Letter from John Dent Goodman to his Grandmother

Mrs Goodman

My dear Grandmother

I do not forget that I promised to write a letter to you during my stay abroad, & I have therefore chosen this, the most interesting of all places that I have yet seen for putting my intentions into effect. It is now a long time since I had letters from home, but I hope on my arrival at Florence on Saturday to hear a good account of all both at Peterborough & Islington Row. I have picked up from the newspapers that you have enjoyed fine weather lately so I trust it has enabled you to travel about a little & gather a good store of health for the winter. I wish I could send you a little Italian atmosphere, it would suit you exactly as you might sit in drafts or where you liked & never catch cold. You will have heard from Birmingham a little of my movements, altho I am sorry to say I am rather backward in my accounts to them, but you can scarcely concieve [sic] how fully my time is occupied, either travelling all day or sight seeing, for my stay in each place is so short that I am always compelled to begin the first thing in the morning & work hard till a five or six o’clock dinner. There people never sit as in England after dinner, but the moment it is finished up they rise & off to something else. It is true the meal occupies a long time – seldom less than an hour & in Germany sometimes more, but there it arises in some measure from the great numbers who sit down. In Frankfort I dined with a hundred & seventy people. They will however have told you that I soon picked up a companion who continues with me to the present time & hitherto we have worked exceedingly well together – our plans were originally very similar, so that by each giving up a little we have made them agree very well. My health throughout has been most excellent & altho I have undergone no little fatigue I can only look back upon one headache & that so slight that it did not prevent my walking about Milan the whole day. In Switzerland I travelled over five mountain passes on horseback & foot in six days & in Italy I have travelled forty eight hours in a coach so you see I am pretty well seasoned. I shook my knees a little in Switzerland & made them feel rather rickety for some time but that has now entirely passed off. The constant exposure to the air has browned my face, for I am never in the house except at night & during meals, & not always then, for in Venice I always eat my breakfast seated in the street! Tea is a meal unknown here, in the place of it I take my seat again in the street & call for an ice & a glass of water which cost me the third part of eightpence. I listen to a military band of sixty or seventy performers & am surrounded by all the fashionable people in Venice ladies & gentlemen. The night before last my little rush bottom chair was next to that of the Prince of Austria, cousin to the Emperor, who was eating his ice in the crowd like the rest of us. The ladies sit without bonnets & with bare arms & necks & as they do not assemble till sunset, they always remain sometime after it is quite dark. Venice is a very curious town it is built on several islands which are about two miles from the mainland, & so marshy is the ground that every house is obliged to be built on piles which form the foundations – of course they have no fresh water & every thing they eat & drink is brought over in boats – the islands do not rise many feet inches I may say above the sea so that in stormy weather the whole town is sometimes under water – all the principle streets which are very magnificent altho much decayed, are traversed by boats called gondolas as they are always filled with water, all the other streets are mere alleys varying with some few exceptions from six to ten feet wide thus you will see that such a thing as a carriage or a horse is a thing altogether unknown in Venice. All the shops are in the small streets, & it is curious as you walk along to see all the different species of manufacture carried on in the shops themselves the Tailor sits stitching in his window, the goldsmith blacksmith hatter gilder, all make their goods in the same little shop in which they sell them.

The fruit shops are very beautiful containing large piles of grapes peaches melons & everything that we are accustomed to regard as quite luscious, a great favourite with the poor people seems to be an immense pumpkin which is cut in half & roasted. To carry these little streets over the numerous canals there are no less than a hundred & fifty bridges. The canals are lined with palaces all which have been most magnificent. Many are so still, but others have been converted into warehouses while some are falling down altogether. Venice which was once almost the first city in the world has now fallen into the hands of another power & is going to ruin. The finest canals therefore have a desolate appearance, as even the largest buildings are not well kept on their exteriors, many are of bricks which show signs of their antiquity, some have been plastered & for want of repair look very bad – even the stone buildings have become discoloured from neglect. The churches, no language can describe their splendour – the interiors are gorgeously ornamented with marbles, precious from their rarity & gilding which has stood the test of centuries & looks as brilliant as though the work of yesterday. Pictures that were painted three hundred years ago by men who have since been the admiration of the world meet you on every side in the churches & the palaces which are always open to the stranger. In consequence of carriages not being available the ladies are obliged to pay all their visits in boats which are very slightly formed & have a very elegant appearance as they are paddled along by a man standing in the stern of the boat. The passengers sit in a little cabin in the middle which holds two people most luxuriously reposing on large soft cushions. The windows at the side enable you to catch a momentary glimpse of the large black eyes of the Italian girls as they skim by you. The people generally look clean in their personal appearance very few of the lower orders wear shoes, as you never can walk except on flags with which the whole town is paved, the men all have bare legs then trowsers scarcely reaching down to their knees, they are consequently as brown & highly polished as mahogany. I think they are very proud of their legs for I have seen them frequently washing them with great care. The water is carried about in small brass vessels slung across the shoulders at each end of a stick by young girls & women. They wear a dress peculiar to their class which gives them a very picturesque appearance – a mans hat long blue gown & stockings without feet. You cannot stir many yards without meeting one of them. I have always heard that the Italians were great cheats & I can most fully confirm it. You must never pay what is demanded even in the best shops. My friend bought an article for which fourteen francs were demanded, one by one the price was lowered till seven were taken & then two too many were paid but this was an extreme case – the vendor was a jewess with the loveliest pair of eyes I ever saw & she evidently expected to be paid for the smiles she gave us. If you pay a porter, another springs up as soon as the first is out of sight & demands the fee – in one instance a fellow had the impudence to pretend that he was the man we had paid & that we had paid him too little at the same time showing some little coin. The inn I am now in is very comfortable & for the first time since I have been abroad I am almost free from fleas which have hitherto tormented me dreadfully. A rat or two gambolled about my room the first night, but I had his hole cemented up in the morning & stopped his freaks. In a few hours I start for Florence, which journey I am unwillingly compelled to effect by easy stages as the Diligence does not travel by night until we reach Bologna when we shall travel over a road most celebrated for the brigands. We shall take with us a bold dragoon armed to the teeth to protect us. I shall be very glad to hear of your being quite well & if you can without trouble send me a short letter containing a little news about yourself & Aunt Catherine it will be very acceptable, posted not later than 12 October & addressed Monsieur J.D.Goodman – Poste Restante _ Paris.

Give my best love to Aunt & remember me to all enquiring friends & believe me your most affectionate Grandson