The journal of Amélina Petit de Billier


For four years the Feilding family travelled and lived in Europe. The main party of Mr Feilding, Lady Elisabeth, Caroline, Horatia, and Amélina, was augmented from time to time by Henry Talbot; Mr Fazakerly, a friend of Mr Feilding’s; and the Rev. George Montgomerie, a friend of the family with a living in Norfolk. They went first from Paris to Berne, for four months, then to Nice for the winter; Florence for six months, Rome for another six, the Italian Lakes, the following winter in Genoa, then via Venice, Vienna and Munich to Paris for the winter of 1824 to 1825. In this way periods of travelling were interspersed with lengthy periods in rented houses, and wherever they went they found fellow-travellers or residents from England.

In November 1823 they arrived in Genoa and inspected houses for rent.

“We went up to the charming hill of Albaro, to see the house occupied by Lord Byron and Mme Guiccioli, née Gamba, during the long stay he made in this town: he has left there his furniture and his library, which is numerous, particularly for a man who leads a wandering life, and he had even kept the house at his disposal, but he has written lately to the owner giving him permission to rent it, if the occasion arose, and it was with the intention of living there that Mr F. took us there, at least if it could be arranged...It is quite big, but in very bad order, and is clearly the dwelling of a poet. I went over it with great interest: the garden seat shaded by olive trees, where he passed hours in meditation; the big chair in which he preferred to sit; the table where he composed some of his vigorous poems; his books; his portrait; that of his daughter; all this attracted our attention.”

Lord Byron

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“He has left some fine furniture there, but in the greatest disorder. His spirit was too far above the little things of domestic life; to take care of those he left this duty to some people with whom, it appears, he came to regret surrounding himself. Lord B. is impulsive, a natural consequence of a passionate imagination. He allowed himself to be surrounded, and almost dominated by so-called friends, who at heart were nothing but parasites, who were, they say, people completely without principles, adventurers attaching themselves where they could. In the end he was disabused, though rather late.They think that he has undertaken his journey to Greece with the intention of casting them off, and he has succeeded,

but I consider that this misconstrues the fine motive which caused his action: devoted to the Greeks, and the great days of their liberty, he wished to take part in giving back to the Greeks of today that precious liberty, trampled underfoot for centuries in that unhappy country... The owner Mr Barry told us that he had been accustomed to spend an hour each day, working on one of his poems, which were worth their weight in gold; for he has become rather more calculating, and makes a profit from his works. It is true that this is so that he can use it nobly now. They say that he is impatiently waiting for his daughter Ada to reach her seventh year, to take her from her mother, from whom he separated after two years of marriage, the laws of England only permitting it then. Lady Byron anticipates this with despair. Lady Byron is a rich heiress, who wished to marry him to satisfy her vanity, but she is well paid for her folly! Poets are rarely good husbands!”

Their travels, in their own carriage, with servants (including a French cook) and a courier, were nevertheless plagued by the drawbacks and disasters common to all such travels: innkeepers, postmasters, and frontier guards (mainly Austrian) harrassed them, the inns were often dirty, the food poor (so that they frequently carried their own provisions with them), and the weather often treacherous, but through it all, they seem to have been on cordial terms with each other, with occasional disagreements quickly resolved. They often split up into two or three groups for different excursions, sometimes for several days, in any number of different permutations, and evidently with great pleasure in each other’s company, and in their new experiences (even a descent into the salt mines of Salzburg).

When they settled in a city, they undertook a gruelling social and cultural programme. In Nice, Amélina danced with the Sardinian officers “till stiff all over”; in Rome, “on Sundays the church of St Peter contains all the London fashionables, who meet there to talk of the yesterday’s ball and tomorrow’s play, to look at the pretty women, laugh, promenade, stare and gossip loudly, arm in arm”, and their dinner guests included the Duke of Devonshire, the French Ambassador (the Duc de Laval-Montmorency) and many friends from England.

Rome with the Church of St Peter

Part of the Forum, Rome.

With opera, concerts, theatres and dinners by night, their days were filled with sightseeing. Amélina’s room-by-room record of the contents of art galleries and studios (including, in Rome, those of Thorvaldsen and Canova) testifies not only to her enthusiasm but to her knowledge and judgement. However it is for music above all that she felt the deepest response, especially for opera, and above all, for Rossini. In Paris, in February 1825, she was thrilled to see and hear him at a private concert.

“I went to Mrs Wilkinson’s fine concert: a great many people of the beau monde of every country were there. I was in a state of delight throughout all the music: Rossini! accompanied the singers on the piano! He is excessively fat, and his countenance not very expressive, although his features are handsome, but he looks good-natured, and his manners are sociable. He played the piano marvellously, and how well he showed off his own music! Mme Pasta was charming yesterday, and sang like an angel, especially the famous aria by Gluck 'J’ai perdu mon Euridice', in Italian. She was well dressed, and looked very distinguished. Rossini on the piano, and Lafond on the violin played a delightful duet on the Rondo of Emma by Auber.”

Gioachino Rossini

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Celebrate Italian opera singer.

Madame Pasta

Madame Giuditta Pasta (1797-1865)
Celebrated Italian opera singer.

The guests included Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg (not yet King of the Belgians, but Princess Charlotte’s widower), M. Rothschild, and the Duchesse de Castries.

A month later she heard “young Liszt, a prodigy about fourteen or fifteen years old, [who] improvised on the piano in an extraordinary manner. He has perfect technique.”

Napoleon was a tragic hero to Amélina. His death in 1821 prompted an outburst of grief, and she eulogises him on many occasions when confronted by his likeness all over Europe. It was therefore a high point in her life when in Venice in 1824 she was introduced to his sister.

“Spent the evening at Lady Westmorland’s to meet the ex-Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, Napoleon’s sister...I was much moved on seeing her: she is very much changed, but she has kept her charming figure, dazzling skin, the most beautiful shoulders I have ever seen, a graceful neck, the prettiest little hand, a pretty foot, fine teeth, the most animated countenance, the sweetest voice... All the company was presented. She is treated with great deference and respect here. Mr F. spoke to her about me, and of how I had wished to see her. At once she crossed the group, came and sat down by me, and began with such ease, such an attractive and unaffected manner, that I felt I was meeting an old acquaintance. We talked a great deal!.. Poor woman, what sorrows she has had! The conversation was sometimes difficult, there are so many matters I dared not touch on, but I talked with her about Naples, about Portici, about the young Napoleon, and her children: her elder son is, she told me, in America. Her other son Prince Achille was there: he is 21, with a very handsome face, but unfortunately he is much too fat, and has rather a vulgar appearance. However, when he talks, the bad impression goes away, for he expresses himself very well, and like a distinguished man...”

Caroline Murat (neé Bonaparte)

Caroline Murat-Bonaparte (1782-1839), Napoleon’s sister,Queen of Naples.
Portrait: Giuseppe Cammarano, 1813.

“Queen Caroline asked me to sing, and I wanted to oblige her, but our hostess had not asked me to, when young Prince Achille came to beg me, on behalf of all the company, to make myself heard. I agreed, and he led me by the hand to the piano, where M. Perruchini, a very distinguished amateur musician accompanied me. I sang first the prayer from Otello, and then the lovely song Elena in which I recovered from my foolish nervousness, and acquitted myself better than I could have believed....Prince Achille came to stand by me, and paid me many compliments, and asked his mother to thank me. Then we waltzed and danced. Prince Achille waltzes very well: he asked Caroline, and then her sister. I played the harp a little.”