Tuesday 19 June 2012

Villino Trollope

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This somewhat low-key building - it houses an IT office for the Italian National Railways - on the north-eastern corner of the Piazza dell’Indipendenza, Florence, Italy, is a remarkable focus of literary connections. It's the Villino Trollope (often called the Villa Trollope), the household for around 20 years of  the historian and writer Thomas Adolphus Trollope (brother of Anthony Trollope).

The extended Trollope family that lived there was itself a huge concentration of talent. There was the novelist Frances Trollope (Thomas Trollope's mother) who bankrolled the building of the villa; Trollope himself; his wife Theodosia (the poet, illustrator, journalist and translator Theodosia Garrow Trollope); and Theodosia's father Joseph Garrow, an Anglo-Indian magistrate from Torquay who was known as a talented violinist and linguist (the Times Literary Supplement said of him: "it is a curious footnote to the literary annals of Anglo-India which proves that the son of an Indian mother lived to translate Dante and to move in a circle where the Brownings and Landor were the greater lights").

Theodosia is in many ways the most interesting of the bunch. Though born in Torquay, her background was exotic: her mother was a widowed Jewish musican who had been one of the celebrated Abrams Sisters singing trio; her father the son of an East India Company merchant and (according to some accounts) a Brahmin lady called Sultan. She also moved in artistic circles; as a girl, an invalid in Torquay, she had been befriended by the older Elizabeth Barrett (later Browning). (There's considerable background on her family origins in Hostettler and Braby's 2011 Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice - see chapter 15).

Despite constant ill-health (she died at only 40) she proved to be a charismatic and multi-talented hostess for the wide circle of literati who came to stay at the Villino Trollope. But beyond this, she proved a significant figure - indeed, the chief English apologist and supporter - in the non-Italian support for Young Italy, the movement that ultimately led to Italian unification. Consequently, the plaque that still exists above the entrance to Villino Trollope is devoted not to her husband or mother-in-law, but to her.

We can get the flavour of Villino Trollope in its heyday from a December 1864 Atlantic Monthly feature, English Authors in Florence (see pages 660-671), which name-drops any number of celebrities, political as well as artistic: Tom and Theodosia Trollope themselves, Anthony Trollope, the late Frances Trollope, Colonel John Whitehead Peard (an English supporter of Garibaldi), the Irish social reformer Frances Power Cobbe, "George Eliot", Pasquale Villari, "Owen Meredith" (Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton), the composer Jacques Blumenthal, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. As to the house and its atmosphere:
Ah, this Villino Trollope is quaintly fascinating, with its marble pillars, its grim men in armor, starting like sentinels from the walls, and its curiosities greeting you at every step. The antiquary revels in its majolica, its old Florentine bridal chests and carved furniture, its beautiful terra-cotta of the Virgin and Child by Orgagna, its hundred oggetti of the Cinque Cento. The bibliopole grows silently ecstatic, as he sinks quietly into a mediaeval chair and feasts his eyes on a model library, bubbling over with five thousand rare books, many wonderfully illuminated and enriched by costly engravings. To those who prefer (and who does not ?) an earnest talk with the host and hostess on politics, art, religion, or the last new book, there is the cozy laisser-faire study where Miss Puss and Bran, the honest dog, lie side by side on Christian terms, and where the sunbeam Beatrice, when very beaming, will sing to you the canti popolari of Tuscany, like a young nightingale in voice, though with more than youthful expression. Here Anthony Trollope is to be found, when he visits Florence; and it is no ordinary pleasure to enjoy simultaneously the philosophic reasoning of Thomas Trollope, — looking half Socrates and half Galileo, — whom Mrs. Browning was wont to call "Aristidcs the Just," and the almost boyish enthusiasm and impulsive argumentation of Anthony Trollope, who is a noble specimen of a thoroughly frank and loyal Englishman. The unity of affection existing between these brothers is as charming as it is rare.

Then in spring, when the soft winds kiss the budding foliage and warm it into bloom, the beautiful terrace of Villino Trollope is transformed into a reception-room. Opening upon a garden, with its lofty pillars, its tessellated marble floor, its walls inlaid with terra-cotta, basreliefs, inscriptions, and coats-of-arms, with here and there a niche devoted to some antique Madonna, the terrace has all the charm of a campo santo without the chill of the grave upon it; or were a few cowled monks to walk with folded arms along its space, one might fancy it the cloister of a monastery. And here of a summer's night, burning no other lights than the stars, and sipping iced lemonade, one of the specialties of the place, the intimates of Villino Trollope sit and talk of Italy's future; the last mot from Paris, and the last allocution at Rome.

Many charming persons have we met at the Villino, the recollection of whom is as bright and sunny to us as a June day, — persons whose lives and motivepower have fully convinced us that the world is not quite as hollow as it is represented, and that all is not vanity of vanities.

- English Authors in Florence, Atlantic Monthly feature, December 1864.
This gushing luvvie-fest of a celebrity home description seems to have been as ill-fated then as it is in these days of Hello! magazine. Theodosia Trollope was dead within a few months of the Atlantic Monthly article.


ON 13 APRIL 1865

With nearly all his close family gone, the spell was broken for Trollope, and he moved to another district of Florence, then to Rome, and ultimately to Budleigh Salterton. It took him until 1872 to sell Villino Trollope, and subsequently, in the late 1880s, it was taken over by an American couple, the ex-politician and sculptor John McNamee and his wife Florence, who billed it as an "English and American First-Class Hotel-Pension (see the brochure ), as noted in The Critic by a writer with whom Frances Trollope's 1832 US travelogue still rankled:
IT IS A CURIOUS coincidence that a house built with money largely made by vilifying Americans and American ways should now be turned into an American boarding-house, or pension as it is called in Europe. This house is the Villa Trollope, in Florence, which was built by Mrs. Trollope, the mother of Anthony and T. Adolphus, from the sale of her book, 'The Domestic Manners of the Americans." But the whirligig of time has brought in his revenge, and the Americans who visit Florence now sit with their feet out of the front windows of her own house, or nurse their babies on the doorstep. At least that is what they do at home, if we are to believe Mrs. Trollope, and why should they not do the same abroad?
- The Critic, January 28, 1888
It continued to attract the literati, and not merely Americans, as mentioned in this late reference:
“THE FOLLOWING OF THE STAR,” the last novel by Florence L. Barclay, which has just appeared under the Putnam imprint, was begun at the Villa Trollope, in Florence. where George Eliot wrote "Romola." At this villa, Mrs. Browning. Maxwell Gray, and Lord Lytton often stayed - and more recently it has been frequented by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Thomas Hardy and Eden Phillpotts.
- The Publisher's Weekly, RR Bowker, New York, January 13th 1912
Hardy stayed there in 1887, (see Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited, Michael Millgate, p259); Francis Hodgson Burnettt in 1888. I don't know the date, but I strongly suspected that Maxwell Gray (the Newport-born novelist Mary Gleed Tuttiett) had been to Italy; Italian settings turn up in several of her novels, and she was a highly autobiographical novelist.

The last account I can find of Villa Trollope as a place to stay dates from 1918, when it appears in Lilian Whiting's 1918 autobiographical travelogue The Golden Road. (I've hyperlinked names not previously identified):
The house built by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, in the Piazza Independenza, had become a private hotel, admirably kept by Mrs. McNamee of New York; it was fairly enshrined in literary associations of the days when the Trollopes made their home one of such famous hospitalities; when on the terrace overlooking the garden with its ruined statue gathered the Brownings, Landor, Isa Blagden, Dall'Ongaro, and Pasquale Villari, then a youth from Sicily to whom Robert Browning took an especial fancy; when Charlotte Cushman, Harriet Hosmer, and Robert Lytton (later Lord Lytton, the "Owen Meredith" of poetic fame) were sojourning in Florence and joined in the resident group; when George Eliot and Mr. Lewes were for some weeks the guests of the Trollopes during the time that the author was making her studies for "Romola"; all these, and other delightful reminiscences related in journals and magazines by Bayard Taylor, Kate Field, and other writers, had so invested the Villa Trollope with interest for me that I joyfully embraced the opportunity of being domiciled under its roof. The long French windows in my room opened out on the very marble terrace where the famous folk had long ago assembled to talk of Italian liberty and Italian poetry, and to eat ices and strawberries on summer evenings. The full moon turned the fountain to sprays of silver, and the "ruined statue" gleamed from the dark greenery of orange trees at the end of the walk. To draw a chair out on this terrace in the witching hours and gaze on this scene was to fancy it fairly peopled again with those figures of the past. All the interior of Villa Trollope verified the descriptions I had read, — the broad marble staircase, the balconied room of George Eliot, overlooking the piazza, where in the evenings she had written out her notes for "Romola"; the faint strains of music from the streets that echoed then, as now, on the midnight air.
- The Golden Road, Lilian Whiting, Little, Brown & Company, 1918
 Villino Trollope has an entry on the database Repertorio delle architetture civili di Firenze (Inventory of the civil architecture of Florence): here.
L'edificio si presenta esternamente in forme sufficientemente anonime, sviluppato su tre piani con uno smusso in corrispondenza dell'affaccio sulla piazza. Abitò qui la famiglia inglese Trollope, che prese parte attiva nella rivolta contro il governo granducale. Una memoria (posta sul portone di via Giuseppe Dolfi) ricorda la morte nel 1865 di Theodosia Garrow Trollope, in funzione del suo impegno di patriota. Con la morte della moglie il marito, lo scrittore Thomas Adolphus, vendette la casa per acquistarne una a Ricorboli, e quindi lasciò Firenze per Roma quando la capitale vi fu trasferita. L'edificio è ora sede della Ferservizi, del gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato.
The building, which appears anonymous enough externally, is on three floors with a chamfer [at the corner] overlooking the square. Here lived the English family Trollope, who took an active part in the revolt against the Grand Ducal government. A memorial (located on the front door on Via Guiseppe Dolfi) records the death in 1865 of Theodosia Garrow Trollope, in commemoration of her committment as a patriot. With the death of his wife, her husband, the writer Thomas Adolphus [Trollope] sold the house to purchase one in Ricorboli, then left Florence for Rome when the capital was moved there. The building is now home to Ferservizi, the [IT services] group for the Italian National Railway.
There's a lot of further reading at Julia Bolton Holloway's Florin.ms, the city and the book website. While the sprawling GeoCities-flavour design is a trifle hard going, there's a lot here about the Trollope family and other ex-pat writers in Florence. The site is associated with Aureo Anello, an organisation that aims to preserve the 'English Cemetery' in Florence where they're buried.
Frances Trollope ... is buried in Florence's 'English' Cemetery. With her are also her daughter-in-law, Theodosia Trollope, Theodosia's father, Joseph Garrow, who was the son of an Indian princess, her Jewish step-sister, Harriet Theodosia Fisher, and the family's maid, Elizabeth Shinner, five Trollopes in all. With her are also Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walter Savage Landor, Arthur Hugh Clough, Hiram Powers and Southwood Smith, all beneath the great cypresses of Arnold Boecklin and Sergei Rachmaninoff's 'Island of the Dead'.
Further reading. See the next post, The works of Theodosia Garrow Trollope.

- Ray

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