|Charles Dickens by Stephen Humble (1844).|
|1883 edition of Pictures from Italy.|
He begins by writing that this work is not intended to be a serious work on the history, religion, or government of Italy, rather, as he writes,
This Book is a series of faint reflections - mere shadows in the water - of places to which the imaginations of most people are attracted in a greater or less degree, on which mine had dwelt for years, and which have some interest for all. The greater part of the descriptions were written on the spot, and sent home, from time to time, in private letters. I do not mention the circumstance as an excuse for any defects they may present, for it would be none; but as a guarantee to the Reader that they were at least penned in the fulness of the subject, and with the liveliest impressions of novelty and freshness.
If they have ever a fanciful and idle air, perhaps the reader will suppose them written in the shade of a Sunny Day, in the midst of the objects of which they treat, and will like them none the worse for having such influences of the country upon them.
|1846 edition illustrated by Samuel Palmer.|
All in all, an interesting work, but not wholly enjoyable. I think some may disagree with me, but it didn't quite read like Dickens. The wit wasn't as strong, and those long, meandering sentences weren't there as much (mercifully, for some readers!). Because I'm so used to those endless sentences, it seemed a little abrupt, and the whole work had an air of disappointment, sometimes vague, sometimes more explicit. On Rome, for example, he wrote,
It was no more my Rome: the Rome of anybody’s fancy, man or boy; degraded and fallen and lying asleep in the sun among a heap of ruins: than the Place de la Concorde in Paris is. A cloudy sky, a dull cold rain, and muddy streets, I was prepared for, but not for this: and I confess to having gone to bed, that night, in a very indifferent humour, and with a very considerably quenched enthusiasm.A paragraph later, writing on St. Peter's, Dickens observed,
It looked immense in the distance, but distinctly and decidedly small, by comparison, on a near approach. The beauty of the Piazza, on which it stands, with its clusters of exquisite columns, and its gushing fountains - so fresh, so broad, and free, and beautiful - nothing can exaggerate. The first burst of the interior, in all its expansive majesty and glory: and, most of all, the looking up into the Dome: is a sensation never to be forgotten. But, there were preparations for a Festa; the pillars of stately marble were swathed in some impertinent frippery of red and yellow; the altar, and entrance to the subterranean chapel: which is before it: in the centre of the church: were like a goldsmith’s shop, or one of the opening scenes in a very lavish pantomime. And though I had as high a sense of the beauty of the building (I hope) as it is possible to entertain, I felt no very strong emotion. I have been infinitely more affected in many English cathedrals when the organ has been playing, and in many English country churches when the congregation have been singing.I believe Pictures from Italy was written at a rather difficult time in Dickens' marriage, and I think that comes through. Some kind of unhappiness, at least, or discontentment is evident, which, on the whole, left me feeling a little flat when I finished it. Nevertheless, there's some very vivid descriptions and most certainly worth looking at. This short work (my Penguin edition was 187 pages) is not the only travel book by Charles Dickens. There's also American Notes (1842) and The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (with Wilkie Collins, 1857), if not some others I've missed, and I'm most interested to read those, and not just to see how the tone compares.
To finish with - first an apology - I do hate writing of disappointment in books, especially on favourite authors! But I was curious about the book and did want to report back on it. Anyway, on a high note: I found some lovely engravings by Samuel Palmer to end with (taken from the 1846 edition published by Bradbury & Evans):