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Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens

Part 4 out of 4

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a demure lady of fifty-five or so, looking back, every now and
then, to assure herself that her legs were properly disposed!

There were such odd differences in the speed of different people,
too. Some got on as if they were doing a match against time;
others stopped to say a prayer on every step. This man touched
every stair with his forehead, and kissed it; that man scratched
his head all the way. The boys got on brilliantly, and were up and
down again before the old lady had accomplished her half-dozen
stairs. But most of the penitents came down, very sprightly and
fresh, as having done a real good substantial deed which it would
take a good deal of sin to counterbalance; and the old gentleman in
the watch-box was down upon them with his canister while they were
in this humour, I promise you.

As if such a progress were not in its nature inevitably droll
enough, there lay, on the top of the stairs, a wooden figure on a
crucifix, resting on a sort of great iron saucer: so rickety and
unsteady, that whenever an enthusiastic person kissed the figure,
with more than usual devotion, or threw a coin into the saucer,
with more than common readiness (for it served in this respect as a
second or supplementary canister), it gave a great leap and rattle,
and nearly shook the attendant lamp out: horribly frightening the
people further down, and throwing the guilty party into unspeakable
embarrassment.

On Easter Sunday, as well as on the preceding Thursday, the Pope
bestows his benediction on the people, from the balcony in front of
St. Peter's. This Easter Sunday was a day so bright and blue: so
cloudless, balmy, wonderfully bright: that all the previous bad
weather vanished from the recollection in a moment. I had seen the
Thursday's Benediction dropping damply on some hundreds of
umbrellas, but there was not a sparkle then, in all the hundred
fountains of Rome--such fountains as they are!--and on this Sunday
morning they were running diamonds. The miles of miserable streets
through which we drove (compelled to a certain course by the Pope's
dragoons: the Roman police on such occasions) were so full of
colour, that nothing in them was capable of wearing a faded aspect.
The common people came out in their gayest dresses; the richer
people in their smartest vehicles; Cardinals rattled to the church
of the Poor Fishermen in their state carriages; shabby magnificence
flaunted its thread-bare liveries and tarnished cocked hats, in the
sun; and every coach in Rome was put in requisition for the Great
Piazza of St. Peter's.

One hundred and fifty thousand people were there at least! Yet
there was ample room. How many carriages were there, I don't know;
yet there was room for them too, and to spare. The great steps of
the church were densely crowded. There were many of the Contadini,
from Albano (who delight in red), in that part of the square, and
the mingling of bright colours in the crowd was beautiful. Below
the steps the troops were ranged. In the magnificent proportions
of the place they looked like a bed of flowers. Sulky Romans,
lively peasants from the neighbouring country, groups of pilgrims
from distant parts of Italy, sight-seeing foreigners of all
nations, made a murmur in the clear air, like so many insects; and
high above them all, plashing and bubbling, and making rainbow
colours in the light, the two delicious fountains welled and
tumbled bountifully.

A kind of bright carpet was hung over the front of the balcony; and
the sides of the great window were bedecked with crimson drapery.
An awning was stretched, too, over the top, to screen the old man
from the hot rays of the sun. As noon approached, all eyes were
turned up to this window. In due time, the chair was seen
approaching to the front, with the gigantic fans of peacock's
feathers, close behind. The doll within it (for the balcony is
very high) then rose up, and stretched out its tiny arms, while all
the male spectators in the square uncovered, and some, but not by
any means the greater part, kneeled down. The guns upon the
ramparts of the Castle of St. Angelo proclaimed, next moment, that
the benediction was given; drums beat; trumpets sounded; arms
clashed; and the great mass below, suddenly breaking into smaller
heaps, and scattering here and there in rills, was stirred like
parti-coloured sand.

What a bright noon it was, as we rode away! The Tiber was no
longer yellow, but blue. There was a blush on the old bridges,
that made them fresh and hale again. The Pantheon, with its
majestic front, all seamed and furrowed like an old face, had
summer light upon its battered walls. Every squalid and desolate
hut in the Eternal City (bear witness every grim old palace, to the
filth and misery of the plebeian neighbour that elbows it, as
certain as Time has laid its grip on its patrician head!) was fresh
and new with some ray of the sun. The very prison in the crowded
street, a whirl of carriages and people, had some stray sense of
the day, dropping through its chinks and crevices: and dismal
prisoners who could not wind their faces round the barricading of
the blocked-up windows, stretched out their hands, and clinging to
the rusty bars, turned THEM towards the overflowing street: as if
it were a cheerful fire, and could be shared in, that way.

But, when the night came on, without a cloud to dim the full moon,
what a sight it was to see the Great Square full once more, and the
whole church, from the cross to the ground, lighted with
innumerable lanterns, tracing out the architecture, and winking and
shining all round the colonnade of the piazza! And what a sense of
exultation, joy, delight, it was, when the great bell struck half-
past seven--on the instant--to behold one bright red mass of fire,
soar gallantly from the top of the cupola to the extremest summit
of the cross, and the moment it leaped into its place, become the
signal of a bursting out of countless lights, as great, and red,
and blazing as itself, from every part of the gigantic church; so
that every cornice, capital, and smallest ornament of stone,
expressed itself in fire: and the black, solid groundwork of the
enormous dome seemed to grow transparent as an egg-shell!

A train of gunpowder, an electric chain--nothing could be fired,
more suddenly and swiftly, than this second illumination; and when
we had got away, and gone upon a distant height, and looked towards
it two hours afterwards, there it still stood, shining and
glittering in the calm night like a jewel! Not a line of its
proportions wanting; not an angle blunted; not an atom of its
radiance lost.

The next night--Easter Monday--there was a great display of
fireworks from the Castle of St. Angelo. We hired a room in an
opposite house, and made our way, to our places, in good time,
through a dense mob of people choking up the square in front, and
all the avenues leading to it; and so loading the bridge by which
the castle is approached, that it seemed ready to sink into the
rapid Tiber below. There are statues on this bridge (execrable
works), and, among them, great vessels full of burning tow were
placed: glaring strangely on the faces of the crowd, and not less
strangely on the stone counterfeits above them.

The show began with a tremendous discharge of cannon; and then, for
twenty minutes or half an hour, the whole castle was one incessant
sheet of fire, and labyrinth of blazing wheels of every colour,
size, and speed: while rockets streamed into the sky, not by ones
or twos, or scores, but hundreds at a time. The concluding burst--
the Girandola--was like the blowing up into the air of the whole
massive castle, without smoke or dust.

In half an hour afterwards, the immense concourse had dispersed;
the moon was looking calmly down upon her wrinkled image in the
river; and half-a-dozen men and boys, with bits of lighted candle
in their hands: moving here and there, in search of anything worth
having, that might have been dropped in the press: had the whole
scene to themselves.

By way of contrast we rode out into old ruined Rome, after all this
firing and booming, to take our leave of the Coliseum. I had seen
it by moonlight before (I could never get through a day without
going back to it), but its tremendous solitude that night is past
all telling. The ghostly pillars in the Forum; the Triumphal
Arches of Old Emperors; those enormous masses of ruins which were
once their palaces; the grass-grown mounds that mark the graves of
ruined temples; the stones of the Via Sacra, smooth with the tread
of feet in ancient Rome; even these were dimmed, in their
transcendent melancholy, by the dark ghost of its bloody holidays,
erect and grim; haunting the old scene; despoiled by pillaging
Popes and fighting Princes, but not laid; wringing wild hands of
weed, and grass, and bramble; and lamenting to the night in every
gap and broken arch--the shadow of its awful self, immovable!

As we lay down on the grass of the Campagna, next day, on our way
to Florence, hearing the larks sing, we saw that a little wooden
cross had been erected on the spot where the poor Pilgrim Countess
was murdered. So, we piled some loose stones about it, as the
beginning of a mound to her memory, and wondered if we should ever
rest there again, and look back at Rome.

CHAPTER XI--A RAPID DIORAMA

We are bound for Naples! And we cross the threshold of the Eternal
City at yonder gate, the Gate of San Giovanni Laterano, where the
two last objects that attract the notice of a departing visitor,
and the two first objects that attract the notice of an arriving
one, are a proud church and a decaying ruin--good emblems of Rome.

Our way lies over the Campagna, which looks more solemn on a bright
blue day like this, than beneath a darker sky; the great extent of
ruin being plainer to the eye: and the sunshine through the arches
of the broken aqueducts, showing other broken arches shining
through them in the melancholy distance. When we have traversed
it, and look back from Albano, its dark, undulating surface lies
below us like a stagnant lake, or like a broad, dull Lethe flowing
round the walls of Rome, and separating it from all the world! How
often have the Legions, in triumphant march, gone glittering across
that purple waste, so silent and unpeopled now! How often has the
train of captives looked, with sinking hearts, upon the distant
city, and beheld its population pouring out, to hail the return of
their conqueror! What riot, sensuality and murder, have run mad in
the vast palaces now heaps of brick and shattered marble! What
glare of fires, and roar of popular tumult, and wail of pestilence
and famine, have come sweeping over the wild plain where nothing is
now heard but the wind, and where the solitary lizards gambol
unmolested in the sun!

The train of wine-carts going into Rome, each driven by a shaggy
peasant reclining beneath a little gipsy-fashioned canopy of sheep-
skin, is ended now, and we go toiling up into a higher country
where there are trees. The next day brings us on the Pontine
Marshes, wearily flat and lonesome, and overgrown with brushwood,
and swamped with water, but with a fine road made across them,
shaded by a long, long avenue. Here and there, we pass a solitary
guard-house; here and there a hovel, deserted, and walled up. Some
herdsmen loiter on the banks of the stream beside the road, and
sometimes a flat-bottomed boat, towed by a man, comes rippling idly
along it. A horseman passes occasionally, carrying a long gun
cross-wise on the saddle before him, and attended by fierce dogs;
but there is nothing else astir save the wind and the shadows,
until we come in sight of Terracina.

How blue and bright the sea, rolling below the windows of the inn
so famous in robber stories! How picturesque the great crags and
points of rock overhanging to-morrow's narrow road, where galley-
slaves are working in the quarries above, and the sentinels who
guard them lounge on the sea-shore! All night there is the murmur
of the sea beneath the stars; and, in the morning, just at
daybreak, the prospect suddenly becoming expanded, as if by a
miracle, reveals--in the far distance, across the sea there!--
Naples with its islands, and Vesuvius spouting fire! Within a
quarter of an hour, the whole is gone as if it were a vision in the
clouds, and there is nothing but the sea and sky.

The Neapolitan frontier crossed, after two hours' travelling; and
the hungriest of soldiers and custom-house officers with difficulty
appeased; we enter, by a gateless portal, into the first Neapolitan
town--Fondi. Take note of Fondi, in the name of all that is
wretched and beggarly.

A filthy channel of mud and refuse meanders down the centre of the
miserable streets, fed by obscene rivulets that trickle from the
abject houses. There is not a door, a window, or a shutter; not a
roof, a wall, a post, or a pillar, in all Fondi, but is decayed,
and crazy, and rotting away. The wretched history of the town,
with all its sieges and pillages by Barbarossa and the rest, might
have been acted last year. How the gaunt dogs that sneak about the
miserable streets, come to be alive, and undevoured by the people,
is one of the enigmas of the world.

A hollow-cheeked and scowling people they are! All beggars; but
that's nothing. Look at them as they gather round. Some, are too
indolent to come down-stairs, or are too wisely mistrustful of the
stairs, perhaps, to venture: so stretch out their lean hands from
upper windows, and howl; others, come flocking about us, fighting
and jostling one another, and demanding, incessantly, charity for
the love of God, charity for the love of the Blessed Virgin,
charity for the love of all the Saints. A group of miserable
children, almost naked, screaming forth the same petition, discover
that they can see themselves reflected in the varnish of the
carriage, and begin to dance and make grimaces, that they may have
the pleasure of seeing their antics repeated in this mirror. A
crippled idiot, in the act of striking one of them who drowns his
clamorous demand for charity, observes his angry counterpart in the
panel, stops short, and thrusting out his tongue, begins to wag his
head and chatter. The shrill cry raised at this, awakens half-a-
dozen wild creatures wrapped in frowsy brown cloaks, who are lying
on the church-steps with pots and pans for sale. These, scrambling
up, approach, and beg defiantly. 'I am hungry. Give me something.
Listen to me, Signor. I am hungry!' Then, a ghastly old woman,
fearful of being too late, comes hobbling down the street,
stretching out one hand, and scratching herself all the way with
the other, and screaming, long before she can be heard, 'Charity,
charity! I'll go and pray for you directly, beautiful lady, if
you'll give me charity!' Lastly, the members of a brotherhood for
burying the dead: hideously masked, and attired in shabby black
robes, white at the skirts, with the splashes of many muddy
winters: escorted by a dirty priest, and a congenial cross-bearer:
come hurrying past. Surrounded by this motley concourse, we move
out of Fondi: bad bright eyes glaring at us, out of the darkness
of every crazy tenement, like glistening fragments of its filth and
putrefaction.

A noble mountain-pass, with the ruins of a fort on a strong
eminence, traditionally called the Fort of Fra Diavolo; the old
town of Itri, like a device in pastry, built up, almost
perpendicularly, on a hill, and approached by long steep flights of
steps; beautiful Mola di Gaeta, whose wines, like those of Albano,
have degenerated since the days of Horace, or his taste for wine
was bad: which is not likely of one who enjoyed it so much, and
extolled it so well; another night upon the road at St. Agatha; a
rest next day at Capua, which is picturesque, but hardly so
seductive to a traveller now, as the soldiers of Praetorian Rome
were wont to find the ancient city of that name; a flat road among
vines festooned and looped from tree to tree; and Mount Vesuvius
close at hand at last!--its cone and summit whitened with snow; and
its smoke hanging over it, in the heavy atmosphere of the day, like
a dense cloud. So we go, rattling down hill, into Naples.

A funeral is coming up the street, towards us. The body, on an
open bier, borne on a kind of palanquin, covered with a gay cloth
of crimson and gold. The mourners, in white gowns and masks. If
there be death abroad, life is well represented too, for all Naples
would seem to be out of doors, and tearing to and fro in carriages.
Some of these, the common Vetturino vehicles, are drawn by three
horses abreast, decked with smart trappings and great abundance of
brazen ornament, and always going very fast. Not that their loads
are light; for the smallest of them has at least six people inside,
four in front, four or five more hanging on behind, and two or
three more, in a net or bag below the axle-tree, where they lie
half-suffocated with mud and dust. Exhibitors of Punch, buffo
singers with guitars, reciters of poetry, reciters of stories, a
row of cheap exhibitions with clowns and showmen, drums, and
trumpets, painted cloths representing the wonders within, and
admiring crowds assembled without, assist the whirl and bustle.
Ragged lazzaroni lie asleep in doorways, archways, and kennels; the
gentry, gaily dressed, are dashing up and down in carriages on the
Chiaji, or walking in the Public Gardens; and quiet letter-writers,
perched behind their little desks and inkstands under the Portico
of the Great Theatre of San Carlo, in the public street, are
waiting for clients.

Here is a galley-slave in chains, who wants a letter written to a
friend. He approaches a clerkly-looking man, sitting under the
corner arch, and makes his bargain. He has obtained permission of
the sentinel who guards him: who stands near, leaning against the
wall and cracking nuts. The galley-slave dictates in the ear of
the letter-writer, what he desires to say; and as he can't read
writing, looks intently in his face, to read there whether he sets
down faithfully what he is told. After a time, the galley-slave
becomes discursive--incoherent. The secretary pauses and rubs his
chin. The galley-slave is voluble and energetic. The secretary,
at length, catches the idea, and with the air of a man who knows
how to word it, sets it down; stopping, now and then, to glance
back at his text admiringly. The galley-slave is silent. The
soldier stoically cracks his nuts. Is there anything more to say?
inquires the letter-writer. No more. Then listen, friend of mine.
He reads it through. The galley-slave is quite enchanted. It is
folded, and addressed, and given to him, and he pays the fee. The
secretary falls back indolently in his chair, and takes a book.
The galley-slave gathers up an empty sack. The sentinel throws
away a handful of nut-shells, shoulders his musket, and away they
go together.

Why do the beggars rap their chins constantly, with their right
hands, when you look at them? Everything is done in pantomime in
Naples, and that is the conventional sign for hunger. A man who is
quarrelling with another, yonder, lays the palm of his right hand
on the back of his left, and shakes the two thumbs--expressive of a
donkey's ears--whereat his adversary is goaded to desperation. Two
people bargaining for fish, the buyer empties an imaginary
waistcoat pocket when he is told the price, and walks away without
a word: having thoroughly conveyed to the seller that he considers
it too dear. Two people in carriages, meeting, one touches his
lips, twice or thrice, holding up the five fingers of his right
hand, and gives a horizontal cut in the air with the palm. The
other nods briskly, and goes his way. He has been invited to a
friendly dinner at half-past five o'clock, and will certainly come.

All over Italy, a peculiar shake of the right hand from the wrist,
with the forefinger stretched out, expresses a negative--the only
negative beggars will ever understand. But, in Naples, those five
fingers are a copious language.

All this, and every other kind of out-door life and stir, and
macaroni-eating at sunset, and flower-selling all day long, and
begging and stealing everywhere and at all hours, you see upon the
bright sea-shore, where the waves of the bay sparkle merrily. But,
lovers and hunters of the picturesque, let us not keep too
studiously out of view the miserable depravity, degradation, and
wretchedness, with which this gay Neapolitan life is inseparably
associated! It is not well to find Saint Giles's so repulsive, and
the Porta Capuana so attractive. A pair of naked legs and a ragged
red scarf, do not make ALL the difference between what is
interesting and what is coarse and odious? Painting and poetising
for ever, if you will, the beauties of this most beautiful and
lovely spot of earth, let us, as our duty, try to associate a new
picturesque with some faint recognition of man's destiny and
capabilities; more hopeful, I believe, among the ice and snow of
the North Pole, than in the sun and bloom of Naples.

Capri--once made odious by the deified beast Tiberius--Ischia,
Procida, and the thousand distant beauties of the Bay, lie in the
blue sea yonder, changing in the mist and sunshine twenty times a-
day: now close at hand, now far off, now unseen. The fairest
country in the world, is spread about us. Whether we turn towards
the Miseno shore of the splendid watery amphitheatre, and go by the
Grotto of Posilipo to the Grotto del Cane and away to Baiae: or
take the other way, towards Vesuvius and Sorrento, it is one
succession of delights. In the last-named direction, where, over
doors and archways, there are countless little images of San
Gennaro, with his Canute's hand stretched out, to check the fury of
the Burning Mountain, we are carried pleasantly, by a railroad on
the beautiful Sea Beach, past the town of Torre del Greco, built
upon the ashes of the former town destroyed by an eruption of
Vesuvius, within a hundred years; and past the flat-roofed houses,
granaries, and macaroni manufactories; to Castel-a-Mare, with its
ruined castle, now inhabited by fishermen, standing in the sea upon
a heap of rocks. Here, the railroad terminates; but, hence we may
ride on, by an unbroken succession of enchanting bays, and
beautiful scenery, sloping from the highest summit of Saint Angelo,
the highest neighbouring mountain, down to the water's edge--among
vineyards, olive-trees, gardens of oranges and lemons, orchards,
heaped-up rocks, green gorges in the hills--and by the bases of
snow-covered heights, and through small towns with handsome, dark-
haired women at the doors--and pass delicious summer villas--to
Sorrento, where the Poet Tasso drew his inspiration from the beauty
surrounding him. Returning, we may climb the heights above Castel-
a-Mare, and looking down among the boughs and leaves, see the crisp
water glistening in the sun; and clusters of white houses in
distant Naples, dwindling, in the great extent of prospect, down to
dice. The coming back to the city, by the beach again, at sunset:
with the glowing sea on one side, and the darkening mountain, with
its smoke and flame, upon the other: is a sublime conclusion to
the glory of the day.

That church by the Porta Capuana--near the old fisher-market in the
dirtiest quarter of dirty Naples, where the revolt of Masaniello
began--is memorable for having been the scene of one of his
earliest proclamations to the people, and is particularly
remarkable for nothing else, unless it be its waxen and bejewelled
Saint in a glass case, with two odd hands; or the enormous number
of beggars who are constantly rapping their chins there, like a
battery of castanets. The cathedral with the beautiful door, and
the columns of African and Egyptian granite that once ornamented
the temple of Apollo, contains the famous sacred blood of San
Gennaro or Januarius: which is preserved in two phials in a silver
tabernacle, and miraculously liquefies three times a-year, to the
great admiration of the people. At the same moment, the stone
(distant some miles) where the Saint suffered martyrdom, becomes
faintly red. It is said that the officiating priests turn faintly
red also, sometimes, when these miracles occur.

The old, old men who live in hovels at the entrance of these
ancient catacombs, and who, in their age and infirmity, seem
waiting here, to be buried themselves, are members of a curious
body, called the Royal Hospital, who are the official attendants at
funerals. Two of these old spectres totter away, with lighted
tapers, to show the caverns of death--as unconcerned as if they
were immortal. They were used as burying-places for three hundred
years; and, in one part, is a large pit full of skulls and bones,
said to be the sad remains of a great mortality occasioned by a
plague. In the rest there is nothing but dust. They consist,
chiefly, of great wide corridors and labyrinths, hewn out of the
rock. At the end of some of these long passages, are unexpected
glimpses of the daylight, shining down from above. It looks as
ghastly and as strange; among the torches, and the dust, and the
dark vaults: as if it, too, were dead and buried.

The present burial-place lies out yonder, on a hill between the
city and Vesuvius. The old Campo Santo with its three hundred and
sixty-five pits, is only used for those who die in hospitals, and
prisons, and are unclaimed by their friends. The graceful new
cemetery, at no great distance from it, though yet unfinished, has
already many graves among its shrubs and flowers, and airy
colonnades. It might be reasonably objected elsewhere, that some
of the tombs are meretricious and too fanciful; but the general
brightness seems to justify it here; and Mount Vesuvius, separated
from them by a lovely slope of ground, exalts and saddens the
scene.

If it be solemn to behold from this new City of the Dead, with its
dark smoke hanging in the clear sky, how much more awful and
impressive is it, viewed from the ghostly ruins of Herculaneum and
Pompeii!

Stand at the bottom of the great market-place of Pompeii, and look
up the silent streets, through the ruined temples of Jupiter and
Isis, over the broken houses with their inmost sanctuaries open to
the day, away to Mount Vesuvius, bright and snowy in the peaceful
distance; and lose all count of time, and heed of other things, in
the strange and melancholy sensation of seeing the Destroyed and
the Destroyer making this quiet picture in the sun. Then, ramble
on, and see, at every turn, the little familiar tokens of human
habitation and every-day pursuits; the chafing of the bucket-rope
in the stone rim of the exhausted well; the track of carriage-
wheels in the pavement of the street; the marks of drinking-vessels
on the stone counter of the wine-shop; the amphorae in private
cellars, stored away so many hundred years ago, and undisturbed to
this hour--all rendering the solitude and deadly lonesomeness of
the place, ten thousand times more solemn, than if the volcano, in
its fury, had swept the city from the earth, and sunk it in the
bottom of the sea.

After it was shaken by the earthquake which preceded the eruption,
workmen were employed in shaping out, in stone, new ornaments for
temples and other buildings that had suffered. Here lies their
work, outside the city gate, as if they would return to-morrow.

In the cellar of Diomede's house, where certain skeletons were
found huddled together, close to the door, the impression of their
bodies on the ashes, hardened with the ashes, and became stamped
and fixed there, after they had shrunk, inside, to scanty bones.
So, in the theatre of Herculaneum, a comic mask, floating on the
stream when it was hot and liquid, stamped its mimic features in it
as it hardened into stone; and now, it turns upon the stranger the
fantastic look it turned upon the audiences in that same theatre
two thousand years ago.

Next to the wonder of going up and down the streets, and in and out
of the houses, and traversing the secret chambers of the temples of
a religion that has vanished from the earth, and finding so many
fresh traces of remote antiquity: as if the course of Time had
been stopped after this desolation, and there had been no nights
and days, months, years, and centuries, since: nothing is more
impressive and terrible than the many evidences of the searching
nature of the ashes, as bespeaking their irresistible power, and
the impossibility of escaping them. In the wine-cellars, they
forced their way into the earthen vessels: displacing the wine and
choking them, to the brim, with dust. In the tombs, they forced
the ashes of the dead from the funeral urns, and rained new ruin
even into them. The mouths, and eyes, and skulls of all the
skeletons, were stuffed with this terrible hail. In Herculaneum,
where the flood was of a different and a heavier kind, it rolled
in, like a sea. Imagine a deluge of water turned to marble, at its
height--and that is what is called 'the lava' here.

Some workmen were digging the gloomy well on the brink of which we
now stand, looking down, when they came on some of the stone
benches of the theatre--those steps (for such they seem) at the
bottom of the excavation--and found the buried city of Herculaneum.
Presently going down, with lighted torches, we are perplexed by
great walls of monstrous thickness, rising up between the benches,
shutting out the stage, obtruding their shapeless forms in absurd
places, confusing the whole plan, and making it a disordered dream.
We cannot, at first, believe, or picture to ourselves, that THIS
came rolling in, and drowned the city; and that all that is not
here, has been cut away, by the axe, like solid stone. But this
perceived and understood, the horror and oppression of its presence
are indescribable.

Many of the paintings on the walls in the roofless chambers of both
cities, or carefully removed to the museum at Naples, are as fresh
and plain, as if they had been executed yesterday. Here are
subjects of still life, as provisions, dead game, bottles, glasses,
and the like; familiar classical stories, or mythological fables,
always forcibly and plainly told; conceits of cupids, quarrelling,
sporting, working at trades; theatrical rehearsals; poets reading
their productions to their friends; inscriptions chalked upon the
walls; political squibs, advertisements, rough drawings by
schoolboys; everything to people and restore the ancient cities, in
the fancy of their wondering visitor. Furniture, too, you see, of
every kind--lamps, tables, couches; vessels for eating, drinking,
and cooking; workmen's tools, surgical instruments, tickets for the
theatre, pieces of money, personal ornaments, bunches of keys found
clenched in the grasp of skeletons, helmets of guards and warriors;
little household bells, yet musical with their old domestic tones.

The least among these objects, lends its aid to swell the interest
of Vesuvius, and invest it with a perfect fascination. The
looking, from either ruined city, into the neighbouring grounds
overgrown with beautiful vines and luxuriant trees; and remembering
that house upon house, temple on temple, building after building,
and street after street, are still lying underneath the roots of
all the quiet cultivation, waiting to be turned up to the light of
day; is something so wonderful, so full of mystery, so captivating
to the imagination, that one would think it would be paramount, and
yield to nothing else. To nothing but Vesuvius; but the mountain
is the genius of the scene. From every indication of the ruin it
has worked, we look, again, with an absorbing interest to where its
smoke is rising up into the sky. It is beyond us, as we thread the
ruined streets: above us, as we stand upon the ruined walls, we
follow it through every vista of broken columns, as we wander
through the empty court-yards of the houses; and through the
garlandings and interlacings of every wanton vine. Turning away to
Paestum yonder, to see the awful structures built, the least aged
of them, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, and standing
yet, erect in lonely majesty, upon the wild, malaria-blighted
plain--we watch Vesuvius as it disappears from the prospect, and
watch for it again, on our return, with the same thrill of
interest: as the doom and destiny of all this beautiful country,
biding its terrible time.

It is very warm in the sun, on this early spring-day, when we
return from Paestum, but very cold in the shade: insomuch, that
although we may lunch, pleasantly, at noon, in the open air, by the
gate of Pompeii, the neighbouring rivulet supplies thick ice for
our wine. But, the sun is shining brightly; there is not a cloud
or speck of vapour in the whole blue sky, looking down upon the bay
of Naples; and the moon will be at the full to-night. No matter
that the snow and ice lie thick upon the summit of Vesuvius, or
that we have been on foot all day at Pompeii, or that croakers
maintain that strangers should not be on the mountain by night, in
such an unusual season. Let us take advantage of the fine weather;
make the best of our way to Resina, the little village at the foot
of the mountain; prepare ourselves, as well as we can, on so short
a notice, at the guide's house; ascend at once, and have sunset
half-way up, moonlight at the top, and midnight to come down in!

At four o'clock in the afternoon, there is a terrible uproar in the
little stable-yard of Signior Salvatore, the recognised head-guide,
with the gold band round his cap; and thirty under-guides who are
all scuffling and screaming at once, are preparing half-a-dozen
saddled ponies, three litters, and some stout staves, for the
journey. Every one of the thirty, quarrels with the other twenty-
nine, and frightens the six ponies; and as much of the village as
can possibly squeeze itself into the little stable-yard,
participates in the tumult, and gets trodden on by the cattle.

After much violent skirmishing, and more noise than would suffice
for the storming of Naples, the procession starts. The head-guide,
who is liberally paid for all the attendants, rides a little in
advance of the party; the other thirty guides proceed on foot.
Eight go forward with the litters that are to be used by-and-by;
and the remaining two-and-twenty beg.

We ascend, gradually, by stony lanes like rough broad flights of
stairs, for some time. At length, we leave these, and the
vineyards on either side of them, and emerge upon a bleak bare
region where the lava lies confusedly, in enormous rusty masses; as
if the earth had been ploughed up by burning thunderbolts. And
now, we halt to see the sun set. The change that falls upon the
dreary region, and on the whole mountain, as its red light fades,
and the night comes on--and the unutterable solemnity and
dreariness that reign around, who that has witnessed it, can ever
forget!

It is dark, when after winding, for some time, over the broken
ground, we arrive at the foot of the cone: which is extremely
steep, and seems to rise, almost perpendicularly, from the spot
where we dismount. The only light is reflected from the snow,
deep, hard, and white, with which the cone is covered. It is now
intensely cold, and the air is piercing. The thirty-one have
brought no torches, knowing that the moon will rise before we reach
the top. Two of the litters are devoted to the two ladies; the
third, to a rather heavy gentleman from Naples, whose hospitality
and good-nature have attached him to the expedition, and determined
him to assist in doing the honours of the mountain. The rather
heavy gentleman is carried by fifteen men; each of the ladies by
half-a-dozen. We who walk, make the best use of our staves; and so
the whole party begin to labour upward over the snow,--as if they
were toiling to the summit of an antediluvian Twelfth-cake.

We are a long time toiling up; and the head-guide looks oddly about
him when one of the company--not an Italian, though an habitue of
the mountain for many years: whom we will call, for our present
purpose, Mr. Pickle of Portici--suggests that, as it is freezing
hard, and the usual footing of ashes is covered by the snow and
ice, it will surely be difficult to descend. But the sight of the
litters above, tilting up and down, and jerking from this side to
that, as the bearers continually slip and tumble, diverts our
attention; more especially as the whole length of the rather heavy
gentleman is, at that moment, presented to us alarmingly
foreshortened, with his head downwards.

The rising of the moon soon afterwards, revives the flagging
spirits of the bearers. Stimulating each other with their usual
watchword, 'Courage, friend! It is to eat macaroni!' they press
on, gallantly, for the summit.

From tingeing the top of the snow above us, with a band of light,
and pouring it in a stream through the valley below, while we have
been ascending in the dark, the moon soon lights the whole white
mountain-side, and the broad sea down below, and tiny Naples in the
distance, and every village in the country round. The whole
prospect is in this lovely state, when we come upon the platform on
the mountain-top--the region of Fire--an exhausted crater formed of
great masses of gigantic cinders, like blocks of stone from some
tremendous waterfall, burnt up; from every chink and crevice of
which, hot, sulphurous smoke is pouring out: while, from another
conical-shaped hill, the present crater, rising abruptly from this
platform at the end, great sheets of fire are streaming forth:
reddening the night with flame, blackening it with smoke, and
spotting it with red-hot stones and cinders, that fly up into the
air like feathers, and fall down like lead. What words can paint
the gloom and grandeur of this scene!

The broken ground; the smoke; the sense of suffocation from the
sulphur: the fear of falling down through the crevices in the
yawning ground; the stopping, every now and then, for somebody who
is missing in the dark (for the dense smoke now obscures the moon);
the intolerable noise of the thirty; and the hoarse roaring of the
mountain; make it a scene of such confusion, at the same time, that
we reel again. But, dragging the ladies through it, and across
another exhausted crater to the foot of the present Volcano, we
approach close to it on the windy side, and then sit down among the
hot ashes at its foot, and look up in silence; faintly estimating
the action that is going on within, from its being full a hundred
feet higher, at this minute, than it was six weeks ago.

There is something in the fire and roar, that generates an
irresistible desire to get nearer to it. We cannot rest long,
without starting off, two of us, on our hands and knees,
accompanied by the head-guide, to climb to the brim of the flaming
crater, and try to look in. Meanwhile, the thirty yell, as with
one voice, that it is a dangerous proceeding, and call to us to
come back; frightening the rest of the party out of their wits.

What with their noise, and what with the trembling of the thin
crust of ground, that seems about to open underneath our feet and
plunge us in the burning gulf below (which is the real danger, if
there be any); and what with the flashing of the fire in our faces,
and the shower of red-hot ashes that is raining down, and the
choking smoke and sulphur; we may well feel giddy and irrational,
like drunken men. But, we contrive to climb up to the brim, and
look down, for a moment, into the Hell of boiling fire below.
Then, we all three come rolling down; blackened, and singed, and
scorched, and hot, and giddy: and each with his dress alight in
half-a-dozen places.

You have read, a thousand times, that the usual way of descending,
is, by sliding down the ashes: which, forming a gradually-
increasing ledge below the feet, prevent too rapid a descent. But,
when we have crossed the two exhausted craters on our way back and
are come to this precipitous place, there is (as Mr. Pickle has
foretold) no vestige of ashes to be seen; the whole being a smooth
sheet of ice.

In this dilemma, ten or a dozen of the guides cautiously join
hands, and make a chain of men; of whom the foremost beat, as well
as they can, a rough track with their sticks, down which we prepare
to follow. The way being fearfully steep, and none of the party:
even of the thirty: being able to keep their feet for six paces
together, the ladies are taken out of their litters, and placed,
each between two careful persons; while others of the thirty hold
by their skirts, to prevent their falling forward--a necessary
precaution, tending to the immediate and hopeless dilapidation of
their apparel. The rather heavy gentleman is abjured to leave his
litter too, and be escorted in a similar manner; but he resolves to
be brought down as he was brought up, on the principle that his
fifteen bearers are not likely to tumble all at once, and that he
is safer so, than trusting to his own legs.

In this order, we begin the descent: sometimes on foot, sometimes
shuffling on the ice: always proceeding much more quietly and
slowly, than on our upward way: and constantly alarmed by the
falling among us of somebody from behind, who endangers the footing
of the whole party, and clings pertinaciously to anybody's ankles.
It is impossible for the litter to be in advance, too, as the track
has to be made; and its appearance behind us, overhead--with some
one or other of the bearers always down, and the rather heavy
gentleman with his legs always in the air--is very threatening and
frightful. We have gone on thus, a very little way, painfully and
anxiously, but quite merrily, and regarding it as a great success--
and have all fallen several times, and have all been stopped,
somehow or other, as we were sliding away--when Mr. Pickle of
Portici, in the act of remarking on these uncommon circumstances as
quite beyond his experience, stumbles, falls, disengages himself,
with quick presence of mind, from those about him, plunges away
head foremost, and rolls, over and over, down the whole surface of
the cone!

Sickening as it is to look, and be so powerless to help him, I see
him there, in the moonlight--I have had such a dream often--
skimming over the white ice, like a cannon-ball. Almost at the
same moment, there is a cry from behind; and a man who has carried
a light basket of spare cloaks on his head, comes rolling past, at
the same frightful speed, closely followed by a boy. At this
climax of the chapter of accidents, the remaining eight-and-twenty
vociferate to that degree, that a pack of wolves would be music to
them!

Giddy, and bloody, and a mere bundle of rags, is Pickle of Portici
when we reach the place where we dismounted, and where the horses
are waiting; but, thank God, sound in limb! And never are we
likely to be more glad to see a man alive and on his feet, than to
see him now--making light of it too, though sorely bruised and in
great pain. The boy is brought into the Hermitage on the Mountain,
while we are at supper, with his head tied up; and the man is heard
of, some hours afterwards. He too is bruised and stunned, but has
broken no bones; the snow having, fortunately, covered all the
larger blocks of rock and stone, and rendered them harmless.

After a cheerful meal, and a good rest before a blazing fire, we
again take horse, and continue our descent to Salvatore's house--
very slowly, by reason of our bruised friend being hardly able to
keep the saddle, or endure the pain of motion. Though it is so
late at night, or early in the morning, all the people of the
village are waiting about the little stable-yard when we arrive,
and looking up the road by which we are expected. Our appearance
is hailed with a great clamour of tongues, and a general sensation
for which in our modesty we are somewhat at a loss to account,
until, turning into the yard, we find that one of a party of French
gentlemen who were on the mountain at the same time is lying on
some straw in the stable, with a broken limb: looking like Death,
and suffering great torture; and that we were confidently supposed
to have encountered some worse accident.

So 'well returned, and Heaven be praised!' as the cheerful
Vetturino, who has borne us company all the way from Pisa, says,
with all his heart! And away with his ready horses, into sleeping
Naples!

It wakes again to Policinelli and pickpockets, buffo singers and
beggars, rags, puppets, flowers, brightness, dirt, and universal
degradation; airing its Harlequin suit in the sunshine, next day
and every day; singing, starving, dancing, gaming, on the sea-
shore; and leaving all labour to the burning mountain, which is
ever at its work.

Our English dilettanti would be very pathetic on the subject of the
national taste, if they could hear an Italian opera half as badly
sung in England as we may hear the Foscari performed, to-night, in
the splendid theatre of San Carlo. But, for astonishing truth and
spirit in seizing and embodying the real life about it, the shabby
little San Carlino Theatre--the rickety house one story high, with
a staring picture outside: down among the drums and trumpets, and
the tumblers, and the lady conjurer--is without a rival anywhere.

There is one extraordinary feature in the real life of Naples, at
which we may take a glance before we go--the Lotteries.

They prevail in most parts of Italy, but are particularly obvious,
in their effects and influences, here. They are drawn every
Saturday. They bring an immense revenue to the Government; and
diffuse a taste for gambling among the poorest of the poor, which
is very comfortable to the coffers of the State, and very ruinous
to themselves. The lowest stake is one grain; less than a
farthing. One hundred numbers--from one to a hundred, inclusive--
are put into a box. Five are drawn. Those are the prizes. I buy
three numbers. If one of them come up, I win a small prize. If
two, some hundreds of times my stake. If three, three thousand
five hundred times my stake. I stake (or play as they call it)
what I can upon my numbers, and buy what numbers I please. The
amount I play, I pay at the lottery office, where I purchase the
ticket; and it is stated on the ticket itself.

Every lottery office keeps a printed book, an Universal Lottery
Diviner, where every possible accident and circumstance is provided
for, and has a number against it. For instance, let us take two
carlini--about sevenpence. On our way to the lottery office, we
run against a black man. When we get there, we say gravely, 'The
Diviner.' It is handed over the counter, as a serious matter of
business. We look at black man. Such a number. 'Give us that.'
We look at running against a person in the street. 'Give us that.
' We look at the name of the street itself. 'Give us that.' Now,
we have our three numbers.

If the roof of the theatre of San Carlo were to fall in, so many
people would play upon the numbers attached to such an accident in
the Diviner, that the Government would soon close those numbers,
and decline to run the risk of losing any more upon them. This
often happens. Not long ago, when there was a fire in the King's
Palace, there was such a desperate run on fire, and king, and
palace, that further stakes on the numbers attached to those words
in the Golden Book were forbidden. Every accident or event, is
supposed, by the ignorant populace, to be a revelation to the
beholder, or party concerned, in connection with the lottery.
Certain people who have a talent for dreaming fortunately, are much
sought after; and there are some priests who are constantly
favoured with visions of the lucky numbers.

I heard of a horse running away with a man, and dashing him down,
dead, at the corner of a street. Pursuing the horse with
incredible speed, was another man, who ran so fast, that he came
up, immediately after the accident. He threw himself upon his
knees beside the unfortunate rider, and clasped his hand with an
expression of the wildest grief. 'If you have life,' he said,
'speak one word to me! If you have one gasp of breath left,
mention your age for Heaven's sake, that I may play that number in
the lottery.'

It is four o'clock in the afternoon, and we may go to see our
lottery drawn. The ceremony takes place every Saturday, in the
Tribunale, or Court of Justice--this singular, earthy-smelling
room, or gallery, as mouldy as an old cellar, and as damp as a
dungeon. At the upper end is a platform, with a large horse-shoe
table upon it; and a President and Council sitting round--all
judges of the Law. The man on the little stool behind the
President, is the Capo Lazzarone, a kind of tribune of the people,
appointed on their behalf to see that all is fairly conducted:
attended by a few personal friends. A ragged, swarthy fellow he
is: with long matted hair hanging down all over his face: and
covered, from head to foot, with most unquestionably genuine dirt.
All the body of the room is filled with the commonest of the
Neapolitan people: and between them and the platform, guarding the
steps leading to the latter, is a small body of soldiers.

There is some delay in the arrival of the necessary number of
judges; during which, the box, in which the numbers are being
placed, is a source of the deepest interest. When the box is full,
the boy who is to draw the numbers out of it becomes the prominent
feature of the proceedings. He is already dressed for his part, in
a tight brown Holland coat, with only one (the left) sleeve to it,
which leaves his right arm bared to the shoulder, ready for
plunging down into the mysterious chest.

During the hush and whisper that pervade the room, all eyes are
turned on this young minister of fortune. People begin to inquire
his age, with a view to the next lottery; and the number of his
brothers and sisters; and the age of his father and mother; and
whether he has any moles or pimples upon him; and where, and how
many; when the arrival of the last judge but one (a little old man,
universally dreaded as possessing the Evil Eye) makes a slight
diversion, and would occasion a greater one, but that he is
immediately deposed, as a source of interest, by the officiating
priest, who advances gravely to his place, followed by a very dirty
little boy, carrying his sacred vestments, and a pot of Holy Water.

Here is the last judge come at last, and now he takes his place at
the horse-shoe table.

There is a murmur of irrepressible agitation. In the midst of it,
the priest puts his head into the sacred vestments, and pulls the
same over his shoulders. Then he says a silent prayer; and dipping
a brush into the pot of Holy Water, sprinkles it over the box--and
over the boy, and gives them a double-barrelled blessing, which the
box and the boy are both hoisted on the table to receive. The boy
remaining on the table, the box is now carried round the front of
the platform, by an attendant, who holds it up and shakes it
lustily all the time; seeming to say, like the conjurer, 'There is
no deception, ladies and gentlemen; keep your eyes upon me, if you
please!'

At last, the box is set before the boy; and the boy, first holding
up his naked arm and open hand, dives down into the hole (it is
made like a ballot-box) and pulls out a number, which is rolled up,
round something hard, like a bonbon. This he hands to the judge
next him, who unrolls a little bit, and hands it to the President,
next to whom he sits. The President unrolls it, very slowly. The
Capo Lazzarone leans over his shoulder. The President holds it up,
unrolled, to the Capo Lazzarone. The Capo Lazzarone, looking at it
eagerly, cries out, in a shrill, loud voice, 'Sessantadue!' (sixty-
two), expressing the two upon his fingers, as he calls it out.
Alas! the Capo Lazzarone himself has not staked on sixty-two. His
face is very long, and his eyes roll wildly.

As it happens to be a favourite number, however, it is pretty well
received, which is not always the case. They are all drawn with
the same ceremony, omitting the blessing. One blessing is enough
for the whole multiplication-table. The only new incident in the
proceedings, is the gradually deepening intensity of the change in
the Cape Lazzarone, who has, evidently, speculated to the very
utmost extent of his means; and who, when he sees the last number,
and finds that it is not one of his, clasps his hands, and raises
his eyes to the ceiling before proclaiming it, as though
remonstrating, in a secret agony, with his patron saint, for having
committed so gross a breach of confidence. I hope the Capo
Lazzarone may not desert him for some other member of the Calendar,
but he seems to threaten it.

Where the winners may be, nobody knows. They certainly are not
present; the general disappointment filling one with pity for the
poor people. They look: when we stand aside, observing them, in
their passage through the court-yard down below: as miserable as
the prisoners in the gaol (it forms a part of the building), who
are peeping down upon them, from between their bars; or, as the
fragments of human heads which are still dangling in chains
outside, in memory of the good old times, when their owners were
strung up there, for the popular edification.

Away from Naples in a glorious sunrise, by the road to Capua, and
then on a three days' journey along by-roads, that we may see, on
the way, the monastery of Monte Cassino, which is perched on the
steep and lofty hill above the little town of San Germano, and is
lost on a misty morning in the clouds.

So much the better, for the deep sounding of its bell, which, as we
go winding up, on mules, towards the convent, is heard mysteriously
in the still air, while nothing is seen but the grey mist, moving
solemnly and slowly, like a funeral procession. Behold, at length
the shadowy pile of building close before us: its grey walls and
towers dimly seen, though so near and so vast: and the raw vapour
rolling through its cloisters heavily.

There are two black shadows walking to and fro in the quadrangle,
near the statues of the Patron Saint and his sister; and hopping on
behind them, in and out of the old arches, is a raven, croaking in
answer to the bell, and uttering, at intervals, the purest Tuscan.
How like a Jesuit he looks! There never was a sly and stealthy
fellow so at home as is this raven, standing now at the refectory
door, with his head on one side, and pretending to glance another
way, while he is scrutinizing the visitors keenly, and listening
with fixed attention. What a dull-headed monk the porter becomes
in comparison!

'He speaks like us!' says the porter: 'quite as plainly.' Quite
as plainly, Porter. Nothing could be more expressive than his
reception of the peasants who are entering the gate with baskets
and burdens. There is a roll in his eye, and a chuckle in his
throat, which should qualify him to be chosen Superior of an Order
of Ravens. He knows all about it. 'It's all right,' he says. 'We
know what we know. Come along, good people. Glad to see you!'
How was this extraordinary structure ever built in such a
situation, where the labour of conveying the stone, and iron, and
marble, so great a height, must have been prodigious? 'Caw!' says
the raven, welcoming the peasants. How, being despoiled by
plunder, fire and earthquake, has it risen from its ruins, and been
again made what we now see it, with its church so sumptuous and
magnificent? 'Caw!' says the raven, welcoming the peasants. These
people have a miserable appearance, and (as usual) are densely
ignorant, and all beg, while the monks are chaunting in the chapel.
'Caw!' says the raven, 'Cuckoo!'

So we leave him, chuckling and rolling his eye at the convent gate,
and wind slowly down again through the cloud. At last emerging
from it, we come in sight of the village far below, and the flat
green country intersected by rivulets; which is pleasant and fresh
to see after the obscurity and haze of the convent--no disrespect
to the raven, or the holy friars.

Away we go again, by muddy roads, and through the most shattered
and tattered of villages, where there is not a whole window among
all the houses, or a whole garment among all the peasants, or the
least appearance of anything to eat, in any of the wretched
hucksters' shops. The women wear a bright red bodice laced before
and behind, a white skirt, and the Neapolitan head-dress of square
folds of linen, primitively meant to carry loads on. The men and
children wear anything they can get. The soldiers are as dirty and
rapacious as the dogs. The inns are such hobgoblin places, that
they are infinitely more attractive and amusing than the best
hotels in Paris. Here is one near Valmontone (that is Valmontone
the round, walled town on the mount opposite), which is approached
by a quagmire almost knee-deep. There is a wild colonnade below,
and a dark yard full of empty stables and lofts, and a great long
kitchen with a great long bench and a great long form, where a
party of travellers, with two priests among them, are crowding
round the fire while their supper is cooking. Above stairs, is a
rough brick gallery to sit in, with very little windows with very
small patches of knotty glass in them, and all the doors that open
from it (a dozen or two) off their hinges, and a bare board on
tressels for a table, at which thirty people might dine easily, and
a fireplace large enough in itself for a breakfast-parlour, where,
as the faggots blaze and crackle, they illuminate the ugliest and
grimmest of faces, drawn in charcoal on the whitewashed chimney-
sides by previous travellers. There is a flaring country lamp on
the table; and, hovering about it, scratching her thick black hair
continually, a yellow dwarf of a woman, who stands on tiptoe to
arrange the hatchet knives, and takes a flying leap to look into
the water-jug. The beds in the adjoining rooms are of the
liveliest kind. There is not a solitary scrap of looking-glass in
the house, and the washing apparatus is identical with the cooking
utensils. But the yellow dwarf sets on the table a good flask of
excellent wine, holding a quart at least; and produces, among half-
a-dozen other dishes, two-thirds of a roasted kid, smoking hot.
She is as good-humoured, too, as dirty, which is saying a great
deal. So here's long life to her, in the flask of wine, and
prosperity to the establishment.

Rome gained and left behind, and with it the Pilgrims who are now
repairing to their own homes again--each with his scallop shell and
staff, and soliciting alms for the love of God--we come, by a fair
country, to the Falls of Terni, where the whole Velino river
dashes, headlong, from a rocky height, amidst shining spray and
rainbows. Perugia, strongly fortified by art and nature, on a
lofty eminence, rising abruptly from the plain where purple
mountains mingle with the distant sky, is glowing, on its market-
day, with radiant colours. They set off its sombre but rich Gothic
buildings admirably. The pavement of its market-place is strewn
with country goods. All along the steep hill leading from the
town, under the town wall, there is a noisy fair of calves, lambs,
pigs, horses, mules, and oxen. Fowls, geese, and turkeys, flutter
vigorously among their very hoofs; and buyers, sellers, and
spectators, clustering everywhere, block up the road as we come
shouting down upon them.

Suddenly, there is a ringing sound among our horses. The driver
stops them. Sinking in his saddle, and casting up his eyes to
Heaven, he delivers this apostrophe, 'Oh Jove Omnipotent! here is a
horse has lost his shoe!'

Notwithstanding the tremendous nature of this accident, and the
utterly forlorn look and gesture (impossible in any one but an
Italian Vetturino) with which it is announced, it is not long in
being repaired by a mortal Farrier, by whose assistance we reach
Castiglione the same night, and Arezzo next day. Mass is, of
course, performing in its fine cathedral, where the sun shines in
among the clustered pillars, through rich stained-glass windows:
half revealing, half concealing the kneeling figures on the
pavement, and striking out paths of spotted light in the long
aisles.

But, how much beauty of another kind is here, when, on a fair clear
morning, we look, from the summit of a hill, on Florence! See
where it lies before us in a sun-lighted valley, bright with the
winding Arno, and shut in by swelling hills; its domes, and towers,
and palaces, rising from the rich country in a glittering heap, and
shining in the sun like gold!

Magnificently stern and sombre are the streets of beautiful
Florence; and the strong old piles of building make such heaps of
shadow, on the ground and in the river, that there is another and a
different city of rich forms and fancies, always lying at our feet.
Prodigious palaces, constructed for defence, with small distrustful
windows heavily barred, and walls of great thickness formed of huge
masses of rough stone, frown, in their old sulky state, on every
street. In the midst of the city--in the Piazza of the Grand Duke,
adorned with beautiful statues and the Fountain of Neptune--rises
the Palazzo Vecchio, with its enormous overhanging battlements, and
the Great Tower that watches over the whole town. In its court-
yard--worthy of the Castle of Otranto in its ponderous gloom--is a
massive staircase that the heaviest waggon and the stoutest team of
horses might be driven up. Within it, is a Great Saloon, faded and
tarnished in its stately decorations, and mouldering by grains, but
recording yet, in pictures on its walls, the triumphs of the Medici
and the wars of the old Florentine people. The prison is hard by,
in an adjacent court-yard of the building--a foul and dismal place,
where some men are shut up close, in small cells like ovens; and
where others look through bars and beg; where some are playing
draughts, and some are talking to their friends, who smoke, the
while, to purify the air; and some are buying wine and fruit of
women-vendors; and all are squalid, dirty, and vile to look at.
'They are merry enough, Signore,' says the jailer. 'They are all
blood-stained here,' he adds, indicating, with his hand, three-
fourths of the whole building. Before the hour is out, an old man,
eighty years of age, quarrelling over a bargain with a young girl
of seventeen, stabs her dead, in the market-place full of bright
flowers; and is brought in prisoner, to swell the number.

Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio--
that bridge which is covered with the shops of Jewellers and
Goldsmiths--is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space
of one house, in the centre, being left open, the view beyond is
shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water,
and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and
gables on the bridge, is exquisite. Above it, the Gallery of the
Grand Duke crosses the river. It was built to connect the two
Great Palaces by a secret passage; and it takes its jealous course
among the streets and houses, with true despotism: going where it
lists, and spurning every obstacle away, before it.

The Grand Duke has a worthier secret passage through the streets,
in his black robe and hood, as a member of the Compagnia della
Misericordia, which brotherhood includes all ranks of men. If an
accident take place, their office is, to raise the sufferer, and
bear him tenderly to the Hospital. If a fire break out, it is one
of their functions to repair to the spot, and render their
assistance and protection. It is, also, among their commonest
offices, to attend and console the sick; and they neither receive
money, nor eat, nor drink, in any house they visit for this
purpose. Those who are on duty for the time, are all called
together, on a moment's notice, by the tolling of the great bell of
the Tower; and it is said that the Grand Duke has been seen, at
this sound, to rise from his seat at table, and quietly withdraw to
attend the summons.

In this other large Piazza, where an irregular kind of market is
held, and stores of old iron and other small merchandise are set
out on stalls, or scattered on the pavement, are grouped together,
the Cathedral with its great Dome, the beautiful Italian Gothic
Tower the Campanile, and the Baptistery with its wrought bronze
doors. And here, a small untrodden square in the pavement, is 'the
Stone of DANTE,' where (so runs the story) he was used to bring his
stool, and sit in contemplation. I wonder was he ever, in his
bitter exile, withheld from cursing the very stones in the streets
of Florence the ungrateful, by any kind remembrance of this old
musing-place, and its association with gentle thoughts of little
Beatrice!

The chapel of the Medici, the Good and Bad Angels, of Florence; the
church of Santa Croce where Michael Angelo lies buried, and where
every stone in the cloisters is eloquent on great men's deaths;
innumerable churches, often masses of unfinished heavy brickwork
externally, but solemn and serene within; arrest our lingering
steps, in strolling through the city.

In keeping with the tombs among the cloisters, is the Museum of
Natural History, famous through the world for its preparations in
wax; beginning with models of leaves, seeds, plants, inferior
animals; and gradually ascending, through separate organs of the
human frame, up to the whole structure of that wonderful creation,
exquisitely presented, as in recent death. Few admonitions of our
frail mortality can be more solemn and more sad, or strike so home
upon the heart, as the counterfeits of Youth and Beauty that are
lying there, upon their beds, in their last sleep.

Beyond the walls, the whole sweet Valley of the Arno, the convent
at Fiesole, the Tower of Galileo, BOCCACCIO'S house, old villas and
retreats; innumerable spots of interest, all glowing in a landscape
of surpassing beauty steeped in the richest light; are spread
before us. Returning from so much brightness, how solemn and how
grand the streets again, with their great, dark, mournful palaces,
and many legends: not of siege, and war, and might, and Iron Hand
alone, but of the triumphant growth of peaceful Arts and Sciences.

What light is shed upon the world, at this day, from amidst these
rugged Palaces of Florence! Here, open to all comers, in their
beautiful and calm retreats, the ancient Sculptors are immortal,
side by side with Michael Angelo, Canova, Titian, Rembrandt,
Raphael, Poets, Historians, Philosophers--those illustrious men of
history, beside whom its crowned heads and harnessed warriors show
so poor and small, and are so soon forgotten. Here, the
imperishable part of noble minds survives, placid and equal, when
strongholds of assault and defence are overthrown; when the tyranny
of the many, or the few, or both, is but a tale; when Pride and
Power are so much cloistered dust. The fire within the stern
streets, and among the massive Palaces and Towers, kindled by rays
from Heaven, is still burning brightly, when the flickering of war
is extinguished and the household fires of generations have
decayed; as thousands upon thousands of faces, rigid with the
strife and passion of the hour, have faded out of the old Squares
and public haunts, while the nameless Florentine Lady, preserved
from oblivion by a Painter's hand, yet lives on, in enduring grace
and youth.

Let us look back on Florence while we may, and when its shining
Dome is seen no more, go travelling through cheerful Tuscany, with
a bright remembrance of it; for Italy will be the fairer for the
recollection. The summer-time being come: and Genoa, and Milan,
and the Lake of Como lying far behind us: and we resting at Faido,
a Swiss village, near the awful rocks and mountains, the
everlasting snows and roaring cataracts, of the Great Saint
Gothard: hearing the Italian tongue for the last time on this
journey: let us part from Italy, with all its miseries and wrongs,
affectionately, in our admiration of the beauties, natural and
artificial, of which it is full to overflowing, and in our
tenderness towards a people, naturally well-disposed, and patient,
and sweet-tempered. Years of neglect, oppression, and misrule,
have been at work, to change their nature and reduce their spirit;
miserable jealousies, fomented by petty Princes to whom union was
destruction, and division strength, have been a canker at their
root of nationality, and have barbarized their language; but the
good that was in them ever, is in them yet, and a noble people may
be, one day, raised up from these ashes. Let us entertain that
hope! And let us not remember Italy the less regardfully, because,
in every fragment of her fallen Temples, and every stone of her
deserted palaces and prisons, she helps to inculcate the lesson
that the wheel of Time is rolling for an end, and that the world
is, in all great essentials, better, gentler, more forbearing, and
more hopeful, as it rolls!

Footnotes:

{1} This was written in 1846.

{2} A far more liberal and just recognition of the public has
arisen in Westminster Abbey since this was written.

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