Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 online

. (page 7 of 20)
Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 7 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

raised to his mouth. At a blow all the resolutions he had forced
himself to were upset and scattered, for he had returned with the
reckless determination of plunging into whatever dissipation chanced to
be going on.

He had roamed about, angry and tormented, until the climax of passion
was succeeded by an overpowering sense of gloom, to get away from which
he had determined to abandon himself, and, flinging all restraint
aside, sink down to that level over which the better part of his nature
had vainly tried to soar. But now, in the feeling of degradation which
Eve's eyes had flashed upon him, the grossness of these excesses came
freshly before him, and the knowledge that even in thought he had
entertained them made him feel lowered in his own eyes; and if in his
eyes, how must he look in hers?

Without a movement he knew every time that she entered the room: he
heard her exchange words with some of those present, applaud a song of
Barnabas Tadd's, answer a question of Uncle Zebedee's, and, sharpest
thorn of all, stand behind Jerrem's chair, talking to him while some of
the roughest hits were being made at his own mistaken judgment in
holding back those who were ready to have "sunk the Looe boats and all
aboard 'em."

In the anguish of his heart Adam could have cried aloud. It seemed to
him that until now he had never tasted the bitterness of love nor
smarted under the sharp tooth of jealousy. There were lapses when,
sending a covert look across the table, those around him faded away and
only Eve and Jerrem stood before him, and while he gazed a harsh,
discordant laugh would break the spell, and, starting, he would find
that it was his own voice which had jarred upon his ear. His head
seemed on fire, his senses confused. Turning his eyes upon the tumbler
of grog which he had poured out, he could hardly credit that it still
stood all but untasted before him. A noisy song with a rollicking
chorus was being sung, and for a moment Adam shut his eyes, trying to
recollect himself. All in vain: everything seemed jumbled and mixed

Suddenly, in the midst of the clamor, a noise outside was heard. The
door was burst violently open and as violently shut again by Jonathan,
who, throwing himself with all his force against it, cried out, "They'm
comin'! they'm after 'ee - close by - the sodjers. You'm trapped!" And,
exhausted and overcome by exertion and excitement, his tall form swayed
to and fro, and then fell back in a death-like swoon upon the floor.

_The Author of "Dorothy Fox."_



To most travellers a visit to Asisi is a flying visit. They drive over
from Perugia or up from the railway station, and if, besides San
Francesco and Santa Chiara, they see the cathedral and San Damiano,
they believe themselves to have exhausted the sights of the town. The
beautiful front of what was once a temple of Minerva can be seen in
passing through the piazza in which it stands: the departing visitors
glance back at the city from the plain, and - "Buona notte, Asisi!"

Yet this town, as well as most Italian _paesi_, would reward a more
lengthened stay, and, unlike many of them, a refined life is possible
here. A person at once studiously and economically inclined might do
much worse than commit himself to spend several months in the city of
St. Francis. We did so last year, on the same principle that made us in
childhood prefer the cherries that the birds had pecked, finding them
the sweetest. We had heard Asisi abused: it was out of the world, it
was desperately dull and there was nothing to eat. We therefore sent
and engaged an apartment for the summer, and our confidence was not

Perhaps the hotels are not good: we have never tried them. But the
market is excellent for a mountain-city, and in the autumn figs and
grapes are cheap and abundant. There are apartments to be let, and
servants to be had who, with a little instruction, soon learn to cook
in a civilized manner.

We have a fancy that there is a different moral atmosphere in a town
surrounded by olive trees and one set in vineyards, the former being
more sober and reserved, the latter more joyous and expansive. The
latter may, indeed, carry its spirit too far - like the little city of
Zagorolo near Rome, where the inhabitants are noted at the same time
for the strength and excellence of their wines and for the
quarrelsomeness of their dispositions. Palestrina, a little way off on
the hillside, with a flowing skirt of vines all about it, breathes
laughter in its very air. One may sit in Bernardini's - known to all
visitors to the city of Fortune - and hear the travellers who come there
laugh over mishaps which they would have growled over anywhere else.
The comparison might be made of many other towns.

Asisi is set in a world of olives. They swing like smoke from a censer
all through the corn and grain of the plain; they roll up the hills and
mountains, climbing the almost perpendicular heights like goats; they
crawl through the ravines; they cover the tiny plateaus set between the
crowded hills; and plantations of slim young trees are set through the
city, bending like long feathers and turning a soft silver as the wind
passes over them. It is delightful to walk under the olive trees in
early summer, when they hang full of strings of tiny cream-colored
blossoms. In winter these blossoms will have changed to a small black
fruit. The trees are as rugged as the roughest old apple trees, and
many of them are supported only on a hollow half-circle of trunk or on
two or three mere sticks. One wonders how these slender fragments of
trunk can support that spreading weight above, especially in wind and
tempest, and how that wealth of blossom and fruit can draw sufficient
sustenance through such narrow and splintered channels; but the olive
is tough, and the oil that runs in its veins for blood keeps it ever

True to my fancy - which, indeed, it helped to nourish - Asisi is a
serious town. It has even an air of gentle melancholy, which is not,
however, depressing, but which inclines to thoughtfulness and study.
Travellers are familiar with its aspect - the crowning citadel with the
ring of green turf between it and the city, which stretches across the
shoulders of the mountain, row above row of gray houses, with the
magnificent pile of the church and convent of St. Francis at its
western extremity, clasped to the steep rock with a hold that an
earthquake could scarcely loosen. Three long streets stretch from east
to west, the central one a very respectable street, clean, well-paved,
and delightfully quiet. You may sit in a window there and hear nothing
the livelong day but the drip of a fountain and the screaming of clouds
of swallows, which are, without exception, the most impudent birds that
can be imagined. Annoyed one day by the persistent "peeping" of a
swallow that had perched in a nook just outside my window, I leaned out
and frightened him away with my handkerchief. He darted down to a
little olive-plantation below, and a minute after up came a score or
two of swallows and began flying round in a circle directly before my
window, screaming like little demons. Now and then one would dart out
of the circle and make a vicious dip toward my face, with the evident
wish to peck my eyes out, so that I was glad to draw back. It reminded
me of the famous circular battery which attacked one of the Confederate
forts during our civil war, and it was quite as well managed.

The _vetturino_ whom we took from the station up to the town on our
arrival told me, when I gave my address, that the Sor Filomena had gone
away from Asisi, and I had better go to the hotel Leone. I insisted on
being taken to the Sor Filomena's house. He replied that the house was
closed, and renewed his recommendations of the Leone. After the
inevitable combat we succeeded in having ourselves set down at our
lodgings, where Sor Filomena's rosy face appeared at the open door.

"Why did you tell such a lie?" I asked of the unblushing vetturino,
using the rough word _bugia_.

He looked insulted: "I have not told a bugia."

With a philosophical desire for information I repeated the question,
using the milder word _mensogna_. He drew himself up, looked virtuous
and declared that he had not told a mensogna.

"Why, then," I asked, "have you said one thing for another?"

It was just what he wanted. He immediately began a profuse verbal
explanation of why one thing was sometimes better to say than another,
why one was truer than another, and so mixed up his _una cosa_ and _un'
altra cosa_ as to put me quite _hors de combat_, and send me into the
house with the impression that I ought to be ashamed of myself for
having told somebody a lie. It brought to my mind one of my father's
favorite quotations: "Some things can be done as well as some other

I was shown to my room, which was rough, as all rooms in Asisi are, but
large and high. As Sor Filomena said, it had _un' aria signorile_ in
spite of the coarse brick floor and the ugly doors and lumpy walls.
Some large dauby old paintings gave a color to the dimness, there were
a fine old oak secretary black with age, a real bishop's carved stool
with a red cushion laid on it, and a long window opening on to a view
of the wide plain with its circling mountains and its many cities and
_paesetti_ - Perugia shining white from the neighboring hill; Spello and
Spoleto standing out in bold profile in the opposite direction;
Montefalco lying like a gray pile of rocks on a southern hilltop; the
village and church of Santa Maria degli Angeli nestled like a flock of
cloves in the plain; and half a dozen others.

I ordered writing-table and chair to be set before the window, and
enthroned upon the bishop's tabouret an unabridged Worcester - this
being probably his first visit to Asisi - and I was immediately at home.

The servant, Maria, whose maternal grandmother was a countess, was
making some last arrangements in the room.

"Come and see what a beautiful new moon there is," I said to her.

She came to the window and looked toward the west. "That isn't the
moon: it is a star," she said, fixing her eyes upon Venus.

It was quite characteristic of her class. They all think _forestieri_
do not know the moon from a star.

I pointed lower down, to where an ecstatic crescent was melting in the
sunset gold.

She gazed at it a moment, then said: "It is beautiful: I never noticed
it before. I never look at the sky except to see what the weather is to
be. It is for you signori to look at beautiful things, not for us
_poveretti_. - Do you see the sky in America?" she asked presently.

I assured her that we do, and that the sun, moon and stars shine in it
just as here in Italy.

She was greatly puzzled. "I thought that America was under ground," she

I remembered Galileo and held my peace. Besides, in these days of
universal knowledge, when we hear scientific terms lisped by infant
lips, it is refreshing to see an example of fine old-fashioned
ignorance. Yet this woman had better manners than are to be found in
most drawing-rooms, a sweet, courteous dignity, and in matters which
came within her personal knowledge great good sense and judgment. Only
she had never learned that from the centre of the earth all directions
are up.

Of course a stranger's first visit in Asisi is to the basilica of San
Francesco, and, though I had seen it before, I lost no time in renewing
my acquaintance with it. This church is not only the jewel of Asisi,
but one of the most precious of Italy. It is among churches what a
person of genius is in a crowd. The rich marbles one sees elsewhere
suggest the mechanic in their arrangement, and one grows almost tired
of them; but here the soul of Art and Faith has poured itself out,
covering all the wide walls, the ceilings, the sides of arches, the
ribs of groinings - every foot of space, in short - with life and color;
and how much more precious is one of those solemn pearly faces than a
panel of alabaster or the most cunning mosaic of marbles! In the upper
church alone there are twenty-two large frescoes of Cimabue and thirty
of Giotto. Over these pours the light from fourteen large colored
windows, unimpeded by side-aisles. When the sun beats upon these
windows the church seems to be filled with a transparent mist softly
tinted with a thousand rich hues. The deep-blue, star-sown vault
sparkles and the figures on the walls become a vision.

The upper church has been in danger of losing its beautiful choir, a
marvel of carving and _intarsio_, which Cavalcasella, inspector of fine
arts in Italy, removed for the odd reason that it was a work of the
fourteenth century, while the church was of the thirteenth, and to be
in perfect keeping should have a stone choir. I have not learned
whether this hyper-purist will require of the congregation a
thirteenth-century costume when the church is again open for service.

These beautiful stalls, one hundred and two in number, are now placed
for safe-keeping in what was the infirmary of the adjoining college.
Possibly, when the work going on _pian piano_ in the church is
completed, they may be restored to their original place. Their sombre
richness would show well in that radiant atmosphere.

The work in the church is, however, well done, and was greatly needed,
for those precious frescoes were gradually going to decay. No touch of
pencil is allowed: the work is one of preservation merely, and is being
conducted with the greatest care. The loosened _intonaco_ is found by
tapping lightly on the wall: plaster is then slipped underneath and the
painting firmly pressed to its place. At first _gesso_ was used, but it
was found not to answer the purpose. Every smallest fragment of
painting is saved, and the blank spaces are filled in with plaster
which is painted a light gray. This freshens and throws out the
adjoining colors.

It is customary to call the lower church "devotional." With many, a
dark church is always devotional. I should rather call it sympathetic.
Every sort of mood may here find itself reflected, and the sinner be as
much at home as the saint. Anger and hate may hide as well as devotion:
the artist may dream, the weary may rest, the stupid doze. The only
objects which ever seemed to me utterly incongruous there were a brisk
company of hurried tourists, red-covered guidebook in hand, clattering
with sharp-sounding boot-heels up the dim nave and talking with sharp,
loud voices at the very steps of the altar where people were kneeling
at the most solemn moment of the mass. But even these invariably soften
their tones and their movements after a while.

This church has always some pleasant surprise for the frequent visitor.
The morning light shows one picture, the evening light another: the
sunrise adorns this window, the sunset that. There is no hour from dawn
to dark in which some gem of ancient painting does not look its best,
while little noticed, if seen at all, at other hours. Some are seen by
a reflected light; others, when the church is so dark that one may
stumble against a person in the nave, gather to themselves the dim and
scattered rays like an aureole, from which they look out with soft
distinctness; and there are others, again, upon which a sun-ray,
finding a narrow passage through arch after arch, alights with a sudden
momentary glory that is almost startling.

It is a fascinating place, that middle church - never light, but always
traversed by some varying illumination which is ever lost in shadows.
And in those shadows how much may lurk of present material beauty and
of beautiful memory! Here, before the chapel of St. Louis, Raphael
lingered, learning the frescoed Sibyls of its vault so by heart that he
almost reproduced them afterward in the Pace at Rome - that dear Raphael
who did not fear being called a plagiarist, his soul was so full of
beauty, and he so transfigured whatever he touched with that suave
pencil of his that seemed to have been clipped in light for a color.
And where did the feet of Michael Angelo rest when he stood in the
transept and praised that Crucifixion painted on the wall? One might
expect that the stones would have been conscious of the Orpheus they

In the college adjoining the church there were a year ago but fifteen
monks, and no others are admitted. When these fifteen shall be dead the
convent - _Sacro Collegio_ they call it - will pass entirely into the
hands of the government, which now uses the greater part of it for a
school for the sons of poor teachers, who are sent here from all parts
of Italy.

Accompanied by a professor of the college, we went over that part of
the building not appropriated to the monks. It is a little town in
itself, and has something of the variety and contrasts of a town. To go
from the vast refectory to that upper part of the building called the
Ghetto, with its interminable low and narrow corridor and lines of
little chambers, is to see the two extremes of which building is

Without intending to write a statistical article, I may give a few of
the dimensions we took note of. The refectory is one hundred and ninety
feet long and forty wide, and is capable of seating at table five
hundred persons. The tables run around the room, with a single row of
seats against the wall, and are served from the centre of the hall.
Quite across one end extends a painting of the Last Supper. At one side
is a tiny pulpit, from which in the old time one would read aloud while
the monks ate.

The infirmary and rooms used for storing articles in ordinary use
occupy twenty large chambers. The five elementary school-rooms are each
fifty feet square, the kitchen is eighty-three feet square, and the
fencing-hall and garden adjoining contain together over sixty-six
hundred square feet. The cistern under the cloister is of nearly the
same size.

There is water in profusion - in the court, the kitchen, the boys'
wash-rooms, wherever it can be needed. In the entry from the principal
court is an odd fourteenth-century fountain which is a perfect
calendar. It is set against the wall, and is in twelve compartments,
answering to the twelve months of the year. In the frieze above are
carved roses, red stone on a white ground - in some compartments thirty,
in others thirty-one, answering to the days of the month. All the
fountains are made of the crimson-and-white stone of Asisi, which is
seen everywhere about the city - in vases for holy water, in pavements,
in garden-walls, in the foundations of houses. The stone, a red
sandstone, is found in plenty in the adjoining mountains, and has a
rich, soft crimson hue with irregular lines of white. But it is very
hard to work, and could scarcely be made to pay the expense of the
necessary machinery.

"For what I should have to pay for a bath of red marble, about one
hundred lire (twenty dollars)," said the Count B - - to me, "I could
buy a bath of Carrara."

"Baths of crimson marble and of Carrara!" I thought, and remembered
with an involuntary shudder my dear native zinc.

But to return to the Sacro Collegio. In one of the immense labyrinthine
cellars is a _botte_ for wine capable of containing five thousand
litri. There, it is said - I know not how truly - once a year, when the
botte was emptied, came four of the spiritual fathers of the college
above, with a table and chairs, and played a certain game of cards,
which was one of their simple amusements. Whether this meeting was
intended as an exorcism of any evil influences which might threaten the
new must about to be put in, or a mild bacchanalian tribute to the
empty space from which they had drawn so much comfort and cheerfulness
during the year, or whether the wine left some fine perfume behind it
which they wished to inhale, tradition saith not. Maybe the fathers
never went there, and the story is merely _ben trovato_.

In the school of design we admired a copy of some of the carving of the
choir of the cathedral of Asisi. The leaves were remarkably crisp and
all the lines full of life. My guide told me that this choir and the
famous one of St. Peter's in Perugia were designed by the same artist,
but that of Perugia was executed by another and more timid hand, while
this of Asisi was carved by the artist himself.

Our last visit in the college was to the grand _loggia_ - finer than
anything of the kind I have seen in Italy except the Loggia del
Paradiso of Monte Casino, which is open, while this of San Francesco is
closed. The grandeur of this loggia, with its lofty arches and long
perspective, is in harmony with the magnificence of the view to be seen
from it. Seated there, on the stone divan that runs the whole length of
the colonnade, I listened a while to the very interesting talk of my
companion. This gentleman, Professor Cristofani, is said to be one of
the most learned men in Umbria, and has studied so thoroughly his
native province as to be an authority on all that concerns its history
and antiquities. A native of Asisi, he has devoted himself especially
to that city, and his _Storia di Asisi_ and _Guida di Asisi_ are
monuments of learned and patient research. He has written also a
history of San Damiano which has lately been translated in England.

The government took possession of this church and convent of San
Damiano, the first home of St. Clara and her companions, and proposed
establishing there a school of arts and trades; but Lord Ripon
persuaded them to sell the property to him, and in his turn presented
it to the _frati_ from whom it had been taken. It is a rough place, but
interesting in memories.

"I have a book _in petto_," the professor said, "which will, I think,
be more valuable and interesting than the others. I have collected
material for a history of the church and convent of St. Francis, and
shall write it as soon as I have time. I should be glad if it could be

While he spoke my imagination was already turning over the leaves of a
history of that stately monument, around which clusters so much of
Middle-Age story, and looking at copies of forms and faces which to
remember is a dream of rainbows and angels. There should be that quaint
Madonna who points her thumb over her shoulder at St. Francis while she
asks her Son to bless him, and the three saints and the Madonna of the
north transept, and the pictures at the entrance of the chapel of San
Martino, and the vault of the chapel of St. Louis, and a thousand other
lovely things.

And, "Signor Professore," I said eagerly, "how I should like to
translate that work, pictures and all, into English!"

He cordially consented, with many compliments.

As we left the loggia he pointed to the arch opposite the
entrance-door. "That is the arch of suicides," he said: "more than one
man has thrown himself down that precipice."

We were joined by a Benedictine monk as we went but, who proposed that
we should go up the campanile. It is pleasant to visit the bells of a
famous or favorite church. It is like seeing a poet whose songs we have
heard, and pleasanter in some respects; for while the poet may mantle
himself in commonplace at our approach, like Olympus in clouds, one can
always waken the spirit of song in these airy singers.

The way up this campanile is very rough, a mere gravelly path, and one
can only maintain his footing by holding a rope that runs all the way
up, following the four sides. Reaching the large chamber at the top, we
paid our respects to the seven bells, whose intricate changes I had so
many times tried to follow. Their ringing is a puzzle. In the middle
hung the melancholy _campanone_, with a silvery soprano by its side - a
very Dante and Beatrice among bells.

We stayed to hear the noon Angelus strike, and while the last stroke
was still booming around the great bell I took a step toward it and
stretched my hand out.

I was instantly snatched backward, with a profusion of excuses.

"It is said," the professor explained, "that if a bell be touched, even
with the finger-tip, while ringing, it will instantly break. I do not
know if it be true, but it is worth guarding against."

It was indeed! A fine appetite I should have had for my breakfast, at
that moment awaiting me, if I had had to reflect over it that the great
bell of the great basilica of St. Francis of Asisi had that very
morning been cracked into pieces by my fore finger! What visions of
horrified crowds of _Asisinati_, of black storms of newspaper items, of
censuring gossip the world over, would have come between me and that

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 7 of 20)