John Chetwode Eustace.

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

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ramparts. Beyond it a fine swell crowned with a
few solitary cypresses, attracts the attention,
merely by its apparent loneliness. Mosembano
stands high on the right bank, and as you ap-
proach, increases to your view, presenting a hand-
some church, and a fine old castle. Opposite
Mosembano on tlie left, a fertile plain extends for
the space of a mile, to a range of well wooded
hills, adorned with a tower on the middle eminence
called Monte Velfo, and terminating in the very
picturesque hill and castle of Valeggio.

A littl© beyond Mosembano, the scenery im-
proves considerably ; broken hills, increasing in



Ch.V. THROUGH ITALY. 215

magnitude, approach the river : trees, more fre-
quent and more majestic, adorn their sides ; the
Mincio, spreading as it winds along, assumes the
appearance of a magnificent river, while the castle
of Vakggio on the hill, and the fortified bridge of
Borghetto in the valley, form a very singular and
striking termination. The side of a high hill, on
the left, is crowned with the house and garden of
the Marquis Maffei, a name well known in litera-
ture. Borghetto is situated in a very beautiful
valley: a high road runs across and is flanked
with a wall on each side, strengthened with
towers, and defended by three castles, one at each
end, and one in the middle, forming a bridge over
the river. On the top of a steep hill, rising im-
mediately from the bridge or fortified road, stands
the romantic castle of Vakggio. In its centre
rises a lofty tower, which the Austrians were
employed in repairing and raising, till the moment
of their final retreat. The whole is now neglected,
and will undoubtedly, if the present system re-
mains in force much longer, become a heap of
ruins.

A little beyond the castle of Vakggio from its
highest ram])art, we enjoyed one of the most de-
licious views imaginable. To the south extended
a plain almost interminable watered by the 3Iiii-
cio, covered with corn-fields, divided by mulberry
trees and vines, intersected by various roads, and



216 CLASSICAL TOUR Ch. V-

dotted with villas, villages, and towns. Among the
latter, Mantua, at the distance of about fifteen
miles, made the most conspicuous figure. To the
east, rose the hills of Vicetiza, and the more distant
mountains of Arqua, amongst which the peaked
forms of Monte Selice, and Monte Ferro, were,
though so remote, very remarkable. Westward,
and immediately under the eye, lay the delightful
valley of Borghetto, with its little town, its castle,
tts fortified bridge, and all its towers and battle-
ments. An amphitheatre of hills partly encloses
the valley with a rampart of woods and villages,
and through its middle rolls the sea-green Mincio,
tumbling in foam over two or three slight rocky
layers. To the nortli, the churches and castles of
Mosembano and Ponte, crown their respective hills,
while the Alps, forming a vast semicircular sweep
from east to west, close the prospect with a bro-
ken like of blue rocks, snowy masses, and cloud-
capt pinnacles.

We here caught, for the first time, an indistinct
view of the very distant Apennines, running from
west to south, and observed with surprise, that
they were still, like the neighboring Alps, covered
with snow. We descended from the rampart, and
following the hill to its southern extremity, saw
the Mincio rushing from the defile between two
eminences (one of which on the right is called the
Volta Mantunna) anjl then sweeping along a wood.



Ch. V. THROUGH ITALY. 217

till it loses itself in the distant level. As the day
advancedj and the river did not promise any pic-
turesque scenery during its progress over the flat
country, we mounted our carriages in the town of
Borghetto, and drove over a most fertile, well
wooded, highly cultivated, and well peopled plain.
About six o'clock on the 17th of March, vre en-
tered Mantua,

Mantua musarum domus, atque ad sidera cantu
Evecta aonio, et Smyrnaeis emula plectris *.

Sil. viii.

The day after our arrival we crossed the lower
lake, and visited the village of Pietole, anciently
supposed by some to be Andes, where Virgil is
said to have been born. It is about three miles
distant from Mantua, on the banks " tardis ingens
ubi fleaibus crt-at Alincius-^" and consists of se-
veral neat cottages, good farm houses, and a hand-
some church. About half a mile southward on
the road, and near the river, stands a large farm,
with two extensive gardens, and offices well walled
in, formerly belonging to the Imperial govern-



* Mantua, the muses' seat ! Aonian song,
Scarce rivall'd by the fam'd Homeric lyre.
Exalts thee to the skies !

t Where mighty Mincius, slowly winding, strays.



218 CLASSICAL TOUR Ch. V.

inent, which granted it to a Mantuan citizen,
Count Giberti, to defray the interest of the money
which he had advanced for public purposes. This
farm is called Virgiliana, and is said to have be-
longed to the poet himself. The country around
it and Pietole, is extremely flat, but fertile, well
wooded, and highly cultivated.

On the 19th (Friday) we took a boat and de-
scended the Mincio, to the place where it falls
into the Po, about twelve miles below Mantua.
The country through which it flows is so low,
that the river is generally embanked like a canal,
and cannot be supposed to exhibit any picturesque
views; especially as the fields around were still, in
consequence of the late inundation, in many places
covered with water. However, many trees, great
fertility, and high cultivation, give it all the beauty
it is capable of receiving ; while several neat cot-
tages adorn the banks, and as the weather was
extremely fine, appeared, when we passed, to much
advantage.

At the beautiful village of Governolo, the
Mincio makes a sudden bend, and shortly after
loses itself in the Po. The breadth of this latter
river, and the vast mass of waters which it rolls
along, give it a very magnificent appearance, and
entitle it to the pompous appellation of Fliwiorum
Rex (the King of Rivers) ; if, as Addison justly
observes, its pre-eminence be confined to the rivers



C/i. V. THROUGH ITALY. ^19

of Italy. Though inferior to the Rhine or Danube
in the extent of country it waters, it certainly sur-
passes the former, and equals the latter, at least
at Vienna, in its immense surface. Its waters very
different from the sea-green colour of the Miiicio,
were thick and yellow with mud ; its banks are
low, and the country around flat ; hence its fre-
quent and extensive inundations. Its borders are
lined with trees and villages, and pleasing, though
by no means picturesque. As the Po is a truly
classic river, we walked for some time on its
banks with great satisfaction, and recalled to mind
various passages in Virgil, Ovid, Vida, &c. in which
its name occurs. We then returned to Governolo,
and as we passed through, visited and admired its
beautiful church, which, unfortunately, owing to
the poverty of the inhabitants, occasioned by the
French invasion, has never been fitted up and fur-
nished for divine service. We were then drawn up
the river by our boatmen, and arrived at Mantua
about five*.

The reader will naturally suppose, that while
we ranged along the banks of the Mincio, or
glided down its stream, we frequently recurred to



* I thought it necessary to enter into very minute details
in describing the banks of the Mincio, as they are very Uttle
known, notwithstanding the poetical fame of the river.



220 CLASSICAL TOUR Ch. V.

Virgil, and enjoyed his descriptions on the borders
of his favorite river, and amid the scenery of his
native 6elds. We perused his Eclogues and
Georgics during our tour, and after having exa-
mined and applied them to the face of the country^
as it now appears, have been led to the following
conclusions.

Virgil composed his Eclogues, in order to en-
rich his language with a species of poetry till then
unknown in Latin, and that he might succeed the
better, he took Theocritus the Prince of Pastoral
Poets, for his model. With little regard to ori-
ginality, he pretended to no more than the honor
of being the first Roman who imitated the Sicilian
bard.

Prima Syracosio dignata est ludere versu
Nostra, nee erubuit sylvas habitare, Thalia*.

Ed. vi.

and made no difficulty of borrowing the senti-
ments, images, and even descriptions of his master.
We are not therefore, generally speaking, to look
into Virgil's Pastorals for delineations of Mantuan
scenery, nor expect to find in them many unmixt
and peculiar allusions to the Mincius and its bor-



* I first transferr'd to Rome Sicilian strains ;
Nor blush'd the Doric Muse to dwell on Mantuan plains.

Dry den.



C/t. V. THROUGH ITALY. 221

ders. His object was to copy the original, not to
give a new picture of his own composition. I
have said generally, because in two pastorals, the
first and the ninth, the poet treats professedly
of that river, of Mantua, and of the neighboring
country ; and in the seventh, though the names
are Greek, the two contending shepherds Arca-
dians, and the scene, we must suppose, Grecian
also, yet, by an inaccuracy, not unusual in pastoral
compositions, he introduces the Mincius, with its
characteristic reeds, and its verdant banks.

Hie viiides tenera praetexit arundine ripas,
Mincius*.

In the two former the poet certainly means to
describe some of the features of his own little pos-
session, and by these features it is evident, that it
lay at the foot, or in the immediate neighborhood
of the hills, not far from Valeggio, near which
town they begin to subside, and gradually lose
themselves in the immense plain of Mantua.

Qua se subducere coUes,
Incipiunt, mollique jugum deraittere clivof.

Eel. ix. 7 — 16.



* Here wanton Mincius winds along the meads,
And shades his happy banks with bending reeds.

Dry den.
t From the sloping mountain to the vale.

Ibid.



22'2 CLASSICAL TOUR Ch. V.

On no other part of the hanks of tlie Mincius,
are to he discovered either the " hare rocks," that
disfigured the farm of Tityrus, or the " towering
crag " that shaded the pruner, as he sung, or the
" vine-clad grotto," where the shepherd reclined,
or the " bushy cliff/' whence " the browsing goats
seemed as if suspended," or " the lofty mountains,"
which, in the evening, cast their " protracted sha-
dows " over the plain. The " spreading beech,"
indeed, and " aerial elm," still delight in the soil,
and adorn the banks of the Mincius, in all its
windings. From these observations we may ven-
ture to infer, in opposition to great authority, the
impropriety of fixing Virgil's farm at Pietole*, or
Virgiliana, in the immediate vicinity of Mantua,
while the poet represents it as at the distance of
at least some miles, or a walk, deemed long even
for active young shepherds :

Cantantes, licet usque, minus via Icedet, eamus f. ix.

* E queir ombra gentil per cui si noma
Pietola piu che villa Mantovana.

Purgatorio, xviii.

That clear spirit,

Who raiseth Andes above Mantua's name. Cary.

From these verses we may infer that it was not only the
opinion of Dante, but the tradition of his times, that Pietole
occupied the site of Andes.

t Let us sing as we go, and the walk will appear less
tedious.



C/t. V. THROUGH ITALY. 223

Of the tomb of Bianor we at present know no-
thing ; but as sepulchral monuments unless formed
of valuable materials, or standing in the immediate
neighborhood of cities, have generally been re-
spected, or at least neglected, I have no doubt but
that some vestiges of it might be discovered by a
diligent investigator, on or near some of the roads
leading from the hills to Mantua.

The observation which I have just made, that
Virgil's Pastorals ought, in general, to be consi-
dered, not as pictures of real scenery, or as con-
veying his own feelings and sentiments, but as
mere lusus poetici (poetic fancies) composed in
imitation of Theocritus, leads me to another,
which, though unconnected with the Mincio, will,
I hope, recommend itself by its object, which is
to rescue the memory of the first and purest of
poets, from a very odious and ill-founded suspi-
cion. Every critical reader knows, that the sub-
ject of the second Pastoral, though it has exposed
Virgil to the charge alluded to, is taken from
Theocritus, and that many images, sentiments, and
even expressions are copied literally, and almost
verbatim from the Sicilian poet. This circumstance
alone, is sufficient to clear the writer from the sus-
picion of any personal application ; especially when
~ve recollect the contempt with which he elsewhere
speaks of a character to whom he attributes such
a propensity, and whom he seems to have intro-



224 CLASSICAL TOUR Cli. V.

duced for the express purpose of branding him
with infamy*. The truth is, that he who judges
of the morality of the Latin poets from a few
detached passages in their works, must form a
very unfair estimate of their character ; and impute
to them criminal habits, from which they were
most probably exempt. Pliny the younger, to
excuse himself for having composed some sportive
verses, pleads the example of Cicero -I", and cites
a passage from Catullus ;|;, importing, that however
blameless the manners of the poet should be,
bis verses may be playful, and even lascivious.
Ovid adopts the same idea, and holds it forth



* Tu quoque, L. x. 325.
t Plin. Lib. v. Ep. 3.

I Scimus alioqui hujus opusculi illam esse verissiniam
legem quam Catullus expressit.

Nam castum esse decet pium poetam
Ipsum^ versiculos nihil necesse est :
Qui tunc denique habent salem & leporem,
Si sunt moUiculi & parum pudici.

Plin. Lib. iv. Ep. 14.

We know, moreover, that the regulation which Catullus
has laid down, is the proper one for this little production.

Let but the poet's life be pure,
No need his muse be too demure ;
The praise of wit he best maintains,
When loose and wanton are his strains.



Ch. V. THROUGH ITALY. nf>

as a justification of his own wanton composi-
tions*.

The modern Italians have imitated the ancients
in this respect, and some of the most classical
writers of the sixteenth century, though eminent
for the unblemished innocence of their lives, have,
in moments of poetical playfulness, employed ex-
pressions, which if literally understood, may be
censured as licentious. I admit that the reason-
ing of Pliny is by no means satisfactory, and that
the rule laid down by Catullus is both absurd and
immoral, and I most readily pass condemnation
on every loose and indecent expression, in what-
soever composition it may be found. But as
the ancients seem to have adopted this rule, and
acted upon it, I contend that it authorizes us to
acquit Virgil of the odious charge brought against
him by some systematical grammarians, and igno-
rant commentators, especially as it is supported
by mere traditional tales and conjectural anec-
dotes'!-.

Above and below Mantua, the Mincio spreads



* Crede mihi mores distant a carmine nostri,
Vita verecunda est, Musa jocosa fuit.

My Muse and my manners are widely at strife ;
Though sportive my verses, yet chaste is my life.

t See Pope's Letter to Swift on Gay's death ; letter Ixv.
VOL. I. Q



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Online LibraryJohn Chetwode EustaceA classical tour through Italy, an. MDCCCII (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 27)