The Italian explorations

The Bents in Italy – the late 1870s

After their marriage on 2 August 1877, at Newtownbarry House, county Wexford, Theodore and Mabel begin their twenty-year series of regular annual travels. Having decided a barrister’s life was not for him, and with a career as an historian, perhaps, ahead, Theodore guides his new wife down through to Italy, which they revisit over the next few seasons. These tours result in a sequence of three monographs and assorted articles on, amongst other topics, Garibaldi, Genoa, and San Marino (they both henceforth proudly acknowledge the honour conferred on them of ‘citizenship’ of that little republic).

As for dates, we have no diaries of their visits before their marriage, but we know from Theodore’s introduction to his San Marino volume that he made a ‘hurried trip’ there in the spring of 1877 and that he (and presumably Mabel too) was in Florence on Christmas Day 1878. In San Marino they stayed at the home of Francesco Casali, and his wife ‘whose house, next to the Franciscan gate, is most conveniently situated for the passing traveller’.

Theodore continues: ‘Though not offering the sight-seer attractions such as the rest of Italy possesses, San Marino affords plenty of natural charms of wildness and simplicity; for whilst the views combine some of the most fantastic peaks of the Umbrian Mountains, the study of their private life and customs leads one to agree with their own favourite simile, ‘Here we live and die, like the flowers of the field.’… The few illustrations introduced herein are from some of my own sketches taken on the spot.’ (Theodore was a keen sketcher and his efforts illustrate many of his books and articles.)

Mabel was no stranger to Italy, having travelled there as a young woman with her brother Robert and his family. (It has been suggested that Mabel and Theodore were first introduced to each other while in Italy, however in a later article (The Citizen, 21 Dec 1907, p. 2) Mabel confirms that the couple met in Norway! What led them there was not explained.)

The couple made no later explorations as such on Italian soil, but Mabel’s Chronicles make reference to several stopovers as they travelled on their way to destinations in, or via, the Eastern Mediterranean (and back again to London).

The Bents later visits to Italy (either going to, or coming from, their expeditions) included:

  • 1883/4: Naples – Brindisi – Ancona – Loreto – Bologna.
  • 1885: Naples – Sicily.
  • 1887: Milan – Rimini – San Marino – Ancona.
  • 1896: Milan – Venice – Milan.
  • 1898: (Mabel alone): Brindisi.

For those interested in Theodore’s three ‘Italian’ books, the following printed books are available:

A Freak of Freedom: or, the Republic of San Marino This is a facsimile reprint of the original edition of the book published in 1879 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.)
Genoa: How the Republic Rose and Fell This is a facsimile reprint of the original edition of the book published in 1881 (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co.)
The Life of Giuseppe Garibaldi This is a facsimile reprint of the original edition of the book published in 1882 (London: Longmans, Green, & Co.)

There are also free e-book versions available on-line: