Charles Dickens.

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among the reeds and rushes, with the mists hovering about
outside, and stalking round and round it continually.

Our walk through Mantua showed us, in almost every street,
some suppressed church : now used for a warehouse, now for
nothing at all : all as crazy and dismantled as they could be,
short of tumbling down bodily. The marshy town was so
intensely dull and flat, that the dirt upon it seemed not to
have come there in the ordinary course, but to have settled
and mantled on its surface as on standing water. And yet
there were some business-dealings going on, and some profits
realising; for there were arcades full of Jews, where those
extraordinary people were sitting outside their shops, con-
templating their stores of stuffs, and woollens, and bright
handkerchiefs, and trinkets : and looking, in all respects, as
wary and business-like, as their brethren in Houndsditch,

MILAN. 411

Having selected a Vetturino from among the neighbouring
Christians, who agreed to carry us to Milan in two days and
a half, and to start, next morning, as soon as the gates were
opened, I returned to the Golden Lion, and dined luxuriously
in my own room, in a narrow passage between two bedsteads :
confronted by a smoky fire, and backed up by a chest of
drawers. At six o'clock next morning, we were jingling in
the dark through the wet cold mist that enshrouded the
town ; and, before noon, the driver (a native of Mantua, and
sixty years of age or thereabouts) began to cutk the -way to

It lay through Bozzolo ; formerly a little republic, and now
one of the most deserted and poverty-stricken of towns :
where the landlord of the miserable inn (God bless him ! it
was his weekly custom) was distributing infinitesimal coins
among a clamorous herd of women and children, whose rags
were fluttering in the wind and rain outside his door, where
they were gathered to receive his charity. It lay through
mist, and mud, and rain, and vines trained low upon the
ground, all that day and the next ; the first sleeping-place
being Cremona, memorable for its dark brick churches, and
immensely high tower, the Torra/zo to say nothing of its
violins, of which it certainly produces none in these degenerate
days; and the second, Lodi. Then we went on, through
more mud, mist, and rain, and marshy ground : and through
such a fog, as Englishmen, strong in the faith of their own
grievances, are apt to believe is nowhere to be found but in
their own country, until we entered the paved streets of

The fog was so dense here, that the spire of the far-famed
Cathedral might as well have been at Bombay, for anything
that could be seen of it at that time. But as we halted to
refresh, for a few days then, and returned to Milan again
next summer, I had ample opportunities of seeing the
glorious structure in all its majesty and beauty.

All Christian homage to the saint who lies within it!


There are many good and true saints in the calendar, but
San Carlo Borromeo has if I may quote Mrs. Primrose on
such a subject "my warm heart." A charitable doctor to
the sick, a munificent friend to the poor, and this, not in
any spirit of blind bigotiy, but as the bold opponent of
enormous abuses in the Romish church, I honour his memory.
I honour it none the less, because he was nearly slain by a
priest, suborned, by priests, to murder him at the altar : in
acknowledgment of his endeavours to reform a false and
hypocritical brotherhood of monks. Heaven shield all
imitators of San Carlo Borromeo as it shielded him ! A
reforming Pope would need a little shielding, even now.

The subterranean chapel in which the body of San Carlo
Borromeo is preserved, presents as striking and as ghastly a
contrast, perhaps, as any place can show. The tapers which
are lighted down there, flash and gleam on alti-rilievi in gold
and silver, delicately wrought by skilful hands, and represent-
ing the principal events in the life of the saint. Jewels, and
precious metals, shine and sparkle on every side. A windlass
slowly removes the front of the altar; and, within it, in a
gorgeous shrine of gold and silver, is seen, through alabaster,
the shrivelled mummy of a man : the pontifical robes with
which it is adorned, radiant with diamonds, emeralds, rubies :
every costly and magnificent gem. The shrunken heap of
poor earth in the midst of this great glitter, is more pitiful
than if it lay upon a dunghill. There is not a ray of
imprisoned light in all the flash and fire of jewels, but seems
to mock the dusty holes where eyes were, once. Every thread
of silk in the rich vestments seems only a provision from the
worms that spin, for the behoof of worms that propagate in

In the old refectory of the dilapidated Convent of Santa
Maria delle Grazie, is the work of art, perhaps, better known
than any other in the world : the Last Supper, by Leonardo
da Vinci with a door cut through it by the intelligent
Dominican friars, to facilitate their operations at dinner-time.


I am not mechanically acquainted with the art of painting,
and have no other means of judging of a picture than as I
see it resembling and refining upon nature, and presenting
graceful combinations of forms and colours. I am, therefore,
no authority whatever, in reference to the " touch " of this or
that master ; though I know very well (as anybody may, who
chooses to think about the matter) that few very great
masters can possibly have painted, in the compass of their
lives, one-half of the pictures that bear their names, and that
are recognised by many aspirants to a reputation for taste, as
undoubted originals. But this, by the way. Of the Last
Supper, I would simply observe, that in its beautiful com-
position and arrangement, there it is, at Milan, a wonderful
picture ; and that, in its original colouring, or in its original
expression of any single face or feature, there it is not. Apart
from the damage it has sustained from damp, decay, or neglect,
it has been (as Barry shows) so retouched upon, and repainted,
and that so clumsily, that many of the heads are, now, positive
deformities, with patches of paint and plaster sticking upon
them like wens, and utterly distorting the expression. Where
the original artist set that impress of his genius on a face,
which, almost in a line or touch, separated him from meaner
painters and made him what he was, succeeding bunglers, filling
up, or painting across seams and cracks, have been quite
unable to imitate his hand ; and putting in some scowls, or
frowns, or wrinkles, of their own, have blotched and spoiled
the work. This is so well established as an historical fact,
that I should not repeat it, at the risk of being tedious, but
for having observed an English gentleman before the picture,
who was at great pains to fall into what I may describe as
mild convulsions, at certain minute details of expression which
are not left in it. Whereas, it would be comfortable and
rational for travellers and critics to arrive at a general under-
standing that it cannot fail to have been a work of
extraordinary merit, once : when, with so few of its original
beauties remaining, the grandeur of the general design is yet


sufficient to sustain it, as a piece replete with interest and

We achieved the other sights of Milan, in due course, and
a fine city it is, though not so unmistakably Italian as to
possess the characteristic qualities of many towns far less
important in themselves. The Corso, where the Milanese
gentry ride up and down in carriages, and rather than not
do which, they would half starve themselves at home, is a
most noble public promenade, shaded by long avenues of trees.
In the splendid theatre of La Scala, there was a ballet of
action performed after the opera, under the title of Prometheus :
in the beginning of which, some hundred or two of men and
women represented our mortal race before the refinements of
the arts and sciences, and loves and graces, came on earth to
soften them. I never saw anything more effective. Generally
speaking, the pantomimic action of the Italians is more re-
markable for its sudden and impetuous character than for its
delicate expression ; but, in this case, the drooping monotony :
the weary, miserable, listless, moping life : the sordid passions
and desires of human creatures, destitute of those elevating
influences to which we owe so much, and to whose promoters
we render so little : were expressed in a manner really powerful
and affecting. I should have thought it almost impossible to
present such an idea so strongly on the stage, without the aid
of speech.

Milan soon lay behind us, at five o'clock in the morning;
and before the golden statue on the summit of the cathedral
spire was lost in the blue sky, the Alps, stupendously con-
fused in lofty peaks and ridges, clouds and snow, were tower-
ing in our path.

Still, we continued to advance toward them until nightfall ;
and, all day long, the mountain tops presented strangely
shifting shapes, as the road displayed them in different points
of view. The beautiful day was just declining, when we
came upon the Lago Maggiore, with its lovely islands. For
however fanciful and fantastic the Isola Bella may be, and


is, it still is beautiful. Anything springing out of that blue
water, with that scenery around it, must be.

It was ten o'clock at night when we got to Domo cTOssola,
at the foot of the Pass of the Simplon. But as the moon
was shining brightly, and there was not a cloud in the starlit
sky, it was no time for going to bed, or going anywhere but
on. So, we got a little carriage, after some delay, and began
the ascent.

It was late in November; and the snow lying four or five
feet thick in the beaten road on the summit (in other parts
the new drift was already deep), the air was piercing cold.
But, the serenity of the night, and the grandeur of the road,
with its impenetrable shadows, and deep glooms, and its
sudden turns into the shining of the moon and its incessant
roar of falling water, rendered the journey more and more
sublime at every step.

Soon leaving the calm Italian villages below us, sleeping in
the moonlight, the road began to wind among dark trees,
and after a time emerged upon a barer region, very steep and
toilsome, where the moon shone bright and high. By degrees,
the roar of water grew louder; and the stupendous track,
after crossing the torrent by a bridge, struck in between two
massive perpendicular walls of rock that quite shut out the
moonlight, and only left a few stars shining in the narrow
strip of sky above. Then, even this was lost, in the thick
darkness of a cavern in the rock, through which the way was
pierced; the terrible cataract thundering and roaring close
below it, and its foam and spray hanging, in a mist, about
the entrance. Emerging from this cave, and coming again
into the moonlight, and across a dizzy bridge, it crept and
twisted upward, through the Gorge of Gondo, savage and
grand beyond description, with smooth-fronted precipiivs
rising up on either hand, and almost meeting overlu.ul.
Thus we went, climbing on our rugged way, higher and
higher nil night, without a moment's weariness : lost in the
contemplation of the black rocks, the tremendous heights


and depths, the fields of smooth snow lying, in the clefts and
hollows, and the fierce torrents thundering headlong down
the deep abyss.

Towards daybreak, we came among the snow, where a keen
wind was blowing fiercely. Having, with some trouble,
awakened the inmates of a wooden house in this solitude :
round which the wind was howling dismally, catching up the
snow in wreaths and hurling it away : we got some breakfast
in a room built of rough timbers, but well warmed by a
stove, and well contrived (as it had need to be) for keeping
out the bitter storms. A sledge being then made ready, and
four horses harnessed to it, we went, ploughing, through the
snow. Still upward, but now in the cold light of morning,
and with the great white desert on which we travelled, plain
and clear.

We were well upon the summit of the mountain : and had
before us the rude cross of wood, denoting its greatest altitude
above the sea: when the light of the rising sun, struck, all
at once, upon the waste of snow, and turned it a deep red.
The lonely grandeur of the scene, was then at its height.

As we went sledging on, there came out of the Hospice
founded by Napoleon, a group of Peasant travellers, with
staves and knapsacks, who had rested there last night :
attended by a Monk or two, their hospitable entertainers,
trudging slowly forward with them, for company's sake. It
was pleasant to give them good morning, and pretty, looking
back a long way after them, to see them looking back at
us, and hesitating presently, when one of our horses stumbled
and fell, whether or no they should return and help us. But
he was soon up again, with the assistance of a rough waggoner
whose team had stuck fast there too ; and when we had helped
him out of his difficulty, in return, we left him slowly plough-
ing towards them, and went slowly and swiftly forward, on
the brink of a steep precipice, among the mountain pines.

Taking to our wheels again, soon afterwards, we began
rapidly to descend; passing under everlasting glaciers, by


means of arched galleries, hung with clusters of dripping
icicles; under and over foaming waterfalls; near places of
refuge, and galleries of shelter against sudden danger ; through
caverns over whose arched roofs the avalanches slide, in spring,
and bury themselves in the unknown gulf beneath. Down,
over lofty bridges, and through horrible ravines: a little
shifting speck in the vast desolation of ice and snow, and
monstrous granite rocks; down through the deep Gorge of
the Saltine, and deafened by the torrent plunging madly
down, among the riven blocks of rock, into the level country,
far below. Gradually down, by zig-zag roads, lying between
an upward and a downward precipice, into warmer weather,
calmer air, and softer scenery, until there lay before us,
glittering like gold or silver in the thaw and sunshine, the
metal-covered, red, green, yellow, domes and church-spires of
a Swiss town.

The business of these recollections being with Italy, and
my business, consequently, being to scamper back thither as
fast as possible, I will not recall (though I am sorely tempted)
how the Swiss villages, clustered at the feet of Giant moun-
tains, looked like playthings ; or how confusedly the houses
were heaped and piled together ; or how there were very
narrow streets to shut the howling winds out in the winter-
time ; and broken bridges, which the impetuous torrents,
suddenly released in spring, had swept away. Or how there
were peasant women here, with great round fur caps : looking,
when they peeped out of casements and only their heads were
seen, like a population of Sword-bearers to the Lord Mayor
of London ; or how the town of Vevay, lying on the smooth
lake of Geneva, was beautiful to see ; or how the statue of
Saint Peter in the street at Fribourg, grasps the largest key
that ever was beheld ; or how Fribourg is illustrious for its
two suspension bridges, and its grand cathedral organ.

Or how, between that town and Bale, the road meandered
among thriving villages of wooden cottages, with overhanging
thatched roofs, and low protruding windows, glased with

:.! i.


small round panes of glass like crown-pieces ; or how, in
every little Swiss homestead, with its cart or waggon carefully
stowed away beside the house, its little garden, stock of
poultry, and groups of red-cheeked children, there was an air
of comfort, very new and very pleasant after Italy ; or how
the dresses of the women changed again, and there were no
more sword-bearers to be seen ; and fair white stomachers,
and great black, fan-shaped, gauzy-looking caps, prevailed

Or how the country by the Jura mountains, sprinkled with
snow, and lighted by the moon, and musical with falling
water, was delightful ; or how, below the windows of the
great hotel of the Three Kings at Bale, the swollen Rhine
ran fast and green ; or how, at Strasbourg, it was quite as
fast but not as green : and was said to be foggy lower down :
and, at that late time of the year, was a far less certain
means of progress, than the highway road to Paris.

Or how Strasbourg itself, in its magnificent old Gothic
Cathedral, and its ancient houses with their peaked roofs and
gables, made a little gallery of quaint and interesting views ;
or how a crowd was gathered inside the cathedral at noon,
to see the famous mechanical clock in motion, striking twelve.
How, when it struck twelve, a whole army of puppets went
through many ingenious evolutions ; and, among them, a
huge puppet-cock, perched on the top, crowed twelve times,
loud and clear. Or how it was wonderful to see this cock
at great pains to clap its wings, and strain its throat ; but
obviously having no connection whatever with its own voice ;
which was deep within the clock, a long way down.

Or how the road to Paris, was one sea of mud, and thence
to the coast, a little better for a hard frost. Or how the
cliffs of Dover were a pleasant sight, and England was so
wonderfully neat though dark, and lacking colour on a
winter's day, it must be conceded.

Or how, a few days afterwards, it was cool, re-crossing the
channel, with ice upon the decks, and snow lying pretty deep


in France. Or how the Malle Poste scrambled through the
snow, headlong, drawn in the hilly parts by any number of
stout horses at a canter; or how there were, outside the
Post-office Yard in Paris, before daybreak, extraordinary
adventurers in heaps of rags, groping in the snowy streets
with little rakes, in search of odds and ends.

Or how, between Paris and Marseilles, the snow being then
exceeding deep, a thaw came on, and the mail waded rather
than rolled for the next three hundred miles or so ; breaking
springs on Sunday nights, and putting out its two passengers
to warm and refresh themselves pending the repairs, in miser-
able billiard-rooms, where hairy company, collected about
stoves, were playing cards; the cards being very like them-
selves extremely limp and dirty.

Or how there was detention at Marseilles from stress of
weather; and steamers were advertised to go, which did
not go ; or how the good Steam-packet Charlemagne at
length put out, and met such weather that now she threat-
ened to run into Toulon, and now into Nice, but, the wind
moderating, did neither, but ran on into Genoa harbour
instead, where the familiar Bells rang sweetly in my ear.
Or how there was a travelling party on board, of whom one
member was very ill in the cabin next to mine, and being
ill was cross, and therefore declined to give up the Dictionary,
which he kept under his pillow ; thereby obliging his com-
panions to come down to him, constantly, to ask what was
the Italian for a lump of sugar a glass of brandy and water
what's o'clock ? and so forth : which he always insisted on
looking out, with his own sea-sick eyes, declining to entrust
the book to any man alive.

Like GUUMIO, I might have told you, in detail, all this
and something more but to as little purpose were I not
deterred by the remembrance that my business is with Italy.
Therefore, like GRUMIO'S story, " it shall die in oblivion."


THERE is nothing in Italy, more beautiful to me, than the
coast-road between Genoa and Spezzia. On one side : some-
times far below, sometimes nearly on a level with the road,
and often skirted by broken rocks of many shapes : there is
the free blue sea, with here and there a picturesque felucca
gliding slowly on ; on the other side are lofty hills, ravines
besprinkled with white cottages, patches of dark olive woods,
country churches with their light open towers, and country
houses gaily painted. On every bank and knoll by the
wayside, the wild cactus and aloe flourish in exuberant
profusion ; and the gardens of the bright villages along the
road, are seen, all blushing in the summer-time with clusters
of the Belladonna, and are fragrant in the autumn and
winter with golden oranges and lemons.

Some of the villages are inhabited, almost exclusively, by
fishermen ; and it is pleasant to see their great boats hauled
up on the beach, making little patches of shade, where they
lie asleep, or where the women and children sit romping and
looking out to sea, while they mend their nets upon the
shore. There is one town, Camoglia, with its little harbour
on the sea, hundreds of feet below the road ; where families
of mariners live, who, time out of mind, have owned coasting-
vessels in that place, and have traded to Spain and elsewhere.
Seen from the road above, it is like a tiny model on the
margin of the dimpled water, shining in the sun. Descended


into, by the winding mule-tracks, it is a perfect miniature
of a primitive seafaring town; the saltest, roughest, most
piratical little place that ever was seen. Great rusty iron
rings and mooring-chains, capstans, and fragments of old masts
and spars, choke up the way; hardy rough-weather boats,
and seamen's clothing, flutter in the little harbour or are
drawn out on the sunny stones to dry; on the parapet of
the rude pier, a few amphibious-looking fellows lie asleep,
with their legs dangling over the wall, as though earth or
water were all one to them, and if they slipped in, they
would float away, dozing comfortably among the fishes; the
church is bright with trophies of the sea, and votive offer-
ings, in commemoration of escape from storm and shipwreck.
The dwellings not immediately abutting on the harbour are
approached by blind low archways, and by crooked steps, as
if in darkness and in difficulty of access they should be like
holds of ships, or inconvenient cabins under water ; and every-
where, there is a smell of fish, and sea-weed, and old rope.

The coast-road whence Camoglia is descried so far below,
is famous, in the warm season, especially in some parts near
Genoa, for fire-flies. Walking there on a dark night, I have
seen it made one sparkling firmament by these beautiful
insects : so that the distant stars were pale against the flash
and glitter that spangled every olive wood and hill-side, and
pervaded the whole air.

It was not in such a season, however, that we traversed this
road on our way to Rome. The middle of January was only
just past, and it was very gloomy and dark weather; very
wet besides. In crossing the fine pass of Bracco, we encoun-
tered such a storm of mist and rain, that we travelled in a
cloud the whole way. There might have been no Mediterranean
in the world, for anything that we saw of it there, except
when a sudden gust of wind, clearing the mist before it, for
a moment, showed the agitated sea at a great depth below,
lashing the distant rocks, and spouting up its foam furiously.
The rain was incessant ; every brook and torrent was greatly


swollen; and such a deafening leaping, and roaring, and
thundering of water, I never heard the like of in my life.

Hence, when we came to Spezzia, we found that the Magra,
an unbridged river on the high-road to Pisa, was too high
to be safely crossed in the Ferry Boat, and were fain to wait
until the afternoon of next day, when it had, in some degree,
subsided. Spezzia, however, is a good place to tarry at ; by
reason, firstly, of its beautiful bay ; secondly, of its ghostly
Inn; thirdly, of the head-dress of the women, who wear, on
one side of their head, a small doll's straw hat, stuck on to
the hair; which is certainly the oddest and most roguish
head-gear that ever was invented.

The Magra safely crossed in the Ferry Boat the passage
is not by any means agreeable, when the current is swollen
and strong we arrived at Carrara, within a few hours. In
good time next morning, we got some ponies, and went out
to see the marble quarries.

They are four or five great glens, running up into a range
of lofty hills, until they can run no longer, and are stopped
by being abruptly strangled by Nature. The quarries, "or
caves,"" as they call them there, are so many openings, high
up in the hills, on either side of these passes, where they
blast and excavate for marble : which may turn out good or
bad : may make a man's fortune very quickly, or ruin him

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 34 of 43)