News has recently reached us from Germany of a discovery which should be of great interest to all with an interest in the country’s literature. While tidying up in the great man’s study in the so-called ‘Goethe House’ in Weimar, a cleaner (a Syrian immigrant as it turns out…) happened across some papers which had become wedged behind a drawer in the writing desk. Having been handed over to local academics, the papers were examined closely, and it has now been confirmed that they appear to document the final stages of Goethe’s ‘Italian Journey’, the voyage of discovery the writer undertook between 1786 and 1788, the final leg of which was thought to have remained unrecorded. While the find does not appear to be complete, the pages do shed some light on Goethe’s time in Florence on his route back north – and describe some rather unusual occurrences which may have been behind the decision not to publish this part of his account. Here, we release some extracts (sadly, the translator of the English-language version has not been named…) to allow the public a taste of these lost writings while the German literary world considers whether or not they should be published in their entirety.
Florence, the 21st of April
My friends, the closer I come to my return, the more I yearn to meet you all once more, to spend my evenings regaling you with the experiences stored up in my mind from my travels. Almost two years! I am, as you can imagine, a changed man, and you will find a very different figure before you on my arrival than the one you have kept in your memory all these months. And yet, the magnetic pull Italy has on me has not quite dissipated – I intend to enjoy the last drops of the wine, bitter as those dregs may be!
As you will have surmised from the start of my letter, I am once again in Florence, and having neglected to explore the city in depth in my haste to reach eternal Rome on the journey south, I am all the more determined to experience all I can on my return journey. Rest assured, my accounts of the delights to be seen will reach you in short notice; however, there are other matters of which I wish to talk in this epistle, certain strange happenings which have troubled the ease of these last Italian wanderings…
Today, I was lost in my thoughts while wandering around the Piazza della Signoria, imagining Dante’s banishment and conjuring up images of Savonarola overseeing his ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, when my musings were disturbed by a group of loud visitors some distance away. My curiosity was aroused by their strange, garish wardrobe, and the novelty of such a conspicuous group of strangers, who appeared to be conversing in English (although several of the group spoke in impenetrable dialects, some seeming to be using an entirely different language altogether), so I slowly began to shadow them at a distance, careful not to attract attention. As they rounded a corner leaving the Piazza, I heard one of the men remarking, “Gary’s waiting,” (Gary? A name?), and I decided to hold back so as not to be seen coming around the corner.
Imagine my surprise when I heard a loud droning, then a roar akin to the angered cries of fallen angels – what on earth was happening to the poor visitors? I raced around the corner to see… in truth, I am not really sure. For an instant, the image of a large square box resting on small black circles hovered in the air before disappearing in the manner of a fata morgana. I stood, astounded, looking all around for signs of the object, or the people I had been following. There was nothing.
I must stop here – I am in great need of rest. Perhaps my literary endeavours have affected my judgement…
Florence, the 22nd of April
It was all real! My eyes did not deceive me! The box exists!
It was on my way to the Uffizi, having just crossed the Ponte Vecchio, that I heard the strange noise once more, coming from a small street running off the main thoroughfare. Cautiously, I approached the final building of the street and peered around the corner, my heart pounding in my chest, and there it was! At rest, it is magnificent, several times larger than a carriage, with its black wheels (for surely that is their purpose) supporting the body of the beast, and on the side of the shiny vehicle (?) can be seen, in red ink, the words ‘German Literature Month Tour Bus’.
I had little time to ponder the strange phrase as a hole appeared suddenly in the body of the object, and people started to pour out onto the street, the same group I had seen the previous day. Who were they? What was their reason for visiting Florence? I shall have to investigate – this is almost as exciting as searching for rocks in a mountain riverbed…
Postscript: later the same day
I have made contact!
While drinking in the wonders of the Uffizi, out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone looking to attract my attention. A common occurrence, even if I do my best to travel incognito, yet when I turned to greet the intruder, with my usual set expression of gentle indulgence, I saw that the newcomer was one of the strange visitors – one of those with the impenetrable tongue! Quickly remembering the courtesy due to a lady, I introduced myself (in halting English), and she did likewise in our own native tongue (albeit imbued with the influence of her native vowels). Lizzy, as she introduced herself, appeared to be an admirer of my work, even if she was at times a little confused (I had never heard of several of the works she mentioned, and some had only recently appeared in my mind in their nascent form…). She explained that she was travelling with a group of like-minded lovers of art (at least, I assume that this was the meaning of the dialect word – bloggers – she repeatedly used) and began to suggest that I should join their party…
Here, I made my excuses and withdrew, as gracefully as I could. As I left, I could see Lizzy talking excitedly and gesturing in my direction, so I hurried my pace, looking for a convenient corner to disappear around. There are still mysteries here which I am keen to uncover, and yet I am not convinced that I wish to do so at the expense of my solitude and peace of mind…
Florence, the 23rd of April
Dear friends, I have more news of the unusual strangers who appear to be following me through the streets of fair Florence. Today we crossed paths on no fewer than three occasions, causing me to suspect that the reason for their presence may have less to do with the wonders of the city than with me! I realise how preposterous that sounds, yet I am convinced that on more than one occasion I saw them studiously examining a book, then looking in my direction, then returning to the book as if comparing what they saw across the Piazza with what was printed in their reading matter…
Nevertheless, despite my growing unease, I was compelled to come to the group’s assistance a short time ago after their curiosity almost led them into great peril. I have already noticed on several occasions that these unusual folk have a tendency to produce a strange device whenever they see a building or object they appreciate, and I originally believed that they were merely carrying a primitive form of spectacles. However, the truth is that the objects they use (believe me, I know how utterly ludicrous this sounds) are able to reproduce an image of whatever they capture within the small square of glass contained within the dull frame. Alas! I was not the only one to notice this phenomenon – as the foolhardy visitors pointed their little boxes in the direction of diverse government buildings, a guard of the city began angrily berating them, attracting a large crowd in the process…
Remembering my own travails at the start of my journey, when I was almost incarcerated for innocently sketching an old building, I quickly intervened, invoking the name of a high-ranking official whose company I had enjoyed at dinner a few nights before. As I played on the indecision my revelations had caused in the mind of the poor, honest custodian of the Florentine morals, the visitors quietly disappeared into the crowd (Lizzy turning to wave adieu as she turned the corner), and very soon all was as it had been. After waiting an appropriate amount of time, I hurried to the corner, where (as expected) I found… nothing.
Florence, the 24th of April
I fear that what I revealed in my last letter is only part of the truth. I am now more convinced than ever that the real object for the bloggers’ stay in Florence is to observe my movements – but some are more fascinated by my presence than others. You see (and I hesitate to put this to paper), I believe that the fair Lizzy has more than a mere literary interest in your friend…
Today, I decided to enter an inn to refresh myself after a morning spent admiring the architecture of the old city (I saw some particularly fascinating examples of the use of local rocks), only to discover the group of foreigners taking up most of the front dining area. With no opportunity to avoid discovery, I reluctantly accepted their invitation to join the party, determined to make my excuses as early as was politely convenient. I began talking to a few of the group: Tom, a gentleman from the United States of America, a newly independent colony of Great Britain; Caroline, a fellow German-speaker; Tony, a man exiled (for reasons unexplained) to a large island on the other side of the world (and who had been absent from the visit to the Uffizi due to what he confusingly described as ‘museum trauma’).
However, much as I tried to speak to all the group, I was (somehow) continually manoeuvered into corners by the artful Lizzy. As she enthused over my work, a sinking feeling began to emerge within my chest (although that may have been the wine), and before I knew it, we were alone in the inn, the remainder of the party having mysteriously departed without my noticing. I am not proud of what happened next, it was unworthy of a gentleman, I admit it, yet I had no choice.
When her back was turned to pay the bill, I ran and never looked back. I am currently in a carriage bound for Milan, whence I shall return to Germanic lands as quickly as possible.
I may stop to look at some rocks on the way.
The manuscript halts abruptly at this point, with only a sketch of what looks suspiciously like a long-distance bus, or coach, beneath this last entry. Rest assured, we will inform the interested public should more discoveries come to light…