Comyn, K.B. [Manuscript] M.S.S. Tour of Italy, 1822.
4to. 199pp. of text, in a prodigiously elegant 19th century copperplate hand, extremely legible, 36 leaves blank to rear. Bound in contemporary green half morocco over marbled boards, titled and ruled in gilt to spine, with gilt border-work to boards. Marbled edges. Marbled endpapers, silk ribbon pagemarker, Benson label to front pastedown, pencil not to verso front flyleaf stating rather tantalisingly “John Maggs of Maggs Bros. said this came from Holland House.” A reference (albeit it one oft chucked around in the book trade of the 50’s and 60’s, with varying degrees of accuracy) to the famous Holland House library bombing by the Luftwaffe, which is the origin of one of the most famous photographs of 1940; a group of men in bowler hats and overcoats calmly perusing shelved volumes in a wrecked library with no ceiling and heaps of rubble all over the place. Also present is a pencil not to the effect that another manuscript exists (somewhere!) in which a gentleman called Chilton recounts meeting Mr. Comyn at Ischia in August 1822, an account of which meeting is present here from Mr. Comyn’s perspective; I can only assume that I am going to have to seek out that manuscript and then spend my twilight years writing a concordance of posh people touring Italy in the 19th century. Everyone needs a hobby. Mr. Comyn was quite the linguist and scholar, each section of the MS is opened with a verse or excerpt (Part 1 begins rather pleasingly with a paragraph from Tristram Shandy) in English, Italian, French, Classical Greek, or Latin. Another curious point is that the recto of each page (generally) is written in neat brown ink, whereas the verso is written in red ink, and serves often as footnotes and additions to the previous page. I’ve catalogued beautiful manuscripts, and scruffy manuscripts and desperate manuscripts, this particular example ranks right up there as one of the neatest and most scholarly I have ever laid hands on. The verso footnotes frequently tie in points of the preceding text with classical references from Livy, Tacitus, or indeed Gibbon, who at that point was still very much a recent best-seller. The account begins as our rather grand tourist leaves London on July 20th, 1822, whips through France (”The dreary flat of France...”), ends up at Geneva in the space of half a page “The contemplation of this glorious scene lasted almost to the gates of Geneva, it was then exchanged for a dirty & dismal town, with scarce an object to detain a traveller...” The Alps detain Mr. Comyn longer, with some consideration of St. Bernard and a lengthy rumination on Hannibal and his conspicuous lack of wisdom in attempting to cross in winter. These landmarks on the journey are, in Comyn’s mind at least, mere truck stops on the road to his primary destination: “The best answer...is the sensations of the traveller upon entering Rome, the moment is at hand, when our desire to examine for ourselves that of which we have heard so much from early youth is about to be realised.” There is no doubt that Rome has been a lifelong ambition for our traveller: “I grudged every moment after my arrival which was given to the delay of necessary refreshment after a long journey; my hotel seemed like a prison which separated me from what I so ardently desired to behold.” Comyn’s classical passions from that point are positively unbridled, he visits every inch of classical Rome that can be reached (twice, at a later part in the journey, after a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum, he circles back to Rome to continue immersing himself). The section on Pompeii and Herculaneum is somewhat sobering: “We were here shown the hardened lump of earth and ashes which covered the unhappy persons found in the villa at Pompeii, in which the impression of a female breast and arm are plainly visible. A skull of a female who by her dress & ornaments appeared to have been the mistress of the house is amongst the collection of subterranean remains.” Naples and Bologna (with copious recourse to Livy) are incorporated into the progress, and a “Parting Retrospect of Italy” is included before the journey homeward begins via Simplon and Lausanne and then ultimately to London: “...after a gloomy day spent at Calais waiting the departure of the London steam Packet - I landed at the Customs House after a pleasant voyage of eleven hours.” An altogether engrossing journal, and a far cry from the “Got beastly drunk in Pisa” variation on the theme.