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#0137: Willa Cather to Alice E. Dailey Goudy, May 3 [1908]

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Naples, le2 My Dear Mrs. Goudy1

We My friend3 and I have just come back from a week up in the Apennines4 where we have had some wonderful long walks visiting some old forgotten monestaries where there are only one or two monks left. In one splendid old building we found but one lonely monk. It is high on a mountain top and very few people ever take that terrific climb over a ruined mountain road. We found some wonderful latin manuscripts in his crumbling library. In another monestary, the famous Benedictine abbey of La Trinitá della Cava, we found the original code of the Lombard League. The place was founded by a Lombard king in 1030. It is a great rambling white building built against the side of a perpendicular cliff and below it is a dreadfully deep wooded ravine to which you can decend by a flights of steps cut in the cliff. Down there the angry little river Bornea[?] leaps along under its stone arches and turns the wheels of half-a-dozen little stone flower[?] flour-mills set here and there down the narrow, winding valley.

I spent two long days in Pompeii5, which is so much more wonderful than anyone can ever imagine, and have returned here spend some time looking over the great Pompeiian collection in the Naples Museum. I love Naples and am living in a most delightful hotel situated right on the Bay of Naples6 which, I am convinced, is the most enchantingly beautiful body of water in the world. I have marked my balcony in the picture at the head of this note paper. I sit there every afternoon and watch Vesuvius change from violet to lilac and then to purple. I could almost throw a stone over to the tiny island of Megaris7 where Lucullus8 had his gardens and where Brutus9 met Cicero10 after the murder of Caesar11. The street singers sing all the old Neapolitan airs under my window every night, and every morning I go out and buy roses and camelias on the Spanish Stairs. The gardens in Naples are beautiful, and the Royal Museum is the richest I have in portrait sculpture I have ever seen—the Brittish Museum seems quite poor in comparison. The portrait sculpture of the Roman Emperors, particularly of the Antoinine house, leave nothing to be desired. The royal families were appear appear in youth and age, and I feel as if I had known every member personally. I have rubbed up my Latin enough to get through Tacitus12 and Suetonius13 quite carefully. This is the place to read those detailed historians, for details cannot mean much unless you are in the place where it has a physical and concrete reality.

There was a photograph of the wonderful head of Caesar14 at the Naples museum in the copy of Allen & Greenough’s “Gallic War”15 which I read in Red Cloud16 under Mr. Goudy17. I always knew I should see the original some day, and I thought of Mr. Goudy when I came across that great head the other day in its lofty marble gallery. Of all the statues of Caesar I have seen it is the most wonderful. Such a head! Napoleons18 is a wooden block compared to it. I go back and back to it and I doubt whether the world has produced another such head in all the centuries since.

We spent a good deal of time in the vineyards and fields last week. The oranges and lemons are ripe in their orchards and the peach and cherry trees are in bloom. The vines are in little new leaf and the olive groves all along the Mediterranean19 are so soft and gray. All the country folk are in the fields [illegible] digging and planting the fall crop, and they do it just as Virgil20 describes in the Georgics21: the same heavy hoes, the same white saplings for the vines, the same old songs as the husbandmen toil along the furrows and work this old, old earth which has produced most of the beautiful things in the world.

Next week we go to Rome22, but I shall leave Naples and the soft Companian country with tears, I am afraid. Such a ravishing world and such a short life to see it in!

Lovingly Willa