A NEW EDITION.
BY MRS. JAMESON,
AUTHOR OF "VISITS AND SKETCHES AT HOME AND ABROAD," ETC. ETC.
Sad, solemn, soure, and full of fancies fraile, She woxe: yet wist she neither how nor why: She wist not, silly Mayd, what she did aile, Yet wist she was not well at ease, perdie; Yet thought it was not Love, but some Melancholie.
BAUDRY'S EUROPEAN LIBRARY,
SOLD ALSO BY AMYOT, RUE DE LA PAIX; TRUCHY, BOULEVARD DES ITALIENS; THEOPHILE BARROIS, JUN., RUE RICHELIEU; LIBRAIRIE DES ETRANGERS, RUE NEUVE-SAINT-AUGUSTIN; AND HEIDELOFF AND CAMPE, RUE VIVIENNE.
* * * * *
DIARY OF AN ENNUYEE.[A]
* * * * *
Calais, June 21.—What young lady, travelling for the first time on the Continent, does not write a "Diary?" No sooner have we slept on the shores of France—no sooner are we seated in the gay salon at Dessin's, than we call, like Biddy Fudge, for "French pens and French ink," and forth steps from its case the morocco-bound diary, regularly ruled and paged, with its patent Bramah lock and key, wherein we are to record and preserve all the striking, profound, and original observations—the classical reminiscences—the thread-bare raptures—the poetical effusions—in short, all the never-sufficiently-to-be-exhausted topics of sentiment and enthusiasm, which must necessarily suggest themselves while posting from Paris to Naples.
Verbiage, emptiness, and affectation!
Yes—but what must I do, then, with my volume in green morocco?
Very true, I did not think of that.
We have all read the DIARY OF AN INVALID, the best of all diaries since old Evelyn's.—
Well, then,—Here beginneth the DIARY OF A BLUE DEVIL.
What inconsistent beings are we!—How strange that in such a moment as this, I can jest in mockery of myself! but I will write on. Some keep a diary, because it is the fashion—a reason why I should not; some because it is blue, but I am not blue, only a blue devil; some for their amusement,—amusement!! alas! alas! and some that they may remember,—and I that I may forget, O! would it were possible.
When, to-day, for the first time in my life, I saw the shores of England fade away in the distance—did the conviction that I should never behold them more, bring with it one additional pang of regret, or one consoling thought? neither the one nor the other. I leave behind me the scenes, the objects, so long associated with pain; but from pain itself I cannot fly: it has become a part of myself. I know not yet whether I ought to rejoice and be thankful for this opportunity of travelling, while my mind is thus torn and upset; or rather regret that I must visit scenes of interest, of splendour, of novelty—scenes over which, years ago, I used to ponder with many a sigh, and many a vain longing, now that I am lost to all the pleasure they could once have excited: for what is all the world to me now?—But I will not weakly yield: though time and I have not been long acquainted, do I not know what miracles he, "the all-powerful healer," can perform? Who knows but this dark cloud may pass away? Continual motion, continual activity, continual novelty, the absolute necessity for self-command, may do something for me. I cannot quite forget; but if I can cease to remember for a few minutes, or even, it may be, for a few hours? O how idle to talk of "indulging grief:" talk of indulging the rack, the rheumatism! who ever indulged grief that truly felt it? to endure is hard enough.
It is o'er! with its pains and its pleasures, The dream of affection is o'er! The feelings I lavish'd so fondly Will never return to me more.
With a faith, O! too blindly believing— A truth, no unkindness could move; My prodigal heart hath expended At once, an existence of love.
And now, like the spendthrift forsaken, By those whom his bounty had blest, All empty, and cold, and despairing, It shrinks in my desolate breast.
But a spirit is burning within me, Unquench'd, and unquenchable yet; It shall teach me to bear uncomplaining, The grief I can never forget.
Rouen, June 25.—I do not pity Joan of Arc: that heroic woman only paid the price which all must pay for celebrity in some shape or other: the sword or the faggot, the scaffold or the field, public hatred or private heart-break; what matter? The noble Bedford could not rise above the age in which he lived: but that was the age of gallantry and chivalry, as well as superstition: and could Charles, the lover of Agnes Sorel, with all the knights and nobles of France, look on while their champion, and a woman, was devoted to chains and death, without one effort to save her?
It has often been said that her fate disgraced the military fame of the English; it is a far fouler blot on the chivalry of France.
* * * * *
St. Germains, June 27.—I cannot bear this place, another hour in it will kill me; this sultry evening—this sickening sunshine—this quiet, unbroken, boundless landscape—these motionless woods—the Seine stealing, creeping through the level plains—the dull grandeur of the old chateau—the languid repose of the whole scene—instead of soothing, torture me. I am left without resource, a prey to myself and to my memory—to reflection, which embitters the source of suffering, and thought, which brings distraction. Horses on to Paris! Vite! Vite!
Paris, 28.—What said the witty Frenchwoman?—Paris est le lieu du monde ou l'on peut le mieux se passer de bonheur;—in that case it will suit me admirably.
29.—We walked and drove about all day: I was amused. I marvel at my own versatility when I think how soon my quick spirits were excited by this gay, gaudy, noisy, idle place. The different appearance of the streets of London and Paris is the first thing to strike a stranger. In the gayest and most crowded streets of London the people move steadily and rapidly along, with a grave collected air, as if all had some business in view; here, as a little girl observed the other day, all the people walk about "like ladies and gentlemen going a visiting:" the women well-dressed and smiling, and with a certain jaunty air, trip along with their peculiar mincing step, and appear as if their sole object was but to show themselves; the men ill-dressed, slovenly, and in general ill-looking, lounge indolently, and stare as if they had no other purpose in life but to look about them.[B]
July 12.—"Quel est a Paris le supreme talent? celui d'amuser: et quel est le supreme bonheur? l'amusement."
Then le supreme bonheur may be found every evening from nine to ten, in a walk along the Boulevards, or a ramble through the Champs Elysees, and from ten to twelve in a salon at Tortoni's.
What an extraordinary scene was that I witnessed to-night! how truly French! Spite of myself and all my melancholy musings, and all my philosophic allowances for the difference of national character, I was irresistibly compelled to smile at some of the farcical groups we encountered. In the most crowded parts of the Champs Elysees this evening (Sunday), there sat an old lady with a wrinkled yellow face and sharp features, dressed in flounced gown of dirty white muslin, a pink sash and a Leghorn hat and feathers. In one hand she held a small tray for the contribution of amateurs, and in the other an Italian bravura, which she sung or rather screamed out with a thousand indescribable shruggings, contortions, and grimaces, and in a voice to which a cracked tea-kettle, or a "brazen candlestick turned," had seemed the music of the spheres. A little farther on we found two elderly gentlemen playing at see-saw; one an immense corpulent man of fifteen stone at least, the other a thin dwarfish animal with gray mustachios, who held before him what I thought was a child, but on approaching, it proved to be a large stone strapped before him, to render his weight a counterpoise to that of his huge companion. We passed on, and returning about half an hour afterwards down the same walk, we found the same venerable pair pursuing their edifying amusement with as much enthusiasm as before.
* * * * *
Before the revolution, sacrilege became one of the most frequent crimes. I was told of a man who, having stolen from a church the silver box containing the consecrated wafers, returned the wafers next day in a letter to the Cure of the Parish, having used one of them to seal his envelop.
* * * * *
July 27.—A conversation with S** always leaves me sad. Can it then be possible that he is right? No—O no! my understanding rejects the idea with indignation, my whole heart recoils from it; yet if it should be so! what then: have I been till now the dupe and the victim of factitious feelings? virtue, honour, feeling, generosity, you are then but words, signifying nothing? Yet if this vain philosophy lead to happiness, would not S** be happy? it is evident he is not. When he said that the object existed not in this world which could lead him twenty yards out of his way, did this sound like happiness? I remember that while he spoke, instead of feeling either persuaded or convinced by his captivating eloquence, I was perplexed and distressed; I suffered a painful compassion, and tears were in my eyes. I, who so often have pitied myself, pitied him at that moment a thousand times more; I thought, I would not buy tranquillity at such a price as he has paid for it. Yet if he should be right? that if, which every now and then suggests itself, is terrible; it shakes me in the utmost recesses of my heart.
S**, in spite of myself, and in spite of all that with most perverted pains he has made himself (so different from what he once was), can charm and interest, pain and perplex me:—not so D**, another disciple of the same school: he inspires me with the strongest antipathy I ever felt for a human being. Insignificant and disagreeable is his appearance, he looks as if all the bile under heaven had found its way into his complexion, and all the infernal irony of a Mephistopheles into his turned-up nose and insolent curled lip. He is, he says he is, an atheist, a materialist, a sensualist: the pains he takes to deprave and degrade his nature, render him so disgusting, that I could not even speak in his presence; I dreaded lest he should enter into conversation with me. I might have spared myself the fear. He piques himself on his utter contempt for, and disregard of, women; and, after all, is not himself worthy these words I bestow on him.
* * * * *
Aug. 25.—Here begins, I hope, a new aera. I have had a long and dangerous illness; the crisis perhaps of what I have been suffering for months. Contrary to my own wishes, and to the expectations of others, I live: and trusting in God that I have been preserved for some wise and good purpose, am therefore thankful: even supposing I should be reserved for new trials, I cannot surely in this world suffer more than I have suffered: it is not possible that the same causes can be again combined to afflict me.
How truly can I say, few and evil have my days been! may I not say as truly, I have not weakly yielded, I have not "gone about to cause my heart to despair," but have striven, and not in vain? I took the remedies they gave me, and was grateful; I resigned myself to live, when had I but willed it, I might have died; and when to die and be at rest, seemed to my sick heart the only covetable boon.
Sept. 3.—A terrible anniversary at Paris—still ill and very weak. Edmonde came, pour me desennuyer. He has soul enough to bear a good deal of wearing down; but whether the fine qualities he possesses will turn to good or evil, is hard to tell: it is evident his character has not yet settled: it vibrates still as nature inclines him to good, and all the circumstances around him to evil. We talked as usual of women, of gallantry, of the French and English character, of national prejudices, of Shakspeare and Racine (never failing subjects of discussion), and he read aloud Delille's Catacombes de Rome, with great feeling, animation, and dramatic effect.
La mode at Paris is a spell of wondrous power: it is most like what we should call in England a rage, a mania, a torrent sweeping down the bounds between good and evil, sense and nonsense, upon whose surface straws and egg-shells float into notoriety, while the gold and the marble are buried and hidden till its force be spent. The rage for cashmeres and little dogs has lately given way to a rage for Le Solitaire, a romance written, I believe, by a certain Vicomte d'Arlincourt. Le Solitaire rules the imagination, the taste, the dress of half Paris: if you go to the theatre, it is to see the "Solitaire," either as tragedy, opera, or melodrame; the men dress their hair and throw their cloaks about them a la Solitaire; bonnets and caps, flounces and ribbons, are all a la Solitaire; the print shops are full of scenes from Le Solitaire; it is on every toilette, on every work-table;—ladies carry it about in their reticules to show each other that they are a la mode; and the men—what can they do but humble their understandings and be extasies, when beautiful eyes sparkle in its defence and glisten in its praise, and ruby lips pronounce it divine, delicious; "quelle sublimite dans les descriptions, quelle force dans les caracteres! quelle ame! feu! chaleur! verve! originalite! passion!" etc.
"Vous n'avez pas lu le Solitaire?" said Madame M. yesterday. "Eh mon dieu! il est donc possible! vous? mais, ma chere, vous etes perdue de reputation, et pour jamais!"
To retrieve my lost reputation, I sat down to read Le Solitaire, and as I read my amazement grew, and I did in "gaping wonderment abound," to think that fashion, like the insane root of old, had power to drive a whole city mad with nonsense; for such a tissue of abominable absurdities, bombast and blasphemy, bad taste and bad language, was never surely indited by any madman, in or out of Bedlam: not Maturin himself, that king of fustian,
"——ever wrote or borrowed Any thing half so horrid!"
and this is the book which has turned the brains of half Paris, which has gone through fifteen editions in a few weeks, which not to admire is "pitoyable," and not to have read "quelque chose d'inouie."
The objects at Paris which have most struck me, have been those least vaunted.
The view of the city from the Pont des Arts, to-night, enchanted me. As every body who goes to Rome views the Coliseum by moonlight, so nobody should leave Paris without seeing the effect from the Pont des Arts, on a fine moonlight night:—
"Earth hath not any thing to show more fair."
It is singular I should have felt its influence at such a moment: it appears to me that those who, from feeling too strongly, have learnt to consider too deeply, become less sensible to the works of art, and more alive to nature. Are there not times when we turn with indifference from the finest picture or statue—the most improving book—the most amusing poem; and when the very commonest, and every-day beauties of nature, a soft evening, a lovely landscape, the moon riding in her glory through a clouded sky, without forcing or asking attention, sink into our hearts? They do not console,—they sometimes add poignancy to pain; but still they have a power, and do not speak in vain: they become a part of us; and never are we so inclined to claim kindred with nature, as when sorrow has lent us her mournful experience. At the time I felt this (and how many have felt it as deeply, and expressed it better!) I did not think it, still less could I have said it; but I have pleasure in recording the past impression. "On rend mieux compte de ce qu'on a senti que de ce qu'on sent."
September 8.—Paris is crowded with English; and I do not wonder at it; it is, on the whole, a pleasant place to live in. I like Paris, though I shall quit it without regret as soon as I have strength to travel. Here the social arts are carried to perfection—above all, the art of conversation: every one talks much and talks well. In this multiplicity of words it must happen of course that a certain quantum of ideas is intermixed: and somehow or other, by dint of listening, talking, and looking about them, people do learn, and information to a certain point is general. Those who have knowledge are not shy of imparting it, and those who are ignorant take care not to seem so; but are sometimes agreeable, often amusing, and seldom betes. Nowhere have I seen unformed sheepish boys, nowhere the surliness, awkwardness, ungraciousness, and uneasy proud bashfulness, I have seen in the best companies in England. Our French friend Lucien has, at fifteen, the air and conversation of a finished gentleman; and our English friend C—— is at eighteen, the veriest log of a lumpish school-boy that ever entered a room. What I have seen of society, I like: the delicious climate too, the rich skies, the clear elastic atmosphere, the out of doors life the people lead, are all (in summer at least) delightful. There may be less comfort here; but nobody feels the want of it; and there is certainly more amusement—and amusement is here truly "le supreme bonheur." Happiness, according to the French meaning of the word, lies more on the surface of life: it is a sort of happiness which is cheap and ever at hand. This is the place to live in for the merry poor man, or the melancholy rich one: for those who have too much money, and those who have too little; for those who only wish, like the Irishman "to live all the days of their life,"—prendre en legere monnaie la somme des plaisirs: but to the thinking, the feeling, the domestic man, who only exists, enjoys, suffers through his affections—
"Who is retired as noontide dew, Or fountain in a noonday grove—"
to such a one, Paris must be nothing better than a vast frippery shop, an ever-varying galantee show, an eternal vanity fair, a vortex of folly, a pandemonium of vice.
September 18.—Our imperials are packed, our passports signed, and we set off to-morrow for Geneva by Dijon and the Jura. I leave nothing behind me to regret, I see nothing before me to fear, and have no hope but in change; and now all that remains to be said of Paris, and all its wonders and all its vanities, all its glories and all its gaieties, are they not recorded in the ponderous chronicles of most veracious tourists, and what can I add thereto?
Geneva, Saturday Night, 11 o'clock.—Can it be the "blue rushing of the arrowy Rhone" I hear from my window? Shall I hear it to-morrow, when I wake? Have I seen, have I felt the reality of what I have so often imagined? and much, much more? How little do I feel the contretemps and privations which affect others—and feel them only because they affect others! To me they are nothing: I have in a few hours stored my mind with images of beauty and grandeur which will last through my whole existence.
* * * * *
Yet I know I am not singular; others have felt the same: others, who, capable of "drinking in the soul of things," have viewed nature less with their eyes than their hearts. Now I feel the value of my own enthusiasm; now am I repaid in part for many pains and sorrows and errors it has cost me. Though the natural expression of that enthusiasm be now repressed and restrained, and my spirits subdued by long illness, what but enthusiasm could elevate my mind to a level with the sublime objects round me, and excite me to pour out my whole heart in admiration as I do now! How deeply they have penetrated into my imagination!—Beautiful nature! If I could but infuse into you a portion of my own existence as you have become a part of mine—If I could but bid you reflect back my soul, as it reflects back all your magnificence, I would make you my only friend, and wish no other; content "to love earth only for its earthly sake."
I am so tired to-night, I can say nothing of the Jura, nor of the superb ascent of the mountain, to me so novel, so astonishing a scene; nor of the cheerful brilliance of the morning sun, illuminating the high cliffs, and throwing the deep woody vallies into the darkest shadow; nor of the far distant plains of France seen between the hills, and melting away into a soft vapoury light; nor of Morey, and its delicious strawberries and honey-comb; nor of that never-to-be-forgotten moment, when turning the corner of the road, as it wound round a cliff near the summit, we beheld the lake and city of Geneva spread at our feet, with its magnificent back-ground of the Italian Alps, peak beyond peak, snow-crowned! and Mont Blanc towering over all! No description had prepared me for this prospect; and the first impression was rapturous surprise; but by degrees the vastness and the huge gigantic features of the scene pressed like a weight upon "my amazed sprite," and the feeling of its immense extent fatigued my imagination till my spirits gave way in tears. Then came remembrances of those I ought to forget, blending with all I saw a deeper power—raising up emotions, long buried though not dead, to fright me with their resurrection. I was so glad to arrive here, and shall be so glad to sleep—even the dull sleep which laudanum brings me.
Oct. 1.—When next I submit (having the power to avoid it) to be crammed into a carriage and carried from place to place, whether I would or not, and be set down at the stated points de vue, while a detestable laquais points out what I am to admire, I shall deserve to endure again what I endured to-day. As there was no possibility of relief, I resigned myself to my fate, and was even amused by the absurdity of my own situation. We went to see the junction of the Arve and the Rhone: or rather to see the Arve pollute the rich, blue transparent Rhone, with its turbid waters. The day was heavy, and the clouds rolled in prodigious masses along the dark sides of the mountains, frequently hiding them from our view, and substituting for their graceful outlines and ever-varying contrast of tint and shade, an impenetrable veil of dark gray vapour.
3rd.—We took a boat and rowed on the lake for about two hours. Our boatman, a fine handsome athletic figure, was very talkative and intelligent. He had been in the service of Lord Byron, and was with him in that storm between La Meillerie and St. Gingough, which is described in the third canto of Childe Harold. He pointed out among the beautiful villas, which adorn the banks on either side, that in which the empress Josephine had resided for six months, not long before her death. When he spoke of her, he rested upon his oars to descant upon her virtues, her generosity, her affability, her goodness to the poor, and his countenance became quite animated with enthusiasm. Here, in France, wherever the name of Josephine is mentioned, there seems to exist but one feeling, one opinion of her beneficence and amabilite of character. Our boatman had also rowed Marie Louise across the lake, on her way to Paris: he gave us no very captivating picture of her. He described her as "grande, blonde, bien faite et extremement fiere:" and told us how she tormented her ladies in waiting; "comme elle tracassait ses dames d'honneur." The day being rainy and gloomy, her attendants begged of her to defer the passage for a short time, till the fogs had cleared away, and discovered all the beauty of the surrounding shores. She replied haughtily and angrily, "Je veux faire ce que je veux—allez toujours."
M. le Baron M——n, whom we knew at Paris, told me several delightful anecdotes of Josephine: he was attached to her household, and high in her confidence. Napoleon sent him on the very morning of his second nuptials, with a message and billet to the ex-empress. On hearing that the ceremony was performed which had passed her sceptre into the hands of the proud, cold-hearted Austrian, the feelings of the woman overcame every other. She burst into tears, and wringing her hands, exclaimed "Ah! au moins, qu'il soit heureux!" Napoleon resigned this estimable and amiable creature to narrow views of selfish policy, and with her his good genius fled: he deserved it, and verily he hath had his reward.
We drove after dinner to Copet; and the Duchesse de Broglie being absent, had an opportunity of seeing the chateau. All things "were there of her"—of her, whose genuine worth excused, whose all-commanding talents threw into shade, those failings which belonged to the weakness of her sex, and her warm feelings and imagination. The servant girl who showed us the apartments, had been fifteen years in Madame de Stael's service. All the servants had remained long in the family, "elle etait si bonne et si charmante maitresse!" A picture of Madame de Stael when young, gave me the idea of a fine countenance and figure, though the features were irregular. In the bust, the expression is not so prepossessing:—there the colour and brilliance of her splendid dark eyes, the finest feature of her face, are of course quite lost. The bust of M. Rocca[C] was standing in the Baron de Stael's dressing-room: I was more struck with it than any thing I saw, not only as a chef-d'oeuvre, but from the perfect and regular beauty of the head, and the charm of the expression. It was just such a mouth as we might suppose to have uttered his well-known reply—"Je l'aimerai tellement qu'elle finira par m'aimer." Madame de Stael had a son by this marriage, who had just been brought home by his brother, the Baron, from a school in the neighbourhood. He is about seven years old. If we may believe the servant, Madame de Stael did not acknowledge this son till just before her death; and she described the wonder of the boy on being brought home to the chateau, and desired to call Monsieur le Baron "Mon frere" and "Auguste." This part of Madame de Stael's conduct seems incomprehensible; but her death is recent, the circumstances little known, and it is difficult to judge her motives. As a woman, as a wife, she might not have been able to brave "the world's dread laugh"—but as a mother?——
We have also seen Ferney—a place which did not interest me much, for I have no sympathies with Voltaire:—and some other beautiful scenes in the neighbourhood.
The Panorama exhibited in London just before I left it, is wonderfully correct, with one pardonable exception: the artist did not venture to make the waters of the lake of the intense ultramarine tinged with violet as I now see them before me;
"So darkly, deeply, beautifully blue;"
it would have shocked English eyes as an exaggeration, or rather impossibility.
THE PANORAMA OF LAUSANNE.
Now blest for ever be that heaven-sprung art Which can transport us in its magic power From all the turmoil of the busy crowd, From the gay haunts where pleasure is ador'd, 'Mid the hot sick'ning glare of pomp and light; And fashion worshipp'd by a gaudy throng Of heartless idlers—from the jarring world And all its passions, follies, cares, and crimes— And bids us gaze, even in the city's heart, On such a scene as this! O fairest spot! If but the pictured semblance, the dead image Of thy majestic beauty, hath a power To wake such deep delight; if that blue lake, Over whose lifeless breast no breezes play, Those mimic mountains robed in purple light, Yon painted verdure that but seems to glow, Those forms unbreathing, and those motionless woods, A beauteous mockery all—can ravish thus, What would it be, could we now gaze indeed Upon thy living landscape? could we breathe Thy mountain air, and listen to thy waves, As they run rippling past our feet, and see That lake lit up by dancing sunbeams—and Those light leaves quivering in the summer air; Or linger some sweet eve just on this spot Where now we seem to stand, and watch the stars Flash into splendour, one by one, as night Steals over yon snow-peaks, and twilight fades Behind the steeps of Jura! here, O here! 'Mid scenes where Genius, Worth and Wisdom dwelt,[D] Which fancy peopled with a glowing train Of most divine creations—Here to stray With one most cherished, and in loving eyes Read a sweet comment on the wonders round— Would this indeed be bliss? would not the soul Be lost in its own depths? and the full heart Languish with sense of beauty unexprest, And faint beneath its own excess of life?
Saturday.—Quitted Geneva, and slept at St. Maurice. I was ill during the last few days of our stay, and therefore left Geneva with the less regret. I suffer now so constantly, that a day tolerably free from pain seems a blessing for which I can scarce be sufficiently thankful. Such was yesterday.
Our road lay along the south bank of the lake, through Evian, Thonon, St. Gingough: and on the opposite shores we had in view successively, Lausanne, Vevai, Clarens, and Chillon. A rain storm pursued, or almost surrounded us the whole morning; but we had the good fortune to escape it. We travelled faster than it could pursue, and it seemed to retire before us as we approached. The effect was surprisingly beautiful; for while the two extremities of the lake were discoloured and enveloped in gloom, that part opposite to us was as blue and transparent as heaven itself, and almost as bright. Over Vevai, as we viewed it from La Meillerie, rested one end of a glorious rainbow: the other extremity appeared to touch the bosom of the lake, and shone vividly against the dark mountains above Chillon. La Meillerie—Vevai! what magic in those names! and O what a power has genius to hallow with its lovely creations, scenes already so lavishly adorned by Nature! it was not, however, of St. Preux I thought, as I passed under the rock of the Meillerie. Ah! how much of happiness, of enjoyment, have I lost, in being forced to struggle against my feelings, instead of abandoning myself to them! but surely I have done right. Let me repeat it again and again to myself, and let that thought, if possible, strengthen and console me.
Monday.—I have resolved to attempt no description of scenery; but my pen is fascinated. I must note a few of the objects which struck me to-day and yesterday, that I may at will combine them hereafter to my mind's eye, and recall the glorious pictures I beheld, as we travelled through the Vallais to Brig: the swollen and turbid (no longer "blue and arrowy") Rhone, rushing and roaring along; the gigantic mountains in all their endless variety of fantastic forms, which enclosed us round,—their summits now robed in curling clouds, and then, as the winds swept them aside, glittering in the sunshine; the little villages perched like eagles' nests on the cliffs, far, far above our heads; the deep rocky channels through which the torrents had madly broken a way, tearing through every obstacle till they reached the Rhone, and marking their course with devastation; the scene of direful ruin at Martigny; the cataracts gushing, bounding from the living rock and plunging into some unseen abyss below; even the shrubs and the fruit trees which in the wider parts of the valley bordered the road side; the vines, the rich scarlet barberries, the apples and pears which we might have gathered by extending our hands;—all and each, when I recall them, will rise up a vivid picture before my own fancy;—but never could be truly represented to the mind of another—at least through the medium of words.
And yet, with all its wonders and beauties, this day's journey has not enchanted me like Saturday's. The scenery then had a different species of beauty, a deeper interest—when the dark blue sky was above our heads, and the transparent lake shone another heaven at our feet, and the recollection of great and glorious names, and visions of poetic fancy, and ideal forms more lovely than ever trod this earth, hovered around us:—and then those thoughts which would intrude—remembrances of the far-off absent, who are or have been loved, mingled with the whole, and shed an imaginary splendour or a tender interest, over scenes which required no extraneous powers to enhance their native loveliness.—no charm borrowed from imagination to embellish the all-beautiful reality.
Duomo d'Ossola.—What shall I say of the marvellous, the miraculous Simplon? Nothing: every body has said already every thing that can be said and exclaimed.
In our descent, as the valley widened, and the stern terrific features of the scene assumed a gentler character, we came to the beautiful village of Davedro, with its cottages and vineyards spread over a green slope, between the mountains and the torrent below. This lovely nook struck me the more from its contrast with the region of snows, clouds, and barren rocks to which our eyes had been for several hours accustomed. In such a spot as Davedro I fancied I should wish to live, could I in life assemble round me all that my craving heart and boundless spirit desire;—or die, when life had exhausted all excitement, and the subdued and weary soul had learned to be content with repose:—but not not till then.
We are now in Italy; but have not yet heard the soft sounds of the Italian language. However, we read with great satisfaction the Italian denomination of our Inn, "La grande Alberga della Villa"—called out "Cameriere!" instead of "Garcon!"—plucked ripe grapes as they hung from the treillages above our heads—gathered green figs from the trees, bursting and luscious—panted with the intense heat—intense and overpowering from its contrast with the cold of the Alpine regions we had just left—and fancied we began to feel
"——cette vie enivrante, Que le solei du sud inspire a tous les sens."
* * * * *
11 at night.—Fatigue and excitement have lately proved too much for me: but I will not sink. I will yet bear up; and when a day thus passed amid scenes like those of a romance, amid all that would once have charmed my imagination, and enchanted my senses, brings no real pleasure, but is ended, as now it ends, in tears, in bitterness of heart, in languor, in sickness, and in pain—ah! let me remember the lesson of resignation I have lately learned; and by elevating my thoughts to a better world, turn to look upon the miserable affections which have agitated me here as——[E]
Could I but become as insensible, as regardless of the painful past as I am of the all lovely present! Why was I proud of my victory over passion? alas! what avails it that I have shaken the viper from my hand, if I have no miraculous antidote against the venom which has mingled with my life-blood, and clogged the pulses of my heart! But the antidote of Paul—even faith—may it not be mine if I duly seek it?
* * * * *
Arona, on the banks of the Lago Maggiore.—Rousseau mentions somewhere, that it was once his intention to place the scene of the Heloise in the Borromean Islands. What a French idea! How strangely incongruous had the pastoral simplicity of his lovers appeared in such a scene! It must have changed, if not the whole plan, at least the whole colouring of the tale. Imagine la divine JULIE tripping up and down the artificial terraces of the Isola Bella, among flower pots and statues, and colonnades and grottos; and St. Preux sighing towards her, from some trim fantastic wilderness in the Isola Madre!
The day was heavenly, and I shall never forget the sunset, as we viewed it reflected in the lake, which appeared at one moment an expanse of living fire. This is the first we have seen of those effulgent sunsets with which Italy will make us familiar.
Milan.—Our journey yesterday, through the flat fertile plains of Lombardy, was not very interesting; and the want of novelty and excitement made it fatiguing, in spite of the matchless roads and the celerity with which we travelled.
Whatever we may think of Napoleon in England, it is impossible to travel on the Continent, and more particularly through Lombardy, without being struck with the magnificence and vastness of his public works—either designed or executed. He is more regretted here than in France; or rather he has not been so soon banished from men's minds. In Italy he followed the rational policy of depressing the nobles, and providing occupation and amusement for the lower classes. I spoke to-day with an intelligent artisan, who pointed out to us a hall built near the public walk by Napoleon, for the people to dance and assemble in, when the weather was unfavourable. The man concluded some very animated and sensible remarks on the late events, by adding expressively, that though many had been benefited by the change, there was to him and all others of his class as much difference between the late reign and the present, as between l'or et le fer.
The silver shrine of St. Carlo Borromeo, with all its dazzling waste of magnificence, struck me with a feeling of melancholy and indignation. The gems and gold which lend such a horrible splendour to corruption; the skeleton head, grinning ghastly under its invaluable coronet; the skeleton hand supporting a crozier glittering with diamonds, appeared so frightful, so senseless a mockery of the excellent, simple-minded, and benevolent being they were intended to honour, that I could but wonder, and escape from the sight as quickly as possible. The Duomo is on the whole more remarkable for the splendour of the material, than the good taste with which it is employed: the statues which adorn it inside and out, are sufficient of themselves to form a very respectable congregation: they are four thousand in number.
9th, Tuesday.—We gave the morning to the churches, and the evening to the Ambrosian library. The day was, on the whole, more fatiguing than edifying or amusing. I remarked whatever was remarkable, admired all that is usually admired, but brought away few impressions of novelty or pleasure. The objects which principally struck my capricious and fastidious fancy, were precisely those which passed unnoticed by every one else, and are not worth recording. In the first church we visited, I saw a young girl respectably and even elegantly dressed, in the beautiful costume of the Milanese, who was kneeling on the pavement before a crucifix, weeping bitterly, and at the same time fanning herself most vehemently with a large green fan. Another church (St. Alessandro, I think) was oddly decorated for a Christian temple. A statue of Venus stood on one side of the porch, a statue of Hercules on the other. The two divinities, whose attributes could not be mistaken, had been converted from heathenism into two very respectable saints. I forget their christian names. Nor is this the most amusing metamorphosis I have seen here. The transformation of two heathen divinities into saints, is matched by the apotheosis of two modern sovereigns into pagan deities. On the frieze of the salle, adjoining the amphitheatre, there is a head of Napoleon, which, by the addition of a beard, has been converted into a Jupiter; and on the opposite side, a head of Josephine, which, being already beautiful and dignified, has required no alteration, except in name, to become a creditable Minerva.
10th.—At the Brera, now called the "Palace of the Arts and Sciences," we spent some delightful hours. There is a numerous collection of pictures by Titian, Guido, Albano, Schidone, the three Carraccis, Tintoretto, Giorgione, etc. Some old paintings in fresco, by Luini and others of his age, were especially pointed out to us, which had been cut from the walls of churches now destroyed. They are preserved here, I presume, as curiosities, and specimens of the progress of the arts, for they possess no other merit—none, at least, that I could discover. Here is the "Marriage of the Virgin," by Raffaelle, of which I had often heard. It disappointed me at the first glance, but charmed me at the second, and enchanted me at the third. The unobtrusive grace and simplicity of Raffaelle do not immediately strike an eye so unpractised, and a taste so unformed as mine still is: for though I have seen the best pictures in England, we have there no opportunity of becoming acquainted with the two divinest masters of the Italian art, Raffaelle and Correggio. There are not, I conceive, half a dozen of either in all the collections together, and those we do possess, are far from being among their best efforts. But Raffaelle must not make me forget the Hagar in the Brera: the affecting—the inimitable Hagar! what agony, what upbraiding, what love, what helpless desolation of heart in that countenance! I may well remember the deep pathos of this picture; for the face of Hagar has haunted me sleeping and waking ever since I beheld it. Marvellous power of art! that mere inanimate forms, and colours compounded of gross materials, should thus live—thus speak—thus stand a soul-felt presence before us, and from the senseless board or canvas, breathe into our hearts a feeling, beyond what the most impassioned eloquence could ever inspire—beyond what mere words can ever render.
Last night and the preceding we spent at the Scala. The opera was stupid, and Madame Bellochi, who is the present primadonna, appeared to me harsh and ungraceful, when compared to Fodor. The new ballet however, amply indemnified us for the disappointment. Our Italian friends condoled with us on being a few days too late to see La Vestale, which had been performed for sixty nights, and is one of Vigano's masterpieces. I thought the Didone Abbandonata left us nothing to regret. The immense size of the stage, the splendid scenery, the classical propriety and magnificence of the dresses, the fine music, and the exquisite acting (for there is very little dancing), all conspired to render it enchanting. The celebrated cavern scene in the fourth book of Virgil, is rather too closely copied in a most inimitable pas de deux; so closely, indeed, that I was considerably alarmed pour les bienseances; but little Ascanius, who is asleep in a corner (Heaven knows how he came there), wakes at the critical moment, and the impending catastrophe is averted. Such a scene, however beautiful, would not, I think, be endured on the English stage. I observed that when it began, the curtains in front of the boxes were withdrawn, the whole audience, who seemed to be expecting it, was hushed; the deepest silence, the most delighted attention prevailed during its performance; and the moment it was over, a third of the spectators departed. I am told this is always the case; and that in almost every ballet d'action, the public are gratified by a scene, or scenes, of a similar tendency.
The second time I saw the Didone, my attention, in spite of the fascination of the scene, was attracted towards a box near us, which was occupied by a noble English family just arrived at Milan. In the front of the box sat a beautiful girl apparently not fifteen, with laughing lips and dimpled cheeks, the very personification of blooming, innocent, English loveliness. I watched her (I could not help it, when my interest was once awakened) through the whole scene. I marked her increased agitation: I saw her cheeks flush, her eyes glisten, her bosom flutter, as if with sighs I could not overhear, till at length, overpowered with emotion, she turned away her head, and covered her eyes with her hand. Mothers!—English mothers! who bring your daughters abroad to finish their education—do you well to expose them to scenes like these, and force the young bud of early feeling in such a precious hot-bed as this? Can a finer finger on the piano,—a finer taste in painting, or any possible improvement in foreign arts and foreign graces, compensate for one taint on that moral purity, which has ever been (and may it ever be!) the boast, the charm of Englishwomen? But what have I to do with all this?—I came here to be amused and to forget;—not to moralize or to criticise.
Vigano, who is lately dead, composed the Didone Abbandonata as well as La Vestale, Otello, Nina, and others. All his ballets are celebrated for their classical beauty and interest. This man, though but a dancing-master, must have had the soul of a painter, a musician, and a poet in one. He must have been a perfect master of design, grouping, contrast, picturesque, and scenic effect. He must have had the most exquisite feeling for musical expression, to adapt it so admirably to his purposes; and those gestures and movements with which he has so gracefully combined it, and which address themselves but too powerfully to the senses and the imagination—what are they, but the very "poetry of motion," la poesie mise en action, rendering words a superfluous and feeble medium in comparison?
I saw at the Mint yesterday the medal struck in honour of Vigano, bearing his head on one side, and on the other, Prometheus chained; to commemorate his famous ballet of that name. One of these medals, struck in gold, was presented to him in the name of the government:—a singular distinction for a dancing-master;—but Vigano was a dancing-master of genius; and this is the land, where genius in every shape is deified.
The enchanting music of the Prometteo by Beethoven, is well known in England, but to produce the ballet on our stage, as it was exhibited here, would be impossible. The entire tribe of our dancers and figurantes, with their jumpings, twirlings, quiverings, and pirouettings, must be first annihilated; and Vigano, or Didelot, or Noverre rise again to inform the whole corps de ballet with another soul and the whole audience with another spirit:—for
—"Poiche paga il volgo sciocco, e giusto Scioccamente 'ballar' per dargli gusto."
The Theatre of the Scala, notwithstanding the vastness of my expectations, did not disappoint me. I heard it criticised as being dark and gloomy; for only the stage is illuminated: but when I remember how often I have left our English theatres with dazzled eyes and aching head,—distracted by the multiplicity of objects and faces, and "blasted with excess of light,"—I feel reconciled to this peculiarity; more especially as it heightens beyond measure the splendour of the stage effect.
We have the Countess Bubna's box while we are here. She scarcely ever goes herself, being obliged to hold a sort of military drawing-room almost every evening. Her husband, General Bubna, has the command of the Austrian forces in the north of Italy: and though the Archduke Reinier is nominal viceroy, all real power seems lodged in Bubna's bands. He it was who suppressed the insurrection in Piedmont during the last struggle for liberty: 'twas his vocation—more the pity. Eight hundred of the Milanese, at the head of them Count Melzi, were connected with the Carbonari and the Piedmontese insurgents. On Count Bubna's return from his expedition, a list of these malcontents being sent to him by the police, he refused even to look at it, and merely saying that it was the business of the police to surveiller those persons, but he must be allowed to be ignorant of their names, publicly tore the paper. The same night he visited the theatre, accompanied by Count Melzi, was received with acclamations, and has since been deservedly popular.
Bubna is a heavy gross-looking man, a victim to the gout, and with nothing martial or captivating in his exterior. He has talents, however, and those not only of a military cast. He was generally employed to arrange the affairs of the Emperor of Austria with Napoleon. His loyalty to his own sovereign, and the soldier-like frankness and integrity of his character, gained him the esteem of the French emperor; who, when any difficulties occurred in their arrangements, used to say impatiently—"Envoyez-moi donc Bubna!"
The count is of an illustrious family of Alsace, which removed to Bohemia when that province was ceded to France. He had nearly ruined himself by gambling, when the emperor (so it is said) advised him, or, in other words, commanded him to marry the daughter of one Arnvelt or Arnfeldt, a baptized Jew, who had been servant to a Jewish banker at Vienna; and on his death left a million of florins to each of his daughters. He was a man of the lowest extraction, and without any education; but having sense enough to feel its advantages, he gave a most brilliant one to his daughters. The Countess Bubna is an elegant, an accomplished, and has the character of being also an amiable woman. She is here a person of the very first consequence, the wife of the archduke alone taking precedence of her. A propos of the viceroy, when on the Corso to-day with the Countess Bubna, we met him with the vice-queen, as she is styled, here, walking in public. The archduke has not (as the countess observed) la plus jolie tournure du monde: his appearance is heavy, awkward, and slovenly, with more than the usual Austrian stupidity of countenance: a complete testa tedesca. His beautiful wife, the Princess Maria of Savoy, to whom he has been married only a few months, held his arm; and as she moved a little in front, seemed to drag him after her like a mere appendage to her state. I gazed after them, amused by the contrast: he looking like a dull, stiff, old bachelor, the very figure of Moody in the Country Girl;—she, an elegant, sprightly, captivating creature; decision in her step, laughter on her lips, and pride, intelligence, and mischief in her brilliant eyes.
* * * * *
We visited yesterday the military college, founded by the viceroy, Eugene Beauharnois, for the children of soldiers who had fallen in battle. The original design is now altered; and it has become a mere public school, to which any boys may be admitted, paying a certain sum a year. We went over the whole building, and afterwards saw the scholars, two hundred and eighty in number, sit down to dinner. Every thing appeared nice, clean, and admirably ordered. At the Mint, which interested me extremely, we found them coining silver crowns for the Levant trade, with the head of Maria Theresa, and the date 1780. We were also shown the beautifully engraved die for the medal which the university of Padua presented to Belzoni.
The evening was spent at the Teatro Re, where we saw a bad sentimental comedy (una Commedia di Carattere) exceedingly well acted. One actor I thought almost equal to Dowton, in his own style;—we had afterwards some fine music. Some of the Milanese airs, which the itinerant musicians give us, have considerable beauty and character. There is less monotony, I think, in their general style than in the Venetian music; and perhaps less sentiment, less softness. When left alone to-night, to do penance on the sofa, for my late walks, and recruit for our journey to-morrow,—I tried to adapt English verses to one or two very pretty airs which Annoni brought me to-day, without the Italian words; but it is a most difficult and invidious task. Even Moore, with his unequalled command over the lyric harmonies of our language, cannot perfectly satisfy ears accustomed to the
"Linked sweetness long drawn out"
of the Italian vowels, combined with musical sounds: fancy such dissonant syllables as ex, pray, what, breaks, strength, uttered in minim time, hissing and grating through half a bar, instead of the dulcet anima mia, Catina amabile—Caro mio tesoro, etc.
STANZAS FOR MUSIC.
All that it hoped My heart believed, And when most trusting, Was most deceived.
A shadow hath fallen O'er my young years; And hopes when brightest, Were quench'd in tears.
I make no plaint— I breathe no sigh— My lips can smile, And mine eyes are dry.
I ask no pity, I hope no cure— The heart, tho' broken, Can live, and endure!
We left Milan two days ago, and arrived early the same day at Brescia; there is, I believe, very little to see there, and of that little, I saw nothing,—being too ill and too low for the slightest exertion. The only pleasurable feeling I can remember was excited by our approach to the Alps, after traversing the flat, fertile, uninteresting plains of Lombardy. The peculiar sensation of elevation and delight, inspired by mountain scenery, can only be understood by those who have felt it: at least I never had formed an idea of it till I found myself ascending the Jura.
But Brescia ought to be immortalized in the history of our travels: for there, stalking down the Corso—le nez en l'air—we met our acquaintance L——, from whom we had parted last on the pave of Piccadilly. I remember that in London I used to think him not remarkable for wisdom,—and his travels have infinitely improved him—in folly. He boasted to us triumphantly that he had run over sixteen thousand miles in sixteen months: that he had bowed at the levee of the Emperor Alexander,—been slapped on the shoulder by the Archduke Constantine,—shaken hands with a Lapland witch,—and been presented in full volunteer uniform at every court between Stockholm and Milan. Yet is he not one particle wiser than if he had spent the same time in walking up and down the Strand. He has contrived, however, to pick up on his tour, strange odds and ends of foreign follies, which stick upon the coarse-grained materials of his own John Bull character like tinfoil upon sackcloth: so that I see little difference between what he was, and what he is, except that from a simple goose,—he has become a compound one. With all this, L—— is not unbearable—not yet at least. He amuses others as a butt—and me as a specimen of a new genus of fools: for his folly is not like any thing one usually meets with. It is not, par exemple, the folly of stupidity, for he talks much; nor of dullness, for he laughs much; nor of ignorance, for he has seen much; nor of wrong-headedness, for he can be guided right; nor of bad-heartedness, for he is good-natured; nor of thoughtlessness, for he is prudent; nor of extravagance, for he can calculate even to the value of half a lira: but it is an essence of folly, peculiar to himself, and like Monsieur Jacques's melancholy, "compounded of many simples, extracted from various objects, and the sundry contemplation of his travels." So much, for the present, of our friend L——.
We left Brescia early yesterday morning, and after passing Desenzano, came in sight of the Lago di Garda. I had from early associations a delightful impression of the beauty of this lake, and it did not disappoint me. It is far superior, I think, to the Lago Maggiore, because the scenery is more resserre, lies in a smaller compass, so that the eye takes in the separate features more easily. The mountains to the north are dark, broken, and wild in their forms, and their bases seemed to extend to the water edge: the hills to the south are smiling, beautiful, and cultivated, studded with white flat-roofed buildings, which glitter one above another in the sunshine. Our drive along the promontory of Sirmione, to visit the ruins of the Villa of Catullus, was delightful. The fresh breeze which ruffled the dark blue lake, revived my spirits, and chased away my head-ache. I was inclined to be enchanted with all I saw; and when our guide took us into an old cellar choked with rubbish, and assured us gravely that it was the very spot in which Catullus had written his Odes to Lesbia. I did not laugh in his face; for, after all, it would be as easy to prove that it is, as that it is not. The old town and castle of Sirmio are singularly picturesque, whether viewed from above or below, and the grove of olives which crowned the steep extremity of the promontory, interested us, being the first we had seen in Italy: on the whole I fully enjoyed the early part of this day.
At Peschiera, which is strongly fortified, we crossed the Mincio.—
O fountain Arethuse, and thou honoured flood, Smooth-flowing Mincius crowned with vocal reeds.
Its waters were exquisitely transparent; but it was difficult to remember its poetical pretensions, in sight of those odious barracks and batteries. The reeds mentioned by Virgil and Milton still flourish upon its banks, and I forgave them for spoiling in some degree the beauty of the shore, when I thought of Adelaide of Burgundy, who concealed herself among them for three days, when she fled from the dungeon of Peschiera to the arms of her lover. I was glad I had read her story in Gibbon, since it enabled me to add to classical and poetical associations, an interest at once romantic and real.
The rest to-morrow—for I can write no more.
At Verona, Oct. 20.—I had just written the above when I was startled by a mournful strain from a chorus of voices, raised at intervals, and approaching gradually nearer. I walked to the window, and saw a long funeral procession just entering the church, which is opposite to the door of our inn. I immediately threw over me a veil and shawl, followed it, and stood by while the service was chaunted over the dead. The scene, as viewed by the light of about two hundred tapers, which were carried by the assistants, was as new to me as it was solemn and striking; but it was succeeded by a strange and forlorn contrast. The moment the service was over, the tapers were suddenly extinguished; the priests and the relatives all disappeared in an inconceivably short time, and before I was quite aware of what was going forward: the coffin, stripped of its embroidered pall and garlands of flowers, appeared a mere chest of deal boards, roughly nailed together; and was left standing on tressels, bare, neglected, and forsaken in the middle of the church. I approached it almost fearfully, and with a deeper emotion than I believed such a thing could now excite within me. And here, thought I, rests the human being, who has lived and loved, suffered and enjoyed, and, if I may judge by the splendour of his funeral rites, has been honoured, served, flattered while living:—and now not one remains to shed a last tear over the dead, but a single stranger, a wanderer from a land he perhaps knew not: to whom his very name is unknown! And while thus I moralized, two sextons appeared; and one of them seizing the miserable and deserted coffin, rudely and unceremoniously flung it on his shoulders, and vanished through a vaulted door; and I returned to my room, to write this, and to think how much better, how much more humanely, we manage these things in our own England.
Oct. 21.—Verona is a clean and quiet place, containing some fine edifices by Palladio and his pupils. The principal object of interest is the ancient amphitheatre; the most perfect I believe in Italy. The inner circle, with all its ranges of seats, is entire. We ascended to the top, and looked down into the Piazza d'arme, where several battalions of Austrian soldiers were exercising; their arms glittering splendidly in the morning sun. As I have now been long enough in Italy to sympathize in the national hatred of the Austrians, I turned from the sight, resolved not to be pleased. The arena of the amphitheatre is smaller, and less oval in form than I had expected: and in the centre, there is a little paltry gaudy wooden theatre for puppets and tumblers,—forming a grotesque contrast to the massive and majestic architecture around it: but even tumblers and puppets, as Rospo observed, are better than wild beasts and ferocious gladiators.
There are also at Verona a triumphal arch to the Emperor Gallienus; the architecture and inscription almost as perfect as if erected yesterday;—and a most singular bridge of three irregular arches, built, I believe, by the Scaligieri family, who were once princes of Verona.
It is well known that the story of Romeo and Juliet is here regarded as a traditionary and indisputable fact, and the tomb of Juliet is shown in a garden near the town. So much has been written and said on this subject, I can add only one observation. To the reality of the story it has been objected that the oldest narrator, Masuccio, relates it as having happened at Sienna: but might he not have heard the tradition at Verona, and transferred the scene to Sienna, since he represented it as related by a Siennese?—Della Corte, whose history of Verona I have just laid down, mentions it as a real historical event; and Louis da Porta, in his beautiful novel, la Giulietta, expressly asserts that he has written it down from tradition. If Shakespeare, as it is said, never saw the novel of Da Porta, how came he by the names of Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and the Capulets: if he did meet with it, how came he to depart so essentially from the story, particularly in the catastrophe? I must get some books, if possible, to clear up these difficulties.
23d, at Padua.—We spent yesterday morning pleasantly at Vicenza. Palladio's edifices in general disappointed me; partly because I am not architect enough to judge of their merits, partly because, of most of them the situation is bad, and the materials paltry: but the Olympic theatre, although its solid perspective be a mere trick of the art, surprised and pleased me. It has an air of antique and classic elegance in its decorations, which is very striking. I have heard it criticised as a specimen of bad taste and trickery: but why should its solid scenery be considered more a trick, and in bad taste, than a curtain of painted canvas? In both a deception is practised and intended. We saw many things in Vicenza and its neighbourhood, which I have not time nor spirits, to dwell upon.
We arrived here (at Padua) last night, and to-day I am again ill: unable to see or even to wish to see any thing. My eyes are so full of tears that I can scarcely write. I must lay down my pencil, lest I break through my resolution, and be tempted to record feelings I afterwards tremble to see written down.—O bitter and too lasting remembrance! I must sleep it away—even the heavy and drug-bought sleep to which I am now reduced, is better than such waking moments as these.
* * * * *
Venice, October 25th.—I feel while I gaze round me, as if I had seen Venice in my dreams—as if it were itself the vision of a dream. We have been here two days; and I have not yet recovered from my first surprise. All is yet enchantment: all is novel, extraordinary, affecting from the many associations and remembrances excited in the mind. Pleasure and wonder are tinged with a melancholy interest; and while the imagination is excited, the spirits are depressed.
The morning we left Padua was bright, lovely, and cloudless. Our drive along the shores of the Brenta crowned with innumerable villas and gay gardens was delightful; and the moment of our arrival at Fusina, where we left our carriages to embark in gondolas, was the most auspicious that could possibly have been chosen. It was about four o'clock: the sun was just declining towards the west: the whole surface of the lagune, smooth as a mirror, appeared as if paved with fire;—and Venice, with her towers and domes, indistinctly glittering in the distance, rose before us like a gorgeous exhalation from the bosom of the ocean. It is farther from the shore than I expected. As we approached, the splendour faded: but the interest and wonder grew. I can conceive nothing more beautiful, more singular, more astonishing, than the first appearance of Venice, and sad indeed will be the hour when she sinks (as the poet prophesies) "into the slime of her own canals."
The moment we had disembarked our luggage at the inn, we hired gondolas and rowed to the Piazza di San Marco. Had I seen the church of St. Mark any where else, I should have exclaimed against the bad taste which every where prevails in it: but Venice is the proper region of the fantastic, and the church of St. Mark—with its four hundred pillars of every different order, colour, and material, its oriental cupolas, and glittering vanes, and gilding and mosaics—assimilates with all around it: and the kind of pleasure it gives is suitable to the place and the people.
After dinner I had a chair placed on the balcony of our inn, and sat for some time contemplating a scene altogether new and delightful. The arch of the Rialto just gleamed through the deepening twilight; long lines of palaces, at first partially illuminated, faded away at length into gloomy and formless masses of architecture; the gondolas glided to and fro, their glancing lights reflected on the water. There was a stillness all around me, solemn and strange in the heart of a great city. No rattling carriages shook the streets, no trampling of horses echoed along the pavement: the silence was broken only by the melancholy cry of the gondoliers, and the dash of their oars; by the low murmur of human voices, by the chime of the vesper bells, borne over the water, and the sounds of music raised at intervals along the canals. The poetry, the romance of the scene stole upon me unawares. I fell into a reverie, in which visionary forms and recollections gave way to dearer and sadder realities, and my mind seemed no longer in my own power. I called upon the lost, the absent, to share the present with me,—I called upon past feelings to enhance that moment's delight. I did wrong—and memory avenged herself as usual. I quitted my seat on the balcony, with despair at my heart, and drawing to the table, took out my books and work. So passed our first evening at Venice.
Yesterday we visited the Accademia where there are some fine pictures. The famous assumption by Titian is here, and first made me feel what connoisseurs mean when they talk of the carnations and draperies of Titian. We were shown two designs for monuments to the memory of Titian, modelled by Canova. Neither of them has been erected; but the most beautiful, with a little alteration, and the substitution of a lady's bust for Titian's venerable head, has been dedicated, I believe, to the memory of the Archduchess Christina of Austria. I remember also an exquisite Canaletti, quite different in style and subject from any picture of this master I ever saw.
We then rowed to the ducal palace. The council chamber (I thought of Othello as I entered it) is now converted into a library. The walls are decorated with the history of Pope Alexander the Third, and Frederic Barbarossa, painted by the Tintoretti, father and son, Paul Veronese and Palma. Above them, in compartments, hang the portraits of the Doges; among which Marino Faliero is not; but his name only, inscribed on a kind of black pall. The Ganymede is a most exquisite little group, attributed to the age of Praxiteles; and not without reason even to the hand of that sculptor.
To-day we visited several churches—rich, on the outside, with all the luxury of architecture,—withinside, gorgeous with painting, sculpture, and many-coloured marbles. The prodigality with which the most splendid and costly materials are lavished here is perfectly amazing: pillars of lapis-lazuli, columns of Egyptian porphyry, and pavements of mosaic, altars of alabaster ascended by steps incrusted with agate and jasper:—but to particularize would be in vain. I will only mention three or four which I wish to recollect: the Church of the Madonna della Salute, so called because erected to the Virgin in gratitude for the deliverance of the city from a pestilence, which she miraculously drove into the Adriatic. It is remarkable for its splendid pictures, most of them by Luca Giordano; and the superb high altar. I think it was the Church of the Gesuata which astonished us most. The whole of the inside walls and columns are encrusted with Carrara marble inlaid with verd-antique, in a kind of damask pattern; over the pulpit it fell like drapery, so easy, so graceful, so exquisitely imitated, that I was obliged to touch it to assure myself of the material. Then by way of contrast followed the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore,—one of Palladio's masterpieces. After the dazzling and gorgeous buildings we had left, its beautiful simplicity and correct taste struck me at first with an impression of poverty and coldness. At the Church of St. John and St. Paul is the famous martyrdom, or rather assassination, of St. Peter Martyr, by Titian, one of the most magical pictures in the world. Its tragic horror is redeemed by its sublimity. Here too is a most admirable series of bas-reliefs in white marble, representing the history of our Saviour, the work of a modern sculptor. Here too the Doges are buried; and close to the Church is the equestrian statue of one of the Falieri family: near which Marino Faliero met the conspirators.
At the Frati is the grave of Titian: a small square slab covers him, with this inscription:—
"Qui giace il gran Tiziano Vecelli. Emulator dei Zeusi e degli Apelli."
there is no monument:—and there needs none.
It was, I think, in the Church of St. John and St. Paul, that I saw a singular and beautiful altar of black touch-stone, used when mass is said for the soul of an executed criminal.
This is all I can remember of to-day. I am fatigued, and my head aches;—my imagination is yet dazzled:—my eyes are tired of admiring, my mind is tired of thinking, and my heart with feeling.——Now for repose.
27.—To-day we visited the Manfrini Palace, the Casa Pisani, the Palazzo Barberigo, and concluded the morning in the colonnade of St. Mark, and the public gardens. The day has been far less fatiguing than yesterday: for though we have seen an equal variety of objects, they forced the attention less, and gratified the imagination more.
At the Manfrini Palace there is the most valuable and splendid collection of pictures I have yet seen in Italy or elsewhere. I have no intention of turning my little Diary into a mere catalogue of names which I can find in every guide-book; but I cannot pass over Giorgione's beautiful group of himself, and his wife and child, which Lord Byron calls "love at full length and life, not love ideal," and it is indeed exquisite. A female with a guitar by the same master is almost equal to it. There are two Lucretias—one by Guido and one by Giordano: though both are beautiful, particularly the former, there was, I thought, an impropriety in the conception of both pictures: the figure was too voluptuous—too exposed, and did not give me the idea of the matronly Lucretia, who so carefully arranged her drapery before she fell. I remember, too, a St. Cecilia by Carlo Dolci, of most heavenly beauty,—two Correggios—Iphigenia in Aulis, by Padovanino: in this picture the figure of Agamemnon is a complete failure, but the lifeless beauty of Iphigenia, a wonderful effort of art: and a hundred others at least, all masterpieces.
The Barberigo Palace was the school of Titian. We were shown the room in which he painted, and the picture he left unfinished when he died at the age of 99. It is a David—as vigorous in the touch and style as any of his first pictures.
* * * * *
It is now some days since I had time to write; or rather the intervals of excitement and occupation found me too much exhausted to take up my pencil. Our stay at Venice has been rendered most agreeable by the kindness of Mr. H——, the British Consul, and his amiable and charming wife, and in their society we have spent much of the last few days.
One of our pleasantest excursions was to the Armenian convent of St. Lazaro, where we were received by Fra Pasquale, an accomplished and intelligent monk, and a particular friend of Mr. H——. After we had visited every part of the convent, the printing press—the library—the laboratory—which contains several fine mathematical instruments of English make; and admired the beautiful little tame gazelle which bounded through the corridors, we were politely refreshed with most delicious sweetmeats and coffee; and took leave of Fra Pasquale with regret.
There is no opera at present, but we have visited both the other theatres. At the San Luca, they gave us "Elizabeth, the Exile of Siberia," tolerably acted: but there was one trait introduced very characteristic of the place and people: Elizabeth in a tremendous snow storm, is pursued by robbers; and finding a crucifix, erected by the road side, embraces it for protection. The crucifix flies away with her in a clap of thunder, and sets her down safely at a distance from her persecutors. The audience appeared equally enchanted and edified by this scene: some of the women near me crossed themselves, and put their handkerchiefs to their eyes: the men rose from their seats, clapped with enthusiasm, and shouted "Bravo! Miracolo!"
At the San Benedetto we were gratified by a deep tragedy entitled "Gabrielle Innocente," so exquisitely absurd, and so grotesquely acted, that the best comedy could scarcely have afforded us more amusement,—certainly not more merriment. In the course of the evening, coffee and ices were served in our box, as is the custom here.
With Mrs. H—— this evening I had a long and pleasant conversation; she is really one of the most delightful and unaffected women I ever met with: and as there is nothing in my melancholy visage and shrinking reserve to tempt any person to converse with me, I must also set her down as one of the most good-natured. She talked much of Lord Byron, with whom, during his residence here she was on intimate terms. She spoke of him, not conceitedly as one vain of the acquaintance of a great character; nor with affected reserve, as if afraid of committing herself—but with openness, animation, and cordial kindness, as one whom she liked, and had reason to like. She says the style of Lord Byron's conversation is very much that of Don Juan: just in the same manner are the familiar, the brilliant, the sublime, the affecting, the witty, the ludicrous, and the licentious, mingled and contrasted. Several little anecdotes which she related I need not write down; I can scarcely forget them, and it would not be quite fair as they were told en confiance. I am no anecdote hunter, picking up articles for "my pocket book."
* * * * *
A little while ago Captain F. lent me D'Israeli's Essays on the Literary Character, which had once belonged to Lord Byron; and contained marginal notes in his hand-writing. One or two of them are so curiously characteristic that I copy them here.
The first note is on a passage in which D'Israeli, in allusion to Lord Byron, traces his fondness for oriental scenery to his having read Rycaut at an early age. On this Lord Byron observes, that he read every book relating to the east before he was ten years old, including De Tott and Cantemir as well as Rycaut: at that age, he says that he detested all poetry, and adds, "when I was in Turkey, I was oftener tempted to turn mussulman than poet: and have often regretted since that I did not."
At page 99 D'Israeli says,
"The great poetical genius of our times has openly alienated himself from the land of his brothers" (over the word brothers Lord Byron has written Cains.) "He becomes immortal in the language of a people whom he would contemn, he accepts with ingratitude the fame he loves more than life, and he is only truly great on that spot of earth, whose genius, when he is no more, will contemplate his shade in sorrow and in anger."
Lord Byron has underlined several words in this passage, and writes thus in the margin:
"What was rumoured of me in that language, if true, I was unfit for England; and if false, England was unfit for me. But 'there is a world elsewhere.' I have never for an instant regretted that country,—but often that I ever returned to it. It is not my fault that I am obliged to write in English. If I understood any present language, Italian, for instance, equally well, I would write in it:—but it will require ten years, at least, to form a style. No tongue so easy to acquire a little of, and so difficult to master thoroughly, as Italian."
The next note is amusing; at page 342 is mentioned the anecdote of Petrarch, who when returning to his native town, was informed that the proprietor of the house in which he was born had often wished to make alterations in it, but that the town's-people had risen to insist that the house consecrated by his birth should remain unchanged;—"a triumph," adds D'Israeli, "more affecting to Petrarch than even his coronation at Rome."
Lord Byron has written in the margin—"It would have pained me more that the proprietor should often have wished to make alterations, than it would give me pleasure that the rest of Arezzo rose against his right (for right he had:) the depreciation of the lowest of mankind is more painful, than the applause of the highest is pleasing. The sting of the scorpion is more in torture than the possession of any thing short of Venus would be in rapture."
* * * * *
The public gardens are the work of the French, and occupy the extremity of one of the islands. They contain the only trees I have seen at Venice:—a few rows of dwarfish unhappy-looking shrubs, parched by the sea breezes, and are little frequented. We found here a solitary gentleman, who was sauntering up and down with his hands in his pockets, and a look at once stupid and disconsolate. Sometimes he paused, looked vacantly over the waters, whistled, yawned, and turned away to resume his solemn walk. On a trifling remark addressed to him by one of our party, he entered into conversation, with all the eagerness of a man, whose tongue had long been kept in most unnatural bondage. He congratulated himself on having met with some one who would speak English; adding contemptuously, that "he understood none of the outlandish tongues the people spoke hereabouts:" he inquired what was to be seen here, for though he had been four days in Venice, he had spent every day precisely in the same manner; viz. walking up and down the public gardens. We told him Venice was famous for fine buildings and pictures; he knew nothing of them things. And that it contained also, "some fine statues and antiques"—he cared nothing about them neither—he should set off for Florence the next morning, and begged to know what was to be seen there? Mr. R——told him, with enthusiasm, "the most splendid gallery of pictures and statues in the world!" He looked very blank and disappointed. "Nothing else?" then he should certainly not waste his time at Florence, he should go direct to Rome; he had put down the name of that town in his pocket-book, for he understood it was a very convenient place: he should therefore stay there a week; thence he should go to Naples, a place he had also heard of, where he should stay another week: then he should go to Algiers, where he should stay three weeks, and thence to Tunis, where he expected to be very comfortable, and should probably make a long stay; thence he should return home, having seen every thing worth seeing. He scarcely seemed to know how or by what route he had got to Venice—but he assured us he had come "fast enough;"—he remembered no place he had passed through except Paris. At Paris he told us there was a female lodging in the same hotel with himself, who by his description appears to have been a single lady of rank and fashion, travelling with her own carriages and a suite of servants. He had never seen her; but learning through the domestics that she was travelling the same route, he sat down and wrote her a long letter, beginning "Dear Madam," and proposing they should join company, "for the sake of good fellowship, and the bit of chat they might have on their way." Of course she took no notice of this strange billet, "from which," added he with ludicrous simplicity, "I supposed she would rather travel alone."
Truly, "Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time." After this specimen, sketched from life, who will say there are such things as caricatures?
* * * * *
We visited to-day the Giant's Staircase and the Bridge of Sighs, and took a last farewell of St. Mark—we were surprised to see the church hung with black—the festoons of flowers all removed—masses going forward at several altars, and crowds of people looking particularly solemn and devout. It is the "Giorno dei morte," the day by the Roman Catholics consecrated to the dead. I observed many persons, both men and women, who wept while they prayed, with every appearance of the most profound grief. Leaving St. Mark, I crossed the square. On the three lofty standards in front of the church formerly floated the ensigns of the three states subjects to Venice,—the Morea, Cyprus, and Candia: the bare poles remain, but the ensigns of empire are gone. One of the standards was extended on the ground, and being of immense length, I hesitated for a moment whether I should make a circuit, but at last stepped over it. I looked back with remorse, for it was like trampling over the fallen.
We then returned to our inn to prepare for our departure. How I regret to leave Venice! not the less because I cannot help it.
Rovigo, Nov. 3. We left Venice in a hurry yesterday, slept at Padua, and travelled this morning through a most lovely country, among the Enganean hills to Rovigo, where we are very uncomfortably lodged at the Albergo di San Marco.
I have not yet recovered my regret at leaving Venice so unexpectedly; though as a residence, I could scarce endure it; the sleepy canals, the gliding gondolas in their "dusk livery of woe"—the absence of all verdure, all variety—of all nature, in short; the silence, disturbed only by the incessant chiming of bells—and, worse than all, the spectacle of a great city "expiring," as Lord Byron says, "before our eyes," would give me the horrors: but as a visitor, my curiosity was not half gratified, and I should have liked to have stayed a few days longer—perhaps after all, I have reason to rejoice that instead of bringing away from Venice a disagreeable impression of satiety, disgust and melancholy, I have quitted it with feelings of admiration, of deep regret, and undiminished interest.
Farewell, then, Venice! I could not have believed it possible that it would have brought tears to my eyes to leave a place merely for its own sake, and unendeared by the presence of any one I loved.
As Rovigo affords no other amusement I shall scribble a little longer.
Nothing can be more arbitrary than the Austrian government at Venice. As a summary method of preventing robberies during the winter months, when many of the gondoliers and fishermen are out of employ, the police have orders to arrest, without ceremony, every person who has no permanent trade or profession, and keep them in confinement and to hard labour till the return of spring.
The commerce of Venice has so much and so rapidly declined, that Mr. H—— told us when first he was appointed to the consulship, a hundred and fifty English vessels cleared the port, and this year only five. It should seem that Austria, from a cruel and selfish policy, is sacrificing Venice to the prosperity of Trieste: but why do I call that a cruel policy, which on recollection I might rather term poetical and retributive justice?
The grandeur of Venice arose first from its trade in salt. I remember reading in history, that when the king of Hungary opened certain productive salt mines in his dominions, the Venetians sent him a peremptory order to shut them up; and such was the power of the Republic at that time, that he was forced to obey this insolent command, to the great injury and impoverishment of his states. The tables are now turned; the oppressor has become the oppressed.
The principal revenue derived from Venice is from the tax on houses, there being no land tax. So rapid was the decay of the place, that in two years seventy houses and palaces were pulled down; the government forbade this by a special law, and now taxes are paid for many houses whose proprietors are too poor to live in them.
There is no society, properly so called, at Venice; three old women of rank receive company now and then, and it is any thing rather than select.
Mr. F. told us at Venice, that on entering the states subject to Austria, he had his Johnson's Dictionary taken from him, and could never recover it; so jealous is the government of English principles and English literature, that all English books are prohibited until examined by the police.
The whole country from Milan to Padua was like a vast garden, nothing could exceed its fertility and beauty. It was the latter end of the vintage; and we frequently met huge tub-like waggons loaded with purple grapes, reeling home from the vineyards, and driven by men whose legs were stained with treading in the wine-press—now and then, rich clusters were shaken to the ground, as I have seen wisps of straw fall from a hay-cart in England, and were regarded with equal indifference. Sometimes we saw in the vineyards by the road-side, groups of labourers seated among the branches of the trees, and plucking grapes from the vines, which were trailed gracefully from tree to tree and from branch to branch, and drooped with their luxurious burthen of fruit. The scene would have been as perfectly delightful, as it was new and beautiful, but for the squalid looks of the peasantry; more especially of the women. The principal productions of the country seem to be wine and silk. There were vast groves of mulberry-trees between Verona and Padua; and we visited some of the silk-mills, in which the united strength of men invariably performed those operations which in England are accomplished by steam or water. I saw in a huge horizontal wheel, about a dozen of these poor creatures labouring so hard, that my very heart ached to see them, and I begged that the machine might be stopped that I might speak to them:—but when it Was stopped, and I beheld their half savage, half stupified, I had almost said brutified countenances, I could not utter a single word—but gave them something, and turned away.
"Compassion is wasted upon such creatures," said R——; "do you not see that their minds are degraded down to their condition? they do not pity themselves:"—but therefore did I pity them the more.
* * * * *
Bologna, Nov. 5.—I fear I shall retain a disagreeable impression of Bologna, for here I am again ill. I have seen little of what the town contains of beautiful and curious: and that little, under unpleasant and painful circumstances.
Yesterday we passed through Ferrara; only stopping to change horses and dine. We snatched a moment to visit the hospital of St. Anna and the prison of Tasso—the glory and disgrace of Ferrara. Over the iron gate is written "Ingresso alia prigione di Torquato Tasso." The cell itself is miserably gloomy and wretched, and not above twelve feet square. How amply has posterity avenged the cause of the poet on his tyrant!—and as we emerge from his obscure dungeon and descend the steps of the hospital of St. Anna, with what fervent hatred, indignation, and scorn, do we gaze upon the towers of the ugly red brick palace, or rather fortress, which deforms the great square, and where Alphonso feasted while Tasso wept! The inscription on the door of the cell, calling on strangers to venerate the spot where Tasso, "Infermo piu di tristezza che delirio," was confined seven years and one month—was placed there by the French, and its accuracy may be doubted; as far as I can recollect. The grass growing in the wide streets of Ferrara is no poetical exaggeration; I saw it rank and long even on the thresholds of the deserted houses, whose sashless windows, and flapping doors, and roofless walls, looked strangely desolate.
I will say nothing of Bologna;—for the few days I have spent here have been to me days of acute suffering, in more ways than I wish to remember, and therefore dare not dwell upon.
At Covigliajo in the Apennines.—O for the pencil of Salvator, or the pen of a Radcliffe! But could either, or could both united, give to my mind the scenes of to-day, in all their splendid combinations of beauty and brightness, gloom and grandeur? A picture may present to the eye a small portion of the boundless whole—one aspect of the every-varying face of nature; and words, how weak are they!—they are but the elements out of which the quick imagination frames and composes lovely landscapes, according to its power or its peculiar character; and in which the unimaginative man finds only a mere chaos of verbiage, without form, and void.
The scenery of the Apennines is altogether different in character from that of the Alps: it is less bold, less lofty, less abrupt and terrific—but more beautiful, more luxuriant, and infinitely more varied. At one time, the road wound among precipices and crags, crowned with dismantled fortresses and ruined castles—skirted with dark pine forests—and opening into wild recesses of gloom, and immeasurable depths like those of Tartarus profound; then came such glimpses of paradise! such soft sunny valleys and peaceful hamlets—and vine-clad eminences and rich pastures, with here and there a convent half hidden by groves of cypress and cedars. As we ascended we arrived at a height from which, looking back, we could see the whole of Lombardy spread at our feet; a vast, glittering, indistinct landscape, bounded on the north by the summits of the Alps, just apparent above the horizon, like a range of small silvery clouds; and on the east a long unbroken line of bluish light marked the far distant Adriatic; as the day declined, and we continued our ascent (occasionally assisted by a yoke of oxen where the acclivity was very precipitate), the mountains closed around us, the scenery became more wildly romantic, barren, and bleak. At length, after passing the crater of a volcano, visible through the gloom by its dull red light, we arrived at the Inn of Covigliajo, an uncouth dreary edifice, situated in a lonely and desolate spot, some miles from any other habitation. This is the very inn, infamous for a series of the most horrible assassinations, committed here some years ago. Travellers arrived, departed, disappeared, and were never heard of more; by what agency, or in what manner disposed of, could not be discovered. It was supposed for some time that a horde of banditti were harboured among the mountains, and the police were for a long time in active search for them, while the real miscreants remained unsuspected for their seeming insignificance and helplessness; these were the mistress of the inn, the cameriere, and the curate of the nearest village, about two leagues off. They secretly murdered every traveller who was supposed to carry property—buried or burned their clothes, packages, and vehicles, retaining nothing but their watches, jewels, and money. The whole story, with all its horrors, the manner of discovery, and the fate of these wretches, is told, I think, by Forsyth, who can hardly be suspected of romance or exaggeration. I have him not with me to refer to; but I well remember the mysterious and shuddering dread with which I read the anecdote. I am glad no one else seems to recollect it. The inn at present contains many more than it can possibly accommodate. We have secured the best rooms, or rather the only rooms—and besides ourselves and other foreigners, there are numbers of native travellers: some of whom arrived on horseback, and others with the Vetturini. A kind of gallery or corridor separates the sleeping rooms, and is divided by a curtain into two parts: the smaller is appropriated to us, as a saloon: the other half, as I contemplate it at this moment through a rent in the curtain, presents a singular and truly Italian spectacle—a huge black iron lamp, suspended by a chain from the rafters, throws a flaring and shifting light around. Some trusses of hay have been shaken down upon the floor, to supply the place of beds, chairs, and tables; and there, reclining in various attitudes, I see a number of dark looking figures, some eating and drinking, some sleeping; some playing at cards, some telling stories with all the Italian variety of gesticulation and intonation; some silently looking on, or listening. Two or three common looking fellows began to smoke their segars, but when it was suggested that this might incommode the ladies on the other side of the curtain, they with genuine politeness ceased directly. Through this motley and picturesque assemblage I have to make my way to my bed-room in a few minutes—I will take another look at them, and then—andiamo!
Florence, Nov. 8.—"La bellisema e famosissima figlia di Roma," as Dante calls her in some relenting moment. Last night we slept in a blood-stained hovel—and to-night we are lodged in a palace. So much for the vicissitudes of travelling.
I am not subject to idle fears, and least of all to superstitious fears—but last night, at Covigliajo, I could not sleep—I could not even lie down for more than a few minutes together. The whispered voices and hard breathing of the men who slept in the corridor, from whom only a slight door divided me, disturbed and fevered my nerves; horrible imaginings were all around me: and gladly did I throw open my window at the first glimpse of the dawn, and gladly did I hear the first well-known voice which summoned me to a hasty breakfast. How reviving was the breath of the early morning, after leaving that close, suffocating, ill-omened inn! how beautiful the blush of light stealing downwards from the illumined summits to the valleys, tinting the fleecy mists, as they rose from the earth, till all the landscape was flooded with sunshine: and when at length we passed the mountains, and began to descend into the rich vales of Tuscany—when from the heights above Fesole we beheld the city of Florence, and above it the young moon and the evening star suspended side by side; and floating over the whole of the Val d'Arno, and the lovely hills which enclose it, a mist, or rather a suffusion of the richest rose colour, which gradually, as the day declined, faded, or rather deepened into purple; then I first understood all the enchantment of an Italian landscape.—O what a country is this! All that I see, I feel—all that I feel, sinks so deep into my heart and my memory! the deeper because I suffer—and because I never think of expressing, or sharing, one emotion with those around me, but lock it up in my own bosom; or at least in my little book—as I do now.
Nov. 10.—We visited the gallery for the first time yesterday morning; and I came away with my eyes and imagination so dazzled with excellence, and so distracted with variety, that I retained no distinct recollection of any particular object except the Venus; which of course was the first and great attraction. This morning was much more delightful; my powers of discrimination returned, and my power of enjoyment was not diminished. New perceptions of beauty and excellence seemed to open upon my mind; and faculties long dormant, were roused to pleasurable activity.
I came away untired, unsated; and with a delightful and distinct impression of all I had seen. I leave to catalogues to particularise; and am content to admire and to remember.
I am glad I was not disappointed in the Venus which I half expected. Neither was I surprised: but I felt while I gazed a sense of unalloyed and unmingled pleasure, and forgot the cant of criticism. It has the same effect to the eye, that perfect harmony has upon the ear: and I think I can understand why no copy, cast, or model, however accurate, however exquisite, can convey the impression of tenderness and sweetness, the divine and peculiar charm of the original.
After dinner we walked in the grounds of the Cascine,—a dairy farm belonging to the grand Duke, just without the gates of Florence. The promenade lies along the bank of the river, and is sheltered and beautiful. We saw few native Italians, but great numbers of English walking and riding. The day was as warm, as sunny, as brilliant as the first days of September in England.
To-night, after resting a little, I went out to view the effect of the city and surrounding scenery, by moonlight. It is not alone the brilliant purity of the skies and atmosphere, nor the peculiar character of the scenery which strikes a stranger; but here art harmonizes with nature: the style of the buildings, their flat projecting roofs, white walls, balconies, colonnades and statues, are all set off to advantage by the radiance of an Italian moon.
I walked across the first bridge, from which I had a fine view of the Ponte della Trinita, with its graceful arches and light balustrade, touched with the sparkling moonbeams and relieved by dark shadow: then I strolled along the quay in front of the Corsini palace, and beyond the colonnade of the Uffizi, to the last of the four bridges; on the middle of which I stood and looked back upon the city—(how justly styled the Fair!)—with all its buildings, its domes, its steeples, its bridges, and woody hills and glittering convents, and marble villas, peeping from embowering olives and cypresses; and far off the snowy peaks of the Apennines, shining against the dark purple sky: the whole blended together in one delicious scene of shadowy splendour. After contemplating it with a kind of melancholy delight, long enough to get it by heart, I returned homewards. Men were standing on the wall along the Arno, in various picturesque attitudes, fishing, after the Italian fashion, with singular nets suspended to long poles; and as I saw their dark figures between me and the moonlight, and elevated above my eye, they looked like colossal statues. I then strayed into the Piazza del Gran Duca. Here the rich moonlight, streaming through the arcade of the gallery, fell directly upon the fine Perseus of Benvenuto Cellini; and illuminating the green bronze, touched it with a spectral and supernatural beauty. Thence I walked round the equestrian statue of Cosmo, and so home over the Ponte Alla Carrajo.