some extravagance. Though I was exceedingly ruffled, I could not help laughing at the mad cameriere's palming himself upon R—, as a sensible fellow, and transferring the charge of madness upon his master, who seemed to be much more knave than fool. While Mr. R— went to mass, I desired the cameriere to bid his master bring the bill, and to tell him that if it was not reasonable, I would carry him before the commandant. In the mean time, I armed myself with my sword in one hand, and my cane in the other. The inn-keeper immediately entered, pale and staring, and when I demanded his bill, he told me, with a profound reverence, that he should be satisfied with whatever I myself thought proper to give. Surprised at this moderation, I asked if he should be content with twelve livres, and he answered, "Contentissimo,"º with another prostration. Then he made an apology for the bad accommodation of his house, and complained, that the reproaches of the other gentleman, whom he was pleased to call my major duomo, had almost turned his brain. When he quitted the room, his cameriere, laying hold of his master's last words, pointed to his own forehead, and said, he had informed the gentleman over-night that his patron was mad.

This day,  p531 we were, by a high wind in the afternoon, driven for shelter into Porto Mauritio, where we found the post-house even worse than that of Finale; and what rendered it more shocking, was a girl quite covered with the confluent small-pox, who lay in a room through which it was necessary to pass to the other chambers, and who smelled so strong as to perfume the whole house. We were but fifteen miles from St. Remo, where I knew the auberge was tolerable, and thither I resolved to travel by land. I accordingly ordered five mules to travel by post, and a very ridiculous cavalcade we formed, the women being obliged to use common saddles; for in this country even the ladies ride astride. The road lay along one continued precipice, and was so difficult, that the beasts never could exceed a walking pace. In some places we were obliged to alight. Seven hours were spent in travelling fifteen short miles: At length we arrived at our old lodgings in St. Remo, which we found white-washed, and in great order. We supped pretty comfortably, slept well, and had no reason to complain of imposition in paying the bill. This was not the case in the article of the mules, for which I was obliged to pay fifty livres, according to the regulation of the posts. The post-master, who came along with us, had the effrontery to tell me, that if I had hired the mules to carry me and my company to St. Remo, in the way of common travelling, they would have cost me but fifteen livres; but as I demanded post-horses, I must submit to the regulations. This is a distinction the more absurd, as the road is of such a nature as renders it impossible to travel faster in one way than in another; nor indeed is there the least difference either in the carriage or convenience, between travelling post and journey riding. A publican might with the same reason charge me three livres a pound for whiting, and if questioned about the imposition, reply, That if I had asked for fish, I should have had the very same whiting for the fifth part of the money; but that he made a very wide difference between selling it as fish, and selling it as whiting. Out felucca came round from Porto Mauritio in the night,  p532 and embarking next morning, we arrived at Nice about four in the afternoon.

Thus have I given you a circumstantial detail of my Italian expedition, during which I was exposed to a great number of hardships, which I thought my weakened constitution could not have bore; as well as to violent fits of passion, chequered, however, with transports of a more agreeable nature; insomuch that I may say I was for two months continually agitated either in mind or body, and very often in both at the same time. As my disorder at first arose from a sedentary life, producing a relaxation of the fibres, which naturally brought on a listlessness, indolence, and dejection of the spirits, I am convinced that this hard exercise of mind and body, co-operated with the change of air and objects, to brace up the relaxed constitution, and promote a more vigorous circulation of the juices, which had long languished even almost to stagnation. For some years I had been subject to colds as a delicate woman new delivered. If I ventured to go abroad when there was the least moisture either in the air, or upon the ground, I was sure to be laid up a fortnight with a cough and asthma. But, in this journey, I suffered cold and rain, and stood and walked in the wet, heated myself with exercise, and sweated violently, without feeling the least disorder; but, on the contrary, felt myself growing stronger every day in the midst of these exercises. Since my return to Nice, it has rained the best part of two months, to the astonishment of all the people in the country; yet, during all that time I have enjoyed good health and spirits. On Christmas eve, I went to the cathedral at midnight, to hear high mass celebrated by the new bishop of Nice, in pontificalibus, and stood near two hours uncovered in a cold gallery, without having any cause in the sequel to repent of my curiosity. In a word, I am now so well that I no longer despair of seeing you and the rest of my friends in England; a pleasure which is eagerly desired by

Dear Sir,
Your affectionate humble servant.

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