It is justifiable to do this; for why should I let my small infirmities of disposition live and grovel among my mental pictures of the eternal sublimities of the Alps?
Livy can't accept or endure the fact that you are gone. But you are, and we cannot get around it. So take our love with you, and bear it also over the sea to Harmony, and God bless you both.
The Clemens party wandered down into Italy--to the lakes, Venice, Florence, Rome--loitering through the galleries, gathering here and there beautiful furnishings--pictures, marbles, and the like--for the Hartford home.
In Venice they bought an old careen bed, a massive regal affair with serpentine columns surmounted by singularly graceful cupids, and with other cupids sporting on the headboard: the work of some artist who had been dust three centuries maybe, for this bed had come out of an old Venetian palace, dismantled and abandoned. It was a furniture with a long story, and the years would add mightily to its memories. It would become a stately institution in the Clemens household. The cupids on the posts were removable, and one of the highest privileges of childhood would be to occupy that bed and have down one of the cupids to play with. It was necessary to be ill to acquire that privilege--not violently and dangerously ill, but interestingly so--ill enough to be propped up with pillows and have one's meals served on a tray, with dolls and picture- books handy, and among them a beautiful rosewood cupid who had kept dimpled and dainty for so many, many years.
They spent three weeks in Venice: a dreamlike experience, especially for the children, who were on the water most of the time, and became fast friends with their gondolier, who taught them some Italian words; then a week in Florence and a fortnight in Rome.--[From the note-book: "BAY--When the waiter brought my breakfast this morning I spoke to him in Italian. "MAMA--What did you say? "B.--I said, 'Polly-vo fransay.' "M.--What does it mean? "B.--I don't know. What does it mean, Susy? "S.-It means, 'Polly wants a cracker."]
Clemens discovered that in twelve years his attitude had changed somewhat concerning the old masters. He no longer found the bright, new copies an improvement on the originals, though the originals still failed to wake his enthusiasm. Mrs. Clemens and Miss Spaulding spent long hours wandering down avenues of art, accompanied by him on occasion, though not always willingly. He wrote his sorrow to Twichell:
I do wish you were in Rome to do my sight-seeing for me. Rome interests me as much as East Hartford could, and no more; that is, the Rome which the average tourist feels an interest in. There are other things here which stir me enough to make life worth living. Livy and Clara are having a royal time worshiping the old masters, and I as good a time gritting my ineffectual teeth over them.
Once when Sarah Orne Jewett was with the party he remarked that if the old masters had labeled their fruit one wouldn't be so likely to mistake pears for turnips.
"Youth," said Mrs. Clemens, gravely, "if you do not care for these masterpieces yourself, you might at least consider the feelings of others"; and Miss Jewett, regarding him severely, added, in her quaint Yankee fashion:
"Now, you've been spoke to!"
He felt duly reprimanded, but his taste did not materially reform. He realized that he was no longer in a proper frame of mind to write of general sight-seeing. One must be eager, verdant, to write happily the story of travel. Replying to a letter from Howells on the subject he said:
I wish I could give those sharp satires on European life which you mention, but of course a man can't write successful satire except he be in a calm, judicial good-humor; whereas I hate travel, and I hate hotels, and I hate the opera, and I hate the old masters. In truth I don't ever seem to be in a good enough humor with anything to satirize it.