Daily Archives: October 10, 2007

Item of the Day: Mrs. Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy and Germany.

Full Title: Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy and Germany. By Hester Lynch Piozzi. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Strahan, and T. Cadell, 1789.

The Bolognese dialect is detected by the other Italians, as gross and disagreeable in its sounds: but every nation has the good word of its own inhabitants; and the language which Abbate Bianconi praises as nervous and expressive, I would advise no person, less learned than himself, to censure as disgusting, or condemn as dull. I staid very little at Bologna; saw nothing but their pictures, and heard nothing but their prayers: those were superior, I fancy, to all rivals. Language can be never spoken of by a foreigner to any effect of conviction. I have heard our countryman, Mr. Greatheed himself, who perhaps possesses more Italian than almost any Englishman, and studies it more closely, refuse to decide in critical disputations among his literary friends here, though the sonnets he writes in the Tuscan language are praised by the natives, who best understand it, and have been by some of them preferred to those written by Milton himself. Mean time this is acknowledged to be the prime city for the purity of praise and delicacy of expression, which, at last, is so disguised to me by the guttural manner in which many sounds are pronounced, that I feel half weary of running about from town to town so, and never arriving at any, where I can understand the conversation without putting all the attention possible to their discourse. I am now told that less efforts will be necessary at Rome. 

Nothing can be prettier, however, than the slow, tranquil manners of a Florentine; nothing more polished than his general address and behaviour: ever in the third person, though to a blackguard in the street, if he has not the honour of his particular acquaintance, while intimacy produces voi in those of the highest rank, who call one another Carlo and Angelo very sweetly; the ladies taking up the same notion, and saying Louisa, or Maddalena, without any addition at all.

The Don and Donna of Milan were offensive to me somehow, as they conveyed an idea of Spain, not Italy. Here Signore is the term, which better pleases one’s ear, and Signora Contessa, Signora Principessa, if the person is of the higher quality, resembles our manners more when we say my Lady Dutchess, &c. What strikes me as most observable, is the uniformity of style in all the great towns.

As Venice the men of literature and fashion speak with the same accent, and I believe the same quick turns of expression as their Gondolier; and the coachman at Milan talks no broader than the Countess; who, if she does not speak always in French to a foreigner, as she would willingly do, tries in vain to talk Italian; and having asked you thus, alla capi? which means ha ella capita? laughs at herself for trying to toscaneggiare, as she calls it, and gives up the point with no cor altr. that comes in at the end of every sentence, and means non occorre altro, there is no more occurs upon the subject…  

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Filed under 1780's, Europe, Language, Posted by Matthew Williams, Travel Literature