John Chetwode Eustace.

A classical tour through Italy, an. MDCCCII (Volume 1) online

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rished by contemporaries, or treated with so much
partiality by posterity, as that of Petrarca. This

* Let no rude show'rs, nor boist'rous winds that rave,
Insult the Tuscan poet's iionor'd grave :
Let those soft airs, that smooth Heav'n's azure brow,
From their light wings ambrosial sweets bestow ;
Let ev'ry nymph her verdant grotto leave,
The mystic dance with joyous footsteps weave
Around thy tomb, thy praises there resound.
Tune her melodious voice, and scatter flow'rets round.


distinction he owes not so much to his talents, or
even to his virtues, as to the many amiable and
engaging qualities which accompanied them,
and set them oflf to the greatest advantage. As
an orator, an historian, and a poet, he had even
in his own time many rivals, perhaps in Boccaccio
an equal, and in Dante undoubtedly a superior.
Bat in pleasing manners, in generous feelings,
in warm attachment, and in all the graceful, all
the attractive accomplishments of life, he seems
to have surpassed every puhiic character of his
time, and to have engaged universal and unqualified

Gibbon asserts that the literary reputation of
Petrarca must rest entirely on his Latin works,
and insinuates that his sonnets are trifles ; that
his passion was, in his ovvn opinion, and in that
of his contemporaries, criminal ; and that Laura,
the mother of ten children, could have possessed
few of the charms ascribed to her by the poet.
Though I have no particular inclination to enter
the lists as champion of the lady's charms, yet I
may venture to observe, that a matron who died
at the age of forty or forty-two, may possibly
have been very beautiful at the age of nineteen
or twenty, when the poet first beheld her; that
female beauty sometimes survives forty, however
fatal that age may be to it in general ; that it is
less hable to fade when it consists more in expres-


sion than in color and freshness ; and in fine, that
though Laura, if we may believe her lover, pos-
sessed both species of beauty, yet she excelled in
the former.

Le crespe cbionie d'or puro lucente
E'l lanipeggiar dell angeliee riso .... *

II Parte Sonn. 24.

Le perle in ch' [amor] frange ed afFrena

Dolci parole f I Parte Sonn. 184.

are perishable charms without doubt, and liable
to very rapid deeay. But,

Leggiadria singolare e pellegrina ;

E'l cantar che nell ftnima si sente :

L' andar celeste, e'l vago spirito ardeiite :

Begli occhi che i cor fanno smaiti :

Col dir pien d' intelletti, dolci ed alti :

E'l bel tacere, e quei santi costumi ! J

I Parte Sonn. IfS,

* Her curling locks, like purest gold that shine,
And the bright flashes of her smile divine.

t The pearls, within which Love confines and breaks
short her dulcet words.

t That grace and elegance, so rarely seen,

That voice, which in the inmost soul is felt.
That air inspir'd, that heav'nly gait and mien.

Those eyes, whose glance the proudest heart can melt.
Her words, where mind, and thought, and genius shine.
Her silence sweet, her manners all divine.


These are charms which emanate directly from
the mind, and seem, almost to enjoy some portion
of its pure and imperishable nature. Laura, there-
fore, may still be allowed to retain her honors,
and continue to rank among the celebrated beauties
of ancient times, oltra k belle bella*.

As to Petrarca's passion, it was undoubtedly
misplaced, excessive, and highly reprehensible;
but his contemporaries do not seem to have con-
sidered it in that light, especially as it never broke
out in any guilty deed, or even indecorous expres-
sion. The author of his life, Beccadelli, a man of
unblemished morals and reputation, and an arch-
bishop, declares that Petrarca's attachment was
innocent in itself, and beneficial in its conse-
quences, as it called forth the powers of his genius,
and contributed in a high degree to the perfection
of his language, and to the honor of his country.
The poet himself condemns, and applauds his
passion alternately; representing it sometimes as
having preserved him from the indulgence of low
grovelling appetites, and urged him to the pursuit
of honorable fame •f-; and at other times lament-
ing it as a guilty weakness, to which he had sacri-
ficed his time, and had devoted talents destined

* Fair beyond all the fair. — Vol. ii. Son. xxi.
t Parte II. Canz. vii.


for nobler objects*. But, notwithstanding the
severity of this self-censure, he continued either
to compose or to correct the strains that love in-
spired, not only for several years after the death
of its object, but even to the near approach of
his own : a circumstance which, considering the
religious turn of his mind, particularly in his
latter days, proves that he attached no criminality
to the passion itself, since he could indulge himself
so freely in its recollection.

As to the sonnets of Petrarca, in the eyes of a
moralist they are trifles, and so are the elegies of
Propertius and of Tibullus, and all the numerous
poems both ancient and modern, that treat the
same airy and unsubstantial subject ; but trinkets
may derive value from their materials and work=
manship, and even love songs may acquire both
importance and interest from their language and
their sentiments. Genius communicates its own
dignity to every subject that it chooses to handle ;
it can give weight to insignificance, and make
even an amorous ditty, the vehicle of awful truths
and of useful lessons. This observation is more
applicable perhaps to Petrarca than to any other
poet. Equal, I had almost said superior in felicity
of expression, and in harmony of language, to his

* Son. Ixxxvi.


Roman predecessors, he rises far above them in
delicacy of thought, and in dignity of sentiment.
He borrows no embellishments from the fictions
of mythology, and indulges himself in no pastoral
tales, no far-fetched allusions. The spirit of reli-
gion, vvhich strongly influenced his mind in all
the vicissitudes of life, not unfrequently gives his
passion something of the solemnity of devotion,
and inspires the hol'y strains that chant

Quanto piu vale
Sempiterna bellezza che mortale*.

This peculiar turn of thought, that pervades
the poems of Petrarca, and raises them so much
above all similar compositions, is noticed by his
biographer as a distinction highly honorable to the
Tuscan muses, le quali, ha mostro, come altamente e
santamente possono cantar cT amore^. It is not
wonderful therefore, that the poet himself should
have rested his hopes of fame on his Italian poems,
and have persisted in correcting and in repolishing
them with so much assiduity ; or that posterity
should have confirmed the author's judgment, and
continued ever since to set a high value on these

* How greatly mortal beauty is excelled by that which is

t Which he has demonstrated to be capable of singing of
love in lofty and in holy strains.


short, but highly labored productions. While his
Latin poems (histories and moral dissertations)
slumber undisturbed on the shelf, his Rmib will
sometimes amuse the leisure of the youthful reader,
and now and then, perhaps, attract the attention
of the philosopher, who will often find in them,
intermingled with the frivolous graces of the sub-
ject, sublime sentiments expressed in language the
most harmonious.



Visit to the Lago di Gai'da, or Benacus — the River
Mificius — the Promojitory af Sirmio — Desemaiio
— Storm on the Lake — Paradisino — Banhs of
the Minciiis — Mantua — Pietole — E.vciirsion to
the Po — Honors paid to Virgil — Virgiliano.

Next day we took leave of Padua, returned
through Vicenza to Verona, and having passed
the following day there, on the ensuing morning
(March 13) we set out for the Lago di Garda
(the Benacus) celebrated by Virgil as one of the
noblest ornaments of Italy. Its principal pro-
montory, Sirmio, has been commemorated by Ca-
tullus, as his favorite residence. We reached
Peschiera, a fortress on the southern extremity
of the lake, at about half past two. The dis-
tance is about eighteen miles, the road is excel-
lent, generally descending, and always passing-
through corn fields striped with vines, with some
swells at a distance crowned with villages, and
churches, and seats ; while the Alps formed a
vast line to the north. Traces of hostility, as


I before observed, are indeed too visible in the
neighborhood of Verona, where several severe
skirmishes, and one decisive battle, took place
during the late war. The vineyards and mulberry
trees, of course, were torn up or cut down by the
armies as they passed along. However, I ob-
served with satisfaction, that the peasants were
busily employed in replanting them.

At Peschiera, the lake terminates in the river
Mincio, which flows through the town, broad,
deep, and clear as crystal, though almost as ra-
pid as a mountain torrent. The traveller, when
he beholds this river, the name of which is so
familiar and so pleasing to a classic ear, will
recal to mind the passages in which Virgil de-
scribes its banks and appearances. We contem-
plated it for some time froiii the bridge, and
then went out of the town, and embarking with-
out the gate, glided over the surface of the lake
so smooth and clear, that we could distinguish
the bottom at the depth of twenty or five-and-
twenty feet. The weather, though only the
thirteenth of March, was as warm, and the sun
as bright, as on a summer's day in England ;
yet some clouds hung on the summits of the
mountains, and a certain haziness dimmed their
sides. The borders of the lake towards the
south, though rather flat, rise sufficiently to dis-
play to advantage the towns, villages, and seats.


with the olives, corn fields, and vineyards that
adorn thera ; and when lighted up by a bright sun-
shine, they present a very exhilarating prospect.
The shores, as they advance northward, assume a
bolder aspect, and exhibit all the varieties of
Alpine scenery. Rocky promontories, precipices,
lofty hills, and towering mountains, in all their
grotesque, broken, and shapeless appearances, rise
in succession one above another ; while the de-
clining sun, playing upon the snow that capped
their summits, tinged them with various hues,
and at length spread over them a thin veil of

The peninsula of Sirmione, and the bolder
promontory of Minerbo, the former about seven,
the latter about fourteen miles distant, appeared to
great advantage from Peschiera, and grew upon
the sight as we advanced. Sirmione appears as an
island ; so low and so narrow is the bank that
unites it to the main land. Its entrance is de-
fended, and indeed totally covered by an old castle,
with its battlements and high antique tower in the
centre, in the form of a Gothic fortification. The
promontory spreads behind the town, and rises into
a hill entirely covered with olives ; this hill may be
said to have two summits, as there is a gentle de-
scent between them. On the nearest is a church
and hermitage, plundered by the French, and now
uninhabited and neglected. On the farthest, in


the midst of an olive grove, stand the walls of
an old building, said to be a Roman bath, and
near it is a vault, called the g7Vtto of Catullus.
The extremity of this promontory is covered with
arched ways, towers, and subterranean passages,
supposed by the inhabitants to be Roman, but ap-
parently of no very distant sera. At all events,
Catullus undoubtedly inhabited this spot, and pre-
ferred it, at a certain period, to every other region.
He has expressed his attachment to it in some
beautiful lines.

Peninsularum Sirmio, insularumque
Ocelle, quascunquG in liquentibus stagnis
Marique vasto fert uterque Neptunus :
Quam te libenter, quamque laetus inviso *.

Catull. 32.

He could not have chosen a more delightful
retreat. In the centre of a magnificent lake,
surrounded with scenery of the greatest variety
and majesty, secluded from the world, yet be-
holding from his garden the villas of his Veronese
friends, he might have enjoyed alternately the
pleasures of retirement and of society ; and daily,
without the sacrifice of his connexions, which

* Sirmio sweet ! all isles excelling: '.
Nepturte from his wat'ry dwelling
Not one so wond'rous fair can see
With what delight I visit thee !


Horace* seemed inclined to make, in a moment
of despondency, he might have contemplated the
grandeur and the agitation of the ocean, without
its terrors and immensity. Besides, the soil is
fertile and its surface varied ; sometimes shelving
in a gentle declivity, at other times breaking in
craggy magnificence: and thus furnishing every
requisite for delightful walks and for luxurious
baths ; while the views vary at every step, pre-
senting rich coasts or barren mountains, sometimes
confined to the cultivated scenes of the neighbor-
ing shore, and at other times bewildered and lost
in the windings of the lake, and in the recesses of
the Alps. In short, more convenience and more
beauty are seldom united ; and such a peninsula
is, as Catullus enthusiastically observes, scarcely
to be matched in all the wide range of the world
of waters.

We left Sirmione after sunset ; and, lighted by
the moon, glided smoothly over the lake to De-
sensano, four miles distant, where, about eight, we
stepped from the boat into a very good inn. So
far the appearance of the Benacus was very diflfe-
rent from the description which Virgil has given
of its stormy character. Before we retired to
rest, about midnight, from our windows, we ob-

* Lib. i. Ep. xi.


served it still calm and unruffled. About three in
tlie morning I was roused from sleep by the door
and windows bursting open at once, and the wind
roaring round the room, I started up, and looking
out, observed by the light of the moon, the lake
in the most dreadful agitation, and the waves
dashing against the walls of the inn, and resembling
the swellings of the ocean, more than the petty
agitation of inland waters. Shortly after, the
landlord entered with a lantern, closed the outward
shutters, expressed some apprehensions, but at the
same time assured me, that their houses were
built to resist such sudden tempests, and that I
might repose with confidence under a roof, which
had withstood full many a storm as terrible as
that which occasioned our present alarm. Next
morning, the lake so tranquil and serene the even-
ing before, presented a surface covered with foam,
and swelling into mountain billows, that burst in
breakers every instant at the very door of the
inn, and covered the whole house with spray.
Virgil's description now seemed nature itself, and,
taken from the very scene actually under our
eyes, it was impossible not to exclaim,

Fluctibus et fremitu assurgens, Benace, marino *.

Geor, ii. 160.

* Benacus, with tempestuous billows vex'd.

Dry den.


After breakfast (March 14, Sunday) I walked
up the road to Brescia, and from a high hill
viewed the lake, its coasts, peninsulas and pro-
montories. The peninsula of Sirmione forms
the most striking object, as running between
Peschiej^a and Desensano; it divides the first
and widest part of the lake into two nearly equal
spaces, and on account of the lowness and the
narrowness of the passage to it, appears like
a beautiful and well wooded island. The next
striking feature of the lake is the bold promon-
tory of Minei'bo, or rather of Sail Pietro, and the
Isold del Veiiti (Island of the Winds). Behind
this promontory and island, lies the river of Salo,
supposed to be one of the most picturesque parts
of the lake. Nearly opposite to San Pietro, stands
the town of Garda (founded in the middle ages)
which now gives its name to the lake, while an-
ciently, the lake gave its name to the surrounding
territory called Ager Benacensis* (the district of
Benacus), whose inhabitants assembled for public

* Many geographers suppose, and pretend to ground
their suppositions upon ancient monuments, that the name
of Benacus belonged not to a town, but to the lake itself
only, and that the surrounding country was called Ager
Benacensis, and the inhabitants, Benacenses. The lake is
now known among the people of the country, as much by
the appellation of Lago de Benaco, as that of Logo di


purposes at Tusculanum. This town still exists,
under its ancient appellation, near Salo. The
remaining part of the lake is concealed among
the mountains, and placed beyond the observation
of one who stands in the neighborhood of Desoi-
sano. The waters of the lake are of the finest
sea-green; its depth is unequal; in the narrow
parts, from ten to forty, in the wider, from one
hundred to three hundred feet. The Benacus
is fed by several Alpine streams, and particularly
by the Sarca, a river that still bears its Roman
name: its only outlet is the AUncio. Hence this
stream is supplied with a perpetual flow of waters,
and never rises or falls more than a few inches,
while other rivers are oftentimes almost dried up
in warm seasons, and swelled in wet months into
an inundation.

On the fifteenth we left Desensano, and pass-
ing through Rigoltela, alighted at the turn to-
wards the peninsula, and visited Sirmione once
more. We ranged, as before, over the whole
promontory, and examined its coasts, its produc-
tions, and its ruins more minutely. The eastern
and western sides are formed principally of steep
craggy rocks, that sometimes rise into a wall,
and at other times descend in regular grada-
tions to the water. The northern extremity is
a grassy declivity. A vast mass of solid rock
seems to form the basis of the promontory. It

VOL. I. p


borders it on all sides, and shelving by degrees,
extends to a considerable distance visible though
under water, and losing itself almost impercep-
tibly in the deep. The views on all sides, ex-
cepting the south, are such an intermixture of
level and mountainous, of cultivated and barren
country, as cannot fail to interest even by its con-
trast ; while from the northern point you discover
the utmost borders of the lake, though their dis-
tance, which is about forty-five miles, and the
dark shade of the superincumbent mountains,
involve them in dimness and obscurity.

The produce of the hill consists principally of
olive trees, plants evergreen indeed but neither
lofty nor luxuriant in foliage, and consequently
not well calculated to answer the purposes of
ornament, shade, or shelter. They are, however,
productive, and the inhabitants are so sensible
of their value, that they contrive to plant them
on the sides, and even in the clefts of the rocks,
and sometimes raise walls to prop them when in
a situation too perpendicular, or of a form too
spreading and extensive for the trunk. This
instance of exertion, and indeed many others,
which I may introduce occasionally hereafter,
together with the highly cultivated appearance
of the country, have effectually removed some of
our prejudices, and convinced us, notwithstanding
the partial and hasty representations of certain


travellers, that the Italians are a very laborious
people, and that if they do not enjoy all the ad-
vantages attached by Providence to industry, the
fault is to be attributed, not to them, but to their
landlords and governors. But though olives be
the principal produce of the peninsula, yet vines
and corn are by no means excluded : on the con-
trary, vineyards occupy a considerable part of the
first hill, particularly towards the west, where,
bordering on the town and lake, a beautiful vine-
yard rises, enclosed with large laurels ; and corn
fills the spaces between the olive rows, and covers
the peninsula with verdure from shore to shore.
A large garden occupies the first hill immediately
over the town, and contains, among other plants,
some beautiful cypresses, favorite trees in all
Italian gardens both ancient and modern.

Having wandered up and down these poetical
retreats, and read Catullus on the ruins of his
residence; having observed again and again all
the beautiful points of view that rose around us,
we were reminded by the setting sun of the
necessity of retiring ; and withdrew, reluctantly
indeed, but with the satisfaction of having seen
the Benacus under all its forms of calmness,
of agitation, and of returning tranquillity. We
walked along its banks by the light of the moon,
to Pesc.hkra, six miles, and thence once more to
ParadisinOy a country seat, belonging to Sig.


Alberto Albertinij our banker at Verona. The
house is in a lovely country, yet so situated as
to enjoy none of its advantages ; for though it
stands on the banks of the Mincio, and within
a mile of the lake, it commands a view of neither.
Its farniture is very indifferent, and the walks
around, the principal of which opposite the house,
consists of a double row of cypresses, seem to
promise neither shade nor shelter. To account
for this deficiency, it would perhaps be sufficient
to observe, that the Italians in general, have very
little taste in furnishing a house, or in laying out
grounds to advantage ; but in justice to the pro-
prietor of Paradisino, I must add, that the French
had plundered the house, and cut down the greatest
part of the wood that surrounded it, so that its
nakedness must in some degree be ascribed to the
general cause of all the miseries of Italy, to the
destroying spirit of the French army.

Before we take a last leave of the Benacus
and of its borders, of Verona and of its vicinity,
I must inform the reader that the lake, with all
its streams and surrounding hills, and indeed the
whole circumjacent country, has been rendered
truly classical by having been made the scene
or the subject of many beautiful compositions in
the second Augustan age of Italy. Fracastorius,
Naugerms, Castillo, have invoked the Nymphce
Benacides ; and Bembo has given the appellation of


Benacus to one of his most correct and most pleas-
ing Latin poems. The mountains and hills ©n its
borders have been converted into the Arcadia of
Italy, and peopled with a race of shepherds, who
almost rival in song the Grecian swains once soli
cantare periti (who alone knew how to sing), and
who far surpass them in innocence and in piety.
But of all the strains in which these scenes are
celebrated, the most affecting are those addressed
by Fracastorius to his departed friend Flaminius,
who was himself one of the most tuneful natives
of this happy region.

Te miserum! ante diem, ciudeli funere, Marce
Antoni ! a^tatis primo sub flore cadentem
Vidimus extreme positura Benacide rip^
Quam media inter saxa sonans Sarca abluit und^.
Te ripae flevere Athesis, te voce vocare
Auditae per noctem umbrae manesque Catulli,
Et patrios mulcere nova dulcedine lucos *.

Syph. lib. i.

Next morning we sent our carriages towards
Mantua, and determined to proceed on foot in
order to explore the secret beauties of the Mincius,

* Thee, hapless friend, in youth's aspiring morn,
From all life's op'ning joys untimely torn.
We saw interr'd, where sounding Sarca laves
The fretted rocks, and joins Benaco's waves.
Thee pleasant Adige wept ; Catullus' shade
luvok'd thy name, and mournful wailings made.
And in his native woodlands all night long
Sooth'd ev'ry well-known echo with his song.


and to trace its pastoral banks, hitherto untrodden
by the foot of any British traveller. We took one
of Sig\ Albertinis men, an honest looking peasant,
for our guide, and descending the little hill on
which Paradisino stands, advanced towards the
banks of the river. These banks consist of fine
little broken hills covered with vineyards and mul-
berry trees, interspersed with corn fields and
downs, with a rill occasionally tumbling through a
chasm. On the left, on the highest part of the
bank, stands the village of Saliofiche, and on leav-
ing this village you have a fine view over the river,
between two swells, of the fortress of Ponte, at
about two miles distance, backed by the Alps.
Before you, rises on a hill, the old castle of Mo-
scmbano, with its two towers and long battlemented

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