Part 3 out of 10
the language of literature and polite society at that period.
Just at this time, Pierre Abelard, who had already made himself widely
famous as a rhetorician, came to found a school of rhetoric in Paris.
The originality of his principles, his eloquence, and his great physical
strength and beauty created a profound sensation. He saw Heloise, and
was captivated by her blooming youth, her beauty, and her charming
disposition. He wrote to her; she answered. He wrote again; she
answered again. He was now in love. He longed to know her--to speak to
her face to face.
His school was near Fulbert's house. He asked Fulbert to allow him to
call. The good old swivel saw here a rare opportunity: his niece, whom
he so much loved, would absorb knowledge from this man, and it would not
cost him a cent. Such was Fulbert--penurious.
Fulbert's first name is not mentioned by any author, which is
unfortunate. However, George W. Fulbert will answer for him as well as
any other. We will let him go at that. He asked Abelard to teach her.
Abelard was glad enough of the opportunity. He came often and staid
long. A letter of his shows in its very first sentence that he came
under that friendly roof like a cold-hearted villain as he was, with the
deliberate intention of debauching a confiding, innocent girl. This is
"I cannot cease to be astonished at the simplicity of Fulbert;
I was as much surprised as if he had placed a lamb in the power
of a hungry wolf. Heloise and I, under pretext of study, gave
ourselves up wholly to love, and the solitude that love seeks
our studies procured for us. Books were open before us, but we
spoke oftener of love than philosophy, and kisses came more
readily from our lips than words."
And so, exulting over an honorable confidence which to his degraded
instinct was a ludicrous "simplicity," this unmanly Abelard seduced the
niece of the man whose guest he was. Paris found it out. Fulbert was
told of it--told often--but refused to believe it. He could not
comprehend how a man could be so depraved as to use the sacred protection
and security of hospitality as a means for the commission of such a crime
as that. But when he heard the rowdies in the streets singing the
love-songs of Abelard to Heloise, the case was too plain--love-songs come
not properly within the teachings of rhetoric and philosophy.
He drove Abelard from his house. Abelard returned secretly and carried
Heloise away to Palais, in Brittany, his native country. Here, shortly
afterward, she bore a son, who, from his rare beauty, was surnamed
Astrolabe--William G. The girl's flight enraged Fulbert, and he longed
for vengeance, but feared to strike lest retaliation visit Heloise--for
he still loved her tenderly. At length Abelard offered to marry Heloise
--but on a shameful condition: that the marriage should be kept secret
from the world, to the end that (while her good name remained a wreck, as
before,) his priestly reputation might be kept untarnished. It was like
that miscreant. Fulbert saw his opportunity and consented. He would see
the parties married, and then violate the confidence of the man who had
taught him that trick; he would divulge the secret and so remove somewhat
of the obloquy that attached to his niece's fame. But the niece
suspected his scheme. She refused the marriage at first; she said
Fulbert would betray the secret to save her, and besides, she did not
wish to drag down a lover who was so gifted, so honored by the world,
and who had such a splendid career before him. It was noble,
self-sacrificing love, and characteristic of the pure-souled Heloise,
but it was not good sense.
But she was overruled, and the private marriage took place. Now for
Fulbert! The heart so wounded should be healed at last; the proud spirit
so tortured should find rest again; the humbled head should be lifted up
once more. He proclaimed the marriage in the high places of the city and
rejoiced that dishonor had departed from his house. But lo! Abelard
denied the marriage! Heloise denied it! The people, knowing the former
circumstances, might have believed Fulbert had only Abelard denied it,
but when the person chiefly interested--the girl herself--denied it, they
laughed, despairing Fulbert to scorn.
The poor canon of the cathedral of Paris was spiked again. The last hope
of repairing the wrong that had been done his house was gone. What next?
Human nature suggested revenge. He compassed it. The historian says:
"Ruffians, hired by Fulbert, fell upon Abelard by night, and
inflicted upon him a terrible and nameless mutilation."
I am seeking the last resting place of those "ruffians." When I find it
I shall shed some tears on it, and stack up some bouquets and
immortelles, and cart away from it some gravel whereby to remember that
howsoever blotted by crime their lives may have been, these ruffians did
one just deed, at any rate, albeit it was not warranted by the strict
letter of the law.
Heloise entered a convent and gave good-bye to the world and its
pleasures for all time. For twelve years she never heard of Abelard
--never even heard his name mentioned. She had become prioress of
Argenteuil and led a life of complete seclusion. She happened one day to
see a letter written by him, in which he narrated his own history. She
cried over it and wrote him. He answered, addressing her as his "sister
in Christ." They continued to correspond, she in the unweighed language
of unwavering affection, he in the chilly phraseology of the polished
rhetorician. She poured out her heart in passionate, disjointed
sentences; he replied with finished essays, divided deliberately into
heads and sub-heads, premises and argument. She showered upon him the
tenderest epithets that love could devise, he addressed her from the
North Pole of his frozen heart as the "Spouse of Christ!" The abandoned
On account of her too easy government of her nuns, some disreputable
irregularities were discovered among them, and the Abbot of St. Denis
broke up her establishment. Abelard was the official head of the
monastery of St. Gildas de Ruys, at that time, and when he heard of her
homeless condition a sentiment of pity was aroused in his breast (it is a
wonder the unfamiliar emotion did not blow his head off,) and he placed
her and her troop in the little oratory of the Paraclete, a religious
establishment which he had founded. She had many privations and
sufferings to undergo at first, but her worth and her gentle disposition
won influential friends for her, and she built up a wealthy and
flourishing nunnery. She became a great favorite with the heads of the
church, and also the people, though she seldom appeared in public. She
rapidly advanced in esteem, in good report, and in usefulness, and
Abelard as rapidly lost ground. The Pope so honored her that he made her
the head of her order. Abelard, a man of splendid talents, and ranking
as the first debater of his time, became timid, irresolute, and
distrustful of his powers. He only needed a great misfortune to topple
him from the high position he held in the world of intellectual
excellence, and it came. Urged by kings and princes to meet the subtle
St. Bernard in debate and crush him, he stood up in the presence of a
royal and illustrious assemblage, and when his antagonist had finished he
looked about him and stammered a commencement; but his courage failed
him, the cunning of his tongue was gone: with his speech unspoken, he
trembled and sat down, a disgraced and vanquished champion.
He died a nobody, and was buried at Cluny, A.D., 1144. They removed his
body to the Paraclete afterward, and when Heloise died, twenty years
later, they buried her with him, in accordance with her last wish. He
died at the ripe age of 64, and she at 63. After the bodies had remained
entombed three hundred years, they were removed once more. They were
removed again in 1800, and finally, seventeen years afterward, they were
taken up and transferred to Pere la Chaise, where they will remain in
peace and quiet until it comes time for them to get up and move again.
History is silent concerning the last acts of the mountain howitzer. Let
the world say what it will about him, I, at least, shall always respect
the memory and sorrow for the abused trust and the broken heart and the
troubled spirit of the old smooth-bore. Rest and repose be his!
Such is the story of Abelard and Heloise. Such is the history that
Lamartine has shed such cataracts of tears over. But that man never
could come within the influence of a subject in the least pathetic
without overflowing his banks. He ought to be dammed--or leveed, I
should more properly say. Such is the history--not as it is usually
told, but as it is when stripped of the nauseous sentimentality that
would enshrine for our loving worship a dastardly seducer like Pierre
Abelard. I have not a word to say against the misused, faithful girl,
and would not withhold from her grave a single one of those simple
tributes which blighted youths and maidens offer to her memory, but I am
sorry enough that I have not time and opportunity to write four or five
volumes of my opinion of her friend the founder of the Parachute, or the
Paraclete, or whatever it was.
The tons of sentiment I have wasted on that unprincipled humbug in my
ignorance! I shall throttle down my emotions hereafter, about this sort
of people, until I have read them up and know whether they are entitled
to any tearful attentions or not. I wish I had my immortelles back, now,
and that bunch of radishes.
In Paris we often saw in shop windows the sign "English Spoken Here,"
just as one sees in the windows at home the sign "Ici on parle
francaise." We always invaded these places at once--and invariably
received the information, framed in faultless French, that the clerk who
did the English for the establishment had just gone to dinner and would
be back in an hour--would Monsieur buy something? We wondered why those
parties happened to take their dinners at such erratic and extraordinary
hours, for we never called at a time when an exemplary Christian would be
in the least likely to be abroad on such an errand. The truth was, it
was a base fraud--a snare to trap the unwary--chaff to catch fledglings
with. They had no English-murdering clerk. They trusted to the sign to
inveigle foreigners into their lairs, and trusted to their own
blandishments to keep them there till they bought something.
We ferreted out another French imposition--a frequent sign to this
effect: "ALL MANNER OF AMERICAN DRINKS ARTISTICALLY PREPARED HERE." We
procured the services of a gentleman experienced in the nomenclature of
the American bar, and moved upon the works of one of these impostors. A
bowing, aproned Frenchman skipped forward and said:
"Que voulez les messieurs?" I do not know what "Que voulez les
messieurs?" means, but such was his remark.
Our general said, "We will take a whiskey straight."
[A stare from the Frenchman.]
"Well, if you don't know what that is, give us a champagne cock-tail."
[A stare and a shrug.]
"Well, then, give us a sherry cobbler."
The Frenchman was checkmated. This was all Greek to him.
"Give us a brandy smash!"
The Frenchman began to back away, suspicious of the ominous vigor of the
last order--began to back away, shrugging his shoulders and spreading his
The General followed him up and gained a complete victory. The
uneducated foreigner could not even furnish a Santa Cruz Punch, an
Eye-Opener, a Stone-Fence, or an Earthquake. It was plain that he was a
An acquaintance of mine said the other day that he was doubtless the only
American visitor to the Exposition who had had the high honor of being
escorted by the Emperor's bodyguard. I said with unobtrusive frankness
that I was astonished that such a long-legged, lantern-jawed,
unprepossessing-looking specter as he should be singled out for a
distinction like that, and asked how it came about. He said he had
attended a great military review in the Champ de Mars some time ago, and
while the multitude about him was growing thicker and thicker every
moment he observed an open space inside the railing. He left his
carriage and went into it. He was the only person there, and so he had
plenty of room, and the situation being central, he could see all the
preparations going on about the field. By and by there was a sound of
music, and soon the Emperor of the French and the Emperor of Austria,
escorted by the famous Cent Gardes, entered the enclosure. They seemed
not to observe him, but directly, in response to a sign from the
commander of the guard, a young lieutenant came toward him with a file of
his men following, halted, raised his hand, and gave the military salute,
and then said in a low voice that he was sorry to have to disturb a
stranger and a gentleman, but the place was sacred to royalty. Then this
New Jersey phantom rose up and bowed and begged pardon, then with the
officer beside him, the file of men marching behind him, and with every
mark of respect, he was escorted to his carriage by the imperial Cent
Gardes! The officer saluted again and fell back, the New Jersey sprite
bowed in return and had presence of mind enough to pretend that he had
simply called on a matter of private business with those emperors, and so
waved them an adieu and drove from the field!
Imagine a poor Frenchman ignorantly intruding upon a public rostrum
sacred to some six-penny dignitary in America. The police would scare
him to death first with a storm of their elegant blasphemy, and then pull
him to pieces getting him away from there. We are measurably superior to
the French in some things, but they are immeasurably our betters in
Enough of Paris for the present. We have done our whole duty by it. We
have seen the Tuileries, the Napoleon Column, the Madeleine, that wonder
of wonders the tomb of Napoleon, all the great churches and museums,
libraries, imperial palaces, and sculpture and picture galleries, the
Pantheon, Jardin des Plantes, the opera, the circus, the legislative
body, the billiard rooms, the barbers, the grisettes--
Ah, the grisettes! I had almost forgotten. They are another romantic
fraud. They were (if you let the books of travel tell it) always so
beautiful--so neat and trim, so graceful--so naive and trusting--so
gentle, so winning--so faithful to their shop duties, so irresistible
to buyers in their prattling importunity--so devoted to their
poverty-stricken students of the Latin Quarter--so lighthearted and
happy on their Sunday picnics in the suburbs--and oh, so charmingly,
so delightfully immoral!
Stuff! For three or four days I was constantly saying:
"Quick, Ferguson! Is that a grisette?"
And he always said, "No."
He comprehended at last that I wanted to see a grisette. Then he showed
me dozens of them. They were like nearly all the Frenchwomen I ever saw
--homely. They had large hands, large feet, large mouths; they had pug
noses as a general thing, and moustaches that not even good breeding
could overlook; they combed their hair straight back without parting;
they were ill-shaped, they were not winning, they were not graceful; I
knew by their looks that they ate garlic and onions; and lastly and
finally, to my thinking it would be base flattery to call them immoral.
Aroint thee, wench! I sorrow for the vagabond student of the Latin
Quarter now, even more than formerly I envied him. Thus topples to earth
another idol of my infancy.
We have seen every thing, and tomorrow we go to Versailles. We shall see
Paris only for a little while as we come back to take up our line of
march for the ship, and so I may as well bid the beautiful city a
regretful farewell. We shall travel many thousands of miles after we
leave here and visit many great cities, but we shall find none so
enchanting as this.
Some of our party have gone to England, intending to take a roundabout
course and rejoin the vessel at Leghorn or Naples several weeks hence.
We came near going to Geneva, but have concluded to return to Marseilles
and go up through Italy from Genoa.
I will conclude this chapter with a remark that I am sincerely proud to
be able to make--and glad, as well, that my comrades cordially endorse
it, to wit: by far the handsomest women we have seen in France were born
and reared in America.
I feel now like a man who has redeemed a failing reputation and shed
luster upon a dimmed escutcheon, by a single just deed done at the
Let the curtain fall, to slow music.
VERSAILLES! It is wonderfully beautiful! You gaze and stare and try to
understand that it is real, that it is on the earth, that it is not the
Garden of Eden--but your brain grows giddy, stupefied by the world of
beauty around you, and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite
dream. The scene thrills one like military music! A noble palace,
stretching its ornamented front, block upon block away, till it seemed
that it would never end; a grand promenade before it, whereon the armies
of an empire might parade; all about it rainbows of flowers, and colossal
statues that were almost numberless and yet seemed only scattered over
the ample space; broad flights of stone steps leading down from the
promenade to lower grounds of the park--stairways that whole regiments
might stand to arms upon and have room to spare; vast fountains whose
great bronze effigies discharged rivers of sparkling water into the air
and mingled a hundred curving jets together in forms of matchless beauty;
wide grass-carpeted avenues that branched hither and thither in every
direction and wandered to seemingly interminable distances, walled all
the way on either side with compact ranks of leafy trees whose branches
met above and formed arches as faultless and as symmetrical as ever were
carved in stone; and here and there were glimpses of sylvan lakes with
miniature ships glassed in their surfaces. And every where--on the
palace steps, and the great promenade, around the fountains, among the
trees, and far under the arches of the endless avenues--hundreds and
hundreds of people in gay costumes walked or ran or danced, and gave to
the fairy picture the life and animation which was all of perfection it
could have lacked.
It was worth a pilgrimage to see. Everything is on so gigantic a scale.
Nothing is small--nothing is cheap. The statues are all large; the
palace is grand; the park covers a fair-sized county; the avenues are
interminable. All the distances and all the dimensions about Versailles
are vast. I used to think the pictures exaggerated these distances and
these dimensions beyond all reason, and that they made Versailles more
beautiful than it was possible for any place in the world to be. I know
now that the pictures never came up to the subject in any respect, and
that no painter could represent Versailles on canvas as beautiful as it
is in reality. I used to abuse Louis XIV for spending two hundred
millions of dollars in creating this marvelous park, when bread was so
scarce with some of his subjects; but I have forgiven him now. He took a
tract of land sixty miles in circumference and set to work to make this
park and build this palace and a road to it from Paris. He kept 36,000
men employed daily on it, and the labor was so unhealthy that they used
to die and be hauled off by cartloads every night. The wife of a
nobleman of the time speaks of this as an "inconvenience," but naively
remarks that "it does not seem worthy of attention in the happy state of
tranquillity we now enjoy."
I always thought ill of people at home who trimmed their shrubbery into
pyramids and squares and spires and all manner of unnatural shapes, and
when I saw the same thing being practiced in this great park I began to
feel dissatisfied. But I soon saw the idea of the thing and the wisdom
of it. They seek the general effect. We distort a dozen sickly trees
into unaccustomed shapes in a little yard no bigger than a dining room,
and then surely they look absurd enough. But here they take two hundred
thousand tall forest trees and set them in a double row; allow no sign of
leaf or branch to grow on the trunk lower down than six feet above the
ground; from that point the boughs begin to project, and very gradually
they extend outward further and further till they meet overhead, and a
faultless tunnel of foliage is formed. The arch is mathematically
precise. The effect is then very fine. They make trees take fifty
different shapes, and so these quaint effects are infinitely varied and
picturesque. The trees in no two avenues are shaped alike, and
consequently the eye is not fatigued with anything in the nature of
monotonous uniformity. I will drop this subject now, leaving it to
others to determine how these people manage to make endless ranks of
lofty forest trees grow to just a certain thickness of trunk (say a foot
and two-thirds); how they make them spring to precisely the same height
for miles; how they make them grow so close together; how they compel one
huge limb to spring from the same identical spot on each tree and form
the main sweep of the arch; and how all these things are kept exactly in
the same condition and in the same exquisite shapeliness and symmetry
month after month and year after year--for I have tried to reason out the
problem and have failed.
We walked through the great hall of sculpture and the one hundred and
fifty galleries of paintings in the palace of Versailles, and felt that
to be in such a place was useless unless one had a whole year at his
disposal. These pictures are all battle scenes, and only one solitary
little canvas among them all treats of anything but great French
victories. We wandered, also, through the Grand Trianon and the Petit
Trianon, those monuments of royal prodigality, and with histories so
mournful--filled, as it is, with souvenirs of Napoleon the First, and
three dead kings and as many queens. In one sumptuous bed they had all
slept in succession, but no one occupies it now. In a large dining room
stood the table at which Louis XIV and his mistress Madame Maintenon, and
after them Louis XV, and Pompadour, had sat at their meals naked and
unattended--for the table stood upon a trapdoor, which descended with it
to regions below when it was necessary to replenish its dishes. In a
room of the Petit Trianon stood the furniture, just as poor Marie
Antoinette left it when the mob came and dragged her and the King to
Paris, never to return. Near at hand, in the stables, were prodigious
carriages that showed no color but gold--carriages used by former kings
of France on state occasions, and never used now save when a kingly head
is to be crowned or an imperial infant christened. And with them were
some curious sleighs, whose bodies were shaped like lions, swans, tigers,
etc.--vehicles that had once been handsome with pictured designs and
fine workmanship, but were dusty and decaying now. They had their
history. When Louis XIV had finished the Grand Trianon, he told
Maintenon he had created a Paradise for her, and asked if she could think
of anything now to wish for. He said he wished the Trianon to be
perfection--nothing less. She said she could think of but one thing--it
was summer, and it was balmy France--yet she would like well to sleigh
ride in the leafy avenues of Versailles! The next morning found miles
and miles of grassy avenues spread thick with snowy salt and sugar, and a
procession of those quaint sleighs waiting to receive the chief concubine
of the gaiest and most unprincipled court that France has ever seen!
From sumptuous Versailles, with its palaces, its statues, its gardens,
and its fountains, we journeyed back to Paris and sought its antipodes
--the Faubourg St. Antoine. Little, narrow streets; dirty children
blockading them; greasy, slovenly women capturing and spanking them;
filthy dens on first floors, with rag stores in them (the heaviest
business in the Faubourg is the chiffonier's); other filthy dens where
whole suits of second and third-hand clothing are sold at prices that
would ruin any proprietor who did not steal his stock; still other filthy
dens where they sold groceries--sold them by the half-pennyworth--five
dollars would buy the man out, goodwill and all. Up these little crooked
streets they will murder a man for seven dollars and dump the body in the
Seine. And up some other of these streets--most of them, I should say
All through this Faubourg St. Antoine, misery, poverty, vice, and crime
go hand in hand, and the evidences of it stare one in the face from every
side. Here the people live who begin the revolutions. Whenever there is
anything of that kind to be done, they are always ready. They take as
much genuine pleasure in building a barricade as they do in cutting a
throat or shoving a friend into the Seine. It is these savage-looking
ruffians who storm the splendid halls of the Tuileries occasionally, and
swarm into Versailles when a king is to be called to account.
But they will build no more barricades, they will break no more soldiers'
heads with paving-stones. Louis Napoleon has taken care of all that. He
is annihilating the crooked streets and building in their stead noble
boulevards as straight as an arrow--avenues which a cannon ball could
traverse from end to end without meeting an obstruction more irresistible
than the flesh and bones of men--boulevards whose stately edifices will
never afford refuges and plotting places for starving, discontented
revolution breeders. Five of these great thoroughfares radiate from one
ample centre--a centre which is exceedingly well adapted to the
accommodation of heavy artillery. The mobs used to riot there, but they
must seek another rallying-place in future. And this ingenious Napoleon
paves the streets of his great cities with a smooth, compact composition
of asphaltum and sand. No more barricades of flagstones--no more
assaulting his Majesty's troops with cobbles. I cannot feel friendly
toward my quondam fellow-American, Napoleon III., especially at this
time,--[July, 1867.]--when in fancy I see his credulous victim,
Maximilian, lying stark and stiff in Mexico, and his maniac widow
watching eagerly from her French asylum for the form that will never
come--but I do admire his nerve, his calm self-reliance, his shrewd good
We had a pleasant journey of it seaward again. We found that for the
three past nights our ship had been in a state of war. The first night
the sailors of a British ship, being happy with grog, came down on the
pier and challenged our sailors to a free fight. They accepted with
alacrity, repaired to the pier, and gained--their share of a drawn
battle. Several bruised and bloody members of both parties were carried
off by the police and imprisoned until the following morning. The next
night the British boys came again to renew the fight, but our men had had
strict orders to remain on board and out of sight. They did so, and the
besieging party grew noisy and more and more abusive as the fact became
apparent (to them) that our men were afraid to come out. They went away
finally with a closing burst of ridicule and offensive epithets. The
third night they came again and were more obstreperous than ever. They
swaggered up and down the almost deserted pier, and hurled curses,
obscenity, and stinging sarcasms at our crew. It was more than human
nature could bear. The executive officer ordered our men ashore--with
instructions not to fight. They charged the British and gained a
brilliant victory. I probably would not have mentioned this war had it
ended differently. But I travel to learn, and I still remember that they
picture no French defeats in the battle-galleries of Versailles.
It was like home to us to step on board the comfortable ship again and
smoke and lounge about her breezy decks. And yet it was not altogether
like home, either, because so many members of the family were away. We
missed some pleasant faces which we would rather have found at dinner,
and at night there were gaps in the euchre-parties which could not be
satisfactorily filled. "Moult" was in England, Jack in Switzerland,
Charley in Spain. Blucher was gone, none could tell where. But we were
at sea again, and we had the stars and the ocean to look at, and plenty
of room to meditate in.
In due time the shores of Italy were sighted, and as we stood gazing from
the decks, early in the bright summer morning, the stately city of Genoa
rose up out of the sea and flung back the sunlight from her hundred
Here we rest for the present--or rather, here we have been trying to
rest, for some little time, but we run about too much to accomplish a
great deal in that line.
I would like to remain here. I had rather not go any further. There may
be prettier women in Europe, but I doubt it. The population of Genoa is
120,000; two-thirds of these are women, I think, and at least two-thirds
of the women are beautiful. They are as dressy and as tasteful and as
graceful as they could possibly be without being angels. However, angels
are not very dressy, I believe. At least the angels in pictures are not
--they wear nothing but wings. But these Genoese women do look so
charming. Most of the young demoiselles are robed in a cloud of white
from head to foot, though many trick themselves out more elaborately.
Nine-tenths of them wear nothing on their heads but a filmy sort of veil,
which falls down their backs like a white mist. They are very fair, and
many of them have blue eyes, but black and dreamy dark brown ones are met
The ladies and gentlemen of Genoa have a pleasant fashion of promenading
in a large park on the top of a hill in the center of the city, from six
till nine in the evening, and then eating ices in a neighboring garden an
hour or two longer. We went to the park on Sunday evening. Two thousand
persons were present, chiefly young ladies and gentlemen. The gentlemen
were dressed in the very latest Paris fashions, and the robes of the
ladies glinted among the trees like so many snowflakes. The multitude
moved round and round the park in a great procession. The bands played,
and so did the fountains; the moon and the gas lamps lit up the scene,
and altogether it was a brilliant and an animated picture. I scanned
every female face that passed, and it seemed to me that all were
handsome. I never saw such a freshet of loveliness before. I did not
see how a man of only ordinary decision of character could marry here,
because before he could get his mind made up he would fall in love with
Never smoke any Italian tobacco. Never do it on any account. It makes
me shudder to think what it must be made of. You cannot throw an old
cigar "stub" down anywhere, but some vagabond will pounce upon it on the
instant. I like to smoke a good deal, but it wounds my sensibilities to
see one of these stub-hunters watching me out of the corners of his
hungry eyes and calculating how long my cigar will be likely to last.
It reminded me too painfully of that San Francisco undertaker who used to
go to sick-beds with his watch in his hand and time the corpse. One of
these stub-hunters followed us all over the park last night, and we never
had a smoke that was worth anything. We were always moved to appease him
with the stub before the cigar was half gone, because he looked so
viciously anxious. He regarded us as his own legitimate prey, by right
of discovery, I think, because he drove off several other professionals
who wanted to take stock in us.
Now, they surely must chew up those old stubs, and dry and sell them for
smoking-tobacco. Therefore, give your custom to other than Italian
brands of the article.
"The Superb" and the "City of Palaces" are names which Genoa has held for
centuries. She is full of palaces, certainly, and the palaces are
sumptuous inside, but they are very rusty without and make no pretensions
to architectural magnificence. "Genoa the Superb" would be a felicitous
title if it referred to the women.
We have visited several of the palaces--immense thick-walled piles, with
great stone staircases, tesselated marble pavements on the floors,
(sometimes they make a mosaic work, of intricate designs, wrought in
pebbles or little fragments of marble laid in cement,) and grand salons
hung with pictures by Rubens, Guido, Titian, Paul Veronese, and so on,
and portraits of heads of the family, in plumed helmets and gallant coats
of mail, and patrician ladies in stunning costumes of centuries ago.
But, of course, the folks were all out in the country for the summer, and
might not have known enough to ask us to dinner if they had been at home,
and so all the grand empty salons, with their resounding pavements, their
grim pictures of dead ancestors, and tattered banners with the dust of
bygone centuries upon them, seemed to brood solemnly of death and the
grave, and our spirits ebbed away, and our cheerfulness passed from us.
We never went up to the eleventh story. We always began to suspect
ghosts. There was always an undertaker-looking servant along, too, who
handed us a program, pointed to the picture that began the list of the
salon he was in, and then stood stiff and stark and unsmiling in his
petrified livery till we were ready to move on to the next chamber,
whereupon he marched sadly ahead and took up another malignantly
respectful position as before. I wasted so much time praying that the
roof would fall in on these dispiriting flunkies that I had but little
left to bestow upon palace and pictures.
And besides, as in Paris, we had a guide. Perdition catch all the
guides. This one said he was the most gifted linguist in Genoa, as far
as English was concerned, and that only two persons in the city beside
himself could talk the language at all. He showed us the birthplace of
Christopher Columbus, and after we had reflected in silent awe before it
for fifteen minutes, he said it was not the birthplace of Columbus, but
of Columbus' grandmother! When we demanded an explanation of his conduct
he only shrugged his shoulders and answered in barbarous Italian. I
shall speak further of this guide in a future chapter. All the
information we got out of him we shall be able to carry along with us, I
I have not been to church so often in a long time as I have in the last
few weeks. The people in these old lands seem to make churches their
specialty. Especially does this seem to be the case with the citizens of
Genoa. I think there is a church every three or four hundred yards all
over town. The streets are sprinkled from end to end with shovel-hatted,
long-robed, well-fed priests, and the church bells by dozens are pealing
all the day long, nearly. Every now and then one comes across a friar of
orders gray, with shaven head, long, coarse robe, rope girdle and beads,
and with feet cased in sandals or entirely bare. These worthies suffer
in the flesh and do penance all their lives, I suppose, but they look
like consummate famine-breeders. They are all fat and serene.
The old Cathedral of San Lorenzo is about as notable a building as we
have found in Genoa. It is vast, and has colonnades of noble pillars,
and a great organ, and the customary pomp of gilded moldings, pictures,
frescoed ceilings, and so forth. I cannot describe it, of course--it
would require a good many pages to do that. But it is a curious place.
They said that half of it--from the front door halfway down to the altar
--was a Jewish synagogue before the Saviour was born, and that no
alteration had been made in it since that time. We doubted the
statement, but did it reluctantly. We would much rather have believed
it. The place looked in too perfect repair to be so ancient.
The main point of interest about the cathedral is the little Chapel of
St. John the Baptist. They only allow women to enter it on one day in
the year, on account of the animosity they still cherish against the sex
because of the murder of the Saint to gratify a caprice of Herodias. In
this Chapel is a marble chest, in which, they told us, were the ashes of
St. John; and around it was wound a chain, which, they said, had confined
him when he was in prison. We did not desire to disbelieve these
statements, and yet we could not feel certain that they were correct
--partly because we could have broken that chain, and so could St. John,
and partly because we had seen St. John's ashes before, in another
church. We could not bring ourselves to think St. John had two sets of
They also showed us a portrait of the Madonna which was painted by St.
Luke, and it did not look half as old and smoky as some of the pictures
by Rubens. We could not help admiring the Apostle's modesty in never
once mentioning in his writings that he could paint.
But isn't this relic matter a little overdone? We find a piece of the
true cross in every old church we go into, and some of the nails that
held it together. I would not like to be positive, but I think we have
seen as much as a keg of these nails. Then there is the crown of thorns;
they have part of one in Sainte Chapelle, in Paris, and part of one also
in Notre Dame. And as for bones of St. Denis, I feel certain we have
seen enough of them to duplicate him if necessary.
I only meant to write about the churches, but I keep wandering from the
subject. I could say that the Church of the Annunciation is a wilderness
of beautiful columns, of statues, gilded moldings, and pictures almost
countless, but that would give no one an entirely perfect idea of the
thing, and so where is the use? One family built the whole edifice, and
have got money left. There is where the mystery lies. We had an idea at
first that only a mint could have survived the expense.
These people here live in the heaviest, highest, broadest, darkest,
solidest houses one can imagine. Each one might "laugh a siege to
scorn." A hundred feet front and a hundred high is about the style, and
you go up three flights of stairs before you begin to come upon signs of
occupancy. Everything is stone, and stone of the heaviest--floors,
stairways, mantels, benches--everything. The walls are four to five feet
thick. The streets generally are four or five to eight feet wide and as
crooked as a corkscrew. You go along one of these gloomy cracks, and
look up and behold the sky like a mere ribbon of light, far above your
head, where the tops of the tall houses on either side of the street bend
almost together. You feel as if you were at the bottom of some
tremendous abyss, with all the world far above you. You wind in and out
and here and there, in the most mysterious way, and have no more idea of
the points of the compass than if you were a blind man. You can never
persuade yourself that these are actually streets, and the frowning,
dingy, monstrous houses dwellings, till you see one of these beautiful,
prettily dressed women emerge from them--see her emerge from a dark,
dreary-looking den that looks dungeon all over, from the ground away
halfway up to heaven. And then you wonder that such a charming moth
could come from such a forbidding shell as that. The streets are wisely
made narrow and the houses heavy and thick and stony, in order that the
people may be cool in this roasting climate. And they are cool, and stay
so. And while I think of it--the men wear hats and have very dark
complexions, but the women wear no headgear but a flimsy veil like a
gossamer's web, and yet are exceedingly fair as a general thing.
Singular, isn't it?
The huge palaces of Genoa are each supposed to be occupied by one family,
but they could accommodate a hundred, I should think. They are relics of
the grandeur of Genoa's palmy days--the days when she was a great
commercial and maritime power several centuries ago. These houses, solid
marble palaces though they be, are in many cases of a dull pinkish color,
outside, and from pavement to eaves are pictured with Genoese battle
scenes, with monstrous Jupiters and Cupids, and with familiar
illustrations from Grecian mythology. Where the paint has yielded to age
and exposure and is peeling off in flakes and patches, the effect is not
happy. A noseless Cupid or a Jupiter with an eye out or a Venus with a
fly-blister on her breast, are not attractive features in a picture.
Some of these painted walls reminded me somewhat of the tall van,
plastered with fanciful bills and posters, that follows the bandwagon of
a circus about a country village. I have not read or heard that the
outsides of the houses of any other European city are frescoed in this
I can not conceive of such a thing as Genoa in ruins. Such massive
arches, such ponderous substructions as support these towering
broad-winged edifices, we have seldom seen before; and surely the great
blocks of stone of which these edifices are built can never decay; walls
that are as thick as an ordinary American doorway is high cannot
The republics of Genoa and Pisa were very powerful in the Middle Ages.
Their ships filled the Mediterranean, and they carried on an extensive
commerce with Constantinople and Syria. Their warehouses were the great
distributing depots from whence the costly merchandise of the East was
sent abroad over Europe. They were warlike little nations and defied, in
those days, governments that overshadow them now as mountains overshadow
molehills. The Saracens captured and pillaged Genoa nine hundred years
ago, but during the following century Genoa and Pisa entered into an
offensive and defensive alliance and besieged the Saracen colonies in
Sardinia and the Balearic Isles with an obstinacy that maintained its
pristine vigor and held to its purpose for forty long years. They were
victorious at last and divided their conquests equably among their great
patrician families. Descendants of some of those proud families still
inhabit the palaces of Genoa, and trace in their own features a
resemblance to the grim knights whose portraits hang in their stately
halls, and to pictured beauties with pouting lips and merry eyes whose
originals have been dust and ashes for many a dead and forgotten century.
The hotel we live in belonged to one of those great orders of knights of
the Cross in the times of the Crusades, and its mailed sentinels once
kept watch and ward in its massive turrets and woke the echoes of these
halls and corridors with their iron heels.
But Genoa's greatness has degenerated into an unostentatious commerce in
velvets and silver filagree-work. They say that each European town has
its specialty. These filagree things are Genoa's specialty. Her smiths
take silver ingots and work them up into all manner of graceful and
beautiful forms. They make bunches of flowers, from flakes and wires of
silver, that counterfeit the delicate creations the frost weaves upon a
windowpane; and we were shown a miniature silver temple whose fluted
columns, whose Corinthian capitals and rich entablatures, whose spire,
statues, bells, and ornate lavishness of sculpture were wrought in
polished silver, and with such matchless art that every detail was a
fascinating study and the finished edifice a wonder of beauty.
We are ready to move again, though we are not really tired yet of the
narrow passages of this old marble cave. Cave is a good word--when
speaking of Genoa under the stars. When we have been prowling at
midnight through the gloomy crevices they call streets, where no
footfalls but ours were echoing, where only ourselves were abroad, and
lights appeared only at long intervals and at a distance, and
mysteriously disappeared again, and the houses at our elbows seemed to
stretch upward farther than ever toward the heavens, the memory of a cave
I used to know at home was always in my mind, with its lofty passages,
its silence and solitude, its shrouding gloom, its sepulchral echoes, its
flitting lights, and more than all, its sudden revelations of branching
crevices and corridors where we least expected them.
We are not tired of the endless processions of cheerful, chattering
gossipers that throng these courts and streets all day long, either; nor
of the coarse-robed monks; nor of the "Asti" wines, which that old doctor
(whom we call the Oracle,) with customary felicity in the matter of
getting everything wrong, misterms "nasty." But we must go,
Our last sight was the cemetery (a burial place intended to accommodate
60,000 bodies,) and we shall continue to remember it after we shall have
forgotten the palaces. It is a vast marble collonaded corridor extending
around a great unoccupied square of ground; its broad floor is marble,
and on every slab is an inscription--for every slab covers a corpse. On
either side, as one walks down the middle of the passage, are monuments,
tombs, and sculptured figures that are exquisitely wrought and are full
of grace and beauty. They are new and snowy; every outline is perfect,
every feature guiltless of mutilation, flaw, or blemish; and therefore,
to us these far-reaching ranks of bewitching forms are a hundred fold
more lovely than the damaged and dingy statuary they have saved from the
wreck of ancient art and set up in the galleries of Paris for the worship
of the world.
Well provided with cigars and other necessaries of life, we are now ready
to take the cars for Milan.
All day long we sped through a mountainous country whose peaks were
bright with sunshine, whose hillsides were dotted with pretty villas
sitting in the midst of gardens and shrubbery, and whose deep ravines
were cool and shady and looked ever so inviting from where we and the
birds were winging our flight through the sultry upper air.
We had plenty of chilly tunnels wherein to check our perspiration,
though. We timed one of them. We were twenty minutes passing through
it, going at the rate of thirty to thirty-five miles an hour.
Beyond Alessandria we passed the battle-field of Marengo.
Toward dusk we drew near Milan and caught glimpses of the city and the
blue mountain peaks beyond. But we were not caring for these things
--they did not interest us in the least. We were in a fever of impatience;
we were dying to see the renowned cathedral! We watched--in this
direction and that--all around--everywhere. We needed no one to point it
out--we did not wish any one to point it out--we would recognize it even
in the desert of the great Sahara.
At last, a forest of graceful needles, shimmering in the amber sunlight,
rose slowly above the pygmy housetops, as one sometimes sees, in the far
horizon, a gilded and pinnacled mass of cloud lift itself above the waste
of waves, at sea,--the Cathedral! We knew it in a moment.
Half of that night, and all of the next day, this architectural autocrat
was our sole object of interest.
What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate,
so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems in
the soft moonlight only a fairy delusion of frost-work that might vanish
with a breath! How sharply its pinnacled angles and its wilderness of
spires were cut against the sky, and how richly their shadows fell upon
its snowy roof! It was a vision!--a miracle!--an anthem sung in stone, a
poem wrought in marble!
Howsoever you look at the great cathedral, it is noble, it is beautiful!
Wherever you stand in Milan or within seven miles of Milan, it is visible
and when it is visible, no other object can chain your whole attention.
Leave your eyes unfettered by your will but a single instant and they
will surely turn to seek it. It is the first thing you look for when you
rise in the morning, and the last your lingering gaze rests upon at
night. Surely it must be the princeliest creation that ever brain of man
At nine o'clock in the morning we went and stood before this marble
colossus. The central one of its five great doors is bordered with a
bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which have been so
ingeniously carved out of the marble that they seem like living
creatures--and the figures are so numerous and the design so complex that
one might study it a week without exhausting its interest. On the great
steeple--surmounting the myriad of spires--inside of the spires--over the
doors, the windows--in nooks and corners--every where that a niche or a
perch can be found about the enormous building, from summit to base,
there is a marble statue, and every statue is a study in itself!
Raphael, Angelo, Canova--giants like these gave birth to the designs, and
their own pupils carved them. Every face is eloquent with expression,
and every attitude is full of grace. Away above, on the lofty roof, rank
on rank of carved and fretted spires spring high in the air, and through
their rich tracery one sees the sky beyond. In their midst the central
steeple towers proudly up like the mainmast of some great Indiaman among
a fleet of coasters.
We wished to go aloft. The sacristan showed us a marble stairway (of
course it was marble, and of the purest and whitest--there is no other
stone, no brick, no wood, among its building materials) and told us to go
up one hundred and eighty-two steps and stop till he came. It was not
necessary to say stop--we should have done that any how. We were tired
by the time we got there. This was the roof. Here, springing from its
broad marble flagstones, were the long files of spires, looking very tall
close at hand, but diminishing in the distance like the pipes of an
organ. We could see now that the statue on the top of each was the size
of a large man, though they all looked like dolls from the street. We
could see, also, that from the inside of each and every one of these
hollow spires, from sixteen to thirty-one beautiful marble statues looked
out upon the world below.
From the eaves to the comb of the roof stretched in endless succession
great curved marble beams, like the fore-and-aft braces of a steamboat,
and along each beam from end to end stood up a row of richly carved
flowers and fruits--each separate and distinct in kind, and over 15,000
species represented. At a little distance these rows seem to close
together like the ties of a railroad track, and then the mingling
together of the buds and blossoms of this marble garden forms a picture
that is very charming to the eye.
We descended and entered. Within the church, long rows of fluted
columns, like huge monuments, divided the building into broad aisles, and
on the figured pavement fell many a soft blush from the painted windows
above. I knew the church was very large, but I could not fully
appreciate its great size until I noticed that the men standing far down
by the altar looked like boys, and seemed to glide, rather than walk. We
loitered about gazing aloft at the monster windows all aglow with
brilliantly colored scenes in the lives of the Saviour and his followers.
Some of these pictures are mosaics, and so artistically are their
thousand particles of tinted glass or stone put together that the work
has all the smoothness and finish of a painting. We counted sixty panes
of glass in one window, and each pane was adorned with one of these
master achievements of genius and patience.
The guide showed us a coffee-colored piece of sculpture which he said was
considered to have come from the hand of Phidias, since it was not
possible that any other artist, of any epoch, could have copied nature
with such faultless accuracy. The figure was that of a man without a
skin; with every vein, artery, muscle, every fiber and tendon and tissue
of the human frame represented in minute detail. It looked natural,
because somehow it looked as if it were in pain. A skinned man would be
likely to look that way unless his attention were occupied with some
other matter. It was a hideous thing, and yet there was a fascination
about it some where. I am very sorry I saw it, because I shall always
see it now. I shall dream of it sometimes. I shall dream that it is
resting its corded arms on the bed's head and looking down on me with its
dead eyes; I shall dream that it is stretched between the sheets with me
and touching me with its exposed muscles and its stringy cold legs.
It is hard to forget repulsive things. I remember yet how I ran off from
school once, when I was a boy, and then, pretty late at night, concluded
to climb into the window of my father's office and sleep on a lounge,
because I had a delicacy about going home and getting thrashed. As I lay
on the lounge and my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I fancied I
could see a long, dusky, shapeless thing stretched upon the floor. A
cold shiver went through me. I turned my face to the wall. That did not
answer. I was afraid that that thing would creep over and seize me in
the dark. I turned back and stared at it for minutes and minutes--they
seemed hours. It appeared to me that the lagging moonlight never, never
would get to it. I turned to the wall and counted twenty, to pass the
feverish time away. I looked--the pale square was nearer. I turned
again and counted fifty--it was almost touching it. With desperate will
I turned again and counted one hundred, and faced about, all in a
tremble. A white human hand lay in the moonlight! Such an awful sinking
at the heart--such a sudden gasp for breath! I felt--I cannot tell what
I felt. When I recovered strength enough, I faced the wall again. But
no boy could have remained so with that mysterious hand behind him. I
counted again and looked--the most of a naked arm was exposed. I put my
hands over my eyes and counted till I could stand it no longer, and then
--the pallid face of a man was there, with the corners of the mouth drawn
down, and the eyes fixed and glassy in death! I raised to a sitting
posture and glowered on that corpse till the light crept down the bare
breastline by line--inch by inch--past the nipple--and then it disclosed
a ghastly stab!
I went away from there. I do not say that I went away in any sort of a
hurry, but I simply went--that is sufficient. I went out at the window,
and I carried the sash along with me. I did not need the sash, but it
was handier to take it than it was to leave it, and so I took it.--I was
not scared, but I was considerably agitated.
When I reached home, they whipped me, but I enjoyed it. It seemed
perfectly delightful. That man had been stabbed near the office that
afternoon, and they carried him in there to doctor him, but he only lived
an hour. I have slept in the same room with him often since then--in my
Now we will descend into the crypt, under the grand altar of Milan
Cathedral, and receive an impressive sermon from lips that have been
silent and hands that have been gestureless for three hundred years.
The priest stopped in a small dungeon and held up his candle. This was
the last resting-place of a good man, a warm-hearted, unselfish man; a
man whose whole life was given to succoring the poor, encouraging the
faint-hearted, visiting the sick; in relieving distress, whenever and
wherever he found it. His heart, his hand, and his purse were always
open. With his story in one's mind he can almost see his benignant
countenance moving calmly among the haggard faces of Milan in the days
when the plague swept the city, brave where all others were cowards, full
of compassion where pity had been crushed out of all other breasts by the
instinct of self-preservation gone mad with terror, cheering all, praying
with all, helping all, with hand and brain and purse, at a time when
parents forsook their children, the friend deserted the friend, and the
brother turned away from the sister while her pleadings were still
wailing in his ears.
This was good St. Charles Borromeo, Bishop of Milan. The people idolized
him; princes lavished uncounted treasures upon him. We stood in his
tomb. Near by was the sarcophagus, lighted by the dripping candles. The
walls were faced with bas-reliefs representing scenes in his life done in
massive silver. The priest put on a short white lace garment over his
black robe, crossed himself, bowed reverently, and began to turn a
windlass slowly. The sarcophagus separated in two parts, lengthwise, and
the lower part sank down and disclosed a coffin of rock crystal as clear
as the atmosphere. Within lay the body, robed in costly habiliments
covered with gold embroidery and starred with scintillating gems. The
decaying head was black with age, the dry skin was drawn tight to the
bones, the eyes were gone, there was a hole in the temple and another in
the cheek, and the skinny lips were parted as in a ghastly smile! Over
this dreadful face, its dust and decay and its mocking grin, hung a crown
sown thick with flashing brilliants; and upon the breast lay crosses and
croziers of solid gold that were splendid with emeralds and diamonds.
How poor, and cheap, and trivial these gew-gaws seemed in presence of the
solemnity, the grandeur, the awful majesty of Death! Think of Milton,
Shakespeare, Washington, standing before a reverent world tricked out in
the glass beads, the brass ear-rings and tin trumpery of the savages of
Dead Bartolomeo preached his pregnant sermon, and its burden was: You
that worship the vanities of earth--you that long for worldly honor,
worldly wealth, worldly fame--behold their worth!
To us it seemed that so good a man, so kind a heart, so simple a nature,
deserved rest and peace in a grave sacred from the intrusion of prying
eyes, and believed that he himself would have preferred to have it so,
but peradventure our wisdom was at fault in this regard.
As we came out upon the floor of the church again, another priest
volunteered to show us the treasures of the church.
What, more? The furniture of the narrow chamber of death we had just
visited weighed six millions of francs in ounces and carats alone,
without a penny thrown into the account for the costly workmanship
bestowed upon them! But we followed into a large room filled with tall
wooden presses like wardrobes. He threw them open, and behold, the
cargoes of "crude bullion" of the assay offices of Nevada faded out of my
memory. There were Virgins and bishops there, above their natural size,
made of solid silver, each worth, by weight, from eight hundred thousand
to two millions of francs, and bearing gemmed books in their hands worth
eighty thousand; there were bas-reliefs that weighed six hundred pounds,
carved in solid silver; croziers and crosses, and candlesticks six and
eight feet high, all of virgin gold, and brilliant with precious stones;
and beside these were all manner of cups and vases, and such things, rich
in proportion. It was an Aladdin's palace. The treasures here, by
simple weight, without counting workmanship, were valued at fifty
millions of francs! If I could get the custody of them for a while, I
fear me the market price of silver bishops would advance shortly, on
account of their exceeding scarcity in the Cathedral of Milan.
The priests showed us two of St. Paul's fingers, and one of St. Peter's;
a bone of Judas Iscariot, (it was black,) and also bones of all the other
disciples; a handkerchief in which the Saviour had left the impression of
his face. Among the most precious of the relics were a stone from the
Holy Sepulchre, part of the crown of thorns, (they have a whole one at
Notre Dame,) a fragment of the purple robe worn by the Saviour, a nail
from the Cross, and a picture of the Virgin and Child painted by the
veritable hand of St. Luke. This is the second of St. Luke's Virgins we
have seen. Once a year all these holy relics are carried in procession
through the streets of Milan.
I like to revel in the dryest details of the great cathedral. The
building is five hundred feet long by one hundred and eighty wide, and
the principal steeple is in the neighborhood of four hundred feet high.
It has 7,148 marble statues, and will have upwards of three thousand more
when it is finished. In addition it has one thousand five hundred
bas-reliefs. It has one hundred and thirty-six spires--twenty-one more
are to be added. Each spire is surmounted by a statue six and a half
feet high. Every thing about the church is marble, and all from the
same quarry; it was bequeathed to the Archbishopric for this purpose
centuries ago. So nothing but the mere workmanship costs; still that is
expensive --the bill foots up six hundred and eighty-four millions of
francs thus far (considerably over a hundred millions of dollars,) and
it is estimated that it will take a hundred and twenty years yet to
finish the cathedral. It looks complete, but is far from being so. We
saw a new statue put in its niche yesterday, alongside of one which had
been standing these four hundred years, they said. There are four
staircases leading up to the main steeple, each of which cost a hundred
thousand dollars, with the four hundred and eight statues which adorn
them. Marco Compioni was the architect who designed the wonderful
structure more than five hundred years ago, and it took him forty-six
years to work out the plan and get it ready to hand over to the
builders. He is dead now. The building was begun a little less than
five hundred years ago, and the third generation hence will not see it
The building looks best by moonlight, because the older portions of it,
being stained with age, contrast unpleasantly with the newer and whiter
portions. It seems somewhat too broad for its height, but may be
familiarity with it might dissipate this impression.
They say that the Cathedral of Milan is second only to St. Peter's at
Rome. I cannot understand how it can be second to anything made by human
We bid it good-bye, now--possibly for all time. How surely, in some
future day, when the memory of it shall have lost its vividness, shall we
half believe we have seen it in a wonderful dream, but never with waking
"Do you wis zo haut can be?"
That was what the guide asked when we were looking up at the bronze
horses on the Arch of Peace. It meant, do you wish to go up there?
I give it as a specimen of guide-English. These are the people that make
life a burthen to the tourist. Their tongues are never still. They talk
forever and forever, and that is the kind of billingsgate they use.
Inspiration itself could hardly comprehend them. If they would only show
you a masterpiece of art, or a venerable tomb, or a prison-house, or a
battle-field, hallowed by touching memories or historical reminiscences,
or grand traditions, and then step aside and hold still for ten minutes
and let you think, it would not be so bad. But they interrupt every
dream, every pleasant train of thought, with their tiresome cackling.
Sometimes when I have been standing before some cherished old idol of
mine that I remembered years and years ago in pictures in the geography
at school, I have thought I would give a whole world if the human parrot
at my side would suddenly perish where he stood and leave me to gaze, and
ponder, and worship.
No, we did not "wis zo haut can be." We wished to go to La Scala, the
largest theater in the world, I think they call it. We did so. It was a
large place. Seven separate and distinct masses of humanity--six great
circles and a monster parquette.
We wished to go to the Ambrosian Library, and we did that also. We saw a
manuscript of Virgil, with annotations in the handwriting of Petrarch,
the gentleman who loved another man's Laura, and lavished upon her all
through life a love which was a clear waste of the raw material. It was
sound sentiment, but bad judgment. It brought both parties fame, and
created a fountain of commiseration for them in sentimental breasts that
is running yet. But who says a word in behalf of poor Mr. Laura? (I do
not know his other name.) Who glorifies him? Who bedews him with tears?
Who writes poetry about him? Nobody. How do you suppose he liked the
state of things that has given the world so much pleasure? How did he
enjoy having another man following his wife every where and making her
name a familiar word in every garlic-exterminating mouth in Italy with
his sonnets to her pre-empted eyebrows? They got fame and sympathy--he
got neither. This is a peculiarly felicitous instance of what is called
poetical justice. It is all very fine; but it does not chime with my
notions of right. It is too one-sided--too ungenerous.
Let the world go on fretting about Laura and Petrarch if it will; but as
for me, my tears and my lamentations shall be lavished upon the unsung
We saw also an autograph letter of Lucrezia Borgia, a lady for whom I
have always entertained the highest respect, on account of her rare
histrionic capabilities, her opulence in solid gold goblets made of
gilded wood, her high distinction as an operatic screamer, and the
facility with which she could order a sextuple funeral and get the
corpses ready for it. We saw one single coarse yellow hair from
Lucrezia's head, likewise. It awoke emotions, but we still live. In
this same library we saw some drawings by Michael Angelo (these Italians
call him Mickel Angelo,) and Leonardo da Vinci. (They spell it Vinci and
pronounce it Vinchy; foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.)
We reserve our opinion of these sketches.
In another building they showed us a fresco representing some lions and
other beasts drawing chariots; and they seemed to project so far from the
wall that we took them to be sculptures. The artist had shrewdly
heightened the delusion by painting dust on the creatures' backs, as if
it had fallen there naturally and properly. Smart fellow--if it be smart
to deceive strangers.
Elsewhere we saw a huge Roman amphitheatre, with its stone seats still in
good preservation. Modernized, it is now the scene of more peaceful
recreations than the exhibition of a party of wild beasts with Christians
for dinner. Part of the time, the Milanese use it for a race track, and
at other seasons they flood it with water and have spirited yachting
regattas there. The guide told us these things, and he would hardly try
so hazardous an experiment as the telling of a falsehood, when it is all
he can do to speak the truth in English without getting the lock-jaw.
In another place we were shown a sort of summer arbor, with a fence
before it. We said that was nothing. We looked again, and saw, through
the arbor, an endless stretch of garden, and shrubbery, and grassy lawn.
We were perfectly willing to go in there and rest, but it could not be
done. It was only another delusion--a painting by some ingenious artist
with little charity in his heart for tired folk. The deception was
perfect. No one could have imagined the park was not real. We even
thought we smelled the flowers at first.
We got a carriage at twilight and drove in the shaded avenues with the
other nobility, and after dinner we took wine and ices in a fine garden
with the great public. The music was excellent, the flowers and
shrubbery were pleasant to the eye, the scene was vivacious, everybody
was genteel and well-behaved, and the ladies were slightly moustached,
and handsomely dressed, but very homely.
We adjourned to a cafe and played billiards an hour, and I made six or
seven points by the doctor pocketing his ball, and he made as many by my
pocketing my ball. We came near making a carom sometimes, but not the
one we were trying to make. The table was of the usual European style
--cushions dead and twice as high as the balls; the cues in bad repair.
The natives play only a sort of pool on them. We have never seen any
body playing the French three-ball game yet, and I doubt if there is any
such game known in France, or that there lives any man mad enough to try
to play it on one of these European tables. We had to stop playing
finally because Dan got to sleeping fifteen minutes between the counts
and paying no attention to his marking.
Afterward we walked up and down one of the most popular streets for some
time, enjoying other people's comfort and wishing we could export some of
it to our restless, driving, vitality-consuming marts at home. Just in
this one matter lies the main charm of life in Europe--comfort. In
America, we hurry--which is well; but when the day's work is done, we go
on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry
our business cares to bed with us, and toss and worry over them when we
ought to be restoring our racked bodies and brains with sleep. We burn
up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into
a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man's prime
in Europe. When an acre of ground has produced long and well, we let it
lie fallow and rest for a season; we take no man clear across the
continent in the same coach he started in--the coach is stabled somewhere
on the plains and its heated machinery allowed to cool for a few days;
when a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the
barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own
accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon
ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be,
if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our
I do envy these Europeans the comfort they take. When the work of the
day is done, they forget it. Some of them go, with wife and children, to
a beer hall and sit quietly and genteelly drinking a mug or two of ale
and listening to music; others walk the streets, others drive in the
avenues; others assemble in the great ornamental squares in the early
evening to enjoy the sight and the fragrance of flowers and to hear the
military bands play--no European city being without its fine military
music at eventide; and yet others of the populace sit in the open air in
front of the refreshment houses and eat ices and drink mild beverages
that could not harm a child. They go to bed moderately early, and sleep
well. They are always quiet, always orderly, always cheerful,
comfortable, and appreciative of life and its manifold blessings. One
never sees a drunken man among them. The change that has come over our
little party is surprising. Day by day we lose some of our restlessness
and absorb some of the spirit of quietude and ease that is in the
tranquil atmosphere about us and in the demeanor of the people. We grow
wise apace. We begin to comprehend what life is for.
We have had a bath in Milan, in a public bath-house. They were going to
put all three of us in one bath-tub, but we objected. Each of us had an
Italian farm on his back. We could have felt affluent if we had been
officially surveyed and fenced in. We chose to have three bathtubs, and
large ones--tubs suited to the dignity of aristocrats who had real
estate, and brought it with them. After we were stripped and had taken
the first chilly dash, we discovered that haunting atrocity that has
embittered our lives in so many cities and villages of Italy and France
--there was no soap. I called. A woman answered, and I barely had time to
throw myself against the door--she would have been in, in another second.
"Beware, woman! Go away from here--go away, now, or it will be the worse
for you. I am an unprotected male, but I will preserve my honor at the
peril of my life!"
These words must have frightened her, for she skurried away very fast.
Dan's voice rose on the air:
"Oh, bring some soap, why don't you!"
The reply was Italian. Dan resumed:
"Soap, you know--soap. That is what I want--soap. S-o-a-p, soap;
s-o-p-e, soap; s-o-u-p, soap. Hurry up! I don't know how you Irish spell
it, but I want it. Spell it to suit yourself, but fetch it. I'm freezing."
I heard the doctor say impressively:
"Dan, how often have we told you that these foreigners cannot understand
English? Why will you not depend upon us? Why will you not tell us what
you want, and let us ask for it in the language of the country? It would
save us a great deal of the humiliation your reprehensible ignorance
causes us. I will address this person in his mother tongue: 'Here,
cospetto! corpo di Bacco! Sacramento! Solferino!--Soap, you son of a
gun!' Dan, if you would let us talk for you, you would never expose your
Even this fluent discharge of Italian did not bring the soap at once, but
there was a good reason for it. There was not such an article about the
establishment. It is my belief that there never had been. They had to
send far up town, and to several different places before they finally got
it, so they said. We had to wait twenty or thirty minutes. The same
thing had occurred the evening before, at the hotel. I think I have
divined the reason for this state of things at last. The English know
how to travel comfortably, and they carry soap with them; other
foreigners do not use the article.
At every hotel we stop at we always have to send out for soap, at the
last moment, when we are grooming ourselves for dinner, and they put it
in the bill along with the candles and other nonsense. In Marseilles
they make half the fancy toilet soap we consume in America, but the
Marseillaise only have a vague theoretical idea of its use, which they
have obtained from books of travel, just as they have acquired an
uncertain notion of clean shirts, and the peculiarities of the gorilla,
and other curious matters. This reminds me of poor Blucher's note to the
landlord in Paris:
PARIS, le 7 Juillet. Monsieur le Landlord--Sir: Pourquoi don't you
mettez some savon in your bed-chambers? Est-ce que vous pensez I
will steal it? La nuit passee you charged me pour deux chandelles
when I only had one; hier vous avez charged me avec glace when I had
none at all; tout les jours you are coming some fresh game or other
on me, mais vous ne pouvez pas play this savon dodge on me twice.
Savon is a necessary de la vie to any body but a Frenchman, et je
l'aurai hors de cet hotel or make trouble. You hear me. Allons.
I remonstrated against the sending of this note, because it was so mixed
up that the landlord would never be able to make head or tail of it; but
Blucher said he guessed the old man could read the French of it and
average the rest.
Blucher's French is bad enough, but it is not much worse than the English
one finds in advertisements all over Italy every day. For instance,
observe the printed card of the hotel we shall probably stop at on the
shores of Lake Como:
"This hotel which the best it is in Italy and most superb, is
handsome locate on the best situation of the lake, with the most
splendid view near the Villas Melzy, to the King of Belgian, and
Serbelloni. This hotel have recently enlarge, do offer all
commodities on moderate price, at the strangers gentlemen who whish
spend the seasons on the Lake Come."
How is that, for a specimen? In the hotel is a handsome little chapel
where an English clergyman is employed to preach to such of the guests of
the house as hail from England and America, and this fact is also set
forth in barbarous English in the same advertisement. Wouldn't you have
supposed that the adventurous linguist who framed the card would have
known enough to submit it to that clergyman before he sent it to the
Here in Milan, in an ancient tumble-down ruin of a church, is the
mournful wreck of the most celebrated painting in the world--"The Last
Supper," by Leonardo da Vinci. We are not infallible judges of pictures,
but of course we went there to see this wonderful painting, once so
beautiful, always so worshipped by masters in art, and forever to be
famous in song and story. And the first thing that occurred was the
infliction on us of a placard fairly reeking with wretched English. Take
a morsel of it: "Bartholomew (that is the first figure on the left hand
side at the spectator,) uncertain and doubtful about what he thinks to
have heard, and upon which he wants to be assured by himself at Christ
and by no others."
Good, isn't it? And then Peter is described as "argumenting in a
threatening and angrily condition at Judas Iscariot."
This paragraph recalls the picture. "The Last Supper" is painted on the
dilapidated wall of what was a little chapel attached to the main church
in ancient times, I suppose. It is battered and scarred in every
direction, and stained and discolored by time, and Napoleon's horses
kicked the legs off most the disciples when they (the horses, not the
disciples,) were stabled there more than half a century ago.
I recognized the old picture in a moment--the Saviour with bowed head
seated at the centre of a long, rough table with scattering fruits and
dishes upon it, and six disciples on either side in their long robes,
talking to each other--the picture from which all engravings and all
copies have been made for three centuries. Perhaps no living man has
ever known an attempt to paint the Lord's Supper differently. The world
seems to have become settled in the belief, long ago, that it is not
possible for human genius to outdo this creation of da Vinci's. I
suppose painters will go on copying it as long as any of the original is
left visible to the eye. There were a dozen easels in the room, and as
many artists transferring the great picture to their canvases. Fifty
proofs of steel engravings and lithographs were scattered around, too.
And as usual, I could not help noticing how superior the copies were to
the original, that is, to my inexperienced eye. Wherever you find a
Raphael, a Rubens, a Michelangelo, a Carracci, or a da Vinci (and we see
them every day,) you find artists copying them, and the copies are always
the handsomest. Maybe the originals were handsome when they were new,
but they are not now.
This picture is about thirty feet long, and ten or twelve high, I should
think, and the figures are at least life size. It is one of the largest
paintings in Europe.
The colors are dimmed with age; the countenances are scaled and marred,
and nearly all expression is gone from them; the hair is a dead blur upon
the wall, and there is no life in the eyes. Only the attitudes are
People come here from all parts of the world, and glorify this
masterpiece. They stand entranced before it with bated breath and parted
lips, and when they speak, it is only in the catchy ejaculations of
"Such grace of attitude!"
"Such faultless drawing!"
"Such matchless coloring!"
"What delicacy of touch!"
"What sublimity of conception!"
"A vision! A vision!"
I only envy these people; I envy them their honest admiration, if it be
honest--their delight, if they feel delight. I harbor no animosity
toward any of them. But at the same time the thought will intrude itself
upon me, How can they see what is not visible? What would you think of a
man who looked at some decayed, blind, toothless, pock-marked Cleopatra,
and said: "What matchless beauty! What soul! What expression!" What
would you think of a man who gazed upon a dingy, foggy sunset, and said:
"What sublimity! What feeling! What richness of coloring!" What would
you think of a man who stared in ecstasy upon a desert of stumps and
said: "Oh, my soul, my beating heart, what a noble forest is here!"
You would think that those men had an astonishing talent for seeing
things that had already passed away. It was what I thought when I stood
before "The Last Supper" and heard men apostrophizing wonders, and
beauties and perfections which had faded out of the picture and gone, a
hundred years before they were born. We can imagine the beauty that was
once in an aged face; we can imagine the forest if we see the stumps; but
we can not absolutely see these things when they are not there. I am
willing to believe that the eye of the practiced artist can rest upon the
Last Supper and renew a lustre where only a hint of it is left, supply a
tint that has faded away, restore an expression that is gone; patch, and
color, and add, to the dull canvas until at last its figures shall stand
before him aglow with the life, the feeling, the freshness, yea, with all
the noble beauty that was theirs when first they came from the hand of
the master. But I can not work this miracle. Can those other uninspired
visitors do it, or do they only happily imagine they do?
After reading so much about it, I am satisfied that the Last Supper was a
very miracle of art once. But it was three hundred years ago.
It vexes me to hear people talk so glibly of "feeling," "expression,"
"tone," and those other easily acquired and inexpensive technicalities of
art that make such a fine show in conversations concerning pictures.
There is not one man in seventy-five hundred that can tell what a
pictured face is intended to express. There is not one man in five
hundred that can go into a court-room and be sure that he will not
mistake some harmless innocent of a juryman for the black-hearted
assassin on trial. Yet such people talk of "character" and presume to
interpret "expression" in pictures. There is an old story that Matthews,
the actor, was once lauding the ability of the human face to express the
passions and emotions hidden in the breast. He said the countenance
could disclose what was passing in the heart plainer than the tongue
"Now," he said, "observe my face--what does it express?"
"Bah, it expresses peaceful resignation! What does this express?"
"Stuff! It means terror! This!"
"Fool! It is smothered ferocity! Now this!"
"Oh, perdition! Any ass can see it means insanity!"
Expression! People coolly pretend to read it who would think themselves
presumptuous if they pretended to interpret the hieroglyphics on the
obelisks of Luxor--yet they are fully as competent to do the one thing as
the other. I have heard two very intelligent critics speak of Murillo's
Immaculate Conception (now in the museum at Seville,) within the past few
days. One said:
"Oh, the Virgin's face is full of the ecstasy of a joy that is complete
--that leaves nothing more to be desired on earth!"
The other said:
"Ah, that wonderful face is so humble, so pleading--it says as plainly as
words could say it: 'I fear; I tremble; I am unworthy. But Thy will be
done; sustain Thou Thy servant!'"
The reader can see the picture in any drawing-room; it can be easily
recognized: the Virgin (the only young and really beautiful Virgin that
was ever painted by one of the old masters, some of us think,) stands in
the crescent of the new moon, with a multitude of cherubs hovering about
her, and more coming; her hands are crossed upon her breast, and upon her
uplifted countenance falls a glory out of the heavens. The reader may
amuse himself, if he chooses, in trying to determine which of these
gentlemen read the Virgin's "expression" aright, or if either of them did
Any one who is acquainted with the old masters will comprehend how much
"The Last Supper" is damaged when I say that the spectator can not really
tell, now, whether the disciples are Hebrews or Italians. These ancient
painters never succeeded in denationalizing themselves. The Italian
artists painted Italian Virgins, the Dutch painted Dutch Virgins, the
Virgins of the French painters were Frenchwomen--none of them ever put
into the face of the Madonna that indescribable something which proclaims
the Jewess, whether you find her in New York, in Constantinople, in
Paris, Jerusalem, or in the empire of Morocco. I saw in the Sandwich
Islands, once, a picture copied by a talented German artist from an
engraving in one of the American illustrated papers. It was an allegory,
representing Mr. Davis in the act of signing a secession act or some such
document. Over him hovered the ghost of Washington in warning attitude,
and in the background a troop of shadowy soldiers in Continental uniform
were limping with shoeless, bandaged feet through a driving snow-storm.
Valley Forge was suggested, of course. The copy seemed accurate, and yet
there was a discrepancy somewhere. After a long examination I discovered
what it was--the shadowy soldiers were all Germans! Jeff Davis was a
German! even the hovering ghost was a German ghost! The artist had
unconsciously worked his nationality into the picture. To tell the
truth, I am getting a little perplexed about John the Baptist and his
portraits. In France I finally grew reconciled to him as a Frenchman;
here he is unquestionably an Italian. What next? Can it be possible
that the painters make John the Baptist a Spaniard in Madrid and an
Irishman in Dublin?
We took an open barouche and drove two miles out of Milan to "see ze
echo," as the guide expressed it. The road was smooth, it was bordered
by trees, fields, and grassy meadows, and the soft air was filled with
the odor of flowers. Troops of picturesque peasant girls, coming from
work, hooted at us, shouted at us, made all manner of game of us, and
entirely delighted me. My long-cherished judgment was confirmed. I
always did think those frowsy, romantic, unwashed peasant girls I had
read so much about in poetry were a glaring fraud.
We enjoyed our jaunt. It was an exhilarating relief from tiresome
We distressed ourselves very little about the astonishing echo the guide
talked so much about. We were growing accustomed to encomiums on wonders
that too often proved no wonders at all. And so we were most happily
disappointed to find in the sequel that the guide had even failed to rise
to the magnitude of his subject.
We arrived at a tumble-down old rookery called the Palazzo Simonetti--a
massive hewn-stone affair occupied by a family of ragged Italians.
A good-looking young girl conducted us to a window on the second floor
which looked out on a court walled on three sides by tall buildings. She
put her head out at the window and shouted. The echo answered more times
than we could count. She took a speaking trumpet and through it she
shouted, sharp and quick, a single "Ha!" The echo answered:
"Ha!--ha!----ha!--ha!--ha!-ha! ha! h-a-a-a-a-a!" and finally went off
into a rollicking convulsion of the jolliest laughter that could be
imagined. It was so joyful--so long continued--so perfectly cordial and
hearty, that every body was forced to join in. There was no resisting
Then the girl took a gun and fired it. We stood ready to count the
astonishing clatter of reverberations. We could not say one, two, three,
fast enough, but we could dot our notebooks with our pencil points almost
rapidly enough to take down a sort of short-hand report of the result.
My page revealed the following account. I could not keep up, but I did
as well as I could.
I set down fifty-two distinct repetitions, and then the echo got the
advantage of me. The doctor set down sixty-four, and thenceforth the
echo moved too fast for him, also. After the separate concussions could
no longer be noted, the reverberations dwindled to a wild, long-sustained
clatter of sounds such as a watchman's rattle produces. It is likely
that this is the most remarkable echo in the world.
The doctor, in jest, offered to kiss the young girl, and was taken a
little aback when she said he might for a franc! The commonest gallantry
compelled him to stand by his offer, and so he paid the franc and took
the kiss. She was a philosopher. She said a franc was a good thing to
have, and she did not care any thing for one paltry kiss, because she had
a million left. Then our comrade, always a shrewd businessman, offered
to take the whole cargo at thirty days, but that little financial scheme
was a failure.
We left Milan by rail. The Cathedral six or seven miles behind us; vast,
dreamy, bluish, snow-clad mountains twenty miles in front of us,--these
were the accented points in the scenery. The more immediate scenery
consisted of fields and farm-houses outside the car and a monster-headed
dwarf and a moustached woman inside it. These latter were not
show-people. Alas, deformity and female beards are too common in Italy
to attract attention.
We passed through a range of wild, picturesque hills, steep, wooded,
cone-shaped, with rugged crags projecting here and there, and with
dwellings and ruinous castles perched away up toward the drifting clouds.
We lunched at the curious old town of Como, at the foot of the lake, and
then took the small steamer and had an afternoon's pleasure excursion to
When we walked ashore, a party of policemen (people whose cocked hats and
showy uniforms would shame the finest uniform in the military service of
the United States,) put us into a little stone cell and locked us in. We
had the whole passenger list for company, but their room would have been
preferable, for there was no light, there were no windows, no
ventilation. It was close and hot. We were much crowded. It was the
Black Hole of Calcutta on a small scale. Presently a smoke rose about
our feet--a smoke that smelled of all the dead things of earth, of all
the putrefaction and corruption imaginable.
We were there five minutes, and when we got out it was hard to tell which
of us carried the vilest fragrance.
These miserable outcasts called that "fumigating" us, and the term was a
tame one indeed. They fumigated us to guard themselves against the
cholera, though we hailed from no infected port. We had left the cholera
far behind us all the time. However, they must keep epidemics away
somehow or other, and fumigation is cheaper than soap. They must either
wash themselves or fumigate other people. Some of the lower classes had
rather die than wash, but the fumigation of strangers causes them no
pangs. They need no fumigation themselves. Their habits make it
unnecessary. They carry their preventive with them; they sweat and
fumigate all the day long. I trust I am a humble and a consistent
Christian. I try to do what is right. I know it is my duty to "pray for
them that despitefully use me;" and therefore, hard as it is, I shall
still try to pray for these fumigating, maccaroni-stuffing
Our hotel sits at the water's edge--at least its front garden does--and
we walk among the shrubbery and smoke at twilight; we look afar off at
Switzerland and the Alps, and feel an indolent willingness to look no
closer; we go down the steps and swim in the lake; we take a shapely
little boat and sail abroad among the reflections of the stars; lie on
the thwarts and listen to the distant laughter, the singing, the soft
melody of flutes and guitars that comes floating across the water from
pleasuring gondolas; we close the evening with exasperating billiards on
one of those same old execrable tables. A midnight luncheon in our ample
bed-chamber; a final smoke in its contracted veranda facing the water,
the gardens, and the mountains; a summing up of the day's events. Then
to bed, with drowsy brains harassed with a mad panorama that mixes up
pictures of France, of Italy, of the ship, of the ocean, of home, in
grotesque and bewildering disorder. Then a melting away of familiar
faces, of cities, and of tossing waves, into a great calm of
forgetfulness and peace.
After which, the nightmare.
Breakfast in the morning, and then the lake.
I did not like it yesterday. I thought Lake Tahoe was much finer.
I have to confess now, however, that my judgment erred somewhat, though
not extravagantly. I always had an idea that Como was a vast basin of
water, like Tahoe, shut in by great mountains. Well, the border of huge
mountains is here, but the lake itself is not a basin. It is as crooked
as any brook, and only from one-quarter to two-thirds as wide as the
Mississippi. There is not a yard of low ground on either side of it
--nothing but endless chains of mountains that spring abruptly from the
water's edge and tower to altitudes varying from a thousand to two
thousand feet. Their craggy sides are clothed with vegetation, and white
specks of houses peep out from the luxuriant foliage everywhere; they are
even perched upon jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above
Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats, surrounded by
gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes in nooks carved by
Nature out of the vine-hung precipices, and with no ingress or egress
save by boats. Some have great broad stone staircases leading down to
the water, with heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and
fancifully adorned with creeping vines and bright-colored flowers--for
all the world like a drop curtain in a theatre, and lacking nothing but
long-waisted, high-heeled women and plumed gallants in silken tights
coming down to go serenading in the splendid gondola in waiting.
A great feature of Como's attractiveness is the multitude of pretty
houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain
sides. They look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when every
thing seems to slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing
over the water, one almost believes that nowhere else than on the lake of
Como can there be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.
From my window here in Bellaggio, I have a view of the other side of the
lake now, which is as beautiful as a picture. A scarred and wrinkled
precipice rises to a height of eighteen hundred feet; on a tiny bench
half way up its vast wall, sits a little snowflake of a church, no bigger
than a martin-box, apparently; skirting the base of the cliff are a
hundred orange groves and gardens, flecked with glimpses of the white
dwellings that are buried in them; in front, three or four gondolas lie
idle upon the water--and in the burnished mirror of the lake, mountain,
chapel, houses, groves and boats are counterfeited so brightly and so
clearly that one scarce knows where the reality leaves off and the
The surroundings of this picture are fine. A mile away, a grove-plumed
promontory juts far into the lake and glasses its palace in the blue
depths; in midstream a boat is cutting the shining surface and leaving a
long track behind, like a ray of light; the mountains beyond are veiled
in a dreamy purple haze; far in the opposite direction a tumbled mass of
domes and verdant slopes and valleys bars the lake, and here indeed does
distance lend enchantment to the view--for on this broad canvas, sun and
clouds and the richest of atmospheres have blended a thousand tints
together, and over its surface the filmy lights and shadows drift, hour
after hour, and glorify it with a beauty that seems reflected out of
Heaven itself. Beyond all question, this is the most voluptuous scene we
have yet looked upon.
Last night the scenery was striking and picturesque. On the other side
crags and trees and snowy houses were reflected in the lake with a
wonderful distinctness, and streams of light from many a distant window
shot far abroad over the still waters. On this side, near at hand, great
mansions, white with moonlight, glared out from the midst of masses of
foliage that lay black and shapeless in the shadows that fell from the
cliff above--and down in the margin of the lake every feature of the
weird vision was faithfully repeated.
Today we have idled through a wonder of a garden attached to a ducal
estate--but enough of description is enough, I judge.
I suspect that this was the same place the gardener's son deceived the
Lady of Lyons with, but I do not know. You may have heard of the passage
"A deep vale,
Shut out by Alpine hills from the rude world,
Near a clear lake margined by fruits of gold
And whispering myrtles:
Glassing softest skies, cloudless,
Save with rare and roseate shadows;
A palace, lifting to eternal heaven its marbled walls,
From out a glossy bower of coolest foliage musical with birds."
That is all very well, except the "clear" part of the lake. It certainly
is clearer than a great many lakes, but how dull its waters are compared
with the wonderful transparence of Lake Tahoe! I speak of the north
shore of Tahoe, where one can count the scales on a trout at a depth of a
hundred and eighty feet. I have tried to get this statement off at par
here, but with no success; so I have been obliged to negotiate it at
fifty percent discount. At this rate I find some takers; perhaps the
reader will receive it on the same terms--ninety feet instead of one
hundred and eighty. But let it be remembered that those are forced
terms--Sheriff's sale prices. As far as I am privately concerned, I
abate not a jot of the original assertion that in those strangely
magnifying waters one may count the scales on a trout (a trout of the
large kind,) at a depth of a hundred and eighty feet--may see every
pebble on the bottom--might even count a paper of dray-pins. People talk
of the transparent waters of the Mexican Bay of Acapulco, but in my own
experience I know they cannot compare with those I am speaking of. I
have fished for trout, in Tahoe, and at a measured depth of eighty-four
feet I have seen them put their noses to the bait and I could see their
gills open and shut. I could hardly have seen the trout themselves at
that distance in the open air.
As I go back in spirit and recall that noble sea, reposing among the
snow-peaks six thousand feet above the ocean, the conviction comes strong
upon me again that Como would only seem a bedizened little courtier in
that august presence.
Sorrow and misfortune overtake the legislature that still from year to
year permits Tahoe to retain its unmusical cognomen! Tahoe! It suggests
no crystal waters, no picturesque shores, no sublimity. Tahoe for a sea
in the clouds: a sea that has character and asserts it in solemn calms at
times, at times in savage storms; a sea whose royal seclusion is guarded
by a cordon of sentinel peaks that lift their frosty fronts nine thousand
feet above the level world; a sea whose every aspect is impressive, whose
belongings are all beautiful, whose lonely majesty types the Deity!
Tahoe means grasshoppers. It means grasshopper soup. It is Indian, and
suggestive of Indians. They say it is Pi-ute--possibly it is Digger.
I am satisfied it was named by the Diggers--those degraded savages who
roast their dead relatives, then mix the human grease and ashes of bones
with tar, and "gaum" it thick all over their heads and foreheads and
ears, and go caterwauling about the hills and call it mourning. These
are the gentry that named the Lake.
People say that Tahoe means "Silver Lake"--"Limpid Water"--"Falling
Leaf." Bosh. It means grasshopper soup, the favorite dish of the Digger
tribe,--and of the Pi-utes as well. It isn't worth while, in these
practical times, for people to talk about Indian poetry--there never was
any in them--except in the Fenimore Cooper Indians. But they are an
extinct tribe that never existed. I know the Noble Red Man. I have
camped with the Indians; I have been on the warpath with them, taken part
in the chase with them--for grasshoppers; helped them steal cattle; I
have roamed with them, scalped them, had them for breakfast. I would
gladly eat the whole race if I had a chance.
But I am growing unreliable. I will return to my comparison of the
lakes. Como is a little deeper than Tahoe, if people here tell the
truth. They say it is eighteen hundred feet deep at this point, but it
does not look a dead enough blue for that. Tahoe is one thousand five
hundred and twenty-five feet deep in the centre, by the state geologist's
measurement. They say the great peak opposite this town is five thousand
feet high: but I feel sure that three thousand feet of that statement is
a good honest lie. The lake is a mile wide, here, and maintains about
that width from this point to its northern extremity--which is distant
sixteen miles: from here to its southern extremity--say fifteen miles--it
is not over half a mile wide in any place, I should think. Its snow-clad
mountains one hears so much about are only seen occasionally, and then in
the distance, the Alps. Tahoe is from ten to eighteen miles wide, and
its mountains shut it in like a wall. Their summits are never free from
snow the year round. One thing about it is very strange: it never has
even a skim of ice upon its surface, although lakes in the same range of
mountains, lying in a lower and warmer temperature, freeze over in
It is cheerful to meet a shipmate in these out-of-the-way places and
compare notes with him. We have found one of ours here--an old soldier
of the war, who is seeking bloodless adventures and rest from his
campaigns in these sunny lands.--[Colonel J. HERON FOSTER, editor of a
Pittsburgh journal, and a most estimable gentleman. As these sheets are
being prepared for the press I am pained to learn of his decease shortly
after his return home--M.T.]
We voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco, through wild mountain
scenery, and by hamlets and villas, and disembarked at the town of Lecco.
They said it was two hours, by carriage to the ancient city of Bergamo,
and that we would arrive there in good season for the railway train. We
got an open barouche and a wild, boisterous driver, and set out. It was
delightful. We had a fast team and a perfectly smooth road. There were
towering cliffs on our left, and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right,
and every now and then it rained on us. Just before starting, the driver
picked up, in the street, a stump of a cigar an inch long, and put it in
his mouth. When he had carried it thus about an hour, I thought it would
be only Christian charity to give him a light. I handed him my cigar,
which I had just lit, and he put it in his mouth and returned his stump
to his pocket! I never saw a more sociable man. At least I never saw a
man who was more sociable on a short acquaintance.
We saw interior Italy, now. The houses were of solid stone, and not
often in good repair. The peasants and their children were idle, as a
general thing, and the donkeys and chickens made themselves at home in
drawing-room and bed-chamber and were not molested. The drivers of each
and every one of the slow-moving market-carts we met were stretched in
the sun upon their merchandise, sound a sleep. Every three or four
hundred yards, it seemed to me, we came upon the shrine of some saint or
other--a rude picture of him built into a huge cross or a stone pillar by
the road-side.--Some of the pictures of the Saviour were curiosities in
their way. They represented him stretched upon the cross, his
countenance distorted with agony. From the wounds of the crown of
thorns; from the pierced side; from the mutilated hands and feet; from
the scourged body--from every hand-breadth of his person streams of blood
were flowing! Such a gory, ghastly spectacle would frighten the children
out of their senses, I should think. There were some unique auxiliaries
to the painting which added to its spirited effect. These were genuine
wooden and iron implements, and were prominently disposed round about the
figure: a bundle of nails; the hammer to drive them; the sponge; the reed
that supported it; the cup of vinegar; the ladder for the ascent of the
cross; the spear that pierced the Saviour's side. The crown of thorns
was made of real thorns, and was nailed to the sacred head. In some
Italian church-paintings, even by the old masters, the Saviour and the
Virgin wear silver or gilded crowns that are fastened to the pictured
head with nails. The effect is as grotesque as it is incongruous.
Here and there, on the fronts of roadside inns, we found huge, coarse
frescoes of suffering martyrs like those in the shrines. It could not
have diminished their sufferings any to be so uncouthly represented.
We were in the heart and home of priest craft--of a happy, cheerful,
contented ignorance, superstition, degradation, poverty, indolence, and
everlasting unaspiring worthlessness. And we said fervently: it suits
these people precisely; let them enjoy it, along with the other animals,
and Heaven forbid that they be molested. We feel no malice toward these
We passed through the strangest, funniest, undreampt-of old towns, wedded
to the customs and steeped in the dreams of the elder ages, and perfectly
unaware that the world turns round! And perfectly indifferent, too, as
to whether it turns around or stands still. They have nothing to do but
eat and sleep and sleep and eat, and toil a little when they can get a
friend to stand by and keep them awake. They are not paid for thinking
--they are not paid to fret about the world's concerns. They were not
respectable people--they were not worthy people--they were not learned
and wise and brilliant people--but in their breasts, all their stupid
lives long, resteth a peace that passeth understanding! How can men,
calling themselves men, consent to be so degraded and happy.
We whisked by many a gray old medieval castle, clad thick with ivy that
swung its green banners down from towers and turrets where once some old
Crusader's flag had floated. The driver pointed to one of these ancient
fortresses, and said, (I translate):
"Do you see that great iron hook that projects from the wall just under
the highest window in the ruined tower?"
We said we could not see it at such a distance, but had no doubt it was
"Well," he said; "there is a legend connected with that iron hook.
Nearly seven hundred years ago, that castle was the property of the noble
Count Luigi Gennaro Guido Alphonso di Genova----"
"What was his other name?" said Dan.
"He had no other name. The name I have spoken was all the name he had.
He was the son of----"
"Poor but honest parents--that is all right--never mind the particulars
--go on with the legend."
Well, then, all the world, at that time, was in a wild excitement about
the Holy Sepulchre. All the great feudal lords in Europe were pledging
their lands and pawning their plate to fit out men-at-arms so that they
might join the grand armies of Christendom and win renown in the Holy
Wars. The Count Luigi raised money, like the rest, and one mild
September morning, armed with battle-ax, portcullis and thundering
culverin, he rode through the greaves and bucklers of his donjon-keep
with as gallant a troop of Christian bandits as ever stepped in Italy.
He had his sword, Excalibur, with him. His beautiful countess and her
young daughter waved him a tearful adieu from the battering-rams and
buttresses of the fortress, and he galloped away with a happy heart.
He made a raid on a neighboring baron and completed his outfit with the
booty secured. He then razed the castle to the ground, massacred the
family and moved on. They were hardy fellows in the grand old days of
chivalry. Alas! Those days will never come again.
Count Luigi grew high in fame in Holy Land. He plunged into the carnage
of a hundred battles, but his good Excalibur always brought him out
alive, albeit often sorely wounded. His face became browned by exposure
to the Syrian sun in long marches; he suffered hunger and thirst; he
pined in prisons, he languished in loathsome plague-hospitals. And many
and many a time he thought of his loved ones at home, and wondered if all
was well with them. But his heart said, Peace, is not thy brother
watching over thy household?
* * * * * * *
Forty-two years waxed and waned; the good fight was won; Godfrey reigned
in Jerusalem--the Christian hosts reared the banner of the cross above
the Holy Sepulchre!
Twilight was approaching. Fifty harlequins, in flowing robes, approached
this castle wearily, for they were on foot, and the dust upon their
garments betokened that they had traveled far. They overtook a peasant,
and asked him if it were likely they could get food and a hospitable bed
there, for love of Christian charity, and if perchance, a moral parlor
entertainment might meet with generous countenance--"for," said they,
"this exhibition hath no feature that could offend the most fastidious
"Marry," quoth the peasant, "an' it please your worships, ye had better
journey many a good rood hence with your juggling circus than trust your
bones in yonder castle."
"How now, sirrah!" exclaimed the chief monk, "explain thy ribald speech,
or by'r Lady it shall go hard with thee."
"Peace, good mountebank, I did but utter the truth that was in my heart.
San Paolo be my witness that did ye but find the stout Count Leonardo in
his cups, sheer from the castle's topmost battlements would he hurl ye
all! Alack-a-day, the good Lord Luigi reigns not here in these sad
"The good Lord Luigi?"
"Aye, none other, please your worship. In his day, the poor rejoiced in
plenty and the rich he did oppress; taxes were not known, the fathers of
the church waxed fat upon his bounty; travelers went and came, with none
to interfere; and whosoever would, might tarry in his halls in cordial
welcome, and eat his bread and drink his wine, withal. But woe is me!
some two and forty years agone the good count rode hence to fight for
Holy Cross, and many a year hath flown since word or token have we had of
him. Men say his bones lie bleaching in the fields of Palestine."
"Now! God 'a mercy, the cruel Leonardo lords it in the castle. He
wrings taxes from the poor; he robs all travelers that journey by his
gates; he spends his days in feuds and murders, and his nights in revel
and debauch; he roasts the fathers of the church upon his kitchen spits,
and enjoyeth the same, calling it pastime. These thirty years Luigi's
countess hath not been seen by any [he] in all this land, and many
whisper that she pines in the dungeons of the castle for that she will
not wed with Leonardo, saying her dear lord still liveth and that she
will die ere she prove false to him. They whisper likewise that her
daughter is a prisoner as well. Nay, good jugglers, seek ye refreshment
other wheres. 'Twere better that ye perished in a Christian way than
that ye plunged from off yon dizzy tower. Give ye good-day."
"God keep ye, gentle knave--farewell."
But heedless of the peasant's warning, the players moved straightway
toward the castle.
Word was brought to Count Leonardo that a company of mountebanks besought
"'Tis well. Dispose of them in the customary manner. Yet stay! I have
need of them. Let them come hither. Later, cast them from the
battlements--or--how many priests have ye on hand?"
"The day's results are meagre, good my lord. An abbot and a dozen
beggarly friars is all we have."
"Hell and furies! Is the estate going to seed? Send hither the
mountebanks. Afterward, broil them with the priests."
The robed and close-cowled harlequins entered. The grim Leonardo sate in
state at the head of his council board. Ranged up and down the hall on
either hand stood near a hundred men-at-arms.
"Ha, villains!" quoth the count, "What can ye do to earn the hospitality
"Dread lord and mighty, crowded audiences have greeted our humble efforts
with rapturous applause. Among our body count we the versatile and
talented Ugolino; the justly celebrated Rodolpho; the gifted and
accomplished Roderigo; the management have spared neither pains nor
"S'death! What can ye do? Curb thy prating tongue."
"Good my lord, in acrobatic feats, in practice with the dumb-bells, in
balancing and ground and lofty tumbling are we versed--and sith your
highness asketh me, I venture here to publish that in the truly marvelous
and entertaining Zampillaerostation--"
"Gag him! throttle him! Body of Bacchus! am I a dog that I am to be
assailed with polysyllabled blasphemy like to this? But hold! Lucretia,
Isabel, stand forth! Sirrah, behold this dame, this weeping wench. The
first I marry, within the hour; the other shall dry her tears or feed the
vultures. Thou and thy vagabonds shall crown the wedding with thy
merry-makings. Fetch hither the priest!"
The dame sprang toward the chief player.
"O, save me!" she cried; "save me from a fate far worse than death!
Behold these sad eyes, these sunken cheeks, this withered frame! See
thou the wreck this fiend hath made, and let thy heart be moved with
pity! Look upon this damosel; note her wasted form, her halting step,
her bloomless cheeks where youth should blush and happiness exult in
smiles! Hear us and have compassion. This monster was my husband's
brother. He who should have been our shield against all harm, hath kept
us shut within the noisome caverns of his donjon-keep for lo these thirty
years. And for what crime? None other than that I would not belie my
troth, root out my strong love for him who marches with the legions of
the cross in Holy Land, (for O, he is not dead!) and wed with him! Save
us, O, save thy persecuted suppliants!"
She flung herself at his feet and clasped his knees.