Extracts from memoirs and diariesby Ian Irvine / July 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
American writer Gore Vidal in Ravello, Italy, circa 1974 © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis
In 1776, Samuel Johnson is recorded by James Boswell as observing:
“A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see. The grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great empires of the world: the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. All our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean.”
Julia Cartwright, a British historian of the Renaissance, travels to southern Europe for the first time in 1876, aged 24:
“We reached Avignon by the afternoon and a delicious change in climate and surroundings met us at the station. We walked up the long Cours Petrarch where natives were lounging about chattering in voluble Provençal and in the true Italian fashion came running after us to beg. This was indeed the south—quaint turtuous streets, a perfect labyrinth, olive faced women at work in high windows, men singing as they moved lazily along—children running after us and old women begging at the church doors.
Here too the spring burst upon us and a sweet scent of lilac and may met us as we walked later on up to the palace where we found flowering shrubs all in blossom. Castia, tall Portugal laurel, white and red lilac, Spanish chestnuts and blue iris, forget-me-nots and wall-flowers and roses filling the air with fragrance. I seldom fell in love with a place so entirely at one sight.”