Edward Lear.

Journals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c online

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traveller rode, " no one else can ever ride on
this donkey : it shall have a bit of ground and
a stable to itself for the rest of its honourable
life. I wish, nevertheless, Maesta, that I had
another; for though the honour is great, yet
I have no other mode of getting my liveli-
hood." The King, say the villagers hereabouts,
gave the acute countryman all the dollars he
had about him, and settled a small pension on
him besides for life.

The view of C&nalo from the ravine of the
Novito is extremely grand, and increased in
majestic wonder as we descended to the stream
through fine hanging woods. Having crossed
the wide torrent-bed an impracticable feat in
winter we gradually rose into a world of stern
rocks a wilderness of terror, such as it is not
easy to describe or imagine. The village itself
is crushed and squeezed into a nest of crags
immediately below the vast precipices which
close round the Passo del Mercante, and when


on one side you gaze at this barrier of stone,
and then, turning round, perceive the distant
sea and undulating lines of hill, no contrast can
be more striking. At the summit of Canalo
stands a large building, the Palazzo of Don
Giovanni Kosa, the chief proprietor of the
place, an extremely old man, whose manners
were most simple and kind. " My grand-
children," said he, " you are welcome to Canalo,
and all I can do for you will be too little to
show you my goodwill ; " and herewith he led
us to the cleanest of rooms, which were to be
ours during our stay, and apologised for any
" mancanza "* we might find. " You must
excuse bad fare to-day, but I will get you better
to-morrow," quoth Don Giovanni Kosa. The
remainder of the afternoon we employed in
wandering about the town and its most extraor-
dinary environs, where masses of Titan rock
threaten to crush the atoms of life that nestle
beneath them. I have never seen such
wondrous bits of rock scenery. Meanwhile,

* Deficiency.


old careful Ciccio never lost sight of us; he
was always silent, contenting himself by follow-
ing our footsteps as attendant and guard, lest
excess of enthusiasm might hurry us over one
of the fearful precipices of Canalo.

August 20. Every spot around this place
possesses the very greatest interest, and is full
of the most magnificent foreground studies.
All the morning we drew on the hill-sides,
between the town and Agnano ; and very
delightful were those morning hours, passed
among the ever-changing incidents of moun-
tain scenery the goats and cattle among the
tall oaks, the blue woody hills beyond. At
dinner-time, good old Don Giovanni Rosa
amused and delighted us by his lively sim-
plicity and good breeding. He had only once
in his long life (he was eighty-two) been as far
as Gerace, but never beyond. " Why should I
go ? " said he ; " if, when I die, as I shall ere
long, I find Paradise like Canalo, I shall be well
pleased. To me * Canalo mio' has always seemed
like Paradise sempre mi sembra Paradiso,


niente mi manca." * Considering that the good
old man's Paradise is cut off by heavy snow
four months in the year from any external
communication with the country round, and
that it is altogether (however attractive to
artists) about as little a convenient place as
may well be imagined the contented mind of
Don Giovanni was equally novel and estimable.
The only member of our host's family now
living is a grandson, who was one of our party,
a silent youth, who seemed never to do or say
anything at any time. Our meals were re-
markable, inasmuch as Paradiso cookery
appeared to delight in singular experiments
and materials. At one time a dish was ex-
hibited full of roasted squirrels, adorned by
funghi of wonderful shapes and colours ; at
another, there were relays of most surprising
birds : among which my former ornithological
studies caused me to recognise a few corvine
mandibles, whose appearance was not alto-

* My Canalo always seems Paradise to me, I am in waut
of nothing.


gether in strict accordance with the culinary
arrangements of polite society.

Over all the doors which connected the suite
of apartments we lived in, were rude paintings
of various places, by a native artist, with their
names placed below each. There were Naples
and Rome, Vesuvius and Etna, London, Paris,
Constantinople, and Saint Helena ; but as most
of these views contained three similar fuzzy
trees, a lighthouse, and a sheet of water, or
some such equally generic form of landscape,
we were constrained to look on names below as
more a matter of form than use.

The peasantry of C4nalo were perfectly quiet
and well-behaved, and in nowise persecuted us
in our drawing excursions. Only a poor harm-
less idiot followed us wherever we went, sitting
below the rock or path we took for our station,
and saying, without intermission, "O Inglesini!

dateci un granicello wh ew ! " * the

which sentence and whistle accompaniment he
repeated all day long. Stern, awful scenes of

0, little Englishmen, give me a farthing !


C&nalo ! Far, far above, along the pass to the
western coast, you could discover diminutive
figures threading the winding line among those
fearful crags and fragments ! or deep in the
ravine, where torrents falling over perpen-
dicular rocks echoed and foamed around, might
be perceived parties of the women of Canalo
spreading out linen to dry, themselves like
specks on the face of some enormous mass of
stone ; or groups of goats, clustered on some
bright pinnacle, and sparkling in the yellow
sunlight. Canalo and its rocks are worth a
long journey to behold.

August 21. After dinner at noon, we made
our last drawings in this singular place, and
bade adieu to the Casa Kosa, with its clean,
airy, neat rooms, its painted doors, its gardens,
vines, and bee-hives, and its agreeable, kind,
and untiringly merry master, old Don Giovanni
Rosa. The pleasant and simple hospitality of
Canalo had once more restored us to our
former admiration of Calabrian life and its
accompaniments, which the little casualties

Plate 10.



of Gioiosa and Castel Vetere had begun to

Instead of returning to Agnano, we kept a
downward route in the channel of the Novito.
Throughout this valley there are interesting
scenes of cultivation ; the patch of gran turco
or Indian corn, the shelving terraces of olives,
and the cottages here and there, covered with
luxuriant vine. Once opposite Gerace, we
crossed the river, and gradually ascended to
the town, which, with its crumbling white rock,
*is very grand and simple in form from the
northward approach.

On arriving at the Palazzo Scaglione all the
family were delighted to welcome us back,
including little Cicillo and his sister, to whom
the sugarplums were a source of high edifica-
tion ; and it was great sport for us to tell them
of all our adventures since we had left them,
save that we did not dilate on the facetia?
of the Baron Eivettini. All Gerace was in
a fever of preparation for a great Festa, to
take place on the following day ; and in the
evening P and I, with Padre Abbenate and


Don Gaetano Scaglione, inspected the site of
the entertainment, which was arranged at the
west end of the rock, on the platform by the
ruined castle. Here were Zampognari and
booths, and dancing and illuminations, all like
the days and doings of Tagliacozzo in the fete
of 1843,* but on a smaller and more rustic
scale. The Sottintendente, Don Antonio
Buonafede, was presiding at the preliminary
festivities. There was also, as in the Abruzzo,
a temporary chapel erected in the open air,
highly ornamented, and decked with figures
of saints, &c. ; but the usual accompaniments
of dancing were expected to be rather a failure,
as the Bishop of Gerace had published an edict
prohibiting the practice of that festive amuse-
ment by any of the fairer sex whatever, so that
poor Terpsichore was to be represented only
by the male gender.

August %%. We passed all the morning,
being left to our own devices by the good

See " Illustrated Excursion in Italy," Me Lean.


people of our host's family, in a quiet shade on
the great rocks east of Gerace.

Parties from all sides of the country were
winding up the sides of the ravine to the festa ;
but there was little or no costume, the black
skirt, worn mantilla- wise after the fashion of
the Civita-Castellanese, being the only pecu-
liarity of dress in Gerace.

In the late afternoon we all repaired to the
walls of the town to gaze at the procession of
the saint's image, followed by the inmates of
every one of the monasteries, and by all the
ecclesiastics of the place. On the rocky plat-
form, far below Gerace, yet elevated high above
the maritime plain, are several convents, and
far, far over the terraces of crags, among which
they are built, the long line of the procession
crept slowly, with attendant bands of music
and firing of cannon a curious scene, and not
easy to pourtray. Hence, as evening was
closing and the last golden streams of sunset
had ceased to gild the merry scene, we came to
the castle, where hundreds of peasants were
dancing to the music of the Zampognari ;


black-hooded women ranged in tiers on the
rock- terraces, sate like dark statues against the
amber western sky ; the gloomy and massive
Norman ruins frowned over the misty gulf
beneath with gloomier grandeur ; the full moon
rose high and formed a picturesque contrast
with the festa lights, which sparkled on the
dark background of the pure heaven ; and all
combined to create one of those scenes which
must ever live in the memory, and can only be
formed in imagination, because neither painting
nor description can do them justice.

After supper all the Scaglione family wished
us a hearty farewell and may all good betide
them ! as kind a set of folk as stranger or way-
farer has met anywhere at any time. The days
we passed with them will always be recollected
with feelings of kindliness for their hearty
welcome and friendly hospitality. Separated
as Gerace is, though the chief town of a district,
from the more civilised parts of Italy, its
inhabitants marry chiefly among families in the
immediate neighbourhood, and very rarely out
of the province. Among the richer classes a


few years of youth are passed away at Naples,
where the sons attend schools and colleges, and
the daughters are educated in nunneries ; but
after their return to their rocky fortress city,
they seldom quit its precincts ; and the changes
of seasons, as they busy themselves with the
agricultural produce of their sea-shore plains,
and inland river vales, or the little politics of so
narrow a space, alone vary the monotony or
calm of Calabrian existence in these days, when
mediaeval party wars and the romance of
brigandage are alike extinct.



We leave the Casa Scaglione, and the east side of Calabria Ulteriore Prima.
Ascend the central ridge of mountains. Come in sight of the Western
sea. Descent to the immense plains of Gioia, Terranova, &c. Complete
change in the character of the scenery. Dreadful earthquake of 1783.
Descent to Castelnuovo. Reception of Don Vincenzo Tito. Character of
the environs of Castelnuovo. Olive-woods. Plans for to-morrow. Vast
olive-grounds. Town of San Giorgio. Costume of its female inha-
bitants. Polistena. Visit to the house of Morani the painter. Portraits
of Sir Walter Scott and of Pio Nono. Hospitality of Don Vincenzo
Tito. Departure from Castelnuovo. Road through the olive-woods.
Radicena. The destroyed town of Terranova. Immense olive-plains from
the mountains to the sea-shore. We reach Oppido late, and find no
Mends there. A disagreeable night's shelter.

August 23. The domestics, as usual, could
not be persuaded to accept anything on our
leaving the Casa Scaglione, which we quitted
an hour before sunrise. At the early period of
our departure, Gerace was as yet undisturbed
and still, and our regrets at leaving it were only
broken by an unwonted torrent of loquacity on
the part of Ciccio, and the burthen of which
seemed a song of praise in honour of the


hospitalities and of the festa of the city, and
some strong comparisons in disfavour of Gioiosa
Dighi, doghi, da. We were soon ascending
the central ridge of the mountains towards
the western districts of Southern Calabria.
The two coasts are here united by the " Passo
del Mercante," and by the tremendous pass
above Canalo. Addio Gerace ! with Kocella
and Siderno, Ardore, Bovalino, and all our old
friends. The rock and Norman castle were
long in sight ere woody hills and chestnut-
clothed dells surrounded us on all sides, and
shut out the eastern sea.

Our route to the west side of Italy was for
a long while by a steep ascent : at its summit
there is a broad green plain in the midst of
beech-woods, a calm inner hill-scene, where
were cattle and shepherds; as on the higher
parts of Monte Gennaro, near Rome, or many
an Abruzzo altitude, we had hoped to have
reached a spot whence both seas might be
visible, but the east side was soon hidden by
the highest peaks of Montalto, the loftiest
point of the Aspromonte range, below whose

L 2


woody crown lay the dark vale of Polsi, and the
Hermit home, so cut off from all sympathies
with the outer world. At length, the morning
breeze and the fresh fern beneath our feet
having made our walk truly pleasant, we came
in sight of the Gulf of Gioia, and the scene
changed to one of beautiful forest-groups of
foliage, through which sparkled the soft western
sea; descending through which we soon came
to the wide tract of cultivated ground stretching
from Nicotera to the hill country around Palmi
and Bagnara. The heat became oppressive
from the sultry scirocco, as we wound down-
ward towards a most extensive and wondrous
plain of olive-grounds a filmy blue foliage
occupying the whole wide level. We had
come into a new world ; no more gray and
white rocks, but strange cones and points, and
Vesuvian furrows, and volcanic smoothnesses ;
green tumuli and slopes covered with short
brushwood, and everything from hill to sea
suggesting something subterranean, not quite
as it should be.

The mind instantly reverted to the fatal days


of February, 1783, when one of the most
terrible earthquakes on record utterly over-
whelmed this beautiful tract of country, and
when all this fair western coast of Calabria
became one great sepulchre. The following
graphic account of that event is extracted from
the Hon. Keppel Craven's "Tour through
Naples/' pp. 274278 :

"On the 5th of February, 1783, a day
indelibly stamped upon the recollection of
every older native of this plain, all the towns
and villages situated within its circuit were
overthrown by the terrific shock, which extended
far into Upper Calabria on one side, and
reached to Sicily on the other. * * * * At
Castelnuovo every edifice was cast to the earth.
* * * * At Terranova one straight street,
containing 700 inhabitants, remains in the
midst of ruins, which are those of a town of
13,000 souls. * * * * Three particular days,
the 5th and 7th of February, and the 28th of
March, of the year 1783, are recorded as the
periods of the most severe efforts of the con-
vulsion : but six successive weeks from the first


of these dates would perhaps be more correctly
assigned to the continued internal fever, marked
during that period by not less than a thousand
distinct shocks: these were neither periodical,
nor attended by any particular symptoms in
the state of the temperature. The summer of
the preceding year had been remarkably hot,
and followed by violent and continued rains
till the month of January. The winter was
rather more severe than usual, as may be
inferred by the frost on the night of the 5th
and 6th of February. It has been observed,
that this month and the following have in
these regions been marked by the recurrence of
four several earthquakes of more than ordinary

"A thick fog succeeded the spring, and
seemed suspended over all Calabria for some
months, obscuring its shores from navigators,
and only indicating their proximity by its
existence, so unusual in these latitudes. It is
difficult to imagine a more extraordinary
picture than the appearance of this portion of
Italy, during the first few months which


followed this awful visitation, by which an
extent of territory exceeding 140 miles was
more or less laid waste, and which can only be
assimilated to the dissolution of the human
energies and frame, under the activity of the
operation of a violent poison. Here the finest
works of nature, and the improvement they
had received from the industry of man, were
swept away by the same terrible agency which
hurled mountains from their bases, and checked
rivers in their speed. The convulsion extended
from sea to sea, and the wreck throughout was
universal. The wretched survivors fled from
the few buildings which might have afforded
shelter, while they only threatened destruction ;
and either wandered round the ruins which
had overwhelmed the bodies of their friends
and relations, or, mutilated and disabled, lay in
hopeless apathy among their vineyards and
fields, now affording neither fruit nor vegeta-
tion. These, as well as the necessaries of life,
which the fertility of soil and benignity of
climate render so abundant in these provinces,
were involved in the general destruction ; mills


and magazines were annihilated : the wine and
oil which could be saved had suffered such
singular and offensive alterations as to render
them useless ; and even the water was not
drinkable. All domestic animals seemed struck
with an instinct ,of terror, which suspended
their faculties ; while even the wilder species
were deprived of their native shyness and
ferocity. The stillness of the air was remark-
able, and contributed to render more appalling
the deep-seated thunder which rumbled in the
recesses of the earth, and every fresh throe was
responded to by the apprehensive lamentations
of the human, or the howls and screams of the
brute creation.

"An epidemical disorder, produced by the
stagnation of the water, the want or bad quality
of food, and the exposure to night air, filled the
measure of misery up to the very brim, and left
the unfortunate victims of such accumulated
calamities, no hope but that of a speedy
termination of their woes in the apprehended
dissolution of the world itself, which they
looked upon as awfully impending/'


Far below us was Castelnuovo, one of the
towns which have arisen from the scattered rem-
nant of those ruined by that fatal period of
devastation and depopulation so well described
above, when the whole of the western side of
Calabria was so fearfully afflicted. Standing on
an elevated site above the plain, this modern
and unpicturesque successor to the former
city exhibits long streets flanked by low one-
storied houses, with bright red-tiled roofs, and
in no part of its composition does it offer any
loophole for admiration, or capability of artistic
picturesqueness. We at length arrived at it
after a long descent from the hills, and soon
found the house of Don Vincenzo Tito, to
whom our letter was addressed. Don Vin-
cenzo, who seemed a wealthy proprietor, with
a dwelling full of conveniences, seemed to
hesitate as to his reception of us ; but after a
long scrutiny, and many interrogations, he
apparently decided in our favour, and, showing
us some good rooms, ordered a dinner for us
anew, his own being finished. But the manner
of our host was abrupt, restless, and uneasy ;


and his frequent questions, as to whether we
had heard anything from Keggio, &c. &c., gave
me a stronger suspicion than ever that some
political movement was about to take place.
Although long accustomed to hear that some
change of affairs was anticipated in the kingdom
of Naples, and equally in the habit of studiously
remaining as far as I could in ignorance of all
political acts or expressions, I half concluded
that now, as often before, the suspicious reserve
of Don Vincenzo, and possibly that of Baron
Rivettini also, proceeded from some false
rumour afloat. Nevertheless, I confess that
more than one trifling occurrence in the last
two days had increased my feeling that
"something is about to happen."

Be this as it might or not, the afternoon
passed in wandering around Castelnuovo to
obtain some characteristic views of its position,
and of the great plain it stands on. This is not
easy ; studies of tall graceful olives, and Claude-
like richness of distance, are innumerable, but
the choice among such scenes is difficult. I
sate me down by the side of a broad torrent-


bed, and drew one of many landscapes ; all
perfectly pastoral, calm, and elegant, and
essentially different in their outline and
expression to the scenes of Eastern Calabria.

Before supper we were penning out our
drawings in Don Vincenzo's room, and we
seemed to puzzle him much by our professional
labours, and obstinate ignorance, real or
assumed, of political events. We have adopted
this quiet mode of passing the evening hours of
late, as a passive refuge from the persecution of
continual interrogations ; for the interest our
sketches awaken in the families where we may
chance to be, fully occupies their attention.

We shall devote to-morrow morning to a visit
to San Giorgio, which, by a description of its
castle, seems worthy of a walk ; and we think
of making a chance dash at Polistena, one of
the numerous villages dotted over the great
plain of cultivation, and to me interesting, as
being the native place of one of the best
Neapolitan painters Morani whom, years
ago, I had been acquainted with in Kome.


August 24 By long lanes, through the im-
mensely extensive olive-grounds, and by descents
into earthquake-marked ravines, by crossing
torrent-beds, and walking in irrigated gardens,
we came in three hours to the foot of the
hill of San Giorgio, which is an isolated ridge,
running out from the central range of hills, and
crowned most magnificently with a town and
castle. Among the numerous grand positions
of towns in this varied land, San Giorgio may
bear an eminent place. Thick foliage clothes
the steep sides of its pyramidal hill, and its
houses are crowded together on plateaux of rock,
or are piled up into spires with a beauty and
abundant variety striking even in Calabria. As
you rise up to its many entrance-paths, the
broad blue plains of Gioia and the glittering sea
are peculiarly lovely. The costume of the
women is here perhaps the best we have yet
seen in Calabria, and the wearers certainly the
handsomest ; but, excepting the interesting
groups of figures, the interior of the town of San
Giorgio had but little to repay a visit. We
lingered awhile in the Piazza, wandered through


two or three of its streets, and soon decided
on bending our steps to an onward route.
Descending once more by olive and chestnut
shades to the plain, we arrived, by ten, at
Polistena, a large town, where riven rocks, a
broken bridge, shattered walls, and desolate
streets, bore witness to the fatal catastrophe of

We easily found the house of Morani's
family " Quel pittore famoso," f as the town's-
people called him, and entering it, were
welcomed by his mother and sisters, who
seemed pleased that any stranger should
inquire after his dwelling. " These," said two
very nice girls, throwing open the door of a
small room, " are all the works we possess done
by our brother;" little supposing that to an
Englishman one of the portraits possessed the
highest possible interest. It was a small
drawing made from Sir Walter Scott during
his visit to Naples ; and though neither

Polistena is represented in Pacichelli's work as a fine city,
t That famous painter.



remarkable for beauty of execution, nor
pleasing as a likeness, it was highly interesting
as the last record of that great man taken
from life. " Si dice questo qui essere uno
scrittore famoso," * said our two hostesses.
There, too, was Pio Nono, a sketch just made

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 8 of 14)