Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) online

. (page 27 of 43)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 27 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


The Evil Spirit. To be sure. He is very soon disposed
of." "Pardon, Monsieur,"" said the Sacristan, with a polite
motion of his hand towards the little door, as if introducing
somebody " The Angel Gabriel ! "

Soon after daybreak next morning, we were steaming down
the Arrowy Rhone, at the rate of twenty miles an hour, in a
very dirty vessel full of merchandise, and with only three or
four other passengers for our companions : among whom, the
most remarkable was a silly, old, meek-faced, garlic-eating,
immeasurably polite Chevalier, with a dirty scrap of red
ribbon hanging at his button-hole, as if he had tied it there
to remind himself of something ; as Tom Noddy, in the farce,
ties knots in his pocket-handkerchief.

For the last two days, we had seen great sullen hills, the
first indications of the Alps, lowering in the distance. Now,
we were rushing on beside them : sometimes close beside
them: sometimes with an intervening slope, covered with
vineyards. Villages and small towns hanging in mid-air, with
great woods of olives seen through the light open towers of
their churches, and clouds moving slowly on, upon the steep
acclivity behind them ; ruined castles perched on every emi-
nence ; and scattered houses in the clefts and gullies of the
hills ; made it very beautiful. The great height of these,
too, making the buildings look so tiny, that they had all
the charm of elegant models ; their excessive whiteness, as



324 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

contrasted with the brown rocks, or the sombre, deep, dull,
heavy green of the olive-tree; and the puny size, and little
slow walk of the Lilliputian men and women on the bank ;
made a charming picture. There were ferries out of number,
too ; bridges ; the famous Pont d'Esprit, with I don't know
how many arches; towns where memorable wines are made;
Vallence, where Napoleon studied ; and the noble river, bring-
ing at every winding turn, new beauties into view.

There lay before us, that same afternoon, the broken bridge
of Avignon, and all the city baking in the sun ; yet with an
under-done-pie-crust, battlemented wall, that never will be
brown, though it bake for centuries.

The grapes were hanging in clusters in the streets, and
the brilliant Oleander was in full bloom everywhere. The
streets are old and very narrow, but tolerably clean, and
shaded by awnings stretched from house to house. Bright
stuffs and handkerchiefs, curiosities, ancient frames of carved
wood, old chairs, ghostly tables, saints, virgins, angels, and
staring daubs of portraits, being exposed for sale beneath, it
was very quaint and lively. All this was much set off, too,
by the glimpses one caught, through a rusty gate standing
ajar, of quiet sleepy court-yards, having stately old houses
within, as silent as tombs. It was all very like one of the
descriptions in the Arabian Nights. The three one-eyed
Calenders might have knocked at any one of those doors till
the street rang again, and the porter who persisted in asking
questions the man who had the delicious purchases put into
his basket in the morning might have opened it quite
naturally.

After breakfast next morning, we sallied forth to see the
lions. Such a delicious breeze was blowing in, from the
north, as made the walk delightful : though the pavement-
stones, and stones of the walls and houses, were far too hot
to have a hand laid on them comfortably.

We went, first of all, up a rocky height, to the cathedral :
where Mass was performing to an auditory very like that of



IN THE CHURCH AT AVIGNON. 325

Lyons, namely, several old women, a baby, and a very self-
possessed dog, who had marked out for himself a little course
or platform for exercise, beginning at the altar-rails and
ending at the door, up and down which constitutional walk
he trotted, during the service, as methodically and calmly,
as any old gentleman out of doors. It is a bare old church,
and the paintings in the roof are sadly defaced by time and
damp weather; but the sun .was shining in, splendidly,
through the red curtains of the windows, and glittering on
the altar furniture ; and it looked as bright and cheerful as
need be.

Going apart, in this church, to see some painting which
was being executed in fresco by a French artist and his pupil,
I was led to observe more closely than I might otherwise
have done, a great number of votive offerings with which the
walls of the different chapels were profusely hung. I will not
say decorated, for they were very roughly and comically got
up ; most likely by poor sign-painters, who eke out their
living in that way. They were all little pictures : each
representing some sickness or calamity from which the person
placing it there, had escaped, through the interposition of
his or her patron saint, or of the Madonna ; and I may refer
to them as good specimens of the class generally. They are
abundant in Italy.

In a grotesque squareness of outline, and impossibility of
perspective, they are not unlike the woodcuts in old books ;
but they were oil-paintings, and the artist, like the painter
of the Primrose family, had not been sparing of his colours.
In one, a lady was having a toe amputated an operation
which a saintly personage had sailed into the room, upon a
couch, to superintend. In another, a lady was lying in bed,
tucked up very tight and prim, and staring with much com-
posure at a tripod, with a slop-basin on it ; the usual form
of washing-stand, and the only piece of furniture, besides
the bedstead, in her chamber. One would never have sup-
posed her to be labouring under any complaint, beyond the



326 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

inconvenience of being miraculously wide awake, if the painter
had not hit upon the idea of putting all her family on their
knees in one corner, with their legs sticking out behind them
on the floor, like boot-trees. Above whom, the Virgin, on a
kind of blue divan, promised to restore the patient. In
another case, a lady was in the very act of being run over,
immediately outside the city walls, by a sort of piano-forte
van. But the Madonna was there again. Whether the
supernatural appearance had startled the horse (a bay griffin),
or whether it was invisible to him, I don't know; but he
was galloping away, ding dong, without the smallest reverence
or compunction. On every picture "Ex voto" was painted
in yellow capitals in the sky.

Though votive offerings were not unknown in Pagan
Temples, and are evidently among the many compromises
made between the false religion and the true, when the true
was in its infancy, I could wish that all the other com-
promises were as harmless. Gratitude and Devotion are
Christian qualities ; and a grateful, humble, Christian spirit
may dictate the observance.

Hard by the cathedral stands the ancient Palace of the
Popes, of which one portion is now a common jail, and
another a noisy barrack : while gloomy suites of state apart-
ments, shut up and deserted, mock their own old state and
glory, like the embalmed bodies of kings. But we neither
went there, to see state rooms, nor soldiers 1 quarters, nor a
common jail, though we dropped some money into a prisoners 1
box outside, whilst the prisoners, themselves, looked through
the iron bars, high up, and watched us eagerly.. We went to
see the ruins of the dreadful rooms in which the Inquisition
used to sit.

A little, old, swarthy woman, with a pair of flashing black
eyes, proof that the world hadn't conjured down the devil
within her, though it had had between sixty and seventy
years to do it in, came out of the Barrack Cabaret, of which
she was the keeper, with some large keys in her hands, and



THE GOBLIN AT AVIGNON. 327

marshalled us the way that we should go. How she told us,
on the way, that she was a Government Officer (concierge du
pedals apostoltque), and had been, for I don't know how many
years ; and how she had shown these dungeons to princes ;
and how she was the best of dungeon demonstrators ; and
how she had resided in the palace from an infant, had
been born there, if I recollect right, I needn't relate. But
such a fierce, little, rapid, sparkling, energetic she-devil I
never beheld. She was alight and flaming, all the time.
Her action was violent in the extreme. She never spoke,
without stopping expressly for the purpose. She stamped
her feet, clutched us by the arms, flung herself into atti-
tudes, hammered against walls with her keys, for mere
emphasis: now whispered as if the Inquisition were there
still: now shrieked as if she were on the rack herself; and
had a mysterious, hag-like way with her forefinger, when
approaching the remains of some new horror looking back
and walking stealthily, and making horrible grimaces that
might alone have qualified her to walk up and down a sick
man's counterpane, to the exclusion of all other figures,
through a whole fever.

Passing through the court-yard, among groups of idle
soldiers, we turned off by a gate, which this She-Goblin
unlocked for our admission, and locked again behind us : and
entered a narrow court, rendered narrower by fallen stones
and heaps of rubbish ; part of it choking up the mouth of a
ruined subterranean passage, that once communicated (or is
said to have done so) with another castle on the opposite
bank of the river. Close to this court-yard is a dungeon
we stood within it, in another minute in the dismal tower
des oubliettes, where Rienzi was imprisoned, fastened by an
iron chain to the very wall that stands there now, but shut
out from the sky which now looks down into it. A few steps
brought us to the Cachots, in which the prisoners of the
Inquisition were confined for forty-eight hours after their
capture, without food or drink, that their constancy might



328 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

be shaken, even before they were confronted with their gloomy
judges. The day has not got in there yet. They are still
small cells, shut in by four unyielding, close, hard walls;
still profoundly dark ; still massively doored and fastened, as
of old.

Goblin, looking back as I have described, went softly on,
into a vaulted chamber, now used as a store-room : once the
chapel of the Holy Office. The place where the tribunal sat,
was plain. The platform might have been removed but
yesterday. Conceive the parable of the Good Samaritan
having been painted on the wall of one of these Inquisition
chambers ! But it was, and may be traced there yet.

High up in the jealous wall, are niches where the faltering
replies of the accused were heard and noted down. Many
of them had been brought out of the very cell we had just
looked into, so awfully ; along the same stone passage. We
had trodden in their very footsteps.

I am gazing round me, with the horror that the place
inspires, when Goblin clutches me by the wrist, and lays,
not her skinny finger, but the handle of a key, upon her
lip. She invites me, with a jerk, to follow her. I do so.
She leads me out into a room adjoining a rugged room,
with a funnel-shaped, contracting roof, open at the top, to
the bright day. I ask her what it is. She folds her arms,
leers hideously, and stares. I ask again. She glances round,
to see that all the little company are there ; sits down upon
a mound of stones ; throws up her arms, and yells out, like
a fiend, " La Salle de la Question ! "

The Chamber of Torture ! And the roof was made of that
shape to stifle the victim's cries ! Oh Goblin, Goblin, let us
think of this awhile, in silence. Peace, Goblin ! Sit with
your short arms crossed on your short legs, upon that heap
of stones, for only five minutes, and then flame out again.

Minutes ! Seconds are not marked upon the Palace clock,
when, with her eyes flashing fire, Goblin is up, in the middle
of the chamber, describing, with her sunburnt arms, a wheel



THE CHAMBER OF TORTURE. 329

of heavy blows. Thus it ran round ! cries Goblin. Mash,
mash, mash ! An endless routine of heavy hammers. Mash,
mash, mash ! upon the sufferer's limbs. See the stone trough !
says Goblin. For the water torture ! Gurgle, swill, bloat,
burst, for the Redeemer's honour ! Suck the bloody rag,
deep down into your unbelieving body, Heretic, at every
breath you draw ! And when the executioner plucks it out,
reeking with the smaller mysteries of God's own Image, know
us for His chosen servants, true believers in the Sermon on
the Mount, elect disciples of Him who never did a miracle
but to heal : who never struck a man with palsy, blindness,
deafness, dumbness, madness, any one affliction of mankind;
and never stretched His blessed hand out, but to give relief
and ease !

See ! cries Goblin. There the furnace was. There they
made the irons red-hot. Those holes supported the sharp
stake, on which the tortured persons hung poised : dangling
with their whole weight from the roof. "But;" and Goblin
whispers this ; " Monsieur has heard of this tower ? Yes ?
Let Monsieur look down, then ! "

A cold air, laden with an earthy smell, falls upon the face
of Monsieur ; for she has opened, while speaking, a trap-door
in the wall. Monsieur looks in. Downward to the bottom,
upward to the top, of a steep, dark, lofty tower : very dismal,
very dark, very cold. The Executioner of the Inquisition,
says Goblin, edging in her head to look down also, flung
those who were past all further torturing, down here. " But
look ! does Monsieur see the black stains on the wall ? "
A glance, over his shoulder, at Goblin's keen eye, shows
Monsieur and would without the aid of the directing-key
where they are. " What are they ? " " Blood ! "

In October, 1791, when the Revolution was at its height
here, sixty persons: men and women ("and priests," says
Goblin, "priests"): were murdered, and hurled, the dying
and the dead, into this dreadful pit, where a quantity of
quick-lime was tumbled down upon their bodies. Those



330 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

ghastly tokens of the massacre were soon no more ; but while
one stone of the strong building in which the deed was done,
remains upon another, there they will lie in the memories of
men, as plain to see as the splashing of their blood upon the
wall is now.

Was it a portion of the great scheme of Retribution, that
the cruel deed should be committed in this place ! That a
part of the atrocities and monstrous institutions, which had
been, for scores of years, at work, to change men's nature,
should in its last service, tempt them with the ready means
of gratifying their furious and beastly rage ! Should enable
them to show themselves, in the height of their frenzy, no
worse than a great, solemn, legal establishment, in the height
of its power ! No worse ! Much better. They used the
Tower of the Forgotten, in the name of Liberty their
liberty; an earth-born creature, nursed in the black mud of
the Bastile moats and dungeons, and necessarily betraying
many evidences of its unwholesome bringing-up but the
Inquisition used it in the name of Heaven.

Goblin's finger is lifted ; and she steals out again, into the
Chapel of the Holy Office. She stops at a certain part of
the flooring. Her great effect is at hand. She waits for the
rest. She darts at the brave Courier, who is explaining some-
thing; hits him a sounding rap on the hat with the largest
key ; and bids him be silent. She assembles us all, round a
little trap-door in the floor, as round a grave.

" Voila ! " she darts down at the ring, and flings the door
open with a crash, in her goblin energy, though it is no
light weight. "Voila les oubliettes! Voila les oubliettes!
Subterranean! Frightful! Black! Terrible! Deadly! Les
oubliettes de Tlnquisition ! "

My blood ran cold, as I looked from Goblin, down into
the vaults, where these forgotten creatures, with recollections
of the world outside : of wives, friends, children, brothers :
starved to death, and made the stones ring with their unavail-
ing groans. But, the thrill I felt on seeing the accursed wall



THE VAULTS OF THE INQUISITION. 331

below, decayed and broken through, and the sun shining in
through its gaping wounds, was like a sense of victory and
triumph. I felt exalted with the proud delight of living in
these degenerate times, to see it. As if I were the hero of
some high achievement ! The light in the doleful vaults was
typical of the light that has streamed in, on all persecution
in God^ name, but which is not yet at its noon ! It cannot
look more lovely to a blind man newly restored to sight, than
to a traveller who sees it, calmly and majestically, treading
down the darkness of that Infernal Well.



AVIGNON TO GENOA.



GOBLIN, having shown les oubliettes, felt that her great coup
was struck. She let the door fall with a crash, and stood
upon it with her arms a-kimbo, sniffing prodigiously.

When we left the place, I accompanied her into her house,
under the outer gateway of the fortress, to buy a little history
of the building. Her cabaret, a dark low room, lighted by
small windows, sunk in the thick wall in the softened light,
and with its forge-like chimney ; its little counter by the
door, with bottles, jars, and glasses on it ; its household
implements and scraps of dress against the wall ; and a sober-
looking woman (she must have a congenial life of it, with
Goblin,) knitting at the door looked exactly like a picture
by OSTADE.

I walked round the building on the outside, in a sort of
dream, and yet with the delightful sense of having awakened
from it, of which the light, down in the vaults, had given
me the assurance. The immense thickness and giddy height
of the walls, the enormous strength of the massive towers,
the great extent of the building, its gigantic proportions,
frowning aspect, and barbarous irregularity, awaken awe and
wonder. The recollection of its opposite old uses : an impreg-
nable fortress, a luxurious palace, a horrible prison, a place
of torture, the court of the Inquisition : at one and the same
time, a house of feasting, fighting, religion, and blood : gives
to every stone in its huge form a fearful interest, and



A DREADFUL REVENGE. 333

imparts new meaning to its incongruities. I could think of
little, however, then, or long afterwards, but the sun in the
dungeons. The palace coming down to be the lounging-place
of noisy soldiers, and being forced to echo their rough talk,
and common oaths, and to have their garments fluttering
from its dirty windows, was some reduction of its state, and
something to rejoice at; but the day in its cells, and the sky
for the roof of its chambers of cruelty that was its desola-
tion and defeat ! If I had seen it in a blaze from ditch to
rampart, I should have felt that not that light, nor all the
light in all the fire that burns, could waste it, like the sun-
beams in its secret council-chamber, and its prisons.

Before I quit this Palace of the Popes, let me translate
from the little history I mentioned just now, a short anecdote,
quite appropriate to itself, connected with its adventures.

"An ancient tradition relates, that in 1441, a nephew of
Pierre de Lude, the Pope's legate, seriously insulted some dis-
tinguished ladies of Avignon, whose relations, in revenge,
seized the young man, and horribly mutilated him. For several
years the legate kept his revenge within his own breast, but
he was not the less resolved upon its gratification at last.
He even made, in the fulness of time, advances towards a
complete reconciliation; and when their apparent sincerity
had prevailed, he invited to a splendid banquet, in this palace,
certain families, whole families, whom he sought to exter-
minate. The utmost gaiety animated the repast; but the
measures of the legate were well taken. When the dessert
was on the board, a Swiss presented himself, with the
announcement that a strange ambassador solicited an extra-
ordinary audience. The legate, excusing himself, for the
moment, to his guests, retired, followed by his officers.
Within a few minutes afterwards, five hundred persons were
reduced to ashes: the whole of that wing of the building
having been blown into the air with a terrible explosion ! "

After seeing the churches (I will not trouble you with
churches just now), we left Avignon that afternoon. The



334 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

heat being very great, the roads outside the walls were strewn
with people fast asleep in every little slip of shade, and with
lazy groups, half asleep and half awake, who were waiting
until the sun should be low enough to admit of their playing
bowls among the burnt-up trees, and on the dusty road.
The harvest here, was already gathered in, and mules and
horses were treading out the corn in the fields. We came,
at dusk, upon a wild and hilly country, once famous for
brigands ; and travelled slowly up a steep ascent. So we
went on, until eleven at night, when we halted at the town
of Aix (within two stages of Marseilles) to sleep.

The hotel, with all the blinds and shutters closed to keep
the light and heat out, was comfortable and airy next morn-
ing, and the town was very clean ; but so hot, and so intensely
light, that when I walked out at noon it was like coming
suddenly from the darkened room into crisp blue fire. The
air was so very clear, that distant hills and rocky points
appeared within an hour's walk ; while the town immediately
at hand with a kind of blue wind between me and it
seemed to be white hot, and to be throwing off a fiery air
from the surface.

We left this town towards evening, and took the road to
Marseilles. A dusty road it was ; the houses shut up close ;
and the vines powdered white. At nearly all the cottage
doors, women were peeling and slicing onions into earthen
bowls for supper. So they had been doing last night all the
way from Avignon. We passed one or two shady dark
chateaux, surrounded by trees, and embellished with cool
basins of water : which were the more refreshing to behold,
from the great scarcity of such residences on the road we had
travelled. As we approached Marseilles, the road began to
be covered with holiday people. Outside the public-houses
were parties smoking, drinking, playing draughts and cards,
and (once) dancing. But dust, dust, dust, everywhere. We
went on, through a long, straggling, dirty suburb, thronged
with people ; having on our left a dreary slope of land, on



MARSEILLES. 335

which the country-houses of the Marseilles merchants, always
staring white, are jumbled and heaped without the slightest
order: backs, fronts, sides, and gables towards all points of
the compass ; until, at last, we entered the town.

I was there, twice or thrice afterwards, in fair weather and
foul ; and I am afraid there is no doubt that it is a dirty
and disagreeable place. But the prospect, from the fortified
heights, of the beautiful Mediterranean, with its lovely rocks
and islands, is most delightful. These heights are a desirable
retreat, for less picturesque reasons as an escape from a
compound of vile smells perpetually arising from a great
harbour full of stagnant water, and befouled by the refuse of
innumerable ships with all sorts of cargoes : which, in hot
weather, is dreadful in the last degree.

There were foreign sailors, of all nations, in the streets ;
with red shirts, blue shirts, buff shirts, tawny shirts, and
shirts of orange colour ; with red caps, blue caps, green caps,
great beards, and no beards ; in Turkish turbans, glazed
English hats, and Neapolitan head-dresses. There were the
townspeople sitting in clusters on the pavement, or airing
themselves on the tops of their houses, or walking up and
down the closest and least airy of Boulevards; and there
were crowds of fierce-looking people of the lower sort, block-
ing up the way, constantly. In the very heart of all this
stir and uproar, was the common madhouse ; a low, contracted,
miserable building, looking straight upon the street, without
the smallest screen or court-yard ; where chattering mad-men
and mad-women were peeping out, through rusty bars, at the
staring faces below, while the sun, darting fiercely aslant into
their little cells, seemed to dry up their brains, and worry
them, as if they were baited by a pack of dogs.

We were pretty well accommodated at the Hotel du Paradis,
situated in a narrow street of very high houses, with a hair-
dresser's shop opposite, exhibiting in one of its windows two
full-length waxen ladies, twirling round and round : which so
enchanted the hairdresser himself, that he and his family sat



336 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

in arm-chairs, and in cool undresses, on the pavement out-
side, enjoying the gratification of the passers-by, with lazy
dignity. The family had retired to rest when we went to



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 27 of 43)