A family coming last night to visit at a house where I had the honour of being admitted as an intimate, gave me another proof of my present state of remoteness from English manners. The party consisted of an old nobleman, who could trace his genealogy unblemished up to one of the old Roman emperors, but whose fortune is now in a hopeless state of decay:—his lady, not inferior to himself in birth or haughtiness of air and carriage, but much impaired by age, ill health, and pecuniary distress; these had however no way lessened her ideas of her own dignity, or the respect of her cavalier servente and her son, who waited on her with an unremitted attention; presenting her their little dirty tin snuff-boxes upon one knee by turns; which ceremony the less surprised me, as having seen her train made of a dyed and watered lutestring, borne gravely after her up stairs by a footman, the express image of Edgar in the storm-scene of king Lear—who, as the fool says, “wisely reserv’d a blanket, else had we all been ’shamed.”
Our conversation was meagre, but serious. There was music; and the door being left at jar, as we call it, I watched the wretched servant who staid in the antichamber, and found that he was listening in spight of sorrow and starving.
With this slight sketch of national manners I finish my chapter, and proceed to the description of, or rather observations and reflections made during a winter’s residence at
For we did not stay at Pavia to see any thing: it rained so, that no pleasure could have been obtained by the sight of a botanical garden; and as to the university, I have the promise of seeing it upon a future day, in company of some literary friends. Truth to tell, our weather is suddenly become so wet, the roads so heavy with incessant rain, that king William’s departure from his own foggy country, or his welcome to our gloomy one, where this month is melancholy even, to a proverb, could not have been clouded with a thicker atmosphere surely, than was mine to Milan upon the fourth day of dismal November, 1784.
Italians, by what I can observe, suffer their minds to be much under the dominion of the sky; and attribute every change in their health, or even humour, as seriously to its influence, as if there were no nearer causes of alteration than the state of the air, and as if no doubt remained of its immediate power, though they are willing enough here to poison it with the scent of wood-ashes within doors, while fires in the grate seem to run rather low, and a brazier full of that pernicious stuff is substituted in its place, and driven under the table during dinner. It is surprising how very elegant, not to say magnificent, those dinners are in gentlemen’s or noblemen’s houses; such numbers of dishes at once; not large joints, but infinite variety: and I think their cooking excellent. Fashion keeps most of the fine people