If I pass into the Tramontano garden, it is not to escape the presence of history, or to get into the modern world, where travelers are arriving, and where there is the bustle and proverbial discontent of those who travel to enjoy themselves. In the pretty garden, which is a constant surprise of odd nooks and sunny hiding-places, with ruins, and most luxuriant ivy, is a little cottage where, I am told in confidence, the young king of Bavaria slept three nights not very long ago. I hope he slept well. But more important than the sleep, or even death, of a king, is the birth of a poet, I take it; and within this inclosure, on the eleventh day of March, 1541, Torquato Tasso, most melancholy of men, first saw the light; and here was born his noble sister Cornelia, the descendants of whose union with the cavalier Spasiano still live here, and in a manner keep the memory of the poet green with the present generation. I am indebted to a gentleman who is of this lineage for many favors, and for precise information as to the position in the house that stood here of the very room in which Tasso was born. It is also minutely given in a memoir of Tasso and his family, by Bartolommeo Capasso, whose careful researches have disproved the slipshod statements of the guidebooks, that the poet was born in a house which is still standing, farther to the west, and that the room has fallen into the sea. The descendant of the sister pointed out to me the spot on the terrace of the Tramontano where the room itself was, when the house still stood; and, of course, seeing is believing. The sun shone full upon it, as we stood there; and the air was full of the scent of tropical fruit and just-coming blossoms. One could not desire a more tranquil scene of advent into life; and the wandering, broken-hearted author of “Jerusalem Delivered” never found at court or palace any retreat so soothing as that offered him here by his steadfast sister.
If I were an antiquarian, I think I should have had Tasso born at the Villa Nardi, where I like best to stay, and where I find traces of many pilgrims from other countries. Here, in a little corner room on the terrace, Mrs. Stowe dreamed and wrote; and I expect, every morning, as I take my morning sun here by the gate, Agnes of Sorrento will come down the sweet-scented path with a basket of oranges on her head.
It is not always easy, when one stands upon the highlands which encircle the Piano di Sorrento, in some conditions of the atmosphere, to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. It seems. practicable, at such times, for one to take ship and sail up into heaven. I have often, indeed, seen white sails climbing up there, and fishing-boats, at secure anchor I suppose, riding apparently like balloons in the hazy air. Sea and air and land here are all kin, I suspect, and have certain immaterial qualities in common. The contours of the shores and the outlines of the hills are as graceful as the mobile waves; and if there is anywhere ruggedness and sharpness, the atmosphere throws a friendly veil over it, and tones all that is inharmonious into the repose of beauty.