Monday 28 March 2011

Creating a garden and studio from scratch.

March 2010 - having just moved in, in a very temporary sort of way with hired furniture, well with hired everything as all was lost in the house fire, I look on at the dismal garden with huge excitement and anticipation for transforming this neglected strip of Devon clay into a beautiful Cottage garden. Thank goodness someone had the forethought to plant a Flowering Cherry tree. I love the prospect of one day sitting under the dappled sunlight with family and friends. Hey Ho!
The back of the cottage/garden looked desolate and uninspiring in 2010. The 'garden' - a piece of land, fenced off from the field where cattle graze is on a slope but faces south so all is forgiven.  Pity about my neighbour's fence. It is totally uninspiring and I will really have to think hard about how to transform it.
A late start to the vegetable garden in year one, using compost to plant as the soil is compacted clay! Virtually all my time is taken up with dealing with the insurance claim and trying to work out exactly how to re-start life after the house fire. So delighted to be living at Dartington amongst such supportive and lovely people. Looking forward to making a home and garden and a new life. I see this place as home now even though it looks so unloved as yet. All property is rented here at Dartington Hall and is not cheap but I think my cottage is at the low end of the market as it is so small. It was originally designed for the farm labourers on the estate. In fact the family that live next door have been here since the beginning - father to son to grandson as far as I can make out. No one stays long in my cottage as it has been used as a transition post for people looking for larger places up until now. It is my mission to change all of that and make this plot of land a little paradise. When I was growing up we lived in our family home, it was called Pleasuance, named by my uncle who was its architect and I still have the sign, gilded in gold leaf on oak by my father. This will be my little pleasaunce - it is Old French for a certain type of garden

March 2011 - My son is building me a garden shed, 16' x 8' to have as workshop/potting area at one end and hopefully a place to paint in with constant daylight at the other.  So far so good, door next, then windows, steps, insulation, tongue/groove inner cladding and decorating.  Everything is step by step, day by day, a bit at a time as we are all so busy. When the foundations for the shed were dug, as the garden is on quite a slope - a lot of earth and gravel was moved.  It has been sitting in a huge pile waiting for better weather.  It will now be transformed into a modern herbaceous border and provide much beauty and delight! 

As a consequence, I have been digging out weeds and more weeds!  This is an organic garden so there is going to be a lot of weeding!  Then there will be digging in compost, leaf mold and old rotted down horse manure and then raking and leveling.  The earth at the top end of the garden was very compacted and a long time home to perennials with very deep tap roots and masses of creeping buttercups.  I love buttercups but there is a limit!  I dug out the beginning of the what I thought would be raised beds to a depth of about 6'' - 10" to get most of the weeds out and then stacked all of the clods and turf against the fence on the left of the plot.  One year on and it's transformed into workable and quite beautiful and usable soil which is just what the plants will require.
Bit by bit and wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, I've been adding the soil to the new flower bed.  I am taking it quite slowly as after a winter of really no heavy garden work I know from painful experience that I will have to let my back muscles adjust more slowly than I have done in the past. I can't afford to be out of action with a bad back at this time of the year. It is frustrating but worth it!  I've been collecting an assortment of old fashioned cottage garden plants - roses, hollyhocks, phlox, pinks, delphiniums, foxgloves, peonies, irises, lupins, lavender, hardy geraniums, aquilegia and poppies, many of which I've grown from seed and brought on from cuttings and all waiting for a permanent home.  But the soil will have to settle and there will be more weeds to extract before they can go in and have room to stretch their roots.
April 2011 - Two weeks on and I've changed the shape of the bed and managed to find stones to edge it - no cement, just soil for infill and Aubretia, which I have always loved in cottage gardens and somehow never been able to grow. I have been protecting the plants with sections of poly carbonate whilst my two new arrivals, Emmeline and Alexandra settle in. 
I like to work at different tasks for a short time each day as there are so many different ones to do. This is pretty heavy going, namely bringing these large stones from across the lane where they are piled up every time the field is ploughed. I know that there are going to be a lot of weeds too as this compost from the estate is fully organic!
May 2011 - Later on in the year and all the plants are thriving, bees are buzzing and the garden is starting to take some kind of shape. No doubt it will change shape later as I tend to garden the same way as I paint, taking the next cue from the previous ones rather than depending on an overall plan.
Named after and  Emmeline Pankhurst and Alexandra Kollontai  both strong and visionary, Emmy and Alex arrived in my garden as a gift from a friend who is moving house.  I think that this is a naming tradition to follow.  However, Mrs Siskins - the small white carnations along the lower side have been virtually vanquished by these revolutionary ladies already!  I shall have to fence them in - plants, not hens for now.  Later I will build the chickens a beautiful Palais de Poulet but for now they will have to muck in and make do whilst I get on with building the infrastructure of the garden. 

The hens are only too willing to clear any patch of ground and if enclosed during the process the result can be very advantageous to them and to me. 
April 2010 - In the meantime my thoughts are turning to a small sheltered area that the new shed has helped to create. This little grassy area will then be for sitting in, under the shade of the flowering cherry and then, as the blossoms are too soon gone, a pink clematis Montana that will grow up amongst it's branches.

I have since leveled the earth mound  around the base on second thoughts as someone is bound to want to sit, lean and rest from time to time, plus piling earth up will bring its own problems.  A round seat would be wonderful eventually.
April 2011 - Removing that mound and preparing the soil around the Cherry tree for Clematis and Wisteria, with a little help, in fact, it's impossible to keep them out of the picture.
April 2012 - the Cherry tree in flower, petals drifting down. The Wisteria and the Clematis happily climbing way above. Looking forward to seeing them in flower.
April 2010 - Bella is usually nearby. This time sitting where the garden gate will go.
April 2011 - Stage 1 - I have decided to use 8' tree stakes for this entrance to vegetable garden. I like the idea of having two gardens, one for a more traditional cottage garden and then a separate vegetable one. This makes more sense as Bella is very keen on picking her own fruit and veg! The plan is in my head.
I have decided that I will paint it off white in keeping with the studio/shed. I do hope this will be alright. I can see it in the future covered with Honeysuckle, Jasmine and Roses.
February 2012 - Cross pieces on and now lovely gate, tall enough to prevent Bella leaping over and to keep the hens on one side. No sign of the fox as yet but this wont keep hm out I know.
February 2012 - back to work on the entrance. This has been a job that keeps being delayed.
April 2012 - One more cross member and the gate needs more coats of paint. The Honeysuckle needs to be wired into place initially and then I will let it scramble. The Jasmine has not taken off as yet. I planted them last year so they may take a while. The roses - Zephirine Drouhin -  chosen for being deep pink, virtually thorn-less, repeat flowering and having a wonderful fragrance have really taken life slowly and I will have to build up the beds and put more in order to make the entrance look beautiful and abundant. No quick fixes with gardening, just patience and devotion. The rather basic wire fence, well his is my first attempt at fencing but I've every confidence it's going to look absolutely fantastic now the wire's stapled on, the lavender and roses have become established and jasmine and other ramblers scrambles over and through it.
April 2011 - Early mornings are misty now as the earth warms up and spring arrives.  Each day brings new wonders.  The world is no longer mono tone, there are touches of Sienna, Paynes Grey and Chartreux Green mixed with the dawn chorus.   This is such a beautiful map of Dartington Hall Estate, which as you can see is heart shaped and we live in the middle of the heart!  I can take a walk around the gardens and experience that incredible peace and contentment that comes with a garden that has  grown into its own maturity, one that has presence and its own identity.  I can wander whenever I have the time, take photographs or just sit and be inspired whilst listening to the birds singing, the rain falling or the wind in the trees.  In Dartington Hall Gardens, spring has already arrived - it is sheltered and has been loved and cared for since the 1920's.  It is such an inspiration at any time.
The birds are being very busy gathering straw and feather this week. The weather has been especially kind and the cherry blossom is in full bloom already. Even the jackdaws are busily gathering moss from the roof of the Barn Cinema which is the oldest building on the entire estate.  
Hill House Nursery is without doubt my most favourite garden centre. It's open all year, the tea rooms are from an Enid Blyton novel, the people who work there are wonderfully up beat and helpful and the plants are diverse, plentiful and no where near as expensive as the more corporate places.  We have just collected a wisteria, a present from a friend, to eventually grow across the back wall of the cottage.  I have about 18' of old rusty chain, retrieved from the beach on the estuary at Salcombe which will have a new life as a support for the wisteria until it has managed to reach the wall. There is concrete around the cottage and I really want this 40' (potentially) of fragrant white magnificence to have plenty of room for its roots to grow so I have dug a hole, with the help of a pick axe and added loads of old horse manure and compost mix so it's off to a good start.
April 2011 - Emmy and Alex have their temporary home here.  I am trying to cut back/dig up and move the wild rose to a place in the hedge.  It's thorns are lethal and much more suitable for a boundary plus it will block the view of the developing garden from the kitchen window if left in its present position.  So far so good.  There is a pile of driftwood in the corner to move and then try to clean off the depressing stains from the walls. I have the wall above the kitchen window in mind for the eventual site for a dove cote, a long, low one that reflects the shape of the cottage roof.  I've often kept doves in the past and life feels incomplete without them.  I used to keep peacocks, I love them, I wonder if they might be a possibility for the future but I know that not everyone appreciates their song!  I adore it, so plaintiff and moving.
April 2011 - Looking a mess, I know but I am making progress. I don't mind working in so-called chaos. I see it as an ongoing creative process, creative chaos in fact.
April 2011 - My first astonishing introduction to Fritillaries was at Magdalen College, Oxford - see this link if you would like to know a little more about them - Fritillaries at Magdalen College Oxford  I've loved them ever since so when the rain began to stop in the afternoon, I managed to work on the border and part two of my fencing in the sheltered garden.  I had to put in seven wheelbarrow loads of soil and compost into this section alone as previously there had only been a hole full of weeds, lumps of old mortar and dead leaves from autumn.  It is here that I have started off a few Fritillaries from which I will try to grow more from their seed for next year. 
April 2011 - Another area to be transformed. I love the old seat ends I found at the re cycling centre. I shall bring them back to life and find a spot for a new old bench. They have lions heads on them!
April 2012 - Work begins on leveling the lawn prior to re-seeding.
I went over to Stoke Gabriel, a beautiful little village on the edge of the River Dart so took Bella, our adored black Labrador with me and walked her through the woods and as it was low tide we could cross the weir and walk back along the Mill Pond, where I found this beautiful blackthorn blossom, litchen and ivy berries.  There is something about the combination of colours that I know will translate into future jewellery/collage/painting!    

I do have a front garden too, just waiting for a little magic! Living at Dartington Hall means you are always prepared for the unexpected, as when a chap on a penny farthing whizzed by one morning.  I will turn the front garden into a typical country cottage front garden.  I have managed to transplant my wisteria from my previous house.  That is where we had the fire.  The wisteria was planted in a huge container on the balcony but was heavily damaged by the acrid smoke that bellowed through the window above it.  It looked terrible but we managed to move it and I washed all its branches, dug a hole and watered daily and hoped for the best.  It has survived and is thriving.  Me too!  Meanwhile I have much to do in the back garden.  It has been a rainy week but in between the showers I have been ticking jobs off my list. It's all pretty back breaking work and the only way I can keep going is to make sure that I get to the swimming baths by 7 am or just after.  It's pretty impossible to get there after that as road works and the morning rush hour take too much time out of the day. Swimming is the one thing that keeps me moving, it's such gentle exercise and strengthens the core muscles which this kind of gardening would soon exhaust.  The steam room and the sauna are pretty good too!  There is a gym but I find it so boring, I much prefer to work in my garden.

Found - one bedraggled pigeon in Exeter city centre - now rested, watered, fed and re-homed at Dartington Hall.
March 2011 - Time for some inspiration from other gardens.  At this time of the year there are not many gardens that are open to the public yet.  Kingston House in Devon opens three times a year only.  A beautiful Sunday, so I decide to take myself off to see what I can discover in other peoples back gardens.  Kingston House  is not  your regular 
back garden!  However it does have quite a humble kitchen garden which is the part that attracts me the most.
I like the use of using and re-using whatever is to hand and i really like these wire contraptions - an idea I will follow for sure.

Little cages to protect the young plants, presumably from rabbits. A good idea to protect things from Alex and Emmy. I also like the edging stones but having seen the house and grounds I have no doubt that there is a quarry nearby so stones would not have been a problem.  In the days when Kingston House was built 'location, location, location' was still I am sure the ruling criteria but in those days much time, thought and consideration was given to strategic positioning, water source and stone and timber and where to house ones private army!

Sunday 6 March 2011

Travels - inspiration - Capri

Through long dark nights
Our ways are plotted
And found by the light of stars
Long since departed.

Rhythms and shifting galaxies
Clouds and ice and fire
Star studded depths where ghosts
And memories roam.

Thought, word and desire
Flux and flow and fusion
All that ever was.

The timing and arranging
Is for now.

Capri is a place that I just have to go back to again and again and again.  I just love this little island. It feels like home.
Perhaps it was inevitable really!  I had been fascinated with the Bay of Naples since I was a child.  The history of Herculaneum and Pompeii captivated my imagination and not least that anyone would even want to live so close to a volcano like Vesuvius that was rumoured to be late for it's next eruption!  Films of the 50's, Neapolitan love songs and the fact that one of my uncles used to whistle 
Pedro the Fisherman all the time. Gracie Field's also sang about Pedro when I was a little girl. This all added to this mysterious calling I sensed for Capri!
One of the most intense and recurring dreams of my childhood had been of being a child in a bustling city with smells of food, horses, noise everywhere and then sailing away from the place in a boat with red sails with a young friend, a boy called Marco and of seeing a mountain explode and finally finding an island and safety!  That dream haunted me until finally went in search of this sanctuary. 
Hotel La Certosella is one of my favourite places to stay, it is on via Tragara, one of the most beautiful roads it's possible to find anywhere and is secluded and quiet.  The gardens are lovingly tended, there is a pool and it faces south looking over the Mediterranean. It is here that the full moon is suspended. Once I have arrived and settled in, I start my day early just before dawn and long before most people are awake.  I return to my favourite pathways and sheltered places.  Away from the centre, all is quiet, apart from blackbirds and cicadas and an occasional cockerel crowing, a dog barking in the distance and the cry of seagulls.  The island begins to come to life again as sunlight reaches the belvederes, begins to cast long shadows through trellises and across terraces. 
The air has the scent of jasmine, wisteria and oleander.  And it is wonderful to wander as the day begins, to stop and listen to the sounds and smells of this beautiful island as she too awakes to another day.

In the 1870's a road linking Capri and Anacapri was built up the winding cliff face.  It is  a most extraordinary journey. Especially if you take one of the little buses which are mainly standing room only.  The view and the road get higher and higher and seem to go on forever.  The alternative is to walk the hundreds of stone steps cut into the mountain side, the Scala Fenicia.  No cars are allowed on Capri unless you are a resident and then only in Anacapri. On the Capri side you really do have to walk - everywhere, perhaps this is one of the reasons for the longevity of so many residents on the island.
One of my many favourite places to eat in Capri after a long day walking is Da Gemma, a once loved almost second home of Graham Greene and to countless others through the years. It's simple style and it's unpretentious cooking combined with a great atmosphere and always a warm welcome makes it a home from home. 

This little island has been home to so many different kinds of people over the centuries.  At the turn of the 20th century, great minds from all over Europe, from luminary scholars to eccentric aristocrats and inspired individuals, turned towards Capri.  The island soon became a refuge for those in search of an inspirational place, where they would be able to express their diverse artistic and intellectual passions in total freedom.  All those who fell in love with Capri – from Compton Mackenzie to Friedrich Alfred Krupp – dreamed of having their very own house in this garden of eden, a peaceful retreat far from the responsibilities, the stress and the social whirl of everyday life.  A number of those dreams became a reality and have become part of the history of Capri. 
The young Somerset Maugham wrote his first stories while in Capri. He was to become one of the twentieth century’s most popular novelist - “I’ve always been interested in people, but I’ve never liked them.” This celebrated aphorism perfectly encapsulates the character and fate of William Somerset Maugham, one of the most tormented writers of the twentieth century. Born in 1874 to a solicitor at the British Embassy, he lived in Paris until the age of ten when, following the sudden death of his father, he was sent to England to live with his clergyman uncle. The premature death of his mother two years earlier had marked the beginning of his childhood tragedy. Now he felt the world close in on him.
The years of suffering and loneliness that ensued were to mark his already introverted nature although he found an escape in writing, an activity he had shown great talent for from an early age. Despite being a brilliant student – he qualified as a doctor but only practised for a brief period – he continued to immerse himself in literature, “admirable obsession” that would never leave him not even in the 1930s when he became the world’s richest and most well-paid writer.
He had just turned twenty and was all set to reach his literary goal when he decided to go to Capri with two friends. Maugham was an attractive young man although embarrassed by his short stature. However the affliction that caused him the greatest suffering was the marked stammer that he developed after his parents’ death, an affliction that he would never lose. This obstacle to communication may have honed powers of observation already used to analysing people and their actions. These skills would serve him in good stead when writing his stories, which had begun to contain “passions” that he would weave into skillful narratives.
After reaching Capri in May 1895 he was soon joined by his two friends, Edward Frederick Benson and John Ellingham Brooks. Brooks, who was some years older, had caused Maugham to discover his homosexual inclinations. The three men had sought refuge on the island following the scandal involving Oscar Wilde and his arrest caused by his forbidden love for the young Lord Alfred Douglas. The wave of repression that swept through England after his trial caused those with unorthodox sexual tastes to seek new climes. Floating in the Mediterranean like a voluptuous, uninhibited relaxed woman, Italy appeared a far more tolerant country: Capri with its blue sea represented a place of total freedom, a timeless oasis.

Their companionship with its petty squabbles and huge reconciliations had a positive effect on all three; they swam, went for long strolls, ate delicious meals based on local produce, and dedicated themselves to their literary creations. Brooks spent the most time on the island, while Maugham and Benson came and went with the seasons. In July and August of 1895, Maugham, together with his friend Harry Philips, stayed in Villa Valentino where he worked ceaselessly, a habit that he would maintain for the rest of his life. He immersed himself in the island atmosphere, commenting in one of his bulky notebooks that even if one remains idle from morn to night, the day flies past and one never seems to have a free minute. He also writes that Capri is fascinating and the people always bizarre: they are rather immoral but luckily they are not as boring as moralists. All the foreigners have their scandalous little secrets that they do not whisper into willing ears, but proclaim to one and all. He also tells us that he spends his mornings bathing, after lunch he takes a siesta until tea-time, then strolls through the vineyards, and in the evening he reads and gazes at the moon. He started using the material he had collected for a few “rough drafts”. There was no greater inspiration than the island inhabitants of the time (or indeed of any time) and Maugham drew upon this material to create stirring scenes and outlines for his stories. One group of stories (now collected in Il mangiatore di loto e altre storie capresi, La Conchiglia Ed.) was inspired by his lover-rival, Brooks, whom he cynically describes as being “incapable of creating”. Brooks inspired Mayhew and The Lotus-Easter, two highly complex characters yearning for a decadent life for whom the writer has mixed feelings.  

The Lotus Eater
W. Somerset Maugham

Most people, the vast majority in fact, lead the lives that circumstances have thrust upon them, and though some repine, looking upon themselves as round pegs in square holes, and think that if things had been different they might have made a much better showing, the greater part accept their lot, if not with serenity, at all events with resignation. They are like train-cars travelling forever on the selfsame rails. They go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, inevitably, till they can go no longer and then are sold as scrap-iron. It is not often that you find a man who has boldly taken the course of his life into his own hands. When you do, it is worth while having a good look at him.
That was why I was curious to meet Thomas Wilson. It was an interesting and a bold thing he had done. Of course the end was not yet and until the experiment was concluded it was impossible to call it successful. But from what I had heard it seemed he must be an odd sort of fellow and I thought I should like to know him. I had been told he was reserved, but I had a notion that with patience and tact I could persuade him to confide in me. I wanted to hear the facts from his own lips. People exaggerate, they love to romanticize, and I was quite prepared to discover that his story was not nearly so singular as I had been led to believe.
And this impression was confirmed when at last I made his acquaintance. It was on the Piazza in Capri, where I was spending the month of August at a friend`s villa, and a little before sunset, when most of the inhabitants, native and foreign, gather together to chat with their friends in the cool of the evening. There is a terrace that overlooks the Bay of Naples, and when the sun sinks slowly into the sea the island of Ischia is silhouetted against a blaze of splendour. It is one of the most lovely sights in the world. I was standing there with my friend and host watching it, when suddenly he said:
"Look, there`s Wilson."
"The man sitting on the parapet, with his back to us. He`s got a blue shirt on."
I saw an undistinguished back and a small head of grey hair, short and rather thin.
"I wish he`d turn round," I said.
"He will presently."
"Ask him to come and have a drink with us at Morgano's."
"All right."
The instant of overwhelming beauty had passed and the sun, like the top of an orange, was dipping into a wine-red sea. We turned round and leaning our backs against the parapet looked at the people who were sauntering to and fro. They were all talking their heads off and the cheerful noise was exhilarating. Then the church bell, rather cracked, but with a fine resonant note, began to ring. The Piazza at Capri, with its clock lower over the footpath that leads up from the harbour, with the church up a flight of steps, is a perfect setting for an opera by Donizetti, and you felt that the voluble crowd might at any moment break out into a rattling chorus. It was charming and unreal.
I was so intent on the scene that I had not noticed Wilson get off the parapet and come towards us. As he passed us my friend stopped him.
"Hullo, Wilson, I haven`t seen you bathing the last few days."
"I`ve been bathing on the other side for a change."
My friend then introduced me. Wilson shook hands with me politely, but with indifference; a great many strangers come to Capri for a few days, or a few weeks; and I had no doubt he was constantly meeting people who came and went; and then my friend asked him to come along and have a drink with us.
"I was just going back to supper," he said.
"Can`t it wait?" I asked.
"I suppose it can," he smiled.
Though his teeth were not very good his smile was attractive. It was gentle and kindly. He was dressed in a blue cotton shirt and a pair of grey trousers, much creased and none too clean, of a thin canvas, and on his feet he wore a pair of very old espadrilles. The get-up was picturesque, and very suitable to the place and the weather, but it did not at all go with his face. It was a lined, long face, deeply sunburned, thin-lipped, with small grey eyes rather close together and light, neat features. The grey hair was carefully brushed. It was not a plain face, indeed in his youth Wilson might have been good-looking, but a prim one. He wore the blue shirt, open at the neck, and the grey canvas trousers, not as though they belonged to him, but as though, shipwrecked in his pyjamas, he had been fitted out with odd garments by compassionate strangers. Notwithstanding this careless attire he looked like the manager of a branch office in an insurance company, who should by rights be wearing a black coat with pepper-and-salt trousers, a while collar, and an unobjectionable tie. I could very well see myself going to him to claim the insurance money when I had lost a watch, and being rather disconcerted while I answered the questions he put to me by his obvious impression, for all his politeness, that people who made such claims were either fools or knaves.
Moving off, we strolled across the Piazza and down the street till we came to Morgano`s. We sat in the garden. Around us people were talking in Russian, German, Italian, and English. We ordered drinks. Donna Lucia, the host`s wife, waddled up and in her low, sweet voice passed the time of day with us. Though middle-aged now and portly, she had still traces of the wonderful beauty that thirty years before had driven artists to paint so many bad portraits other. Her eyes, large and liquid, were the eyes of Hera and her smile was affectionate and gracious. We three gossiped for a while, for there is always a scandal of one sort or another in Capri to make a topic of conversation, but nothing was said of particular interest and in a little while Wilson got up and left us. Soon afterwards we strolled up to my friend`s villa to dine. On the way he asked me what I had thought of Wilson.
"Nothing," I said. "I don`t believe there`s a word of truth in your story."
"Why not?"
"He isn`t the sort of man to do that sort of thing."
"How does anyone know what anyone is capable of?"
"I should put him down as an absolutely normal man of business who`s retired on a comfortable income from ill-edged securities, I think your story`s just the ordinary Capri tittle- little."
"Have it your own way," said my friend.
We were in the habit of bathing at a beach called the Baths of Tiberius. We took a fly down the road to a certain point and then wandered through lemon groves and vineyards, noisy with cicadas and heavy with the hot smell of the sun, till we came to the lop of the cliff down which a steep winding path led to the sea. A day or two later, just before we got down my friend said:
"Oh, there`s Wilson back again."
We scrunched over the beach, the only drawback to the bathing-place being that it was shingle and not sand, and as we came along Wilson saw us and waved. He was standing up, a pipe in his mouth, and he wore nothing but a pair or trunks. His body was dark brown, thin but not emaciated, and, considering his wrinkled face and grey hair, youthful. Hot from our walk, we undressed quickly and plunged at once into the water. Six feet from the shore it was thirty feet deep, but so clear that you could see the bottom. It was warm, yet invigorating.
When I got out Wilson was lying on his belly, with a towel under him reading a book. I lit a cigarette and went and sat down beside him.
"Had a nice swim?" he asked.
He put his pipe inside his book to mark the place and closing it put it down on the pebbles beside him. He was evidently willing to talk.
"Lovely," I said. "It`s the best bathing in the world."
"Of course people think those were the Baths of Tiberius." He waved his hand towards a shapeless mass of masonry that stood half in the water and half out. "But that`s all rot. It was just one of his villas, you know."
I did. But it is just as well to let people tell you things when they want to. It disposes them kindly towards you if you suffer them to impart information. Wilson gave a chuckle.
"Funny old fellow, Tiberius. Pity they`re saying now there`s not a word of truth in all those stories about him."
He began to tell me all about Tiberius. Well, I had read my Suetonius too and I had read histories of the Early Roman Empire, so there was nothing very new to me in what he said. But I observed that he was not ill read. I remarked on it.
"Oh, well, when I settled down here I was naturally interested, and I have plenty of time for reading. When you live in a place like this, with all its associations, it seems to make history so actual. You might almost be living in historical times yourself."
I should remark here that this was in 1913. The world was an easy, comfortable place and no one could have imagined that anything might happen seriously to disturb the serenity of existence.
"How long have you been here?" I asked.
"Fifteen years." He gave the blue and placid sea a glance, and a strangely tender smile hovered on his thin lips. "I fell in love with the place at first sight. You`ve heard, I dare say, of the mythical German who came here on the Naples boat just for lunch and a look at the Blue Grotto and stayed forty years; well, I can`t say I exactly did that, but it`s come to the same thing in the end. Only it won`t be forty years in my case. Twenty-five. Still, that`s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."
I waited for him to go on. For what he had just said looked indeed as though there might be something after all in the singular story I had heard. But at that moment my friend came dripping out of the water very proud of himself because he had swum a mile, and the conversation turned to other things.
After that I met Wilson several times, either in the Piazza or on the beach. He was amiable and polite. He was always pleased to have a talk and I found out that he not only knew every inch of the island but also the adjacent mainland. He had read a great deal on all sorts of subjects, but his speciality was the history of Rome and on this he was very well informed. He seemed to have little imagination and to be of no more than average intelligence. He laughed a good deal, but with restraint, and his sense of humour was tickled by simple jokes. A commonplace man. I did not forget the odd remark he had made during the first short dial we had had by ourselves, but he never so much as approached the topic again. One day on our return from the beach, dismissing the cab at the Piazza, my friend and I told the driver to be ready to take us up to Anacapri at five. We were going to climb Monte Solaro, dine at a tavern we favoured, and walk down in the moonlight, for it was full moon and the views by night were lovely. Wilson was standing by while we gave the cabman instructions, for we had given him a lift to save him the hot dusty walk, and more from politeness than for any other reason I asked him if he would care to join us.
"It`s my party," I said.
"I`ll come with pleasure," he answered.
But when the time came to set out my friend was not feeling well, he thought he had slaved too long in the water, and would not face the long and tiring walk. So I went alone with Wilson. We climbed the mountain, admired the spacious view, and got back to the inn as night was falling, hot, hungry, and thirsty. We had ordered our dinner beforehand. The food was good, for Antonio was an excellent cook, and the wine came from his own vineyard. It was so light that you felt you could drink it like water and we finished the first bottle with our macaroni. By the time we had finished the second we felt that there was nothing much wrong with life. We sat in a little garden under a great vine laden with grapes. The air was exquisitely soft. The night was still and we were alone. The maid brought us bel paese cheese and a plate of figs. I ordered coffee and strega, which is the best liqueur they make in Italy. Wilson would not have a cigar, but lit his pipe.
"We`ve got plenty of time before we need start," he said, "the moon won`t be over the hill for another hour."
"Moon or no moon," I said briskly, "of course we`ve got plenty of time. That`s one of the delights of Capri, that there`s never any hurry."
"Leisure," he said. "If people only knew! It`s the most priceless thing a man can have and they`re such fools they don`t even know it`s something to aim at. Work? They work for work`s sake. They haven`t got the brains to realize that the only object of work is to obtain leisure."
Wine has the effect on some people of making them indulge in general reflections. These remarks were true, but no one could have claimed that they were original. I did not say anything, but struck a match to light my cigar.
"It was full moon the first time I came to Capri," he went on reflectively. "It might be the same moon as tonight."
"It was, you know," I smiled.
He grinned. The only light in the garden was what came from an oil lamp that hung over our heads. It had been scanty to eat by, but it was good now for confidences.
"I didn`t mean that. I mean, it might be yesterday. Fifteen years it is, and when I look back it seems like a month. I`d never been to Italy before. I came for my summer holiday. I went to Naples by boat from Marseilles and I had a look round, Pompeii, you know, and Paestum" and one or two places like that; then I came here for a week. I liked the look of the place right away, from the sea, I mean, as I watched it come closer and closer; and then when we got into the little boats from the steamer and landed at the quay, with all that crowd of jabbering people who wanted to take your luggage, and the hotel touts, and the tumbledown houses on the Marina and the walk up to the hotel, and dining on the terrace - well, it just got me. That`s the truth. I didn`t know if I was standing on my head or my heels. I`d never drunk Capri wine before, but I`d heard of it; I think I must have got a bit tight. I sat on that terrace after they`d all gone to bed and watched the moon over the sea, and there was Vesuvius with a great red plume of smoke rising up from it. Of course I know now that wine I drank was ink, Capri wine my eye, but I thought it all right then. But it wasn`t the wine that made me drunk, it was the shape of the island and those jabbering people, the moon and the sea and the oleander in the hotel garden. I`d never seen an oleander be fore."
It was a long speech and it had made him thirsty. He took up his glass, but it was empty. I asked him if he would have another strega.
"It`s sickly stuff. Let`s have a bottle of wine. That`s sound, that is, pure juice of the grape and can`t hurt anyone."
I ordered more wine, and when it came filled the glasses. He took a long drink and after a sigh of pleasure went on.
"Next day I found my way to the bathing-place we go to. Not bad bathing, I thought. Then I wandered about the island. As luck would have it, there was a festa up at the Punta di Timtberio and I ran straight into the middle of it. An image of the Virgin and priests, acolytes swinging censers, and a whole crowd of jolly, laughing, excited people, a lot of them all dressed up. I ran across an Englishman there and asked him what it was all about. `Oh, it`s the feast of the Assumption,` he said, `at least that`s what the Catholic Church says it is, but that`s just their hanky-panky. It`s the festival of Venus. Pagan, you know. Aphrodite rising from the sea and all that.` It gave me quite a funny feeling to hear him. It seemed to take one a long way back, if you know what I mean. After that I went down one night to have a look at the Faraglioni by moonlight. If the fates had wanted me to go on being a bank manager they oughtn`t to have let me take that walk."
"You were a bank manager, were you?" I asked.
I had been wrong about him, but not far wrong.
"Yes. I was manager of the Crawford Street branch of the York and City. It was convenient for me because I lived up Hendon way. I could get from door to door in thirty-seven minutes."
He puffed at his pipe and relit it.
"That was my last night, that was. I`d got to be back at the bank on Monday morning. When I looked at those two great rocks sticking out of the water, with the moon above them, and all the little lights of the fishermen in their boats catching cuttlefish, all so peaceful and beautiful, I said to myself, well, after all, why should I go back? It wasn`t as if I had anyone dependent on me. My wife had died of bronchial pneumonia four years before and the kid went to live with her grandmother my wife`s mother. She was an old fool, she didn`t look after the kid properly and she got blood-poisoning, they amputated her leg, but they couldn`t save her and she died, poor little thing."
"How terrible," I said.
"Yes, I was cut up at the time, though of course not so much as if the kid had been living with me, but I dare say it was a mercy. Not much chance for a girl with only one leg. I was sorry about my wife too. We got on very well together. Though I don`t know if it would have continued. She was the sort of woman who was always bothering about what other people`d think. She didn`t like travelling. Eastbourne was her idea of a holiday. D`you know, I`d never crossed the Channel till after her death."
"But I suppose you`ve got other relations, haven`t you?"
"None. I was an only child. My father had a brother, but he went to Australia before I was born. I don`t think anyone could easily be more alone in the world than I am. There wasn`t any reason I could see why I shouldn`t do exactly what I wanted. I was thirty-four at that time."
He had told me he had been on the island for fifteen years. That would make him forty-nine. Just about the age I should have given him.
"I`d been working since I was seventeen. All I had to look forward to was doing the same old thing day after day till I retired on my pension. I said to myself, is it worth it? What`s wrong with chucking it all up and spending the rest of my life down here? It was the most beautiful place I`d ever seen. But I`d had a business training, I was cautious by nature. `No,` I said, `I won`t be carried away like this, I`ll go tomorrow like I said I would and think it over. Perhaps when I get back to London I`ll think quite differently.` Damned fool, wasn`t I? I lost a whole year that way."
"You didn`t change your mind, then?"
"You bet I didn`t. All the time I was working I kept thinking of the bathing here and the vineyards and the walks over the hills and the moon and the sea, and the Piazza in the evening when everyone walks about for a bit of a chat after the day`s work is over. There was only one thing that bothered me: I wasn`t sure if I was justified in not working like everybody else did. Then I read a sort of history book, by a man called Marion Crawford it was, and there was a story about Sybaris and Crotona. There were two cities; and in Sybaris they just enjoyed life and had a good time, and in Crotona they were hardy and industrious and all that. And one day the men of Crotona came over and wiped Sybaris out, and then after a while a lot of other fellows came over from somewhere else and wiped Crotona out. Nothing remains of Sybaris, not a stone, and all that`s left of Crotona is just one column. That settled the matter for me."
"It came to the same in the end, didn`t it? And when you look back now, who were the mugs?"
I did not reply and he went on.
"The money was rather a bother. The bank didn`t pension one off till after thirty years` service, but if you retired before that they gave you a gratuity". With that and what I`d got for the sale of my house and the little I`d managed to save, I just hadn`t enough to buy an annuity to last the rest of my life. It would have been silly to sacrifice everything so as to lead a pleasant life and not have a sufficient income to make it pleasant. I wanted to have a little place of my own, a servant to look after me, enough to buy tobacco, decent food, books now and then, and something over for emergencies.
I knew pretty well how much I needed. I found I had just enough to buy an annuity for twenty-five years."
"You were thirty-five at the time?"
"Yes. It would carry me on till I was sixty. After all, no one can be certain of living longer than that, a lot of men die in their fifties, and by the time a man`s sixty he`s had the best of life."
"On the other hand no one can be sure of dying at sixty," I said.
"Well, I don`t know. It depends on himself, doesn`t it?"
"In your place I should have stayed on at the bank till I was entitled to my pension."
"I should have been forty-seven then. I shouldn`t have been too old to enjoy my life here, I`m older than that now and I enjoy it as much as I ever did, but I should have been too old to experience the particular pleasure of a young man. You know, you can have just as good a time at fifty as you can at thirty, but it`s not the same sort of good time. I wanted to live the perfect life while I still had the energy and the spirit to make the most of it. Twenty-five years seemed a long time to me, and twenty-five years of happiness seemed worth paying something pretty substantial for. I`d made up my mind to wait a year and I waited a year. Then I sent in my resignation and as soon as they paid me my gratuity I bought the annuity and came on here."
"An annuity for twenty-five years?"
"That`s right."
"Have you never regretted?"
"Never. I`ve had my money`s worth already. And I`ve got ten years more. Don`t you think after twenty-five years of perfect happiness one ought to be satisfied to call it a day?"
He did not say in so many words what he would do then, but his intention was clear. It was pretty much the story my friend had told me, but it sounded different when I heard it from his own lips. I stole a glance at him. There was nothing about him that was not ordinary. No one, looking at that neat, prim face, could have thought him capable of an unconventional action. I did not blame him. It was his own life that he had arranged in this strange manner, and I did not see why he should not do what he liked with it. Still, I could not prevent the little shiver that ran down my spine.
"Getting chilly?" he smiled. "We might as well start walking down. The moon`ll be up by now."
Before we parted Wilson asked me if I would like to go and see his house one day; and two or three days later, finding out where he lived, I strolled up to see him. It was a peasant`s cottage, well away from the town, in a vineyard, with a view of the sea. By the side of the door grew a great oleander in full flower. There were only two small rooms, a tiny kitchen, and a lean-to in which firewood could be kept. The bedroom was furnished like a monk`s cell, but the sitting-room, smelling agreeably of tobacco, was comfortable enough, with two large armchairs that he had brought from England, a large roll-top desk, a collage piano, and crowded bookshelves. On the walls were framed engravings of pictures by G. F. Walls and Lord Leighlon. Wilson told me that the house belonged to the owner of the vineyard who lived in another collage higher up the hill, and his wife came in every day to do the rooms and the cooking. He had found the place on his first visit to Capri, and taking it on his return for good had been there ever since. Seeing the piano and music open on it, I asked him if he would play.
"I`m no good, you know, but I`ve always been fond of music and I get a lot of fun out of strumming."
He sat down at the piano and played one of the movements from a Beethoven sonata. He did not play very well. I looked at his music, Schumann and Schubert, Beethoven, Bach, and Chopin. On the table on which he had his meals was a greasy pack of cards. I asked him if he played patience.
"A lot."
From what I saw of him then and from what I heard from either people I made for myself what I think must have been a fairly accurate picture of the life he had led for the last Fifteen years. It was certainly a very harmless one. He bathed; he walked a great deal, and he seemed never to lose his sense of the beauty of the island which he knew so intimately; he played the piano and he played patience; he read. When he was asked to a party he went and, though a trifle dull, was agreeable. He was not affronted if he was neglected. He liked people, but with an aloofness that prevented intimacy. He lived thriftily, but with sufficient comfort. He never owed a penny. I imagine he had never been a man whom sex had greatly troubled, and if in his younger days he had had now and then a passing affair with a visitor to the island whose head was turned by the atmosphere, his emotion, while it lasted, remained, I am pretty sure, well under his control. I think he was determined that nothing should interfere with his independence of spirit. His only passion was for the beauty of nature, and he sought felicity in the simple and natural things that life offers to everyone. You may say that it was a grossly selfish existence. It was. He was of no use to anybody, but on the other hand he did nobody any harm. His only object was his own happiness, and it looked as though he had attained it. Very few people know where to look for happiness; fewer still find it. I don`t know whether he was a fool or a wise man. He was certainly a man who knew his own mind. The odd thing about him to me was that he was so immensely commonplace. I should never have given him a second thought but for what I knew, that on a certain day, ten years from then, unless a chance illness cut the thread before, he must deliberately take leave of the world he loved so well. I wondered whether it was the thought of this, never quite absent from his mind, that gave him the peculiar zest with which he enjoyed every moment of the day.
I should do him an injustice if I omitted to slate that he was not at all in the habit of talking about himself. I think the friend I was staying with was the only person in whom he had confided. I believe he only told me the story because he suspected I already knew it, and on the evening on which he told it me he had drunk a good deal of wine.
My visit drew to a close and I left the island. The year after, war broke out. A number of things happened to me, so that the course of my life was greatly altered, and it was thirteen years before I went to Capri again. My friend had been back sometime, but he was no longer so well off, and had moved into a house that had no room for me; so I was putting up at the hotel. He came to meet me at the boat and we dined together. During dinner I asked him where exactly his house was.
"You know it," he answered. "It`s the little place Wilson had. I`ve built on a room and made it quite nice."
With so many other things to occupy my mind I had not given Wilson a thought for years; but now, with a little shock, I remembered. The ten years he had before him when I made his acquaintance must have elapsed long ago.
"Did he commit suicide as he said he would?"
"It`s rather a grim story."
Wilson`s plan was all right. There was only one flaw in it and this, I suppose, he could not have foreseen. It had never occurred to him that after twenty-five years of complete happiness, in this quiet backwater, with nothing in the world to disturb his serenity, his character would gradually lose its strength. The will needs obstacles in order to exercise its power; when it is never thwarted, when no effort is needed to achieve one`s desires, because one has placed one`s desires only in the things that can be obtained by stretching out one`s hand, the will grows impotent. If you walk on a level all the time the muscles you need to climb a mountain will atrophy. These observations are trite, but there they are. When Wilson`s annuity expired he had no longer the resolution to make the end which was the price he had agreed to pay for that long period of happy tranquility. I do not think, as far as I could gather, both from what my friend told me and afterwards from others, that he wanted courage. It was just that he couldn`t make up his mind. He put it off from day to day.
He had lived on the island for so long and had always settled his accounts so punctually that it was easy for him to get credit; never having borrowed money before, he found a number of people who were willing to lend him small sums when now he asked for them. He had paid his rent regularly for so many years that his landlord, whose wife Assunta still acted as his servant, was content to let things slide for several months. Everyone believed him when he said that a relative had died and that he was temporarily embarrassed because owing to legal formalities he could not for some time get the money that was due to him. He managed to hang on after this fashion for something over a year. Then he could get no more credit from the local tradesmen, and there was no one to lend him any more money. His landlord gave him notice to leave the house unless he paid up the arrears of rent before a certain date.
The day before this he went into his tiny bedroom, closed the door and the window, drew the curtain, and lit a brazier of charcoal. Next morning when Assunta came to make his breakfast she found him insensible but still alive. The room was draughty, and though he had done this and that to keep out the fresh air he had not done it very thoroughly. It almost looked as though at the last moment, and desperate though his situation was, he had suffered from a certain infirmity of purpose. Wilson was taken to the hospital, and though very ill for some time he at last recovered. But as a result either of the charcoal poisoning or of the shock he was no longer in complete possession of his faculties. He was not insane, at all events not insane enough to be put in an asylum, but he was quite obviously no longer in his right mind.
"I went to see him," said my friend. "I tried to get him to talk, but he kept looking at me in a funny sort of way, as though he couldn`t quite make out where he`d seen me before. He looked rather awful lying there in bed, with a week`s growth of grey beard on his chin; but except for that funny look in his eyes he seemed quite normal."
"What funny look in his eyes?"
"I don`t know exactly how to describe it. Puzzled. It`s an absurd comparison, but suppose you threw a stone up into the air and it didn`t come down but just stayed there..."
"It would be rather bewildering," I smiled.
"Well, that`s the sort of look he had."
It was difficult to know what to do with him. He had no money and no means of getting any. His effects were sold, but for too little to pay what he owed. He was English, and the Italian authorities did not wish to make themselves responsible for him. The British Consul in Naples had no funds to deal with the case. He could of course be sent back to England, but no one seemed to know what could be done with him when he got there. Then Assunta, the servant, said that he had been a good master and a good tenant, and as long as he had the money had paid his way; he could sleep in the woodshed in the cottage in which she and her husband lived, and he could share their meals. This was suggested to him. It was difficult to know whether he understood or not. When Assunta came to take him from the hospital he went with her without remark. He seemed to have no longer a will of his own. She had been keeping him now for two years.
"It`s not very comfortable, you know," said my friend. "They`ve rigged him up a ramshackle bed and given him a couple of blankets, but there`s no window, and it`s icy cold in winter and like an oven in summer. And the food`s pretty rough. You know how these peasants eat: macaroni on Sundays and meat once in a blue moon."
"What does he do with himself all the time?"
"He wanders about the hills. I`ve tried to see him two or three times, but it`s no good; when he sees you coming he runs like a hare. Assunta comes down to have a chat with me now and then and I give her a bit of money so that she can buy him tobacco, but God knows if he ever gets it."
"Do they treat him all right?" I asked.
"I`m sure Assunta`s kind enough. She treats him like a child. I`m afraid her husband`s not very nice to him. He grudges the cost of his keep. I don`t believe he`s cruel or anything like that, but I think he`s a bit sharp with him. He makes him fetch water and clean the cow-shed and that sort of thing.`"
"It sounds pretty rotten," I said.
Faraglioni"He brought it on himself. After all, he`s only got what he deserved."
"I think on the whole we all get what we deserve," I said. "But that doesn`t prevent its being rather horrible."
Two or three days later my friend and I were taking a walk. We were strolling along a narrow path through an olive grove.
"There`s Wilson," said my friend suddenly. "Don`t look, you`ll only frighten him. Go straight on."
I walked with my eyes on the path, but out of the corners of them I saw a man hiding behind an olive tree. He did not move as we approached, but I felt that he was watching us. As soon as we had passed I heard a scamper. Wilson, like a hunted animal, had made for safety. That was the last I ever saw of him.
He died last year. He had endured that life for six years. He was found one morning on the mountainside lying quite peacefully as though he had died in his sleep. From where he lay he had been able to see those two great rocks called the Faraglioni which stand out of the sea. It was full moon and he must have gone to see them by moonlight. Perhaps he died of the beauty of that sight.

Admiration mingles with resentment, which is what Maugham feels for Brooks, “guilty” of having made him discover his homosexuality. Another tour de force is the story of Salvatore, a poor simple fisherman from Capri, whose short commonplace life is transformed by Maugham into an epic. 


Somerset Maugham
I wonder if I can do it.
I knew Salvatore first when he was a boy of fifteen with a pleasant face, a laughing mouth and care-free eyes.  He used to spend the morning lying about the beach with next to nothing on and his brown body was as thin as a rail.  He was full of grace.  He was in and out of the sea all the time swimming with the clumsy, effortless stroke common to the fisher boat.
Scrambling up the jagged rocks on his hard feet, for except on Sundays never wore shoes, he would throw himself into the deep water with a scream of delight.  His father was a fisherman who owned his own little vineyard and Salvatore acted as nursemaid to his two younger brothers.  He shouted to them to come inshore when they ventured out too far and made them dress when it was time to climb the hot, vineclad hill for the frugal midday meal.
But boys in those Southern parts grow apace and in a little while he was madly in love with a pretty girl who lived on the Grande Marina.  She had eyes like forest pools and held herself like a daughter of the Caesars.  They were affianced, but they could not marry till Salvatore had done his military service, and when he left the island which he had never left in his life before, to become a sailor in the navy of King Victor Emmanuel, he wept like a child.  It was hard for one who had never been less free than the birds to be at the beck and call of others, it was harder still to live in a battleship with strangers instead of in a little white cottage among the vines; and when he was ashore, to walk in noisy, friendless cities with streets so crowded that he was frightened to cross them, when he had been used to silent paths and the mountains and the sea.  I suppose it had never struck him that Ischia, which he looked at every evening (it was like a fairy island in the sunset) to see what the weather would be like next day, or Vesuvius, pearly in the dawn, had anything to do with him at all; but when he ceased to have them before his eyes he realized in some dim fashion that they were as much part of him as his hands and his feet.  He was dreadfully homesick.  But it was hardest of all to be parted from the girl he loved with all his passionate young heart.  He wrote to her (in his childlike handwriting) long, ill-spelt letters in which he told her how constantly he thought of her and how much he longed to be back.  He was sent here and there, to Spezzia, to Venice, to Ban and finally to China.  Here he fell ill of some mysterious ailment that kept him in hospital for months.  He bore it with the mute and uncomprehending patience of a dog.  When he learnt that it was a form of rheumatism that made him unfit for further service his heart exulted, for he could go home; and he did not bother, in fact he scarcely listened, when the doctors told him that he would never again be quite well.  What did he care when he was going back to the little island he loved so well and the girl who was waiting I for him?
When he got into the rowing-boat that met the steamer from Naples and was rowed ashore he saw his father and mother standing on the jetty and his two brothers, big boys now, and he waved to them.  His eyes searched t among the crowd that waited there, for the girl.  He could not see her.  There was a great deal of kissing when he jumped up the steps and they all, emotional creatures, cried a little when they exchanged their greetings.  He asked where the girl was.  His mother told him that she did not know; they had not seen her for two or three weeks; so in the evening when the moon was shining over the placid sea and the lights of Naples twinkled in the distance he walked down to the Grande Marina to her house.  She was sitting on the doorstep with her mother.  He was a little shy because he had not seen her for so long.  He asked her if she had not received the letter that he had written to her to say that he was coming home.  Yes, they had received a letter, and they had been told by another of the island boys that he was ill.  Yes, that was why he was back; was it not a piece of luck?  Oh, but they had heard that he would never be quite well again.  The doctor talked a lot of nonsense, but he knew very well that now he was home again he would recover.  They were silent for a little, and then the mother nudged the girl.  She did not try to soften the blow.  She told him straight out, with the blunt directness of her race that she could not marry a man who would never be strong enough to work like a man.  They had made up their minds, her mother and father and she, and her father would never give consent.
When Salvatore went home he found that they all knew.  The girl's father had been to tell them what they had decided, but they had lacked the courage to tell him themselves.  He wept on his mother's bosom.  He was terribly unhappy, but he did not blame the girl.  A fisherman's life is hard and it needs strength and endurance.  He knew very well that a girl could not afford to marry a man who might not be able to support her.  His smile was very sad and his eyes had the look of a dog that has been beaten, but he did not complain, and he never said a hard word of the girl he had loved so well.
Then, a few months later, when he had settled down to the common round, working in his father's vineyard and fishing, his mother told him that there was a young woman in the village who was willing to marry him.  Her name was Assunta.
"She's as ugly as the devil," he said.
She was older than he, twenty-four or twenty-five, and she had been engaged to a man who, while doing his military service, had been killed in Africa.  She had a little money of her own and if Salvatore married her she could buy him a boat of his own and they could take a vineyard that by happy chance happened at that moment to be without a tenant.  His mother told him that Assunta had seen him at the festa and had fallen in love with him.  Salvatore smiled his sweet smile and said he would think about it.  On the following Sunday, dressed in the stiff black clothes in which he looked so much less well than in the ragged shirt and trousers of every day, he went up to High Mass at the parish church and placed himself so that he could have a good look at the young woman.  When he came down again he told his mother that he was willing.
Well, they were married and they settled down in a tiny white-washed house in the middle of a handsome vineyard.  Salvatore was now a great, big husky fellow, tall and broad, but still with that ingenuous smile and those trusting, kindly eyes that he had as a boy.  He had the most beautiful manners I have ever seen in my life.  Assunta was a grim-visaged female, with decided features, and she looked old for her years.  But she had a good heart and she was no fool.  I used to be amused by the little smile of devotion that she gave her husband when he was being very masculine and masterful; she never ceased to be touched by his gentle sweetness.  But she could not bear the girl who had thrown him over, and notwithstanding Salvatore's smiling expostulations she had nothing but harsh words for her.  Presently children were born to them.
It was a hard enough life.  All through the fishing season towards evening he set out in his boat with one of his brothers for the fishing grounds.  It was a long pull of six or seven miles, and he spent the night catching the profitable cuttlefish.  Then there was the long row back again in order to sell the catch in time for it to go on the early boat to Naples.  At other times he was working in his vineyard from dawn till the heat drove him to rest and then again, when it was a trifle cooler, till dusk.  Often his rheumatism prevented him from doing anything at all and then he would lie about the beach, smoking cigarettes, with a pleasant word for everyone notwithstanding the pain that racked his limbs.  The foreigners who came down to bathe and saw him there said that these Italian fishermen were lazy devils.
Sometimes he used to bring his children down to give them a bath.  They were both boys and at this time the elder was three and the younger less than two.  They sprawled about at the water's edge stark naked and Salvatore standing on a rock would dip them in the water.  The elder one bore it with stoicism, but the baby screamed lustily.  Salvatore had enormous hands, like legs of mutton, coarse and hard from constant toil, but when he bathed his children, holding them so tenderly, drying them with delicate care; upon my word they were like flowers.  He would seat the naked baby on the palm of his hand and hold him up, laughing a little at his smallness, and his laugh was like the laughter of an angel.  His eyes then were as candid as his child's.
I started by saying that I wondered if I could do it and now I must tell you what it is that I have tried to do.  I wanted to see whether I could hold your attention for a few pages while I drew for you the portrait of a man, just an ordinary fisherman who possessed nothing in the world except a quality which is the rarest, the most precious and the loveliest that anyone can have.  Heaven only knows why he should so strangely and unexpectedly have possessed it.  All I know is that it shone in him with a radiance that, if it had not been unconscious and so humble, would have been to the common run of men hardly bearable.  And in case you have not guessed what the quality was, I will tell you.  Goodness, just goodness.
Somerset Maugham  (1874-1965)
"Salvatore", 1936

The three friends came and went, and experienced ups and downs. In the summer of 1913, they found themselves on the island again. They had leased Villa Cercola, where Brooks was to spend the whole year while the others came and went at their leisure. The villa, situated in the higher part of the island, satisfied their requirements. The guests placed a plaque bearing the unusual inscription “Cave hominem” (Beware of men) by the entrance. Maugham described the convolvulus and plumbago that clambered over cool white walls, a terraced garden sloping downhill and a pergola covering the water tank, adding poetically that at the slightest breeze a huge pine would rustle in concert with the distant lap of the sea. It was the perfect place to relax and write.

The summer of 1914 saw Maugham back on the island, this time in the company of his friend, the portrait painter Gerald Kelly. Despite the forebodings of imminent war, the atmosphere was tranquil, only interrupted by the threatened arrival of Syrie Wellcome, a woman Maugham had been having an affair with and whom he would marry in 1917. A few days later Maugham and Syrie left the island. Their departure marked the end of an epoch and the beginning of the writer’s highly successful career. Maugham travelled to England and then to Alexandria. He also played his part in the Great War, going on a secret mission to Russia. He was to return to Capri in 1919 and in 1925, when he even thought of buying a house there. But things went differently. His extraordinary success of the pre-war period became a global triumph. Liza of Lambeth, his debut novel, was published to great acclaim in 1887, but his success was really sealed by Mrs Craddock (1902) and, above all, his masterpiece Of Human Bondage, (1915). The Moon and Sixpence (1919), based on the life of Gauguin, and The Painted Veil (1925) took him to dizzying heights. His reputation gained further luster with plays such as The Circle, and for many years he became the most staged playwright in the world. His success brought him great riches, a fortune that soared when some of his works were turned into popular films like Rain starring Joan Crawford in 1932 and The Painted Veil with Greta Garbo in 1934. Maugham even found the time to get married (and have a daughter) and divorce soon after.

After the idea of a house in Capri came to naught, Maugham decided to seek a retreat in France. His choice fell upon a large villa at Cap-Ferrat, on the Côte d’Azur, the Villa Mauresque, a palatial building surrounded by cedars, orange trees and umbrella pines. Maugham alternated periods of working intensely at the villa which was always crowded with eminent guests with travels around the world. Although kissed by fortune, he lived a cynical disenchanted existence in the company of his secretary Alan Searle (his request to adopt Searle was rebuffed by the courts) collecting works by leading 19th- and 20th-century artists. At heart he remained the insecure boy of his youth, starved for affection, determined, ambitious and work-obsessed. He had written 26 novels, 27 plays and 98 stories, nearly all of them successes, although this did not suffice to make him a great writer, at least not for the critics who had always given him the cold shoulder. But he did not let this discourage him and threw himself into his work until the day of his death on 16 December 1965. Throughout his long life he had always been unhappy. His long stays on the island of Capri may have represented the only occasions when the sun broke through the grey clouds of his existence. Shortly before his death he wrote that he tried to give a meaning to life, like Tolstoy, but failed, that maybe life is only meaningful if you live it. And in Capri he was able to live it to the full – albeit only for brief periods.

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