Letter to Mrs. Lydia Swain
November 19, 1870
Mss 12: Sub-group 1, Series A, S-s 2, Folder 15
My dear friend
When I last wrote you on the 5th I expected to get a chance to write you from Sorento but no favorable opportunity presented itself.
We returned yesterday to Naples after a fortnight spent pleasantly and profitably as far as sketching goes – at Amalfi and Sorrento.
Amalfi is built in a very wild and picturesque place under the high cliffs in the Bay of Salerno. In some places the houses seem to grow out of the cliffs that hang over the sea.
This is the place that has the reputation of giving birth to "Flavius Giofa", the inventor of ______ of the Marine Compass – although the authority for it – it is not the best. Another interesting thing is the old convent of the Capachini monks – built in the 12th century. The arcades still remain in a perfect state and are quite fine.
The hotel where we stayed was also very interesting. It was formerly a convent and was supposed to have been built as early as the 10th century. One rainy day I made several sketches of the inside. The there is an old tower in which hangs two old Bronze Bells quaintly ornamented.
Part of the town is built in a deep mountain gorge or ravine and from morning to night you see women come down from the mountainsides into the gorge loaded with wood that the men have cut form the mountain sides.
I have never seen people work so hard, and the women carry enormous loads on their heads. They (the women) wear gayly colored handkerchiefs on their heads and a queer looking corset around the waist. We saw a great many lovely faces among them in spite of the terribly toilsome life they lead.
Sorrento is a different kind of a town having become celebrated as a watering place in summer. The English and Americans have been in the habit of visiting and consequently it has become like most other places of its kind. The men wear the conventional hat – stove pipe or something similar excepting the fishermen. The women dress up in silk – if they can get it and the town is full of beggars. But it is a charming place – full of beautiful groves of olive and orange trees but this being the rainy season we found it rather cold and wet. The rheumatism got hold of me – in consequence of sketching in a wet place and getting chilled, and I am paying for it now by rather sharp knife-like thrusts in my chest and neck, but it is better today than it has been for two or three days and we shall be in hot weather again in a week and it will all leave again.
We leave here tomorrow evening at 9 o'clock for Alexandria. We have to travel by rail to Brindisi – on the eastern coast of Italy where we take the steamer Tuesday morning. We are due at Alexandria on Friday morning at 1 o'clock. We expect to remain at Alexandria about three days and then go on to Cairo. I doubt whether we will go up the Nile as Tiffany has decided to return home by the last of February and it will take two months of more to go up the Nile & return and we shall not find as much material there to sketch as we will at Cairo. By settling down quickly at the latter place we can do a great deal in a month and a half.
There is some prospect of a war with Russia about the "Black Sea" question, and if war is declared we shall have to start homeward as England-Turkey-Austria and Italy would be involved. I hope it can be settled without resorting to such desperate measures.
My letters now come along with considerable regularity. A few days ago I received a long and interesting letter from Mrs. Macy. She told me she had been to see you and it was very nice to know the many little bits of news she sent, not to say anything of the pleasure it gave me to be enabled to enter into her home again almost the same as I have done so many times – and know all that has been going on since I left them.
It must be very cold at home now. I hope the winter will not be very severe. Mother is always affected by the cold and she has to be exposed considerably. Please don't forget to get your regular exercise at walking – you lose your strength so rapidly if you do and I hope to find you looking the same as when I left you. While at Sorrento – in sight of Vesuvius and with my visit to Pompeii still fresh in my mind -I read "The Last Days of Pompeii" and the impression left when my mind is stronger than it could have been had I read it elsewhere – it was intensely interesting but I do not like some parts of it at all. I am really hungry for something of Emerson and it is impossible to find anything of his here. When I return if you would like it I shall be glad to take up Emerson again and go all over the things we have read together. I wonder what Katie Talloman is reading to you now.
I like Mr. Tiffany very much and we get on together very nicely but we are far from each other in almost all things but our art. So I have not had a good talk with anyone since I left home and when I do get back again I expect to talk enough to make it all up. So you may know what to expect.
It is about midnight and I must get plenty of sleep tonight as I don't expect to get any of much account tomorrow night as we shall be traveling by those badly arranged cars. So farewell – may Heaven bless and keep you.
Ever yours affectionately