Agnes of Sorrento eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2013)


  In the summer of 1859, Mrs. Stowe made her third and last journeyto Europe. During the summer, the whole family was abroad, save theyoungest; but in the autumn Mr. Stowe and one of the daughters returnedto America, leaving Mrs. Stowe with two daughters and a son to spendthe winter in Italy. The residence there was mainly to establish thehealth of the family; but Mrs. Stowe had entered into engagementswith the New York _Ledger_ and the New York _Independent_ to furnishcontributions, with a design ultimately of collecting the papers andrecasting them for a volume to be published in the spring of 1860 inAmerica and England, under the title of _Leaves from Foreign Books forHome Reading_. She had indeed entered into an agreement with SampsonLow & Co., the London publishers of _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ and _Dred_, forthe publication of the volume, but a sudden change of plans brought herhome before she had perfected her book, and it was never published.

  Meanwhile her dramatic instinct had begun to work upon the materialthus gathered. It was impossible for her, with her strong religiousnature and her active interest in structural Christianity to avoidsubjecting the great church so constantly in evidence to those tests ofpersonal religion which had been familiar to her from childhood. Herstay in Florence brought vividly before her the figure of Savonarola,and her imagination, in seeking to recover the life of his day,instinctively invested it with the spiritual struggles so well knownto her and her circle. There was no conscious protestantizing of thelife, as one may say, but the story which she told naturally reflectedthe color of her own religious training. _Agnes of Sorrento_ was begunin this Italian winter, and had its immediate origin, as she herselfexplains in the following note, in a friendly contest of story telling.It was not completed until some time after the return to America,finding its first publication in _The Atlantic Monthly_ in America and_The Cornhill Magazine_ in England. In _The Atlantic_ it was begun inMay, 1861, and finished in April, 1862.

  In the party with Mrs. Stowe were Mr. and Mrs. Howard of Brooklyn, andtheir children. When the tale made its final appearance in book form,it was accompanied by the following passages from a letter to thepublishers by Mrs. Stowe. The "Annie" referred to was Miss Annie Howard.

  "The author was spending some weeks with a party of choice and very dear friends, on an excursion to southern Italy. Nothing could have been more fabulously and dreamily bright and beautiful than the whole time thus employed. Naples, Sorrento, Salerno, Paestum, Pompeii, are names of enchantment which will never fade from the remembrance of any of that party. At Salerno, within a day's ride of Paestum, the whole company were detained by a storm for a day and a night. The talents of the whole company were called in requisition to make the gloomy evening pass pleasantly with song and jest and story. The first chapters of this story were there written and read, to the accompanying dash of the Mediterranean. The plan of the whole future history was then sketched out. Whether it ever find much favor in the eyes of the world or not, sure it is, the story was a child of love in its infancy, and its flowery Italian cradle rocked it with an indulgent welcome.

  "The writer and the party were fresh from strolls and rambles about charming Sorrento; they had explored the gloomy gorge, and carried away golden boughs of fruits and blossoms from her orange orchards. Under the shadow of the old arched gateway they had seen, sitting at her orange stand, a beautiful young girl, whose name became Agnes in the story; and in the shadows of the gorge they met that woman straight and tall, with silver hair, Roman nose, and dark eyes, whose name became Elsie. The whole golden scene receded centuries back, and they saw them in a vision as they might and must have been in other days.

  "The author begs to say that this story is a mere dreamland, that it neither assumes nor will have responsibility for historical accuracy. It merely reproduces to the reader the visionary region that appeared to the writer; and if some critic says this date be wrong, or that incident out of place, let us answer, 'Who criticises perspective and distances, that looks down into a purple lake at eventide? All dates shall give way to the fortunes of our story, and our lovers shall have the benefit of fairy-land; and whoso wants history will not find it here, except to our making, and as it suits our purpose.'

  "The story is dedicated to the dear friends, wherever scattered, who first listened to it at Salerno. Alas! in writing this, a sorrow falls upon us,--the brightest, in youth and beauty, and in promise of happy life, who listened to that beginning, has passed to the land of silence.

  "When our merry company left Sorrento, all the younger members adorned themselves with profuse knots of roses, which grew there so abundantly that it would seem no plucking could exhaust them. A beautiful girl sat opposite the writer in the carriage and said, 'Now I will count my roses; I have just seven knots, and in each seven roses.' And in reply, another remarked, 'Seven is the perfect number, and seven times seven is perfection.' 'It is no emblem,' she said gayly, 'of what a perfect time of enjoyment we have had.' One month later, and this rose had faded and passed away.

  "There be many who will understand and tenderly feel the meaning, when we say that this little history is dedicated to the memory of ANNIE."