Letters to the Caetani Family (4)

[This is part of a series of previously-unpublished letters to Margaret Knight, who was married to Michelangelo Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, and to Ada Bootle-Wilbraham, married to Onorato Caetani, Michelangelo’s son, Prince of Teano and then Duke of Sermoneta.
The letters are in the Caetani Archive, Palazzo Caetani, via delle Botteghe Oscure 32, Roma.
An Italian version will appear as an Appendix to my essay “Prima di Gregorovius: Edward Lear, i Caetani, e Ninfa” in a forthcoming volume: Michael Matheus (ed.) Ninfa: Percezioni nella scienza, letteratura e belle arti nel XIX e all’inizio del XX secolo. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner.]

Photo of Margaret Knight Caetani in the 1860s.

Villa Emily.
Nov.r. 21. 1872

Dear Duchess of Sermoneta,
Your letter of last August ― written after I had told you of my stay with Charley, should have been answered long ago, but I was never able to get a moment while in London, & afterwards I was constantly preparing to go to India ― (I told you Lord Northbrook had asked me there,) or hurrying about paying visits &c. (Bye the bye I just missed the Bertie M.’s at Guy’s Cliffe ―― how we should have sympathized! ―) Then I left in Sept.r to put things in order here for an 18 month’s absence ― & then set off to Egypt ― picking up my old servant at Corfu. But at Suez it appeared to be decreed that I was not to go ― two steamers were full ― (at that season every place is crowded,) & I missed a third: & then, the effects of a bad blow from a fall which received in England weighed also in the balance, ― & finally I believed I had better return ― in spite of the trouble I had given in having introductions written for me, & in spite of the time & money I had lost. I got back here on Nov.r 6 ― after a journey much put out by inundations &c.: & I suppose am now here for the winter. At 60 years of age ― it is almost silly to regret anything ― so I endeavor to think as little about the whole matter as possible.
I hope you will be able to write before long, or cause someone to write, as I should like to hear how you & the Duke & all of you are. I was delighted at the Photograph of Princess Teano, & thank you very much for it. Her face is really lively, & I have set it up on the Chimney-piece here so that I can look at it at any time. ― I should be glad to hear how Charley is, & must write to him soon. Had it not been for the broken railways, & the difficulty of getting on I should have come back here by Naples & Rome & so might have seen you. The other day Glennie & Mrs. G. passed through here, but thought I was in India & “passed by on the other side.” If you will let me know a safe way of sending the Books from here to Rome, I will forward the Corsica,[1] & the 2 Nonsenses.[2] The former is 30 fr. & the 2 latter 15 fr. each ― so that you could easily repay me by a P.O. order on the Post office here. Had I but known Glennie was going through! Gio. Batt: Fornari is the man who has all books here, & I will ask him to forward them. The Corsica will please you, & the other books will delight the small people.
I have just received letters from Lord Northbrooks Children, from Brindisi, so vexed at my non=coming, that I am grieved I ever thought of going, since go I did not, & now shall be able to think of nothing else for the rest of today.
I wish we were a little more settled in our Italy. I found it the opinion of many eminent & thinking men in England that if your V.[3] neighbour & his atrocious goings on are not finally stopped, calamities will one day ensue. While we have so open an enemy in the Centre of our existence & one who would scruple at nothing to regain power, ― we are far from safe. And the worst is that belief in him & his satellites is carried on by all or most Italian mothers & taught to their children, ― so that there will be plenty of material for a bad reaction whenever opportunity occurs. And that party think so too ― we are only ousted for a time ― say they: ― the foundations of our power have never been uprooted ― only the walls shaken down. Naturally the difficulty of an opposite course is immense ― but unless it is courageously taken, I fear bitterly for the future of this country.
Give my kindest remembrances to the Duke ― & to Prince & Princess Teano, & believe me, Dear Duchess of Sermoneta,
Your’s sincerely,
Edward Lear.


[1] Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica, 1870.
[2] Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, London, 1871, e More Nonsense,
ictures, Rhymes, Botany, etc., London 1872.

[3] Vatican.

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1 Response to Letters to the Caetani Family (4)

  1. Peter Byrne says:

    There is something enticing in this letter that makes me want to read more of the correspondence. Lear, the ex-pat in Italy, is expressing a strong political view on the country. In my reading experience, this is extremely rare. One never knows if his deference is due to his feeling of British imperial confidence or simply his natural tendency never to stir the pot.

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