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and most intensely blue of summer skies : which its narrow
perspective of immense mansions, reduced to a tapering and
most precious strip of brightness, looking down upon the
heavy shade below ! A brightness not too common, even in
July and August, to be well esteemed : for, if the Truth must
out, there were not eight blue skies in as many midsummer
weeks, saving, sometimes, early in the morning ; when, looking
out to sea, the water and the firmament were one world of
deep and brilliant blue. At other times, there were clouds
and haze enough to make an Englishman grumble in his own

The endless details of these rich Palaces : the walls of some
of them, within, alive with masterpieces by Vandyke ! The
great, heavy, stone balconies, one above another, and tier over
tier : with here and there, one larger than the rest, towering
high up a huge marble platform ; the doorless vestibules,
massively barred lower windows, immense public staircases,
thick marble pillars, strong dungeon-like arches, and dreary,
dreaming, echoing vaulted chambers : among which the eye
wanders again, and again, and again, as every palace is
succeeded by another the terrace gardens between house
and house, with green arches of the vine, and groves of
orange- trees, and blushing oleander in full bloom, twenty,
thirty, forty feet above the street the painted halls, moulder-
ing, and blotting, and rotting in the damp corners, and still
shining out in beautiful colours and voluptuous designs, where
the walls are dry the faded figures on the outsides of the
houses, holding wreaths, and crowns, and flying upward, and
downward, and standing in niches, and here and there looking
fainter and more feeble than elsewhere, bv contrast with


sonic fresh little Cupids, who on a more recently decorated
portion of the front, are stretching out what seems to be the
semblance of a blanket, but is, indeed, a sun-dial the steep,
steep, up-hill streets of small palaces (but very large palaces
for all that), with marble terraces looking down into close
by-ways the magnificent and innumerable Churches ; and
the rapid passage from a street of stately edifices, into a maze
of the vilest squalor, steaming with unwholesome stenches,
and swarming with half-naked children and whole worlds of
dirty people make up, altogether, such a scene of wonder :
so lively, and yet so dead : so noisy, and yet so quiet : so
obtrusive, and yet so shy and lowering: so wide awake, and
yet so fast asleep: that it is a sort of intoxication to a
stranger to walk on, and on, and on, and look about him.
A bewildering phantasmagoria, with all the inconsistency of
a dream, and all the pain and all the pleasure of an extrava-
gant reality !

The different uses to which some of these Palaces are ap-
plied, all at once, is characteristic. For instance, the English
Banker (my excellent and hospitable friend) has his office in
a good-sized Palazzo in the Strada Nuova. In the hall (every
inch of which is elaborately painted, but which is as dirty
as a police-station in London), a hook-nosed Saracen's Head
with an immense quantity of black hair (there is a man
attached to it) sells walking-sticks. On the other side of
the doorway, a lady with a showy handkerchief for head-dress
(wife to the Saracen's Head, I believe) sells articles of her
own knitting ; and sometimes flowers. A little further in,
two or three blind men occasionally beg. Sometimes, they
are visited by a man without legs, on a little go-cart, but
who has such a fresh-coloured, lively face, and such a respect-
able, well-conditioned body, that he looks as if he had sunk
into the ground up to his middle, or had come, but partially,
up a flight of cellar-steps to speak to somebody. A little
further in, a few men, perhaps, lie asleep in the middle of
the day ; or they may be chairmen waiting for their absent


freight. If so, they have brought their chairs in with them,
and there they stand also. On the left of the hall is a little
room : a hatter's shop. On the first floor, is the English
bank. On the first floor also, is a whole house, and a good
large residence too. Heaven knows what there may be above
that; but when you are there, you have only just begun to
go up-stairs. And yet, coming down-stairs again, thinking
of this; and passing out at a great crazy door in the back
of the hall, instead of turning the other way, to get into the
street again ; it bangs behind you, making the dismallest and
most lonesome echoes, and you stand in a yard (the yard of
the same house) which seems to have been unvisited by human
foot, for a hundred years. Not a sound disturbs its repose.
Not a head, thrust out of any of the grim, dark, jealous
windows, within sight, makes the weeds in the cracked pave-
ment faint of heart, by suggesting the possibility of there
being hands to grub them up. Opposite to you, is a giant
figure carved in stone, reclining, with an urn, upon a lofty
piece of artificial rockwork ; and out of the urn, dangles the
fag end of a leaden pipe, which, once upon a time, poured
a small torrent down the rocks. But the eye-sockets of the
giant are not drier than this channel is now. He seems to
have given his urn, which is nearly upside down, a final tilt ;
and after crying, like a sepulchral child, " All gone ! " to
have lapsed into a stony silence.

In the streets of shops, the houses are much smaller, but
of great size notwithstanding, and extremely high. They
are very dirty : quite undrained, if my nose be at all reliable :
and emit a peculiar fragrance, like the smell of very bad
cheese, kept in very hot blankets. Notwithstanding the
height of the houses, there would seem to have been a lack
of room in the City, for new houses are thrust in everywhere.
Wherever it has been possible to cram a tumble-down tene-
ment into a crack or corner, in it has gone. If there be a
nook or angle in the wall of a church, or a crevice in any
other dead wall, of any sort, there you are sure to find some


kind of habitation : looking as if it had grown there, like
a fungus. Against the Government House, against the old
Senate House, round about any large building, little shops
stick so close, like parasite vermin to the great carcase. And
for all this, look where you may : up steps, down steps, any-
where, everywhere: there are irregular houses, receding,
starting forward, tumbling down, leaning against their neigh-
bours, crippling themselves or their friends by some means or
other, until one, more irregular than the rest, chokes up the
way, and you can't see any further.

One of the rottenest-looking parts of the town, I think, is
down by the landing-wharf : though it may be, that its being
associated with a great deal of rottenness on the evening of
our arrival, has stamped it deeper in my mind. Here, again,
the houses are very high, and are of an infinite variety of
deformed shapes, and have (as most of the houses have) some-
thing hanging out of a great many windows, and wafting its
frowsy fragrance on the breeze. Sometimes, it is a curtain ;
sometimes, it is a carpet; sometimes, it is a bed; sometimes,
a whole line-full of clothes ; but there is almost always some-
thing. Before the basement of these houses, is an arcade
over the pavement : very massive, dark, and low, like an old
crypt. The stone, or plaster, of which it is made, has turned
quite black ; and against every one of these black piles, all
sorts of filth and garbage seem to accumulate spontaneously.
Beneath some of the arches, the sellers of maccaroni and
polenta establish their stalls, which are by no means inviting.
The offal of a fish-market, near at hand that is to say, of a
back lane, where people sit upon the ground and on various
old bulk-heads and sheds, and sell fish when they have any
to dispose of and of a vegetable market, constructed on the
same principle are contributed to the decoration of this
quarter ; and as all the mercantile business is transacted here,
and it is crowded all day, it has a very decided flavour about
it. The Porto Franco, or Free Port (where goods brought,
in from foreign countries pay no duty until they are sold and


taken out, as in a bonded warehouse in England), is down
here also; and two portentous officials, in cocked hats, stand
at the gate to search you if they choose, and to keep out
Monks and Ladies. For, Sanctity as well as Beauty has been
known to yield to the temptation of smuggling, and in the
same way : that is to say, by concealing the smuggled pro-
perty beneath the loose folds of its dress. So Sanctity and
Beauty may, by no means, enter.

The streets of Genoa would be all the better for the im-
portation of a few Priests of prepossessing appearance. Every
fourth or fifth man in the streets is a Priest or a Monk ; and
there is pretty sure to be at least one itinerant ecclesiastic
inside or outside every hackney carriage on the neighbouring
roads. I have no knowledge, elsewhere, of more repulsive
countenances than are to be found among these gentry. If
Nature's hand-writing be at all legible, greater varieties of
sloth, deceit, and intellectual torpor, could hardly be observed
among any class of men in the world.

MR. PEPYS once heard a clergyman assert in his sermon,
in illustration of his respect for the Priestly office, that if he
could meet a Priest and angel together, he would salute the
Priest first. I am rather of the opinion of PETRARCH, who,
when his pupil BOCCACCIO wrote to him in great tribulation,
that he had been visited and admonished for his writings by
a Carthusian Friar who claimed to be a messenger imme-
diately commissioned by Heaven for that purpose, replied,
that for his own part, he would take the liberty of testing
the reality of the commission by personal observation of the
Messenger's face, eyes, forehead, behaviour, and discourse. I
cannot but believe myself, from similar observation, that
many unaccredited celestial messengers may be seen skulking
through the streets of Genoa, or droning away their lives in
other Italian towns.

Perhaps the Cappuccini, though not a learned body, are,
as an order, the best friends of the people. They seem to
mingle with them more immediately, as their counsellors and


comforters ; and to go among them more, when they are sick ;
and to pry less than some other orders, into the secrets of
families, for the purpose of establishing a baleful ascendency
over their weaker members; and to be influenced by a less
fierce desire to make converts, and once made, to let them
go to ruin, soul and body. They may be seen, in their coarse
dress, in all parts of the town at all times, and begging in
the markets early in the morning. The Jesuits too, muster
strong in the streets, and go slinking noiselessly about, in
pairs, like black cats.

In some of the narrow passages, distinct trades congregate.
There is a street of jewellers, and there is a row of book-
sellers; but even down in places where nobody ever can, or
ever could, penetrate in a carriage, there are mighty old
palaces shut in among the gloomiest and closest walls, and
almost shut out from the sun. Very few of the tradesmen
have any idea of setting forth their goods, or disposing them
for show. If you, a stranger, want to buy anything, you
usually look round the shop till you see it ; then clutch it,
if it be within reach, and inquire how much. Everything is
sold at the most unlikely place. If you want coffee, you go to
a sweetmeat shop ; and if you want meat, you will probably
find it behind an old checked curtain, down half-a-dozen
steps, in some sequestered nook as hard to find as if the
commodity were poison, and Genoa's law were death to any
that uttered it.

Most of the apothecaries'* shops are great lounging-places.
Here, grave men with sticks, sit down in the shade for hours
together, passing a meagre Genoa paper from hand to hand,
and talking, drowsily and sparingly, about the News. Two
or three of these are poor physicians, ready to proclaim them-
selves on an emergency, and tear off with any messenger who
may arrive. You may know them by the way in which they
stretch their necks to listen, when you enter ; and by the
sigh with which they fall back again into their dull corners,
on finding that you only want medicine. Few people lounge



in the barbers' shops ; though they are very numerous, as
hardly any man shaves himself. But the apothecary's has
its group of loungers, who sit back among the bottles, with
their hands folded over the tops of their sticks. So still and
quiet, that either you don't see them in the darkened shop,
or mistake them as I did one ghostly man in bottle-green,
one day, with a hat like a stopper for Horse Medicine.

On a summer evening the Genoese are as fond of putting
themselves, as their ancestors were of putting houses, in every
available inch of space in and about the town. In all the
lanes and alleys, and up every little ascent, and on every
dwarf wall, and on every flight of steps, they cluster like
bees. Meanwhile (and especially on festa-days) the bells of
the churches ring incessantly ; not in peals, or any known
form of sound, but in a horrible, irregular, jerking, dingle,
dingle, dingle : with a sudden stop at every fifteenth dingle
or so, which is maddening. This performance is usually
achieved by a boy up in the steeple, who takes hold of the
clapper, or a little rope attached to it, and tries to dingle
louder than every other boy similarly employed. The noise
is supposed to be particularly obnoxious to Evil Spirits ; but
looking up into the steeples, and seeing (and hearing) these
young Christians thus engaged, one might very naturally
mistake them for the Enemy.

Festa-days, early in the autumn, are very numerous. All
the shops were shut up, twice within a week, for these holi-
days ; and one night, all the houses in the neighbourhood of
a particular church were illuminated, while the church itself
was lighted, outside, with torches; and a grove of blazing
links was erected, in an open space outside one of the city
gates. This part of the ceremony is prettier and more
singular a little way in the country, where you can trace
the illuminated cottages all the way up a steep hill-side ; and
where you pass festoons of tapers, wasting away in the star-
light night, before some lonely little house upon the road.


On these days, they always dress the church of the saint
in whose honour the festa is holden, very gaily. Gold-
embroidered festoons of different colours, hang from the
arches ; the altar furniture is set forth ; and sometimes, even
the lofty pillars are swathed from top to bottom in tight-
fitting draperies. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Lorenzo.
On St. Lorenzo's day, we went into it, just as the sun was
setting. Although these decorations are usually in very
indifferent taste, the effect, just then, was very superb indeed.
For the whole building was dressed in red ; and the sinking
sun, streaming in, through a great red curtain in the chief
doorway, made all the gorgeousness its own. When the sun
went down, and it gradually grew quite dark inside, except
for a few twinkling tapers on the principal altar, and some
small dangling silver lamps, it was very mysterious and
effective. But, sitting in any of the churches towards even-
ing, is like a mild dose of opium.

With the money collected at a festa, they usually pay for
the dressing of the church, and for the hiring of the band, and
for the tapers. If there be any left (which seldom happens,
I believe), the souls in Purgatory get the benefit of it. They
are also supposed to have the benefit of the exertions of
certain small boys, who shake money-boxes before some
mysterious little buildings like rural turnpikes, which (usually
shut up close) fly open on Red-letter days, and disclose. an
image and some flowers inside.

Just without the city gate, on the Albara road, is a small
house, with an altar in it, and a stationary money-box : also
for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory. Still further to
stimulate the charitable, there is a monstrous painting on
the plaster, on either side of the grated door, representing
a select party of souls, frying. One of them has a grey
moustache, and an elaborate head of grey hair : as if he had
been taken out of a hairdresser's window and cast into the
furnace. There he is: a most grotesque and hideously comic
old soul : for ever blistering in the real sun, and melting in


the mimic fire, for the gratification and improvement (and
the contributions) of the poor Genoese.

They are not a very joyous people, and are seldom seen to
dance on their holidays : the staple places of entertainment
among the women, being the churches and the public walks.
They are very good-tempered, obliging, and industrious.
Industry has not made them clean, for their habitations are
extremely filthy, and their usual occupation on a fine Sunday
morning, is to sit at their doors, hunting in each other's
heads. But their dwellings are so close and confined that if
those parts of the city had been beaten down by Massena in
the time of the terrible Blockade, it would have at least
occasioned one public benefit among many misfortunes.

The Peasant Women, with naked feet and legs, are so
constantly washing clothes, in the public tanks, and in every
stream and ditch, that one cannot help wondering, in the
midst of all this dirt, who wears them when they are clean.
The custom is to lay the wet linen which is being operated
upon, on a smooth stone, and hammer away at it, with a
flat wooden mallet. This they do, as furiously as if they
were revenging themselves on dress in general for being
connected with the Fall of Mankind.

It is not unusual to see, lying on the edge of the tank at
these times, or on another flat stone, an unfortunate baby,
tightly swathed up, arms and legs and all, in an enormous
quantity of wrapper, so that it is unable to move a toe or
finger. This custom (which we often see represented in old
pictures) is universal among the common people. A child is
left anywhere without the possibility of crawling away, oi-
ls accidentally knocked off a shelf, or tumbled out of bed, or
is hung up to a hook now and then, and left dangling like a
doll at an English rag-shop, without the least inconvenience
to anybody.

I was sitting, one Sunday, soon after my arrival, in the
little country church of San Martino, a couple of miles from
the city, while a baptism took place. I saw the priest, and


an attendant with a large taper, and a man, and a woman,
and some others ; but I had no more idea, until the ceremony
was all over, that it was a baptism, or that the curious little
stiff instrument, that was passed from one to another, in the
course of the ceremony, by the handle like a short poker
was a child, than I had that it was my own christening. I
borrowed the child afterwards, for a minute or two (it was
lying across the font then), and found it very red in the face
but perfectly quiet, and not to be bent on any terms. The
number of cripples in the streets, soon ceased to surprise me.
There are plenty of Saints'* and Virgin"^ Shrines, of course ;
generally at the corners of streets. The favourite memento
to the Faithful, about Genoa, is a painting, representing a
peasant on his knees, with a spade and some other agri-
cultural implements beside him ; and the Madonna, with
the Infant Saviour in her arms, appearing to him in a cloud.
This is the legend of the Madonna della Guardia : a chapel
on a mountain within a few miles, which is in high repute.
It seems that this peasant lived all alone by himself, tilling
some land atop of the mountain, where, being a devout man,
he daily said his prayers to the Virgin in the open air; for
his hut was a very poor one. Upon a certain day, the
Virgin appeared to him, as in the picture, and said, "Why
do you pray in the open air, and without a priest?" The
peasant explained because there was neither priest nor church
at hand a very uncommon complaint indeed in Italy. "I
should wish, then,' 1 said the Celestial Visitor, "to have a
chapel built here, in which the prayers of the Faithful may
be offered up."" " But, Santissima Madonna," said the
peasant, " I am a poor man ; and chapels cannot be built
without money. They must be supported, too, Santissima ;
for to have a chapel and not support it liberally, is a
wickedness a deadly sin." This sentiment gave great
satisfaction to the visitor. "Go!" said she. "There is
such a village in the valley on the left, and such another
village in the valley on the right, and such another village


elsewhere, that will gladly contribute to the building of a
chapel. Go to them ! Relate what you have seen ; and do
not doubt that sufficient money will be forthcoming to erect
my chapel, or that it will, afterwards, be handsomely
maintained." All of which (miraculously) turned out to be
quite true. And in proof of this prediction and revelation,
there is the chapel of the Madonna della Guardia, rich and
flourishing at this day.

The splendour and variety of the Genoese churches, can
hardly be exaggerated. The church of the Annunciata
especially : built, like many of the others, at the cost of one
noble family, and now in slow progress of repair : from the
outer door to the utmost height of the high cupola, is so
elaborately painted and set in gold, that it looks (as SJMOND
describes it, in his charming book on Italy) like a great
enamelled snuff-box. Most of the richer churches contain
some beautiful pictures, or other embellishments of great
price, almost universally set, side by side, with sprawling
effigies of maudlin monks, and the veriest trash and tinsel
ever seen.

It may be a consequence of the frequent direction of the
popular mind, and -pocket, to the souls in Purgatory, but
there is very little tenderness for the bodies of the dead here.
For the very poor, there are, immediately outside one angle
of the walls, and behind a jutting point of the fortification,
near the sea, certain common pits one for every day in the
year which all remain closed up, until the turn of each
comes for its daily reception of dead bodies. Among the
troops in the town, there are usually some Swiss : more or
less. When any of these die, they are buried out of a fund
maintained by such of their countrymen as are resident in
Genoa. Their providing coffins for these men is matter of
great astonishment to the authorities.

Certainly, the effect of this promiscuous and indecent
splashing down of dead people in so many wells, is bad. It
surrounds Death with revolting associations, that insensibly


become connected with those whom Death is approaching.
Indifference and avoidance are the natural result; and all
the softening influences of the great sorrow are harshly

There is a ceremony when an old Cavaliere or the like,
expires, of erecting a pile of benches in the cathedral, to
represent his bier; covering them over with a pall of black
velvet ; putting his hat and sword on the top ; making a
little square of seats about the whole ; and sending out
formal invitations to his friends and acquaintances to come
and sit there, and hear Mass : which is performed at the
principal Altar, decorated with an infinity of candles for
that purpose.

When the better kind of people die, or are at the point
of death, their nearest relations generally walk off: retiring
into the country for a little change, and leaving the body
to be disposed of, without any superintendence from them.
The procession is usually formed, and the coffin borne, and
the funeral conducted, by a body of persons called a Con-
frateYnita, who, as a kind of voluntary penance, undertake
to perform these offices, in regular rotation, for the dead ;
but who, mingling something of pride with their humility,
are dressed in a loose garment covering their whole person,
and wear a hood concealing the face; with breathing-holes
and apertures for the eyes. The effect of this costume is
very ghastly : especially in the case of a certain Blue Con-
frat^rnita belonging to Genoa, who, to say the least of them,
are very ugly customers, and who look suddenly encountered
in their pious ministration in the streets as if they were
Ghoules or Demons, bearing off the body for themselves.

Although such a custom may be liable to the abuse

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 29 of 43)