Letter to Fannie
October 23, 1870
Mss 12: S g-l, Series A, S-s 2, Folder 14
Naples, Sunday Oct 23
My dear Fannie,
I have just returned from a walk with Tiffany. I left him before reaching the house as he wished to be good and go to church and I preferred to be bad and write to you, so I told him I had so much writing to do that I must return to the Hotel and get on with it.
It is quite a long time since I wrote to you- nearly a month excepting a short letter I wrote and enclosed to you with one I wrote to Ella about the 7th or 8th while we were at Malta. As I had written you oftener than I expected to I was afraid you might not wish me to write so often.
No more letters have come to me since I was in Africa and not getting letters takes the treat all out of one to write them. I have tried hard to be patient and have not complained except in my letters but it is mighty hard work to keep still.
I think letter no 5 was written while we were at Gibraltar the second time. Since then a great deal has passed and much of it has been very interesting. We left Malta for Sicily on the 11th of this month and I was glad to get away from the place as there was little or nothing to sketch and our hotel was in the middle of the town and we could see nothing from our room but stone walls.
We left the dock in the evening and ran immediately into a stormy sea and I was most wretching(sic) sea sick until towards morning when we reached Syracuse-Island of Sicily.
We stopped about two hours just long enough to unload some of our freight and although feeling dish--------------- I got out there and looked about the town and made two pencil sketches that will be good for little pictures. After we left Syracuse the weather became fine and the rest of the passage which took until noon, was very enjoyable. I would like to go to Syracuse again sometime and study there. The town is so old that whichever way you turn you see fine material for a painting and then outside of the town on the hills quantities of old ruins are found. As we approached Catania from the sea, Mt Etna came out of the distance and greeted us with a long line of smoke and the houses of the vineyards were glittering spots of light upon the mountain sides.
On landing we drove to the Hotel which by the way is a very fine one. We have a room that looked out upon the mountain and gave us a beautiful view of it.
As soon as possible we went out to walk and went some distance into the country. We had not seen any green grass or trees for so long a time it was really delightful to once more realize the necessity of it.
The next morning soon after breakfast we made a study in oil of an old church near the sea. It was a very strange old building and rich in color.
In the afternoon We drove to a place called “Acicastello” near the sea where there was a high castle on a cliff and all about was the most wonderfully picturesque scenery. It was so late in the afternoon that I did not have time to make a study in color and so was obliged to do it in pencil on white paper. I will make a little sketch so that you can form some idea of the appearance of it.
There! I have given you a pretty poor representation of it but it gives you an idea what ought to be made out of it. I have already enough subjects to last me a great many years.
I would like to know what you have been doing all this time, for three months is a long time under some circumstances! It is dusk and I must leave off until after dinner(We have dinner at 6 in the evening).
We have finished dinner and I have been playing a little while, on a violin the Landlord of the Hotel loaned me, and now I will go back and tell you what we did after we left Catania. We took the train next morning for Messina and as the distance is not great and we had a great deal of spare time we got out about half way and visited an old ruined Roman Theater. You may have read a description of it sometime. It is called the “Tairmina Theater”. Several years ago I bought a photograph of it and when I left home I put it in my trunk hoping if possible to find out where it was-as it did not say on the photograph-and if possible to visit it and strange to say we went by chance so near it that we were able to spend a great part of the day there. It is situated on a mountain about 35 miles from Messina and from it we had a splendid view of Mt Etna and the opposite coast of Calabria in Italy
This was a day that sank deeply into my heart and it can never pass from me. All day I felt I was particularly blessed by some power unknown to me. Perhaps it was the effect of the bright sun shine and the poetical atmosphere that gather about such old ruined temples when act have done so much or I might have unconsciously receive directed messages from you. However that may be you really seemed with me all day. I made a careful watercolor study of the temple and as Tiffany was some time longer I walked all around the ruin and also in the vaults and then after having a sunny day dream while lying under the shadow of a great marble column and looking over the sea-I found three or four choice spots that I knew you would like if you could see them-and marked the name of “Fannie”. There is a certain satisfaction in it to me that is comforting although it may seem very silly to you. I have only one life to live and that is passing rapidly and I may soon reach that age when I shall be incapable of feeling as strongly as I do now about almost everything and I must accept the happiness that comes with this dream of mind although it may only be a dream but if one cannot have happy realities they must be content with a dream and I have schooled myself to that sort of thing pretty well. I only hope I can keep it up my dreams if I am not blessed with the realities, until I shall slip into the other life where it is not necessary to deceive yourself in vain to fulfil the work of this life.
But I was to tell you abut what we did. We took the train that evening at “Termini“ for Messina About 9 o’clock. We did not find much at Messina to interest us. The cathedral is fine as also is the interior of “San Gregorian” which is richly finished in costly mosaic work. We left on the first steamer on the evening of the 17th and all next day we ran along the Italian coast and touched at the Ports. The sea was fearfully rough and nearly everyone was sea sick but strange to say I escaped entirely and made sketches all along the coast in my little sketch book. We arrived here at Naples and after passing into the bay Mt Vesuvius was enveloped by the most beautiful atmosphere I have ever seen and the smoke from the cone went up into the silent air like incense from an altar.
This is the place for a painter and if the Gods prove gracious and my prophetic soul does not deceive me I see through the haze of futurity the time when your humble servant will visit these sunny shores again, when father Time will not stand behind with the birch.
You wish me to remember the cattle and all the time we were in Sicily and since we have been here I have often thought how delighted you would be with them.
They have a peculiar custom of putting together an ox and a horse all the oxen are white and a cream color, very soft something like the Alderney. And their horns are very large and fine. They generally manage to put with the ox and --- by his side a bay or very dark horse and both fastened to ready made carts. You would be quite beside yourself with ------if you could see them. If I get a chance while I am here I will send you a drawing of a team. The carts are finer here than anywhere we have been, and then about three miles on toward Vesuvius is a place where there are a great many gardens and the land is irrigated by means of great number of old stone wells-the water being drawn up by means of donkeys-but more frequently by the peasant women- who are almost always picturesquely dressed. I have made one study of an old well with a thatched roofed barn on them and it is about the best study in color that I have done yet.
I hope I may get letters soon it will make me feel that home is not a myth and that I am working for tomorrow. I find that if I feel that I am working for those I love I can double what I do at any other time. We are boarding at the “Hotel d’Amerique” and shall stay about two weeks longer- then go to Amalfi & Sorrento for two weeks then to Rome for a week and then depart for Egypt. We can reach Alexandria in about four days from Rome if we have good weather as we take the steamer at Brindisi on the eastern side of Italy and the run from there is is a short cut by sea, only three days. My paper is used up and my eye-lids are getting heavy so good night, Fannie dear and may love bless and take care of you and may good angels bring you sweet dreams.