from In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902.
“Open my heart and you will see / Graved inside of it Italy, / Such lovers old are I and she, / So it always was, so shall ever be” – Robert Browning.
In the far-off years of the sixties, when the Italy fever took me very badly, so badly indeed that I have never succeeded in quite shaking it off, I would have echoed unreservedly those lines of Browning’s. In those days poetry was very much to the fore, and the joy of all that was opposed to the conventional British type was great.
But, as the years go by, cameras get shifted, and perspectives alter considerably, and I have to confess that every year passed out of England makes me more hopelessly British.
A long residence in Italy gives an intimate knowledge of her people, her standards and her morale generally, under the influence of which the poetry becomes less prominent, and what may be called the seamy side is apt to come painfully to the front.
But in spite of all, to those who have once yielded to its charm, it ever remains the enchanted land. Browning, indeed, in his later years broke the chains of the sorceress, and took up the duties of good English citizenship; but that was after he had sounded the depths of his popularity with his own countrymen, whom he once grimly addressed as “ye who love me not”. To him might be applied the antithesis of old Pio Nono’s verdict on a certain diplomat – “that if not a good Catholic, he was a worse Protestant”, for Browning, if a good Italian, was certainly a better Englishman.
The Englishman who lives in Italy today might do worse than bear in mind the just proportions of the relative values of patriotism.
I once heard a man say reflectively, “Think of living in Italy, when you might have it to go to.” He expressed a great truth, for it is certain that wherever we do not live, there we find our best holiday.
It is not easy in any country to discover the ideal residence that suits all one’s requirements – situation and rent included. In Italy, if you are looking for a town habitation, you may find what you want with perhaps greater ease than in any other country. But the moment you go beyond town walls and boundaries your difficulties begin.