Charles Dickens.

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twined in his hair immediately, as if a combination of all the
direst accidents in life had suddenly fallen on his devoted
head. He swore in French, prayed in Italian, and went
up and down, beating his feet on the ground in a very
ecstasy of despair. There were various carters and mule-
drivers assembled round the broken waggon, and at last some
man of an original turn of mind, proposed that a general and
joint effort should be made to get things to-rights again, and
clear the way^-an idea which I verily believe would never
have presented itself to our friend, though we had remained
there until now. It was done at no great cost of labour ;
but at every pause in the doing, his hands were wound in


his hair again, as if there were no ray of hope to lighten
his misery. The moment he was on his box once more, and
clattering briskly down hill, he returned to the Sonnambula
and the peasant girls, as if it were not in the power of mis-
fortune to depress him.

Much of the romance of the beautiful towns and villages
on this beautiful road, disappears when they are entered, for
many of them are very miserable. The streets are narrow,
dark, and dirty ; the inhabitants lean and squalid ; and the
withered old women, with their wiry grey hair twisted up
into a knot on the top of the head, like a pad to carry loads
on, are so intensely ugly, both along the Riviera, and in
Genoa, too, that, seen straggling about in dim door- ways
with their spindles, or crooning together in by-corners, they
are like a population of Witches except that they certainly
are not to be suspected of brooms or any other instrument
of cleanliness. Neither are the pig-skins, in common use to
hold wine, and hung out in the sun in all directions, by any
means ornamental, as they always preserve the form of very
bloated pigs, with their heads and legs cut off, dangling
upside-down by their own tails.

These towns, as they are seen in the approach, however:
nestling, with their clustering roofs and towers, among trees
on steep hill-sides, or built upon the brink of noble bays :
are charming. The vegetation is, everywhere, luxuriant and
beautiful, and the Palm-tree makes a novel feature in the
novel scenery. In one town, San Remo a most extra-
ordinary place, built on gloomy open arches, so that one
might ramble underneath the whole town there are pretty
terrace gardens ; in other towns, there is the clang of ship-
wrights' 1 hammers, and the building of small vessels on the
beach. In some of the broad bays, the fleets of Europe might
ride at anchor. In every case, each little group of houses
presents, in the distance, some enchanting confusion of
picturesque and fanciful shapes.

The road itself now high above $ie glittering sea, which


breaks against the foot of the precipice : now turning inland
to sweep the shore of a bay : now crossing the stony bed
of a mountain stream : now low down on the beach : now
winding among riven rocks of many forms and colours : now
chequered by a solitary mined tower, one of a chain of
towers built, in old time, to protect the coast from the inva-
sions of the Barbary Corsairs presents new beauties every
moment. When its own striking scenery is passed, and it
trails on through a long line of suburb, lying on the flat sea-
shore, to Genoa, then, the changing glimpses of that noble
city and its harbour, awaken a new source of interest ; fresh-
ened by every huge, unwieldy, half-inhabited old house in its
outskirts : and coming to its climax when the city gate is
reached, and all Genoa with its beautiful harbour, and neigh-
bouring hills, bursts proudly on the view.


I STROLLED away from Genoa on the 6th of November, bound
for a good many places (England among them), but first for
Piacenza ; for which town I started in the coupe of a machine
something like a travelling caravan, in company with the brave
Courier, and a lady with a large dog, who howled dolefully,
at intervals, all night. It was very wet, and very cold ; very
dark, and very dismal ; we travelled at the rate of barely four
miles an hour, and stopped nowhere for refreshment. At
ten o'clock next morning, we changed coaches at Alessandria,
where we were packed up in another coach (the body whereof
would have been small for a fly), in company with a very
old priest ; a young Jesuit, his companion who carried their
breviaries and other books, and who, in the exertion of
getting into the coach, had made a gash of pink leg between
his black stocking and his black knee-shorts, that reminded
one of Hamlet in Ophelia's closet, only it was visible on both
legs a provincial Avvocato ; and a gentleman with a red
nose that had an uncommon and singular sheen upon it,
which I never observed in the human subject before. In this
way we travelled on, until four o'clock in the afternoon ; the
roads being still very heavy, and the coach very slow. To
mend the matter, the old priest was troubled with cramps in
his legs, so that he had to give a terrible yell every ten
minutes or so, and be hoisted out by the united efforts of the
company ; the coach always stopping for him, with great


gravity. This disorder, and the roads, formed the main
subject of conversation. Finding, in the afternoon, that the
coupe had discharged two people, and had only one passenger
inside a monstrous ugly Tuscan, with a great purple
moustache, of which no man could see the ends when he had
his hat on I took advantage of its better accommodation,
and in company with this gentleman (who was very conversa-
tional and good-humoured) travelled on, until nearly eleven
o'clock at night, when the driver reported that he couldn't
think of going any farther, and we accordingly made a halt
at a place called Stradella.

The inn was a series of strange galleries surrounding a
yard ; where our coach, and a waggon or two, and a lot of
fowls, and firewood, were all heaped up together, higgledy-
piggledy ; so that you didn't know, and couldn't have taken
your oath, which was a fowl and which was a cart. We
followed a sleepy man with a flaring torch, into a great,
cold room, where there were two immensely broad beds, on
what looked like two immensely broad deal dining-tables ;
another deal table of similar dimensions in the middle of the
bare floor; four windows; and two chairs. Somebody 'said
it was my room ; and I walked up and down it, for half
an hour or so, staring at the Tuscan, the old priest, the
young priest, and the Avvoc&to (Red-Nose lived in the town,
and had gone home), who sat upon their beds, and stared at
me in return.

The rather dreary whimsicality of this stage of the proceed-
ings, is interrupted by an announcement from the Brave (he
has been cooking) that supper is ready ; and to the priest's
chamber (the next room and the counterpart of mine) we all
adjourn. The first dish is a cabbage, boiled with a great
quantity of rice in a tureen full of water, and flavoured with
cheese. It is so hot, and we are so cold, that it appears
almost jolly. The second dish is some little bits of pork,
fried with pigs' kidneys. The third, two red fowls. The
fourth, two little red turkeys. The fifth, a huge stew of


garlic and truffles, and I don't know what else ; and this
concludes the entertainment.

Before I can sit down in my own chamber, and think it of
the dampest, the door opens, and the Brave comes moving in,
in the middle of such a quantity of fuel that he looks like
Birnam Wood taking a winter walk. He kindles this heap
in a twinkling, and produces a jorum of hot brandy and
water ; for that bottle of his keeps company with the seasons,
and now holds nothing but the purest eau de vie. When he
has accomplished this feat, he retires for the night ; and I
hear him, for an hour afterwards, and indeed until I fall
asleep, making jokes in some outhouse (apparently under the
pillow), where he is smoking cigars with a party of confi-
dential friends. He never was in the house in his life before ;
but he knows everybody everywhere, before he has been
anywhere five minutes ; and is certain to have attracted to
himself, in the meantime, the enthusiastic devotion of the
whole establishment.

This is at twelve o'clock at night. At four o'clock next
morning, he is up again, fresher than a new-blown rose ;
making blazing fires without the least authority from the
landlord ; producing mugs of scalding coffee when nobody
else can get anything but cold water; and going out into
the dark streets, and roaring for fresh milk, on the chance
of somebody with a cow getting up to supply it. While the
horses are " coming," I stumble out into the town too. It
seems to be all one little Piazza, with a cold damp wind
blowing in and out of the arches, alternately, in a sort of
pattern. But it is profoundly dark, and raining heavily ; and
I shouldn't know it to-morrow, if I were taken there to try.
Which Heaven forbid.

The horses arrive in about an hour. In the interval, the
driver swears ; sometimes Christian oaths, sometimes Pagan
oaths. Sometimes, when it is a long, compound oath, he
begins with Christianity and merges into Paganism. Various
messengers are despatched ; not so much after the horses,


as after each other ; for the first messenger never comes
back, and all the rest imitate him. At length the horses
appear, surrounded by all the messengers ; some kicking them,
and some dragging them, and all shouting abuse to them.
Then, the old priest, the young priest, the Avvoc&to, the
Tuscan, and all of us, take our places ; and sleepy voices
proceeding from the doors of extraordinary hutches in divers
parts of the yard, cry out "Addio corriere mio! Buon'
viaggio, corriere !" Salutations which the courier, with his
face one monstrous grin, returns in like manner as we go
jolting and wallowing away, through the mud.

At Piacenza, which was four or five hours' journey from the
inn at Stradella, we broke up our little company before the
hotel door, with divers manifestations of friendly feeling on
all sides. The old priest was taken with the cramp again,
before he had got half-way down the street; and the young
priest laid the bundle of books on a door-step, while he duti-
fully rubbed the old gentleman's legs. The client of the
Avvocdto was waiting for him at the yard-gate, and kissed
him on each cheek, with such a resounding smack, that I am
afraid he had either a very bad case, or a scantily-furnished
purse. The Tuscan, with a cigar in his mouth, went loitering
off, carrying his hat in his hand that he might the better
trail up the ends of his dishevelled moustache. And the brave
Courier, as he and I strolled away to look about us, began
immediately to entertain me with the private histories and
family affairs of the whole party.

A brown, decayed, old town, Piacenza is. A deserted,
solitary, grass-grown place, with ruined ramparts ; half filled-
up trenches, which afford a frowsy pasturage to the lean kine
that wander about them ; and streets of stem houses, moodily
frowning at the other houses over the way. The sleepiest
and shabbiest of soldiery go wandering about, with the double
curse of laziness and poverty, uncouthly wrinkling their mis-
fitting regimentals; the dirtiest of children play with their
impromptu toys (pigs and mud) in the feeblest of gutters ;


and the gauntest of dogs trot in and out of the dullest of
archways, in perpetual search of something to eat, which
they never seem to find. A mysterious and solemn Palace,
guarded by two colossal statues, twin Genii of the place,
stands gravely in the midst of the idle town ; and the king
with the marble legs, who flourished in the time of the
thousand and one Nights, might live contentedly inside of
it, and never have the energy, in his upper half of flesh and
blood, to want to come out.

What a strange, half-sorrowful and half-delicious doze it
is, to ramble through these places gone to sleep and basking
in the sun! Each, in its turn, appears to be, of all the
mouldy, dreary, God-forgotten towns in the wide world, the
chief. Sitting on this hillock where a bastion used to be,
and where a noisy fortress was, in the time of the old Roman
station here, I became aware that I have never known till
now, what it is to be lazy. A dormouse must surely be in
very much the same condition before he retires under the
wool in his cage ; or a tortoise before he buries himself. I
feel that I am getting rusty. That any attempt to think,
would be accompanied with a creaking noise. That there is
nothing, anywhere, to be done, or needing to be done. That
there is no more human progress, motion, effort, or advance-
ment, of any kind beyond this. That the whole scheme
stopped here centuries ago, and laid down to rest until the
Day of Judgment.

Never while the brave Courier lives ! Behold him jing-
ling out of Piacenza, and staggering this way, in the tallest
posting-chaise ever seen, so that he looks out of the front
window as if he were peeping over a garden wall ; while the
postilion, concentrated essence of all the shabbiness of Italy,
pauses for a moment in his animated conversation, to touch
his hat to a blunt-nosed little Virgin, hardly less shabby
than himself, enshrined in a plaster Punch's show outside the

In Genoa, and thereabouts, they train the vines on trellis-

PARMA. 379

work, supported on square clumsy pillars, which, in them-
selves, are anything but picturesque. But, here, they twine
them around trees, and let them trail among the hedges ; and
the vineyards are full of trees, regularly planted for this
purpose, each with its own vine twining and clustering about
it. Their leaves are now of the brightest gold and deepest
red; and never was anything so enchantingly graceful and
full of beauty. Through miles of these delightful forms and
colours, the road winds its way. The wild festoons, the
elegant wreaths, and crowns, and garlands of all shapes ; the
fairy nets flung over great trees, and making them prisoners
in sport ; the tumbled heaps and mounds of exquisite shapes
upon the ground ; how rich and beautiful they are ! And
every now and then, a long, long line of trees, will be all
bound and garlanded together : as if they had taken hold of
one another, and were coming dancing down the field !

Parma has cheerful, stirring streets, for an Italian town;
and consequently is not so characteristic as many places of
less note. Always excepting the retired Piazza, where the
Cathedral, Baptistery, and Campanile ancient buildings, of
a sombre brown, embellished with innumerable grotesque
monsters and dreamy-looking creatures carved in marble and
red stone are clustered in a noble and magnificent repose.
Their silent presence was only invaded, when I saw them, by
the twittering of the many birds that were flying in and out
of the crevices in the stones and little nooks in the architec-
ture, where they had made their nests. They were busy,
rising from the cold shade of Temples made with hands, into
the sunny air of Heaven. Not so the worshippers within,
who were listening to the same drowsy chaunt, or kneeling
before the same kinds of images and tapers, or whispering,
with their heads bowed down, in the selfsame dark confes-
sionals, as I had left in Genoa and everywhere else.

The decayed and mutilated paintings with which this
church is covered, have, to my thinking, a remarkably mourn-
ful and depressing influence. It is miserable to see great


works of art something of the Souls of Painters perishing
and fading away, like human forms. This cathedral is
odorous with the rotting of Correggio's frescoes in the Cupola.
Heaven knows how beautiful they may have been at one
time. Connoisseurs fall into raptures with them now; but
such a labyrinth of arms and legs : such heaps of foreshortened
limbs, entangled and involved and jumbled together : no
operative surgeon, gone mad, could imagine in his wildest

There is a very interesting subterranean church here : the
roof supported by marble pillars, behind each of which there
seemed to be at least one beggar in ambush : to say nothing
of the tombs and secluded altars. From every one of these
lurking-places, such crowds of phantom-looking men and
women, leading other men and women with twisted limbs, or
chattering jaws, or paralytic gestures, or idiotic heads, or
some other sad infirmity, came hobbling out to beg, that if
the ruined frescoes in the cathedral above, had been suddenly
animated, and had retired to this lower church, they could
hardly have made a greater confusion, or exhibited a more
confounding display of arms and legs.

There is Petrarch's Monument, too ; and there is the
Baptistery, with its beautiful arches and immense font; and
there is a gallery containing some very remarkable pictures,
whereof a few were being copied by hairy-faced artists, with
little velvet caps more oft' their heads than on. There is the
Farnese Palace, too ; and in it one of the dreariest spectacles
of decay that ever was seen a grand, old, gloomy theatre,
mouldering away.

It is a large wooden structure, of the horse-shoe shape ;
the lower seats arranged upon the Roman plan, but above
them, great heavy chambers, rather than boxes, where the
Nobles sat, remote in their proud state. Such desolation as
has fallen on this theatre, enhanced in the spectator's fancy
by its gay intention and design, none but worms can be
familiar with. A. hundred and ten years have passed, since


any play was acted here. The sky shines in through the
gashes in the roof; the boxes are dropping down, wasting
away, and only tenanted by rats ; damp and mildew smear
the faded colours, and make spectral maps upon the panels ;
lean rags are dangling down where there were gay festoons
on the Proscenium ; the stage has rotted so, that a narrow
wooden gallery is thrown across it, or it would sink beneath
the tread, and bury the visitor in the gloomy depth beneath.
The desolation and decay impress themselves on all the
senses. The air has a mouldering smell, and an earthy taste ;
any stray outer sounds that straggle in with some lost sun-
beam, are muffled and heavy ; and the worm, the maggot,
and the rot have changed the surface of the wood beneath
the touch, as time will seam and roughen a smooth hand. If
ever Ghosts act plays, they act them on this ghostly stage.

It was most delicious weather, when we came into Modena,
where the darkness of the sombre colonnades over the footways
skirting the main street on either side, was made refreshing
and agreeable by the bright sky, so wonderfully blue. I
passed from all the glory of the day, into a dim cathedral,
where High Mass was performing, feeble tapers were burning,
people were kneeling in all directions before all manner of
shrines, and officiating priests were crooning the usual chant,
in the usual, low, dull, drawling, melancholy tone.

Thinking how strange it was, to find, in every stagnant
town, this same Heart beating with the same monotonous
pulsation, the centre of the same torpid, listless system, I
came out by another door, and was suddenly scared to death
by a blast from the shrillest trumpet that ever was blown.
Immediately, came tearing round the corner, an equestrian
company from Paris : marshalling themselves under the walls
of the church, and flouting, with their horses' heels, the
griffins, lions, tigers, and other monsters in stone and marble,
decorating its exterior. First, there came a stately nobleman
with a great deal ot hair, and no hat, bearing an enormous
banner, on which was inscribed, MAZEPPA ! TO-NIGHT ! Then, a


Mexican chief, with a great pear-shaped club on his shoulder,
like Hercules. Then, six or eight Roman chariots : each
with a beautiful lady in extremely short petticoats, and
unnaturally pink tights, erect within : shedding beaming
looks upon the crowd, in which there was a latent expression
of discomposure and anxiety, for which I couldn't account,
until, as the open back of each chariot presented itself, I
saw the immense difficulty with which the pink legs main-
tained their perpendicular, over the uneven pavement of the
town : which gave me quite a new idea of the ancient Romans
and Britons. The procession was brought to a close, by
some dozen indomitable warriors of different nations, riding
two and two, and haughtily surveying the tame population
of Modena: among whom, however, they occasionally con-
descended to scatter largesse in the form of a few handbills.
After caracolling among the lions and tigers, and proclaiming
that evening's entertainments with blast of trumpet, it then
filed off, by the other end of the square, and left a new and
greatly increased dulness behind.

When the procession had so entirely passed away, that the
shrill trumpet was mild in the distance, and the tail of the
last horse was hopelessly round the corner, the people who
had come out of the church to stare at it, went back again.
But one old lady, kneeling on the pavement within, near the
door, had seen it all, and had been immensely interested,
without getting up; and this old lady's eye, at that juncture,
I happened to catch: to our mutual confusion. She cut
our embarrassment very short, however, by crossing herself
devoutly, and going down, at full length, on her face, before
a figure in a fancy petticoat and a gilt crown; which was so
like one of the procession-figures, that perhaps at this hour
she may think the whole appearance a celestial vision. Any-
how, I must certainly have forgiven her her interest in the
Circus, though I had been her Father Confessor.

There was a little fiery-eyed old man with a crooked
shoulder, in the cathedral, who took it very ill that I made


no effort to see the bucket (kept in an old tower) which the
people of Modena took away from the people of Bologna in
the fourteenth century, and about which there was war made
and a mock-heroic poem by TASSONE, too. Being quite
content, however, to look at the outside of the tower, and
feast, in imagination, on the bucket within ; and preferring
to loiter in the shade of the tall Campanile, and about the
cathedral ; I have no personal knowledge of this bucket, even
at the present time.

Indeed, we were at Bologna, before the little old man (or
the Guide-Book) would have considered that we had half
done justice to the wonders of Modena. But it is such a
delight to me to leave new scenes behind, and still go on,
encountering newer scenes and, moreover, I have such a
perverse disposition in respect of sights that are cut, and
dried, and dictated that I fear I sin against similar authori-
ties in every place I visit.

Be this as it may, in the pleasant Cemetery at Bologna, I
found myself walking next Sunday morning, among the stately
marble tombs and colonnades, in company with a crowd of
Peasants, and escorted by a little Cicerone of that town,
who was excessively anxious for the honour of the place, and
most solicitous to divert my attention from the bad monu-
ments : whereas he was never tired of extolling the good
ones. Seeing this little man (a good-humoured little man
he was, who seemed to have nothing in his face but shining
teeth and eyes) looking wistfully at a certain plot of grass,
I asked him who was buried there. "The poor people,
Signore," he said, with a shrug and a smile, and stopping to
look back at me for he always went on a little before, and
took off' his hat to introduce every new monument. " Only
the poor, Signore ! It's very cheerful. It's very lively. How
green it is, how cool ! It's like a meadow ! There are five,"
holding up all the fingers of his right hand to express the
number, which an Italian peasant will always do, if it lx?
within the compass of his ten fingers, " there are five of my


little children buried there, Signore; just there; a little to
the right. Well! Thanks to God! It's very cheerful.
How green it is, how cool it is ! It's quite a meadow ! "

He looked me very hard in the face, and seeing I was sorry
for him, took a pinch of snuff (every Cicerone takes snuff),
and made a little bow ; partly in deprecation of his having
alluded to such a subject, and partly in memory of the
children and of his favourite saint. It was as unaffected and
as perfectly natural a little bow, as ever man made. Imme-
diately afterwards, he took his hat off altogether, and begged
to introduce me to the next monument; and his eyes and

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 31 of 43)