Elihu Vedder.

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contadini's little girls. This became a real thing to me. These
Knights of Malta were the Count's ancestors, and not only did
they wear their crosses on their breasts, but the wind, always fill-
ing out and flapping back the loose canvas against the stretchers,
had worn a great cross on each picture. Had they been my an-
cestors, how I should have cared for them ! They have probably
flapped away into nothing by this time.

In one of my pictures (they were all sold afterwards in Boston)


there is a man washing out an old hogshead ; he was preparing
for the vendemmia the vintage. "Why," I said, "have you
a vineyard ? " " Lord, no ; but we all go picking grapes, and
they give us some, and some we steal, and so get enough to make
this barrel of wine." "Well," I said, "that'sgood; you at least
have your wine." "Not a bit of it," he answered ; "I have to
sell that, for we are only too glad to get bread enough. Why,"
said he, " look at that house how can a man and his family live,
with such a rent ? I pay fifteen lire [three dollars] a year for that
house." Of course that was too much, but the priest's house
cost more. It has a balcony overlooking the lake, a little garden
attached, good cellars a beautiful old place ; but the rent
seventy-five francs a year! Now, my friend, don't think of trying
it. I know it would cost next to nothing, but that old couple
Trouble and Care would take up their abode with you from
the first day.

p-N J

My friend and I went down to the lake to paint the twilight,
when the colour becomes so marvellous. I took with me a light
coat to throw over my shoulders when the chill set in, and a flask
of whiskey to throw over the inside. When coming back, mount-
ing the steep hill, we tried this experiment: I was the tallest, then
came my friend, and then the boy carrying our traps. W 7 e agreed
to cry out on emerging from the cold stratum of air into the
warmer one above. I emerged first, then my friend, and finally
the little boy, at intervals of only a few seconds apart : the differ-
ence between the cool air and the warm is as marked as that.

To show how good the poor are : that man of the tub and the
exorbitant rent had taken in a poor little waif and he shared the
family crust with the other children. The usual story ; the father
goes to America and is heard of no more, the poor girl dies, and


the child is left to die or live as fate wills it. He used to lie in the
sun like a thin little dog at my front door, and I fed him from my
table and saw him in that month grow smooth and shiny. The
great well was like a huge amphora sunk deep in the ground near
the old palazzo of the one great room. It was intended to hold
enough water to last a long siege, but was dry, as the Count could
not afford to have a rain-pipe made from the old town hall, to fill
it. It was the great amusement of the children to drop stones into
it, and to hear the booming sound they made on reaching the
bottom. I got the Count to put in this pipe, but the poor man
could not do much with the twenty or thirty people feeding each
day at his table in Perugia another old Italian story, to go with
that of the deserted child. Anyway I did some good, and depart-
ing had a regular demonstration a procession, with flags,
borne by the younger boys, let us say at half-mast, fluttering
from their torn garments.

The usual artist, swearing at the children, would have
been stoned out of the place ; while I secured peace and a certain
amount of affection for about twenty-five lire. I could tell much
more, but the fear of becoming tiresome, like Lady Toploftus's
carriage, "stops the way."

During my two stays at Monte Cologniola, I did not wander
far from the town, for although fond of walking, I so dread the
walk that I do little wandering as a rule ; but I did go down to a
little hamlet on the borders of the lake, which seemed the abode
of ancient peace. Of course it had its walls, its gateway, and its
piazza. My friend Davies used to tell of a man's answer to his
question, "What kind of a place is it?" "Oh, c'e piazza, c'e
caffe, c'e tutto." Here the caffe and the tutto were lacking, the
piazza only remained. But such as it was, I had barely wandered


forth into that empty space when an old woman passed me fol-
lowed by a lean little chicken ; she gave me a pleasant, " Buon
giorno, signore." The only other sign of life was a guardia of the
dazio smoking his after-dinner cigar as he leaned on his elbows
and gazed dreamily down on me. Suddenly the old woman's
smile of salutation changed to a look of rage, as she caught sight
of a young woman coming out of a door opposite. Turning to me
and pointing her lean finger at the girl, she broke forth, " Behold
her, signore - - 't is she that ugly vassal ! - - 't is she who has
reduced all my beautiful chickens to this one alone!"

To which the girl: "How! wouldst have with me? Thou
usurer! thou viper! thou witch! wouldst thou tell all thy lies
about me to the forestiere ? There ! make fewer asseverations
and go to thy house and there make thy poisons ! "

"I call God to witness," cried the old woman, falling on her
knees before me, with uplifted hands and streaming eyes, "all
my beautiful chickens twelve they were ! They appeared a
company of lambs when they went forth of a morning and one
by one they were stolen ; and now there is not but this one poor
beast left! It is she who has robbed me of them all. Ask her if
she can tell who is the father of that child ! "

Then the girl : "Thou art the thief old maledicted apoplexy !
with the evil eye ! Why all this to me alone ? " -Then to
me: "She sells them and says we steal them that liar in her

And the old woman: "'Tis she! 'tis she! I smelt the odour
while they were cooking, and it came from her door, the ugly

By this time all the inhabitants were on the spot ; to them it
seemed a mere entertainment. The guard looked over his



shoulder and, smiling blandly at me, uttered the single word,
" Femmine ! " females.

"Orte, the ancient Horta, presents no object of interest beyond
its situation." (Baedeker.)

And now let us take a look at Orte. My friend Davies had told
me about it. He also describes it in his " Book of the Tiber, " and


I wishing to see it, he revisited it with me. I went there alone
afterwards. The station of Orte is where you branch off to go to
Siena on the one hand or to Perugia on the other. Going the Siena
way you pass close by, but you no sooner begin to marvel than
you pop into a tunnel and lose sight of it, only to see it in the dis-
tance on emerging. On the Perugian route you at once cross the
Tiber, get a good view of it, and if you are the right sort -
wish you could stop over and see more of it. But was it not worth


seeing more of in Italy ? Often by particular request I have com-
menced to show the numerous drawings I made while at Orte,
but have found that most persons were so taken up by telling me
of the places the drawings reminded them of that I fear they did
not get a very good idea of Orte. And yet drawings are the only
things which can give an idea of that wonderful place not of
the interior but of the exterior of the town ; for although it cannot
be compared to a whitened sepulchre, yet in some respects it re-
sembles one. Therefore its outside is better than its true inward-

If the drawing I show does not arrest the attention, I will try
another tack and tell of happenings. Orte was where we saw an
Italian eat macaroni. Nothing strange in that, you say ; yes, but
you did n't see this Italian eat macaroni. I have told, I fear, once
before, and hope to live to tell it o 'er and o'er, how I explained
the hole found in macaroni. I said, "You have seen them lower
it into themselves at Naples, by the yard. Well : the hole is to
breathe through during the operation." To this man was brought
a plate which would have been ample for four of "us 'uns" ! This
mass he at once proceeded to stow, aided by the fork used as a
rammer not stopping to take breath until it had all disappeared ;
he then took a long breath and a glass of water, and wiping his
mouth, exclaimed, "And now bring me something to eat!"

To tell the truth, not much happened at Orte, except hard
climbing and work, although had we stopped at an inn called
" Delle Tre Belle," from its being kept by three handsome sisters,
incidents might have been developed. No ; nothing very startling
happened, and yet one scene made a deep impression on us. Late
one evening as we were washing our brushes, we heard a soft
murmur in the street below our windows, and on looking out

ORTE 437

saw, as well as the darkness permitted, that the narrow street
was full of little children. It was very dark, a lamp was burn-
ing before a Madonna, making it seem darker ; a splendid star
hung in the sky the evening star. They seemed going through
a kind of service. An old woman led off in Latin, but a Latin
so glib that it would have shamed most of our professors. To
this the childish voices made due response, and then a hymn
arose from those little ones to the Madonna, something about
a Stella Matutina, so beautiful that it brought the tears to our
eyes. It was so different from my Sunday-School at home.
Had this been my school, what different memories I should
have now ! Ah, well ; had I lived at home I doubtless should
have lived more strenuously, but I know that my dreams
would always have been of Italy.

Another evening we made a call on an Italian family who had
been kind to Davies during his first visit to Orte. Really delight-
ful people, with of course the usual touching spectacle of the good
handsome portionless girls slowly fading, and yet making a happy
home. We had good wine and fruit and nuts, and a guitar and
music and recitations, for a nice fellow came in of course too
poor to marry one of these nice girls who turned out the life
and soul of the party. Then the old father gave us branches of
cherries, as fresh as when the branch had been freshly cut from the
tree, although it was now long past the season ; and he also took
us downstairs to see how he managed to keep them. They were
suspended from sticks and covered with large glass jars, mouth
down, the air carefully excluded by a packing of clay. As a good
American I thought of what a profitable thing this would turn out
at home ; but I dare say these good people are just as happy in
their ignorance, and also the old man in surprising his friends


with his "trovata" or invention, as if he was nourishing the
trade-microbe in America.

While at Orte we varied our work by a trip to a little town not
very far away Bassanello. We had been told to look out for
the "white-eyed" people who were sure to be there, as we went
on a great festa. By "white eyes" they simply meant blue eyes.
It seems that the Romans after a victory over some Northern bar-
barians had allowed their prisoners to settle somewhere in the
neighbourhood, and their descendants could still be distinguished
by their blue eyes. So much was this the case that I noticed out
of five people three at least had blue eyes. I had only time to make
a note of the outline of the town with its old church and old castle,
and see a beautiful fresco of a youthful Saint George receiving a
banner from the Madonna, patting gently the neck of his horse
the while, when we had to leave, but that note made me return to
this little-known town long afterwards, and my struggles there
shall be duly told. So I return from my trip.

In Orte I made the acquaintance of an intelligent pig. At one
time I thought to put all the pigs I have known into one chapter,
even an old Florentine one, but have concluded, as in the case of
fools, to " let them come along naturally as they are sure to do, "
although I warn the reader that I have a Perugian one in store
for him which he will find under the heading of "The Anxious
Pig and Weeping-Willow." I had found a very beautiful old cam-
panile curiously lost among the closely-packed houses which
I had seen by chance through the hall of what had once been
a fine palazzo. I commenced operations by opening a large door
leading into the yard, and putting a heavy stone against it, settled
to my work. The yard contained some pieces of carving in stone,
an old stone hand-mill, a pig and chickens and brushwood, and



_~ ,

an ivy-covered wall behind which rose this beautifully propor-
tioned tower. Now, woman is said to lighten the labour of man,
but I have my doubts about girls, for back of me, up a noble stair-
case, rising rank above rank, soon established itself an array of
girls of all ages, and there they sat making their comments on me
and my work. And now saunters up the pig ; he was a fat and
saucy one ; he eyed me over suspiciously, taking his time about it ;
and having formed a decidedly unfavourable opinion, simply with
his long snout, thrust aside the heavy stone and let the door
swing back on me and my work as he very well knew it would.


I gathered that the girls were highly amused. Three times did
that intelligent beast send that stone flying; three times did I
drag it back amidst the derisive shouts of those rude girls. I am
no bad hand at repartee in Italian, but the pig had the best of me
in the estimation of those girls ; but finally I sharpened the end of
my rest-stick, and when that fatuous beast came for the fourth
time, I gave him a vicious jab. He left with a loud squeal and also
left me in peace, and I concluded that cruelty to animals was,
when judiciously administered, not always misplaced.

A glimpse of Bayard Taylor. How it happened or when it hap-
pened I can't remember, but where it happened I remember
perfectly. 'T was at the close of a long, sunny day, riding in a train
going towards Orte. Of course with such a companion it was
delightful. I remember telling him how amused I had been by
a wonderful parody on an Arab song of his something about
the light streaming down his "jasper arm and o'er his opal fist,"
and saying it was one of the best things I had ever seen, when he
exclaimed "Of course it is ; I wrote it myself."

This bit of road is a favourite of mine ; it is like Kate Field's
lemonade at sea good both ways ; it leads to Rome and away
from Rome, for after a long residence both ways seem equally
pleasant. Just before coming to Orte, you pass a miniature Orte,
a little town on a plateau near the Tiber. Opposite this, rising
from the road, are green fields closed in by a low range of abrupt
rocks filled with caves, a most ancient and Etruscan-looking spot.
It was evening and from the caves, with their doors of wattle-
work, ascended thin threads of smoke ; the caves were inhabited
and their inmates were preparing their evening meal. I cried,
" Behold the dwellings of the Troglodytes ! " This seemed to


tickle my friend immensely ; he repeated the word troglodyte over
and over. I thought then that it was to him one of those belated
words like " Pinguid," but have since thought that Taylor was
wondering why in the name of goodness he had never used it in
a poem or a parody.

How I do love these poor little forgotten towns, off the track of
travel. It will be noticed that I have little to tell of the great I
have unwillingly brushed up against in the course of my life, but
much of some poor old forlorn Rauch. And it is the same with these
towns with their past grandeur and present decay: some Rauch
of a town,quite out at the elbows, has all my love and sympathy.
At the same time they have their defects, as you shall see. The
first thing I saw on my second visit to Bassanello was that the sin-
daco had thrown down the town wall between a little old church
and the castello, thus destroying the old gate of the town, in order
that from the Piazza one might see a bare, straight road and an
ugly house he had built for himself. The next was that just on the
spot from where the old church, the castello, a pine and some
other trees made a most beautiful composition, they had built
some ugly tenement-houses Progress. I felt like saying some-
thing about green monkeys and the graves of their ancestors.
That is the danger of delay, and -reminds me often of the advice
I always give my friends about bric-a-brac; when you see just
what you want, buy it and take it away with you, and your after
life will not be spent in unavailing regret. I never could quite
make out about the sindaco; on my first visit, on telling him that
I would like to return and do some sketching there but doubted
finding accommodations, he said, "Just come to me and I will ar-
range all that for you " ; so, full of confidence, I went. He had


a good house in town, but somehow I could not find out from the
family where he was, and in addition they seemed to regard me
with distrust and made me feel as if I were an imposter. Finally,
one of those inevitable bystanders so well known to the traveller,
told of a woman from whom he thought I might get lodging ; this
was essential, as the night was coming on, and the trap that brought
me had gone away.

The first thing I saw in going down the principal street, which
had been newly whitewashed from end to end, was a black ob-
ject which came whirling out of a window. It looked like a black
pin-wheel fringed with claws ; it turned out to be a cat, which at
once slunk back into the house, but not before a woman, leaning
out of the same window, yelled " Eccola ! Brutta ladra tu
ritorni?" ("Behold her! Ugly thief dost thou return?")
This person was my future landlady, a mild good creature who
was like those poor little idiot children of long ago the Aztec
Twins who were described in the handbills as " harmless
unless aroused." She also at first regarded me with suspicion,
and asked me what I did. I said I was a painter. To this she
replied, "You have come too late. Look at the street; that was
done last week." I then had to get down to real Italian and say
that I was not that kind of a painter; I had come to "portrait"
the town. She then admitted that she had a room, and I was
taken to see it. I do not know if you can form an idea of its size,
unless you know the size of that pride of an Italian woman's
heart "un letto matrimoniale." This bed filled it so completely
that it must have been built in the room itself. This snug fit, as I
found out afterwards, rendered it necessary to conduct most of
my toilet outside the door, or half in and half out, for I made the
door serve as a screen, the family sleeping in the outer room. In


the united dining-room and kitchen downstairs I sat at meals on
the flattened side of a log of wood with four legs. Enough to say
all things were in harmony and I could stand it. The cat from
time to time made her exit from the window, looking unhappy,
but always returned, and after the first shock at such an untoward
occurrence, accepted bread from me when offered, and even
overcame her amazement at a bit of meat.

It is needless to say they were poor, and I also could pose as a
poor artist, without much difficulty. I found such had been the
march of progress even in this remote place that the fresco of the
St. George had been taken care of. It was in a little chapel a
step from the town, and when I saw it first was in a perfect state
of preservation. The chapel was open to the weather, and a little
puddle in the floor was much patronised by the town pigs. Now
they had fitted a door which after a long wait for the key was open
to me. The dampness thus shut in had almost ruined this beauti-
ful fresco, and my sketch is now most probably the only record
of it left.

The castello was in perfect preservation ; the battlements still
roofed over and stone projections like hooks were ready to re-
ceive the hanging shutters to keep out the enemy's arrows ; and
there also were the holes through which to pour melted lead down
on the heads of the enemy not a very mild answer, but no
doubt served to turn away wrath. I obtained admittance ; it is a
grand old place and would make a fine residence anywhere else,
but certainly that town left much to be desired as a neighbour-
hood. This must have been the owner's experience, for it had
been fitted up with an attempt at modern convenience, carpets
and so forth, but the old caretaker said the family never came.
Some former owner long ago must have been a great admirer of


female beauty or been fortunate in his relatives, for the portraits
of charming and mischievous-looking beauties of the time of Gol-
doni lined the walls, and made one think that if the now desolate
halls were haunted one would like to attend a haunting.

Haunting as I do old palaces and castles, I have become quite
a connoisseur of ghosts, and must confess that the pretty, pim-
pante, powdered and patched beauties of the big-wig period make
nicer ghosts (to my thinking) than those sour-visaged piagnoni
of Savonarola's time. Be that as it may, a letter to the majordomo
from the owner of the castle 'might have procured me much bet-
ter lodgings than those I did not enjoy in the town itself. This
discomfort soon drove me away, but I left with the conviction
that an artist cannot have a better or more untouched hunting-

In going to Viterbo from Bassanello one passes through an
ideal country for the gentle brigand, who is not totally unknown
there even now, but he is not now what he used to be, but on the
contrary is a very disagreeable and tiresome person. I was glad
not to meet him, but there was his very ancient and lofty tower
from which his sentinels could watch the approach of the traveller
for miles around. I went to see this tower and found it the ruins
of a robber baron's stronghold. There were caves near it, black-
ened by the smoke of shepherd's fires under old oak trees, and
all the materials for splendid Salvator Rosa pictures. One view
was beautiful and peculiar ; over great green fields of sprouting
wheat there arose in the distance a pale blue pyramid, but an
enormous one ; it was the mountain of Soracte seen end on, thus
forming a solitary pyramid-like peak. If Soracte looks so grand,
what must be the effect of Fujiyama with its snow-capped peak.
No wonder the Japanese worship Fujiyama.


And then I came to Bagnaia,and then to Viterbo, my favourite

There was a man who used to get into rages over the loud crow-
ing of his neighbour's rooster. The neighbour, who was a reason-
able man, admitted that the bird was a loud bird, but said in ex-
tenuation that after all he was n't crowing all the time, he only
crowed now and then. "Yes," said the man, "I know that; it
is n't when he crows, but when I 'm expecting he 's going to crow,
that bothers me most."

It is not what people say about us, but what we think they are
going to say about us, that bothers us the most; that's the

The foregoing is a zig or zag by which to get back to

In a villa near us, in Perugia, lived the large family of a sculp-
tor friend of ours. From an observation made by one of the boys,
I have always thought he would have made a good naturalist.
Coming in to his mother one day, after remaining a long time in
thought, he said suddenly :

"Mother, don't you think hens are very elastic."

"Why, Harry, what makes you ask such a question?"

" Oh, nothing ; only you know that bare place in front of the
contadino's house ; well, I saw a hen running across it in a great
hurry; then she stopped and sat down, and when she walked
away there was a great big egg that I am sure was not there
before, so I thought she must have been very elastic."

That boy was evidently a born naturalist, instead of which he
has become an architect. Now I believe that a man should have
a stock of varied information, yet I cannot for the life of me imag-


ine how such facts as this can aid him in his career as architect.
Pondering this, it suddenly struck me why, of course ; there is
the egg and dart moulding, a thing they always fall back on when
they cannot invent a better which seldom happens.

In Perugia there was stopping one season a really great painter.
I don't think he had a very keen sense of humour ; if he had, it
was peculiar like himself. I only know he used to laugh heartily
over what he considered funny. One day he bought a most

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 25 of 29)