Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) online

. (page 42 of 43)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 42 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Government; and diffuse a taste for gambling among the
poorest of the poor, which is very comfortable to the coffers
of the State, and very ruinous to themselves. The lowest
stake is one grain; less than a farthing. One hundred


numbers from one to a hundred, inclusive are put into a
box. Five are drawn. Those are the prizes. I buy three
numbers. If one of them come up, I win a small prize. If
two, some hundreds of times my stake. If three, three
thousand five hundred times my stake. I stake (or play as
they call it) what I can upon my numbers, and buy what
numbers I please. The amount I play, I pay at the lottery
office, where I purchase the ticket ; and it is stated on the
ticket itself.

Every lottery office keeps a printed book, an Universal
Lottery Diviner, where every possible accident and circumstance
is provided for, and has a number against it. For instance,
let us take two carlini about sevenpence. On our way to
the lottery office, we run against a black man. When we
get there, we say gravely, " The Diviner." It is handed over
the counter, as a serious matter of business. We look at
black man. Such a number. "Give us that." We look at
running against a person in the street. " Give us that."
We look at the name of the street itself. " Give us that."
Now, we have our three numbers.

If the roof of the theatre of San Carlo were to fall in, so
many people would play upon the numbers attached to such
an accident in the Diviner, that the Government would soon
close those numbers, and decline to run the risk of losing
any more upon them. This often happens. Not long ago,
when there was a fire in the King's Palace, there was such
a desperate run on fire, and king, and palace, that further
stakes on the numbers attached to those words in the Golden
Book were forbidden. Every accident or event, is supposed,
by the ignorant populace, to be a revelation to the beholder,
or party concerned, in connection with the lottery. Certain
people who have a talent for dreaming fortunately, are much
sought after; and there are some priests who are constantly
favoured with visions of the lucky numbers.

I heard of a horse running away with a man, and dashing
him down, dead, at the corner of a street. Pursuing the


horse with incredible speed, was another man, who ran so
fast, that he came up, immediately after the accident. He
threw himself upon his knees beside the unfortunate rider,
and clasped his hand with an expression of the wildest grief.
" If you have life,"" he said, " speak one word to me ! If you
have one gasp of breath left, mention your age for Heaven^s
sake, that I may play that number in the lottery."

It is four o'clock in the afternoon, and we may go to see
our lottery drawn. The ceremony takes place every Saturday,
in the Tribunale, or Court of Justice this singular, earthy-
smelling room, or gallery, as mouldy as an old cellar, and as
damp as a dungeon. At the upper end is a platform, with
a large horse-shoe table upon it ; and a President and Council
sitting round all Judges of the Law. The man on the little
stool behind the President, is the Capo Lazzarone, a kind of
tribune of the people, appointed on their behalf to see that
all is fairly conducted : attended by a few personal friends.
A ragged, swarthy fellow he is : with long matted hair
hanging down all over his face : and covered, from head to
foot, with most unquestionably genuine dirt. All the body
of the room is filled with the commonest of the Neapolitan
people: and between them and the platform, guarding the
steps leading to the latter, is a small body of soldiers.

There is some delay in the arrival of the necessary number
of judges ; during which, the box, in which the numbers are
being placed, is a source of the deepest interest. When the
box is full, the boy who is to draw the numbers out of it
becomes the prominent feature of the proceedings. He is
already dressed for his part, in a tight brown Holland coat,
with only one (the left) sleeve to it, which leaves his right
arm bared to the shoulder, ready for plunging down into the
mysterious chest.

During the hush and whisper that pervade the room, all
eyes are turned on this young minister of fortune. People
begin to inquire his age, with a view to the next lottery;
and the number of his brothers and sisters ; and the age of


his father and mother; and whether he has any moles or
pimples upon him ; and where, and how many ; when the
arrival of the last judge but one (a little old man, universally
dreaded as possessing the Evil Eye) makes a slight diversion,
and would occasion a greater one, but that he is immediately
deposed, as a source of interest, by the officiating priest, who
advances gravely to his place, followed by a very dirty little
boy, carrying his sacred vestments, and a pot of Holy Water.

Here is the last judge come at last, and now he takes his
place at the horse-shoe table.

There is a murmur of irrepressible agitation. In the midst
of it, the priest puts his head into the sacred vestments, and
pulls the same over his shoulders. Then he says a silent
prayer; and dipping a brush into the pot of Holy Water,
sprinkles it over the box and over the boy, and gives them
a double-barrelled blessing, which the box and the boy are
both hoisted on the table to receive. The boy remaining on
the table, the box is now carried round the front of the
platform, by an attendant, who holds it up and shakes it
lustily all the time ; seeming to say, like the conjurer, "There
is no deception, ladies and gentlemen ; keep your eyes upon
me, if you please ! "

At last, the box is set before the boy; and the boy, first
holding up his naked arm and open hand, dives down into
the hole (it is made like a ballot-box) and pulls out a number,
which is rolled up, round something hard, like a bonbon.
This he hands to the judge next him, who unrolls a little bit,
and hands it to the President, next to whom he sits. The
President unrolls it, very slowly. The Capo Lazzarone leans
over his shoulder. The President holds it up, unrolled,
to the Capo Lazzarone. The Capo Lazzarone, looking at
it eagerly, cries out, in a shrill loud voice, " Sessanta-
due!" (sixty-two), expressing the two upon his fingers, as
he calls it out. Alas ! the Capo Lazzarone himself has not
staked on sixty-two. His face is very long, and his eyes roll


As it happens to be a favourite number, however, it is
pretty well received, which is not always the case. They are
all drawn with the same ceremony, omitting the blessing.
One blessing is enough for the whole multiplication-table.
The only new incident in the proceedings, is the gradually
deepening intensity of the change in the Capo Lazzarone,
who has, evidently, speculated to the very utmost extent of
his means ; and who, when he sees the last number, and finds
that it is not one of his, clasps his hands, and raises his eyes
to the ceiling before proclaiming it, as though remonstrating,
in a secret agony, with his patron saint, for having committed
so gross a breach of confidence. I hope the Capo Lazzarone
may not desert him for some other member of the Calendar,
but he seems to threaten it.

Where the winners may be, nobody knows. They certainly
are not present ; the general disappointment filling one with
pity for the poor people. They look : when we stand aside,
observing them, in their passage through the court-yard down
below : as miserable as the prisoners in the gaol (it forms a
part of the building), who are peeping down upon them, from
between their bars ; or, as the fragments of human heads
which are still dangling in chains outside, in memory of the
good old times, when their owners were strung up there, for
the popular edification.

Away from Naples in a glorious sunrise, by the road to
Capua, and then on a three days'" journey along by-roads,
that we may see, on the way, the monastery of Monte Cassino,
which is perched on the steep and lofty hill above the little
town of San Germano, and is lost on a misty morning in the

So much the better, for the deep sounding of its bell,
which, as we go winding up, on mules, towards the convent,
is heard mysteriously in the still air, while nothing is seen
but the grey mist, moving solemnly and slowly, like a funeral
procession. Behold, at length the shadowy pile of building
close before us : its grey walls and towers dimly seen, though


so near and so vast : and the raw vapour rolling through its
cloisters heavily.

There are two black shadows walking to and fro in the
quadrangle, near the statues of the Patron Saint and his
sister; and hopping on behind them, in and out of the old
arches, is a raven, croaking in answer to the bell, and utter-
ing, at intervals, the purest Tuscan. How like a Jesuit he
looks ! There never was a sly and stealthy fellow so at home
as is this raven, standing now at the refectory door, with his
head on one side, and pretending to glance another way,
while he is scrutinizing the visitors keenly, and listening
with fixed attention. What a dull-headed monk the porter
becomes in comparison !

"He speaks like us! 1 ' says the porter: "quite as plainly."
Quite as plainly, Porter. Nothing could be more expressive
than his reception of the peasants who are entering the gate
with baskets and burdens. There is a roll in his eye, and a
chuckle in his throat, which should qualify him to be chosen
Superior of an Order of Ravens. He knows all about it.
" It's all right," he says. " We know what we know. Come
along, good people. Glad to see you ! "

How was this extraordinary structure ever built in such a
situation, where the labour of conveying the stone, and iron,
and marble, so great a height, must have been prodigious?
" Caw ! " says the raven, welcoming the peasants. How, being
despoiled by plunder, fire and earthquake, has it risen from
its ruins, and been again made what we now see it, with its
church so sumptuous and magnificent ? " Caw ! " says the
raven, welcoming the peasants. These people have a miser-
able appearance, and (as usual) are densely ignorant, and all
beg, while the monks are chaunting in the chapel. " Caw ! "
says the raven, " Cuckoo ! "

So we leave him, chuckling and rolling his eye at the
convent gate, and wind slowly down again through the cloud.
At last emerging from it, we come in sight of the village far
below, and the flat green country intersected by rivulets ;


which is pleasant and fresh to see after the obscurity and
haze of the convent no disrespect to the raven, or the holy

Away we go again, by muddy roads, and through the most
shattered and tattered of villages, where there is not a whole
window among all the houses, or a whole garment among all
the peasants, or the least appearance of anything to eat, in
any of the wretched hucksters' shops. The women wear a
bright red bodice laced before and behind, a white skirt, and
the Neapolitan head-dress of square folds of linen, primitively
meant to carry loads on. The men and children wear any-
thing they can get. The soldiers are as dirty and rapacious
as the dogs. The inns are such hobgoblin places, that they
are infinitely more attractive and amusing than the best
hotels in Paris. Here is one near Valmontone (that is Val-
montone, the round, walled town on the mount opposite),
which is approached by a quagmire almost knee-deep. There
is a wild colonnade below, and a dark yard full of empty
stables and lofts, and a great long kitchen with a great long
bench and a great long form, where a party of travellers,
.with two priests among them, are crowding round the fire
while their supper is cooking. Above stairs, is a rough brick
gallery to sit in, with very little windows with very small
patches of knotty glass in them, and all the doors that open
from it (a dozen or two) off their hinges, and a bare board
on tressels for a table, at which thirty people might dine
easily, and a fireplace large enough in itself for a breakfast-
parlour, where, as the faggots blaze and crackle, they illumi-
nate the ugliest and grimmest of faces, drawn in charcoal on
the whitewashed chimney-sides by previous travellers. There
is a flaring country lamp on the table ; and, hovering about
it, scratching her thick black hair continually, a yellow dwarf
of a woman, who stands on tiptoe to arrange the hatchet
knives, and takes. a flying leap to look into the water-jug.
The beds in the adjoining rooms are of the liveliest kind.
There is not a solitary scrap of looking-glass in the house,


and the washing apparatus is identical with the cooking
utensils. But the yellow dwarf sets on the table a good flask
of excellent wine, holding a quart at least ; and produces,
among half-a-dozen other dishes, two-thirds of a roasted kid,
smoking hot. She is as good-humoured, too, as dirty, which
is saying a great deal. So here^s long life to her, in the flask
of wine, and prosperity to the establishment.

Rome gained and left behind, and with it the Pilgrims
who are now repairing to their own homes again each with
his scallop shell and staff, and soliciting alms for the love
of God we come, by a fair country, to the Falls of Terni,
where the whole Velino river dashes, headlong, from a rocky
height, amidst shining spray and rainbows. Perugia, strongly
fortified by art and nature, on a lofty eminence, rising
abruptly from the plain where purple mountains mingle with
the distant sky, is glowing, on its market-day, with radiant
colours. They set off its sombre but rich Gothic buildings
admirably. The pavement of its market-place is strewn with
country goods. All along the steep hill leading from the
town, under the town wall, there is a noisy fair of calves,
lambs, pigs, horses, mules, and oxen. Fowls, geese, and
turkeys, flutter vigorously among their very hoofs ; and
buyers, sellers, and spectators, clustering everywhere, block
up the road as we come shouting down upon them.

Suddenly, there is a ringing sound among our horses. The
driver stops them. Sinking in his saddle, and casting up
his eyes to Heaven, he delivers this apostrophe, "Oh Jove
Omnipotent ! here is a horse has lost his shoe ! "

Notwithstanding the tremendous nature of this accident,
and the utterly forlorn look and gesture (impossible in any
one but an Italian Vetturino) with which it is announced, it
is not long in being repaired by a mortal Farrier, by whose
assistance we reach Castiglione the same night, and Arezzo
next day. Mass is, of course, performing in its fine cathedral,
where the sun shines in among the clustered pillars, through
rich stained-glass windows : half revealing, Jialf concealing


the kneeling figures on the pavement, and striking out paths
of spotted light in the long aisles.

But, how much beauty of another kind is here, when, on
a fair clear morning, we look, from the summit of a hill, on
Florence ! See where it lies before us in a sun-lighted valley,
bright with the winding Arno, and shut in by swelling hills;
its domes, and towel's, and palaces, rising from the rich
country in a glittering heap, and shining in the sun like

Magnificently stern and sombre are the streets of beautiful
Florence; and the strong old piles of building make such
heaps of shadow, on the ground and in the river, that there
is another and a different city of rich forms and fancies,
always lying at our feet. Prodigious palaces, constructed for
defence, with small distrustful windows heavily barred, and
walls of great thickness formed of huge masses of rough stone,
frown, in their old sulky state, on every street. In the midst
of the city in the Piazza of the Grand Duke, adorned with
beautiful statues and the Fountain of Neptune rises the
Palazzo Vecchio, with its enormous overhanging battlements,
and the Great Tower that watches over the whole town.
In its court-yard worthy of the Castle of Otranto in its
ponderous gloom is a massive staircase that the heaviest
waggon and the stoutest team of horses might be driven up.
Within it, is a Great Saloon, faded and tarnished in its
stately decorations, and mouldering by grains, but recording
yet, in pictures on its walls, the triumphs of the Medici and
the wars of the old Florentine people. The prison is hard
by, in an adjacent court-yard of the building a foul and
diMiial place, where some men are shut up close, in small cells
like ovens; and where others look through bars and beg;
where some are playing draughts, and some are talking to
their friends, who smoke, the while, to purify the air; and
some are buying wine and fruit of women-vendors ; and all
are squalid, dirty, and vile to look at. "They are merry
enough, Signoiv,'" says the Jailer. " They are all blood-stained



here," he adds, indicating, with his hand, three-fourths of the
whole building. Before the hour is out, an old man, eighty
years of age, quarrelling over a bargain with a young girl of
seventeen, stabs her dead, in the market-place full of bright
flowers; and is brought in prisoner, to swell the number.

Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte
Vecchio that bridge which is covered with the shops of
Jewellers and Goldsmiths is a most enchanting feature in
the scene. The space of one house, in the centre, being left
open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that
precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining
so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge,
is exquisite. Above it, the Gallery of the Grand Duke crosses
the river. It was built to connect the two Great Palaces by
a secret passage ; and it takes its jealous course among the
streets and houses, with true despotism : going where it lists,
and spurning every obstacle away, before it.

The Grand Duke has a worthier secret passage through
the streets, in his black robe and hood, as a member of the
Compagnia della Misericordia, which brotherhood includes
all ranks of men. If an accident take place, their office is,
to raise the sufferer, and bear him tenderly to the Hospital.
If a fire break out, it is one of their functions to repair to
the spot, and render their assistance and protection. It is,
also, among their commonest offices, to attend and console
the sick ; and they neither receive money, nor eat, nor drink,
in any house they visit for this purpose. Those who are on
duty for the time, are all called together, on a moment's
notice, by the tolling of the great bell of the Tower ; and it
is said that the Grand Duke has been seen, at this sound,
to rise from his seat at table, and quietly withdraw to attend
the summons.

In this other large Piazza, where an irregular kind of
market is held, and stores of old iron and other small
merchandise are set out on stalls, or scattered on the pave-
ment, are grouped together, the Cathedral with its great


Dome, the beautiful Italian Gothic Tower the Campanile,
and the Baptistery with its wrought bronze doors. And here,
a small untrodden square in the pavement, is " the Stone of
DANTE," where (so runs the story) he was used to bring his
stool, and sit in contemplation. I wonder was he ever, in
his bitter exile, withheld from cursing the very stones in the
streets of Florence the ungrateful, by any kind remembrance
of this old musing-place, and its association with gentle
thoughts of little Beatrice !

The chapel of the Medici, the Good and Bad Angels, of
Florence; the church of Santa Croce where Michael Angelo
lies buried, and where every stone in the cloisters is eloquent
on great men^s deaths ; innumerable churches, often masses
of unfinished heavy brickwork externally, but solemn and
serene within ; arrest our lingering steps, in strolling through
the city.

In keeping with the tombs among the cloisters, is the
Museum of Natural History, famous through the world for
its preparations in wax ; beginning with models of leaves,
seeds, plants, inferior animals ; and gradually ascending,
through separate organs of the human frame, up to the whole
structure of that wonderful creation, exquisitely presented, as
in recent death. Few admonitions of our frail mortality can
be more solemn and more sad, or strike so home upon the
heart, as the counterfeits of Youth and Beauty that are lying
there, upon their beds, in their last sleep.

Beyond the walls, the whole sweet Valley of the Arno, the
convent at Fiesole, the Tower of Galileo. BOCCACCIO'S house,
old villas and retreats; innumerable spots of interest, all
glowing in a landscape of surpassing beauty steeped in the
richest light ; are spread before us. Returning from so much
brightness, how solemn and how grand the streets again, with
their great, dark, mournful palaces, and many legends: not
of siege, and war, and might, and Iron Hand alone, but of
the triumphant growth of peaceful Arts and Sciences.

What light is shed upon the world, at this day, from


amidst these rugged Palaces of Florence ! Here, open to all
comers, in their beautiful and calm retreats, the ancient Sculp-
tors are immortal, side by side with Michael Angelo, Canova,
Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael, Poets, Historians, Philosophers
those illustrious men of history, beside whom its crowned
heads and harnessed warriors show so poor and small, and are
so soon forgotten. Here, the imperishable part of noble
minds survives, placid and equal, when strongholds of assault
and defence are overthrown ; when the tyranny of the many,
or the few, or both, is but a tale ; when Pride and Power
are so much cloistered dust. The fire within the stern streets,
and among the massive Palaces and Towers, kindled by rays
from Heaven, is still burning brightly, when the flickering of
war is extinguished and the household fires of generations
have decayed ; as thousands upon thousands of faces, rigid
with the strife and passion of the hour, have faded out of
the old Squares and public haunts, while the nameless Floren-
tine Lady, preserved from oblivion by a Painter's hand, yet
lives on, in enduring grace and youth.

Let us look back on Florence while we may, and when its
shining Dome is seen no more, go travelling through cheerful
Tuscany, with a bright remembrance of it ; for Italy will be
the fairer for the recollection. The summer-time being come :
and Genoa, and Milan, and the Lake of Como lying far
behind us : and we resting at Faido, a Swiss village, near the
awful rocks and mountains, the everlasting snows and roaring
cataracts, of the Great Saint Gothard : hearing the Italian
tongue for the last time on this journey : let us part from
Italy, with all its miseries and wrongs, affectionately, in our
admiration of the beauties, natural and artificial, of which it
is full to overflowing, and in our tenderness towards a people,
naturally well-disposed, and patient, and sweet-tempered.
Years of neglect, oppression, and misrule, have been at work,
to change their nature and reduce their spirit; miserable
jealousies, fomented by petty Princes to whom union was
destruction, and division strength, have been a canker at


their root of nationality, and have barbarized their language ;
but the good that was in them ever, is in them yet, and a
noble people may be, one day, raised up from these ashes.
Let us entertain that hope ! And let us not remember Italy
the less regardfully, because, in every fragment of her fallen
Temples, and every stone of her deserted palaces and prisons,
she helps to inculcate the lesson that the wheel of Time is
rolling for an end, and that the world is, in all great essen-
tials, better, gentler, more forbearing, and more hopeful, as
it rolls !


"Mr. Robins."

Before our modern stylists were born, Mr. Robins, the eminent
auctioneer, was reckoned the chief master of English prose in the
Corinthian manner.

"Sounds of old Home."

Mrs. Dickens (nee Hogarth) was of Scottish extraction.


"Figures so like their usual occupants."

Dickens later mentions the vividness of similar illusions of " Tom
Fool's light " produced on his active fancy by the shapes of trees beside
.1 dusky road in America. To students of his peculiar psychology these
touches are of interest. On some constitutions incipient sea-sickness
produces an effect like the visions of delirium tremens ; but this, of
course, would only account for Dickens's experiences on shipboard.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 42 of 43)