Written in very fine ink, circa 600/800 words per page. 8vo. Very Good. Item #301272
The loose leaves bear no name, but it opens with Stocking reporting rounds to various offices for papers required to enter Rome, then under French control. Stocking’s thoroughness here allowed his identification, as a check of U.S. Consular reports from Naples show just one visa application of any sort on February 14th - that of DeLafayette Stocking, for Rome.
DeLafayette Stocking (1816 - 1872) was the second child of the Rev. Solon Stocking of Binghampton, New York. Despite the apparent level of seriousness displayed in the diary, DeLafayette came from a family prone to light-heartedness, at least in the choice of names; his father was one of eleven children with names each starting with the letter “S”. In DeLafayette’s generation, all nine children had names starting with “D”. The family is perhaps more notable for including Captain Abner Stocking, a sea captain who fought at Bunker Hill and later sailed a Revolutionary privateer. He was DeLafayette’s great grandfather. (See C. Stocking - “THE STOCKING ANCESTRY”, 1903).
Stocking is not unhappy to leave Naples, fed up in particular with over-eager carriage drivers, but he does look back from the deck of the steamer at the Neapolitan panorama with some pleasant memories. With gentle irony he describes the petty fees, the jostling of porters, the complexities of baggage clearance at Civita Vecchia, the passengers with ten small bundles each, suggesting the hassles of travel with good nature.
Stocking’s style throughout is candid. As he approaches Rome, the Tiber looks like “a good-sized muddy brook”. Although the road from the rail terminal is “remarkably clean”, the view it affords of the Imperial city is greatly disappointing.
His chambers secured, Stocking first sets out to the Corso, where he finds a “magnificent” carnival scene - costumes, carriages, “battles” with comfits and bouquets, a riderless horse race, etc. He spends his first evening at an oil-lit theatre full of revellers.
The diary includes comment on everyday things as well as monuments and works of art. Rome is lit with gas, he notes, though the shops and dwellings generally use oil and candles. Letters home may be prepaid or not, and so on. His colourful account of the market at the Piazza Navona, where he finds everything from gems to shoe strings on sale , is, typically, followed by a respectful, even awestruck, description of the Pantheon.
In one entry, after a long walk up the Tiber, Stocking describes much that has disappeared; leather spread out on the banks by riverside tanners, the steamer dock, two grist mills (“the whole establishment being on boats anchored in the centre of the Tiber”), a rope-drawn ferry, and, farther down, “a frail suspension bridge”.
He has earlier described the thousands of French troops in the city, but Sunday, February 19th, intending to visit St. Peters he is distracted by a military display in the Piazza del Popolo; the French 4th Regiment, assembled for a ceremony of promotion. They stood “...two deep untill the arena was lined with troops in neat trim with their bleu coats, scarlet unmentionables and glittering bayonets...”, followed by heavy artillery with “fine draft horses”, the commandants escorted by fifty horsemen, “an imposing sight”.
Monday February 20th, he discovers the “principle shops” and speaks of their style of trading, “which involves the system of beating down to an enormous extent as every shopkeeper asks just half as much again as he expects to receive and if one is fool enough to give what is asked he has the satisfaction of laughing at your modesty and ignorance”. He is very dismissive of the range and quality of goods on offer, “I have not seen a native indulge in the luxury of butter”. After some wandering he takes dinner, for which he reserves some special scorn, “Restaurants are villainously poor in Rome...the only thing that can be got in perfection are the fried potatoes”.
Tuesday 21st, after a visit to Santa Maria Maggiore, he walks to San Lorenzo, finding its site lonely and abandoned. At three, he returns to the Corso and gives another full-blown description of the hectic carnival scene with detail on the running flower vendors and ragamuffins who snatch up bouquets thrown onto carriages to resell them. He culminates the account with the illuminations of Mardi Gras and the sport of blowing out others’ tapers. He is exhilarated; “The air seemed alive with dancing stars, the houses realed with the flickering of lights...and this with the merry laughter and quick lively music of the bands...a glorious whole...” and so on.
February 23rd, Stocking writes of the archaeological work underway in the Forum and the shiftlessness of the diggers, with detail on how it takes “one small shovel full of dirt about six minutes to reach the surface”, and how the workers, too heavily-cloaked, rest their modest wheelbarrow loads every few feet - “a sight that was truly disgusting to one who has always been in the habit of witnessing the quick movements of the ever busy americans”. He watches from a safe distance, “so as not to be in danger of receiving a portion of the many-legged families in which they all abound”. Amid much other detail, he notes the Temple of Vest is to be found “in a dirty yard filled with carts and cattle”.
Friday, the 24th, Stocking’s conscientious sightseeing on the Palatine Hill is enlivened by barrier-hopping to avoid paying a frank to each custodian to reach his destination, the Baths of Caracalla. The 25th, he writes entertainingly of a local waif who takes advantage of him in selling a succession of ancient coins. This day ends at the Scala Santa, with Stocking confessing astonishment “at the great faith exhibited and the humble demeanor of the penitents”.
The 26th, more explorations, “if I did not occasionally stumble into gardens I should not know how the gardening is done here”. The 28th, Stocking walks out on the Via Appia, just ten years uncovered. At San Sebastian, the catacombs are still in the process of excavation. The 29th, tailors are “very poor and doing little work, the best proof being that they agreed to have me a dress coat made in a little less than two days”, and he comments on their price-flexibility. Stocking also describes the hand-weaving of silk scarves, admiring the quality of work but noting how much faster steam-powered machines of New England would do the work.
Stocking writes with keen self-observation of the loss of a hat and a picnic basket at the Gesu Church, a vexatious incident that ends happily. March 2nd, he endures a trip to a Roman dentist. The 4th, he writes on the fine horses of Rome, the curious custom of branding, the frequent lashing of even the best horses, and he comments on the Roman observance of Sunday. After half a page we finish mid-sentence and then pick-up mid-sentence on Wednesday the 7th.
March 9th, with written permission, he visits the Vatican mosaic factory. “All artists are now at work upon the circular portraits of the popes to be placed in the San Paolo”, he writes in an excellent account of the tedious work. There is also an evocative passage on the Capuchin church and its bones. March 10th, a French soldier halts him at point of bayonet as he tries to enter the Colosseum in the moonlight.
Sunday March 11th, there is a chance to attend a papal audience but it fades into a senseless, two-hour wait “upon a dirty flight of steps”.
March 14th, Stocking writes a fascinating account of an unusual trip down the Tiber on a sixty ton steamer to Fiumicino. “There was but one passenger on board beside myself and friend and had I not brought provision I should have been most poorly off...for miles not a house could be seen and it was a sight far from enterprising...to see a river bordered by rich level lands and in possession of a few straggling cattle and sheep...”, and so on, with a good description of the winding Tiber, its sand bars and mills, and the canal to the stone village of Porto with its massive castle.
The colourful account includes the laborious, but cheap, upstream steamer ride back to Rome, slowed by the steamer’s running against the current and towing two heavily laden vessels.
Friday the 16th, Stocking finally sees the Pope at a special Lenten service, soldiers and Cardinals all around him. “As the procession entered the people fell back and...made a passage in the middle of the nave...All good Catholics fell upon their knees as though the waving of his hand was magic...”
The 17th was a day of rambles, with Stocking concluding he has “done” the sights of Rome rather well. There is a good description of the dandies and crinolined ladies in the Via Condotti and of the tactics of a large beggar family “most fancifully dressed”. The last entry, on the 18th, describes an oratorio at the Chiesa Nuova, “very like a good New England concert”, deserving of the bravos, that despite the church setting, ring out from the all-male audience.
Stocking is an energetic traveller, well-read and dedicated to sightseeing. Something of a loner, he appears to have found generous time to write a thoughtful, well-developed account of his experiences each day.
His interests extend beyond art, architecture and history to include daily life - street scenes, people, customs - making his journal far more than a guide book summary; indeed, his attention to detail and his opinions pack these pages with interest.
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