CORSICA AND SARDINIA.
WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
RAMBLES IN NORWAY, 1848-1849; including Remarks on its Political, Military, Ecclesiastical, and Social Organization. With a Map, Wood Engravings, and Lithographic Illustrations. 1 vol. 8vo. Longman and Co., 1860.
* * A few copies only of this Edition are on hand. *
THE SAME, in 1 vol. post 8vo. without the Illustrations. (Traveller's Library.) Longman and Co., 1855.
EVERARD TUNSTALL: A South-African Tale. Bentley, 1851.
* * A New Edition is in preparation. *
THE DANUBE AND THE BLACK SEA. A Memoir on their Junction by a Railway and Port; with Remarks on the Navigation of the Danube, the Danubian Provinces, the Corn Trade, the Antient and Present Commerce of the Euxine; and Notices of History, Antiquities, &c. With a Map and Sketch of the Town and Harbour of Kustendjie. 1 vol. 8vo. E. Stanford, 6 Charing Cross, 1857.
LONDON: PRINTED BY SPOTTISWOODE AND CO. NEW-STREET SQUARE.
IN THE ISLANDS OF
CORSICA AND SARDINIA.
NOTICES OF THEIR HISTORY, ANTIQUITIES, AND PRESENT CONDITION.
BY THOMAS FORESTER
AUTHOR OF NORWAY IN 1818-1819, ETC.
LONGMAN, BROWN, GREEN, LONGMANS, AND ROBERTS.
Nearly a century ago, James Boswell made an expedition to Corsica, and was entertained with distinction by Pascal Paoli. Next to conducting Samuel Johnson to the Hebrides, the exploit of penetrating to what was then considered a sort of Ultima Thule in southern Europe, was the greatest event in the famous biographer's life; and, next to his devotion to the English sage, was the homage he paid to the Corsican chief.
Soon after his return from this expedition, in 1767, Boswell printed his Journal, with a valuable account of the island; but from that time to the present, no Englishman has written on Corsica except Mr. Robert Benson, who published some short Sketches of its history, scenery, and people in 1825. During the war of the revolution, Nelson's squadron hung like a thunder-cloud round the coast, and for some time an expeditionary force of British troops held possession of the island. Our George the Third accepted the Corsican crown, but his reign was as ephemeral as that of King Theodore, the aspiring adventurer, who ended his days in the Fleet Prison.
These occurrences, with any knowledge of the country and people arising out of them, have passed from the memory of the present generation; and it may be affirmed, without exaggeration, that when the tour forming the subject of the present work was projected and carried out, Corsica was less known in England than New Zealand. The general impression concerning it was tolerably correct. Imagination painted it as a wild and romantic country,romantic in its scenery and the character of its inhabitants; a very region of romance and sentiment; a fine field for the novelist and the dramatist; and to that class of writers it was abandoned.
Corsica had yet to be faithfully pictured to the just apprehension of the discerning inquirer. Naturally therefore the author, whose narratives of his wanderings in more than one quarter of the globe had been favourably received, was not indisposed to commit to the press the result of his observations during his Corsican rambles. Just then, translations of an account of a Tour in the island by a German traveller, appeared in England, and being written in an attractive style, the work commanded considerable attention. It seemed to fill the gap in English literature on the subject of Corsica; and though the writer of these pages felt that M. Gregorovius' pictures of Corsican life were too highly coloured, he was inclined to leave the field in the hands which had cultivated it with talent and success. Eventually, however, being led to think that Corsica was still open to survey from an English point of view, and that it possessed sufficient legitimate attractions to sustain the interest of such a work as he had designed, the author was induced to undertake it.
If the field of literature connected with Corsica was found barren when examined in prospect of this expedition, that of Sardinia presented an embarras de richesses. The works of La Marmora, Captain, now Admiral, Smyth, and Mr. Warre Tyndale, had seemingly exhausted the subject, with a success the mere Rambler can make no pretensions to rival; but the former being a foreign work, and the two latter out of print, neither of them is easily accessible. They have been sometimes used, in the following pages, to throw light on subjects which came under the author's own observation. He has also consulted a valuable work, recently published at Naples, by F. Antonio Bresciani, of the Society of Jesus, on the manners and habits of the Sardes compared with those of the oldest Oriental nations. The comparisons are chiefly gathered from scenes and usages depicted in the narratives of Homer and the Bible, still singularly reflected in the habits and traditions of the primitive and insular people of Sardinia.
Some of these are noticed in the present volume, and the author intended to draw more largely on the rich stores accumulated by the researches of the learned Jesuit; but time and space failed. Like truant boys, the Ramblers had loitered on their early path, idly amusing themselves with very trifles, or stopping to gather the wild flowers that fell in their way, till the harvest-field was reached too late to be carefully gleaned. For a work, however, of this description, attention enough has perhaps been paid to the subject of Sarde antiquities; it being intended to be amusing as well as instructive, to convey information on the character of the people on whom it treats, as well as on their institutions and monuments.
If, in conclusion, it be mentioned that the delay in bringing out the volume, long since announced, has been caused by ill health and other painful circumstances, the Author is only anxious that it should not be misinterpreted, as attaching to the work an importance to which it does not pretend. But there is the less reason for regretting this delay, as it has afforded him another opportunity of visiting Sardinia, as well as of witnessing the operation of laying down the submarine electric telegraph cable between Cagliari and the African coast; an event in Sardinian history, some notice of which, with the accompanying trip to Algeria, may form a not uninteresting episode to the Rambles in that island.
Inducements to the Expedition.Early impressions concerning Corsica.Plan of the Tour.Routes to Marseilles.Meeting there Page 1
Marseilles.Cafe de l'Orient.Cannebière and Port.Sail to the Islands in the Gulf.The Château-d'If and Count de Monte-Cristo.A sudden Squall 8
Embark for Corsica.Coast of France and Italy.Toulon.Hyères Islands, Frejus, &c.A stormy Night.Crossing the Tuscan Sea 21
Coast of Capo Corso.Peculiarity of Scenery.Verdure, and Mountain Villages.Il Torre di Seneca.Land at Bastia 28
Bastia.Territorial Divisions.Plan of the Rambles.Hiring Mules.The Start 38
Leave Bastia.The Road.View of Elba, Pianosa, and Monte-Cristo.The Littorale.An Adventure.The Stagna di Biguglia 44
Evergreen Thickets.Their remarkable Character.A fortunate Rencontre.Moonlight in the Mountains.Cross a high Col.Corsican Shepherds.The Vendetta.Village Quarters 53
The Littorale.Corsican Agriculture.Greek and Roman Colonies.Sketch of Mediæval and Modern History.Memoirs of King Theodore de Neuhoff 65
Environs of Olmeta.Bandit-Life and the Vendetta.Its Atrocities.The Population disarmed.The Bandits exterminated 77
The Basin of Oletta.The Olive.Corsican Tales.The Heroine of Oletta.Zones of Climate and Vegetation 90
Pisan Church at Murato.Chestnut Woods.Gulf of San Fiorenzo.Nelson's Exploit there.He conducts the Siege of Bastia.Ilex Woods.Mountain Pastures.The Corsican Shepherd 102
Chain of the Serra di Tenda.A Night at Bigorno.A hospitable Priest.Descent to the Golo 117
Ponte Nuovo.The Battle-field.Antoine's Story 129
Filial Duty, Love, and Revenge: a Corsican Tale 134
Morosaglia, Seat of the Paolis.Higher Valley of the Golo.Orography of Corsica.Its Geology 145
Approach to Corte.Our Man of the Woods.Casa Paoli.The Gaffori.Citadel.An Evening Stroll 156
Pascal Paoli more honoured than Napoleon Buonaparte.His Memoirs.George III. King of Corsica.Remarks on the Union.Paoli's Death and Tomb 164
Excursion to a Forest.Borders of the Niolo.Adventures.Corsican Pines.The Pinus Maritima and Pinus Lariccio.Government Forests 179
The Forest of Asco.Corsican Beasts of Chase.The Moufflon.Increase of Wild Animals.The last of the Banditti 191
Leave Corte for Ajaccio.A Legend of Venaco.Arrival at Vivario 200
Leave Vivario.Forest of Vizzavona.A roadside Adventure.Bocagnono.Arrive late at Ajaccio 205
Ajaccio.Collège-Fesch.Reminiscences of the Buonaparte Family.Excursion in the Gulf.Chapel of the Greeks.Evening Scenes.Council-General of the Department.Statistics.State of Agriculture in Corsica.Her Prospects 213
Leave Ajaccio.Neighbourhood of Olmeto.Sollacaró.James Boswell's Residence there.Scene in the Corsican Brothers laid there.Quarrel of the Vincenti and Grimaldi.Road to Sartene.Corsican Marbles.Arrive at Bonifacio 227
Bonifacio.Foundation and History.Besieged by Alfonso of Arragon.By Dragut and the Turks.Singularity of the Place.Its Medieval Aspect.The Post-office.Passports.Detention.Marine Grottoes.Ruined Convent of St. Julian 242
ISLAND OF SARDINIA.Cross the Straits of Bonifacio.The Town and Harbour of La Madelena.Agincourt Sound, the Station of the British Fleet in 1803.Anecdotes of Nelson.Napoleon Bonaparte repulsed at La Madelena 258
Ferried over to the Main Island.Start for the Mountain Passes of the Gallura.Sarde Horses and Cavallante.Valley of the Liscia.Pass some Holy Places on the Hills.Festivals held there.Usages of the Sardes indicating their Eastern Origin 272
The Valley narrows.Romantic Glen.Al fresco Meal.Forest of Cork Trees.Salvator Rosa Scenery.Haunts of Outlaws.Their Atrocities.Anecdotes of them in a better Spirit.The Defile in the Mountains.Elevated Plateau.A Night March.Arrival at Tempio, the Capital of Gallura.Our Reception 280
Tempio.The Town and Environs.The Limbara Mountains.Vineyards.The Governor or Intendente of the Province.Deadly Feuds.Sarde Girls at the Fountains.Hunting in Sardinia.Singular Conference with the Tempiese Hunters.Society at the Casino.Description of a Boar Hunt 295
Leave Tempio.Sunrise.Light Wreaths of Mist across the Valley.A Pass of the Limbara.View from the Summit.Dense Vapour over the Plain beneath.The Lowlands unhealthy.The deadly Intempérie.It recently carried off an English Traveller.Descend a romantic Glen to the Level of the Campidano.Its peculiar Character.Gallop over it.Reach Ozieri 310
Effects of vast Levels as compared with Mountain Scenery.Sketches of Sardinian Geology.The primitive Chains and other Formations.Traces of extensive Volcanic action.The Campidani, or Plains.Mineral Products 320
Ozieri.A Refugee Colonel turned Cook and Traiteur.Traces of Phenician Superstitions in Sarde Usages.The Rites of Adonis.Passing through the Fire to Moloch 331
Expedition to the Mountains.Environs of Ozieri.First View of the Peaks of Genargentu.Forests.Value of the Oak Timber.Cork Trees; their Produce, and Statistics of the Trade.Hunting the Wild Boar, &c.The Hunters' Feast.A Bivouac in the Woods.Notices of the Province of Barbagia.Independence of the Mountaineers 344
Leave Ozieri.The New Road, and Travelling in the Campagna.Monte Santo.Scenes at the Halfway House.Volcanic Hills.Sassari; its History.Liberal Opinions of the Sassarese.Constitutional Government.Reforms wanted in Sardinia.Means for its Improvement 358
AlgheroNotice of.The Cathedral of Sassari.University.Museum.A Student's private Cabinet.Excursion to a Nuraghe.Description of.Remarks on the Origin and Design of these Structures 376
Sardinian Monoliths.The Sepolture, or Tombs of the Giants.Traditions regarding Giant Races.The Anakim, &c., of Canaan.Their supposed Migration to Sardinia.Remarks on Aboriginal Races.Antiquity of the Nuraghe and Sepolture.Their Founders unknown 389
Oristano.Orange-groves of Milis.Cagliari.Description of.The Cathedral and Churches.Religious Laxity.Ecclesiastical Statistics.Vegetable and Fruit Market.Royal Museum.Antiquities.Coins found in Sardinia.Phenician Remains.The Sarde Idols 407
Porto-Torres.Another Italian Refugee.Embark for Genoa.West Coast of Corsica.Turin.The Sardinian Electric Telegraph.The Wires laid to Cagliari 422
Sardinian Electric Telegraph.The Land Line completed.Failures in Attempts to lay a Submarine Cable to Algeria.The Work resumed.A Trip to Bona on the African Coast.The Cable laid.Importance of Cagliari as a Telegraph Station.Its Commerce.The return Voyage.CONCLUSION 432
INDEX TO THE ILLUSTRATIONS.
AJACCIO frontispiece MAP OF CORSICA AND SARDINIA facing p. 1 ERSA, CAPO CORSO 33 CORTE 157 VIVARIO 205 BONIFACIO 242 VALLEY OF THE LISCIA, SARDINIA 275 THE LIMBARA, FROM TEMPIO 296 THE PLAN OF OZIERI 318
MARSEILLES, FROM THE RAILWAY 7 ISLETS OFF MARSEILLES 12 CHÂTEAU-D'IF 14 MARSEILLES, FROM THE CHÂTEAU-D'IF 17 FRENCH COAST, OFF CIOTAT 23 OFF TOULON 24 IL TORRE DI SENECA 34 ISLE OF MONTE-CRISTO 47 MEETING OF MOUNTAIN AND PLAIN NEAR BASTIA 48 OLMETA 77 ISLE OF MONTE-CRISTO, THROUGH A GORGE 91 BETWEEN OLMETA AND BIGORNO 95 PONTE MURATO 103 CAPO CORSO, FROM CHESTNUT WOODS 107 NEAR BIGORNO 122 CITADEL OF CORTE 161 PINUS MARITIMA 185 PINUS LARICCIO 185 CONE OF THE PINUS LARICCIO 186 BARK OF THE PINUS LARICCIO 186 BOCAGNONO 209 HARBOUR OF AJACCIO 217 BONIFACIO, ON THE SEA-SIDE 240 OUTLINE OF SARDINIA, FROM BONIFACIO 253 CAVES UNDER BONIFACIO 255 BONIFACIO, FROM THE CONVENT IN THE VALLEY 256
LOOKING BACK ON CORSICA 259 A SALVATOR ROSA SCENE 282 DESCENT TO THE CAMPIDANO 313 THE CAMPIDANO 321 EXTERIOR OF A NURAGHE 379 ENTRANCE TO A NURAGHE 381 INTERIOR OF A NURAGHE 381 SEPOLTURA DE IS GIGANTES 390 THE SAME 391 SARDO-ROMAN COIN 417 CARTHAGINEAN COIN 418 SARACEN COIN 418 PORTO-TORRES 425
CORSICA AND SARDINIA.
Inducements to the Expedition.Early impressions concerning Corsica.Plan of the Tour.Routes to Marseilles.Meeting there.
It would be difficult to say, and it matters little, what principally led to the selection of two islands in the Mediterranean, not generally supposed to possess any particular attractions for the tourist, as the object for an autumn's expedition with the companion of former rambles. At any rate, we should break fresh ground; and I imagine the hope of shooting moufflons was no small inducement to my friend, who had succeeded in the wild sport of hunting reindeer on the high Fjelds of Norway. If, too, his comrade should fail in climbing to the vast solitudes in which the bounding moufflon harbours, there were boar hunts in the prospect for him; not such courtly pageants as one sees in the pictures of Velasquez, but more stirring, and in nobler covers.
Should these prove to be false hopes, the enthusiastic sketcher, and the lover of the grand and beautiful in nature, must find ample compensation in the scenery of mountains lifting their snowy peaks from bases washed by the sunny Mediterranean,mountain systems of a character yet unvisited, and with which we could at least compare those of Norway and Switzerland. This power of comparison is what imparts the most lively interest to travelling; and thus it becomes, for the time, all-engrossing, the eyes and the memory alike employed at every turn on contrasts of form, colour, and clothing.
Not less attractive, to any one desirous of extending his knowledge of human kind, would be the prospect of studying the races inhabiting islands as yet unknown to him. The oldest writer of travels, bringing on the stage his hero-wanderer along the shores of the Mediterranean, gives the finishing touch to his character in two significant words, . Not only did he visit the abodes of many people, but he studied their ; all that the term involves of its impress on character, habits, and institutions was keenly investigated by the accomplished navigator. And what studies must be afforded by these singular islanders, who, we were informed, in the centre of the Mediterranean, at the very threshold of civilisation, combined many of the virtues, with more than the ferocity, of barbarous tribes!
My own impressions regarding Corsica were early received. In my younger days, there was the same sort of sympathy with the Corsicans which we now find more noisily, and sometimes absurdly, displayed for the Poles. I had seen Pascal Paoli, and talked with General Dumouriez about his first campaign against the Corsican mountaineers, of which his recollections were by no means agreeable. Pascal Paoli had found an asylum in England, where he maintained a dignified seclusion, not always imitated by patriot exiles. His memory has almost passed away, and it is quite imaginable that some stump orator may reckon him among the exiled Poles of former days. Pascal Paoli was, however, a truly great man. In my boyish enthusiasmall Grecians are in the heroics about patriots who have fought and struggled for their country's libertyI compared him with Aristides or Themistocles; the Corsicans were heroes; the country which rudely nursed those brave mountaineersI had also a touch of sentiment for the sublime and beautiful in nature which a schoolboy does not always get from books,such a country must be romantic. Should I ever ramble among its mountains, forests, and sunny valleys?
At last, long after the chimera, for such it inevitably was, of Corsican independence had vanished, my cherished hopes have been realised,with what success will appear in the following pages. I will only say for myself, and I believe my fellow-traveller participates the feeling, a more delightful tour I never made.
Corsica had an ugly reputation for banditisme, and Sardinia for a deadly intempérie; but we did not attach much importance to such rumours. The enthusiastic traveller disregards danger. If told that there is a lion in his path, he only goes the more resolutely forward. As for the banditti, we would fraternise with them if they, best knowing the mountain paths, would track the moufflons for us.
The true traveller must become all things to all men, if he desires to familiarise himself with the habits and characters of other races. Without forgetting that he is an Englishman, he will cast off that self-conceit and cold exclusiveness which make so many of your countrymen ridiculous in the eyes of foreigners, and, adapting himself to the situation, become, if needs be, a bandit in Corsica, a bonder in Norway, drink sour milk without a wry face in a Caffre's kraal, take snuff with his wivesbe any thing except a Turk in Turkey; though even there, when he comes to talk the language, he will adopt the eastern custom of taking his pipe, his coffee, and his repose, not chattering, but sententiously uttering his words between whiffs of smoke, which, meanwhile, he drinks, as the Turks well express it.
We envy not the man, the T. G. (travelling gent.) of society, whose principal aim in travelling is to gratify a miserable vanity; to be able to boast of crossing or climbing such a mountain; to have to say, I have been here, I have been there; I have done Bagdad; I have seen the Nile, or such and such a place. The true traveller is unselfish. Though to him it is food, breath, a renewal of life, a fresh existence, to travel,half his pleasure is to carry home from his wanderings, to an English fireside, a tale of other lands. That happy English home is ever present to his mind, and, with all his enthusiasm, he meets with nothing in his rambles he would exchange for its blessings.
Being strongly recommended to defer our visit to Sardinia until the latest possible period of the autumn, the plan finally laid was to take Corsica in detail from Capo Corso to Bonifaccio, and then cross the straits, as best we might, there being no regular communication. Having landed in Sardinia, we should continue the tour through that island as long as circumstances permitted; leaving it by one of the Sardinian government's steam-boats which ply between the island and Genoa and so take the route by Turin, over the Mont-Cenis, to Lyons, Paris, and Boulogne.
As these islands lie on the same parallel of longitude (11° 50' E. nearly cutting the centre of both), by the route thus chalked out, we should make a straight course from north to south, with no considerable deviations, the islands being, as every one knows, in the form of parallelograms of much greater length than breadth.
Marseilles was finally arranged to be our port of embarkation, and the postponement of the visit to Sardinia till November leaving time on our hands, we had ample leisure for the accomplishment of some secondary projects, which brought us into training for the grand coup. My friend pushed through the more frequented parts of Switzerland for Zermatt and the Matterhorn. He was much struck by the remarkable contrast of that stupendous obelisk of rock, piercing the clouds, with the vast, but still sublime, expanse of the high Fjelds of snow we had seen in Norway; and the remark applies generally to the grand distinctive features of the two countries. Descending the valley of Aosta, my friend travelled by Genoa and Nice through the Maritime Alps to Marseilles, going on to Avignon with some friends he happened to fall in with on the way;such meetings with those we know, and sometimes with those we do not know, being among the pleasures of travelling in the more frequented routes. Agreeable acquaintances are made or renewed; perhaps a day or two is spent in travelling together, with a charm that is very delightful; and you part with the hope of meeting again.
Meanwhile the author, who had been delving in the Norman Chronicles till every castle and abbey through the length and depth of the old Duchy were become familiar names, feeling a strong desire to revisit scenes thus brought fresh to his memory, shouldered his knapsack at Dieppe, and spent a most delightful fortnight in rambling through that fine province.
Many a pleasant story he could tell of wayside greetings and fireside hospitalities among the Norman peasantry. The old soldier of the empire stopped his camarade, as something in our tenue led him to imagine, asking eager questions about the coming war and the united service, both which seemed to be popular; while market and fair, and the communal school, each in their turn, drew forth amusing companions for the road. But these episodes, and more serious talk of Norman abbeys buried in the depths of forests or girded round by the winding Seinerich in memories of the past, but ruins alland of Norman churches and cathedrals, in all their ancient grandeur, or well restored, are beside the present purpose.
Hastening southward by diligence and chemin-de-fer, the first vineyards appeared between Chartres and Orleans, with an effect much inferior, as it seemed, to that produced by the orchards of Normandy, loaded as they were with ruddy fruit; but this may be the prejudice of a native of the West of England. From Lyons, one of the long narrow steamboats afforded a most agreeable passage down the stream of the rapid Rhone to Avignon. The autumn rains, which sometimes caused a weary march through the byroads of Normandy, had cooled the air, freshened vegetation, and made travelling in the south of France pleasant. While journeying on, every hour and every league bringing me nearer to the intended meeting, it was natural to feel some anxiety lest in such great distances to be traversed, with little or no intermediate communication, something might go wrong, and our plans, however well laid, be delayed or frustrated. The last stage of the journey commencedshould I be first at the rendezvous, or was my companion for the future waiting my arrival?
At last, after spending the warm noon of an unclouded day amongst the noble ruins of Arles, the train landed me at the station at Marseilles, and my friend was on the platform. The pleasure of casual meetings en route has been just adverted to. How joyous was that of two travellers, wanderers together in times gone by, who now met so far from home, after their separate courses, with a fresh field opening before them!the recognition, doubt and uncertainty vanishing, the glorious chat,all this the warm-hearted reader will easily imagine.
Marseilles.Café de l'Orient.Cannebière and Port.Sail to the Islands in the Gulf.The Château d'If and Count de Monte-Cristo.A sudden Squall.
We met then at Marseilles in the second week of October, punctual to the appointed day. Our several lines of route had well converged. Want of companionship was the only drawback on the pleasure they had afforded; but they were only preludes to the joint undertaking on which we now entered. Each recounted his past adventures, and measures were concerted for the future.
Steamboats leave Marseilles three times every week for Corsica;I like to be particular, especially when one gets beyond Murray's beat. One of these boats calls at Bastia on its way to Leghorn; the others make each a voyage direct to Calvi, or l'Isle de Rousse, and Ajaccio.
It suited us best to land at Bastia, but we were detained three days at Marseilles waiting for the boat. That also happened to suit us. We had hitherto travelled in the lightest possible marching order, and some heavier baggage, containing equipments for our expedition in the islands, had not yet turned up. Knapsack tours are not the style beyond the Alps. In the south and east, all above the lowest grade ride. It is so in Corsica; still more in Sardinia,where all is eastern. We trudged on foot sometimes in Corsica, to get into the country, and should have been considered mad; but, as Englishmen, we were only eccentric. We waited then for our baggage, which contained, among other things, English saddles,a great luxury. My companion thought it a professional duty to reconnoitre the fortifications of Toulon. By travelling in the night, going and returning, he contrived to get a clear day for the purpose.
Marseilles had interest enough to occupy my attention during his absence. Being the great entrepôt of commerce, and centre of communication, in the Mediterranean, all the races dwelling on its shores, and many others, are represented there.
Let us go to the Grand Café,I think it is called Café de l'Orientsaid my companion, the evening we met.
Any one who has merely visited Paris may imagine the brilliance of this vast salon, the lights reflected on a hundred mirrors. But where else than at Marseilles could be found such an assemblage as now crowded it?
See that Turk, with the magnificent beard. What yards of snowy gauze-like cambric, with gold-embroidered ends, are wound in graceful folds round the fez, contrasting with the dark mahogany colour of his sun-burnt brow. And what a rich crimson caftan! Perhaps he is from Tunis or Barbary. He sits alone, smoking, with eyes half-closed, grave and taciturn.
They must be Greeks,those two figures in dark-flowing robes. They too wear the red fez. Mark the neat moustache, the clean chiselled outline of their features, the active eye. They are eagerly conversing over that round marble table while they sip their coffee. Their talk must be of the corn markets. Now is their opportunity, as the harvest in France has failed. And see that man with the olive complexion, keen features, and ringlets of black hair and pendent ear-rings under his dark barrette. He may be the padróne of some felucca from Leghorn or Naples. Beside him is a Spaniard. He, too, seems a seafaring man; and no felucca-rigged vessels in the Mediterranean are smarter, finer-looking craft than the Spanish.
There are plenty of Arabs, swarthy, high-cheeked-boned, keen-eyed fellows, in snowy bournouses, with hair and moustache of almost unnatural blackness. French officers of every arm in the service are grouped round the tables, drinking eau-sucré and playing at dominoes or cards, or lounge on the sofas reading the gazettes. The garçons in scarlet tunics, relieved by their white turbans and cambric trowsers, are hurrying to and fro at the call of the motley guests.
Those two gentlemen just entering are Americans, not of the Yankee type, with free and easy air, and tall lanky forms. I made their acquaintance in the steam-boat down the Rhone. They are men of great intelligence, perfect savoir-vivre, and calm dignity of manner, patrician citizens of a republic. One of them wore his plaid as gracefully as a toga. I set him down for a senator from one of the Southern states.
I have seen no English here, said my companion. Next day he met his friend Captain H returning on leave from Malta to England. Marseilles is on the highway to all the East, and on the arrival or departure of the packets connected with the Overland Route there must be a strong muster of our countrymen, and women too.
Turning out of the shady avenue of the Corso on a sultry afternoon, I sauntered down the Rue de la Cannebière towards the port. It was the busiest part of the day, for there seemed to be no idle time for the siesta here. The streets and quays were thronged with people of the same varieties of race we had seen in the café; most of them, of course, of an inferior class. There can be no mistaking that wild-looking creature, bare-legged, and in a white bournouse, who is staring with curious eyes at the splendid array of jewellery and plate displayed to his eager gaze in that shop window. Again he pauses before that elegant assortment of silks and shawls. What tales of European luxury will the child of the desert carry back to the tents of the Bedouins!
I found the port crowded with ships of all nations, the quays encumbered with piles of barriques and mountains of Egyptian wheat discharged in bulk. What blinding dust as they shovel it up! What a suffocating heat! What smells in this hollow trough which receives the filth of all the town! How curiously names on the sterns of vessels, and annonces over the shops of traiteurs and ship-chandlers, in very readable Greek, carry the mind back to the Phocæan founders of this great emporium of commerce!
It was a cooler walk along the Rue de Rome, and by the Marché-aux-Capucins, gay with fruits and flowers, to the Museum library, in search of books relating to Corsica. There was some difficulty in discovering it. Literature and science do not appear to be much in vogue in this seat of commerce. The Museum was closed, the custode absent, but a good-humoured porter allowed me a stranger's privilege, and took me into the library; giving me also some details of Corsican roads from his personal knowledge. The only book I discovered was Vallery's Travels. I made a few extracts, and found no reason to desire more. Few foreigners write travels in a style suited to the English taste. They are at home among cities, and galleries, and works of art, but have little real feeling for natural objects, and ill disguise it by pompous phrases, glitter, and sentiment.
Let us take a boat and sail over to the islands lying off the harbour, said my fellow-traveller one afternoon.
With all my heart.
These islets, most of them mere rocks, form a sort of sheltered strait, or roadstead, of which the island of Rion, with Cape Morgion on the mainland opposite, are the extreme points. Pomègue and Ratoneau are connected by a breakwater.
Garçon, put a roast fowl and some pâtés, with a loaf of bread and a bottle of Bordeaux, into a corbeille and send it down to the port.
We bought some grapes as we went along. There are landing-stairs at the upper end of the harbour, where pleasure-boats lie. We stepped into one, and were rowed down in a narrow channel between four or five tiers of ships, loading and unloading at the quays on each side. An arm of the Mediterranean, a thousand yards long, forms a noble harbour; but, foul, black, and stagnant, how different were its waters from the bright sea without! After passing the forts defending the narrow entrance, we hoisted sail. On the right was the new harbour of La Joliette, connected with the old port by a canal. At present it did not appear to be much frequented, but, during the war in the East, both scarcely sufficed for the vast flotilla employed in conveying troops and stores. It must be difficult for any one who has not witnessed it to conceive the scene Marseilles then presented.
We now discussed the contents of our hamper with great goût, the boatman occasionally pulling an oar as the wind was scant. But we had sufficiently receded from the shore to command a view of the basin in which Marseilles stands, and the amphitheatre of hills surrounding it, studded with the country-houses of the citizens; small cottages, called bastides, thousands of which spot the slopes of the hills like white specks.
High upon a rocky summit stands the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, held in great reverence, and much resorted to, by mariners and fishermen; the walls and roof being hung with votive offerings, commemorating deliverances from shipwreck and other ills to which mariner-flesh is heir.
Seaward lay the islands for which we were bound, but without any immediate prospect of reaching them, as the wind died away. It was pleasant enough to lie listlessly floating on the blue Mediterranean, with such charming views of the coast and the islands, and the picturesque craft in every direction becalmed like our own skiff: but we had another object in our evening's excursion; so, lowering the lateen sail, my companion took one of the oars, and the boatman, reinforced by a strong and steady stroke, pulling with a will, we soon landed at the foot of the black and frowning rock, crowned on the summit by the square massive donjon of the Château d'If.
The whole circuit of the cliffs, containing an area of, perhaps, two acres, is surrounded by fortifications. Climbing some rocky steps, we waited in the guardroom till the concièrge brought the keys of the castle. It was formerly used as a state prison; and the vaulted passages, echoing to the clang of keys and bolts, and deep and gloomy dungeons, from which air and light were almost excluded by the thick walls, reminded one of the unhappy wretches, victims of despotic or revolutionary tyranny, who had been immured there without trial and without hope. The island now serves as a depôt for recruits to fill up the regiments serving in Algiers; and some of the larger apartments of the château are used as a caserne.
But the Château d'If is probably best known to many of my readers as connected with a remarkable incident in the adventures of the Count de Monte-Cristo, the hero of the celebrated novel of Alexandre Dumas. The story is shortly this:
Dantès (the count) being thrown into one of the dungeons, remains in hopeless captivity for a great number of years. In the end, by working his way through the massive walls, he establishes a communication with the cell of another prisoner, who was in a still more deplorable condition. His fellow-prisoner dies, and Dantès effects his escape by contriving to insert himself in the sack in which the corpse of his friend was deposited; having first dressed the body in his own clothes, and placed it in his bed, to deceive the gaolers. In the dead of the night the sack is thrown into the sea from the castle walls, and Dantès sinks with a thirty-two-pound shot fastened to his feet. He cuts the cord with a knife he had secreted, and, disengaged from the sack, rises to the surface and swims to a neighbouring island.
We were looking over the battlements towards these islands. One of them is covered by a vast lazzeretto,a place, for the time, only a few degrees worse than the prison. The isles of Ratoneau and Pomègue lay nearest. Farther off was Lémaire, to which Dantès is described as swimming. They are all mere rocky islets washed by the sea, the group being very picturesque.
Mon ami, said I, pointing to the isle of Lémaire, do you think you could do what the count is represented to have done.
What! swim from hence to that island? I would try, if I was shut up in this horrid place, and had the chance.
The distance I reckoned to be about three miles; and as my friend has since swum across the Bosphorus, where the current is strong, he would probably have found no difficulty in that part of the affair.
But how about cutting the cord to get rid of the thirty-two-pound shot, and extricating yourself from the sack?
Ça dépend! All this is not impossible for a strong man in good health; for a prisoner, exhausted by fourteen years' captivity in a dungeonc'est autre chose. Have you read the book?
Not much of it; I tried, but could not get on. That class of works is by no means to my taste.
French literature of this school is, I admit, bad for the weak: it is pastime to the strong, and serves to wile away an idle hour. This work exhibits great genius, and a powerful imagination.
So, indeed, it seems; but may not the vraisemblable be preserved even in works of fiction? Let us have a story which, se non è vero, è ben trovato. Writers of this school, my dear fellow, create, or pander to, a vicious taste.
In a play or novel, I grant you, the plot, characters, and incidents, in order to enlist our sympathies, should be true to nature and real life. But who looks for this in a romance? such works are not read for profit, and the boldest nights of fancy, and some extravagance, are fairly admissible.
Ah, mon cher, my age is double yours, and that makes a great difference in our views on such subjects.
The recruits flocked round us, asking for eau-de-vie. Many of them were Italians, deserters from the armies in Lombardy, Piedmont, and the Papal states, glad to change their service for better pay and treatment under the French flag, even on the burning plains of Africa. Perhaps some of them were drafted into that foreign legion which rivalled the Zouaves in the Crimea,âmes perdus, the most reckless before the enemy, the most licentious in the camp. These were merry fellows, launching witty shafts against Austrians, Pope, and Cardinals,maladetti tutti, and good-humoured gibes at their comrade, who, standing in an embrasure, bent his back with laudable patience to the right angle for an easel, while my friend was making sketches of the rocky islets and lateen-sail vessels reflected on the mirror-like sea, or of the amphitheatre of mountains at the foot of which Marseilles stands.
Others, leaning over the battlements, whiled away the listless evening hours, watching fishermen drawing the seine at the foot of the rocks.
We pulled round to the cove and watched them too; a very different set of fellows from the malbigatti stationed above. Fine, athletic, muscular men, their heads bare, except that a few wore the red cap so common in the Mediterranean,in woollen shirts, with naked feet planted on the slippery rocks, they were hauling up and coiling the rope, singing cheerily.
The wind had shifted some points while we were on the island, and it now freshened to a stiff breeze,one of those sudden squalls for which these seas are remarkable. The craft, which an hour before lay sleeping on the waters, had caught the breeze. A brigantine came dashing up the straits under all sail, her topgallants still set, though the poles quivered; and smaller craft, with their long, pointed sails, like sea-fowl with expanded wings, were crossing in all directions on their several tacks, making for the harbour or inlets along the coast.
The sea was already lashed into foam, and tiny waves broke on the rocks. Loud and hoarse rung the fishermen's voices as they hauled away to save their nets. It was time for us to make for the port. A few strokes shoved the boat from under the lee of the island; the oars were shipped, and the lateen sail run up by all hands. Hauling close to the wind, my friend seized the tiller: it was doubtful if we could make the harbour, which the little craft, struggling with the breeze, just headed; the towers of St. Victor being the point of sight in the increasing haze.
Comme les Anglais font des braves marins, said the padróne, as he stood by the halyards, looking out ahead, after all was made snug.
We were, indeed, in our element. The sudden squall had stirred our blood. Many such rough cruises we had shared together in old times.
The boat flew through the water, which roared and broke over the bows. It will be a short run, said the steersman, if the wind holds on.
Port, monsieur, port! cried the padróne, who had learnt some English nautical phrases.
But it would not do. Approaching the land, the wind veered and headed us.
We must make a short tack to gain the harbour.
Je l'ai prévu, said the padróne.
About it was. She stayed beautifully, even under the single sail, and in a trice was lying well upon the other tack, as we stood out to sea. In five minutes we went about again, fetching under the stern of a felucca, also beating into the port; perhaps from Algiers or the Spanish coast. It was now a dead race with the felucca, which had forged ahead while we were in stays.
Nous gagnerons, j'en gagerais une bouteille de vin! cried the padróne, much excited, for he was proud of his boat.
Vous l'aurez, toutefois, pour boire à la santé de vos camarades Anglais.
Again we flew through the water, making a straight course for the harbour. The felucca had much the advantage of us in breadth of canvas and her high-peaked sails; but being heavily laden, she was deep in the water. As it turned out, we did not overhaul her till just before she lowered her foresail at the consigne office, to wait for her permis d'entrer, when we shot ahead right into the port.
We made out the evening at the theatre, well entertained by a petite comédie. One is sure to be amused, said my companion; and it is good practice. It helps to get up one's French.
Monsieur ne manque que d'être plus habitué, as it is politely suggested when one is at a loss for a phrase.
Embark for CorsicaCoast of France and Italy.Toulon.Hyères Islands, Frejus, &c.A Stormy night.Crossing the Tuscan Sea.
Once more we are at the water stairs. A stout boat is ready to convey us with our baggage to L'Industrie, one of Messrs. Vallery's fine steam-boats, in turn for Bastia. Just as we are pushing off, a carriage drives to the quay, with a niece of General the Count di Rivarola, formerly in the British service. She is returning to Corsica. We do the civil, spread plaids, and place her in the stern sheets; and she is very agreeable.
It is Sunday morning. The bells of the old church of St. Victor are ringing at early mass. The ships in the port have hoisted their colours. There is our dear, time-honoured jack, the flag that has braved, &c., as we say on all occasions; and the stars and stripes, the crescent and star, and the towers of Castille; with crosses of all shapes and colours, in as great variety as the costumes we saw in the café. The tricolor floated on the forts of St. Jean and St. Nicholas, as well as on French craft of all descriptions.
All was gay, but not more joyous than our own buoyant spirits. Time had been spent pleasantly enough at Marseilles, but it was a delay; and there is nothing an Englishman hates more than delays in travelling. Thwarted in his humour, he becomes quite childish, and frets and chafes more at having to wait two or three days for a steamboat than at any other hindrance I know. Now, when L'Industrie, with her ensign at the peak, had, somehow or other, with a din of unutterable cries in maritime French, been extricated from the dense tiers of vessels along the quay, and hauling out of the harbour, we were at last fairly on the high road to Corsica, never did the sun appear to shine more brightly; the Mediterranean looked more blue than any blue one had seen before, there was a ripple from the fresh breeze, the waves sparkled, and seemed positively to laugh and partake of our joy.
We hardly cared to speculate on our fellow-passengers, as one is apt to do when there is nothing else to engross the thoughts; and yet there were some among them we should wish to sketch. Besides French officers joining their regiments in the island, there was one, a Corsican, who had served in Algeria, returning home on sick leave. It was to be feared that it had come too late, for the poor invalid was so feeble, worn, and emaciated that it seemed his native country could offer him nothing but a grave. There was a Corsican priest on board, a pleasant, well-informed man, who met our advances to an acquaintance with great readiness, and was delighted with our proposed visit to his island. Some Corsican gentlemen, a lady or two, and commercial men en route for Leghorn, completed the party. We seemed to be the only English. I was mistaken.
After all, there is a countryman of ours on board, I said, pointing to a pair of broad shoulders, disappearing under the companion-hatch. I caught sight of him just now; a fine, hale man, rather advanced in years, with a fair complexion, ruddy, and a profusion of grey hair. He wears a suit of drab; very plain, but well turned out.
Unmistakeably English, as you say; it may be pleasant. I wonder we did not make him out before among these sallow-faced and rather dirty-looking gentry in green and sky-blue trousers.
We were soon abreast of the group of rocky islets off the harbour, passing close under the Château d'If. The sea was smooth, the sky unclouded, but a gentle breeze deliciously tempered the heat, and vessels of every descriptionsquare-rigged ships, and coasting feluccas and xebecson their different courses, gave life to the scene. Thus pleasantly we ran along the French coast, here much indented and swelling into rocky hills of considerable elevation.
We had an excellent déjeûner, for which we were quite ready, having only taken the usual early cup of coffee. The genial influence of this meal had the effect of putting us on the best footing with our fellow-voyagers. Pacing the deck afterwards with the Corsican priest, we were joined by the stout Englishman. Observing our disappointment at hearing we should be probably baulked of shooting in Corsica, he expressed a hope that we would extend our excursion to Tuscany, where, he was good enough to say, he would show us sport. He had been settled there many years, and was now returning to his family by way of Leghorn. Under a somewhat homely exterior, which had puzzled us at first as to his position, we found our new acquaintance to be a man of refined taste, great simplicity, as well as urbanity, of manners, and keenly alive to the beautiful in nature and art. Such a specimen of the hearty old English gentleman, unchangedI was about to say uncontaminatedby long residence abroad, it has been rarely my lot to meet with.
On rounding a projecting headland, we peeped into the mouth of Toulon harbour, and every eye and glass were directed to the heights crowned with forts, and the bold mountain masses towering above them.
Presently, we were threading the channel between the main land and the Hyères Islands. They appeared to us a paradise of verdure, on which the eye, weary of gazing at the bare and furrowed mountain-sides bounding this coast, rested with delight. One imagined orange groves and myrtle bowers, impervious to the summer's sun and sheltered by the lofty ridges from the northern blastsall this verdure fringing the edge of a bright and tideless sea. Elsewhere, except rarely in the hollows, the mountain ranges extending along this coast exhibit no signs of vegetation; the whole mass appearing, with the sun full on them, not only scorched but actually burnt to the colour of kiln-dried bricks.
All the afternoon we continued running at the steamer's full speed along the shores of France and Italy. Notwithstanding their arid and sterile aspect, nothing can be finer than the mountain ranges which bound this coast, as every one who has crossed them in travelling from Nice well knows. Glimpses, too, successively of Frejus, Cannes, and Nice, more or less distant, as, crossing the Gulf of Genoa, we gradually increased our distance from the shore, together with a capital dinner, were pleasant interludes to the grand spectacle of Alps piled on Alps in endless succession, and glowing a fiery red, which all the waters over which we flewdeep, dark, or azurecould not quench.
Towards evening there were evident tokens in the sky, on the water, and in the vessel's motion, of a change of weather. We were threatened with a stormy night; and as we now began to lose the shelter of the land, holding a course somewhat to the S.E. in order to round the northern point of Corsica, there was no reason to regret that the passage across the Tuscan sea would be performed while we were in our berths.
However, we walked the deck long after the other passengers had gone below; enjoying the fresh breeze, though it was no soft zephyr wafting sweet odours from the Ausonian shore. It is a sublime thing to stand on the poop of a good ship when she is surging through the waves at ten knots an hour in utter darkness, whether impelled by wind or steam; especially when the elements are in strife. Nothing can give a higher idea of the power of man to control them. With no horizon, not a star visible in the vault above, and only the white curl on the crest of the boiling waves, glimmering in our wake, onon, we rush, the ship dipping and rising over the long swells, and dashing floods of water and clouds of spray from her bows.
But whither are we driving through these dark waters, and this impenetrable, and seemingly boundless, gloom? The eye rests on the light in the binnacle. We stoop to examine the compass; the card marks S.S.E. Imagination expands the dark horizon. It is not boundless: the island mountain-tops loom in the distance. They beckon us on; we realise them now; at dawn the grey peaks of Cape Corso will be unveiled; we shall dream of them to-night.
One of the watch struck the hour on the bell. It is ten o'clock; let us turn in. There is an inviting glimmer through the cabin skylights. We are better off in this floating hotel than has often been our lot, baffling with storm and tempest, benighted, weary, cold and wet, in rough roads, forest or desert waste, with dubious hopes of shelter and comfort at the end of our march.
We paused for a moment, leaning over the brass rail which protected the quarter deck. Below, on the main deck, a number of French soldiers, wrapped in their grey coats, were huddled together, cowering under the bulwarks, or wherever they could find shelter from the bitter night wind.
The cabin lamps shed a cheerful light, reflected by the highly-polished furniture and fittings. All the passengers were in their berths. We had chosen ours near the door for fresher air. My companion climbed to his cot in the upper tier, above mine.
If you wake first, call me at daylight. We shall be off the coast of Corsica. Felicissima notte!
Coast of Capo Corso.Peculiarity of Scenery.Verdure, and Mountain Villages.Il Torre di Seneca.Land at Bastia.
The voyage from Marseilles to Bastia is performed, under favourable circumstances, in eighteen hours; but we had only just made the extreme northern point of Corsica when I was hastily roused, at six o'clock, from a blissful state of unconsciousness of the gale of wind and rough sea which had retarded our progress during the night.
Hurrying on deck, the first objects which met the eye were a rocky islet with a lighthouse on a projecting point, and then it rested on the glorious mountains of Capo Corso, lifting their grey summits to the clouds, and stretching away to the southward in endless variety of outline. We were abreast of the rocky island of Capraja; on the other hand lay Elba, with its mountain peaks; Pianosa and Monte-Cristo rose out of the Tuscan sea further on. Behind these picturesque islands, the distant range of the Apennines hung like a cloud in the horizon. The sun rose over them in unclouded glory, no trace being left of the night-storm, but a fresh breeze, and the heaving and swelling of the deep waters.
Banging along the eastern coast of Capo Corso, at a short distance from the shore, with the early light now thrown upon it, the natural features of the countrygroups of houses, villages, and even single buildings of a marked characterwere distinctly visible. We were not long in discovering that Corsican scenery is of a peculiar and highly interesting character.
The infinite variety existing in all the Creator's works is remarkably exhibited in the physical aspect of different countries, though the landscape be formed of the same materials, whether mountains, forests, wood, water, and extended plains, or a composition of all or any of these features on a greater or less scale. The change is sometimes very abrupt. Thus, the character of Sardinian scenery is essentially different from the Corsican, notwithstanding the two islands are only separated by a strait twenty miles broad. Climate, atmosphere, geological formation, and vegetable growth, all contribute to this variety. The impress given to the face of nature by the hand of man, whether by cultivation, or in the forms, and, as we shall presently see, the position, of the various buildings which betoken his presence, give, of course, in a secondary degree, a difference of character to the landscape.
Remarks of this kind occurred in a conversation with our stout English friend and my fellow-traveller, while they were sketching the coast of Capo Corso from the deck of the Industrie. Trite as they may appear, it is surprising how little even many persons who have travelled are alive to such distinctions. What more natural than to say, I have seen Alpine scenery in Switzerland; why should I encounter the difficulties of a northern tour to witness the same thing on a smaller scale in Norway? What can the islands in the Tuscan sea have to offer essentially different from Italian scenery with which I am already familiar?
Only a practised eye can make the discrimination, and it requires some knowledge of physical geography, and the vegetable kingdom, to be able to analyse causes producing these diversified effects. Every class of rock, every species of tree, the various elevations of the surface of the globe, and the plants which clothe its different regions, have each their own forms and characteristics; and, of course, a landscape, being an aggregate of these several parts, ought to reflect the varieties of the materials composing it. An artist must have carefully studied from nature to have acquired a nice perception of these varied effects, and even should he be able to grasp the result, he may not succeed in transferring it to his sketch. Far less can words convey an adequate idea of the varied effects of natural scenery; so that one does not wonder when the reader complains of the sameness of the representation.
In the present instance, were there pictured to his imagination the distant peaks of Elba on the one hand, and on the other the long mountain ranges of Capo Corso, bathed in purple light, as the sun rose in the eastern horizon, the grey cliffs of rocks and promontories bordering the coast, contrasted with the verdure of the valleys and lower elevations, vineyards and olive grounds on the hill-sides, and the landscape dotted with villages, churches, and ancient towers, we should doubtless have a very charming sketch, but it would not convey a distinct idea of the peculiarities of Corsican scenery.
What struck us most, independently of the general effect, was the extraordinary verdure and exuberance of the vegetation which overspread the surface of the country far up the mountain sides, not only as contrasted with the sterile aspect of the coasts of the continent we had just left, but as being, in itself, different from anything which had before fallen under our observation in other countries, whether forest, underwood, or grassy slope. For the moment, we were unable to conjecture of what it consisted; but we had not long set foot on shore before we were at no loss to account for our admiration of this singular feature in Corsican, and in this particular, also, of Sardinian scenery.
Not to dwell now on the peculiar character of the mountain ranges of Corsica, I will only mention one other peculiarity in the landscape which strikes the eye throughout the island, but is nowhere more remarkable than in the views presented as we ranged along the coast of Capo Corso. As the former instance belongs to the department of physical geography, this comes under the class of effects produced by the works of man. The peculiarity consists in the villages being all placed at high elevations. They are seen perched far up the mountain sides, straggling along the scarp of a narrow terrace, or crowded together on the platform of some projecting spur; churches, convents, towers, and hamlets crowning the peaked summits of lower eminences almost equally inaccessible. The only extensive plains in the island are so insalubrious as to be almost uninhabitable, and this has been their character from the time the island was first colonised. For this reason, probably, in some measure, but more especially for defence, in the hostilities to which the island has been exposed from foreign invaders during many ages, as well as by internal feuds hardly yet extinct, nearly the whole population is collected in the elevated villages or paese forming this singular and picturesque feature in Corsican scenery. They are visible from a great distance, and sometimes ten or a dozen of them are in sight at one time.
Capo Corso is not, as might be supposed, a mere cape or headland, but a narrow peninsula, containing a number of villages, and washed on both sides by the Tuscan sea; being about twenty-five miles long, though only from five to ten miles broad. Nearly the whole area is occupied by a continuation of the central chain which traverses the island from north to south. The average height of the range through Capo Corso, where it is called La Serra, does not exceed 1500 feet above the level of the sea, but it swells into lofty peaks; the highest, Monte Stella, between Brando and Nonza, rising 5180 feet above the shore of the Mediterranean.
From the central chain spurs branch off to the sea on both coasts, forming narrow valleys at the base and in the gorges of the mountains, of which the principal on the eastern side are Lota, Cagnano, and Luri; the last-named being the most fertile and picturesque, as well as the largest of these mountain valleys, though only six miles long and three wide. On the western side lie the valleys of Olmeta, Olcani, and Ogliastro; Olmeta being the largest. The valleys are watered by mountain torrents, often diverted to irrigate the lands under tillage, as well as gardens and vine and olive plantations. Each paese has its small tract of more fertile land, marked by a deeper verdure, where the valleys open out and the streams discharge their waters into the Mediterranean. At this point, called the Marino, there is generally a little port, with a hamlet inhabited by a hardy race of sailors engaged in the traffic carried on coastwise between the villages of the interior and the seaports.
This mountainous district contains a considerable population, and the inhabitants are distinguished for their industry and economy. They live in much comfort on the produce obtained by persevering labour from the small portions of cultivated soil. Numerous flocks of sheep are herded on the vast wastes overhanging the valleys. The olive and vine flourish, and extensive chestnut woods supply at some seasons the staple diet of the poorer classes. The slopes of the hills about the villages are converted into gardens and orchards, in which we find figs, peaches, apples, pears,with oranges and lemons in the more sheltered spots. The wines are in general sound, and we found them excellent where special care had been bestowed on the manufacture.
The Corsicans are generally indolent, but it is said that there are no less than a hundred families in the mountainous province of Capo Corso who are considered rich, some of them wealthy; and all these owe their improved fortunes to the enterprising spirit of some relative who left it poor, and after years of toil in Mexico, in Brazil, or some other part of South America, returned with his savings to his native village.
One valley after another opened as the steamer ran down the coast, each with its Marino distinguished by a fresher verdure, and its cluster of white houses on the beach. The night mists still filled the hollows, and villages and hamlets hung like cloud-wreaths on the mountain-sides and the summits of the hills; the most inaccessible of which were crowned with ruins of castles and towers.
Tradition asserts that one of these towers was the prison of Seneca the Philosopher. Il Torre di Seneca, as it is called, stands on an escarped pinnacle of rock, terminating one of the loftiest of the detached sugar-loaf hills.
Seneca spent seven years in exile, having been banished to Corsica by the emperor Claudius, on suspicion of an illicit intercourse with the profligate Julia. The islands in the Tuscan sea were the Tasmania of the Roman empire, places of transportation for political offenders, and those who fell under the imperial frownwhich was the same thing. Some smaller islands off the Italian coast, Procida, Ischia, &c., served the same purpose. Relegatio ad insulam was the legal phrase for this punishment. Augustus banished his grandson Agrippa to the desolate island of Planosa, the Pianosa mentioned just before in connection with Elba. There he was strangled by order of Tiberius.
In some of his Epigrams, and the Books de Consolatione, composed during his exile, Seneca paints the country and the climate in the darkest colours. There is no doubt but these islands, though in sight of the coast of Italy, appeared to the polished Romans as barbarous and full of horrors as our penal settlements at the antipodes were considered long after their first occupation; so that the picture of Corsica, drawn by Seneca, may have been much exaggerated by his distempered and splenetic state of mind. The probability is, that he resided during his exile at one of the Roman colonies on the eastern coast, Aleria or Mariana. What is called the Torre di Seneca is the ruin of a stronghold or watch-tower of the middle ages; and it is not likely that the spot was occupied by the Romans at any period of their dominion in Corsica, their possessions consisting only of the two colonies, and some harbours on the coast.
But those lonely towers standing close to the shore, which we see from time to time as we coast alongmassive, round, and grey with lichens as the rocks at their base; what do their ruins tell of times past? Were they a chain of forts for the defence of the coast against Saracen, or other invaders, in the middle ages? They appear too small to hold a garrison, and too insulated for mutual support. More probably they were watch-towers, from which signals were made when the vessels of the corsairs hovered on the coast, that the inhabitants might betake themselves, with their cattle and goods, to the fortified villages and castles on the hills. We are told that, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were fifteen of those towers on the north coast of the island, and eighty-five in its whole circuit; but many of them are now fallen to ruin.
At length, Bastia appeared in sight, rising in an amphitheatre to a ridge studded with villas; the houses of the old town being crowded about the port. Sweeping round the mole, we found ourselves in a diminutive harbour, among vessels of small burthen. This basin is surrounded on three sides by tall gloomy buildings, of the roughest construction, piled up, tier above tier, to a great height. A man-of-war's boat shoves off from the shore in good style, and lands the Count's niece with due honours. Other boats come alongside the steamer, and all is confusion.
Did you see the meeting between the two Corsican brothersthe sallow, fever-worn soldier from Algiers, our poor fellow-traveller, and the hearty mountaineer?
No; I was paying my last devoirs to madame.
The contrast between the two was striking. I shall never forget the way they were laced in each other's arms, and the glance of keen anxiety with which the mountaineer looked into his sick brother's face, marking the ravages which time and disease had worked on those much-loved features.
In the air of his mountain-village that brother, we would hope, grew strong again. Perhaps, having rejoined his regiment, his bones are left in the Crimea; perhaps, he again survives, and breathes once more his native air. Who can tell?
Our hale English friend remained on board to pursue the voyage to Leghorn. What a din, what frantic gestures, what a rush of these irascible Corsicans at our baggage! It is borne off to the custom-house, and undergoes an examination far from rigorous. We mount several flights of steps, leading from one narrow street to another in this old quarter of the town, and are led to an hotel, which had much the air of a second or third-rate Italian locandalofty and spacious apartments, neither clean nor well arranged; and the déjeûner was a sorry affair. N'importe; we shall not stay longer in Bastia than is necessary, and we may go further and fare worse. Meanwhile, a battalion of French infantry were on parade, with the band playing in the barrack-yard under our windows. We threw them open to enjoy the fresh breeze and sweeten the room. They commanded a fine view of the coast we had passed, now seen in profile under the effect of a bright sunshine, with the waves washing in wreaths of foam on every jutting point and rock.
Bastia.Territorial Divisions.Plan of the Rambles.Hiring Mules.The Start.
I cannot imagine any one's loitering in Bastia longer than he can help. Its only attractions are the sea and the mountain views from the environs; and those are commanded equally well from many points along the coast. What the old town is we have already seennarrow and crooked streets, with gaunt houses piled up about the port; and there is the old Genoese fortress frowning over it, and the church of St. John, of Pisan architecture, the interior rich in marbles and gilding, but the façade below notice as a work of art. A new quarter has been added to the town, higher up, in which there are some handsome houses, particularly in the Rue de la Traverse.
In early times a few poor traders from Cardo, a paese on the heights, settled at the mouth of a stream which formed here a small harbour. It was their Marino, so that Cardo may be said to be in some sort the Fiesole of Bastia. About the close of the fourteenth century, the Genoese built the Donjon, which is still standing, to defend the port, then becoming of importance. From this bastióne, the new town derived its name. It was the capital of the island during the Pisan and Genoese occupation, and so continued under the French government till 1811, when the prefecture and general administration of affairs were transferred to Ajaccio, where also the Council-general of Corsica, now forming a department of France, holds its sessions. Bastia, however, is still the Quartier-général of the military in the island, and the seat of the Cour de Cassation and Cour d'Appel, tribunals exercising superior jurisdiction over all the other courts. It is also the most populous town in Corsica (14,000 souls being the return of the last census), and has by far the largest commerce, exporting olive-oil and wine, fruits and fish; and importing corn, groceries, tobacco, and manufactured articles of all kinds.
Bastia was the standing point from which the old division of Corsica into the di quà and the di là dei montithe country on this side and the country on the other side of the mountainswas made; the line of intersection commencing at the point of Gargalo, below Aleria, on the eastern coast, and following a range of mountains westward to the Marino of Solenzara. The division was by no means equal; the country di quà, including the present arrondissements of Bastia, Corte, and Calve, being one-third larger than the di là, comprising the arrondissements of Ajaccio and Sartene.
Another ancient division of Corsica was into pieves, originally ecclesiastical districts,and paeses, which, I imagine, are equivalent to parishes, including the village and the hamlets belonging to them. A detached farm-house, such as are scattered everywhere in England, is hardly to be seen in Corsica, the inhabitants being gathered in these villages and hamlets, invariably built, as already observed, on elevated points. By what corruption these were called paeses, countries, one does not understand; but it sounds rather droll to a stranger, when he is told in Corsica, that he may travel many miles, senza vedère uno paése, without seeing a country.
Bastia must, doubtless, from the circumstances mentioned, have good society; but we thought Ajaccio a much pleasanter place, and Corte, in its rudeness, has a nobler aspect than either, and is associated with glorious recollections. We were for escaping the di quà of Bastia and the littorale, and getting as soon as possible di là the mountains, not, however, according to the old political division of the island, but in the sense of crossing the central chain by one of the nearest passes.
The plan we sketched, after consulting our maps, was to cross the Serra by a col leading into the valleys in the south-west of Capo Corso, and, after rambling through that district, to descend into the upper valley of the Golo, and pursue it in the direction of Corte, making Ajaccio our next point. There are good highroads throughout the island, with regular diligences all the way from Bastia to Bonifaccio; but to avail ourselves of these, taking up our quarters in the towns and making excursions in the neighbourhood, was not to our taste. We proposed, therefore, to hire mules for the expedition, sending our heavier baggage forward to Ajaccio by voiture, and retaining only the indispensables for a journey of more than 150 miles, in the course of which not a single decent albergo was to be met with, except at Corte.
The horses in Corsica are diminutive and of an inferior breed, mules being almost exclusively employed for draught on the great roads, and as beasts of burthen in the byways and mountain tracks. In Sardinia, on the contrary, though lying so much further south, the mules disappeared, and were replaced by hardy and active horses.
We inquired for mules. There are generally to be found hanging about foreign hotels people ready to undertake anything the traveller may require, little as they may be competent to fulfil their engagements. One of this class presented himself, his appearance by no means prepossessing; but the view he took of our present scheme afforded us some amusement.
Are you well acquainted with the roads in Corsica?
I have had the honour to conduct signore forestiere throughout the island from Bastia to Bonifaccio.
We shall not travel en voiture. We require mules for the baggage and riding. Can you supply them?
Ça serait possible, mais, à l'improviste, un peu difficile.
It is indispensable, as we mean to cross the mountains and make a détour, en route to Corte by slow stages, resting in the villages.
The man's countenance assumed a rueful expression. He had probably been used to make easy work of it from town to town, and there was evidently a ludicrous struggle between the temptation of a profitable job and his disinclination for rugged roads and a spare diet.
Are messieurs aware that there are no auberges in the villages offering accommodations fit for them?
It is very possible; that does not occasion us any uneasiness.
Les chemins sont affreux.
N'importe; we have travelled in worse.
In some places they are dangerous, absolutely precipitous.
We shall walk; en effet, it is possible we may walk great part of the journey.
That our muleteer could not understand at all: la fatigue serait pénible; and with true Corsican indolence, he protested against being included in that part of our plan.
Then you can ride.
So far all objections were dismissed. The banditti had not been mentioned among the lions in our path, but I imagined they were darkly shadowed forth in the guide's picture of horrors; so I put the question to him point blank.
Are the roads safe in these districts? Are there no bad people (_mauvais gens_cattive genti_) abroad?
His only reply was a shrug of the shoulders, the foreign substitute for a Burleigh shake of the head; leaving us to infer that we must not make too sure of coming off with a whole skin. Knowing well enough that all apprehensions of that kind were imaginary, we had been only amusing ourselves with him. If there had been any danger, he seemed just the fellow to be in league with the brigands.
All topics of intimidation being now exhausted, our muleteer, with the best grace he could, professed himself ready to comply with our wishes.
The hire demanded for the mules was five francs per day each, exclusive of their keep; and their return journey was to be paid for at the same rate. The latter part of the demand was an imposition, but we had only Hobson's choice, and made no difficulties.
When would it be our pleasure to depart? As early in the afternoon as possible. It would be late; and a last effort was made to induce us to remain at the hotel till the next morning, but we were inexorable.
Would there be time for us to reach the first village on the road before dark?We might.Then we will go. Our baggage will be ready by three o'clock. Be punctual.
We disliked the man, and determined to discharge him at Corte unless things turned out better than we expected. As it happened, we were under his convoy for a much shorter space. We found the Sard cavallante, a much finer race, trudging on foot through all the roughest part of the tracks, and perching themselves at the top of a much heavier load of baggage on the pack-horse, when they were tired of walking.
It was a strange turn out, that, by unusual exertions, appeared at the door within an hour of the time appointed. The mules were no bigger than donkeys.
Queste bestie non sono muli; sono dei asini.
It was vexatious; but we laughed too much to be seriously angry; the muleteer, too, deprecating our wrath by assuring us that his mules had first-rate qualities for scrambling up and down precipices. So we took it all in good part, and, more amused than annoyed, assisted in contriving to adjust the girths of the English saddles to the poor beasts' wizened sides; and then, declining a march through Coventry with such a cavalcade, walked forward, leaving the guide to load the baggage and follow with the mules.
Leave Bastia.The Road.View of Elba, Pianosa, and Monte-Cristo.The Littorale.An Adventure.The Stagna di Biguglia.
The Corsicans are apt to say, that the national roads were the only benefit Napoleon conferred on his native country. Like all his great works of construction, they are worthy of his genius. One of these traverses the whole eastern coast of the island from Bastia, by Cervione and Porto-Vecchio, to Bonifaccio. Another line branches off near Vescovato, about ten miles from Bastia, and following the valley of the Golo, is carried among the mountains to Corte, whence it is continued through a wild and mountainous district to Ajaccio. Similar engineering skill is displayed in its continuation on the western side of the mountains to Sartene, and thence to Bonifaccio, where it also terminates.
On clearing Bastia, we found ourselves on this high road,a magnificent causeway carried nearly in a straight line for many miles through the plain extending between the sea and the mountains. Orange groves embowering sheltered nooks in the environs of the town, and hedges of the Indian fig (cactus opuntia), betokened the warmth of this southern shore; and, as we advanced, the rank growth of vegetation on the flats realised all we had heard of the teeming richness of the littorale. It was hot walking, and the causeway and flats would have been monotonous enough but for the glorious views on either hand.
To the left, the Mediterranean was calmly subsiding from the effects of the gale, its undulations still sparkling in the sunbeams. Far within the horizon was the group of islands which lend a charm to all this coast, and are associated with great historical names. There rises Elba, with the sharp outline of its lofty peaks and dark shores, too narrow for the mighty spirit which ere long burst the bounds of his Empire Island. Far away in the southern hemisphere I had visited that other island, where the chains were riveted too firmly for release, except by the grave over which I had pondered. Now we stood on the soil that gave him birth. Why was not this the Island Empire? The Allied Sovereigns were disposed to be magnanimous. It was offered to him; why did he refuse it? Was it that, with far-sighted policy, he considered Corsica too bright a gem in the crown of France for him to pluck, without sooner or later giving umbrage to the Bourbons? May his refusal be cited as a further proof of the little love he bore for the land of his birth? Or was it that, when once hurled from the throne of his creation, the conqueror of kingdoms could not descend to compare one petty island with another? At Elba he found the horizon, the sky, the air, the waves of his childhood; and the history of his island-state, would be to him a constant lesson of the mutability of human things.
Napoleon emperor in Corsica! On this spot, with Elba in view, one dwells for a moment on the idea! Then, indeed, Corsica's long-cherished dreams of national independenceit was her last chancewould have been strangely realised. But her fate was sealed. She had sunk to the rank of an outlying department of France, and so remained; with what results we may perhaps discover.
Near Elba, and strongly contrasting with its bold outline, lies the little island of Pianosa, the ancient Planosa. Its surface is flat, as the name indicates. That island, too, has its tale of imperial exile. The young Agrippa, grandson of Augustus, and heir-presumptive to an empire wider than that of Napoleon's most ambitious dreams, was banished to Planosa by his grandfather, at the instance of Livia. Augustus is said to have visited him there. It was Agrippa's fate to find a grave, as well as a prison, in the Mediterranean island; the tyrant Tiberius, with the jealousy of an eastern monarch, having caused his rival to be strangled on his own accession to the empire.
Soon after Napoleon's arrival in Elba he sent some troops to take possession of Pianosa; which, ravaged by the Genoese in the thirteenth century, had never since flourished. The fallen emperor himself could not help laughing at this mighty expedition, for which thirty of his guards, some Elban militia, and six pieces of artillery were detailed; exclaiming, as he gave orders to erect batteries and fire upon any enemies who might present themselves, Europe will say that I have already made a conquest. Napoleon partially restored the fortifications of an old castle, which had been bombarded by an English squadron, landing the marines, in 1809, during the revolutionary war. The island now belongs, with Elba, to the Grand-Duke of Tuscany.
Further to the south appears the rocky island of Monte-Cristo. This, too, has its tale of exile, insignificant as it looks except for its sharply serrated outline, and a worldwide fame. The emperor Diocletian banished here St. Mamilian, Archbishop of Palermo. A convent was afterwards founded on the site of the Saint's rude cell. The monks of Monte-Cristo flourished, as they deserved; the worthy fathers having founded many hospitals in Tuscany and done much good. Saracen corsairs carried off the monks; the convent was laid in ruins; and the lone island remained uninhabited for a long course of years, except by wild goats. It was in this state when Alexandre Dumas made it the scene of his hero's successful adventure after his escape from the Château d'If, and adopted it as the title of his popular novel. The island having been recently purchased and colonised by Mr. Watson Taylor, he has built a house on it for his own residence.
It is about nine miles in circumference, and I should judge from its appearance that the greatest part of the surface is rocky, though not without green hollows, dells, and verdant slopes. But the olive and the vine usually thrive, and are largely cultivated, on such spots; and if, as I should imagine, the natural vegetation and the climate are similar to those of the other islands in the Tuscan sea with which we are acquainted, happy may the lord of Monte-Cristo be; for, in the hands of a wealthy English gentleman, such a spot may be made an earthly paradise.
After about an hour's walk we halted for the muleteer to come up. A glorious point of view it was, embracing a wide expanse of the bright sea, with the islands which had supplied so many striking and pleasant recollections. Looking backward, the purple mountains of Capo Corso now appeared massed together in endless variety of outline, with Bastia at their base, the citadel and white houses glowing in the evening sunshine. Turning to the right, the eye caught the fine effect of the meeting of the plain and mountainsthe interminable level, stretching far away till it was lost in distance, and teeming with luxuriant vegetation, but with only here and there a solitary clump of trees,and the long mountain-range line after line rising into peaks above the gracefully rounded hills that swelled up from the level of the plain. Woods, orchards, vineyards overspread the lower slopes, the hollows were buried in thickets of evergreen, and picturesque villages and towers appeared, though rarely, on the summits of the hills.
Who would not linger at the sight of Furiani, the most important of these villages, its ivy-mantled towers crumbling to ruins?Furiani, where the Corsicans, in a national assembly, first organised their insurrection against the Genoese, and elected the prudent and intrepid Giaffori one of their leaders; with cries of Evviva la libertà! evviva il popolo!Furiani, where, in almost their last struggle, two hundred Corsicans held the fortifications long after they were a heap of ruins, and at length cut their way by night to the shore.
The muleteer at last made his appearance with his sorry cavalcade, and my companion having taken advantage of our halt to make the sketch of the Meeting of the mountains and plain, which was not quite finished, that we might not lose time, as the sun was descending behind the mountains, one of the mules was tied to a stake, in order that my friend might overtake us, while we made the best of our way forward.
I still preferred walking, and pushed on at a pace which suited none of my company, human or asinine. We had got ahead about a mile, when shouts from behind opened a scene perfectly ludicrous. There was the little mule trotting up the road at most unusual speed, impelled by my friend's shouts and the big stones with which he was pelting the miserable beast. He too came up at a long trot, rather excited, and calling to the muleteer, Catch your mule, Giovanni! I'll have nothing more to do with the brute.
What is it all about?
It appeared that my friend, having finished his sketch, prepared to mount and push after us. The mule, however, had a design diametrically opposed to this. No sooner was it loosed from the stake to which it was tied, than the poor beast very naturally felt a strong impulse to return to its stable at Bastia. Could instinct have forewarned it what it would have to encounter before midnight, the retrograde impulse would have been still stronger. Every one knows how difficult it is to deal with a mule when it is in the mood either not to go at all, or to go the wrong way. Having driven a team of these animalsfine Calabrian mules they were, equal to the best Spanishall the way from Naples to Dieppe, I can boast of some experience in the mulish temperament.
To make matters worse, the English saddle being all too large for its wizened sides, in spite of all our care in knotting the girths, it twisted round in the attempt to mount, and my very excellent friendno disparagement to his noble horsemanship, for one has no firm seat even when mounted on a vicious ponybefore he could bring the saddle to a level and gain his equilibrium, was fairly pitched over the side of the road. Mule having now achieved that glorious libertà, the instinctive aspiration of Corsican existence, whether man, mule, or moufflon, started forward alone, my friend following, I have no doubt, in rather a thundering rage.
At every attempt I made to take the mule by the headsuch was his accounthe reversed his position, and launched his heels at me with a viciousness that rendered the enterprise not a little dangerous, for I do not know anything so funky as an ass's heels. Had it not been for saving the saddle, mule might have taken himself off to Bastia, or a worse place, for any trouble I would have taken to stop him.
It may be supposed that this story was not told or listened to without shouts of laughter, the muleteer being the only one of the party who was seriously disconcerted.
Andiamo, Giovanni, said I, cutting short all discussion, and moved forward. We had lost time, and the evening was closing in.
Won't you ride, then?try the other mule.
No, I thank you; I am not in the least fatigued, and have no desire to be pitched into a bush of prickly cactus, or rolled down the bank of the causeway.
Let us push on, then; if we are belated, we may have worse adventures, this first day of our rambles in Corsica, before we get to our night's quarters; and where we are to find them, I am sure I have no idea.
We walked on at a smart pace, and gradually drew far ahead of Giovanni and his mules. They were not to be hurried, and if they had been gifted like Balaam's ass, I imagine they would have agreed with Giovanni in wishing l'Inglesi all'Inferno. I don't know, speaking from experience, which is worst, riding, leading, or driving a malcontent mule.
The rays of the setting sun were now faintly gleaming on a vast sheet of shallow stagnant water, the Stagna di Biguglia, between the road and the sea, from which it is only separated by a low strip of alluvial soil. It was a solitary, a melancholy scene. A luxuriant growth of reeds fringes the margin of the lagoon, and heat and moisture combine to throw up a rank vegetation on its marshy banks. The peasants fly from its pestiferous exhalations, and nothing is heard or seen but the plash of the fish in the still waters, the sharp cry of the heron and gull, wheeling and hovering till they dart on their prey, and some rude fisherman's boat piled with baskets of eels for the market at Bastia.
This vast sheet of water was formerly open to the sea, forming a noble harbour, in which floated the galleys of the powerful republics that in the middle ages disputed the empire of the Mediterranean and the possession of its islands. On a hill above stood the town of Biguglia, the capital of the island under the Pisans and Genoese, till in the fourteenth century Henri della Rocca, with the insurgent Corsicans, carried it by assault. The Genoese then erected the fortress at Bastia, which, with the town growing up under its protection, became the chief seat of their power in the island, and Biguglia fell to decay.
Mariana, a Roman colony, stood on the coast near the lower extremity of this present lagoon; and Aleria, another still further south, on the sea-line of the great plain extending for forty miles below Bastia. Our proposed route led in another direction, and, not to interrupt the thread of the narrative, a notice of these colonies is reserved for another opportunity.
We had reached the neighbourhood at which, according to calculation, we ought to strike off from the high-road towards the mountains. Now, if ever, a guide was needed; but Giovanni and his mules had fallen far in the rear. A by-road turned to the right, apparently in the desired direction. At the angle of the roads we took counsel,should we venture to take the by-path, or wait till Giovanni came up?which involved a loss of time we could ill spare at that period of the day. A mistake might be awkward, but we had carefully studied the bearings of the country on our maps, and deciding to risk it, struck boldly into the lane. For a short distance it led between inclosures, but presently opened, and we found ourselves on the boundless waste, with only a narrow track for our guidance through its mazes. We were in the bush, the Macchia as the natives call it.
Evergreen Thickets.Their remarkable Character.A fortunate Rencontre.Moonlight in the Mountains.Cross a high Col.Corsican Shepherds.The Vendetta.Village Quarters.
A slight ascent over a stony bank landed us at once on the verge of the thickets. It had been browsed by cattle, and scattered myrtle-bushes, of low growth, were the first objects that gladdened our eyes. A new botany, a fresh scenery was before us. The change from the littoral, with its rank vegetation, close atmosphere, and weary length of interminable causeway, was so sudden, that it took us by surprise. Presently we were winding through a dense thicket of arbutus, tree-heaths, alaternus, daphne, lentiscus, blended with myrtles, cystus, and other aromatic shrubs, massed and mingled in endless varietythe splendid arbutus, with its white bell-shaped flowers and pendulous bunches of red and orange berries, most prevailing.
The Macchia is, in fact, a natural shrubbery of exquisite beauty. We travelled through it, in the two islands, for many hundred miles, and I feel confident that, to English taste, it forms the unique feature in Corsican and Sardinian scenery. This sort of underwood prevails also, I understand, in Elba, and, more or less, in the other islands of the central Mediterranean basin. We now fully comprehended how it was that, when sailing along the coast, our attention had been so riveted on the rich verdure clothing the hills and mountain-sides of Capo Corso, although at the time we were unable to satisfy ourselves in what its striking peculiarity consisted.
The air is so perfumed by the aromatic plants, that there was no exaggeration in Napoleon's language when conversing, at St. Helena, of the recollections of his youth, he said:
La Corse avait mille charmes; tout y était meilleur jusqu'à l'odeur du sol même. Elle lui eût suffi pour la deviner, les yeux fermés. Il ne l'avait retrouvée nulle part.
A trifling occurrence in my own travels gives some faint idea of the sentiment which dictated this remark. At St. Helena the flora of the North and South singularly meet. Patches of gorse (Ulex Europæa)that idol of Linnæus and ornament of our English and Cambrian wastesgrow freely on the higher grounds, rivalling the purple heath in their golden bloom, and shrubs of warmer climates in their sweet perfume. Returning to England after lonely wanderings in the southern hemisphere, I well remember how the sight and the scent of this rude plant, dear in its very homeliness, recalled former scenes associated with it. I recollect, too, that the mettlesome barb which bounded over the downs surrounding Longwood did not partake of my sympathy for the golden bough I had plucked. The smooth turf and the yellow furze had no charms for the exile of St. Helena. Never was the lasciate ogni speranza more applicable than to his island-prison, and in his melancholy hours his thoughts naturally reverted, with a gush of fond tenderness, to the land of his birth, little as he had shown partiality for it in his hour of prosperity.
On its picturesque scenes we were now entering, with everything to give them the highest zest. The autumn rains had refreshed the arid soil, and the aromatic shrubs filled the air with their richest perfume. Escaped from cities, and from steam-boats, redolent of far other odours, and having turned our backs on marsh, and stagna, and wearisome causeway, well strung to our work, and gaining fresh vigour in the evening breeze, we brushed through the waving thickets with little thought of Giovanni and his mules, left far behind, and as little concern whither our path would lead us. It was a beaten track, and must be our guide to some habitation. A few hours ago we set foot on shore, and we were already engaged in some sort of adventureand that, too, in Corsica, which has an ugly reputation! N'importe; it is our usual luck; it will turn out right. But let us push on, for the sun has long set, and the twilight is fading.
Fortune favoured us, for the enterprise on which we had stumbled turned out rather a more serious affair than we anticipated. It was getting dark, when the footprints of a mule on the sandy path attracted our notice, the fresh marks pointing in the direction we were taking. Soon we caught sight of a small party winding through the tall shrubbery. The turning of a zigzag on a slight rocky ascent brought the party full in view, and we closed with it. There were two girls riding astride on the same mule, with a stout peasant trudging behind. It was a pleasant rencontre.
Good evening, friend. How far is it to the next village?
What is it called?
Is the road good?
Mountainous and very steep.
Allow us to join your party?
By all means. Allons donc; we shall be late.
And the party moved on. Antoine, our new acquaintance, was, like most Corsicans, of the middle size, with a frame well knit. He had a pleasant expression of countenance, with a frank and independent air, the very reverse of our muleteer, Giovanni. We amused ourselves at having given him the slip, and continued to question our new guide.
Shall we be able to procure beds and something to eat at Olmeta?the qualche cosa per mangiare being always a question of first importance.
Never fear; you will find hospitality?
We had no misgivings of any kind. Under Antoine's guidance we could now proceed boldly, quite at ease to enjoy all the charms of our wild adventure.
E pur per selve oscure e calli obliqui, Insieme van, senza sospetto aversi.ARIOST. Canto I.
Together through dark woods and winding ways They walk, nor on their hearts suspicion preys.
In about an hour, the moon, then at her full, rose above the hills on our left, shedding a soft and silvery light on the mountain-tops; our narrow path through the thickets being still buried in gloom. Presently a full tide of lustrous radiance was poured on the waving sea of verdure and the face of the mountains. We made good speed, for the family mule, homeward bound, stepped on briskly under its double burden. Sometimes we kept up with the party, joining in the talk of the good peasants; at others, falling behind to enjoy the stillness of the scene, and abandon ourselves to the contemplation of its ever-varying features. Now we threaded the bank of a mountain torrent far beneath in shade, the depth of which the eye was unable to penetrate as we plunged downwards through the thickets; then, crossing the stream and scrambling up the opposite bank, once more emerged from the gloom, and, standing for a few instants on the summit we had gained, the grey mountain-tops again showed themselves touched with the silver light, and the quivering foliage of the evergreen shrubs, which covered the undulating expanse beneath, twinkled like diamond sprays.
In these alternations of light and shade, and precipitous descents which led on to still increasing altitudes, we followed our rocky path for about two hours, when Antoine halted his party to prepare for surmounting the main difficulty of the route, in evident surprise all the while at finding two Englishmen engaged in an adventure of which he could not comprehend the motive. And yet Antoine had seen something of the world beyond the narrow bounds of his native island. He had been a matelot, he said,made a long voyage, and once touched at an English port. Antoine seemed to be now leading a vagabond life. He was not communicative as to why he left his country or why he returned, and was gay and melancholy by fits. He did not belong to Olmeta, but had friends there, to whom he was conducting the girls.
It is not often that the Corsican women ride while the men walk, the reverse being generally the case. But Antoine was gallant, and, on the whole, a good fellow. The girls, we have said, rode astride; but now, in preparation for the ascent, one of them slipped off the mule, over the crupper, with amusing agility, relieving the poor beast of half its burden, and they afterwards rode by turns.
We now began the ascent of the pass, the Col di S.to Leonardo, leading into the valley of Olmeta. The Col is nearly 3000 feet above the level of the sea, and the passage proved to be almost as difficult as any I recollect having encountered. We had no idea, when we left Bastia, of attempting it that evening, and, had we not parted from Giovanni, should probably have made for some village near the high-road, and lost the splendid effects of moonlight on such scenery. The face of the mountain is scaled either by rocky steps or by terraces cut in the escarped flanks, with quick returns, in the way such elevations are usually surmounted. The passing and repassing, as we traversed the successive stages, brought out the effects of light and shade even better than we had remarked them below. The path, too, was extremely picturesque. Masses of grey rock, half in shade, jutted out among the shrubbery with which the mountain-side was covered; giant heaths, five or six feet high, hung feathering, and the arbutus threw its broad branches, over our heads.