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to Lever in a less pleasant way. Despite this drawback, however, he liked Florence, and most of those whom he met there; and its sociable character was, probably increased by the narrowness of the streets, where opposite neighbours could almost shake hands from the windows of their respective entresols. But villa-residences-shaded by fig and orange trees-abound for those who prefer them—villas of the character praised by Landor and Dickens in their letters home.*
One of these was the Casa Capponi.† Here Mr. Edward Dicey—an accomplished littérateur— became Lever's guest; and he traces the memory not without emotion.
“See again, one of the loveliest scenes on which one's eyes ever gazed. It is the early dawn on a summer morning such as Italy alone can boast. We are standing on a vine-clad terrace on the hill side of San Miniato; the faint rose tints of the sun rising behind the Arno valley, can be seen glistening on the heights of Fiesole, standing out clear and sharp against the deep blue sky; and from a sea of white mist, billows rolling at our feet, rise the countless domes and terraces, and belfries of the city of the Medici. It is the terrace of Lever's house outside the walls of Florence, and our host, after one of the long nights he loved, has hardly consented to let us go as
* Publishers had pitted Dickens and Lever against each other (vol. i. p. 228), but all pique had now passed. After praising Bulwer Lytton, Proctor and Thackeray, Dickens writes to Forster at this time, “I am very glad to find you making special mention of Charles Lever.”
† For some time he lived in the Palazzo Ximines.
the daylight crept in through the open windows, has come with us to the garden gate to show us the way Florencewards. Not · Addio' we can hear him saying, but ‘A rivedersi. Alas !” adds Mr. Dicey, “the kindly Italian greeting can be used no longer.
“He caught the true spirit of the Italian life far more faithfully than any of the Englishmen who have pitched their tents in the pleasant plains of the southern land. The Italy he knew and loved so well was not the ideal Italy of the Brownings; not the classical Italy of Landor—not the romantic Italy of Leigh Hunt, not the spiritualised Italy of George Eliot, but the actual living Italy, the land that loves life, and lives by loving it.”
When we recall Lever's dramatic talent, as proved by the marvellously complete personation of Mr. Cusack, Rhoudlum, and other local celebrities, it is surprising that he did not seek more means to cultivate and gratify it. “In November, 1847,” resumes Mr. Pearce, “I found Lever located at Florence, and residing in Cara Standish --a private theatre being attached to the house. I remained in Florence until the commencement of January, 1848, for I well remember Lever wanted me to postpone going on to Rome in order that I might act with him in ‘The School for Scandal.' He was to play Charles Surface, and I was to play Joseph Surface. The Florence folk were specially appreciative of private plays. A previous amateur company at Florence included Lady Burghersh, Lady Normanby, and
the present Duke of Wellington. Lord Burghersh's house which by a coincidence belonged to the Princess Borgese, had been fitted up as a theatre. I returned to Florence in July 1849, and in my very slight diary I find that I was often making excursions with Lever to Pratolino, Vallambrosa, &c. &c. Catharine Hayes, the Irish nightingale, was a good deal with the Levers at that time--also Hoppner, intimate with Byron at Venice when English Consul. On my leaving Italy in January, 1849, I passed a fortnight with my dear friends at the Baths of Lucca, when I made the careful drawing of Lever's head, now before me as I write these memorials and shadows of the past.” *
He was fortunate in finding at Florence two men filling dry diplomatic posts, but whose tastes were thoroughly congenial to his own. Mr., now Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India, had been transferred as attaché from Washington to Florence in February, 1852, and remained there four years. His love of letters was strong: he was a writer of great promise and power ; but, better still, he was one whom to know was to love. Lever describes him as a fine hearted fellow, most companionable, and what the Italians call “simpatico.” His correspondence, and that of Lord Malmesbury with
* In 1855, when Lever's face and figure had greatly altered, and not for the better, Mr. Pearce took a photograph of the popular author. Lever, on viewing it, exclaimed “The Rugeley murderer !” Portraits of Palmer, the murderer of Cooke, scowled at that time from every window. Lever had two small moles upon his face, ignored in Lover's portrait, but faithfully though faintly traced in Pearce's.
RICHARD LALOR SHEIL.
Lever is most full ; and at a future day, a selection from it may be used.
The British minister at Florence was Richard Lalor Sheil, a brilliant Irishman and word-painter, famous as an orator, and as the author of "Evadne.” “His native wit did not desert him by being transplanted," writes Lever, “ and some of his French ' mots' were fully equal to his best English ones. At Florence he seemed but too happy to enjoy the first holiday in a long life of labour.” Sheil was succeeded at Florence by Sir H. Lytton Bulwer, afterwards Lord Dalling, of whom Lever often speaks.
Florence though a small place opened a wide field for the study of character. The lacquered boot class bore but a slight proportion to the shoeless herd; yet Lever said “it contained a good sprinkling of well dressed, well got up men, who daily arise without the very vaguest conception of who is to house them, fire them, light them and cigar them for the evening. They are an interesting class; and have this strong appeal to human sympathy, that not one of them, by any possible effort, can contribute to his own support. They toil not, neither do they spin.”
But it was Lever's lot to be thrown equally into the society of diplomats and demireps, swells and snobs, princes and pretenders, wits and worthies, snarlers and social men! The more he saw of life the more was he struck by the fact that the mass of mankind is rarely very good, or very bad ; that the business of life is carried on with mixed motives; the best people being those who are less selfish, and the worst being little other than those who seek their own objects with slight regard for the consequences to others, and even less scruple as to the means.
He justly felt that any uniformity in good or evil would be the death blow to that genteel comedy which goes on around us, and whose highest interest very often centres in the surprises we give ourselves by unexpected lines of action, and unlooked for impulses. “As this strange drama,” he writes, “unfolded itself before me, it had become a passion with me to watch the actors, and speculate on what they might do. For this, Florence offered an admirable stage. It was eminently cosmopolitan; and, in consequence, less under the influence of any distinct code of public opinion than any section of the several nationalities I might have found at home.”
There was a universal toleration abroad; the Spaniard conceding to the German, and the Russian to the Englishman much on the score of nationality; and “they did not question too closely a morality which, after all, might have been little other than a conventional habit. Exactly in the same way, however, that one hurries away from the life of a city, and its dissipations, to breathe the fresh air, and taste the delicious quiet of the country, did I turn from these scenes of splendour, from the crush of wealth, and from the conflict of emotion, to that green island where so many of my sympathies were entwined,