Dumford’s Hotel, Valletta, Malta
April 9th., 1848.
My Dear Ann,
[…] Malta itself, is an island all over rock & sand & a little soil, & crammed in every crevice with people & houses. Valetta [sic] is the city ― but somehow one never thinks of any other name than Malta. Such a strange place as Valetta I certainly never did see ― & as a town it is perhaps as beautiful as any existing. The houses all look as if built yesterday ― of a beautiful cream coloured stone, with green or white or painted balconies stuck about in every possible corner. The streets have all capital trottoirs, & there is no dirt to be seen. […] All round the town & two harbours the lines of fortifications are most surprising ― you walk in labyrinths, & when you have got outside, it begins all over & over & over again. ― Zig zag ― zig zag ― up stairs & down stairs ― sharp corners & half moons, moats, drawbridges, bastions & towers till you feel as if built up in Valetta for life. As for the country, there is none; stone walls & stone houses & stone terraces for miles, & villages as far as you can see ― so that you may say that all Malta is a great heap of stone in the Mediterranean with a little ground here & there for cultivation. […] (Full letter.)
His next letter to Ann, of 19 April ― from which Varriano quotes ― is probably the best expression of Lear’s contradictory feelings on Malta: “I cannot remember to have left any place with so much regret after so short a stay in it … But I could not live at Malta ― there is hardly a bit of green in the whole island ― a hot sandstone, wall, & bright white houses are all you can see from the highest places…”
Lear’s description of Malta is right, although the houses are more golden and cream than white. But certainly very little green.
Sadly, Malta’s Museum of Fine Arts was closed for renovation while we were there, so we couldn’t see any of Lear’s drawings. The book by John Varriano about his Malta drawings, seen above, sounds lovely but very pricey. We will just have to go back when the museum has re-opened!
Thanks to https://nonsenselit.wordpress.com/about/ for this excerpt from Lear’s letters about Malta.