Travels through France and Italy, by Tobias Smollett

Letter XXXVII

Nice, April 2, 1765.

DEAR DOCTOR — As I have now passed a second winter at Nice I think myself qualified to make some further remarks on this climate. During the heats of last summer, I flattered myself with the prospect of the fine weather I should enjoy in the winter; but neither I, nor any person in this country, could foresee the rainy weather that prevailed from the middle of November, till the twentieth of March. In this short period of four months, we have had fifty-six days of rain, which I take to be a greater quantity than generally falls during the six worst months of the year in the county of Middlesex, especially as it was, for the most part, a heavy, continued rain. The south winds generally predominate in the wet season at Nice: but this winter the rain was accompanied with every wind that blows, except the south; though the most frequent were those that came from the east and north quarters. Notwithstanding these great rains, such as were never known before at Nice in the memory of man, the intermediate days of fair weather were delightful, and the ground seemed perfectly dry. The air itself was perfectly free from moisture. Though I live upon a ground floor, surrounded on three sides by a garden, I could not perceive the least damp, either on the floors, or the furniture; neither was I much incommoded by the asthma, which used always to harass me most in wet weather. In a word, I passed the winter here much more comfortably than I expected. About the vernal equinox, however, I caught a violent cold, which was attended with a difficulty of breathing, and as the sun advances towards the tropic, I find myself still more subject to rheums. As the heat increases, the humours of the body are rarefied, and, of consequence, the pores of the skin are opened; while the east wind sweeping over the Alps and Apennines, covered with snow, continues surprisingly sharp and penetrating. Even the people of the country, who enjoy good health, are afraid of exposing themselves to the air at this season, the intemperature of which may last till the middle of May, when all the snow on the mountains will probably be melted: then the air will become mild and balmy, till, in the progress of summer, it grows disagreeably hot, and the strong evaporation from the sea makes it so saline, as to be unhealthy for those who have a scorbutical habit. When the sea-breeze is high, this evaporation is so great as to cover the surface of the body with a kind of volatile brine, as I plainly perceived last summer. I am more and more convinced that this climate is unfavourable for the scurvy. Were I obliged to pass my life in it, I would endeavour to find a country retreat among the mountains, at some distance from the sea, where I might enjoy a cool air, free from this impregnation, unmolested by those flies, gnats, and other vermin which render the lower parts almost uninhabitable. To this place I would retire in the month of June, and there continue till the beginning of October, when I would return to my habitation in Nice, where the winter is remarkably mild and agreeable. In March and April however, I would not advise a valetudinarian to go forth, without taking precaution against the cold. An agreeable summer retreat may be found on the other side of the Var, at, or near the town of Grasse, which is pleasantly situated on the ascent of a hill in Provence, about seven English miles from Nice. This place is famous for its pomatum, gloves, wash-balls, perfumes, and toilette-boxes, lined with bergamot. I am told it affords good lodging, and is well supplied with provisions.

We are now preparing for our journey to England, from the exercise of which I promise myself much benefit: a journey extremely agreeable, not only on that account, but also because it will restore me to the company of my friends, and remove me from a place where I leave nothing but the air which I can possibly regret.

The only friendships I have contracted at Nice are with strangers, who, like myself, only sojourn here for a season. I now find by experience, it is great folly to buy furniture, unless one is resolved to settle here for some years. The Nissards assured me, with great confidence, that I should always be able to sell it for a very little loss; whereas I find myself obliged to part with it for about one-third of what it cost. I have sent for a coach to Aix, and as soon as it arrives, shall take my departure; so that the next letter you receive from me will be dated at some place on the road. I purpose to take Antibes, Toulon, Marseilles, Aix, Avignon, and Orange, in my way: places which I have not yet seen; and where, perhaps, I shall find something for your amusement, which will always be a consideration of some weight with — Dear Sir, Yours.

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