Charles Dickens.

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by the great expense of working what is worth nothing.
Some of these caves were opened by the ancient Romans, and
remain as they left them to this hour. Many others are
being worked at this moment ; others are to be begun to-
morrow, next week, next month; others are unbought, un-
thought of; and marble enough for more ages than have
passed since the place was resorted to, lies hidden everywhere :
patiently awaiting its time of discovery.

As you toil and clamber up one of these steep gorges
(having left your pony soddening his girths in water, a mile
or two lower down) you hear, every now and then, echoing
among the hills, in a low tone, more silent than the previous


.silence, a melancholy warning bugle, a signal to the miners
to withdraw. Then, there is a thundering, and echoing from
hill to hill, and perhaps a splashing up of great fragments
of rock into the air; and on you toil again until some other
bugle sounds, in a new direction, and you stop directly, lest
you should come within the range of the new explosion.

There were numbers of men, working high up in these
hills on the sides clearing away, and sending down the
broken masses of stone and earth, to make way for the blocks
of marble that had been discovered. As these came rolling
down from unseen hands into the narrow valley, I could
not help thinking of the deep glen (just the same sort of
glen) where the Roc left Sindbad the Sailor; and where the
merchants from the heights above, flung down great pieces
of meat for the diamonds to stick to. There were no eagles
here, to darken the sun in their swoop, and pounce upon
them; but it was as wild and fierce as if there had been

But the road, the road down which the marble comes,
however immense the blocks ! The genius of the country,
and the spirit of its institutions, pave that road : repair it,
watch it, keep it going ! Conceive a channel of water running
over a rocky bed, beset with great heaps of stone of all
shapes and sizes, winding down the middle of this valley;
and that being the road because it was the road five hundred
years ago ! Imagine the clumsy carts of five hundred years
ago, being used to this hour, and drawn, as they used to be,
five hundred years ago, by oxen, whose ancestors were worn
to death five hundred years ago, as their unhappy descendants
are now, in twelve months, by the suffering and agony of
this cruel work ! Two pair, four pair, ten pair, twenty pair,
to one block, according to its size ; down it must come, this
way. In their struggling from stone to stone, with their
enormous loads behind them, they die frequently upon the
spot ; and not they alone ; for their passionate drivers, some-
times tumbling down in their energy, are crushed to death


beneath the wheels. But it was good five hundred years
ago, and it must be good now : and a railroad do\vn one of
these steeps (the easiest thing in the world) would be flat

When we stood aside, to see one of these cars drawn by
only a pair of oxen (for it had but one small block of marble
on it), coming down, I hailed, in my heart, the man who sat
upon the heavy yoke, to keep it on the neck of the poor
beasts and who faced backwards: not before him as the
very Devil of true despotism. He had a great rod in his
hand, with an iron point; and when they could plough and
force their way through the loose bed of the torrent no
longer, and came to a stop, he poked it into their bodies,
beat it on their heads, screwed it round and round in their
nostrils, got them on a yard or two, in the madness of intense
pain ; repeated all these persuasions, with increased intensity
of purpose, when they stopped again ; got them on, once
more ; forced and goaded them to an abrupter point of the
descent; and when their writhing and smarting, and the
weight behind them, bore them plunging down the precipice
in a cloud of scattered water, whirled his rod above his head,
and gave a great whoop and hallo, as if he had achieved
something, and had no idea that they might shake him off,
and blindly mash his brains upon the road, in the noon-tide
of his triumph.

Standing in one of the many studii of Carrara, that after-
noon for it is a great workshop, full of beautifully-finished
copies in marble, of almost every figure, group, and bust,
we know it seemed, at first, so strange to me that those
exquisite shapes, replete with grace, and thought, and deli-
cate repose, should grow out of all this toil, and sweat, and
torture ! But I soon found a parallel to it, and an explana-
tion of it, in every virtue that springs up in miserable ground,
and every good thing that has its birth in sorrow and distress.
And, looking out of the sculptor's great window, upon the
niarble mountains, all red and glowing in the decline of day,

PISA. 425

but stem and solemn to the last, I thought, my God ! how
many quarries of human hearts and souls, capable of far more
beautiful results, are left shut up and mouldering away : while
pleasure-travellers through life, avert their faces, as they pass,
and shudder at the gloom and ruggedness that conceal them !

The then reigning Duke of Modena, to whom this terri-
tory in part belonged, claimed the proud distinction of being
the only sovereign in Europe who had not recognised Louis-
Philippe as King of the French ! He was not a wag, but
quite in earnest. He was also much opposed to railroads ;
and if certain lines in contemplation by other potentates, on
either side of him, had been executed, would have probably
enjoyed the satisfaction of having an omnibus plying to and
fro across his not very vast dominions, to forward travellers
from one terminus to another.

Carrara, shut in by great hills, is very picturesque and
bold. Few tourists stay there ; and the people are nearly all
connected, in one way or other, with the working of marble.
There are also villages among the caves, where the workmen
live. It contains a beautiful little Theatre, newly built;
and it is an interesting custom there, to form the chorus of
labourers in the marble quarries, who are self-taught and
sing by ear. I heard them in a comic opera, and in an act
of " Norma ; " and they acquitted themselves very well ; unlike
the common people of Italy generally, who (with some excep-
tions among the Neapolitans) sing vilely out of tune, and
have very disagreeable singing voices.

From the summit of a lofty hill beyond Carrara, the first
view of the fertile plain in which the town of Pisa lies with
Leghorn, a purple spot in the flat distance is enchanting.
Nor is it only distance that lends enchantment to the view ;
for the fruitful country, and rich woods of olive-trees through
which the road subsequently passes, render it delightful.

The moon was shining when we approached Pisa, and for
a long time we could see, behind the wall, the leaning Tower,
all awry in the uncertain light ; the shadowy original of the


old pictures in school-books, setting forth " The Wonders of
the World." Like most things connected in their first asso-
ciations with school-books and school-times, it was too small.
I felt it keenly. It was nothing like so high above the wall
as I had hoped. It was another of the many deceptions
practised by Mr. Harris, Bookseller, at the corner of St.
Paul's Churchyard, London. H'ts Tower was a fiction, but
this was a reality and, by comparison, a short reality. Still,
it looked very well, and very strange, and was quite as much
out of the perpendicular as Harris had represented it to be.
The quiet air of Pisa too ; the big guard-house at the gate,
with only two little soldiers in it; the streets with scarcely
any show of people in them ; and the Arno, flowing quaintly
through the centre of the town ; were excellent. So, I bore
no malice in my heart against Mr. Harris (remembering his
good intentions), but forgave him before dinner, and went
out, full of confidence, to see the Tower next morning.

I might have known better ; but, somehow, I had expected
to see it, casting its long shadow on a public street where
people came and went all day. It was a surprise to me to
find it in a grave retired place, apart from the general resort,
and carpeted with smooth green turf. But, the group of
buildings, clustered on and about this verdant carpet : com-
prising the Tower, the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the
Church of the Campo Santo : is perhaps the most remarkable
and beautiful in the whole world; and from being clustered
there, together, away from the ordinary transactions and
details of the town, they have a singularly venerable and
impressive character. It is the architectural essence of a
rich old city, with all its common life and common habita-
tions pressed out, and filtered away.

SIMOND compares the Tower to the usual pictorial represen-
tations in children's books of the Tower of Babel. It is a
happy simile, and conveys a better idea of the building than
chapters of laboured description. Nothing can exceed the
grace and lightness of the structure ; nothing can be more


remarkable than its general appearance. In the course of
the ascent to the top (which is by an easy staircase), the
inclination is not very apparent; but, at the summit, it
becomes so, and gives one the sensation of being in a ship
that has heeled over, through the action of an ebb-tide. The
effect upon the low side, so to speak looking over from
the gallery, and seeing the shaft recede to its base is very
startling ; and I saw a nervous traveller hold on to the Tower
involuntarily, after glancing down, as if he had some idea of
propping it up. The view within, from the ground looking
up, as through a slanted tube is also very curious. It
certainly inclines as much as the most sanguine tourist could
desire. The natural impulse of ninety-nine people out of a
hundred, who were about to recline upon the grass below
it, to rest, and contemplate the adjacent buildings, would
probably be, not to take up their position under the leaning
side ; it is so very much aslant.

The manifold beauties of the Cathedral and Baptistery
need no recapitulation from me ; though in this case, as in a
hundred others, I find it difficult to separate my own delight
in recalling them, from your weariness in having them recalled.
There is a picture of St. Agnes, by Andrea del Sarto, in the
former, and there are a variety of rich columns in the latter,
that tempt me strongly.

It is, I hope, no breach of my resolution not to be tempted
into elaborate descriptions, to remember the Campo Santo;
where grass-grown graves are dug in earth brought more than
six hundred years ago, from the Holy Land ; and where there
are, surrounding them, such cloisters, with such playing lights
and shadows falling through their delicate tracery on the
stone pavement, as surely the dullest memory could never
forget. On the walls of this solemn and lovely place, are
ancient frescoes, very much obliterated and decayed, but very
curious. As usually happens in almost any collection of
paintings, of any sort, in Italy, where there are many heads,
there is, in one of them, a striking accidental likeness of


Napoleon. At one time, I used to please my fancy with the
speculation whether these old painters, at their work, had a
foreboding knowledge of the man who would one day arise
to wreak such destruction upon art : whose soldiers would
make targets of great pictures, and stable their horses among
triumphs of architecture. But the same Corsican face is so
plentiful in some parts of Italy at this day, that a more
commonplace solution of the coincidence is unavoidable.

If Pisa be the seventh wonder of the world in right of its
Tower, it may claim to be, at least, the second or third in
right of its beggars. They waylay the unhappy visitor at
every turn, escort him to every door he enters at, and lie in
wait for him, with strong reinforcements, at every door by
which they know he must come out. The grating of the
portal on its hinges is the signal for a general shout, and
the moment he appears, he is hemmed in, and fallen on, by
heaps of rags and personal distortions. The beggars seem
to embody all the trade and enterprise of Pisa. Nothing
else is stirring, but warm air. Going through the streets,
the fronts of the sleepy houses look like backs. They are all
so still and quiet, and unlike houses with people in them,
that the greater part of the city has the appearance of a city
at daybreak, or during a general siesta of the population.
Or it is yet more like those backgrounds of houses in common
prints, or old engravings, where windows and doors are
squarely indicated, and one figure (a beggar of course) is seen
walking off by itself into illimitable perspective.

Not so Leghorn (made illustrious by SMOLLETT'S grave),
which is a thriving, business-like, matter-of-fact place, where
idleness is shouldered out of the way by commerce. The
regulations observed there, in reference to trade and merchants,
are very liberal and free ; and the town, of course, benefits by
them. Leghorn had a bad name in connection with stabbers,
and with some justice it must be allowed ; for, not many
years ago, there was an assassination club there, the members
of which bore no ill-will to anybody in particular, but stabbed


people (quite strangers to them) in the streets at night, for
the pleasure and excitement of the recreation. I think the
president of this amiable society, was a shoemaker. He was
taken, however, and the club was broken up. It would,
probably, have disappeared in the natural course of events,
before the railroad between Leghorn and Pisa, which is a
good one, and has already begun to astonish Italy with a
precedent of punctuality, order, plain dealing, and improve-
ment the most dangerous and heretical astonisher of all.
There must have been a slight sensation, as of earthquake,
surely, in the Vatican, when the first Italian railroad was
thrown open.

Returning to Pisa, and hiring a good-tempered Vetturino,
and his four horses, to take us on to Rome, we travelled
through pleasant Tuscan villages and cheerful scenery all
day. The roadside crosses in this part of Italy are numerous
and curious. There is seldom a figure on the cross, though
there is sometimes a face ; but they are remarkable for being
garnished with little models in wood, of every possible object
that can be connected with the Saviour's death. The cock
that crowed when Peter had denied his Master thrice, is
usually perched on the tip-top; and an ornithological phe-
nomenon he generally is. Under him, is the inscription.
Then, hung on to the cross-beam, are the spear, the reed
with the sponge of vinegar and water at the end, the coat
without seam for which the soldiers cast lots, the dice-box
with which they threw for it, the hammer that drove in the
nails, the pincers that pulled them out, the ladder which was
set against the cross, the crown of thorns, the instrument of
flagellation, the lanthorn with which Mary went to the tomb
(I suppose), and the sword with which Peter smote the servant
of the high priest, a perfect toy-shop of little objects,
repeated at every four or five miles, all along the highway.

On the evening of the second day from Pisa, we reached
the beautiful old city of Siena. There was what tlu-y ml In I
a Carnival, in progress ; but, as its secret lay in a score or


two of melancholy people walking up and down the principal
street in common toy-shop masks, and being more melancholy,
if possible, than the same sort of people in England, I say
no more of it. We went off, betimes next morning, to see
the Cathedral, which is wonderfully picturesque inside and
out, especially the latter also the market-place, or great
Piazza, which is a large square, with a great broken-nosed
fountain in it : some quaint Gothic houses : and a high square
brick tower; outside the top of which a curious feature in
such views in Italy hangs an enormous bell. It is like a
bit of Venice, without the water. There are some curious
old Palazzi in the town, which is very ancient; and without
having (for me) the interest of Verona, or Genoa, it is very
dreamy and fantastic, and most interesting.

We went on again, as soon as we had seen these things,
and going over a rather bleak country (there had been nothing
but vines until now: mere walking-sticks at that season of
the year), stopped, as usual, between one and two hours in
the middle of the day, to rest the horses ; that being a part
of every Vetturino contract. We then went on again, through
a region gradually becoming bleaker and wilder, until it
became as bare and desolate as any Scottish moors. Soon
after dark, we halted for the night, at the osteria of La
Scala : a perfectly lone house, where the family were sitting
round a great fire in the kitchen, raised on a stone platform
three or four feet high, and big enough for the roasting of
an ox. On the upper, and only other floor of this hotel,
there was a great wild rambling sala, with one very little
window in a by-corner, and four black doors opening into
four black bedrooms in various directions. To say nothing
of another large black door, opening into another large black
sala, with the staircase coming abruptly through a kind of
trap-door in the floor, and the rafters of the roof looming
above : a suspicious little press skulking in one obscure
corner : and all the knives in the house lying about in
various directions. The fireplace was of the purest Italian


architecture, so that it was perfectly impossible to see it for
the smoke. The waitress was like a dramatic brigand's wife,
and wore the same style of dress upon her head. The dogs
barked like mad; the echoes returned the compliments
bestowed upon them; there was not another house within
twelve miles ; and things had a dreary, and rather a cut-throat,

They were not improved by rumours of robbers having
come out, strong and boldly, within a few nights ; and of
their having stopped the mail very near that place. They
were known to have waylaid some travellers not long before,
on Mount Vesuvius itself, and were the talk at all the road-
side inns. As they were no business of ours, however (for
we had very little with us to lose), we made ourselves merry
on the subject, and were very soon as comfortable as need
be. We had the usual dinner in this solitary house; and
a very good dinner it is, when you are used to it. There
is something with a vegetable or some rice in it, which is a
sort of shorthand or arbitrary character for soup, and which
tastes very well, when you have flavoured it with plenty of
grated cheese, lots of salt, and abundance of pepper. There
is the half fowl of which this soup has been made. There
is ;i stewed pigeon, with the gizzards and livers of himself
and other birds stuck all round him. There is a bit of roast
beef, the size of a small French roll. There are a scrap of
Parmesan cheese, and five little withered apples, all huddled
together on a small plate, and crowding one upon the other,
as if each were trying to save itself from the chance of being
eaten. Then there is coffee ; and then there is bed. You
don't mind brick floors ; you don't mind yawning doors, nor
banging windows; you don't mind your own horses being
stabled under the bed : and so close, that every time a horse
coughs or sneezes, he wakes you. If you are good-humoured to
the people about you, and speak pleasantly, and look durrful.
take my word for it you may be well entertained in the very
worst Italian Inn, and always in the most obliging manner,


and may go from one end of the country to the other (despite
all stories to the contrary) without any great trial of your
patience anywhere. Especially, when you get such wine in
flasks, as the Orvieto, and the Monte Pulciano.

It was a bad morning when we left this place ; and we
went, for twelve miles, over a country as barren, as stony,
and as wild, as Cornwall in England, until we came to
Radicofani, where there is a ghostly, goblin inn : once a
hunting-seat, belonging to the Dukes of Tuscany. It is full
of such rambling corridors, and gaunt rooms, that all the
murdering and phantom tales that ever were written might
have originated in that one house. There are some horrible
old Palazzi in Genoa : one in particular, not unlike it, out-
side : but there is a winding, creaking, wormy, rustling,
door-opening, foot-on-staircase-falling character about this
Radicofani Hotel, such as I never saw, anywhere else. The
town, such as it is, hangs on a hill-side above the house,
and in front of it. The inhabitants are all beggars ; and as
soon as they see a carriage coming, they swoop down upon
it, like so many birds of prey.

When we got on the mountain pass, which lies beyond
this place, the wind (as they had forewarned us at the inn)
was so terrific, that we were obliged to take my other half
out of the carriage, lest she should be blown over, carriage
and all, and to hang to it, on the windy side (as well as we
could for laughing), to prevent its going, Heaven knows
where. For mere force of wind, this land-storm might have
competed with an Atlantic gale, and had a reasonable chance
of coming off victorious. The blast came sweeping down
great gullies in a range of mountains on the right : so that
we looked with positive awe at a great morass on the left,
and saw that there was not a bush or twig to hold by. It
seemed as if, once blown from our feet, we must be swept
out to sea, or away into space. There was snow, and hail,
and rain, and lightning, and thunder ; and there were rolling
mists, travelling with incredible velocity. It was dark, awful,


and solitary to the last degree; there were mountains above
mountains, veiled in angry clouds ; and there was such a
wrathful, rapid, violent, tumultuous hurry, everywhere, as
rendered the scene unspeakably exciting and grand.

It was a relief to get out of it, notwithstanding ; and to
cross even the dismal dirty Papal Frontier. After passing
through two little towns ; in one of which, Acquapendente,
there was also a " Carnival " in progress : consisting of one
man dressed and masked as a woman, and one woman dressed
and masked as a man, walking ankle-deep, through the
muddy streets, in a very melancholy manner : we came, at
dusk, within sight of the Lake of Bolsena, on whose bank
there is a little town of the same name, much celebrated for
malaria. With the exception of this poor place, there is not
a cottage on the banks of the lake, or near it (for nobody
dare sleep there) ; not a boat upon its waters ; not a stick
or stake to break the dismal monotony of seven-and-twenty
watery miles. We were late in getting in, the roads being
very bad from heavy rains ; and, after dark, the dulness of
the scene was quite intolerable.

We entered on a very different, and a finer scene of deso-
lation, next night, at sunset. We had passed through
Montefiaschone (famous for its wine) and Viterbo (for its
fountains) : and after climbing up a long hill of eight or ten
miles'" extent, came suddenly upon the margin of a solitary
lake : in one part very beautiful, with a luxuriant wood ; in
another, very barren, and shut in by bleak volcanic hills.
Where this lake flows, there stood, of old, a city. It was
swallowed up one day; and in its stead, this water rose.
There are ancient traditions (common to many parts of the
world) of the ruined city having been seen below, when the
water was clear; but however that may be, from this spot
of earth it vanished. The ground came bubbling up above
it ; and the water too ; and here they stand, like ghosts on
whom the other world closed suddenly, and who have no
means of getting back again. They seem to be waiting the


course of ages, for the next earthquake in that place ; when
they will plunge below the ground, at its first yawning, and
be seen no more. The unhappy city below, is not more lost
and dreary, than these fire-charred hills and the stagnant
water, above. The red sun looked strangely on them, as
with the knowledge that they were made for caverns and
darkness; and the melancholy water oozed and sucked the
mud, and crept quietly among the marshy grass and reeds,
as if the overthrow of all the ancient towers and house-tops,
and the death of all the ancient people born and bred there,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 35 of 43)