Friday, July 01, 2016

Rome, Naples et Florence: Preface; September 1816, Part I

If I'm ever going to do this, I suppose I must start it: Stendhal's Rome, Naples et Florence, Tome Premier. (Daniel Muller's notes to Tome I are in Tome II.) The reading's not going to be high or deep. This is tourism, not study: don't worry about catching it all, don't worry about misunderstanding, just read a bit in the guidebook, look at a map, read up a bit about the history, take a snapshot, make a comment, pass on to something else. (Putting it that way makes one realize that with social media we are all now just tourists in our own lives.)


But that perhaps fits the book itself, since in the Preface (to the third edition), Stendhal tells us that it's not a book, but a brochure! That can mean what it does in English, but since the brochure is several hundred pages long, unless he's being ironic I'm fairly sure Stendhal's not calling it a pamphlet. Rather, I think we are closer to the original meaning of the word: various pages sewn together.

[Berlin, 2 septembre 1816]

* The notes for this opening paragraph mention that it was examined closely in the review of the first edition in the Edinburgh Review, November 1817, so I looked it up. The first two paragraphs of the review are worth quoting in full:

The plan of this book is by no means a bad one. The author proposed to himself to set down, without any other arrangement than the order of time, what he saw from day to day with such remarks as occurred to him ; and to select for publication his notes respecting the three great cities of Italy beyond the Appennines. It is evident, however, that the value of a work constructed upon this plan, must depend wholly upon the talents and accomplishments of the author ; and that the cursory observations of a superficial, flippant, ignorant person, must form one of the most insignificant books in the world. It will be as empty as his conversation, without any of the liveliness, by means of which a great deal of silly talk is often made bearable in society ; and it will contain none of the materials by which a dull author frequently contrives to make a tolerable book out of other men's sayings or writings.

The writer of this volume is announced, in the newspaper advertisements, though not in the title-page, as a Baron Stendahl. He tells us, at the beginning of his journal, that he is thirty years of age ; is attached to the embassy at Berlin ; and was thrown into transports approaching to delirium, on receiving the leave of absence which enabled him to see Italy. 'Mais' (adds he) 'je me cache soigneusement du Ministre ;' — and the reason is a whimsical one — 'les eunuques sont en colere permanente contre les libertins.' From the envy, then, of his unfortunate superior, (for jealousy of course is out of the question), he anticipates a cold reception for at least two months after his return ; but he consoles himself with the reflexion, that he shall enjoy himself in the mean while ; and 'who knows,' he asks, 'if the world will last three weeks ?' The first paragraph of the work which we have analyzed, may give the reader a guess of the flippant character he has to deal with, in the person of the Baron de Stendahl.

That is such a splendidly ruthless take-down that I will keep the Edinburgh Review by my side for as long as I continue through RN&F. Even if Stendhal gets wearing, we can trade snide comments about his flippant character. Stendhal seems to have been a bit stung by the review; Muller notes that when he was putting together the second edition, he commented to a friend that the additions were «plus solide, plus sérieux, méritent moins l'accusation de flippancy».

* «Transports de joie, battements de coeur», though, seems a fit response to being able to go on a four month vacation to «belle Italie»...

[Ulm, 12 septembre]

...and a Mediterranean climate to contrast with the north wind in Germany, apparently. We just blow through Ulm, without even a glance at Ulm Minster; the book rushes us to Italy.

[Munich, 15 septembre]

But we do get the first taste of Italy before we even get there, as Stendhal meets the operatic singer, Angelica Catalani (1780-1849), a soprano who is said to have had a range of nearly three octaves. At this point, though, as far as I can tell from her biography, she hasn't been focusing on singing for a few years, but running her own opera company in Paris. According to Wikipedia: "In May 1816, Catalani left her opera in the hands of managers, and went to Munich to give some concerts and representations. Thence she proceeded to Italy, and only returned to Paris in August 1817." I find it amusing, from everything I can find online about her, that she was almost universally considered to have extraordinary musical talent and bad musical taste. But Stendhal seems to have had a lower opinion of German musical taste than of madame Catalani's.

And that suffices for now, with the preliminaries. On 24 septembre, Stendhal arrives in Milan and gushes, and gushes, and gushes about the Scala theater. Transports de joie, battements de coeur! I'll continue next Friday. (Although this won't be a weekly thing; but we aren't even to belle Italie yet.)

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