Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) online

. (page 30 of 43)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 30 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


attendant on many Italian customs, of being recognised as
a means of establishing a current account with Heaven, on
which to draw, too easily, for future bad actions, or as an
expiation for past misdeeds, it must be admitted to be a good
one, and a practical one, and one involving unquestionably



360 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

good works. A voluntary service like this, is surely better
than the imposed penance (not at all an infrequent one)
of giving so many licks to such and such a stone in the
pavement of the cathedral ; or than a vow to the Madonna
to wear nothing but blue for a year or two. This is
supposed to give great delight above ; blue being (as is well
known) the Madonna's favourite colour. Women who have
devoted themselves to this act of Faith, are very commonly
seen walking in the streets.

There are three theatres in the city, besides an old one
now rarely opened. The most important the Carlo Felice :
the opera-house of Genoa is a very splendid, commodious,
and beautiful theatre. A company of comedians were acting
there, when we arrived : and soon after their departure, a
second-rate opera company came. The great season is not
until the carnival time in the spring. Nothing impressed
me, so much, in my visits here (which were pretty numerous)
as the uncommonly hard and cruel character of the audience,
who resent the slightest defect, take nothing good-humouredly,
seem to be always lying in wait for an opportunity to hiss,
and spare the actresses as little as the actors. But, as there
is nothing else of a public nature at which they are allowed
to express the least disapprobation, perhaps they are resolved
to make the most of this opportunity.

There are a great number of Piedmontese officers too, who
are allowed the privilege of kicking their heels in the pit,
for next to nothing : gratuitous, or cheap accommodation for
these gentlemen being insisted on, by the Governor, in all
public or semi-public entertainments. They are lofty critics
in consequence, and infinitely more exacting than if they
made the unhappy manager's fortune.

The TEATRO DIUKNO, or Day Theatre, is a covered stage
in the open air, where the performances take place by day-
light, in the cool of the afternoon ; commencing at four or
five o'clock, and lasting some three hours. It is curious,
sitting among the audience, to have a fine view of the



MARIONETTI. 361

neighbouring hills and houses, and to see the neighbours
at their windows looking on, and to hear the bells of the
churches and convents ringing at most complete cross-
purposes with the scene. Beyond this, and the novelty of
seeing a play in the fresh pleasant air, with the darkening
evening closing in, there is nothing very exciting or charac-
teristic in the performances. The actors are indifferent ; and
though they sometimes represent one of Goldoni 1 s comedies,
the staple of the Drama is French. Anything like nationality
is dangerous to despotic governments, and Jesuit-beleaguered
kings.

The Theatre of Puppets, or Marionetti *-a famous
company from Milan is, without any exception, the drollest
exhibition I ever beheld in my life. I never saw anything
so exquisitely ridiculous. They look between four and five
feet high, but are really much smaller; for when a musician
in the orchestra happens to put his hat on the stage, it
becomes alarmingly gigantic, and almost blots out an actor.
They usually play a comedy, and a ballet. The comic man
in the comedy I saw one summer night, is a waiter in an
hotel. There never was such a locomotive actor, since the
world began. Great pains are taken with him. He has
extra joints in his legs : and a practical eye, with which he
winks at the pit, in a manner that is absolutely insupport-
able to a stranger, but which the initiated audience, mainly
composed of the common people, receive (so they do every-
thing else) quite as a matter of course, and as if he were a
man. His spirits are prodigious. He continually shakes his
legs, and winks his eye. And there is a heavy father with
grey hair, who sits down on the regular conventional stage-
bank, and blesses his daughter in the regular conventional
way, who is tremendous. No one would suppose it possible
that anything short of a real man could be so tedious. It
is the triumph of art.

In the ballet, an Enchanter runs away with the Bride, in
the very hour of her nuptials. He brings her to his cave,



362 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

and tries to soothe her. They sit down on a sofa (the
regular sofa ! in the regular place, O. P. Second Entrance !)
arid a procession of musicians enters ; one creature playing
a drum, and knocking himself off his legs at every blow.
These failing to delight her, dancers appear. Four first ;
then two ; the two ; the flesh-coloured two. The way in
which they dance ; the height to which they spring ; the im-
possible and inhuman extent to which they pirouette; the
revelation of their preposterous legs ; the coming down with
a pause, on the very tips of their toes, when the music
requires it ; the gentleman's retiring up, when it is the
lady's turn ; and the lady's retiring up, when it is the
gentleman's turn ; the final passion of a pas-de-deux ; and
the going off with a bound ! I shall never see a real ballet,
with a composed countenance again.

I went, another night, to see these Puppets act a play
called "St. Helena, or the Death of Napoleon." It began
by the disclosure of Napoleon, with an immense head, seated
on a sofa in his chamber at St. Helena; to whom his valet
entered with this obscure announcement :

" Sir Yew ud se on Low ? " (the ow, as in cow).

Sir Hudson (that you could have seen his regimentals !) was
a perfect mammoth of a man, to Napoleon ; hideously ugly ;
with a monstrously disproportionate face, and a great clump
for the lower-jaw, to express his tyrannical and obdurate
nature. He began his system of persecution, by calling his
prisoner " General Buonaparte ; " to which the latter replied,
with the deepest tragedy, "Sir Yew ud se on Low, call me
not thus. Repeat that phrase and leave me ! I am
Napoleon, Emperor of France ! " Sir Yew ud se on, nothing
daunted, proceeded to entertain him with an ordinance of
the British Government, regulating the state he should pre-
serve, and the furniture of his rooms : and limiting his
attendants to four or five persons. "Four or five for me I"
said Napoleon. "Me! One hundred thousand men were
lately at my sole command ; and this English officer talks of



DEATH OF NAPOLEON. 363

four or five for me ! " Throughout the piece, Napoleon (who
talked very like the real Napoleon, and was, for ever, having
small soliloquies by himself) was very bitter on "these Eng-
lish officers," and " these English soldiers ; " to the great satis-
faction of the audience, who were perfectly delighted to
have Low bullied ; and who, whenever Low said " General
Buonaparte" (which he always did: always receiving the
same correction), quite execrated him. It would be hard
to say why ; for Italians have little cause to sympathise
with Napoleon, Heaven knows.

There was no plot at all, except that a French officer, dis-
guised as an Englishman, came to propound a plan of escape ;
and being discovered, but not before Napoleon had magnani-
mously refused to steal his freedom, was immediately ordered
off by Low to be hanged. In two very long speeches, which
Low made memorable, by winding up with " Yas ! " to show
that he was English which brought down thunders of
applause. Napoleon was so affected by this catastrophe,
that he fainted away on the spot, and was carried out by
two other puppets. Judging from what followed, it would
appear that he never recovered the shock ; for the next
act showed him, in a clean shirt, in his bed (curtains crimson
and white), where a lady, prematurely dressed in mourning,
brought two little children, who kneeled down by the bed-
side, while he made a decent end ; the last word on his lips
being "Vatterlo."

It was unspeakably ludicrous. Buonaparte's boots were so
wonderfully beyond control, and did such marvellous things
of their own accord : doubling themselves up, and getting
under tables, and dangling in the air, and sometimes skating
away with him, out of all human knowledge, when he was in
full speech mischances which were not rendered the less
absurd, by a settled melancholy depicted in his face. To
put an end to one conference with Low, he had to go to a
table, and read a book : when it was the finest spectacle I
ever beheld, to see his body bending over the volume, like



364 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

a boot-jack, and his sentimental eyes glaring obstinately into
the pit. He was prodigiously good, in bed, with an immense
collar to his shirt, and his little hands outside the coverlet.
So was Dr. Antommarchi, represented by a puppet with long
lank hair, like MawwornVs, who, in consequence of some
derangement of his wires, hovered about the couch like a
vulture, and gave medical opinions in the air. He was
almost as good as Low, though the latter was great at all
times a decided brute and villain, beyond all possibility of
mistake. Low was especially fine at the last, when, hearing
the doctor and the valet say, " The Emperor is dead ! " he
pulled out his watch, and wound up the piece (not the
watch) by exclaiming, with characteristic brutality, " Ha !
ha ! Eleven minutes to six ! The General dead ! and the
spy hanged ! " This brought the curtain down, triumphantly.

There is not in Italy, they say (and I believe them), a
lovelier residence than the Palazzo Peschiere, or Palace of
the Fishponds, whither we removed as soon as our three
months 1 tenancy of the Pink Jail at Albaro had ceased and
determined.

It stands on a height within the walls of Genoa, but aloof
from the town : surrounded by beautiful gardens of its
own, adorned with statues, vases, fountains, marble basins,
terraces, walks of orange-trees and lemon-trees, groves of
roses and camellias. All its apartments are beautiful in
their proportions and decorations ; but the great hall, some
fifty feet in height, with three large windows at the end,
overlooking the whole town of Genoa, the harbour, and the
neighbouring sea, affords one of the most fascinating and
delightful prospects in the world. Any house more cheerful
and habitable than the great rooms are, within, it would be
difficult to conceive ; and certainly nothing more delicious
than the scene without, in sunshine or in moonlight, could
be imagined. It is more like an enchanted place in an
Eastern story than a grave and sober lodging.



AT THE WINDOW. 365

How you may wander on, from room to room, and never
tire of the wild fancies on the walls and ceilings, as bright
in their fresh colouring as if they had been painted yesterday ;
or how one floor, or even the great hall which opens on eight
other rooms, is a spacious promenade ; or how there are
con-idol's and bed-chambers above, which we never use and
rarely visit, and scarcely know the way through ; or how
there is a view of a perfectly different character on each
of the four sides of the building; matters little. But that
prospect from the hall is like a vision to me. I go back to
it, in fancy, as I have done in calm reality a hundred times
a day; and stand there, looking out, with the sweet scents
from the garden rising up about me, in a perfect dream of
happiness.

There lies all Genoa, in beautiful confusion, with its many
churches, monasteries, and convents, pointing up into the
sunny sky; and down below me, just where the roofs begin,
a solitary convent parapet, fashioned like a gallery, with an
iron across at the end, where sometimes early in the morning,
I have seen a little group of dark-veiled nuns gliding sorrow-
fully to and fro, and stopping now and then to peep down
upon the waking world in which they have no part. Old
Monte Faccio, brightest of hills in good weather, but sulkiest
when storms are coming on, is here, upon the left. The Fort
within the walls (the good King built it to command the
town, and beat the houses of the Genoese about their ears, in
case they should be discontented) commands that height upon
the right. The broad sea lies beyond, in front there ; and
that line of coast, beginning by the light-house, and tapering
away, a mere speck in the rosy distance, is the beautiful
coast road that leads to Nice. The garden near at hand,
among the roofs and houses: all red with roses and fresh
with little fountains : is the Acqua Sola a public promenade,
where the military band plays gaily, and the white veils
cluster thick, and the Genoese nobility ride round, and
round, and round, in state-clothes and coaches at least, if



366 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

not in absolute wisdom. Within a stoneVthrow, as it seems,
the audience of the Day Theatre sit : their faces turned this
way. But as the stage is hidden, it is very odd, without a
knowledge of the cause, to see their faces changed so suddenly
from earnestness to laughter; and odder still, to hear the
rounds upon rounds of applause, rattling in the evening air,
to which the curtain falls. But, being Sunday night, they
act their best and most attractive play. And now, the sun
is going down, in such magnificent array of red, and green,
and golden light, as neither pen nor pencil could depict;
and to the ringing of the vesper bells, darkness sets in at
once, without a twilight. Then, lights begin to shine in
Genoa, and on the country road ; and the revolving lanthorn
out at sea there, flashing, for an instant, on this palace front
and portico, illuminates it as if there were a bright moon
bursting from behind a cloud; then, merges it in deep
obscurity. And this, so far as I know, is the only reason
why the Genoese avoid it after dark, and think it haunted.

My memory will haunt it, many nights, in time to come ;
but nothing worse, I will engage. The same Ghost will
occasionally sail away, as I did one pleasant autumn evening,
into the bright prospect, and snuff the morning air at
Marseilles.

The corpulent hairdresser was still sitting in his slippers
outside his shop-door there, but the twirling ladies in the
window, with the natural inconstancy of their sex, had
ceased to twirl, and were languishing, stock still, with their
beautiful faces addressed to blind corners of the establishment,
where it was impossible for admirers to penetrate.

The steamer had come from Genoa in a delicious run of
eighteen hours, and we were going to run back again by the
Cornice road from Nice : not being satisfied to have seen only
the outsides of the beautiful towns that rise in picturesque
white clusters from among the olive woods, and rocks, and
hills, upon the margin of the Sea.

The Boat which started for Nice that night, at eight



IN QUARANTINE. 367

o'clock, was very small, and so crowded with goods that there
was scarcely room to move; neither was there anything to
eat on board, except bread ; nor to drink, except coffee. But
being due at Nice at about eight or so in the morning, this
was of no consequence : so when we began to wink at the
bright stars, in involuntary acknowledgment of their winking
at us, we turned into our berths, in a crowded, but cool
little cabin, and slept soundly till morning.

The Boat, being as dull and dogged a little boat as ever
was built, it was within an hour of noon when we turned
into Nice Harbour, where we very little expected anything
but breakfast But we were laden with wool. Wool must
not remain in the Custom-house at Marseilles more than
twelve months at a stretch, without paying duty. It is the
custom to make fictitious removals of unsold wool to evade
this law ; to take it somewhere when the twelve months are
nearly out ; bring it straight back again ; and warehouse it,
as a new cargo, for nearly twelve months longer. This wool
of ours, had come originally from some place in the East.
It was recognised as Eastern produce, the moment we entered
the harbour. Accordingly, the gay little Sunday boats, full
of holiday people, which had come off to greet us, were
warned away by the authorities ; we were declared in quaran-
tine ; and a great flag was solemnly run up to the mast-head
on the wharf, to make it known to all the town.

It was a very hot day indeed. We were unshaved, un-
washed, undressed, unfed, and could hardly enjoy the
absurdity of lying blistering in a lazy harbour, with the
town looking on from a respectful distance, all manner of
whiskered men in cocked hats discussing our fate at a remote
guard-house, with gestures (we looked very hard at them
through telescopes) expressive of a week's detention at least :
and nothing whatever the matter all the time. But even in
this crisis the brave Courier achieved a triumph. He tele-
graphed somebody (/ saw nobody) either naturally connected
with the hotel, or put en rapport with the establishment for



368 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

that occasion only. The telegraph was answered, and in
half an hour or less, there came a loud shout from the
guard-house. The captain was wanted. Everybody helped
the captain into his boat. Everybody got his luggage, and
said we were going. The captain rowed away, and dis-
appeared behind a little jutting corner of the Galley-slaves 1
Prison : and presently came back with something, very sulkily.
The brave Courier met him at the side, and received the
something as its rightful owner. It was a wicker basket,
folded in a linen cloth ; and in it were two great bottles of
wine, a roast fowl, some salt fish chopped with garlic, a great
loaf of bread, a dozen or so of peaches, and a few other
trifles. When we had selected our own breakfast, the brave
Courier invited a chosen party to partake of these refresh-
ments, and assured them that they need not be deterred by
motives of delicacy, as he would order a second basket to be
furnished at their expense. Which he did no one knew
how and by-and-by, the captain being again summoned,
again sulkily returned with another something; over which
my popular attendant presided as before: carving with a
clasp-knife, his own personal property, something smaller
than a Roman sword.

The whole party on board were made merry by these un-
expected supplies ; but none more so than a loquacious little
Frenchman, who got drunk in five minutes, and a sturdy
Cappuccino Friar, who had taken everybody's fancy mightily,
and was one of the best friars in the world, I verily believe.

He had a free, open countenance ; and a rich brown,
flowing beard ; and was a remarkably handsome man, of
about fifty. He had come up to us, early in the morning,
and inquired whether we were sure to be at Nice by eleven ;
saying that he particularly wanted to know, because if we
reached it by that time he would have to perform Mass, and
must deal with the consecrated wafer, fasting; whereas, if
there were no chance of his being in time, he would imme-
diately breakfast. He made this communication, under the



THE BIG FRIAR AND LITTLE FRENCHMAN. 369

idea that the brave Courier was the captain ; and indeed he
looked much more like it than anybody else on board. Being
assured that we should arrive in good time, he fasted, and
talked, fasting, to everybody, with the most charming good
humour ; answering jokes at the expense of friars, with other
jokes at the expense of laymen, and saying that, friar as he
was, he would engage to take up the two strongest men on
board, one after the other, with his teeth, and carry them
along the deck. Nobody gave him the opportunity, but I
dare say he could have done it ; for he was a gallant, noble
figure of a man, even in the Cappuccino dress, which is the
ugliest and most ungainly that can well be.

All this had given great delight to the loquacious French-
man, who gradually patronised the Friar very much, and
seemed to commiserate him as one who might have been
born a Frenchman himself, but for an unfortunate destiny.
Although his patronage was such as a mouse might bestow
upon a lion, he had a vast opinion of its condescension ; and
in the warmth of that sentiment, occasionally rose on tiptoe,
to slap the Friar on the back.

When the baskets arrived : it being then too late for Mass :
the Friar went to work bravely : eating prodigiously of the
cold meat and bread, drinking deep draughts of the wine,
smoking cigars, taking snuff, sustaining an uninterrupted
conversation with all hands, and occasionally running to the
boat's side and hailing somebody on shore with the intelli-
gence that we must be got out of this quarantine somehow or
other, as he had to take part in a great religious procession
in the afternoon. After this, he would come back, laughing
lustily from pure good humour : while the Frenchman wrinkled
his small face into ten thousand creases, and said how droll
it was, and what a brave boy was that Friar! At length the
heat of the sun without, and the wine within, made the
Frenchman sleepy. So, in the noontide of his patronage of
his gigantic protege", he lay down among the wool, and began
tp snore.

2 B



370 PICTURES FROM ITALY

It was four o'clock before we were released ; and the
Frenchman, dirty and woolly, and snuffy, was still sleeping
when the Friar went ashore. As soon as we were free, we all
hurried away, to wash and dress, that we might make a
decent appearance at the procession ; and I saw no more of
the Frenchman until we took up our station in the main
street to see it pass, when he squeezed himself into a front
place, elaborately renovated ; threw back his little coat, to
show a broad-barred velvet waistcoat, sprinkled all over with
stars ; then adj usted himself and his cane so as utterly to
bewilder and transfix the Friar, when he should appear.

The procession was a very long one, #,nd included an
immense number of people divided into small parties ; each
party chanting nasally, on its own account, without reference
to any other, and producing a most dismal result. There
were angels, crosses, Virgins carried on flat boards surrounded
by Cupids, crowns, saints, missals, infantry, tapers, monks,
nuns, relics, dignitaries of the church in green hats, walking
under crimson parasols : and, here and there, a species of
sacred street-lamp hoisted on a pole. We looked out
anxiously for the Cappuccini, and presently their brown
robes and corded girdles were seen coming on, in a body.

I observed the little Frenchman chuckle over the idea that
when the Friar saw him in the broad-barred waistcoat, he
would mentally exclaim, " Is that my Patron ! That dis-
tinguished man ! " and would be covered with confusion. Ah !
never was the Frenchman so deceived. As our friend the
Cappuccino advanced, with folded arms, he looked straight
into the visage of the little Frenchman, with a bland, serene,
composed abstraction, not to be described. There was not
the faintest trace of recognition or amusement on his
features ; not the smallest consciousness of bread and meat,
wine, snuff, or cigars. " C'est lui-meme,"" I heard the little
Frenchman say, in some doubt. Oh yes, it was himself. It
was not his brother or his nephew, very like him. It was he.
He walked in great state : being one of the Superiors of the



A VOLATILE DRIVER. 371

Order: and looked his part to admiration. There never wag
anything so perfect of its kind as the contemplative way in
which he allowed his placid gaze to rest on us, his late
companions, as if he had never seen us in his life and didn't
see us then. The Frenchman, quite humbled, took oft' his
hat at last, but the Friar still passed on, with the same
imperturbable serenity; and the broad-barred waistcoat,
fading into the crowd, was seen no more.

The procession wound up with a discharge of musketry
that shook all the windows in the town. Next afternoon
we started for Genoa, by the famed Cornice road.

The half-French, half-Italian Vetturino, who undertook,
with his little rattling carriage and pair, to convey us thither
in three days, was a careless, good-looking fellow, whose light-
heartedness and singing propensities knew no bounds as long
as we went on smoothly. So long, he had a word and a smile,
and a flick of his whip, for all the peasant girls, and odds and
ends of the Sonnambula for all the echoes. So long, he went
jingling through every little village, with bells on his horses
and rings in his ears : a very meteor of gallantry and cheer-
fulness. But, it was highly characteristic to see him under
a slight reverse of circumstances, when, in one part of the
journey, we came to a narrow place where a waggon had
broken down and stopped up the road. His hands were



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 30 of 43)