Edward Lear’s Letters in Italian 1: 18 December 1844 to A.M. Ricci

Edward Lear wrote at least two letters to Angelo Maria Ricci, discussing a project of his I had never read about. They are both at Biblioteca comunale di Rieti, Fondo Ricci, F=1=16/212 (many thanks to Ms Carla Moroni for supplying scans of the originals and granting permission to post them here).

ricci_a

Angelo Maria Ricci (Mopolino di Capitignano, L’Aquila 1776 ― Rieti 1850) studied in Rome and became a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia. He then moved to Naples, where he was given the chair of Rhetorics at the local university. In 1818, his health failing, he retired to Rieti, where he died in 1850. He wrote two epic poems, Italiade (1819) and San Benedetto (1824), and a treatise Della vulgare eloquenza (1819), as well as a Manzoni-inspired novel, Gli sposi fedeli (1837). He also produced six volumes of Poesie varie (1828-1830) and one of Poesie sacre (1849). [Also see a short Italian Wikipedia entry. A full biography is available via Google Books, where you can also read several of his books.]

In 1844-45, Edward Lear was evidently planning to illustrate the seventh book of Virgil’s Aeneid, and had asked Ricci, a Virgil expert, to help him select places worth drawing and to provide letters of introduction. Lear never realized the illustrations and probably abandoned the plan in the early stages owing to an eye infection, as he explains in the letter:

Al Illustriss.mo e Dottiss.mo Signore
il Sig.re Cavaliere A.M. Ricci.
in Rieti

1072d. Via Felice

Roma ― Dec.bre 18. 1844.

Sig.re Cavaliere illustrissimo ed amabilissimo,

Già avra pensato che il mio non rispondere alla sua pregiata lettera del 15 Nov.bre ˇ[non] sarà stato senza qualche cagione di premura: ― essendosi ella cosi amichevolmente ricordata del mio pensiero (da illustrare il 7mo libro di Virgilio,) mi sarebbe stato anche un piacere che un dovere ˇ[di] mandarle subito i miei ringraziamenti per tanta bontâ!

Ma ― tutto ciò che si vuole in questo mondo non si può fare: e mi rincresce, che, avendo per piû di 6 settimane sofferto moltissimo di una debolezza di vista, ― o piuttosto di quasi=infiammazione degl’occhi ― mi e stato assolutamente vietato il scrivere ― il leg[g]ere, ed il disegno. Bella vita! ―

Meno male che mi restava la musica! ― e poi ― se fosse ciò tolta ― vi è sempre il pensare. ――

Ora ― mi trovo a poco a poco amegliorandosi gli occhi, ― ma non posso molto travagliare: ― prendo, intanto, quest’occasione di ringraziare tanto e tanto la sua amabilità, preso che abbia tante pene per la parte mia.

Sono disgustato che non posso scrivere quel che la sua lettera domanda: si sa che sempre mi mancavano le parole ― maggiormente senza gli occhi come si può far altra che spedirle una propria bestialità?

Così sarà veramente questa lettera ― ma ella avrà la compiacenza di perdonarmi fin che mi ritorna il potere di più rispondere. Anche temo che il carattere sarà troppo cattivo per l’indovinare suo.

Fra tutti gli siti numerati in sua epistola ― certi sarebbero difficili ad ottenere. Monte Circeo ― Albunea ― Laurentum, Ardea, Nemi, etc. ― sono tutti poco lontano ― ma, cosa diremo di Atina, Mutasca ― e Norcia?

Per ora perdo la speranza di visitare quei luoghi: ― ma credo che abbia già disegnato tutti gli altri. intanto ripeto che la lettera mi sarebbe stato di grandissimo valore ― anche se fosse stato scritto da chichessia: essendo la sua ― si può figurarsi come l’ho pregiato.

Vorrei assai sapere se ella si troverà in Roma quest’inverno, e la prego di avere la bonta di avvertirmi del suo arrivo ― che posso passar a salutarla.

E, finora ― non vedo, (ne sento notizie di) ― Don Celestino [Ricci, fratello del poeta] ― che giornalmente aspetto. Al suo venire ― se sento da lui che ella non verrâ ― allora scrivero di nuovo a Rieti, più non mi permettendo gli occhi adesso.

Mi creda,
illustrissimo sig.r Cavaliere,
sempre suo servo obbligatissimo

Odoardo Lear.

My translation:

1072d. Via Felice

Roma ― December 18. 1844

Signore Cavaliere illustrissimo ed amabilissimo,

You will have come to the conclusion that my lack of a reply to your kind letter of 15 November was due to some pressing reason: ― as you were so friendly as to remember my project (to illustrate the 7th book of Virgil) it would have been a pleasure as well as a duty to send my thanks for such kindness immediately!

However ― one cannot do all he wants in this world: and I am sorry to say that, as I have suffered from a weakness of my eyesight ― or rather my eyes were nearly inflamed ― I have been utterly forbidden to write ― read, and draw. What a life!

Music was left, at least! And then ― if even that were taken away ― the ability to think would be left.

My eyes are now slowly improving, ― but I cannot work much: ―  for the moment, I take this opportunity to thank you for your great friendliness, for the inconvenience you have suffered for my sake.

I am disgusted of being unable to answer what you asked in your letter: you know that my language has always been insufficient. Without my eyes, what else can I do but send a beastly reply?

Such will be this letter ― but you will be so kind to pardon me until I am able to send a more detailed reply. I also fear that my handwriting will be much too bad for your guessing.

Of all the places listed in your letter ― some would be difficult to obtain. Monte Circeo ― Albunea ― Laurentum, Ardea, Nemi etc. ― are all not very far from here ― but, what about Altina, Mutasca ― and Norcia?

I have no hope of visiting these places at the moment: ― but I think I have already drawn all the others. At present let me repeat  how valuable any letter would have been to me ― whoever had written it: as it was from you ― you may easily guess how much I appreciated it.

I would be very happy to know whether you will be in Rome this winter, and would be pleased if you could kindly let me know of your arrival ― so that I can come and visit you.

So far, I have not seen, (nor do I have any news from) ― Don Celestino [Ricci, the poet’s brother] ― whom I expect to see any day now. When he arrives ― if I hear from him that you are not coming ― I shall write to you in Rieti again, as my eyes will not let me do more at present.

I remain,
illustrious signor Cavaliere,
your most obliging servant

Edward Lear.

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2 Responses to Edward Lear’s Letters in Italian 1: 18 December 1844 to A.M. Ricci

  1. Pingback: More on Edward Lear’s Aeneid Project | A Blog of Bosh

  2. Pingback: Edward Lear’s Letters in Italian 2: 22 March 1845 to A.M. Ricci | A Blog of Bosh

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