Charles Dickens.

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his teeth shone brighter than before.



THROUGH BOLOGNA AND FERRARA.



THERE was such a very smart official in attendance at the
Cemetery where the little Cicerone had buried his children,
that when the little Cicerone suggested to me, in a whisper,
that there would be no offence in presenting this officer, in
return for some slight extra service, with a couple of pauls
(about tenpence, English money), I looked incredulously at
his cocked hat, wash-leather gloves, well-made uniform,
and dazzling buttons, and rebuked the little Cicerone with a
grave shake of the head. For, in splendour of appearance,
he was at least equal to the Deputy Usher of the Black
Rod ; and the idea of his carrying, as Jeremy Diddler would
say, "such a thing as tenpence 1 ' away with him, seemed
monstrous. He took it in excellent part, however, when I
made bold to give it him, and pulled off his cocked hat with
a flourish that would have been a bargain at double the
money.

It seemed to be his duty to describe the monuments to the
people at all events he was doing so ; and when I compared
him, like Gulliver in Brobdingnag, " with the Institutions of
my own beloved country, 1 could not refrain from tears of
pride and exultation." He had no pace at all ; no more than
a tortoise. He loitered as the people loitered, that they
might gratify their curiosity; and positively allowed them,
now and then, to read the inscriptions on the tombs. He
was neither shabby, nor insolent, nor churlish, nor ignorant.



386 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

He spoke his own language with perfect propriety, and seemed
to consider himself, in his way, a kind of teacher of the
people, and to entertain a just respect both for himself and
them. They would no more have such a man for a Verger
in Westminster Abbey, than they would let the people in
(as they do at Bologna) to see the monuments for nothing.*

Again, an ancient sombre town, under the brilliant sky ;
with heavy arcades over the footways of the older streets,
and lighter and more cheerful archways in the newer portions
of the town. Again, brown piles of sacred buildings, with
more birds flying in and out of chinks in the stones ; and
more snarling monsters for the bases of the pillars. Again,
rich churches, drowsy Masses, curling incense, tinkling bells,
priests in bright vestments : pictures, tapers, laced altar cloths,
crosses, images, and artificial flowers.

There is a grave and learned air about the city, and a
pleasant gloom upon it, that would leave it, a distinct and
separate impression in the mind, among a crowd of cities,
though it were not still further marked in the traveller's
remembrance by the two brick leaning towers (sufficiently
unsightly in themselves, it must be acknowledged), inclining
cross-wise as if they were bowing stiffly to each other a
most extraordinary termination to the perspective of some
of the narrow streets. The colleges, and churches too, and
palaces : and above all the academy of Fine Arts, where there
are a host of interesting pictures, especially by GUIDO, DOME-
NICHINO, and LUDOVICO CARACCI : give it a place of its own
in the memory. Even though these were not, and there were
nothing else to remember it by, the great Meridian on the
pavement of the church of San Petronio, where the sunbeams
mark the time among the kneeling people, would give it a
fanciful and pleasant interest.

Bologna being very full of tourists, detained there by an
inundation which rendered the road to Florence impassable,

* A far more liberal and just recognition of the public has arisen in
Westminster Abbey since this was written.



A GREAT ADMIRER OF LORD BYRON. 387

I was quartered up at the top of an hotel, in an out-of-the-
way room which I never could find : containing a bed, big
enough for a. boarding-school, which I couldn't fall asleep in.
The chief among the waiters who visited this lonely retreat,
where there was no other company but the swallows in the
broad eaves over the window, was a man of one idea in con-
nection with the English ; and the subject of this harmless
monomania, was Lord Byron. I made the discovery by acci-
dentally remarking to him, at breakfast, that the matting
with which the floor was covered, was very comfortable at
that season, when he immediately replied that Milor Beeron
had been much attached to that kind of matting. Observing,
at the same moment, that I took no milk, he exclaimed with
enthusiasm, that Milor Beeron had never touched it. At
first, I took it for granted, in my innocence, that he had
been one of the Beeron servants ; but no, he said, no, he was
in the habit of speaking about my Lord, to English gentle-
men; that was all. He knew all about him, he said. In
proof of it, he connected him with every possible topic, from
the Monte Pulciano wine at dinner (which was grown on
an estate he had owned), to the big bed itself, which was
the very model of his. When I left the inn, he coupled with
his final bow in the yard, a parting assurance that the road
by which I was going, had been Milor Beeron's favourite
ride; and before the horse's feet had well begun to clatter
on the pavement, he ran briskly up-stairs again, I dare say
to tell some other Englishman in some other solitary room
that the guest who had just departed was Lord Beeron's living
image.

I had entered Bologna by night almost midnight and
all along the road thither, after our entrance into the Papal
territory : which is not, in any part, supremely well governed,
Saint Peter's keys being rather rusty now ; the driver had so
worried about the danger of robbers in travelling after dark,
and had so infected the brave Courier, and the two had been
so constantly stopping and getting up and down to look after



388 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

a portmanteau which was tied on behind, that I should have
felt almost obliged to any one who would have had the good-
ness to take it away. Hence it was stipulated, that, when-
ever we left Bologna, we should start so as not to arrive at
Ferrara later than eight at night ; and a delightful afternoon
and evening journey it was, albeit through a flat district
which gradually became more marshy from the overflow of
brooks and rivers in the recent heavy rains.

At sunset, when I was walking on alone, while the horses
rested, I arrived upon a little scene, which, by one of those
singular mental operations of which we are all conscious,
seemed perfectly familiar to me, and which I see distinctly
now. There was not much in it. In the blood red light,
there was a mournful sheet of water, just stirred by the
evening wind; upon its margin a few trees. In the fore-
ground was a group of silent peasant girls leaning over the
parapet of a little bridge, and looking, now up at the sky,
now down into the water ; in the distance, a deep bell ; the
shade of approaching night on everything. If I had been
murdered there, in some former life, I could not have seemed
to remember the place more thoroughly, or with a more
emphatic chilling of the blood; and the mere remembrance
of it acquired in that minute, is so strengthened by the
imaginary recollection, that I hardly think I could forget it.

More solitary, more depopulated, more deserted, old Ferrara,
than any city of the solemn brotherhood ! The grass so
grows up in the silent streets, that any one might make hay
there, literally, while the sun shines. But the sun shines
with diminished cheerfulness in grim Ferrara ; and the people
are so few who pass and re-pass through the places, that the
flesh of its inhabitants might be grass indeed, and growing in
the squares.

I wonder why the head coppersmith in an Italian town,
always lives next door to the Hotel, or opposite : making the
visitor feel as if the beating hammers were his own heart,
palpitating with a deadly energy ! I wonder why jealous



FERRARA. 389

corridors surround the bedroom on all sides, and fill it with
unnecessary doors that can't be shut, and will not open, and
abut on pitchy darkness ! I wonder why it is not enough
that these distrustful genii stand agape at one's dreams all
night, but there must also be round open portholes, high in
the wall, suggestive, when a mouse or rat is heard behind
the wainscot, of a somebody scraping the wall with his toes,
in his endeavours to reach one of these portholes and look
in ! I wonder why the faggots are so constructed, as to know
of no effect but an agony of heat when they are lighted and
replenished, and an agony of cold and suffocation at all other
times ! I wonder, above all, why it is the great feature of
domestic architecture in Italian inns, that all the fire goes
up the chimney, except the smoke !

The answer matters little. Coppersmiths, doors, portholes,
smoke, and faggots, are welcome to me. Give me the smiling
face of the attendant, man or woman ; the courteous manner ;
the amiable desire to please and to be pleased; the light-
hearted, pleasant, simple air so many jewels set in dirt and
I am theirs again to-morrow !

ARIOSTO'S house, TASSO'S prison, a rare old Gothic cathedral,
and more churches of course, are the sights of Ferrara. But
the long silent streets, and the dismantled palaces, where ivy
waves in lieu of banners, and where rank weeds are slowly
creeping up the long-untrodden stairs, are the best sights
of all.

The aspect of this dreary town, half an hour before sunrise
one fine morning, when I left it, was as picturesque as it
seemed unreal and spectral. It was no matter that the people
were not yet out of bed; for if they had all been up and
busy, they would have made but little difference in that
desert of a place. It was best to see it, without a single
figure in the picture ; a city of the dead, without one solitary
survivor. Pestilence might have ravaged streets, squares,
and market-places ; and sack and siege have ruined the old
houses, battered down their doors and windows, and made



390 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

breaches in their roofs. In one part, a great tower rose into
the air; the only landmark in the melancholy view. In
another, a prodigious castle, with a moat about it, stood
aloof: a sullen city in itself. In the black dungeons of this
castle, Parisina and her lover were beheaded in the dead of
night. The red light, beginning to shine when I looked
back upon it, stained its walls without, as they have, many
a time, been stained within, in old days; but for any sign
of life they gave, the castle and the city might have been
avoided by all human creatures, from the moment when the
axe went down upon the last of the two level's : and might
have never vibrated to another sound

Beyond the blow that to the block

Pierced through with forced and sullen shock.

Coming to the Po, which was greatly swollen, and running
fiercely, we crossed it by a floating bridge of boats, and so
came into the Austrian territory, and resumed our journey :
through a country of which, for some miles, a great part
was under water. The brave Courier and the soldiery had
first quarrelled, for half an hour or more, over our eternal
passport. But this was a daily relaxation with the Brave,
who was always stricken deaf when shabby functionaries in
uniform came, as they constantly did come, plunging out of
wooden boxes to look at it or in other words to beg and
who, stone deaf to my entreaties that the man might have a
trifle given him, and we resume our journey in peace, was
wont to sit reviling the functionary in broken English : while
the unfortunate man's face was a portrait of mental agony
framed in the coach window, from his perfect ignorance of
what was being said to his disparagement.

There was a postilion, in the course of this day's journey,
as wild and savagely good-looking a vagabond as you would
desire to see. He was a tall, stout-made, dark-complexioned
fellow, with a profusion of shaggy black hair hanging all over
his face, and great black whiskers stretching down his throat.
His dress was a torn suit of rifle green, garnished here and



AN ENTERTAINING POSTILION. 391

there with red ; a steeple-crowned hat, innocent of nap, with
a broken and bedraggled feather stuck in the band ; and a
flaming red neckerchief hanging on his shoulders. He was
not in the saddle, but reposed, quite at his ease, on a sort
of low foot-board in front of the postchaise, down amongst
the horses' tails convenient for having his brains kicked out,
at any moment. To this Brigand, the brave Courier, when
we were at a reasonable trot, happened to suggest the prac-
ticability of going faster. He received the proposal with a
perfect yell of derision ; brandished his whip about his head
(such a whip ! it was more like a home-made bow) ; flung up
his heels, much higher than the horses ; and disappeared, in
a paroxysm, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the axletree.
I fully expected to see him lying in the road, a hundred
yards behind, but up came the steeple-crowned hat again,
next minute, and he was seen reposing, as on a sofa, entertain-
ing himself with the idea, and crying, " Ha ha ! what next !
Oh the devil ! Faster too ! Shoo hoo o o ! " (This last
ejaculation, an inexpressibly defiant hoot.) Being anxious to
reach our immediate destination that night, I ventured, by-
and-by, to repeat the experiment on my own account. It
produced exactly the same effect. Round flew the whip with
the same scornful flourish, up came the heels, down went the
steeple-crowned hat, and presently he reappeared, reposing as
before and saying to himself, " Ha ha ! what next ! Faster
too ! Oh the devil ! Shoo hoo o o ! "



AN ITALIAN DREAM.



I HAD been travelling, for some days ; resting very little in
the night, and never in the day. The rapid and unbroken
succession of novelties that had passed before me, came back
like half-formed dreams ; and a crowd of objects wandered
in the greatest confusion through my mind, as I travelled
on, by a solitary road. At intervals, some one among them
would stop, as it were, in its restless flitting to and fro, and
enable me to look at it, quite steadily, and behold it in full
distinctness. After a few moments, it would dissolve, like a
view in a magic-lantern ; and while I saw some part of it
quite plainly, and some faintly, and some not at all, would
show me another of the many places I had lately seen, linger-
ing behind it, and coming through it. This was no gooner
visible than, in its turn, it melted into something else.

At one moment, I was standing again, before the brown
old rugged churches of Modena. As I recognised the curious
pillars with grim monsters for their bases, I seemed to see
them, standing by themselves in the quiet square at Padua,
where there were the staid old University, and the figures,
demurely gowned, grouped here and there in the open space
about it. Then, I was strolling in the outskirts of that
pleasant city, admiring the unusual neatness of the dwelling-
houses, gardens, and orchards, as I had seen them a few hours
before. In their stead arose, immediately, the two towers of
Bologna ; and the most obstinate of all these objects, failed



FLOATING AWAY. 393

to hold its ground, a minute, before the monstrous moated
castle of Ferrara, which, like an illustration to a wild romance,
came back again in the red sunrise, lording it over the soli-
tary, grass-grown, withered town. In short, I had that
incoherent but delightful jumble in my brain, which travellers
are apt to have, and are indolently willing to encourage.
Every shake of the coach in which I sat, half dozing in the
dark, appeared to jerk some new recollection out of its place,
and to jerk some other new recollection into it ; and in this
state I fell asleep.

I was awakened after some time (as I thought) by the
stopping of the coach. It was now quite night, and we were
at the water-side. There lay here, a black boat, with a little
house or cabin in it of the same mournful colour. When I
had taken my seat in this, the boat was paddled, by two
men, towards a great light, lying in the distance on the sea.

Ever and again, there was a dismal sigh of wind. It ruffled
the water, and rocked the boat, and sent the dark clouds
flying before the stars. I could not but think how strange
it was, to be floating away at that hour : leaving the land
behind, and going on, towards this light upon the sea. It
soon began to burn brighter ; and from being one light became
a cluster of tapers, twinkling and shining out of the water,
as the boat approached towards them by a dreamy kind of
track, marked out upon the sea by posts and piles.

We had floated on, five miles or so, over the dark water,
when I heard it rippling in my dream, against some obstruc-
tion near at hand. Looking out attentively, I saw, through
the gloom, a something black and massive like a shore, but
lying close and flat upon the water, like a raft which we
were gliding past. The chief of the two rowers said it was a
burial-place.

Full of the interest and wonder which a cemetery lying
out there, in the lonely sea, inspired, I turned to gaze upon
it as it should recede in our path, when it was quickly shut
out from my view. Before I knew by what, or how, I found



394 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

that we were gliding up a street a phantom street ; the
houses rising on both sides, from the water, and the black
boat gliding on beneath their windows. Lights were shining
from some of these casements, plumbing the depth of the
black stream with their reflected rays, but all was profoundly
silent.

So we advanced into this ghostly city, continuing to hold
our course through narrow streets and lanes, all filled and
flowing with water. Some of the corners where our way
branched off, were so acute and narrow, that it seemed
impossible for the long slender boat to turn them ; but the
rowers, with a low melodious cry of warning, sent it skim-
ming on without a pause. Sometimes, the rowers of another
black boat like our own, echoed the cry, and slackening their
speed (as I thought we did ours) would come flitting past us
like a dark shadow. Other boats, of the same sombre hue,
were lying moored, I thought, to painted pillars, near to dark
mysterious doors that opened straight upon the water. Some
of these were empty ; in some, the rowers lay asleep ; towards
one, I saw some figures coming down a gloomy archway from
the interior of a palace : gaily dressed, and attended by
torch-bearers. It was but a glimpse I had of them ; for a
bridge, so low and close upon the boat that it seemed ready
to fall down and crush us : one of the many bridges that per-
plexed the Dream : blotted them out, instantly. On we went,
floating towards the heart of this strange place with water
all about us where never water was elsewhere clusters of
houses, churches, heaps of stately buildings growing out of it
and, everywhere, the same extraordinary silence. Presently,
we shot across a broad and open stream ; and passing, as I
thought, before a spacious paved quay, where the bright
lamps with which it was illuminated showed long rows of
arches and pillars, of ponderous construction and great
strength, but as light to the eye as garlands of hoar-frost or
gossamer and where, for the first time, I saw people walking
arrived at a flight of steps leading from the water to a



A MAJESTIC PALACE. 395

large mansion, where, having passed through corridors and
galleries innumerable, I lay down to rest; listening to the
black boats stealing up and down the window on the rippling
water, till I fell asleep.

The glory of the day that broke upon me in this Dream ;
its freshness, motion, buoyancy ; its sparkles of the sun in
water ; its clear blue sky and rustling air ; no waking words
can tell. But, from my window, I looked down on boats
and barks ; on masts, sails, cordage, flags ; on groups of busy
sailors, working at the cargoes of these vessels ; on wide
quays, strewn with bales, casks, merchandise of many kinds ;
on great ships, lying near at hand in stately indolence ; on
islands, crowned with gorgeous domes and turrets : and where
golden crosses glittered in the light, atop of wondrous
churches, springing from the sea ! Going down upon the
margin of the green sea, rolling on before the door, and
filling all the streets, I came upon a place of such surpassing
beauty, and such grandeur, that all the rest was poor and
faded, in comparison with its absorbing loveliness.

It was a great Piazza, as I thought ; anchored, like all the
rest, in the deep ocean. On its broad bosom, was a Palace,
more majestic and magnificent in its old age, than all the
buildings of the earth, in the high prime and fulness of their
youth. Cloisters and galleries : so light, they might have
been the work of fairy hands : so strong that centuries had
battered them in vain : wound round and round this palace,
and enfolded it with a Cathedral, gorgeous in the wild
luxuriant fancies of the East. At no great distance from its
porch, a lofty tower, standing by itself, and rearing its proud
head, alone, into the sky, looked out upon the Adriatic Sea.
Near to the margin of the stream, were two ill-omened pillars
of red granite ; one having on its top, a figure with a sword
and shield ; the other, a winged lion. Not far from these
again, a second tower: richest of the rich in all its decora-
tions : even here, where all was rich : sustained aloft, a great
orb, gleaming with gold and deepest blue : the Twelve Signs



396 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

painted on it, and a mimic sun revolving in its course around
them : while above, two bronze giants hammered out the
hours upon a sounding bell. An oblong square of lofty
houses of the whitest stone, surrounded by a light and
beautiful arcade, formed part of this enchanted scene ; and,
here and there, gay masts for flags rose, tapering, from the
pavement of the unsubstantial ground.

I thought I entered the Cathedral, and went in and out
among its many arches : traversing its whole extent. A
grand and dreamy structure, of immense proportions ; golden
with old mosaics ; redolent of perfumes ; dim with the smoke
of incense ; costly in treasure of precious stones and metals,
glittering through iron bars ; holy with the bodies of deceased
saints ; rainbow-hued with windows of stained glass ; dark
with carved woods and coloured marbles ; obscure in its
vast heights, and lengthened distances ; shining with silver
lamps and winking lights ; unreal, fantastic, solemn, incon-
ceivable throughout. I thought I entered the old palace;
pacing silent galleries and council-chambers, where the old
rulers of this mistress of the waters looked sternly out, in
pictures, from the walls, and where her high-prowed galleys,
still victorious on canvas, fought and conquered as of old.
I thought I wandered through its halls of state and triumph
bare and empty now ! and musing on its pride and might,
extinct : for that was past ; all past : heard a voice say,
" Some tokens of its ancient rule and some consoling reasons
for its downfall, may be traced here, yet ! "

I dreamed that I was led on, then, into some jealous rooms,
communicating with a prison near the palace ; separated from
it by a lofty bridge crossing a narrow street ; and called, I
dreamed, The Bridge of Sighs.

But first I passed two jagged slits in a stone wall; the
lions' mouths now toothless where, in the distempered
horror of my sleep, I thought denunciations of innocent men
to the old wicked Council, had been dropped through, many a
time, when the night was dark. So, when I saw the council-



DARK CELLS. 397

room to which such prisoners were taken for examination,
and the door by which they passed out, when they were con-
demned a door that never closed upon a man with life and
hope before him my heart appeared to die within me.

It was smitten harder though, when, torch in hand, I
descended from the cheerful day into two ranges, one below
another, of dismal, awful, horrible stone cells. They were
quite dark. Each had a loop-hole in its massive wall, where,
in the old time, every day, a torch was placed I dreamed
to light the prisoner within, for half an hour. The captives,
by the glimmering of these brief rays, had scratched and cut
inscriptions in the blackened vaults. I saw them. For their
labour with a rusty nail's point, had outlived their agony and
them, through many generations.

One cell, I saw, in which no man remained for more than
four-and-twenty hours ; being marked for dead before he
entered it. Hard by, another, and a dismal one, whereto, at
midnight, the confessor came a monk brown-robed, and
hooded ghastly in the day, and free bright air, but in the



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 32 of 43)