Its funereal cypresses, its crumbling walls and arches, its clinging ivy and moldering marbles, and a clock that long ago forgot the hours, gave it a mortuary look. In a way it suggested Arnold Bocklin's "Todteninsel," and it might well have served as the allegorical setting for a gateway to the bourne of silence.
The house itself, one of the most picturesque of the old Florentine suburban palaces, was historically interesting, rather than cheerful. The rooms, in number more than sixty, though richly furnished, were vast and barnlike, and there were numbers of them wholly unused and never entered. There was a dearth of the modern improvements which Americans have learned to regard as a necessity, and the plumbing, such as it was, was not always in order. The place was approached by narrow streets, along which the more uninviting aspects of Italy were not infrequent. Youth and health and romance might easily have reveled in the place; but it seems now not to have been the best choice for that frail invalid, to whom cheer and brightness and freshness and the lovelier things of hope meant always so much.--[Villa Quarto has recently been purchased by Signor P. de Ritter Lahony, and thoroughly restored and refreshed and beautified without the sacrifice of any of its romantic features.] --Neither was the climate of Florence all that they had hoped for. Their former sunny winter had misled them. Tradition to the contrary, Italy--or at least Tuscany--is not one perpetual dream of sunlight. It is apt to be damp and cloudy; it is likely to be cold. Writing to MacAlister, Clemens said:
Florentine sunshine? Bless you, there isn't any. We have heavy fogs every morning & rain all day. This house is not merely large, it is vast--therefore I think it must always lack the home feeling.
His dissatisfaction in it began thus early, and it grew as one thing after another went wrong. With it all, however, Mrs. Clemens seemed to gain a little, and was glad to see company--a reasonable amount of company--to brighten her surroundings.
Clemens began to work and wrote a story or two, and those lively articles about the Italian language.
To Twichell he reported progress:
I have a handsome success in one way here. I left New York under a sort of half-promise to furnish to the Harper magazines 30,000 words this year. Magazining is difficult work because every third page represents two pages that you have put in the fire (you are nearly sure to start wrong twice), & so when you have finished an article & are willing to let it go to print it represents only 10 cents a word instead of 30.
But this time I had the curious (& unprecedented) luck to start right in each case. I turned out 37,000 words in 25 working days; & the reason I think I started right every time is, that not only have I approved and accepted the several articles, but the court of last resort (Livy) has done the same.
On many of the between-days I did some work, but only of an idle & not necessarily necessary sort, since it will not see print until I am dead. I shall continue this (an hour per day), but the rest of the year I expect to put in on a couple of long books (half- completed ones). No more magazine work hanging over my head.
This secluded & silent solitude, this clean, soft air, & this enchanting view of Florence, the great valley & snow-mountains that frame it, are the right conditions for work. They are a persistent inspiration. To-day is very lovely; when the afternoon arrives there will be a new picture every hour till dark, & each of them divine--or progressing from divine to diviner & divinest. On this (second) floor Clara's room commands the finest; she keeps a window ten feet high wide open all the time & frames it in that. I go in from time to time every day & trade sass for a look. The central detail is a distant & stately snow-hump that rises above & behind black-forested hills, & its sloping vast buttresses, velvety & sun- polished, with purple shadows between, make the sort of picture we knew that time we walked in Switzerland in the days of our youth.