I left Florence on one of the last days of June, with oh! such a sad heart and a feeling I should never see it again. I am so conscious, as I said before, of the wisdom of spending the rest of my life at home and foregoing the pleasures of travel, as with my nature long absences unfortunately diminish the pleasure and interest I take in my own concerns, and regret at what I leave behind comes between me and my happiness when I am away. The weather had been wet, and directly the sun was obscured the temperature was, if anything, rather too cool. I do love a night railway journey, because of the chance it gives one of seeing that most wondrously lovely effect of Nature which we so seldom do see - this growth of the famous 'more light,' Goethe's last words - the triumphal march of the coming on of day. I determined to enjoy it in spite of the presence of seven Italians, one more than the carriage was intended to hold, who got in at Genoa at four o'clock in the morning and never ceased talking amongst themselves.
It is not only the beauty of the growing light, but the mysterious human awakening, the early smoke that coils from some cottage chimney, the opening window, the man who goes out to his work along the road - every little incident seems to be full both of the poetry and pathos of life. In a tiny volume lately published of remarkable verse by A. E., 'Earth Breath and other Poems,' the poem called 'Morning' expresses in part my feeling:
We had the sense of twilight round us;
The orange dawn lights fluttered by; And thrilling through the spell that bound us
We heard the world's awakening cry.
We felt the dim appeal of sorrow
Rolled outward from its quiet breath, To waken to the burdened morrow,
The toil for life, the tears for death.
And out of all old pain and longing
The truer love woke with the light. We saw the evil shadows thronging,
And went as warriors to the fight.
The last line is to me an especially true note. Indifference, blindness, despondency, all these I hate; but to meet life with courage, both for oneself and others, that must be the real aim. But courage is rather strength than happiness.
Professor Blackie said somewhere, 'There is nothing fills me with more sorrow occasionally than to see how foolishly some people throw away their lives. It is a noble thing to live; at least, a splendid chance of playing a significant game - a game which we may never have the chance to play again, and which is surely worth while to try to play skilfully; to bestow at least as much pains upon it as many a one does on billiards or lawn tennis. But these pains are certainly not always given, and so the game of life is lost, and the grand chance of forming a manly character is gone, for no man can play a game well who leaves his moves to chance, and so instead of fruitful victories, brilliant blunders are all the upshot of what many a record of distinguished lives has to present.' All this from a night journey. It was broad daylight as we came down the beautiful flowery slopes of the Cenis in a luxurious French corridor carriage, so superior in every way to the Italian one we had just left.
The English used to be accused of being the great eaters of Europe when I was young. I do not think that is the case now. In our carriage was a middle-aged couple - I should imagine, brother and sister - and evidently, as is so often the case with other couples, the gray mare was the better horse. She travelled with curious deliberation; first she wrapped up both the hats in beautiful bright Italian silk handkerchiefs to preserve them from dust. Her black hair, I suppose she thought, could be cleaned without expense. She frizzled up her curls and wiped her dark, fat, ugly face. She then produced a huge powder-puff and powdered her face well all over. The man bore all this patiently; he was thin and bald, and much more refined-looking than she was. He placed a black silk cap on his head. Then she opened a large dog-basket filled with a most dainty luncheon. Sandwiches folded up in a beautifully clean, damp napkin began the meal. Then were eaten large slices of meat and bread, mugs full of rich milk, cheese (of which she must have eaten eight or ten ounces), and all this with a resigned calm, as if she were performing a sacred duty which she owed, not to herself, but to society. The meal wound up with beautiful ripe Apricots - grown, I am sure, on their own Lombardy estate - and a homemade plum cake like an English one. The remains, which were carefully packed up, would have fed a carriageful, and, I confess, made me feel quite greedy, my humble bread and cherries having nearly come to an end. When they had eaten their fill, superior peppermint lozenges were produced by the lady and shared by her companion not one, but six or seven were slowly consumed in the same resigned, sad way. This was to assist digestion, I presume. Calm sleep then supervened to both, and their labours were over. In the seat opposite me was a man in the dress of an ecclesiastic, with a face that might have belonged to Rousseau's famous Savoyard vicar - a calm, intellectual face, that would have looked well carved in the mellow, amber-coloured marble of a Florentine tomb. My travelling companions - externally, at any rate - were strong contrasts!
I never can pass through this valley of Chambéri, with its beautiful mountains all around, without a strange thrill at the thought that here Rousseau lived and botanised for so many happy years in his youth, or calmly worked in the garden of his early love, Mme. de Warens. Her house is still shown. Some years ago I spent a day in Chambéri, but only saw this house from the top of the castle tower, my companions preferring other sights to the romantic pilgrimage I wished to make to the abode where lived those two, who little dreamt they were weaving one of the strangest romances that was ever publicly confessed.