Memoires of Madame Vigee Lebrun - chapter 5

The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun – Chapter 5: Neapolitan days

I had been in Rome eight months or thereabouts, when, observing that all foreigners were leaving for Naples, I was seized with a great desire to go there likewise. I confided my plan to the Cardinal de Bernis, who, while approving, advised me not to go alone. He spoke to me of a M. Duvivier, the husband of Voltaire’s niece, Mme. Denis, who proposed to make the journey, and who would be charmed with my company. M. Duvivier came to me, repeating everything that the Cardinal had said, and promising to take care of my daughter and myself. He added, thus tempting me the more, that he had in his carriage a sort of stove, for cooking fowl, which would be very useful to us, seeing how bad the fare was in the best inns of Terracina. All his offers suited me to a marvel, and so I started with this gentleman. His coach was very large; my daughter and her governess sat in front, and there was another seat in the middle. A huge man-servant sat on it in front of me in such a way that his large back touched me and I had to hold my nose. I am not in the habit of talking while travelling, so that conversation between us was restricted to the exchange of a few phrases. But as we were crossing the Pontine marshes, I noticed on the edge of a canal a shepheard whose flock was passing into a meadow all studded with flowers, and beyond which the sear and Cape Circe were visible. “What a charming pictue!” said I to my travelling companion. “This shepherd, these sheep, the meadow, the sea!” “Those sheep are filthy,” he answered; “you ought to see them in England.” Farther along on the Terracina road, at the place where you cross a small river in a boat, I saw at my left the line of the apennines crowned with magnificent clouds, which the setting sun illumined. I was unable to refrain from expressing my admiration aloud. “Those clouds mean that we shall have rain to-morrow,” said my optimistic friend.

We reached Naples at about three or four o’clock. I cannot describe the impression I received upon entering the town. That burning sun, that stretch of sea, those islands seen in the distance, that Vesuvius with a great column of smoke ascending from it, and the very population so animated and so noisy, who differ so much from the Roman that one might suppose they were a thousand miles apart.

I had engaged a house at Chiaja on the edge of the sea. Opposite me I had the island of Capri, and this situation delighted me. Hardly had I arrived when Count Skavronska, the Russian Ambassador at Naples, whose house was next to mine, sent one of his runners to find out how I was, and at the same time had a very choice dinner brought me. I was the more grateful for this kind of attention, as I must have died of hunger before there would have been time to get my kitchen ready. The same evening I went to thank the Count, and thus became acquainted with his charming wife.

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